Monday, March 31, 2003

New Fisk

Sergeant's suicidal act of war has struck fear into Allied hearts.

US soldiers in Iraq asked to pray for Bush

Thousands of marines have been given a pamphlet called "A Christian's Duty," a mini prayer book which includes a tear-out section to be mailed to the White House pledging the soldier who sends it in has been praying for Bush.

This is just sick.

And finally...

I hate personality tests.

Specifically, I hate employers who insist on screening prospective employees with them. It's both demeaning, an affront to people's dignity, and pointless, because it simply finds out who is the best at second-guessing what the employer wants.

Nickel and Dimed talks about tests which ask "how much stuff did you steal from your previous employer" and "do you take drugs at work". These are simply an insult to people's intelligence, and I'm surprised managers don't see that only an idiot would be caught by them. OTOH, managers seem to be idiots, so maybe that's why they don't.

One of the tests I've seen recently classifies people into four animal types: dove, owl, eagle and peacock. "Eagle" is the manager-type (naturally; they get the best animal). The summary says that the best occupation for an eagle is "top executive, military leader", and that their preferred car is an M-4 Sherman - which is kindof revealing about how managers see themselves. The best bit however is that owls are "overreliant on data" - I guess only managers and HR pukes would think that actually looking at the world is a weakness.

And to get back to the war - I guess that explains why the Americans are in so much trouble at the moment...

And more

I've been meaning to link to this article by Mark Kleiman for a while. It's a thoughtful article about the thinking of some economists on happiness, and ties in nicely with both of the politician's lectures I've been to recently.

When asked "why is GDP so important", Brash gave the answer that it improves human wellbeing and (more importantly) gives us choices, but the underlying reason is that it in some sense makes us happier and makes us more able to satisfy our preferences. And underlying Fitsimons' talk on GDP is the idea that wealth is merely a means to an end, not an end in itself. The common end shared by both is happiness.

Three of the major predictors of happiness mentioned by Kleiman are secure employment (knowing where your next meal is coming from), wealth (more is generally better, but having more than your neighbours is better still) and lesiure time (which unlike wealth, is valued absolutely). Focusing on per-capita GDP at best only addresses one of these three factors, and (if the overseas experience is anything to go by) increases it at the expense of the other two (working harder in less secure, casualised jobs).

Focusing directly on happiness, rather than GDP growth, would suggest policies such as a shorter work week (as in France) and discouraging casualisation of the workforce.

Something else completely different

I also saw Jeanette Fitzsimons speak the wednesday before last. Her topic was something to do with sustainable development, and the Green vision for New Zealand. Some of the things she said:

  • GDP is a fairly crude measure of social success, in that it counts bads, ignores about 50% of the economy (any work that isn't paid, for instance parenting), and takes no account of resource usage or sustainability. I agree; however I'd also point out that there's a strong correlation between per-capita GDP and all sorts of goods (material wellbeing, educational achievement, health), and so while it's crude, it's not entirely useless.
  • Given that GDP is so crude, why do our politicians focus on GDP growth as the sole end? Why not focus on other goods as well? Currently our main political parties are obsessed with getting NZ's per-capita GDP back into the top half of the OECD, which will require sustained growth which frankly isn't going to happen (even Don Brash admits that). This ignores the fact that NZ consistently rates in the top half (or quarter) of the OECD in all sorts of other goods, like air quality, access to wilderness, leisure time, and education. Again, I agree - there are multiple goods, and an exclusive focus on one at the expense of the others seems to make so sense (and frankly, above a certain level it would be better to have leisure time than wealth). I also think the "top half of the OECD" goal is futile; what this is actually saying is that we should be one of the ten or fifteen richest countries in the world. I don't know about you, but I can think of at least fifteen countries who are richer than us and always will be. Shouldn't we set ourselves a more realistic goal, one we won't destroy our society trying to chase?
  • She gave a brief mention of "ecological economics" systems, that account for resource use and unpaid work.
  • She defined ecologically sustainable growth as growth which does not result in the long-term depletion or destruction of resources, using fishing (and overfishing) as an example. Economies can grow up to the point of maximum sustainable usage, but growth beyond that is only sustainable if it comes from efficiencies in resource utilisation. So the answer to a world in which resources are limited is better technology (though I suspect that not all of the Greens would see it that way).
  • Questions were unfortunately focused on GE and the war, so weren't very interesting.

Again, interesting and informative.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

And now for something completely different...

Something that isn't directly or indirectly related to the war!

I went to a lecture by Dr Don Brash, the opposition finance spokesman, on wednesday. The lecture was part of a series put on by Massey University's School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work. They have a different politician every week; last week was Jeanette Fitzsimons; next week is Winston Peters.

Anyway, Dr Brash's talk was on a subject close to his heart: economics. He was concerned about the gap in per-capita GDP between New Zealand and Australia; he thought that if the gap continued to grow (or simply remained), the talented would flee NZ for wealthier shores, and New Zealand would turn into the sort of society New Zealanders wouldn't want to live in.

Unfortunately, National's proposed "solutions" to this problem - tax cuts for the wealthy, benefit cuts for the poor - would transform New Zealand into the sort of society New Zealanders don't want to live in. While economists believe that gross inequality is healthy, it goes against the egalitarian grain of most New Zealanders; similarly we want the government to provide decent public services, or else there's simply no point in having one.

Other things Dr Brash talked about:

  • He claimed credit for the current good economic climate :) This is apparantly the case in economics, where fundamental changes like those we went through in the 80's and 90's can take decades to work their way through the system (alternatively, however you break an economy, it eventually settles down and gets used to it).
  • He talked about adult literacy rates as a potential drag on our economy, using data from the International Adult Literacy Survey which showed that ~40% of adult New Zealanders are ranked in the lowest two categories. Improving literacy is a good goal, and something we should work on, but OTOH looking at the data shows that our literacy levels aren't out of line with other western nations, the notable exception being (of course) Sweden. The fact that the Swedes can do better shows that we can as well, but it doesn't seem to be the enormous economic problem Brash thinks it is. In fact, it seems more like an attempt by Brash and National to tap into the pervasive middle-class angst about how well their children are doing in school - a suspicion confirmed by his mention of phonics.
  • He did the usual beat-up on welfare, focusing on the massive increase in beneficiaries between 1975 and ~2000. He focused on 4 benefits - sickness, invalids, unemployment and (of course) the DPB. Unfortunately, he didn't do much else besides saying "this is bad" (and especially not saying why, which can be revealing), and throwing around anecdotes about how Maori wanted to eliminate the welfare system (this seems to be part of National's current political strategy, especially since John Tamihere opened his mouth).

    (Just off the top of my head I can think of several reasons why beneficiary numbers have increased over the period in question:

    • We've gone through dramatic economic changes, and the entire basis of our economy seems to have changed from one offering full employment to one which has a permanant floating unemployment rate of around 5%.
    • Over the same period, the divorce rate has roughly doubled. Divorce became dramatically easier after 1981, and as a result it went from ~7% to ~12%. The increase in numbers on the DPB is directly attributable to this (and not, as National likes to claim, to teen mothers in South Auckland popping out sprogs to get the benefit).
    • Some of the rise in sickness and invalids benefits is undoubtably due to case managers at WINZ shuffling people around to meet their perverse targets (you have to ditch a certain number of people a month, and its easier to move them onto another benefit than solve their problem...), but Brash himself mentioned some research suggesting that the rise in invalids and sickness beneficiaries was an international trend. This suggests that modern life is unhealthier than it was in 1975 (or that we're more willing to recognise it), and raises the question of how many people are on sickness and invalids benefits for psychological reasons.)
  • Someone asked him whether he was being "groomed to take over the leadership of the National party", to much amusement. Unfortunately, his training as a politician is sadly incomplete - the correct answer to such speculation is "you may very well think that, but I couldn't possibly comment".

So, overall a fairly interesting and informative lecture. I wonder what Winston s going to talk about next week? I hope it won't be immigration...

New Fisk

In Baghdad, blood and bandages for the innocent.

Another interesting Public address blog

"A little help please. As the war in Iraq turns one week old, I am ashamed to admit that I have absolutely no idea what is going on.

