Saturday, August 30, 2003

I wrote recently that Hamas hadn't taken responsibility for the most recent bus bombing in Israel, but actually they did, sort of. I get the distinct impression that one part of Hamas was surprised at what another part had done. The bombing was said to be in retaliation for the targeted assassination by Israel of Muhammad Seeder, head of the military wing of Hamas in Hebron. Islamic Jihad initially took responsibility for the bus bombing, and hours later, Hamas also took responsibility (after initially saying it wasn't involved, as it was 'committed to the truce'). The bus bomber was a Hamas member, and a very atypical suicide bomber (older, more educated, with a family), who claimed he did it in retaliation for the assassination of Muhammad Seeder (who was a friend of his). Under the terms of the hudna as Hamas defined it, they were allowed to retaliate for direct attacks on their members, and in fact had already killed Israelis in retaliation for targeted assassinations on Hamas members. The only difference in this attack was the number of Israelis killed. Israel's response to the bus bombing was to kill a member of the political wing, and not the military wing, of Hamas. They admitted that they did so because the military members of Hamas had gone into hiding, and Ismail Abu Shanab was an available target (although you can't help but wonder that the target was also chosen because he was a moderate who advocated peace and a two-state solution). The assassination of Ismail Abu Shanab was a deliberate escalation by Sharon of the conflict, and he had to know it would result in the end of the cease-fire. The disgusting American media generally portrays the situation in the Palestine as consisting of a series of deliberate unprovoked attacks by Palestinian militants on innocent Israeli citizens. The bus bombing was described as a breach of the calm, while the facts are that during the period of the cease-fire Israeli soldiers had killed or injured a considerable number of Palestinians. Almost all of these killings received no response from the Palestinians, and therefore Palestinian militant groups regarded themselves as exhibiting restraint. The only counterattacks were when members of a Palestinian resistance group were specifically targeted for assassination by Sharon. Even without Sharon's intentional scuppering of the hudna, it was bound to fail as:

  1. it didn't benefit Sharon and the right-wing Zionists, who want as much terrorism from the Palestinians as possible to justify their continued program of the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from the Palestine; and

  2. it didn't benefit the Palestinians, who had to stop the intifada while watching Sharon continue to build the apartheid separation wall while gleefully increasing the size and number of the illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories.

While all this 'peace' has been going on, just what have the Israelis been up to?:

  1. They continue to build the apartheid separation wall. Despite some lukewarm musings from the Bush Administration that American money wouldn't be used to build it, American money continues to flow without any real restrictions on how it is used. Sharon said that good fences make good neighbors, but would a fence make a good neighbor if you build your fence through the middle of your neighbor's living room? Even someone as stupid as George Bush has realized that the point of the wall's location is to make a Palestinian state impossible. The Israelis seem to have determined the location based precisely on how much anguish it can provide to the daily lives of the Palestinians. The point of the wall is to make life for Palestinians so intolerable that they will 'voluntarily' decide to leave. An American witness to the Palestinian suffering on the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, retired Ohio University professor Jim Coady, said:

    "They are essentially building giant prisons for the Palestinians. They really don't want to look at these Palestinians . . . You should see it. It's unbelievable."

    and, referring to the efforts of the Palestinian Authority to stop the bombings:

    "Oh, definitely - they're trying. They were ready to have a cease-fire. What's damaging them right now is, the Israelis aren't doing anything but pro-forma stuff. They're still building the wall, they're still building the settlements."

    Rather than build it along the 'Green Line' which separates Israel from the Occupied Territories, Sharon is building it mostly on Palestinian land, separating people from their farms and generally using the wall to create a de facto annexation by Israel of even more of the Occupied Territories. They have actually gone so far as to use it as an excuse to destroy Palestinian homes and businesses. As Shareef Omar writes:

    "Israeli officials have justified the wall's construction as necessary for security. However, if it were for security, it would follow the Green Line. Building it four miles inside the Green Line means only one thing: The Israelis are confiscating more Palestinian land and water."

    Sharon thus exemplifies every anti-Semitic stereotype of the grasping Jew, unable to do anything without managing to steal something in the process. Shylock lives, and his name is Ariel Sharon (although Shylock is a much more sympathetic character than Sharon could ever be).

