“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Friday, April 25, 2003

Bollettino

Richard Reeves breathes a little hellfire in an editorial that seems to be exclusive to Yahoo News. He makes the brilliant point that the military coup d'etat, in dollar amounts, already happened in this country. 400 billion dollars is being spent by the defense department, and 25 billion is earmarked for the subversive State. Our parody of the fight between the Pentagon and the State as parallel to the fight between the US and Iraq is, actually, a real parallel in terms of amounts available to the entities sitting in the corners.

A lesser point -- and one that LI was unaware of -- the military paid for the embedded journalists. Iraq, in other words, was a big advertising junket for Bush Imperialism. The funny thing is that this was never mentioned on the radio, or in newspapers, that were very careful to point out that the Iraqi's censored newsbroadcasts from Baghdad.

Well, well. As the US News editor, Brian Duffy, says

"With embeds, you have no costs. They're traveling with military personnel, so there are no traveling costs, and they're eating MREs. We're going to be talking about embedding as a concept for a long time. The fact that costs were so much lower is probably an afterthought. But it's not unwelcome."

And as Reeve concludes: "Money talks. And what it is saying is that the military is now first among equals in the governing of both Iraq and the United States."





Bollettino

Keeping Alan around

Tom Paine's business commentator, Dean Baker, is a grouch. LI likes business grouches -- although you can always tell when the sap is rising to their heads from their shrivelled hearts -- they start calling themselves contrarians and mistake a keen sense of impending disaster for the divine gift of prophecy. Our favorite lefty grouch is Doug Henwood; our favorite bonds grouch is James Grant. Dean Baker is a different kind of grouch. For instance, he regularly punches holes in stories that grow hysterical about impending Social Security deficits -- and we think he is right, there.

At the moment, he is the sole mourner at the Greenspan fiesta. When Bush announced that Greenspan would be re-appointed, there was a general round of Huzzas from all the usual suspects on Wall Street. Baker, however, compared Bush's announcement to keeping the captain of the Titanic around for another cruise. The meet of his Greenspanophobia is that Greenspan, basically, committed himself to a big time moral hazard by helping blow up the late nineties bubble :


"If he had consistently berated the markets with "irrational exuberance" comments and supported his case with charts and graphs, it is unlikely the market would have reached the dizzying heights of 1999 and 2000. If talk proved insufficient, he could have raised the margin requirement (which restricts borrowing to buy stock), and if necessary, he could have raised interest rates. But he didn't do any of that -- and arguably, he even may have promoted expansion of the bubble with his "new economy" rhetoric. The economy will suffer for years to come as a result.

"The bad news is not all behind us. Greenspan continues to ignore a housing bubble, the collapse of which is likely to have even larger repercussions for the economy and the retirement security of millions of Americans. People are currently buying homes in the bubble-infected markets (mostly on the east and west coasts), which could lose 30 to 40 percent of their value in a drop. For most families, their home is their biggest investment. Tens of millions of baby boomers are counting on equity in their home to support them in retirement now that their 401(k) plans have suffered so drastically from the stock market retreat. Instead of warning of a housing bubble, Greenspan testified before Congress last summer that there is no such thing."

Baker is also pretty aghast at the malign neglect of America's current trade account deficit.

Now, we are not sure if we wholly buy the bubble argument. We don't believe, for sure, that Greenspan was responsible for it. We do think it could have been curbed, somewhat, by the timely raising of margin requirements. But we also think Baker neglects the good side of irrational exuberance. Why did income inequality dip for the first time in twenty years after 1996? We think, in part, it was just the big IE - promoting somewhat hazardous economic activity, promoting the irrational allocation of resources -- that did it. And that might be a good thing in a cyclical system over a specific short run. We fault Greenspan less on the bubble than on the aftershock. Surely giving away the surplus to the high end of the wealth scale was a huge mistake. It isn't just that it provided insufficient stimulus to the economy -- it blocked alternatives that would have been possible, and much more constructive. Foir instance, there was a window of opportunity for creating a really viable reform of health care. There was a structure for revamping the complex ways in which states and the federal government both raise and divvy up money. And given that it was rather obvious, by the end of 2001, that the stock market boom was over, there was at least the obvious alternative of doing minor corrective work, so that in 2003 we did not face an overhang of some 100 billion dollars in separate state debts. The reason the latter was never addressed has to do with a dirty little secret of our government -- it is way overweighted to represent less populous, poorer states. California's budget miseries are California's business precisely because California is an economic generator -- unlike, say, Mississippi. But Mississippi, you will notice, and Tennessee, and the rest of them are much more represented on the national level. In tax terms, more money flows into Mississippi from the Federal government than flows out of it -- as is the case with Texas. But the reverse is the case with New York and California. Whenever those two states have financial difficulties, however, the poorer states stick it to them.