It's not because of a shortage of news coverage. CNN fires out updates as rapidly and with as much enthusiasm as a 16 year old losing his virginity, and the local TV and radio media has more or less given up on any local news in favour of report after mind-numbing report from embedded journalists, military strategists, defence analysts, commanders-in-chief... This perhaps is part of the problem" (Story here)

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Suicide bomb kills five US troops in Najaf: Weren't they supposed to be greeted with flowers and roses?

New Fisk

Bombing of phone system another little degradation.

Ritter Speaks on War in Iraq

Scott Ritter is the former chief weapons inspector in Iraq. This quote is pretty damning really

"I know intimately the Iraqi terrain and the government. The policies that were advocated by the Bush Administration define victory as the liberation of Iraq, the creation of a democratic government in Iraq and the transformation of the structure of Middle Eastern government. ... But this strategy will not work," Ritter said.

Starting a Ruckus Was The Right Thing to Do

Michael Moore's thoughts on the protest speech he gave after being awarded an Oscar for Bowling for Columbine.

If you aren't a regular reader of Hard News you're missing out on a lot of good info about the war in Iraq. Russell Brown has been in good form over the last few days and its well worth a read. Here are a couple of links from Hard News that I have borrowed that may be of interest.

This is the url for the English site of Al Jazeera TV but good luck accessing it. A number of "internet gremlins" are making it very difficult to load and the Americans seem to be doing there best to supress it.

This site claims to be an English translation of - "an analytical center created by a group of journalists and military experts from Russia to provide accurate and up-to-date news and analysis of the war against Iraq." There is a wealth of useful and up to date information here - said to be from Russian Intelligence intercepts. I'll leave it up to the reader to decide if its true or not. One thing that is true is that if you're relying solely on American and British media sources for information about the war then you are just not getting the full picture. You are being lied to...plain and simple.

White House criticizes war coverage

They have the most compliant media of any war in living history, and they're still not happy. Imagine what they'd think of the non_US media...

I mean, christ, the US outlets won't even show bodies, prefering to focus on flashy video-game explosions...

Do as I say, not as I do

So, does anyone besides me find it a bit rich that a country which armed israel during the '67 and '73 wars, and both sides during the Iran-Iraq war, is now complaining that Syria is providing weapons to Iraq?

But I guess, as always, that its one rule for the US, and one for everybody else...

Its the economy stupid...

If you thought that the opposition parties in NZ had been sounding more than a little shrill lately this may well be the reason. In the last year the economy grew at 4.4% which was the highest economic growth rate in the western world...although the war, oil prices, the rising dollar and the drought in some parts of the country are going to put a damper on this I think the Government deserves a pat on the back...if not for their management than at least for being in the right place at the right time :-)

Good news for the bloggers: Nate Thayer, who I mentioned a few days ago, has got out of Baghdad. But there's still nothing from Salem Pax.

Something I hadn't considered

Rumsfeld's warning to Syria about supplying weapons to Iraq has led to some intriguing comments (scroll down) on The Agonist:

Let me clarify. I think that if we knew that Syria had WMD there would be no warning and a quicker push on Damascus than there is on Baghdad


The US should and probably would be much more concerned with WMD in the hands of Syria then in Iraq'a hands. The ties between Syria and Hezbollah would be reason enough for the US and Israel to treat any such information very very seriously, and with good reason. Hezbollah is a known terrorist group with and extensive infrastructure.

Both these posters show an appaling ignorance of the situation in the Middle East. Half the countries have some form of WMD, most have delivery systems, and Syria is the biggest manufacturer of chemical weapons in the region. But I guess those facts aren't widely reported in the US.

The second poster however has provided us with a stunning counter to the US's "Iraq may give WMDs to terrorists" justification for the war. If they're really worried about WMDs being supplied to terrorists, shouldn't they go after Syria instead, rather than beating up a country which has been substantially (if not completely) disarmed and whose links to al-Qaeda are pure speculation?

But I guess its too late for that now.

New Fisk

Raw, devastating realities that expose the truth about Basra.

Humanitarian aid yes, military assistance no!

ACT is once again trying to distort our commitment to provide humanitarian aid to Iraq, this time by demanding that we immediately send a naval minesweeping unit to assist in clearing the port of Umm Qasr - while the war is still raging.

Mine-clearance will be an important part of the post-war reconstruction effort. The whole of Iraq is literally littered with mines, and the Shatt-al-Arab waterway is still mined from the Iran-Iraq war, so we may want to contribute in that area. But the port of Umm Qasr is currently open, and aid ships are able to dock there. There's no queue of ships waiting to deliver food to the port (hell, there are no such ships, period - the British have provided food and medical supplies aboard the Sir Galahad, but noone else is queuing up to), people aren't dying because of a bottleneck there, so there seems to be no need for immediate action on our part.

In fact, ACT's demand is just another attempt by them to get us into the "Coalition of the Willing" by stealth. Like National's outbreak-of-war demand that we send our expected postwar reconstruction contribution of a medical team and transport aircraft immediately, it's an attempt to have us send military forces to the Gulf before the shooting stops. Once there, they'd naturally be placed under allied command, and before you know it, Bush would be praising the "contribution" of "our very very close friends in Noo Zeeland". This is most asuredly not what the vast majority of people in New Zealand want.

If ACT is concerned about the plight of the Iraqi people, and wants to make an immediate contribution, it should lobby the government to send what is desperately needed at the moment: food, water, and medicine. But they'd rather try and score political points with the Americans in the futile hope of getting a free trade deal...

As for what we should be contributing to Iraq: we should concentrate on sending actual aid, rather than military assistance. Food, blankets, that sort of thing. Once the shooting has stopped, we may want to assist with demining, or with rebuilding, but we should ensure that these efforts are under the auspices of the UN rather than the US - we must support the recognised source of international authority, not a rogue nation. And we absolutely should not contribute in any way towards an occupation force - if the Americans want to knock over Iraq, let them deal with trying to keep it under control.

Friday, March 28, 2003

The Development Of War Propaganda

Given that our own media here has only limited resources of its own in the Middle East and instead relies on the big US and British media outlets, this has great relevence to us.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

SARS Watch

It's getting worse. Thousands of people who visited a Toronto hospital have been ordered to quarantine themselves to prevent the disease spreading in what authorities are calling "an incident of unprecedented scope and magnitude". And in Singapore, schools have been closed and 860 people quarantined.

The reality of city fighting

This article from the Miami Herald gives an American perspective on what they say their troops are facing in Nassiriyah.

Right at the bottom the article gets a bit disturbing. It mentions that the reporter that was with the unit was given a pistol so that he could help with perimeter security.

Its obvious that the journalists who are embedded in Anglo-American military units cannot report in an honest, objective and in fact uncensored manner. Clearly if journalists are armed and are possibly going to be engaged in combat against the Iraqis, that makes them even less objective and, more importantly, it also makes them legitimate targets. Has the media really thought this one through?

US admits '8,000 Iraqis captured' claim was false

This is kind of important - if you're going to lie and spread propaganda its really really vital that you don't get caught doing it.

I don't think this was in the plan either

The Guardian reports on the first attempts to supply aid to Iraqis:

The young man wearing the brown shawl summed it up succinctly: "We want you to go back home. We do not want your American and British aid," he said, his eyes flashing with anger.

If the British humanitarian taskforce had any doubts as to the legitimacy of his claims, the sudden burst of gunfire from a nearby building left no one in any doubt.

It's a far cry from being greeted with flowers, isn't it?

New Fisk

It was an outrage, an obscenity. Back in fine form with this one.

Things not going according to plan

American plans for the conquest of Iraq seem to have been thrown into dissarray after the Iraqis pursued the completely unexpected tactic of actually fighting back. As a result, the US military is now warning that the war could last months, rather than the mere days it was initially expected to take.

At the moment the Iraqis are actually counterattacking - and according to the Agonist, have surrounded several British units near Basra. Whle the British are made of sterner stuff than the Americans, their public really doesn't want them to be there, and a large number of British casulaties could be quite damaging to Blair's government. Further north the main American advance has been stalled by the weather, and they seem to be digging in to wait for reinforcements. While they have activated another 30,000 troops with the aim of shipping them to the Middle East, they could take anywhere from two weeks to a few months to arrive.

