Saturday, October 06, 2007

review envy

“A policeman, Maurice Marullas, has blown out his brains. Let’s save the name of this honest man from being forgotten.”

LI recommends that you run at link speed to Julian Barnes’ LRB essay/review of Novels in Three Lines by Félix Fénéon, translated by Luc Santé. This is such a good review that I turned several colors while reading it – green, from envy, white, from the painful thought that I would never write a review this good, and blue – well, because that is my normal color. I am, after all, Krishna. Luckily, you will notice that at least the first sentence doesn't quite work. This single blot has saved me the bother of following M. Maraullas.

Anyway, if you don’t read it, you are a stinking pig.

we don't know it

… jede Stunde mit dem letzten Schlag von tausend unschuldigen Herzen durch die Welt dröhnen müsste – “every hour must roar throughout the world with the last beats of a thousand innocent hearts.”

Optimist: But all wars have ended with peace.

Faultfinder: Not this one. This one has not taken place on the surface of life… no, it has raged inside life itself. The front has been extended to the whole country. And there it will stay. And this changed life, if there still is life, will be accompanied by the old spiritual condition. The world is perishing and we won’t know it. Everything was yesterday and will be forgotten; no one will see today or be afraid of tomorrow. They will forget that the war was lost, forget they began it, foret they fought it. That is why the war won’t end.

- Karl Kraus, taken from Calasso’s essay, The Perpetual War.

LI just had a nice chat with Amy Chua, the woman who wrote World on Fire, about her new book, Day of Empire. We did the interview for the Austin Statesman. After hanging up, we went to the computer and read the newspapers, and the happy feeling got shot all full of holes, and started leaking on the rug.

We made a resolve last spring to write much less about Iraq on this site because that seemed hopeless and narcissistic. Nothing we said, no analysis we made, mattered. One could apply that criticism to the collectivity of what we have said about anything – but only a mean person would do that, right?

However, like the federal response to Katrina, the Nisoor Square massacre is not only a crime in itself, but a special crime, a representative crime. Usually we can trust the media to cover up representative crimes while making non-representative crimes household names – thus, the media attention devoted to the doings of OJ Simpson were in typical and amazing disproportion to the reality of crime in America, which does not generally consist of rich black men killing their white ex wives, but of poor black men railroaded into prison by any means possible to preserve the subtending structures of the battered Jim Crow system. Which is déjà vu all over again – the same thing happened in the South in the 1880s, when the Federal government surrendered on the 13th and 14th amendment to the White South and the White South, to assure its dominance before the legal structure of Jim Crow was set up, did the same disenfranchisement by way of prison thing.

However, the media’s record of distraction and decoying is not 100%. Sometimes, they accidentally stumble upon a real representative crime. The Nisoor Square massacre is one of them. Among its inglorious aspects is how it lifts into the intermittent glare of public attention a history going back twenty years, to the intervention in Yugoslavia.

Now, controversies about that intervention always seem to go around in a circle of assumptions that I think aren’t true. Unlike the invasion of Iraq, it simply isn’t true that Clinton came into office wanting a more interventionist foreign policy. And I’ve read no credible account that points to the White House as the driver of the intervention – it was driven at a lower level. But it was driven by the same means that were employed in the pre-war campaign of 2002 – trickery, lies, and the crucial work of a dedicated group of liberal publicists tied to a group of people, like Peter Galbraith, at that time ambassador to Croatia, determined to pull the U.S. in, and willing to break international law to do it. In Yugoslavia, as in Colombia, the Clinton administration turned, like some dog trained by a neo-liberal Pavlov, to “private security forces’ – thugs, in order to “lessen the political pressure” – get around legal democratic strictures – in order to enforce policy. To paraphrase the famous sentence from Vietnam, the liberal hawk motto is, we have to destroy democracy in order to spread it. And destroy it they have definitely tried to – all of the usurpations of dictatorial executive power we associate with the Bush administration were prefigured under Clinton. No, Clinton didn’t torture, but he set up the mechanism of executive privilege to invade our rights – notoriously in the case of encryption – that were simply expanded by the Bushies.

Such is the state of the current historical case. You have to do some combination of mega plumbing and root canal work to get to the bottom of all of this hiring of mercenaries, this welling rot and decay that is sapping the spirit from this republic.

All of which is to intro my next post, I think, which is a treat for the ladies and gentlemen in the paying audience and you out there at home. Let’s have a big round of applause for my upcoming translation of Kraus’ famous essay, Silence, Word and Act, written in 1915 a year after he wrote In these Momentous Times, his attack on the War. For that year, according to Edward Timms, his English biographer, Kraus was experiencing the love of his life with Sidonie Nadherny, who was as well connected as you could be in the Habsburg Empire. Her family estate in Janovitz in Bohemia was close to the Archduke Ferdinand’s. Kraus, on the other hand, was a converted Jew, a scandalous journalist, and not at all socially acceptable – as her friend, Rilke, told her. Rilke was much too much the gentlemen to want his friend marrying a Jew. (Rilke, for all his genius, was a bit of a shit). Although Sidonie herself wrote in her diary, in 1917: “K.K., I wish he’d love me less, for in my heart are other dreams and faithful I cannot be and no man should want that of a woman, for it must make her fade.”