There are a host of reasons for this -- the culture of bad faith vis a vis the government in the South being one of the most prominent. It is true that Bush's tax cuts, especially the dividend tax cut, will grossly and inordinately benefit certain citizens of California and New York -- ie, the rich. And the richest one percent tend to settle in the richer states. For every billionaire in Mississippi, there are five in Sillicon Valley.

But the reparative work of the tax cut is most likely to vanish into high yielding investments in such things as derivatives -- which have no home, and bring no benefit to the wealthy states themselves. So the median person in those states, in bad times, has to live with the collateral effects of wealth -- for instance, higher rents and housing prices -- and the skew against those states on the national level -- which has to be made up for by higher state taxes. In a sense, the cause of the income tax in New York State is the lack of one in Texas.

Well, we could go on. But do you really want us to?

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Bollettino

The tree of liberty is sprinkled with the blood of bouncers -- this is what Jefferson might have said about the latest news out of NYC. LI was so riveted by the news in Iraq that we ignored the warnings: our friend, T., wrote us a bitter screed about the banning of smoking in NYC bars, but we thought that he was suffering from a mild hallucination -- nothing so uncommon among LI's friends. But it turns out that T. was simply throwing invective on a legal fact.

Here's a CBS report on the latest atrocity to hit Gotham city:

"The worst did happen just two weeks into the ban. A bouncer was killed after asking a smoker to leave a downtown club. That's one reason why Rabin [a bar owner] wants a police presence outside the city's clubs.

"We're trying to follow your law," says Rabin. "We've asked the people to step outside to smoke, now we have a noise problem that's bothering our neighbors. Help us one way or the other."

The critics say everybody knows smoking is bad for you, but aren't bars and clubs where people are supposed to drink, smoke and carry on? Is the city that never sleeps turning in early?

"This is New York, get used to it," says Michael Musto, who covers New York's nightlife.

Musto says there are too many rules.

"New York used to be a place without a lot of rules," he says. "It had a seediness to it, but it also had an edge. Suddenly, you can't smoke in a bar. What's next? You can't eat in a restaurant?"



Only one bouncer? My God, has the spirit of the minutemen, the spirit of Grant's Army, the spirit of Patrick Henry and Patton, been so extinguished that only one, out of the innumerable bouncers of the city, been forced to pay for actually enforcing that insane rule? King James I, who has been quietly retired, in the history books, as a despotic masturbator, condemned smoking and wrote against it: but even he couldn't ban it among the bravos of that time What next indeed -- the imperialism of the lungs apparently rules, with this little man, Bloomberg, triumphant. We can drill holes in our brain and put that crucial fat on our livers, but we can't put an ashy coating on our trachea, eh?

Now, LI witnessed the Disneyfication of Times Square. It was sad. But one felt that really, the plastic and the bright lights will eventually collect dust and sputter sporadically out, slowly strangled by the taxes and the costs of maintenance and the whore and the adult video place will once again take root -- yes, Minnie and Mickie will again do the beast with two backs before a paying, horny audience until four in the morning. Love will grow in the place of excrement, as Swift put it -- disapprovingly. We think, on the contrary, that this is one of the most hopeful of human traits. Times Square's spirit will definitely triumph over the hypocritical Babbitry in evidence at present. But the ban on smoking is an absolutely bad sign -- as is the current lazy custom of suing tobacco companies because they didn't warn one and all, in the past fifty years, that their products caused cancer. This is a little like suing airplane companies because they didn't warn their customers about gravity. Obviously, state governments, having exhausted the lottery gambit, are pitching for other revenue sources -- avoiding tapping the obvious, who are the rich and the undertaxed one percentile.

Now Austin, our city, is considering some insane version of NYC's law. This is the site of the do-gooders, none of whom, I would bet, go to many bars in Austin -- they are probably too busy watching tv in their big Round Rock encomienda, the jerks. . But this is... Texas. We do carry guns here. We will not go gentle into that good night of the servile state. Here's a group dedicated to fighting the poison: Go to the site, sign a petition, don't allow this to happen.