Meanwhile, in an ominious sign, the US army declared that it would no longer provide casualty figures:

General Brooks declined to comment on the number of United States casualties in the war and explicitly said the military would not provide numbers. "As a matter of practice, we just aren't going to announce numbers of casualties," he said.

I guess they think they can only maintain public support if they keep the true cost of the war hidden :(

So anyway, what happens if this does take months? Does the US and British public have the stomach for it? More importantly, does the Arab street? And even more importantly (and has anybody bothered to ask this question?), what happens if the Americans lose?

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Who governs Iraq after Saddam?

The US is looking at another fight in the UN Security Council over who governs post-war Iraq.

The US naturally wants to install a puppet regime whose primary purpose will probably be to threaten Iran and keep the oil flowing - which is how we got Saddam in the first place. The UN on the other hand wants a UN administered civilian government, aimed at handing things back to the Iraqis as quickly as possible. Obviously this doesn't fit with US plans of establishing regional dominance...

Complicating the whole issue is the question of who will pay for reconstruction. The Americans want the UN to do this, but UN members are wary of funding what seems to be a corporate welfare scheme for the President's cronies. The US has since promised that foreign firms can bid on reconstruction contracts, but their clear desire to ensure that the business would go only to Americans has left a bad taste in people's mouths.

On one level, I'd be more than happy for the entire task to be left in US hands. They made the mess, so they should clean it up - and pay for it. That way, they might think twice before pulling such a stunt again. Unfortunately, America considers itself above "nation building", and has a notoriously short attention-span, meaning that things would probably go the way of Afghanistan in short order. Which means the UN is going to have to help, in order to stop a humanitarian disaster. Unfortunately this will lend post-facto legitimacy to the US invasion, but we can hardly leave people to die of malnutrition and disease.

The UN should however avoid being involved at all in the military occupation - it shouldn't send peacekeepers. That is a task we can leave to the US, in the hope that they'll learn. They wanted this illegal war, so they should deal with the costs in money and in lives to hold down what they've stolen. And if they can't? Well, at least the Iraqis will be free again.

Iraqi State TV Off the Air

The Pentagon said the purpose of the operation was to counter command and control abilities of the Iraqi regime, and also to deal with propaganda and the disinformation campaign of Baghdad.

So, does this make CNN HQ in Atlanta a legitimate military target?

More Fisk

Iraqis Remain Defiant in the Face of B-52 Bombings, and an interview with the man himself courtesy of DemocracyNow!

America's Finest News Source

The Onion has finally put together its "Operation Piss Off Planet" special, and it's a screamer. Headlines include "US Forms Own UN", "Dead Iraqi Would Have Loved Democracy" and Point / Counterpoint: This War Will Destabilize The Entire Mideast Region And Set Off A Global Shockwave Of Anti-Americanism / No it won't. Plus pictures of a "New Bomb Capable Of Creating 1,500 New Terrorists In Single Blast".

If only America's real media was this good.

Blogger from Baghdad is famous

Salem Pax, aka "Where is Raed", has made it onto BBC.

Addendum: Another good source on what's happening in Baghdad is Nate Thayer.

A Note for random visitors: We are here:

New Zealand / World Map

Just thought you might want to know that, so you can send the cruise missiles to the right place.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

What's going on?

From reading the Agonist and other sources, things in Iraq don't seem to be going quite as the Americans had planned. Iraqi resistance is much heavier than expected, with towns continuing to resist days after they are supposed to have fallen. While the Americans seem to be able to defeat the Iraqi forces (given a bit of time, for the cities), they don't seem to have the numbers to be able to hold territory and secure their supply lines. In short, they seem to be getting overstretched.

Several opinions have been advanced by web commentators. The first is that the Americans attacked before they were really ready, either because of the diplomatic fiascos with Turkey and in the UN, or due to pressure to beat the summer heat. The second is that the people making the decisions believed their own propaganda that the the Iraqi army would just melt away the moment someone pointed a gun at them or that superior technology made the US army invincible, and thus dramatically underestimated the number of troops required. The third is that this is all part of a cunning plan, and that they know something we don't.

At the moment, my money is on the third option (though I have no idea what that something might be). While I think Bush is stupid, and Rumsfeld overly optimistic, I doubt the US military would let them be dumb enough to make the second mistake. Though a recent comment by Ari Fleisher that "the President doesn't have time for what the President doesn't want to hear" is kindof frightening...

So, at the moment I'm just waiting for the surprise to be sprung. There's got to be one, right?

And regardless, what we've seen so far bodes ill for the occupation. But that will very definately be an American problem, because frankly I can't see the world contributing anything other than aid (I should really blog on this later).

(All of the above is of course my uninformed and very humble opinion, to be taken with a large crystal of sodium chloride).

New Fisk

Saddam starts to sound more like his hero, Uncle Joe

More on Gareth Morgan

Further to my comments the other day about business-page writers missing the point: underneath their mask of "economic rationality" are some pretty suspect moral premises. They are in effect saying that if someone waves a fat wad of cash at you and asks you to kill a random person somewhere in the world, you should do it, or at the very least cheer from the sidelines while they do it in front of you.

I think most New Zealanders (and even most economists) would find that moral position abhorrant, even sociopathic. But dress it up in some econospeak, and you can get fat men in suits to nod gravely and talk of how important it is not to let our economy get derailed by "moral grandstanding". These same people will then call for harsher penalties for murderers.

(In keeping with the traditions of ethics, I have used both analogy and a hypothetical situation to better illustrate the moral landscape. Supporters of the economic argument could challenge the analogy, but their best alternative, based on the idea that any killing involved would be wholly justified, is hardly persuasive either. Instead of our participation being analagous to being hitmen, we become hired executioners...)

The Dark Ages

Hard News today also mentioned that two Texans are challenging their state's law against "homosexual conduct". Laws regulating what consenting adults do in their own bedroom are as basic an affront to people's freedom as you can get, and that's one place the State definitely shouldn't be intruding. I'm just shocked that any purportedly modern jurisdiction could still have such a law on the books. Then again, it took Alabama until 2000 to repeal its constitutional clause banning interracial marriage...

(OK, so NZ only decriminalised homosexuality in 1986, but that's practically the dark ages as far as NZ is concerned anyway. Why, we still had state-owned utilities then...)

Stunning Hypocrisy, part II

Rob O'Neill on why people get so annoyed by American hypocrisy:

They [The US] claim to be better, the best in fact, so, not unreasonably, we expect better of them.

And when they behave like anyone else, we get disappointed. And vaguely nervous, because if America can go from being (rightly looked upon as) a beacon of freedom to a country which engages in arbitrary detention, torture and even extra-judicial execution in two short years, where does that leave the rest of us?

Monday, March 24, 2003

This is interesting

"An Australian FA/18 Hornet pilot has refused an American command to bomb a target in Iraq in the first conflict between the different rules governing the way the two allies make war."

The crew chose not to complete the mission because "they could not positively identify the target"but the the Australian Government has chosen to highlight the difference in the rules under which Australians are fighting in Iraq. The guts of it is that they are governed by Australian and international law, the 1949 Geneva Convention, and additional 1977 protocols that the US has not signed.

"A range of weapons in the American arsenal - such as landmines and cluster bombs - are banned by Australia, and Canberra has emphasised that its forces will refuse to attack civilian targets, including key bridges, dams and other vital infrastructure of the kind bombed by the US in the 1991 Gulf War. "

All of this makes you wonder a) What was the pilot asked to bomb? and b) What are the Americans bombing that the Australians will not?

Perhaps these details will emerge once the fog of war has lifted but it will be interesting to find out. New Zealand News - World - Australian pilot gives thumbs down to US bombing order

Missed again

America has managed to send missiles into another country yet again, this time into Turkey - A cruise missile landed a whole 690 km North West of the border with Iraq which is a lousy shot in anyone's language. Story here).

Stunning Hypocrasy

So Iraq has broken the Geneva convention by parading American POWs around on national TV (story here). Fair cop, but isn't it a bit rich for America to be complaining about another country's breach of international law? Bear in mind that this is America talking - the same country that has basically wiped its bottom with the UN charter by invading Iraq without UN sanction. Bear in mind that this is also the country that is quite content to ignore the Geneva convention when it suits it...where was the Geneva convention when America captured Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners (or illegal combatants in American military jargon) in Afghanistan?