In these Momentous Times (In diese Grosse Zeit) came out in November, 1914 (Which began with the famous sentence, In this great time which I still knew when it was so little). Kraus hadn’t said much about the war since it began in August. There, he had his say. So, in 1915, Kraus was already known – as Shaw was known in the U.K. – for his stance against the war. Yet the Fackel was not shuttered – although of course the yahoos raged. This essay is connected to his Momentous Times essay.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Representative Chris Shays: a venomous blot

Representative Chris Shays from Connecticut had this to say, today, about the passage of a bill that would mildly curb the corrupt and odious mercenaries Americans have unloosed in Iraq:

“Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., accused Democrats of rushing the bill through Congress in a partisan bid to criticize the Bush administration's handling of the war.
"It is amazing to me the number of men in Blackwater that have lost their lives and we never hear it on the other side of the aisle," Shays said. "Blackwater is evil. That's the way it appears in all the dialogue."

Of course, he is defending the company that did, among other things, this:

“On that day, the Blackwater convoy was responding to a bombing near a State Department convoy about a mile away. As the Blackwater armored vehicles entered the square, a heavily guarded area near Baghdad's affluent Mansour neighborhood, Iraqi police officers moved to stop traffic.

Kadhum, the doctor, and her son Haitham, who were in the flow of cars the officers were trying to stop, didn't react quickly enough. A Blackwater guard fired, striking Haitham as he sat in the driver's seat, three witnesses said.
"The bullet went through the windshield and split his head open," recalled traffic police officer Sarhan Thiab. "His mother was holding him, screaming for help."

Remember, too, that the Blackwater then wrote up a memo of the incident, on Embassy stationary, and even leaked it to the press, in which no mention was made of any casualties.

All of this reminds LI of Sejanus’ speech in Ben Jonson’s play:

“The coarsest act
Done to my service, I can so requite,
As all the world shall style it honourable:
Your idle, virtuous definitions,
Keep honour poor, and are as scorn'd as vain:
Those deeds breathe honour that do suck in gain.”

And, of course, what would a controversy be without the mob of liberal kiss-asses, bribed touts, and violence fetishists pleading for villains. This is from TNR’s The Plank:

"Via TPM, I recommend this MotherJones article on Doug Brooks and the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), which he heads up. The IPOA is the trade group for private military contractors, including Blackwater. But, although the MoJo article is provocatively headlined "Blackwater's Man in Washington," it provides a nuanced--and actually somewhat sympathetic--portrait of Brooks:

Brooks, who insists that his goal is "to help end wars," brims with excitement about the private sector's potential to save lives in conflict zones around the world. But the conduct in the Iraq War of companies like Blackwater, an IPOA founding member accused of multiple indiscriminant shootings in Iraq, has proven to be a distraction, as have accusations against other companies (not all of them IPOA members) of human trafficking, overbilling, corruption, and shoddy work. Though at times Brooks can make hired guns sound like U.N. peacekeepers, few people doubt his good intentions. "I've known Doug for a while, and I take him very seriously when talks about his focus on private peacekeeping. It's not just marketing," says Singer. The reality, he adds, is that ever since the Iraq invasion the IPOA "has been forced to steer in a completely different direction. You can see that in the press inquiries that Doug is having to answer all the time. He's doing a lot more talking right now about Blackwater and Baghdad than about using contractors in Congo or Darfur." It's a conflict that is perhaps unavoidable as Brooks struggles to ensure that recent contractor scandals "don't hamstring the humanitarian potential" of the IPOA's member companies. But according to Avant, the Iraq War has made it harder, not easier, for Brooks to promote standards in the private military industry. She points out that, especially early in the war, companies that bent the rules typically did better for themselves than companies that followed them. The premium placed on good behavior was weakened as a result. Still, she says, IPOA standards are a good first step. "The industry does have an incentive to say, 'Look, we're not just a group of cowboy mercenaries. This is the law we operate on; these are the standards.'"
For what it's worth, I interviewed Brooks last year for this story on some recent college grads' efforts to stop the genocide in Darfur. And I came away from the interview with Brooks thinking that his heart was definitely in the right place. Alas, the same can't necessarily be said for some of the people he represents.”

'Heart being in the right place' means that he participates in the action movie fantasy of giving opulent white American males a proxy instrument to rain death down upon who they chose. The presupposition here, so flattering to the moral wankers who make up the circles of seriousness in D.C., is that the deciders have such tender sensibilities that we can trust them implicitly to do the right thing – which is why they need to preserve an on call mercenary force. It worked so well under the first Clinton, so let's preserve it for the second, is the subtext, here.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

a stray thesis

One of my stray theses about happiness is that the discourse of happiness suffers from a variant of the pathetic fallacy, as Ruskin called the attempt to instill a mood into a landscape, or to project human feelings, in general, on the inanimate. The variant of this is to project happiness upon fortunate circumstances, as though the circumstances themselves were happy. Since, of course, happiness derives from the experience of those circumstances, we are dealing with a sort of mass hallucination, a doubling of the hedonic focus. Or perhaps I should say a hedonic neurosis. And from this we get an unending and dreary succession of complaints on the same theme: I'm not happy!

To explain what I mean, let me quote history’s eternal dirty old man, Voltaire. Voltaire, as is well known, found the abstract constructions of the doctors of the church ultimately laughable. But he was also wary of the abstract constructions of the materialists, the more radical group of philosophes that came after him. He distrusted their confident assertions about matter. Matter was a shit or a fuck, it was a ball or a pen, it was a building or a street, and when it was organic matter, it worked in a way we don’t understand and did things we didn’t comprehend. He is an old crab, and only old crabs really have the smile of reason on their pusses. In a rather confusing text, a gloss on Diderot’s entry on the passions in the Encyclopedie, Voltaire imagines himself interrogating, first, a doctor of the church.