It is one thing to be herded, like sheep, into an illegal war. Or to be herded, like sheep, into accepting an illegal president. But to be herded like sheep into accepting smokeless bars?
Bollettino

Murmurs and crimes


The NYT reports that Zubaidi, the lord high mayor of Baghdad, and the Scarlet Pimpernel of the Palestine Hotel, has been stripped of his authority by Smilin' Jay Garner, as always the embodiment of the Iraqi will:

"Mr. Zobeidi, who says his qualifications for running Baghdad include participation in a disaster control management course arranged by the State Department, has also proposed sending a delegation to represent Iraq's interest at an OPEC meeting.

"American officials said today that it was Mr. Zobeidi's efforts to expand his powers that prompted the Americans to crack down.Mr. Zobeidi was given a copy of General McKiernan's proclamation, American official said, and he was informed by the American military today that he had no authority to appoint anybody."

The Times also reports that military men are casting dark glances at Chalabi's paramilitary. Yesterday, some of Chalabi's men were arrested for looting:


"Fighters of the group have been caught repeatedly while looting homes in an enclave in Baghdad where members of Saddam's Baath Party lived, said Army Staff Sgt. Bryce Ivings, of Sarasota, Fla.On Tuesday, soldiers from A Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment detained four suspected looters dressed in the group's desert camouflage uniforms and carrying rocket-propelled grenades, Ivings said. The men, who did not speak English, were taken to a prisoner-of-war detention center.

"Less than an hour later, another patrol found four other fighters - in uniform, but unarmed - carrying away china, glassware and clothing from empty houses, said Sgt. Jason Letterman of Marshfield, Mo., said. They were not held, but were told to cease looting, Letterman said."They said they were only stealing from houses belonging to Saddam's bodyguards," Letterman said. "We told them we can't let them steal stuff from anyone."

All the papers are pondering theocracy, today, as the Shiites imams have started to grow restive under the benevolent yoke of our liberation, while the average American ponders the murder suspect in the Laci case. We think the Laci murder is typical of a vast prejudice in the Press. California murders always get top billing. When Bush gets finished revamping the Constitution, he needs to check into this. Liberal bias in the press is one thing that's being squeezed out right now; anti-Texas bias is quite something else. Californians have amped things up by throwing in the charge against Laci's unborn child, but I'm sorry -- Laci's killing would get the ho hum back page treatment in the Houston Chronicle. In Austin, lately, we've had the murder-by-obsessed-manipulated-lesbian-lover-slash-psycho case, the Yogurt Shop possible satanic cult overtones murder case, and the shooting-of-crazed-woman-by-cops case just in the last four months. And Austin is one of the more peaceful places in Texas.

Just to check our intuition, we went to the Houston Chronicle and searched for murder. Sure enough, there's a triple homicide on the bill down there right now, with one of the victims being a pregnant woman, and with the defense offering this defense: the gun went off accidentally. The sawed off shotgun gun held in the hands of one of the defendents, who accidentally injured one of his confederates as it unexpectedly discharged. This is quite a defense.

Then -- this is just today, mind -- there is an item about a murder suicide, the man having killed his wife over his suspicion that she was unfaithful; there's a dispute over whether the Houston crime laboratory 'accidentally' skewed results in the conviction for murder of a man who allegedly killed an EPA agent; and other murder trials are hung up, like aircraft circling an overcrowded airport on a stormy day, because the Crime lab is having trouble with its DNA testers.

So: enough of these California crimes. !Basta! Let's shine a little light down here in Texas. If Chicago was once 'hog butcher to the world," we've dealt in enough abraded human flesh (shotgunned, stabbed, burned, poisoned, strung up, strangled, raped and toasted, randomly splattered with bullets) to deserve the title, human butcher to some of the world. A little consideration on the part of the national media would be nice.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Bollettino

This just in, from the Washington Times:

Al Qaeda (toys) linked to State Department
By Odaiah Scallywag
THE WASHINGTON TIMES


Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld today accused State Department leader Colin Powell of harboring al Qaeda terrorist (toys) and aiding their quest for (toy) weapons of mass destruction. Top S