While I'm here - it was good to see Michael Moore pour scorn on President Bush during his oscar acceptance speech for Bowling for Columbine.

"We like nonfiction and we live in fictitious times. We live in a time where we have fictitious election results, that elect a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons" Take that!

More Fisk from Baghdad

The clock said 7.55 - precisely the time the missile struck
'Iraq will become a quagmire for the Americans. Our troops will not surrender'

New Fisk

Anglo-American Lies Exposed, about the dangers of "embedded" journalists only being allowed to report the good news.

Iraq is just the start

According to an article in the PakTribune, Iran is next. Even scarier is this section:

Sources also revealed that list of countries where replacement of government has been declared essential included Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Cuba and North Korea and from this list Taliban regime has been replaced in Afghanistan while war against Iraq is going on.

Moreover, those 22 countries which are being declared threat to U.S. security could face similar US action like in Iraq if they failed to ensure disarming of their armed organizations and finishing their nuclear arsenal.

Just to repeat that, the Americans have a list of 22 countries where replacement of the government is "essential". I wonder who the other 16 are?

As for what's wrong with America knocking over governments and ruling the world: sure, the governments named are pretty horrible, and (like Iraq) I don't think anyone will cry to see them go, but at the same time I don't think anyone in the countries named wants to be ruled by America. Just like America didn't want to be ruled by Britain in 1776...

Why am I so pessimistic?

Because that way, the worst that can happen is that I'll be pleasantly surprised.

Seriously, I'd be genuinely pleased if even half of what the Americans have promised over Iraq came to pass. If they rebuilt it into a democracy with equal rights for Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds, it would be a genuinely Good Thing. But sadly, I don't think the American people have the attention span for a decades-long project like that. And looking at the number of times the American leadership has sold out its purported ideals for realpolitik, and backed tyrants and terrorists like Saddam and bin Laden (or that prick in Uzbekistan), I expect even less of them. Especially with Bush in charge...

So, all you random Americans who are wandering along and reading this, please... surprise me.

A foretaste of the occupation

According to this story on ABC News, the Iraqis aren't quite as happy to be "liberated" as the Americans thought they would be:

Traveling unescorted into Safwan today, I got a far different picture. Rather than affection and appreciation, I saw a lot of hostility toward the coalition forces, the United States and President Bush.

Some were even directed towards the media. (It was the first time I heard somebody refer to me as a "Satan.")


Why are you here in this country? Are you trying to take over? Are you going to take our country forever? Are the Israelis coming next? Are you here to steal our oil? When are you going to get out?

They're annoyed because the American invasion has naturally resulted in some "collatoral damage" (otherwise known as "dead innocent bystanders"). They're annoyed because American promises of aid haven't been met. But most of all, they're annoyed because (as DailyKos says) "We are the invaders. Rarely do people welcome invaders with open arms."

Already there are reports of guerilla activity: roads mined twenty minutes after they're cleared, journalists being shot at, groups of irregulars cruising the desert in pickups shooting RPGs at American supply lines. And as people find out that America just doesn't have the attention span to rebuild Iraq and that it cares more about bases and oil than democracy, they're going to get angrier, and its going to get worse. Just like Afghanistan.

But I guess the US can just install some brutal dictator and go home. Plus ca change...

Nothing can stop them

I heard some optimistic journalist on One News earlier opining that if Iraqi resistance was tougher than expected and the US suffered some setbacks, the international community might be able to force a ceasefire. How exactly? The US is conducting this war in the teeth of international opposition (which has, if anything, strengthened since the first bombs were dropped). They've already shown their utter contempt for the UN, and noone is going to be able to blackmail them economically like they did to Britain during the Suez crisis. Absent nuclear brinkmanship, there seems to be no way to force the US to back off - and the frothing of warbloggers, I don't think anybody is crazy enough (or cares about Iraq enough) to pull a stunt like that.

Besides, a US loss now would be even worse for the world. This is all about overcoming the humiliation of 9/11, about America proving that it's still the biggest bully around. If by some miracle they were forced to stop, they'd just set out to prove it again.

And on the flip side, a quick US victory may embolden them and encourage the US to start knocking over everyone else it hates. North Korea, Iran, Cuba, France... we just can't win either way.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Overwhelming, indiscriminate firepower: The US has followed up their accidental missile attack on Iran by shooting down a British plane. I don't feel safe being on the same planet as these guys...

Our cynical media

TV One's "Sunday" programme has just shown a paste-up of the media coverage of the war so far... to the soundtrack of Billy Bragg's Marching Song Of The Covert Battalions. Such cynicism :)

More on lese majeste

Mark Kleiman has some amusing comments on the recent decision by France to criminalise disrespect of the flag or national anthem. Next they'll be fining people for singing it badly...

Missing the point

Saturday's Dominion-Post had two stories in the business section that annoyed me: one titled Non-alignment policy may cost economy, and one by economist Gareth Morgan warning that selective morality comes at a price. The argument ought to be clear from the titles - our failure to prostrate ourselves before the hegemon could provoke a trade backlash, therefore we should do it now (and ditch our nuclear-free policy while we're at it, according to Morgan).

Both these writers are missing the point - it's not about money. But I guess we can hardly expect suits and econodwarfs - mercenary fucks who believe that there is no other value besides the Almighty Dollar - to understand that.

The backlash has begun

By now I expect everyone will have read that the attack on US soldiers at a base in Kuwait was committed by an American soldier - and that according to initial reports, that soldier is a Muslim.

Predictably, the backlash has already begun:

I'm angry right now, and I may regret these words. But, I think it is entirely reasonable for Americans to suspect the loyalty of American Muslims. There is substantial evidence that their allegiances lie not with their country, but with their god.

There's more, and it's ugly, and pretty much what I expected from a country whose President encourages pogroms against Mexican-Americans and justifies his attack on Iraq with reference to 9/11. When tarring people with the same brush is official government policy, then its going to be difficult to discourage people from doing likewise.

Old Fisk

Some recent Fisk that we missed:
Politics in Baghdad: 'They are the villains. We are fighting against mercenaries and criminals'
By first light, the rumbling explosions were already mixed with calls to prayer
Shame Upon These Pygmies and Their Lies

New Fisk from Baghdad

Robert Fisk: This is the reality of war. We bomb. They suffer

I found this - Warblogs:cc - Content from the best of the war blogs its a good site for war info and opinion. The Agonist is one of a number of blogs that is tied into it.

...And when the Americans bomb everyone runs for cover

"Iran's official news agency IRNA, citing an unnamed military commander, said on Saturday that two rockets fired by US jets had fallen in southwest Iran, close to the border with Iraq..."

"...Government sources and witnesses told Reuters on Friday that a rocket hit an oil refinery depot in the city of Abadan, about 50 km east of the southern Iraqi city of Basra, injuring two people." Story here.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

New York Times article: Thomas Friedman - D-Day

Having failed to gain world support for a war, the United States must win friends after it. Story here.

Trust the President.

This quote from Salon (via Tom Tomorrow) has been nagging at me:

At some point, you have to trust your president! You have to believe that he knows something we don't!

Similar sentiments were expressed in the afore-linked "We're Good People" article, and by various warbloggers in the past. And to be honest, it scares me.

Quite apart from the sanity of trusting in the knowledge of a guy who is so clearly ignorant of the world outside of (a wealthy subsection of) the USA, it's also a dangerous meme to have loose in a democracy. Why? Because it's really a demand to have faith. Asking why we should trust our political leaders or believe in their secret knowledge will run you up against this straight away - we just should, they just do, there is no reason beyond the initial premise that the leader is right, therefore they must have a reason. Otherwise, if they're falliable, then where does that leave us?

(The answer to the above is left as an exercise to Americans, who will have to live with the consequences of their stupid president's stupid decisions for the next twenty or thirty years).

The idea that we should have faith in our politicians is literally laughable in any democracy outside America. But I've said before that their presidency is more of an elected monarchy anyway, and I guess this is just another example of it.

NZ Protests

There were pictures on Three News of NZ antiwar protests tonight. In Wellington, four thousand people marched, threw stuff into the US embassy, and had angry confrontations with a handful of pro-war protesters ("dickheads" about sums them up; it equally sums up those who chased one of them away and stole his sign). In Auckland, there were ten thousand.