  2. The Israelis passed a law prohibiting Palestinians who marry Israelis from becoming citizens or residents of Israel, thus formalizing an existing Israeli policy. This is intended specifically to affect the marriage of Israeli Arabs to Arabs from the Occupied Territories, and is eerily similar to the Nuremberg Race Laws passed by the Nazis regarding citizenship and marriage rights of German Jews. Israeli Arabs who are married to Palestinians will now have to leave Israel in order to remain with their families. From the age of twelve, their children will be subject to the same prohibition, and will be denied citizenship or residency and forced to move out of Israel (amazing, isn't it?). It only applies to Palestinians: anyone else who marries an Israeli is eligible for Israeli citizenship. The irony is immense: the law singles out the descendents of those who were actually living on the land before the State of Israel was created for special second-class status. It is just another part of the increasing legalization of the de facto discrimination against Palestinians in Israel (it parallels the issue of land ownership, where a similarly racist law wasn't passed as the racism was deemed to be enforceable by administrative, rather than legal, methods). It is so offensively and obviously racist that even the ADL has complained about it.

  3. As I mentioned above, the Israelis continue to kill and injure Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, and actions by the IDF, no matter how vile, are almost never punished. The restraint shown by the Palestinian militants in keeping the hudna as long as they did, given the constant provocation, is quite remarkable. The killing of Palestinians is completely invisible to the disgusting American media, who depict the entire conflict as a series of completely unprovoked attacks by Palestinians against innocent Israeli civilians, all as part of the evil Palestinian goal to drive the Israelis into the sea. If the American public were ever shown even a tiny part of the truth about what they are paying for (and on one calculation, support of the Zionists has cost the American taxpayers $3 trillion over the years, for which they have bought themselves a lifetime of terrorist attacks), American support for the Israeli state would end immediately, and Israel would soon disappear. Truth to Zionism is like kryptonite to Superman.

  4. The illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories continue to expand. The most outrageous expansion is slated to occur in the Gaza Strip, and offends both the letter and the spirit of the 'road map'. Although Sharon has staged a few violent removals of some uninhabited trailers which were there specifically so their removal could be shown on American television, the process of increasing the size of the settlements so that peace will always be impossible continues. I've always felt the whole settlement issue is the single greatest proof of the essential mendacity of the Israeli position. Since they are supposed to be turning over the land to the Palestinians, why would they expand any settlement? They continue to play this bad faith game of playing lip service to the concept that the Palestinians are entitled to the land at some point in the future when there is no more terrorism, while simultaneously creating the 'facts on the ground' which make peace impossible. In fact, the hudna, like the Oslo Accords before it, has just been used as a method of obtaining relative quiet to continue the rather obvious plan to slowly ethnically cleanse the Occupied Territories of Palestinians. Squeezed out by increasing numbers of settlements of increasing size, with crazed settler violence making Palestinian life nearby impossible, the plan is to force the Palestinians to decide to leave (remarkably following the Zionist myth that the Palestinians voluntarily left in 1947). The Zionist plan is like a ratchet, taking every chance to expand settlements when the Palestinians are relatively quiescent, and then never giving up an inch in the times of violence when the most noticeable settlement expansions have to be temporarily slowed.

  5. Israel has allowed Jews and tourists into the area of the Al-Aqsa mosque, a deliberately provocative move. In fact, it was Sharon's little walk in the same area which provoked the most recent intifada. This is exactly the kind of Israeli action that is liable to provoke terrorist attacks and incite anger throughout the Muslim world, and the American failure to do anything about it shows how bogus the entire American war on terror actually is.

  6. People are starting to notice that Sharon has a pattern of doing something which he knows will provoke a suicide bombing whenever he needs some outrage for his domestic political problems. He knows that he can create an almost immediate suicide bombing if he uses targeted assassination to kill the leader of a Palestinian resistance group. Since he obviously does this on purpose, it is odd that the Israelis seem not to blame him for all the Israeli civilian deaths that have resulted. The issue is abundantly clear in the assassination of Ismail Abu Shanab, which was intended to end the hudna at least in part in order to draw attention away from the massive personal corruption problems that Sharon faces.

  7. Besides the big increase in targeted assassinations, the Israelis have taken the excuse of the end of the hudna to accomplish a number of goals:

    • to reenter towns in the Occupied Territories temporarily vacated to appease the Americans as part of the 'road map', and continue the violent repression of the Palestinian people, including the terrorism of the checkpoints;

    • to have the Americans freeze Hamas bank accounts used to provide charitable relief to destitute Palestinians, thus creating more suffering (hundreds of Palestinians relying on welfare payments were unable to pick up their monthly support payments as the Palestinian Monetary Authority, under pressure from the Americans, had closed down the bank accounts on which the payments were drawn);

    • to insist that the Americans reduce funding to the Palestinian Authority - funding used for specific development and relief programs - until the Palestinian Authority ends terrorism, a rather amusing demand since Israeli emasculation of the Palestinian Authority has made it incapable of stopping any terrorism.