Tell me this, doctor (I don’t mean medical doctor, who has done something, spent a long time examining the sinosities of the brain, who has researched whether the nerves have a circulating fluid, who has dug in vain in the womb in order to see how a thinking being forms, and who knows everything that can be known of our machine, alas, I mean a doctor in theology). I conjure you in the name of that reason which makes you tremble. Tell me why, having seen your servant make a movement from the left to the right and from the right to the left of the gluteus muscle, that, on the spot your imagination lights up; two erector muscles, coming off of the iskion, give a perpendicular movement to your phallus – its cavernous body fills with blood – you introduce your balanus intra vaginum of your governess, and your balanus tickles suum clitorida giving her, like you, a one or two second pleasure, and from which is born a thinking being, all corrupt with original sin? What is the relation, if you please, between this action and the movement of the gluteus muscle of your gouvernante [sic – maid]? You can read Thomas Aquinus and Scotus and Bonaventure, you will never find anything explaining that incomprehensible mechanism by which the eternal architect directed your ideas, your desires your actions, and had born a little bastard of a priest predestined to damnation for all eternity.

So far, so good. In fact, this connects to Diderot’s entry – which I am planning to use in my essay, so I will be translating it soon for you good and lucky people. Then Voltaire takes on an even odder human behavior.
“The next morning, after having taken your chocolate, your memory retraces the image of the pleasure you tasted yesterday, and you begin anew. Do you believe, my great automaton, that it is that memory that you have in common with animals? Do you know what nerve fibers recall your ideas, and paint in your brain all the voluptuous pleasures of yesterday by a prolonged sentiment which has slept with you and re-awakened with you? The doctor replies according to Thomas Aquinas that all of this is a product of his vegetative soul, his sensitive soul, and his intellectual soul, all through of which compose one soul, which being non-extended evidently acts on the whole extended body.
I spot his embarrassed air, as he stutters out words of the meanings of which he hasn’t the slightest idea. And I say, at last: doctor, if you agree in spite of yourself that you don’t know what a soul is, and that you have spoken your whole life long without understanding it; why don’t you break down an confess it like an honest man? why not conclude that it is necessary to comclude with the physical premonition of doctor Boursier, and in certain spots in Malebranche, and chiefly in that wise Locke, so superior to Malebranche? why don’t you conclude, I say, that your soul is a faculty that God gave you, without telling you the secret of it, as he has given you so many others? learn that many reasoners claim that, properly speaking, there is only the unknown power of the divine Demiurge and his unknown laws which all operate in us? And, to speak frankly, we don’t know what it is all about.”
From which Voltaire concludes, at the end of the essay:

“Poor marionettes of the eternal demiurge, who know neither why nor how an invisible hand makes your parts move, and then throws us in to the mass of others in the box! Let us repeat here, more than ever, with Aristotle: everything is an occult quality.”

There is something about this comic nihilism that reminds me of another grand old dirty old man, Bertrand Russell, who gave up philosophy, for the most part, in the forties, telling people that he’d gone back to Berkeley – and then delighting in dousing enthusiasms in his History of Philosophy. These crabs and their smiles of reason. I wonder if this is where I’m headed?

However, to return to my point. Even the basic sexual elements, that which will give us pleasure, turns out to be a much more unpredictable experience, constructed from internal mysteries, than we like to admit. Does a beautiful ass move you? A voice? Hair? Hairlessness? We go out in the world, we make experiments, or... more often, we don't. We find a place to settle and we cling to it, because there is a great cost to making experiments. Voltaire, who is making a somewhat different point than my point about the hedonic fallacy, is pointing to the root of it, nevertheless.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

the always awesome media cogito

There are two news stories I’d recommend to LI readers today – one is by James Glanz, of all people, in the NYT. Emboldened by the Waxman committee’s timid display of intransigence – there’s even a threat that the Democrats might try to regulate the mercenaries in Iraq, heavens! the Dems play so rough! – the establishment American press has actually gone out and collected information, instead of letting information, in the form of faxes from the State department composed by Blackwater, come to them – and of course, in the latter case, be distributed by them to the public at large, which must be cretinized every day if the system is to roll lustily forward.

So, after persistently reporting on the death toll settled on by the State department at 11, the NYT story raises the stakes a bit – to 17 dead, 24 wounded. In a nice ass covering move, this is attributed to Iraqi officials and called a ‘higher toll than previously thought.’ You will notice the function of thought, here. ‘Thought’ isn’t Descartes’ thought, animate and animating in all human beings, the kingly cogito, but NYT’s thought, where it is the intellectual property of a small and elite group of serious people, which include Blackwater, Democratic party consultants, the Pentagon, and of course the White House, which does the thinking around here – that is, in these here states.

Then we get the grisly account:

“The new details include these:
A deadly cascade of events began when a single bullet apparently fired by a Blackwater guard killed an Iraqi man whose weight probably remained on the accelerator and propelled the car forward as the passenger, the man’s mother, clutched him and screamed.
The car continued to roll toward the convoy, which responded with an intense barrage of gunfire in several directions, striking Iraqis who were desperately trying to flee.
Minutes after that shooting stopped, a Blackwater convoy — possibly the same one — moved north from the square and opened fire on another line of traffic a few hundred yards away, in a previously unreported separate shooting, investigators and several witnesses say.
But questions emerge from accounts of the earliest moments of the shooting in Nisour Square.

The car in which the first people were killed did not begin to closely approach the Blackwater convoy until the Iraqi driver had been shot in the head and lost control of his vehicle. Not one witness heard or saw any gunfire coming from Iraqis around the square. And following a short initial burst of bullets, the Blackwater guards unleashed an overwhelming barrage of gunfire even as Iraqis were turning their cars around and attempting to flee.