Apparantly there were three arrests in Wellington. Hopefully it was the morons who attacked the pro-war protester. He may have been a dickhead, but even dickheads should be able to speak freely.

New Fisk

Minute after minute the missiles came, with devastating shrieks.

More protests

Anti-war protests are continuing worldwide, though at this stage there seems to be little point other than to vent anger at the US (and boy, is there a lot of it to vent). BBC has reports from Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and from Britain, where it seems they are still causing some disruption. According to Salon, The "Arab street" has exploded; a report I read earlier today said that two people were shot in Yemen when a crowd tried to storm the US embassy there. They also have a report on yesterday's "Anarchy" in the streets of San Francisco.

No word yet on today's planned protests in Wellington and Auckland. Will they be larger or smaller than those of a few weeks ago?

As expected, the Iraqis are happy to be liberated. But will the stories now run the whole sorry gamut predicted by Fisk?

We're good people

Via ElectroLite, a link to 'We're Good People': A Play In One Act, which neatly pinpoints the reason why Americans seem to be on a different planet from everyone else: their belief in their own exceptionalism. Haven't they heard the line about the road to hell?

Friday, March 21, 2003

This is just nuts - a dry cleaning business in Modesto, California has been the victim of what looks like an arson attack. Other shops in the chain were shot or scrawled with grafitti - what does this have to do with anything you might ask? The business is called the "French Cleaners", has an eiffel tower logo and it is run by a bloke called Pierre. One could well ask what the world (or more specifically America) is coming to when there are hate crimes against the French (as It turns out the guy was actually Lebanese). Story here.

Telling it like it is

This is good for a laugh - a letter to President Bush from Michael Moore- the guy who made Bowling for Columbine.

Al-Qaeda and Taleban just won't give up

US launches fresh Afghan offensive to bolster Karzai

New Fisk- from Baghdad

Bubbles of fire tore into the sky above Baghdad

Iraq isn't the only place where they're fighting for oil right now.

Massive airlift as dozens die in Nigeria fighting


Some news on the antiwar protests. The Auckland and Wellington ones were on the news last night, and looked peaceful enough. But it looks like things have gone rather differently in other parts of the world. BBC is reporting over a thousand arrests in San Francisco, and Scoop is carrying photos of a protest in Geneva where schoolchildren were teargassed and reportedly one was shot and killed. There's not much about how things are going in England, but from the article in the Guardian and the report on the front page of IndyMedia UK, protests have resulted in widespread disruption.

There's also a series of worldwide protests scheduled for saturday. I wonder how they'll go?

The Thin Line Between Entertainment and War

After all my anti war rhetoric - now that the war has finally started. I find myself lost for words. What can you really say? America, Australia and Britain - culturally speaking, the three countries that are closest too us - are waging war as the aggressor. They are invading a sovereign nation - just as Germany did in 1939 and Iraq did in 1990. Now, clearly if they get rid of Saddam - Iraq and the whole region will be a much nicer place - but that isn't the point. There is a right way to go about things - and ignoring world opinon, destroying 50 years of American foreign policy, destroying the UN as an effective body and killing god knows how many innocent civilians is not it.

I meant to write about this earlier but, I went to the Peace protest on Saturday. About 4,000 of us stood in Cathedral Square and listened to speeches from the likes of the Green MPs Rod Donald and Keith Locke. I was particularly impressed by the speech from Christchurch's Anglican Bishop- I dump on Christianity a lot but in pointing out the immorality of this war he was really doing the job that the church is supposed to do - I was impressed by that. Standing there I really felt that I was part of something and although the usual suspects were in attendence - those members of the clueless hard left forlornly holding their copies of the militant and the socialist worker - these protests are really mainstream. Peace protests are no longer attended solely by people with bad hair and body odour (although there were plenty of them too).

Another thing that impressed me - its impossible to really talk sensibly about the Middle East without mentioning the conflict between the Israelis and Paletinians. Every time these issues were raised, every time Israel was urged to heed the UN security council resolutions the speaker was applauded - actually applauded much more than over the comments about Iraq. This shows that despite America's best attempts to bullshit everyone, NZers have a good handle on the situation.

According to the Peace Action NetworkIt looks like the next protest rally in Christchurch will be on Sunday March 30th but tomorrow there will be a vigil by the chalice in the square from 12-30 until the chiming of the clock at 1pm.


I've been poking around looking for sites covering the war, and the two best ones I've found so far are the BBC's reporter's log and the Agonist. The latter is just a guy with a TV, a blog, and 22 or so windows open on his desktop. Still, he seems to have the best info so far.

I've been looking for stuff on last night's anti-war demos and direct actions in the UK, but haven't found anything juicy yet.

New Fisk!

Even as we shop for canned food and painkillers, it is difficult to grasp the reality of what is coming. Obviously, this one is now a bit out-of-date.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Blogging from Baghdad

If you want some news from someone purportedly in Baghdad, try Where is Raed? . Their version of this afternoon:

there is still nothing happening im baghdad we can only hear distant expolsions and there still is no all clear siren. someone in the BBC said that the state radio has been overtaken by US broadcast, that didn't happen the 3 state broadcasters still operate.
:: salam 6:40 AM [+] ::

air raid sirens in baghdad but the only sounds you can here are the anti-aircraft machine guns. will go now.
:: salam 5:46 AM [+] ::

I have no idea how long their net connection will last, or whether they're real at all (rather than a propaganda site). Remember, this is the Net of a Million Lies; take everything with a pinch of salt.

Missed it!

Great - I sit glued to my BBC feed for the last few hours like a good little twitching information junkie, then when I pop out for five minutes to get icecream, the war starts. Bush attacked at dawn, and everyone is surprised. He'll apparantly be speaking in 10 minutes, which will probably be the usual "My fellow Americans... as I speak to you American forces have begun the disarmament of Iraq... God bless America" crap.

But what I really want to know is what the BBC is going to do about those much-vaunted "E-bombs". These are supposed to use EMP to knock out electronics - like communications systems, or satellite uplinks. How will they get the news out with all their cameras dead? (or is that the point)


Patrick Nielsen Hayden (the SF editor) links to an excellent story in Slate on the long-term consequences of this war, which contrasts our dubious immediate fears (terrorists will attack right this minute) with some more sensible long-term ones (teenagers will be inspired to terrorism by America's actions, and attack in 10 or 20 years time, as al-Qaeda was partly motivated by the first Gulf War).

Seen on an Israeli news site while trawling for info: ads promoting NZ as a safe haven.

New Fisk

Hope fades as the citizens of Baghdad begin to foresee the appalling fate awaiting them

The Final Countdown

So here I am in my office, waiting as the final hours tick away before the Americans unleash hell on Iraq. Being on a LAN is good, because I can stream video from the BBC straight to my desktop. Unfortunately, everyone else in the world is doing the same, and the result is pretty disjointed and jumpy. And I expect it'll only get worse as 1pm approaches. Will the internet be the first casualty of Bush's war?

I'm still convinced that what America intends to do is both immoral and a mistake, but at this stage all I can do is hope for the best - that they don't kill too many people, and that they actually try and make a proper job of rebuilding Iraq, rather than just installing a patsy and walking away like they've done with Afghanistan. At the same time, I also hope that they pay for what they're doing - that Saddam blows his wells, or contaminates them with radioactives so that Cheney doesn't get his oil, that things go wrong and the US takes heavy casualties, even that Saddam uses whatever WMDs he may have because he's backed into a corner and has nothing to lose. That's mostly pure spite talking, but also fear that the Americans will get a taste for this sort of hegemonic exercise, and a recognition that the only thing that might turn them from that path is lots of dead Americans.

That's an unpleasant thought, and its kindof depressing that Bush can make me hope for Americans in body bags...

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

SARS Watch

The three people admitted to Middlemore hospital in Auckland have turned out to be another false alarm. Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation has been posting daily updates tracking the disease. Today's news: it's probably not flu, and not as infectious as they first thought. Phew.

US names 'coalition of the willing'

The US has named 30 countries which are prepared to be publicly associated with their action against Iraq. Of course, only two of them (Australia and the UK) are contributing troops, but others are providing bases, flyover rights, or just saying "yeah we're on the team" in the hope of a future payoff.