I think it is funny that 'progressives' in countries like Britain, the United States and Canada are advocating that these three countries switch to some form of proportional voting system (of course, whatever such system you criticize is depicted as being different from their particular favorite, as there appear to be many to choose from). In other words, they seem to feel that an Israeli system, where one-insane-issue parties can hold the whole system up to blackmail if their hobby-horse issue isn't implemented - exactly what goes on in Israel and is responsible for the continued power of Sharon whose sole political gift is as a political horse trader - is preferable to the much derided 'first-past-the-post' system that exists in the main Anglo-American democracies. These 'progressives' are just looking for a method that will alow them to use a corporatist system to haggle for their own hobby-horses, and should be resisted at all costs, unless of course everyone wants to be like Israel.

Friday, August 29, 2003

From Salam Pax, on the search by the American military of his parents' house on suspicion that they were holding secret Ansar al-Islam meetings there:

"While my family is waiting outside something strange happens, one of the soldiers comes out, empties his flask in the garden and start telling the medic to give him his, the medic shoos him away. They all think that the soldier is filling his flask with cold water from the cooler. Later it turns out that he emptied my father’s bottle of Johnny Walker's into his flask and was probably trying to convince the medic to give him his to empty another bottle. Weird shit."

The search for Baathists is lucrative for American soldiers, as we can see from this report on a search in Aadamiyah:

"A few nights later their target is a former senior Baath party official. He is not at home, but while the women and young men of the house are detained on the rooftop and patted down for concealed weapons, even in their hair, the house is ransacked for documents and weapons.

And, it seems, money. The Herald photographer Jason South watches as one of the US soldiers pockets a small wad of US cash from a handbag he comes across as he goes through the contents of a wardrobe in a ground-floor room."

There is a general pattern:

"In Iraq, it apparently goes like this: An American soldier at a checkpoint searches an Iraqi, finds something he likes and confiscates it. Thuraya satellite cell phones, costing the equivalent of U.S. $650, are especially in demand. Or, an Iraqi is caught with a large bundle of Dinars and a gun: most Iraqis don't believe in banks and carry their wealth with them in cash and a gun to protect it as well. The Iraqi is thought to be a terrorist and the money and gun are confiscated. But, contrary to regulations, the soldier doesn't provide a receipt for the property taken so that it is impossible to trace either one. The Iraqi complains to U.S. civil administration authorities, but has no means of locating or identifiying the soldier who took the property nor proof of what was stolen."

There was an infamous early incident in the attack where American soldiers paraded naked Iraqi men suspected of being thieves through a park in Baghdad. Someone had written the words 'Ali Baba - Haram(i)', which means 'Ali Baba - thief' in Arabic on the prisoners' chests. Now, Iraqis describe the American soldiers as Ali Babas. I suppose in an attack on Iraq that killed thousands of innocent people, with more murdered by American soldiers nearly every day, incidents of petty theft are relatively unimportant. But the Iraqis are not rich people, and they are often losing their life savings to pathetic American thugs who are allowed to act as they want through a combination of apathy, anger, racism, and stupidity (many of the soldiers blame Saddam, and thus the Iraqi people, for 9-11) from their commanding officers. The U. S. Army Manual FM3-06.11, 'Combined Arms Operations in Urban Terrain' regarding 'Urban Operations Under Restrictive Conditions' says (for a gazillion links on urban warfare and the U. S. Army see here): "Treat all civilians and their property with respect and dignity. . . . No requisitioning of civilian property without permission of a company-level commander and without giving a receipt. . . . No looting", but the almost complete collapse of discipline amongst the American forces renders such a rule meaningless. The thefts are indicative of the general attitude of the Crusaders to the Iraqi people, and the Iraqis are hypersensitive to it. The battle for hearts and minds is being lost one theft at a time.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

A key point has come out in the Hutton inquiry regarding the lies told by Tony Blair and his government in the 'dodgy dossier'. John Scarlett, chairman of the joint intelligence committee which created the dossier, in response to a question from Lord Hutton, the judge in charge of the inquiry, said (you can find this from the 'Hearing Transcripts' tab at the top of this page, then go to date 'Tuesday, 26 August 2003', click on 'Afternoon', and scroll down to section 144, line 15; 'A' refers to the answers being given by John Scarlett to Lord Hutton's questions):

" . . . certainly Andrew Gilligan, when quoting his source, said that the source believed that the report was relating to warheads for missiles.