His charges, based on "evolving" intelligence reports, marked the Pentagon's most detailed account of frivolousness at the State Department.
"We do have solid evidence of the presence in the State Department of little al Qaeda action figures, including some that look to have been manufactured by slave labor in Baghdad," the defense secretary said. "We have what we consider to be credible contacts in the Department who could help them acquire the whole set of weapons of mass destruction, plus Hotwheels, and plus, where is the respect, heaven's sake, for the good old GI Joe dolls?"
Mr. Rumsfeld's presentation at a Pentagon news conference was illustrated with two custom-made GI Joe dolls -- GI Wolfowitz and GI Perle. The Perle doll is a real beauty -it comes equipped with a string that you can pull, but only for $600,000. The charges came the day after White House National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice disclosed for the first time an intelligence report that said Undersecretary "Secret Liberal" Immerhof helped train al Qaeda dolls in the use of chemical weapons, i.e. cans of Right Guard.
Her words were reiterated yesterday by White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. "At a sit-down in the Pentagon, yesterday, in which Undersecretary of Nucular Defense Smitty "Neandrathal" Neandrathal pulled out the special GI Wolfowitz doll, Immerhof bombed him good with four direct squirts of Right Guard. You know how cheap that stuff smells! Secretary Neandrathal was latter unable to get a window seat at the Quatre Saisons, and thus missed seeing Ann Coulter pass by with a pet monkey."
The back-to-back disclosures were part of a new White House push to tie Powell's regime to some pennyante middle eastern milquetoast, instead of Chalabi, a man whom even a battalion of steroid inflamed heathens could not destroy. If the Pentagon can convince the public that Powell's department desecrates the GI Joe doll, especially in favor of dolls that represent the group that attacked America and killed more than 3,000 persons, the link would strengthen the case for a Rumsfeld-led attack on Powell.
Until the past two days, the White House, and chief ally Great Britain, have focused on State's arsenal of the gag gifts of mass destruction (whoopy cushions, stringy goo, old recordings of Tiny Tim) as justification for a pre-emptive attack and the establishment of a new State Department infrastructure.
President Bush is contemplating a Pentagon and State M & A but has not yet made a decision or approved a specific plan, his aides say.
Since shortly after September 11, Pentagon civilian hard-liners have pushed the CIA and other intelligence agencies to find and document all the damn toys that make fun of Pentagon civilian hard liners. The "linkage" issue was resisted at first by some in the CIA. But Mr. Rumsfeld's aides persisted, and intelligence reports were produced establishing that there is a dart board with Rumsfeld's head on it in the basement of the State Department. Colin Powell has refused to comment about reports that he may play darts down there on alternate Wednesdays.
In an essay on Rudyard Kipling, the much quoted George Orwell made a common sensical point that bears repeating. The seed of his essay was an edition of Kipling's poem that bore a preface by T.S. Eliot. Eliot, apparently, went to some lengths to dispel the notion that Kipling was a fascist. Orwell thinks Eliot point doesn't deserve the energy he puts into it. Kipling, he writes, was a typical jingoist of the expansive imperialist period. He believed in the racial superiority of Anglo Saxons; he believed in the goodness of the Indian Civil Service; but he did not believe in power for power's sake. He justified the ICS, and adumbrated Anglo-Saxon superiority, in terms of work and responsibility. He had, in other words, wholly other standards than the fascists. I will quote Orwell at length here:

"And yet the 'Fascist' charge has to be answered, because the first clue
to any understanding of Kipling, morally or politically, is the fact that
he was NOT a Fascist. He was further from being one than the most humane
or the most 'progressive' person is able to be nowadays. An interesting
instance of the way in which quotations are parroted to and fro without
any attempt to look up their context or discover their meaning is the
line from 'Recessional', 'Lesser breeds without the Law'. This line is
always good for a snigger in pansy-left circles. It is assumed as a
matter of course that the 'lesser breeds' are 'natives', and a mental
picture is called up of some pukka sahib in a pith helmet kicking a
coolie. In its context the sense of the line is almost the exact opposite
of this. The phrase 'lesser breeds' refers almost certainly to the
Germans, and especially the pan-German writers, who are 'without the Law'
in the sense of being lawless, not in the sense of being powerless. The
whole poem, conventionally thought of as an orgy of boasting, is a
denunciation of power politics, British as well as German. Two stanzas
are worth quoting (I am quoting this as politics, not as poetry):


If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law--
Lord God of hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget--lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word--
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

Much of Kipling's phraseology is taken from the Bible, and no doubt in
the second stanza he had in mind the text from Psalm CXXVII: 'Except the
lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it; except the Lord
keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.' It is not a text that
makes much impression on the post-Hitler mind. No one, in our time,
believes in any sanction greater than military power; no one believes
that it is possible to overcome force except by greater force. There is
no 'Law', there is only power. I am not saying that that is a true
belief, merely that it is the belief which all modern men do actually
hold. Those who pretend otherwise are either intellectual cowards, or
power-worshippers under a thin disguise, or have simply not caught up
with the age they are living in. Kipling's outlook is prefascist. He
still believes that pride comes before a fall and that the gods punish
HUBRIS. He does not foresee the tank, the bombing plane, the radio and
the secret police, or their psychological results."