The list itself reads like a Who's Who of who's unimportant. Several are prospective NATO members, who fear a US veto of their membership (instead, they'll now be fearing a combined French-German veto of their entry into the EU). Notably absent are traditional US allies like Canada, Norway, Belgium, France and Germany - countries who share a great many of America's values (and certainly a lot more than, say, Uzbekistan), and who you'd expect to support action that was in accordance with those values. Their absence should mean something to the US, but it doesn't seem to.

As a tie-in, lots of people in the left blogo-hemisphere have been commenting on this week's cover story in Newsweek: The arrogant empire: why America scares the world. There's a lot of good stuff in this article, but the conclusion is particularly relevant to the above:

But the larger lesson [from the Turkish vote] is surely that in an increasingly democratic world American power must be seen as legitimate not only by other governments but by their people. Does America really want a world in which it gets its way in the face of constant public anger only by twisting arms, offering bribes and allying with dictators?

There are many specific ways for the United States to rebuild its relations with the world. [...] above all, it must make the world comfortable with its power by leading through consensus. America’s special role in the world—its ability to buck history—is based not simply on its great strength, but on a global faith that this power is legitimate.

In 1991, the world had faith in the legitimacy of American leadership; Bush Sr's coalition to free Kuwait enjoyed near universal approval, and over 40 countries contributed militarily to it while others picked up the bulk of the bill. Now, Bush Jr seems to be doing everything he possibly can to destroy that faith, and the result is that noone is willing to help. The sad thing is that Americans will probably just dismiss this as another example of foreign ingratitude (similar to our abject failure to offer them blow jobs for "saving us" from nuclear annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis), rather than seeing it as a very real problem for the future.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

SARS Watch

People are getting jumpy. Suspected cases are now being reported in Australia, the US and Canada. And tonight's One Late Edition had some footage of Ministry of Health officials in blue biohazard suits crawling all over a plane at Wellington airport, trying to decide what to do with two passangers displaying symptoms (turned out that it was probably jet-lag). Are we all nervous yet?

English backs the US

After calling for the SAS to be withdrawn from Afghanistan, Bill English has changed tack and now says that we should back our traditional allies. They're attacking Iraq, and so we should go along for the ride. For some reason, this makes me think back to primary school, when teachers would say things like "if they jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?"

Quite apart from the moral issue, National's position goes against the grain of the our entire foreign policy for the last two decades. Post WWII, the central theme of our foreign policy has been support for multilateral institutions and international law. We've been strong supporters of the UN, and more recently of GATT and the WTO, because we think that as a small country we need a strong framework of international laws and agreements to protect our interests. Likewise, we've been strong advocates of collective security, both through arrangements with our traditional allies (ANZUS; the Five Power Defence Arrangement) and through contributing to UN peacekeeping. While we traditionally toed the line set by the US, for the past twenty years we've been pursuing a more independent (but still very much multilateral and internationalist) foreign policy, because those traditional allies told us they wouldn't play with us anymore if we didn't accept their nuclear ships and weapons.

Given this historical multilateralist stance, why the hell would we want to throw our lot in with the Axis of Poodle? Collective security? But where is the threat? The only people who think Saddam is a danger to anyone other than his own people are Bush and his flunkies; his neighbours aren't concerned, so why should we be? Freeing the oppressed Iraqi people? A worthy goal, but isn't there a better way to do it? Do we have to bomb the Iraqi people in order to save them, or destroy the UN in order to save it?

Really, the only reason I can see for Bill English coming out in support of the US is that he's afraid that if he doesn't, Gerry Brownlee will. And that's hardly a good reason for ignoring our long-term interests and goals.

(With fond memories of Mr Ash and 5th-form history class)

New Fisk

In vain, I looked for signs of the storm to come. Baghdad is a city sleepwalking to war.

What to do when it starts

In Britain, anti-war protesters are planning walk-outs; in the US they're going for civil disobediance and trying to shut down city centers. Since our government is actually listening to its people, and isn't involved, none of that really seems appropriate - instead, there are plans for some sort of vigil / protest on the day the war starts. In Christchurch, people are meeting at 5:30 pm in Cathedral Square; in Wellington at 5:00 pm at the Cenotaph. It won't change a damn thing, but it might make you feel better.

Bush's speech

Pretty much what was expected - call Saddam an evil dictator who "hates America", call the UN a bunch of spineless wimps, assert America's sovereignty, and give Saddam and co 48 hours to leave Iraq or they'll level the place. Interesting bits:

  • He warned Iraqi troops "do not destroy oil wells". I'm sure this will really help convince the Arab world that this isn't just a naked resource grab.
  • He said that Saddam or al-Qaeda might respond to an American attack with terrorist action - and that this is why they have to attack him. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Note the "might" there, BTW - I've seen nothing from the Iraqis suggesting any such plan, and the possibility seems to exist solely in Bush's head. That Terry Jones article about killing his neighbours seems appropriate again...

The American public is now expected to do their herd thing and Unite Behind the President...

A dreadful silence

The web is quiet this morning. It looks like everyone is waiting to see what Bush will say in his 1pm address. I'll try and watch it upstairs, and probably rant about it later.

But then again, what's the point?

Weirdness continues

We've just had our first ever hit from Google. The search terms? moustache laws in iraq.

SARS Watch

The BBC has reported the first suspected case in the UK. Meanwhile, when I woke up this morning, some appalling breakfast radio station was promising hints on how to make your home safe from "biological warfare". Anyone thinking of taking their advice seriously may want to read this story first.

Monday, March 17, 2003

On a lighter note...

According to the BBC, The 19th annual World Championship Pooh-sticks race has taken place in Oxfordshire. They have results and everything. And the Aussies won the teams competition.

I wonder if Disney will sue them for undermining their movie IP?

Found while reading NZpundit: a quiz to compute your balance of bodily humours:

Take this quiz!
Which Humor Troubles the Disposition of YOUR Body?

I'm not sure that the above is an accurate description of me, but it might apply to some of my roleplaying characters :).

(Those who want to venture onto NZPundit are advised to hold their nose - he reminds me of that newsgroup troll Redbaiter. And for some reason he opens links in a subframe, keeping his URL at the top, rather than giving them the whole or a new window.)

Waiting for the miracle...

The Dominion-Post's headline this morning is that only a miracle can prevent war. So I guess those of you of a religious bent should pray that god will finally strike down Bush and half his cabinet with lightning, Cthulhu will rend them with tentacles, or that some looney will gun them all down or something.

Meanwhile, the NZ Police are apparantly receiving riot training to prepare them for "civil unrest, targeted protests, riots and terrorist acts". Yeah, way to go guys - at a time when dissent is actually important, you get ready to supress it. Fantastic.

And in the really scary box, I've been following reports from the British media about an outbreak of a highly infectious, mystery virus which is spreading from Hong Kong and Singapore. So far its only killed 150 people, but according to WHO it could get a lot worse:

People are not responding to antibiotics or antivirals. It's a highly contagious disease and it's moving around by jet. It's bad.

Having read about the 1918 Influenza pandemic this is indeed bad. Unless they get a grip on it, it could easily spiral out of control and become the next global pandemic.

Hmmm... maybe that's our miracle right there.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

New Fisk!

The war of misinformation has begun. He's more on form this time, especially in the "weasel words to watch for" section.

Some interesting articles from Common Dreams

Andrew Greeley: War is not the Smart Option
Molly Ivins: Ticking everyone off
Joe Conason: Iraq's Nuke Threat Little More Than Myth

America plays hardball

"With a showdown looming at the UN Security Council, U.S. officials are warning darkly of consequences for those countries that oppose the world's sole remaining superpower."

Story here

Saturday, March 15, 2003

US mining firm pays Papuan army

Native unrest giving you trouble? Need to keep those pesky darkies and spear chuckers away from your mining operation? Why not rent an army? Story here.

Polluter pays catches on in Britain

"Britain took the first step on the road to taxing air travel for its contribution to global warming yesterday when the Treasury published a document discussing the idea.

Although such a tax, which would mean a big rise in ticket prices and would hit low-cost airlines severely, is a long way off, the Government's decision to begin talking about it is significant" (story here).

This is something that is an obvious and long overdue solution. As an example - according to this site a return trip from Christchurch to Sydney emits 0.53 tonnes of carbon dioxide - thats about as much carbon as a single oak tree would take up over the first 100 years of its life....if I'm reading this data correctly, so it is not an insignificant amount.