A. Which, in fact, it was not; it related to munitions, which we had interpreted to mean battlefield mortar shells or small calibre weaponry, quite different from missiles.


A. So it is possible that Dr Kelly, who, as I still understand it, never did see or probably did not see the original report, was in a state of genuine confusion about what the report actually said."

What Scarlett is saying here is that Kelly was confused because he thought the claim in the dossier that Saddam could deploy weapons against Britain in 45 minutes referred to missiles, when in fact it referred to mortar shells or small calibre weaponry. But mortar shells or small calibre weaponry could not possibly have hit Britain, or even Cyprus. The whole point of the dossier was to create the illusion that Britain, or at least British interests in Cyprus, were under a 45 minute danger of attack from Saddam, thus justifying the otherwise illegal and immoral attack on Iraq to ensure that these weapons could not be deployed. What Scarlett is admitting is not only that the 45 minute claim was 'dodgy', but that the nature of the weapons referred to in the dossier were short range weapons intended for targets inside Iraq. No wonder Kelly was confused: he naturally assumed that the 45-minute claim would not be made unless the weapons were missiles, for how else could they be a threat to Britain. We've all apparently been making the same mistake that Kelly made: by focusing on the 45 minutes we have missed the fact that the weapons involved could not possibly have threatened Britain in 45 years. Scarlett's admission ends the debate. Blair's dossier contained no evidence of any threat to Britain, and thus the attack on Iraq was made with no justification whatsoever.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

I recently mentioned the fact that SAIC had been engaged by the State of Maryland to do an independent audit of the Diebold voting machines. It now turns out that one of the authors of a Johns Hopkins University study (see it here, Diebold's comments, and a rebuttal to Diebold's comments) which was highly critical of the security of the Diebold voting terminals, Avi Rubin, actually had an interest in a potential voting machine competitor of Diebold, VoteHere. He has apologized backwards and forwards for what he claims was a technical oversight, and has terminated his connection with the competitor, but his conflict, however inadvertent, was i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-y stupid. It will damage this computer scientist's credibility on any subject for the rest of his life, and is already being used to criticize the study in order to support the continued use of the questionable machines in Georgia. Rubin has allowed Diebold to characterize the criticism of their system as motivated by a financial conflict of interest in a competitor, and has handed them a golden weapon in the propaganda war. But SAIC appears to have its own serious conflict of interest problems. The Chairman of the Board for VoteHere is Admiral Bill Owens (or here), a former President, Chief Operating Officer, and Vice Chairman of SAIC. Another former SAIC board member, ex-CIA director Robert Gates, is also on the board of VoteHere. It appears you can't throw a dead cat around the world of voting machines without hitting a conflict of interest. You have to wonder why Diebold made such a fuss about Rubin's connections to VoteHere, but doesn't seem to care about the potential conflicts between its competitor VoteHere, and the company that is going to audit its voting machines, SAIC. If we delve deeper, we can see the outlines of the game that SAIC and Diebold are playing here. It turns out that there is a lobbying group called the Enterprise Solutions Division of the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA). This group is currently proposing that it be hired to spin the PR to advocate the adoption of these questionable voting machines. On the board of directors of the Enterprise Solutions Division of ITAA is Ronald J. Knecht, a Senior Vice President of SAIC, and SAIC is listed as a 'member' of the Division! So the company providing an independent audit of the security of Diebold's voting machines is connected to a lobby group that wants to be hired to convince the public and politicians that electronic voting is the greatest thing since sliced bread. There may also be mysterious connections to a nonprofit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization called "The Election Center" (on the main page, click on the link 'About Election Center'), whose members are government employees whose profession is to serve in voter registration and elections administration, and which, amongst other things, selects the certifiers of voting machines (all this excellent sleuthing is by Bev Harris of the most important website in the United States, Black Box Voting; in particular, read the comment on the first page of the site called 'Secret Meetings of the Black Box Yakuza'). Obviously, the main impediment to the rosy view of electronic voting is the Johns Hopkins report and the perception that there are security flaws in the Diebold system, and thus problems in any such voting system. How can SAIC be trusted to audit Diebold's system when SAIC is tied to a group which intends to lobby for just this kind of system to be used in the voting of the future? Diebold's selective concern about conflict of interest betrays the fact that SAIC and Diebold are on exactly the same side of this issue. This isn't just a technical issue: the use of these systems is how Bush intends to get reelected so he can continue to destroy the United States and much of the rest of the world. If these crooked machines are used, he will be reelected, along with a Republican Congress. There is only one way to stop this: paper ballots, counted by hand.