As the gunfire continued, at least one of the Blackwater guards began screaming, “No! No! No!” and gesturing to his colleagues to stop shooting, according to an Iraqi lawyer who was stuck in traffic and was shot in the back as he tried to flee. The account of the struggle among the Blackwater guards corroborates preliminary findings of the American investigation.

Still, while the series of events pieced together by the Iraqis may be correct, important elements could still be missing from that account, according to the American official familiar with the continuing American investigation into the shootings.

Among the questions still to be answered, the official said, is whether at any time nearby Iraqi security forces began firing, possibly leading the Blackwater convoy to believe it was under attack and therefore justified in returning fire. It is also possible that as the car kept rolling toward the intersection, the Blackwater guards believed it posed a threat and intensified their shooting.”

Yes, when we ‘think’, we have to remember we are on sufferance. What American officials think will, of course, be treated as the word of God – and like God, these American officials must not be named. To name them would be a form of blasphemy, although on the other hand, it just might lead to idolatry – so wise are they, so successful, so tough, so mission accomplished, that it is possible we, en masse, would fall down and worship at their feet. Worried by both things, the NYT has taken thought to prevent it.

Then we have the ‘spot report’ from the Washington Post, which gives us a chuckleworthy picture of our brave mercenaries in Iraq and their firin’ ways. Seems like Prince’s citation of the number of firearm discharges against the number of missions is probably skewed by, oh, 80 percent. But not to worry! The mercs are regulated by the toughest of the tough, such as one Lightener. A man whose thoughts are as the toughened, ultra tough, tough tough tough thoughts of the Weekly Standard editorial board, which are thoughts indeed.

“Procedures for reporting shooting incidents also often varied, according to current and former guards. "It's almost like a case of cover your ass," the former Blackwater guard said. "It's like, 'These guys did this, they filled out this report, we have documentation on it, and unless anybody else says anything, it's in this file here.' "
Lightner, the Army major who monitors shooting incidents, said he thought the number of reported incidents was in some ways insignificant. "Other than entertainment value, I don't see why I need to be all that worried about the number of incidents, as long as they were legitimate," he said. "If they were incidents of wrongdoing, then that's a different story."
Lightner said he usually accepted the company's version of events. "If they're reporting firing a weapon, and there's no wrongdoing, and they operated according to the law, then God bless 'em, drive on," he said. "If Aegis sends me a report and says, 'Bad guys shot at us, we shot back and dropped two of them,' I'm not going to investigate. I'm not going to worry about it, unless somebody comes back and says, 'Yeah, they dropped two children, or they dropped a woman.' "

Yup, its funner than a shootin’ gallery…

The important thing here is not to let the Democrats get away with ‘regulating’ the mercenaries. The mercenaries have to go. And the problem with them being used by the Pentagon at all is that the use is bi-partisan. Clinton used Dyncorps, remember, as a substitute for American troops in Bosnia because – he didn’t want to be constrained by the popular impulse not to commit American troops. For which he was lauded by the liberal interventionists like the Roman senate used to laud Nero. Plant a wicked seed, grow a wicked tree, bearing poison fruit.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Blackwater getting paid to monitor blackwater exonerates Blackwater

LI has been thinking more about CNN’s Blackwater report. To refresh your memory, here’s the salient quote

Blackwater said its employees responded properly to an insurgent attack on a convoy, and the State Department "spot report" written by the Blackwater contractor underscores that and doesn't mention civilian casualties.

However, the contractor's account is at odds with Iraqis' version of the incident. A senior Iraqi National Police official participating in the Iraqi governmental probe of the shooting said the Blackwater gunfire was unprovoked and random, killing and wounding several civilians.

Blackwater contractor Darren Hanner drafted the two-page spot report on the letterhead of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security for the embassy's Tactical Operations Center, said a source involved in diplomatic security at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Hanner, listed on the report as the center's watch officer, was working for Blackwater at the time the report was written -- just after the shooting occurred, said a highly placed industry source. He was to rotate out of Iraq last week, the source said.”

Now, let’s move beyond the fact that Blackwater not only got paid for murdering Iraqis, but – in one of those sweet beyond belief deals that make our time so precious – even got paid for covering it up. This is double dipping with a vengeance.

No, LI has been thinking of the news stories that came out after the Nisoor Square shooting, notably in the NYT and the Washington Post. Both sources reported the shootings in a rather odd way. That is, they reported them wholly through the lens of the State Department – which, as we know now, was speaking in terms it had contracted Blackwater to make up. In other words, it reported on Blackwater’s murders using Blackwater’s spin. Of course, it isn’t as though the media, spiritually in hock to the Bush culture, couldn’t manufacture their own bs. As Fred Hiatt says, in his ‘I love mercenaries’ editorial in the Washington Post today (an editorial in which, of course, he doesn’t even utter the dreaded M word:

“The latest shooting incident -- one of at least five this year in which Blackwater guards have killed Iraqis -- is still under investigation by a U.S.-Iraqi commission. Teams from the State Department (which is getting FBI help) and the Pentagon are conducting separate reviews of private security contractors. Already, though, it seems clear that Blackwater's critics are right in one important respect: There are inadequate controls over security firms, especially those working for the State Department. A decree by the coalition occupation authority early in the war exempted U.S contractors from Iraqi laws, and it's not clear that Blackwater guards working for the State Department are covered in practice by U.S. statutes that govern behavior by American soldiers. This needs to be corrected. Even if a proposed Iraqi law governing private contractors does not go forward, Congress and the Bush administration should ensure that those who kill innocent Iraqis or engage in other criminal excesses can be held legally accountable. Moreover, U.S. diplomats and military commanders should exercise more control over the guards who work for them, with the aim of preventing them from needlessly alienating Iraqis.