New Fisk!

The forgotten power of the General Assembly.

Washington's other little lap dog

This week Australian Prime Minister John Howard gave a speech outlining his reasons for supporting a war with Iraq and declaring his intention to fight even without UN approval. The man's willingness to toady up to America in the hope of getting a free trade deal, and to do his best to make Australia a target for terrorists is simply astonishing.

Today the lap dog barked. Howard joined his British and American allies in launching a stinging attack on the French accusing them of being "international spoilers destroying the last hopes for peaceful disarmament of Iraq and scoring cheap shots off the US." This seems a little bit obvious but if Howard paid a bit more attention to what his masters in Washington are saying he may notice that they have absolutely no desire to disarm Iraq They want war and they want it now.

They want war so much that they are prepared to launch pre-emptitive strikes against Iraq. They think that Saddam might do them first once he knows that a strike by America is iminent.

According to this ABC news report Saddam has moved artillery units that could potentially fire shells filled with poison gas close to the border with Kuwait and the 135,000 American troops stationed there. Inaddition, American intelligence thinks that Iraq has scud launchers hidden in the Western Desert able to strike Israel and they are also worried that many of Iraq's oil wells have been wired with explosive able to be triggered from a central command. There are a lot of "coulds", "maybes" and "probablys" in all this. ABC quoted unidentified officials (naturally) as saying that American pre-emptitive strikes "may" start a war...may? that makes it sound like it is a completely unintentional accident...there's no "may" about it. Pre-emptitive strikes "will" start a war and it "will" make America the weasel words blithely quoted by the tame American media will change that.

That said, does America now have legitimate reasons for going to war? Can they go to war on the basis that there "may" be scuds hidden out there "possibly" endangering Israel (as opposed to endangering America)? Well no.They haven't actually said anything like "we've found hidden scuds in the Western Desert which are targetted at Israel"...they just suspect they are there.

Can they go to war because Iraq might want to blow up its own (as opposed to any other country's) oil? I don't think so

What about the threat to the troops in Kuwait? They don't actually have any proof that Saddam still has poison gas...and we don't even know if the artillery pieces are even in range to hit the American troops...they are very vague on that point. Even if they are in range - I don't think the deliberate deployment of your own troops to a place where they are in danger is a legitimate reason to go to war. This is basically an attempt by America to avoid being thought of as the aggressor in this conflict...sorry guys its just not going to work.

In any case all of this implies that the two states aren't already at war...which is nonsense. America and Britain have been bombing Iraq for years and just yesterday America sent B1 bombers to take out an Iraqi radar site (story here). Getting back to John Howard. Australians have been given a wonderful insight into just how much of a slimy toad Howard is. Cast your mind back to August 2001 and Howard's treatment of the victims of Saddam Hussein and of the former Taleban regime in Afghanistan in the sea off Christmas Island...cast your mind back to how Howard used these poor people as electoral cannon fodder. unfortunately for Howard, the story refuses to lie down and die. Hopefully in the future, under another Government, the people responsible for this will be called to account for their actions.

Friday, March 14, 2003

I think the flag burning prosecution also raises fundamental questions about why we have laws. Laws should really be restricted to

1. Protecting people's life and wellbeing.
2. Protecting people's property.
3. Protecting people who through their age or whatever other reason don't have the ability to make informed decisions for themselves.
4. Protecting the poor and disadvantaged from exploitation.

When it comes down to it, this man is going to be tried for a crime that has no victim...lots of people may be offended by his gesture but no one is actually being hurt in any way. On the other hand, we all lose if we tolerate this attack on freedom of expression. Even more worrying is the fact that the police tried to get a court order preventing the man from associating with one of his fellow protesters...what exactly were they trying to do here? I am happy to be offended occasionally if that is the trade off for living in a free country. This law has to be is the thin end of the jackboot.

Lese majeste: An offence against the "dignity of the sovereign". Like painting a moustache on their statue, calling them a poopy-head, or criticising their performance as a ruler. Strangely, it was the last one which tended to be the most vigorously prosecuted.

Citizens of modern liberal democracies find the idea of their rulers having some special dignity which renders them immune from criticism to be laughable. We no longer believe that our politicians are somehow better than us and automatically deserving of respect (the obvious exception being the Americans, but their Presidency was designed from the outset to be a sort of elected monarchy, so its hardly surprising). And so over the years, the "dignity of the sovereign" has been transferred to the State, and thence to the flag.

However, one of the underlying axioms of those democracies is that nothing is sacred. Everything is up for grabs, to be questioned, criticised, and (if necessary) burned in effigy. So why the hell, after all these years, are we still protecting the "honour" of the flag? Doesn't it seem too much like protecting the "dignity" of Helen Clark from people who would deface her official portraits?

Flag-burning and freedom of expression

A man who burned the New Zealand flag at an anti-Howard protest last week has been charged with dishonouring the flag under the Flags, Emblems, and Names Protection Act 1981.

Now, I know that the NZ flag Means Something to some people (usually war veterans and rabidly anti-immigrant nationalist wankers), and that burning one in public upsets them. And I'd argue that that's precisely why we shouldn't have stupid laws banning it. Freedom of expression is about upsetting people - about goring their sacred cows, questioning their most basic assumptions, and burning their idols in public. That's what a "robust debate" in society means.

Regardless of that, flag-burning is against the law here, and this guy could be facing a fine of up to $5000 for doing it. I'd urge him to mount a vigorous defence on the grounds of freedom of expression, in the hope of getting the law struck down for violating the principles of the Bill of Rights Act; I'd urge the judge to discharge without conviction rather than enforce a law which violates such a fundamental principle of human rights; and I'd urge any jury involved to do likewise. I'd also urge our politicians to repeal this atrocity ASAP. No modern liberal democracy should have laws which are frankly a throwback to eighteenth century ideas of lese majeste.

Oh, and while we're looking at this story, this comment takes the cake for disingenuous bullshit:

Wellington area controller Inspector Marty Grenfell said the use of fire in crowded situations was dangerous.

Obviously. That's why you're arresting people for "dishonouring the flag" rather than "playing silly buggers with matches".

New Fisk

Invasion will spur terrorism on, Arab opinion poll says. Actually pretty boring - I think I prefer him when he wants to vent his spleen a little.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

How Kofi Annan Can Stop the War

According to recent reports, the United States may be about to warn the U.N. inspectors and reporters to leave Iraq within three days. The purpose of this warning will be to protect the inspectors and reporters from harm when U.S. forces attack Iraq, perhaps late next week.

The situation provides an interesting opportunity for U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. If the U.S. issues the expected warning, he can and should announce that the U.S. has no authority to evict the inspectors, who are United Nations employees. Furthermore, Annan can say that he will not withdraw the inspectors from Iraq unless he is ordered to do so by the U.N. Security Council or the inspectors report that they are not being allowed to do their job.

How will this help? Firstly, it'll make it difficult for Bush to start bombing. Sure, he could invade anyway, but it would be a public relations nightmare. And secondly, it will seriously up the pressure on Saddam, becuse the moment the inspectors feel they're being obstructed, they'll leave, and the Americans will have a free hand. Reinforcing the authority of the UN and sticking it to the US are just bonuses.

Of course, it's a bit risky for the inspectors themselves, which is why Kofi won't do it. [sigh]

The US wants to go to war over a model aeroplane?

This speaks for itself, really. It turns out that the "smoking gun" the warbloggers have been braying about for the past week is made of balsa wood and duct tape, and powered by lawnmower engines.

Oh, those cunning Iraqis. They're so evil they can turn even an innocent microlite into a Weapon of Mass Destruction.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

A competition!

Yesterday's Christchurch Press article about a protester throwing eggs and tomatoes at Richard Prebble at Canterbury has got me thinking: people should really do this sort of thing more often. We don't do nearly enough to express our contempt for our politicians. Sure, we sneer at them, make them the butt of our jokes, call Rodney Hide "the face of irritable bowel disease" and what have you, but they don't seem to get the message. Maybe throwing shit at them will work?

So, a competition. The winner is whoever can get the best hit on an MP with a nonlethal missile (water bomb, rotten fruit, excrement). Bonus points for getting on TV, revealing that someone wears a toupe, or being arrested by the diplomatic protection squad. The grand prize is a sense of satisfaction at a job well done. Any takers?