We've been thinking of Orwell's point because we've been thinking, oh so hard, about Paul Berman. We've already mentioned one review of Berman's book in the Nation. "Terror and Liberalism" is apparently designed to match concept to a particular slogan of the last two years: Islamofascist. This hybrid has, as the semantacists say, an empty extension. Like the phrase son of a bitch, it isn't an insult that merits scientific work. However, since it gained currency among such grave pundits as Christopher Hitchens, and since it has circulated among the company of those who listen, in revanchist ecstasy, to the dulcet tones of Rush Limbaugh, Berman apparently felt it was time to lasso Islamofascist for all of world history.

Berman is an intellectual historian. Intellectual historians are professionally prone to view history too� intellectually, as if what is really happening out there is a battle of ideas. Battles of ideas rarely happen even in philosophy departments, where battles often turn out to be more about getting ahead than, say, sacrificing one's career on the altar of Wittgenstein's philosophy of language. This is not to "reduce" history to material forces - rather, it is to humanize ideas, which arise in heads connected to bodies, are thought out on paper, computer screens, and voice, and stimulate to action in extra-ideational contexts. The idea of salvation, for instance, has passed like a wind through the Roman Empire, through the courts of the Frank, through the auto-de-fe of fifteenth century Spain, through the anti-slavery movement in England, and through the streets of Lubbock Texas two days ago; in each case, it stimulated to action, and in each case, the action it stimulated was determined, as well, by other circumstances.

In the 1920s, fascists would tell you they were fascists as readily as libertarians will tell you they are libertarian today. Outside of self-professed fascists, there were fellow travelers. Since 1945, however, for obvious reasons, the number of self-professed fascists has diminished. So the hunt is on for the fellow travelers. In the 20s and 30s, some of the fellow travelers were Catholic. There was one insurmountable objection to fascism, however, for these people: fascism was militantly secular.

How did such a political philosophy play out in the Middle East? It played out, as one would expect, as secularism. The attraction of Fascism for Arab nationalists was obvious: the fascists opposed the French and the English. The French and the English were the proprietors of large swathes of the Middle East; hence the alliance between fascists and Middle Eastern nationalists. But these allies of Hitler and Mussolini did not go down with that duo after WWII. They retained a certain bizarre credit in the eyes of the Brits and the Americans. Why? Because they were sterling anti-communists. After WWII, as the Brits and the French lost their sphere of influence in the Middle East, they - and the Americans - played a game with the politics of the region in which anti-communism mixed with the desire to retain the dibs on oil. The big question, then, was nationalizing oil. The paradigmn case is that of Iran. Mossadeq was given the boot in an American arranged coup, the chief mover of which was General Fazollah Zahedi. When the history of this unfortunate incident was reported, at length, by the NYT in 2000, General Zahedi was described as "retired". Ah, your average NYT reader can't bear too much reality -- that seems to be the editorial decision making process here. He actually was arrested by the British in WWII and sent into exile, because of his German sympathies.

The reconstruction of fascist sympathizers in the Middle East didn't imply that Americans or Brits were themselves fascist sympathizers. They were following the path laid down by their perceptions of national interest. The game was premised on aggrandizing Western interest. That meant supporting old allies of fascism in Iraq and Iran, which they did without hesitation or protest from Western intellectuals, and supporting anti-fascism, in the guise of versions of Islamic theocracy, against regimes like Nassar's. Paul Berman's discovery of the writings of one of Nassar's enemies, Sayyed Qutb, is the foundation of his comparison of fundamentalist Islam with the totalitarianism of fascism and the totalitarianism of Communism; alas, in the report on Qutb he published in the NYT Magazine, there is hardly a word about what was happening in Egypt at the time of Qutb's imprisonment.