At the same time it is foolish to propose the elimination of private security firms in Iraq and Afghanistan, at least in the short term. As Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates pointed out at a recent congressional hearing, the downsizing of the U.S. military has left the Army without enough people to perform many specialized tasks -- of which VIP security is one. More than 130,000 contractors serve the U.S. mission in Iraq, including some 30,000 security guards, and without them it would be impossible for U.S. forces to function.”

(One should remember: the Post is dead set on the U.S. bombing Iran. That, at the same time, the Post doesn’t think the U.S. could operate without a mercenary force tells us that the Post would either like to see that mercenary force expanded or that the Post expresses its foreign policy views with the charming insouciance of a baby learning to use the word da-da. Take your pick.)

If we go back to this report on September 28 in the Post, helpfully headlined –

“Blackwater Faced Bedlam, Embassy Finds: 'First Blush' Report Raises New Questions on Shooting”,

we find an ‘embassy’ report that gives us a much different picture of what happened in Nisoor square than any of the other reports. The Post made this a front page article.

“The initial U.S. Embassy report on a Sept. 16 shooting incident in Baghdad involving Blackwater USA, a private security firm, depicts an afternoon of mayhem that included a car bomb, a shootout in a crowded traffic circle and an armed standoff between Blackwater guards and Iraqi security forces before the U.S. military intervened.
The two-page report, described by a State Department official as a "first blush" account from the scene, raises new questions about what transpired in the intersection. According to the report, the events that led to the shooting involved three Blackwater units. One of them was ambushed near the traffic circle and returned fire before fleeing the scene, the report said. Another unit that went to the intersection was then surrounded by Iraqis and had to be extricated by the U.S. military, it added.”

Interesting, isn’t it, that the Post’s 'two page memo' seems to correspond exactly to the Darren Hanner memo. In fact, they are identical, which means that the Post devoted its headline and a story to simply repeating a memo written by a Blackwater employee, without telling its readers that this memo was written by a Blackwater employee. That, basically, the Post was taking stenography from Blackwater. By attributing the memo to the ‘embassy’, the Post could then triangulate it with quotes from ‘Blackwater’. This is known as a virtuous circle, or circle jerk, in the spin-news world of American reporting.

So we get this paragraph:

“The report, by the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, details the events as described by Blackwater guards -- details that are now at the center of an intense debate in Iraq and in Congress over the larger role of private security firms in Iraq. Tens of thousands of armed, private guards operate in Iraq, protecting everything from U.S. and Iraqi officials to supply convoys. The shooting incident is being scrutinized in at least three separate investigations.
Witnesses and the Iraqi government have insisted that the shooting by the private guards was unprovoked. Blackwater has claimed that its guards returned fire only after they were shot at. The document makes no reference to civilian casualties. Eleven Iraqi civilians were killed and 12 wounded in the incident. The report said Blackwater sustained no casualties.”

Now, if we substitute into the first sentence, “The report, by Blackwater, details the events as described by Blackwater guards’, we get a pretty good sense of how the news is usually reported from Iraq, and some sense of why we are still there. The media isn’t just brownnosing this administration; it has become, soul and body, part of the White House’s anal equipment.

It helps to remember this story when reading any stories reported from Iraq in the American press.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Lo-ammi: a son is born

Sometimes LI wonders why we bother with commentary. Collage is the mightier instrument. So, this is from the latest NYT Blackwater piece, reporting on one of Blackwater’s murders [called ‘incidents’ as a figleaf]

“The incident involving “a drunken Blackwater contractor” arose when the employee killed a bodyguard for the Iraqi vice president, Adil Abd-al-Mahdi, in December 2006. State Department officials allowed Blackwater to take the shooter out of Iraq less than 36 hours later.

Then the State Department charge d’affaires recommended that Blackwater make “a sizable payment” and an “apology” in an effort to “avoid this whole thing becoming even worse,” the report went on. The State Department official suggested a $250,000 payment to the guard’s family, but the department’s Diplomatic Security Service said that was too much and could cause Iraqis to “try to get killed.” In the end, $15,000 was agreed upon. The report adds credence to complaints from Iraqi officials, American military officers and Blackwater’s competitors that company guards have adopted an aggressive, trigger-happy approach and displayed disregard for Iraqi life.”

A Blackwater contractor wrote an initial U.S. government report about how his colleagues killed Iraqi civilians in a September shooting that strained U.S.-Iraqi relations, government and industry sources told CNN.

The Iraqi government claims private contractors with Blackwater USA, who were guarding a U.S. diplomatic convoy, killed as many as 20 civilians on September 16 in western Baghdad's Nasoor Square.

The incident produced an outcry in Iraq and raised questions about the accountability of foreign security contractors in Iraq, who under an order laid down by the U.S.-led occupation government are not subject to Iraqi law for actions taken within their contracts.

Blackwater -- which provides security to U.S. diplomats -- says its employees responded properly to an insurgent attack on a convoy, and the State Department initial "spot report" written by the Blackwater contractor underscores that scenario and doesn't mention civilian casualties.

The Blackwater contractor, Darren Hanner, drafted a two-page "spot report" on the letterhead of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security for the embassy's Tactical Operations Center, said a source involved in diplomatic security at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

The TOC -- which tracks and monitors all incidents and movements involving diplomatic security missions -- has outsourced positions to Blackwater and another private firm, the embassy source said.