Monday, August 25, 2003

One of the mysteries about the current mess in Iraq is the identity of the people involved in the resistance against the occupation, and in particular, the UN bombing. It is fairly clear that no one really has the slightest idea as to who these people might be, and a major part of the reason for this is that the Iraqi people are doing all they can to shelter the operations of the fighters for national liberation. The main candidates are:

  • Baathists

  • the Iraqi people who are angry at the occupation

  • al Qaeda members

  • some other Islamic fundamentalist group

  • independent Arabs or Muslims who have entered Iraq out of sympathy for the Iraqis

  • agents of foreign governments.

The Americans don't want to admit that the resistance might be coming from the Iraqi people. In the absence of weapons of mass destruction, they have had to fall back on the argument that the attack on Iraq was to liberate the Iraqis from tyranny, and the presence of vast numbers of Iraqis fighting their 'liberators' makes that argument look as silly as it is. They are therefore claiming that the resistance is a combination of Baathists and outside forces, which of course they call 'terrorists'. Leaving aside the obvious point that terrorists are people who cause terror, i. e., the Americans, and not the people who are trying to remove the source of the terror, who would be more accurately described as the beginnings of a guerilla army of national liberation, this argument also has a major flaw for the Americans. If they admit that their Iraqi adventure has caused a resurgence of Islamic terrorist groups focused on removing the Crusaders from Iraq, they will eventually have to admit that the attack on Iraq actually damaged their bogus 'war on terror' by causing a revitalization in the international movement of Islamic fundamentalism. Nevertheless, Bremer of Baghdad, who actually wept over the coffin of Vieira de Mello (CIA-supplied essence of onion?), said:

"Iraq has become a new field of battle in this worldwide terrorist fight."

and, on who was responsible for the U. N. bomb:

"One is that it was done by members of the former regime, for a variety of reasons. Another is that it was done by foreign terrorists, of which there are several varieties around. The third, quite obviously, is that it was done in some form of cooperation between the two. As far as I can tell from the facts as I have seen them so far, all three of these hypotheses are still at least worth pursuing."

Army Gen. John Abizaid said:

"I think Iraq is at the center of the global war on terrorism."

Generalissimo Busho himself said:

"Iraq is turning out to be a continuing battle in the war on terrorism. We're going to stay the course."


"I also believe there's a foreign element that is moving into Iraq. And these would be Al Qaeda-type fighters. They want to fight us there because they can't stand the thought of a free society in the Middle East. They hate freedom. They hate the thought of a democracy emerging."

So it appears that the word came down from on high (Cheney) that the bad guys 'would be Al Qaeda-type fighters' (don't you just love the subjunctive), and all the players read their lines. Despite some reasonably cynical scepticism at the American position, it appears that the Americans are actually facing the worst of all possible worlds: resistance from the local population, resistance from those still loyal to the old regime (labelled somewhat misleadingly as 'Baathists', but encompassing a much larger group than those who were card-carrying Baath party members), and foreign Islamic fundamentalist groups and individuals moving in through porous borders into Iraq. About the only group that may be innocent is Ansar al-Islam, which the Americans are again using as a scapegoat, which is somewhat funny as the same extremely anti-Saddam group, which has possible slight ties to al Qaeda, was used by the Bush Administration before the war to tie Saddam to al Qaeda. Ansar al-Islam was only able to continue to exist because it was protected by the northern no-fly zone and Saddam couldn't get at it, and it is implausible that its members would be acting with Baathist supporters of Saddam (Ansar al-Islam also denies any involvement in the UN attack). We're still really no closer to understanding who really was behind the UN bombing, and listening to the official theories of the Americans probably just allows us to identify who wasn't involved. Many people, including me, feel that the events of 9-11 were a joint operation between Islamic fundamentalists and certain American elements close to the current American government. Could the same dynamic duo be behind the U. N. bomb attack?:

  1. The Bush regime really, really hates the United Nations. In particular, the neocons see the United Nations as one of their greatest enemies against their attempt to put the whole world into a state of cleansing war. The UN is also despised due to its attempts to protect the Palestinian people from annihilation.