We'll continue with a general post about Berman's "theory." But before we get to the theory, read Marc Ericson's articles on the history of fascism in the Middle East published in the Asia Times. Here's a juicy quote from one of the articles:


"And yet another player fond of playing all sides against the middle had entered the game prior to Farouk's ouster: In 1951, the CIA's Kermit Roosevelt (grandson of president Teddy, who in 1953 would organize the overthrow of elected Iranian leader Mohammed Mossadegh and install Reza Pahlavi as Shah) opened secret negotiations with Nasser. Agreement was soon reached that the US, post-coup, would assist in building up Egypt's intelligence and security forces - in the obvious manner, by reinforcing Nasser's existing Germans with additional, "more capable", ones. For that, CIA head Allen Dulles turned to Reinhard Gehlen, one-time head of eastern front German military intelligence and by the early 1950s in charge of developing a new German foreign intelligence service. Gehlen hired the best man he knew for the job - former SS colonel Otto Skorzeny, who at the end of the war had organized the infamous ODESSA network to facilitate the escape of high-ranking Nazis to Latin America (mainly Peron's Argentina) and Egypt. With Skorzeny now on the job of assisting Nasser, Egypt became a safe haven for Nazi war criminals galore. The CIA officer in charge of the Egypt assistance program was Miles Copeland, soon a Nasser intimate."

Ericson is just a journalist. As a journalist, he knows an idea without a context is a flower doomed to bloom unseen. He is not an intellectual of Berman's caliber, who apparently believes that the plant is all bloom. Berman, for instance, never points out, in his article on Qutb, was that he was, after the US-Nassar rift, on our side. Or at least he was appropriated to our side:

"And then things got truly complicated and messy. Having played a large role in Nasser's power grab, the Muslim Brotherhood, after the 1949 assassination of Hassan al-Banna by government agents [see part 1] under new leadership and (since 1951) under the radical ideological guidance of Sayyid Qutb, demanded its due - imposition of Sharia (Islamic religious) law. When Nasser demurred, he became a Brotherhood assassination target, but with CIA and the German mercenaries' help he prevailed. In February 1954, the Brotherhood was banned. An October 1954 assassination attempt failed. Four thousand brothers were arrested, six were executed, and thousands fled to Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Lebanon.

Within short order, things got more tangled still: As Nasser in his brewing fight with Britain and France over control of the Suez Canal turned to the Soviet Union for assistance and arms purchases, the CIA approached and began collaboration with the Brotherhood against their ex-ally, the now pro-Soviet Nasser."

In an ironic turn, Bush's Iraq adventure is beginning to seem like a second breath for an Islamicist movement. We've been here before. In fact, we keep arriving here because demented people are at the wheel, who have substituted their convictions for any acquaintance with the culture and history of the places in which they have decided to implement their convictions.

Monday, April 21, 2003

Bollettino

LI is always behind the curve. For instance, get this: we don't see the difference between the weapons of mass destruction and the weapons of good destruction. We are clueless, here. It is a musical distinction recognizable by any Pentagon nitwit, and every editorialist on the Washington Post board, but LI -- we are just stumped. For instance, take Qatar. The Campaign against the Arms Trade has pointed out that Qatar is rather small, really. There are 724,000 people who proudly call themselves Qatarinis - or Qatari, or something like that. Now those folks need to protect their property and chattel just like anybody else. But they go to some lengths to make sure that no thief in the night makes off with their stuff. "According to US government figures, Qatar spent $700 million on arms between 1994 and 1997 and $1.2 billion from 1998 to 2001 - all from Western Europe." Now, 700 million dollars buys a lot of Uzis; but Uzis are so passe, nowadays.

Things get complicated -- especially when you are a good country, and you are buying good weaponry, from good countries like Britain and the US. Here's a bit more about Qatar's desire to have the nationwide equivalent of mace in their purse:

"In 1996 the Qatar and UK governments signed an agreement on a defence equipment package. The same year, Qatar signed a �500 million with BAe for ships, aircraft and armoured vehicles. The then Defence Secretary, Michael Portillo, said he had offered a comprehensive Gulf security proposal to Qatar. In 1997 negotiations continued concerning an $833 million 'revolving credit package', whereby Qatar is offered credit and pays it off in crude oil. On the 11th September, 2002, Michael Portillo was appointed to the board of BAe Systems as a non-executive director. He was appointed to improve their relations with the Ministry of Defence.

In 2000, it was discovered that payments of over �100 million were being held in Jersey-based accounts, called the Havana and Yaheeb trusts, for the benefit of the Qatar Foreign Secretary, Sheik Hamad bin Jaber al-Thani, the Emir's uncle. They were being used to purchase real estate and hotels. BAe were associated with at least one payment in to these accounts, for �7 million. In June of this year Jersey's attorney-general announced he was dropping the investigation. According to the Observer newspaper, "...the Foreign Office met Jersey authorities to 'explain' the damage the investigation was having on relations. They are said to have pointed out the risk of losing trade and the importance of Qatar as a strategic ally in the 'war against terrorism' " (9/6/02). It is thought to be the case that payments from European arm's manufacturers also reached these accounts."