And this, from David Carr’s For the Rich, Magazines Fat on Ads:

But it is not just about rich people. Luxury has been defined down any number of ways. “Sex and the City” is now in wide syndication, which means that most of the country now knows that Jimmy Choo is not a kind of beef jerky. BMW is introducing the 1 Series next year with a lower point of entry for the aspirant. Even if you can’t afford a baby Beemer, you can express your taste in finery in everything from coffee to chocolate. And while other teenage magazines folded, Teen Vogue proved that brand aspiration can be baked in at a very young age.

I think what has to really be baked in at a young age is how those Crazy Iraqis leap to take our bullets in the gut so they can get the big big payoff! Because, of course, they lack a life respecting ethos, like us Christians. Ah, the liberation generation, the liberation culture, the winds of the ownership society sweeping through the Benevolent Hegemon. Makes me shiver.

And from the Book of Hosea:

And the LORD said to Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the LORD.
3: So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim; which conceived, and bare him a son.
4: And the LORD said unto him, Call his name Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel.
5: And it shall come to pass at that day, that I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.
6: And she conceived again, and bare a daughter. And God said unto him, Call her name Lo-ruhamah: for I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel; but I will utterly take them away.
7: But I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them by the LORD their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by horsemen.
8: Now when she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived, and bare a son.
9: Then said God, Call his name Lo-ammi: for ye are not my people, and I will not be your God.

Everybody dance now.

on the way down to the bottom

LI heartily recommends this article for the hilarious sidelight it throws on our funniest, most corrupt administration.

It seems that the White House, with the compassion of twenty Buddhas, realizes that its nomination of wacko rightwingers to various posts can do said rightwingers some financial harm – because sometimes Congress doesn’t kiss ass fast enough. It’s a training problem. But it is no problem for the clever Bushies! Not when you have a whole goldbricking pseudo-charity around to which the Gov can shovel tax free dollars!

Invention, as Joseph Schumpeter pointed out long ago, is the dynamic of capitalism, and what is more inventive than Commonwealth Research Institute? It’s a charity. It’s a faith based organization. It’s a way to pay Republicans $13,400 a month for doing zip work. And it’s a Merchant of Death – all in one!

“Commonwealth Research and its parent company, Concurrent Technologies, are registered with the Internal Revenue Service as tax-exempt charities, even though their primary work is for the Pentagon and other government agencies. In a recent report Concurrent, also based in Johnstown, Pa., said it was among the Defense Department's top 200 contractors, with a focus on intelligence, surveillance, force readiness and advanced materials.
Concurrent's top three executives each earn an average of $462,000. The company reported lobbying expenditures of $302,000 for the year ending in June 2006, more than double what it spent on lobbying four years earlier.
Concurrent and its subsidiaries receive grants and contracts for an eclectic variety of other activities, including support of faith-based initiatives and specialized welding work. Last year, Commonwealth Research got a $45 million sole-source arrangement to provide reports to the National Security Agency, CIA and other intelligence agencies.”

If you love the smell of Empire decaying in the morning, you will love the smell of CRI - a scrumptious odor, much like highway kill in the noonday Texas sun. But such things are bound to happen when your income distribution skew makes Brazil look like Sweden. Hate the way the country is headed? Tough shit. The wealthy will block every avenue of change, until of course they are expropriated by the chain of events they have put in place, as their skankiness is – oh, Mother Nature is so hard – completely and thoroughly punished – which, of course, is a punishment in which we will all share.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

the Sunday sickness unto death rant

LI was looking up info on Blackwater, yesterday, and we came across the Virginian-Pilot profile of the company. That profile included little bios of the guys at the top of America’s Funniest Mercenary Company. It was the bio of the COO that stuck with me. Isn’t this man a posterboy of the Bush culture. I can see my face, I can see the face of 350 million of my fellow Americans, slug-like somnambulists heading towards the cliffs but with the finest of accessories … contributing another sweet 300 million dollars today, as on all days, to the mass murder of Iraqis (it is always Christmas in Iraq) … reflected in this man’s record, from the Virginian-Pilot:

“JOSEPH SCHMITZ, 49, became chief operating officer and general counsel of the Prince Group in September 2005 after a stint as inspector general at the Defense Department.
Schmitz was the senior Pentagon official responsible for investigating waste, fraud and abuse. Now he faces a congressional inquiry into accusations that he quashed two criminal investigations of senior Bush administration officials. The inquiry is continuing, according to a spokeswoman for Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Schmitz was a special assistant to Attorney General Edwin Meese III in the Reagan administration. He was awarded the Defense Department Medal for Distinguished Public Service on his retirement from the Pentagon.

Schmitz’s father, John G. Schmitz, was a two-term Republican congressman from California and a prominent member of the John Birch Society, an ultra-conservative group that flowered during the Cold War. He ran for president in 1972 as the candidate of the American Independent Party after its founder, George Wallace, was paralyzed by a would-be assassin.

John Schmitz’s political career ended with the revelation that he had a mistress who bore two of his children. He then moved to Washington, where he bought a house once owned by Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

Joseph Schmitz’s sister, Mary Kay LeTourneau, also became embroiled in a scandal. As a married teacher in Washington state, she went to prison after being convicted of having a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old student with whom she ultimately had two children. The two have since married.”

Could you make things like this up? If you did in a novel, you would be denounced for creating Leftist caricatures. That Schmitz’s father’s career ended not because he was a racist and crazed semi-fascist, but because he had an affair with a younger student, speaks to the fact that there are congressional districts in which lunacy equals electability. So Joseph Schmitz was obviously set up to be an early achiever in the Great Bushian Post 9/11 Orgy. And party he did.