  2. The attack on the United Nations had elements of brilliance from the point of view of the resistance. It was an easy target. It was a target hated by the Iraqis due to the role of the United Nations in running the sanctions program. The attack has already had a profound effect on countries like Japan, Poland, and Thailand, all of whom changed their plans to assist the Americans in the light of the obvious extra danger. The attack also showed that the United States has no real control over the security of Baghdad, and completely shattered the illusion of power which the Americans have tried to create. On the other hand, al Qaeda seems to be careful of its resources. While attacking the UN was very useful, a similar attack on an American group would have been much more useful if the ultimate goal is driving the Crusaders from Iraq. The fundamentalists know that Americans are quite tolerant of the deaths of non-Americans, but screamingly intolerant of the deaths of Americans, particularly if the deaths happen in bunches. It seems very odd for al Qaeda to be wasting resources on the United Nations when there are better targets around (an attack on an American military plane full of American soldiers with a surface-to-air missile would send a spectacular message). Al Qaeda is also not shy about taking credit for its actions, and their silence here probably means that al Qaeda took no part in this particular action (I have always felt that al Qaeda's failure to really take credit for 9-11 is very telling). I should add that I remain convinced that speaking of al Qaeda is falling into the American propaganda trap of identifying all national resistance groups in the Islamic world as run by one boogeyman, Osama bin Laden. If there is such a central group, and there may be, it is almost certainly not run by bin Laden, it is certainly not called 'al Qaeda', and it almost certainly has a much looser relationship with the local groups who actually do the attacks than the Americans would have us believe. There is nothing in the UN attack which shows any particular sophistication, and no real reason to see international Islamic involvement. A local group, perhaps with a little help, could easily have pulled this off.

  3. The Bushites were awfully quick to use the attack as a basis for approaching the United Nations to look for extra support, both in money and troops, for the occupation. The fact that this attempt is going to end in failure doesn't mean that it might not have been someone's plan to create an excuse for more international involvement in Iraq.

  4. We have known for some time that Chalabi has been enlisting (or here) former Iraqi intelligence agents to help in the fight against Iran, and, from Salam Pax, that the CIA was also involved. We are now learning that the American government has also been recruiting from the same group, for the wider purpose of serving as an American intelligence operation against those planning attacks on American forces. It is grimly ironic that the Americans are enlisting the help of the greatly feared thugs and torturers of Saddam all the while pretending to be Iraq's liberators.

  5. It turns out that the security guards at the U. N. building were former Iraqi intelligence agents. In fact, there is reason to suspect that the attack had inside help, as it occurred just when a high-level meeting was starting, in a place in the building nearest the office of Sergio Vieira de Mello, and the security guards are not cooperating with the investigation. I would like to know whose idea it was to keep on such obviously inappropriate people who had been in place since the time of Saddam, and had been used by Saddam to spy on the UN. It is also an interesting coincidence that the same group of people being recruited by Chalabi and the Americans for intelligence work may have been providing the inside help required for the success of the UN bombing. Who were the security guards really working for?

  6. Chalabi claims that he and the Iraqi Governing Council had received intelligence on Thursday, August 14, that "a large-scale act would take place . . . against a soft target, such as Iraqi political parties or other parties, including the UN." He even knew it would be a truck bomb. He said: "It specifically said that this attack would take place using a lorry to be detonated either through a suicide mechanism or through electronic detonation." Chalabi also said that he knew that neither the Coalition Provisional Authority nor coalition troops would be attacked. The Iraqi Governing Council informed the Americans of this, but they did nothing to increase security at the United Nations, and did not even bother to tell the United Nations of the warning. On top of their failure to meet their international law obligations as Occupying Power to keep the UN building safe, not to mention their failure to properly secure ammunition dumps which led to bomb materials being readily available, the fact that the Americans had and ignored specific warnings, and failed to give the UN any hint of these warnings, is extremely suspicious. The American failure to protect or warn is even more striking given the recent attack against the Jordanian embassy (Chalabi is of course no friend of Jordan), and a spate of minor attacks against UN targets. It is interesting that Chalabi has been trying to recruit Iraqi intelligence members, Iraqi intelligence members were guarding the UN building, and Chalabi claims to have had advanced knowledge of some kind of attack.