BTW, apparantly the photos accompanying the hardcopy of the story were cool - maybe Mike will scan and post them?

NZ statement on Iraq to the UN Security Council

Same as the last one, really. Again, it seems to be pretty much in line with mainstream NZ political opinion - though no doubt our own local warbloggers and newsfroupies will be appalled by limp-wristed liberal commie peacenik sentiments like the one below:

The New Zealand Government therefore urges the Security Council to continue to support the inspection and disarmament process it has in place while it is getting results.

That bit is the key - down here, we see missiles being destroyed and the fact that no "smoking gun" has been found as evidence that inspections are working, rather than evidence that they're not. This is probably because we're not paranoid loons desperate for any pretext to start a fight.

'Dirty bomb' suspect to get lawyer

A Judge has ruled that Jose Padilla, the US citizen accused of plotting to build and detonate a "dirty bomb", will finally be allowed to see a lawyer. The US government had designated him an "enemy combatant", denied him access to counsel or the courts, and imprisoned him in a military prison. If this isn't appealed, then it represents some return to sanity in the US - an acknowledgement that September 11th did not erase those parts of the Constitution dealing with the right to a fair trial (at least for US citizens).

Unfortunately, the US government can still listen in on Padilla's discussions with his lawyer. And if they think that his representative is too effective, they can always charge them with aiding and abetting a terrorist. There's still a long way to go before things will be "back to normal" over there.

Update: Unfortunately the news isn't so good for the detainees at Guantanamo - a court has ruled that they cannot access US courts and are not protected by the US Constitution. Whatever happened to "we hold these truths to be self-evident... that all men are created equal"?

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

This article by New Zealand First MP - Ron Mark appeared in Saturday's Christchurch Press. It really illustrates how opposition to a war with Iraq is not restricted to the usual suspects of the anti American left. Ron Mark is usually a hawk when it comes to defence and NZ First is ideologically quite far removed from the Greens and even Labour. It also shows how adept NZ First are at keeping their finger on the pulse of the NZ voter.

Meanwhile, the situation in Iraq grows more complex.The Kurds are mobilising to fight the Turks should they enter Northern Iraq. As if the Turks didn't have enough on their mind. Talks on the future of Cyprus have broken down and it now appears certain that the Greek southern half of Cyprus will join the EU without the northern Turkish half. In the past Turkey has threatened to annex northern Cyprus should this happen....more recently they have tried to gain favour with Europe by urging the Turkish Cypriots to make a deal with the Greeks...these efforts appear to have failed. Where does this leave Turkey? One to watch I think.

Old Fisk

History: For centuries, we've been 'liberating' the Middle East. Why do we never learn? This was published on the 6th; guess it shows how slack we are.

Monday, March 10, 2003

More things that make you sick

Apparantly I have a knack for sending Mike links that make him sick. The first was a New York Times article on a pipe foundry in Texas, whose emphesis on profits over worker safety resulted in the worst accident rate of any American workplace (containing some rather graphic descriptions of people having their arms sanded off by conveyer belts). So, in the interests of reguritation, we have the town of Ciudad Juarez on the Mexican border. Salon did an article about this place several months ago, reporting that "more than 325 women have been murdered in the free-trade boomtown of Ciudad Juarez in the past decade", and following up with a disturbing story of government indifference to (if not active collusion in) what seems like the activities of several serial killers. The Observer has now done a two part series on this hellhole, and its even worse.

There is a new word spoken in Ciudad Juarez: 'Feminocidio' - feminocide, the mass slaughter of women. There is no other word to describe what is happening: some 340 young women found murdered since 1992 in much the same manner as Sagrario, and a further 180 or so missing.

'They are dumped in public places, not even like animals, more like trash,' says Marisela Ortiz, from one of the groups campaigning to bring the killers to justice. The victims, she says, fit a pattern: 'They are poor, young, mainly migrants to the city looking to improve their lives in the factories. And when they are found, they have been tortured, mutilated, bruised, fractured or strangled and in every case violated - gang-raped.'

'The killers,' adds Marisela's colleague Rosario Acosta, 'take no trouble to cover up evidence, like most murders. With these, the evidence is brazen, right there, every time. Whoever is doing this knows they are immune from the law.'

There's more - victim's parents being taunted by the clothing of their dead children being returned to them in the dead of night, police cover-ups, frame-ups and executions of those who question them. It's your worst nightmare of callous corrupt third world society crossed with a serial killer movie. And all I could think was "there's gotta be a Vampire game in this".

Terry Jones Strikes Again!

Mr Bush goes for the kill:

Mr. Bush is right, Saddam Hussein is a nasty man and nobody I know has the least objection to Mr. Bush killing him. It's just the way he proposes doing it that worries me. Dropping 3000 bombs in 48 hours on Baghdad is going to kill a lot of other people who, as far as I am aware, are not nasty at all.

That's the bit of the 'moral' argument I don't follow. It's a bit like the police saying they know a murderer comes from the south of England so they are going to execute everybody in Epsom.

And that about sums it up, really. The Americans' preferred tactics are wanton, indiscriminate overkill. How many innocent bystanders is it acceptable to kill to get rid of one Bad Man? Ten thousand? Twenty? What about one hundred thousand or half a million?

If we're going to even ask such Utilitarian questions, we need to pay some attention to the Principle of Equality and value Iraqi lives as highly as American ones. And its quite clear that those in favour of what Bush is proposing simply aren't doing this.

Sunday, March 09, 2003

Bush's Noble Intentions

This Washington Post article (President paints 'Big Picture' - Bush reveals democratic vision for Middle East) appeared in the Christchurch Press last Friday (February 28th). Clearly the Christchurch Press backs a war with Iraq and has no qualms about recycling American any case it makes the journalist's job so much easier. To be honest I'm not actually convinced that the Christchurch Press still employs anyone that could be called a journalist.

The article just about made me spit out my morning coffee, especially the line about President Bush "presenting a neo-Wilsonian view of the imperitive to spready liberty and democracy in the world." I mean if President Bush really was painting a big picture of the Middle East he'd probably be doing it with crayons. I have some other problem's with Bush's speech - he correctly identifies the Middle East as a "troubled region" - the point he is missing is that America is one of the major reasons why it is a troubled region. He also mentions Saddam Hussein's payments to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers and its training and support of mysteriously un-named terrorists. At least one of these claims is true but this does not give America (as opposed to Israel) a legitimate cassus belli. I meant to post the article here earlier but I couldn't find it on the internet, instead I've had to ignore the niceties of copyright law and type it out myself...bring on the evil attack lawyers.

New Fisk

US War Plans Are Not Helped By Blix.

Saturday, March 08, 2003

Crimes against language

Mark Kleiman has awarded the first Winston Smith Memorial Medal for Dishonest Language in the Service of Unspeakable Actions to the New York Times for the headline Questioning of Accused Expected to Be Humane, Legal and Aggressive. Examples of the tactics the NYT considers "humane" include sleep deprivation, long periods of restraint in "stress positions", and "teasing" wounded prisoners with occasional painkillers. Meanwhile, this article from the Wall Street Journal gives more details on US methods, which can include "a little bit of smacky-face" for "extra encouragement".

All of this is of course contrary to the United Nations’ Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and to the Geneva Convention as well, but the US doesn't seem to be paying attention to its international agreements at the moment. Unfortunately for the Bush Gang though, they may have a few little problems with US law. According to the NYT:

When the United States ratified the antitorture treaty in 1994, Congress also passed a law making torture committed in the United States or by an American anywhere a felony punishable by 20 years in prison. Torture resulting in death can give bring the death penalty.

In 5 or 10 years time, when Bush is out of office and the US has come to its senses, I'd like to see prosecutions. I'd like to see those responsible for running the interrogation rooms at Bagram and Guantanamo put on trial for their crimes, and sentanced to long prison terms. But most likely they'll never be charged, or let off the hook like Lt. Calley was for Mai Lai. Hell, maybe John Ashcroft will repeal those troublesome anti-torture provisions in PATRIOT III or IV.

And on a completely different topic, Kleiman also has some thoughts on a recent lecture by Jared Diamond. I suspect I'm going to have to get that upcoming book...