David Sirota and Judd Legum wrote a piece about Schmitz back when he was the Pentagon’s inspector general:

“Fact: Halliburton has overcharged taxpayers for food, accepted kickbacks for oil subcontracts, and spent taxpayer money renting rooms at five-star resorts in Kuwait.
But instead of expressing outrage the government's top watchdog, Pentagon Inspector General Joseph Schmitz, last week parroted the company line, saying he believes Halliburton's problems "are not out of line with the size and scope of their contracts." He then accused the press of overemphasizing the connections between the company and its former CEO Dick Cheney, even though Vice President Cheney still collects hundreds of thousands of dollars in deferred compensation, owns company stock options, and had his office "coordinate" Halliburton contracts in Iraq.
Why is the government's top independent watchdog deliberately sugarcoating taxpayer ripoffs? Because he, like other Bush administration officials charged with overseeing expenditures in Iraq, is anything but independent.

Instead of filling the various inspector general, comptroller, and budget officer positions in Iraq with skilled, non-partisan public servants, President Bush has packed them with partisans and cronies like Schmitz. Many of these individuals have longstanding political ties with the administration and ties to the very industries and companies that they are supposed to oversee. Here are the dirty details:

Joseph Schmitz: Defense Department Inspector General

Defense Department Inspector General Joseph Schmitz was appointed to his post by President Bush in 2001 after the Associated Press reported the office "was caught cheating" and destroying internal documents. His office has broad jurisdiction to investigate all Pentagon contracts, both in Iraq and elsewhere. But judging by Schmitz's qualifications, the White House had one thing in mind when it appointed him: political loyalty.

According to National Journal, Schmitz is the son of former California Rep. John G. Schmitz, who was a John Birch Society director. As a member of the archconservative Washington Legal Foundation, Joseph Schmitz made a name for himself as "a conservative activist" and as a lawyer for House Speaker Newt Gingrich in a court case attempting to outlaw forms of taxation. In 1992, he authored a letter to The Washington Times insinuating that the Democratic presidential nominee had connections to Russian intelligence, writing, "The KGB apparently knows more about the shady side of Bill Clinton than the American people ever will."

His short tenure at the Pentagon has been marked not only by defending Halliburton, but also by defending the administration he is supposed to be overseeing. For instance, in 2002, Schmitz refused congressional entreaties to declassify a report detailing how the administration was providing inadequate training and protective gear to troops in the event of a bio-chemical attack.”

That was in 2004. In 2005, Sirota resigned. The LA Times had a story about the two cases that were being ‘investigated’ by Congress - which is a form of euthanasia for criminal conduct, popular in the omni-corrupt precincts of D.C. Look like you are punishing the guilty, and take contributions from them for your next campaign, the yacht that you’ve always wanted, and a paint job for your house – it’s the D.C. mantra. In any case, this is what the Times reported:

“The first of the criminal investigations in which Schmitz allegedly intervened involved John A. "Jack" Shaw, the former deputy undersecretary of Defense for international technology security.

Shaw, who was the subject of a series of articles in The Times last year, tried to manipulate a lucrative contract in Iraq in 2004 to favor a telecommunications company whose board included a close friend, according to whistle-blowers who worked for the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

Shaw had signed an unusual agreement with Schmitz that gave him some investigative authority. Shaw told U.S. officials in Iraq that he was conducting investigations under that agreement during a trip to Iraq in December 2003. The results of those investigations were later used in his effort to push for contracts of firms tied to his friends and their clients, according to the whistle-blowers.

Shaw, who was forced out of office last year after refusing to resign, has denied any wrongdoing.

Schmitz referred the whistle-blowers' accusations to the FBI, despite the protests of senior criminal investigators in his office who had already found "specific and credible evidence" of wrongdoing by Shaw, according to Grassley's letter.

The FBI has not placed a high priority on the investigation, which has since stalled, according to one person with knowledge of the case.”

I think this was one of the most beautiful of the numberless small crimes committed under the Bush administration by a Bushie. It is so clever! And there is a certain John Birchy sadism to it – take the goody goody procedure and use it to line the pockets of your regular nosepickin’ goldbrickin’ chum, with whom you can discuss the latest from Rush and lament the good old days of Jim Crow – who could resist? Certainly not a man whose elevation to the post of ‘inspector general’ gives new meaning to the phrase, you are doing a heckuva job.

And it is no surprise, given the way the mesh has been woven, that this man is now on the margins of the Blackwater massacre, as the very Zelig of far right mania. Vanity Fair has published a new investigative report on the ‘loss’ of about 9 billion dollars by the CPA during the period that Schmitz was inspector general. Here are some excerpts:

“To be fair, the C.P.A. really did need money desperately, and it really did need to start spreading it among the traumatized Iraqi population. It also needed to jump-start Iraq's basic services. As the C.P.A. demanded ever greater amounts of cash, the pallets of $1, $5, and $10 bills were soon replaced by bundles of $100 bills. During the C.P.A.'s little more than a year of life, the New York Federal Reserve Bank made 21 shipments of currency to Iraq totaling $11,981,531,000. All told, the Fed would ship 281 million individual banknotes, in bricks weighing a total of 363 tons.

After arriving in Baghdad, some of the cash was shipped to outlying regions, but most of it stayed in the capital, where it was delivered to Iraqi banks, to installations such as Camp Victory, the mammoth U.S. Army facility adjacent to the Baghdad airport, and to Saddam's former presidential palace, in the Green Zone, which had become the home of Bremer's C.P.A. and the makeshift Iraqi government. At the palace the cash disappeared into a vault in the basement. Few people ever saw the vault, but the word was that during one short period it held as much as $3 billion. Whatever the figure, it was a major repository of the banknotes from America during the brief time the cash was under the care of the C.P.A. The money flowed in and out rapidly. When someone needed cash, a unit called the Program Review Board, composed of senior C.P.A. officials, reviewed the request and decided whether to recommend a disbursement. A military officer would then present that authorization to personnel at the vault.”