  7. Sergio Vieira de Mello, who may have been specifically targeted as the bomb went off near where he was in the building, was involved in the liberation of East Timor, and was highly identified with the process of freeing that country from Indonesian army oppression. Osama bin Laden, or someone being passed off as Osama bin Laden, specifically mentioned East Timor as one of the injustices against Islam, apparently as he did not want Islamic Indonesia to be deprived of its right to slaughter and enslave the people of East Timor. But there is someone else who might have similar feelings. When Bremer of Baghdad is in the United States, he works as an errand boy for none other than Henry the K. One of Henry the K's proudest accomplishments was encouraging the enslavement of the East Timorese by the Indonesians. Is it possible that Henry the Z was also mad at Sergio Vieira de Mello?

  8. On Sunday, a bomb exploded outside the house of Mohammed Saeed al-Hakim in Najaf, killing three guards and injuring 10 others. Mohammed Saeed al-Hakim, who was slightly injured, is an influential Shiite cleric, and has close religious ties to Iran. I can't help but think of the explosion in the mosque at Fallujah, an explosion originally blamed by the Americans on bomb making within the mosque, an allegation that was then retracted (perhaps because it was religiously offensive), leaving the whole incident officially unexplained. The Iraqis blame the Americans for the Fallujah incident. Needless to say, I see a pattern of targets whose removal would benefit the Americans. The pattern is deep: the Americans had been warned that Mohammed Saeed al-Hakim was in danger, and apparently did nothing to protect him.

  9. The Israeli ambassador to the United Nations was quick to claim that the truck which carried the explosives came from Syria. The Israelis have played this game before, managing to use a false rumor about Saddam heading for Syria to provoke the Americans into the attacks at the Syrian border that led to the deaths of at least 80 people, including some Syrians killed in Syria while the Americans were in 'hot pursuit' of an Israeli phantom. The Israeli position is rather obviously to use every lie possible to give the Americans an excuse to attack Syria. In fact, the truck used appears to be a Russian-made truck of the type commonly used by the Iraqi military. Chalabi has long been accused of being an agent for the Mossad, an accusation that is not very helpful as it is made of just about everyone, but you have to wonder. You also have to wonder of the coincidence of the UN bomb and the Israeli bus bombing taking place at practically the same time, particularly as Sharon used the bombing to 'retaliate' by targeting a Hamas moderate who favors a 'two-state' solution, when Hamas was not responsible for the bus bombing, thus guaranteeing the end of the 'roadmap'. The simultaneous attacks in Iraq and Israel were not helpful to the Bush Administration as a whole, but may have been thought to be helpful to the Zionist/neocon elements in the Bush Administration, and the Israeli generals for which they work. Both the Zionists and the war mongers against Iran and Syria are gearing up to use the chaos of the 'war on terror' to further their goals.

  10. We've now seen another attempt to blame the Saudis, this time for 'terrorism' in Iraq. It seems that blaming the Saudis is always going to be the fall-back position for the Bush Administration. The Saudis have long had their iffy relationship with the funding of Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups, but this was completely ignored in the United States, and in fact was encouraged by the Americans in those cases where the terrorist groups could be deployed against Russian interests. It was only when the Saudis tried to take an active role in solving the Palestinian problem, offering suggestions that would have led to a successful 'two-state' solution, that the disgusting American media suddenly started to see Saudi involvement in every terrorist plot. The Saudis wisely stopped talking about the Palestinians, but not soon enough to become the universal whipping boy for all cases of alleged terrorism. The long-term plan is to use the 'war on terror' to either replace the current ruling families of Saudi Arabia, or at least scare them into being more agreeable to American oil companies, a development that has already started to occur.

  11. The set-up of Syria and Iran is just starting. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said:

    "I'm not in any position to state that the governments of Iran or Syria or Saudi Arabia are in any way responsible. But at a minimum I can state that these fighters are not being stopped at the borders, and this is something that causes us a great deal of concern."

    Rumsfeld, speaking of the 'terrorists', said:

    "They clearly are not being stopped by the countries from which they're coming."

    Look for the porous borders to be used a one of the excuses for the next war against Syria or Iran. 'Terrorist' attacks against a non-American target make a nice excuse for a war.