Well, call it what you will, but a tank per person, a Black Hawk helicopter for every neighborhood, and well equipped cruisers for the Qatari navy is a situation that looks to me like it could spread mass destruction. Not that I'm complaining -- I understand that this is the financial equivalent of that old time medical recipe, bleeding. Bleeding supposedly allowed the patient, who had somehow concentrated too much of a particular humor, to get rid of it. Weapons sales allow countries with too much oil revenue, and a perhaps restive population, to bleed a couple hundred million, or billion, or whatever, into generous Western economies. In return, the West sometimes bombs a randomly selected third world country and then -- well, it helps to rebuild it! Christian compassion can go no futher than that.

Ah, the Weapons of Good Mass Destruction -- even the very Reverend Tony Blair, with his lamb like conscience, has been a willing salesmen of these things. Foreign Policy commented on Blair's 'peace' visit to India last year. Like Jesus Christ and Gandhi, Blair's moral idols (and lets face it, he's bucking for Gospel status himself, our Tony!), he was spreading sweetness and light and 1.6 billion dollars worth of military aircraft to his Indian brethren:

"When British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited India in January, ostensibly it was to calm troubled waters. But according to Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes, Mr. Blair also was pushing a $1.43 billion deal for India to purchase 66 British-made Hawk fighter-bombers. The Hawk deal is part of a drive by British arms manufacturers to make a killing from the crisis. London is also selling the Indians Jaguar bombers capable of delivering nuclear weapons, in addition to peddling tanks, artillery, anti-aircraft guns, small arms, and ammunition."

Now, LI is so naive that the selling of a Jaguar bomber capable of delivering nuclear weapons to a nuclear power seems ... oh, drat, it just doesn't seem like stopping the spread of these nasty WMD.

Which is why we'd never make it in D.C. Expertise in these matters requires a keen semantic sense. It is much like rocket science. That's why we are doing this blog, instead of smoking cigars with the big boys in some of the Defense Department's off hourse clubs.
Bollettino

Bagmen

Coups are expensive. As Jonathan Kwitney pointed out years ago, private enterprise and public governments often find pleasing compromises that allow them to go dutch on overturning third world governments and installing those pleasing puppets that age so badly in their baroque, disco palaces. It is a win win proposition - in the old days, you got staunch anti-communists, elected again and again by a wonderfully cooperative electorate, and you got sweet deals being cut that divvied up, in the most rational way, the natural resources to which the third world country was, by some mistake of providence, heir to.


One wonders how the INC in Iraq is being financed. We are suspicious that an exile Iraqi billionaire currently being held in an extradition trial in London, Nadhmi Auchi, might have some answers. The Observer has a wrap around bio of Auchi that reveals some interesting things. The man's main company is hq-ed in Luxemburg, natch: GenMed. We are being killed, in this century, by bland corporate acronyms. Auchi was connected, in some mysterious way, with the former meat machine tyrant of a Middle Eastern country -- guess which one. But Auchi claims, of course, that said Meat Machine turned against him and killed his brothers. However, Auchi, who turned up in Britain in the eighties, did not let family tragedy get in the way of peculative interests. He cut deals for Elf, and for other Euro petro companies, to get oil from Iraq -- and for himself he collected your average multi million dollar kickback. GenMed's main business, supposedly, is hospitality. In fact, Auchi's company just opened a swinging hot spot in Amman, Jordan. Auchi himself keeps to London. In his office hangs a painting of the House of Commons signed by such well wishers as Tony Blair. Blair's cabinet has a soft spot for the exiled Iraqi -- in fact, one sub minister was caught advising him on extradition matters vis a vis the French charge against him still on the docket there.