And there is this:

"There was corruption everywhere," said one former military officer who worked with the C.P.A. in Baghdad in the months after the invasion. Some of the Iraqis who were put in charge of ministries after Saddam's fall had never run a government agency before. Their inexperience aside, he said, they lived in constant fear of losing their jobs or their lives. All many cared about, he added, was taking care of themselves. "You could see that a lot of them were trying their best to get a quick retirement fund before they were ousted or killed," he added. "You just get what you can while you're in that position of power. Instead of trying to build the nation, you build yourself."

Did any withdrawals from the vault pay for secret activities by government personnel? It is an obvious possibility. Much of the cash was clearly destined for American contractors or Iraqi subcontractors. Sometimes the Iraqis came to the palace to collect their cash; other times, when they were reluctant to show up at the American compound, U.S. military personnel had to deliver it themselves. One of the riskier jobs for some U.S. military men was to fill up a car with bags of cash and drive the money to contractors in Baghdad neighborhoods, handing it over like a postal worker delivering mail.

"Fraud" was simply another word for "business as usual." Of 8,206 "guards" drawing paychecks courtesy of the C.P.A., only 602 warm bodies could in fact be found; the other 7,604 were ghost employees. Halliburton , the government contractor once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, charged the C.P.A. for 42,000 daily meals for soldiers while in fact serving only 14,000 of them. Cash was handed out from the backs of pickup trucks. On one occasion a C.P.A. official received $6.75 million in cash with the expectation he would shell it out in one week. Another time, the C.P.A. decided to spend $500 million on "security." No specifics, just a half-billion dollars for security, with this cryptic explanation: "Composition TBD"--that is, "to be determined."

The pervasiveness of this Why-should-I-care? attitude was driven home in an exchange with retired admiral David Oliver, the C.P.A.'s director of management and budget. Oliver was asked by a BBC reporter what had happened to all the cash airlifted to Baghdad:

Oliver: "I have no idea--I can't tell you whether or not the money went to the right things or didn't--nor do I actually think it's important."

Q: "Not important?"

Oliver: "No. The coalition--and I think it was between 300 and 600 people, civilians--and you want to bring in 3,000 auditors to make sure money's being spent?"

Q: "Yes, but the fact is that billions of dollars have disappeared without a trace."

Oliver: "Of their money. Billions of dollars of their money, yeah, I understand. I'm saying what difference does it make?"

And here is a beautiful story of what a difference a little hundred million or so can make. Ask not what you can do for your government, but what it can do for you – and have faith. And feel faith in your heart. And know that Jesus is Lord. And remember that, when asked, the creeps and morons – the merchants of death group – will attribute their good fortunes to – themselves. Their hard work. Their self reliance. Always. It was hard work. It was brains. These are, in the hushed words of the Heritage Foundation type, the "successful". Usually accompanied by Uriah Heeplike hand gestures. So it is with Custer and Battles:

“The name was derived not from Little Big Horn but from the names of the company's owners, Scott K. Custer and Michael J. Battles. Both were former army rangers in their mid-30s, and Battles also had once been a C.I.A. operative. The pair showed up on the streets of Baghdad with the blessing of the White House at invasion's end, looking for a way to do business. At the time, the only American civilians who could gain access to the city were those approved by President Bush's staff.

The Battles half of the team brought the White House access, secured when Michael Battles became the G.O.P.-backed candidate in the 2002 Rhode Island congressional primary for the privilege of losing to the Democratic incumbent, Patrick Kennedy. Battles not only lost the primary but was fined by the Federal Election Commission for misrepresenting campaign contributions. Nevertheless, he forged important political connections. His contributors included Haley Barbour, the longtime Washington power broker and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, who is now governor of Mississippi, and Frederic V. Malek, a former special assistant to President Nixon, who survived the Watergate scandal and went on to become an insider in the Reagan administration and both Bush administrations.

The C.P.A. awarded Custer and Battles one of its first no-bid contracts--$16.5 million to protect civilian aircraft flights, of which at the time there were few, into Baghdad International Airport. The company faced immediate obstacles: Custer and Battles didn't have any money, they didn't have a viable business, and they didn't have any employees. Bremer's C.P.A. had overlooked these shortcomings and forked over $2 million anyway, in cash, to get them started, simply ignoring long-standing requirements that the government certify that a contractor has the capacity to fulfill a contract. That first $2 million cash infusion was followed shortly by a second. Over the next year Custer Battles would secure more than $100 million in Iraq contracts. The company even set up an internal Office of Corporate Integrity. "Integrity is a core principle of Custer Battles' corporate values," Scott Custer stated in a press release.”

And so it goes. Will there be a reckoning? In truth, after 60 years of intense war culture, democracy is bound to fray, to be fatally attracted to that quarter of the country that ardently wishes its dick was a Glock 18c. Even though that quarter of the country spends its life getting well out of the way of any real encounter with danger. Still, the presence of such masses of money does insure that D.C. stays reliably corrupt, and will continue to fight with itself until, exhausted, it gives up - and no Blackwater thug is charged with murder, no ex-Pentagon millionaire with theft. It is a different world. And a worse one.


  “In brief, cultural history only represents a surface strike against the insight [of historicism], but not that of dialectics. For it lack...