The Observer article doesn't touch on his connections with one Henry J. Leir. If you touch on that connection, you can get sued for libel, as Le Soir in Belgium found out. There is an article of mysterious provenance floating on the web none the less, in which it is claimed that Auchi was connected as an arms dealer with Leir. Leir, apparently, is golden: a major player in channeling enriched uranium to Israel -- again, for you libel lawyers out there, this is all wink wink. Leir endowed a chair at Tufts university in -- oh, spirit of the age -- peace, and seems to be an establishment figure in America -- but in Europe he has a different reputation. Denis Robert und Ernest Backes, two journalists, have written a book, Revelations, about the Leir/Auchi connection. Here's a short bio of Leir

Der Amerikaner Leir, 1900 als Heinrich Hans Leipziger in Oberschlesien (Beuthen, heute Bythom) geboren, 1933 nach Luxemburg, 1939 in die USA emigriert und nach dem zweiten Weltkrieg im Gefolge der Luxemburger Regierung nach Luxemburg zur�ckgekehrt, soll seit Ende des zweiten Weltkriegs entscheidenden Einfluss auf Politik und Wirtschaft des Gro�herzogtums genommen und dessen Integration in die Weltwirtschaft und Finanzwelt massgeblich gef�rdert haben. Henri J. Leir, der vor drei Jahren in New York starb, leitete jahrzehntelang von Luxemburg, New York und Lausanne aus seine vielf�ltigen Gesch�fte (Rohstoffe, Metalle, Waffen, Finanzen), die ihn schon in den 50er Jahren zu einem der reichsten M�nner der Welt machten. In enger Abstimmung mit dem politischen Establishment nutzte er Luxemburg als Basis und Sprungbrett f�r seine Gesch�fte. Es gelang ihm, das Land zu einem der verl�sslichsten europ�ischen Partner der USA zu machen. Die N�he sowohl zur republikanischen Partei in den USA wie auch zur Luxemburger Regierung und zum gro�herzoglichen Hof konnte er f�r sich und seine weitverzweigten Gesch�fte erfolgreich nutzen."

"The American Leir, born IN 1900 as Heinrich Hans Leipziger in Upper Schleswig, Beuthen, today Bythom, went to Luxemburg in 1933, emigrated to the US in 1939, and after the second world war returned with the returning Luxemburg government; since the end of the second world war he exerted a decisive influence on the politics and finances of the duchy. He facilitated its entry and integration into World business and Finance. Henry J. Leir, who died three years ago in New York, headed many companies for decades from New York, Luxemborg and Lausanne, in many areas (raw materials, metalls, weapons, finance), and by the fifties he was already one of the world's richest men. In close cooperation with the political establishment he used Luxemburg as a basis and diving board for his businesses. He succeeded in making the country one of the most trustworthy of America's partners. His nearness to the Republican party as to the Government of Luxemburg and the court of the duke he employed to the glory and success of his divergent businesses. "

A man who, one would assume, would shrink with horror from partnering with a minion of Saddam. Yet Auchi and Leir seemed to hit it off. Perhaps this is because Leir, and Luxemborg banks, have a long history of supping with various devils. Roberts' book reveals more than the machinations of Auchi in the present. Ernst Backes was a central figure, apparently, in the setting up of an international clearing house in Luxemborg. He was involved, for instance, in the transfer of seven million dollars from a private American bank to the national bank of Algeria in 1980, which was the basis for the arms for hostages deal cemented between Reagan and Iran.

So... our guess is that a lot of black money is flowing, at the moment, towards Iraq. And that Luxemburg is once again the happy middle man turning black to white. Let freedom ring.






Sunday, April 20, 2003

Bollettino

Al Jazeera is reporting that American troops are not allowing the employees of Iraq's oil ministry back on the site. While the Americans are encouraging Iraqis to return to work elsewhere -- from looted library to looted sandal shop -- the oil ministry, which was carefully untargeted by American smart missiles, is apparently one of those redoubts that the Bush administration is not going to give up just yet.

The Financial Times also has an extensive report. There are several curious figures hanging about the Ministry, all connected to the INC paramilitaries:


"The former minister is barred from entering, as are his deputies. A man in a green suit, standing outside the barbed wire, introduced himself as Fellah al-Khawaja and said he represented the Co-ordinating Committee for the Oil Ministry, which few of the employees had heard of.

It draws its authority from a self-declared local government led by Mohamed Mohsen al-Zubaidi, a recently returned exile who says he is now the effective mayor of Baghdad.

According to Faris Nouri, a ministry section chief, the committee has issued a list of who should be allowed into the ministry by US troops guarding the building. Yesterday it was announced that Mr Zubaidi's deputy, former general Jawdat al-Obeidi, would lead Iraq's delegation to the next meeting of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

But when asked who was giving the orders at the ministry, most employees pointed to a portly man standing in the lobby, who looked to be in his 50s but declined to give his name."

Ah, the coup in the making! The unusual ardor, evidenced by the Pentagon, for democracy in the Middle East in the pre-War period, is rapidly cooling into the accustomed shapes of a puppet government. Tradition re-asserts itself.