Given current American attitudes towards the United Nations, and the general level of violence by the neocons, not to mention the machinations of neocon/Zionist propaganda/politics in the Middle East, it's odd that the first inclination of everybody seeing the UN bombing wasn't to blame the Americans. The Iraqis are convinced that it was an American operation, and they may very well be right.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

The blackout had a profound effect on millions of people and cost a huge amount of money. Yet it is over a week now and we still haven't got the foggiest idea what happened. I find this preposterous. In fact, I find it preposterous that the authorities didn't know exactly what happened within minutes of the blackout starting. It's electricity. Every microwatt is measured by somebody somewhere, and most of the information finds its way into computers. There must be facilities showing the operation of the whole grid in real time, and those watching the system must have seen where the problem originated. They are apparently denying that such monitoring exists, but these days, in the light of the supposed threat of terrorism, there must be such a monitoring system, and the authorities must already know what happened. Why are they keeping it a secret? How scary can it be? Since my first posting on the blackout there has been a small amount of new information:

  1. The problem appears to have originated in northern Ohio, probably in an area where power is generated and distributed by FirstEnergy Corp. We know that FirstEnergy is very troubled. It has huge financial problems, including the usual tip-off of a requirement to restate its earnings and projected earnings, mostly caused by its ownership of the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant. If we've learned anything from the recent debacle of corporate fraud (Enron, Worldcom, etc.), it is that the pressures on corporate managers to support share prices by meeting earnings targets are enormous, and that many of them aren't up to the moral challenge of running public corporations. If earnings aren't good enough, they will be made to be good enough, regardless of what has to be done to do so. Back in the halcyon days when corporations involved in matters of public interest were actually regulated, there were some checks on what corporate managers were allowed to do to cut the costs that they would have liked to cut. Since the regulations have gone, and we are all left to the mercy of the 'market', we are all pretty well doomed. Even such regulators who are left, including those who regulate the nuclear industry, can read the writing on the wall, and go along with whatever the regulated corporations want. In this insane climate, who knows what a politically-connected corporation like FirstEnergy might have been up to. The silence as to the cause of the blackout may be the way of preventing us from ever finding out.

  2. As we are to understand it, the grid collapsed like a line of dominoes, with the collapse of each part of the grid leading to a draw of too much power on the adjacent part of the grid, causing the adjacent part to collapse, and so on, all the way through the area of the blackout. In some cases the problem may be the opposite, where the closing of lines to an adjacent system led to there being too much power available in one area, leading to the shut down of power plants in that area, but for some reason too many power plants were shut. In each case there is a mechanism, a safety switch, between each area, which should have kicked in to stop the falling of each domino in the chain. One of the great unexplained mysteries of the blackout is why every single one of these completely separate mechanisms failed. The mechanisms were in different parts of the grid, geographically spread apart, in different countries, no doubt built at different times using different software, and yet every one of them failed to do what it was specifically constructed to do. How can that be?

  3. Actually, some protective mechanisms did work. Areas adjacent to the area of the blackout which were normally hooked up to it did manage to separate themselves in the appropriate manner. In Ontario, there was a small pocket in the Ontario grid which was detached and continued to function during the blackout (ironically, it was an area served by the Sir Adam Beck generating system, the surge from which possibly caused the problems in New York state, and even more ironically, the generating system which caused the 1965 blackout). In Ohio itself, a system to the south of the FirstEnergy area managed to largely protect itself using just the mechanisms that apparently didn't work elsewhere. Henry Rayne, executive vice president of American Electric Power (AEP) said:

    "It is likely that the automated controls tripped some transmission lines moments before they would have burned down because of extremely high power flows out of our system."

    Pat Hemlepp, spokesman for AEP said:

    "Something happened in the time leading up to the blackout to the north of us. Suddenly, the electrons destined for Columbus or Cincinnati or somewhere turned tail and headed north."

    Presumably the reason there were high power flows out of the system is that northern Ohio suddenly had some reason to draw massive amounts of power from adjacent areas. The protective mechanisms of American Electric Power worked to protect its system against the sudden huge draw from northern Ohio, while the protective mechanisms in Michigan did not work. What happened in northern Ohio that it suddenly required massive amounts of power from elsewhere on the grid?

I'm still stuck with two problems:

  • how did all the protective devices fail at the same time?

  • what caused the sudden massive requirement for power in northern Ohio?

Given early remarks by the Canadian Minister of Defence and New York officials, I have suspicions about a nuclear plant, perhaps the Perry Nuclear Power Plant. I know at the end of the day they'll blame the whole thing on some damned tree, and I won't believe it.

Friday, August 22, 2003

A good quote (in the posting dated August 21) from an excellent weblog by Juan Cole on Iraq (my emphasis added):

"The Bush administration made a very major mistake in blowing off the United Nations last spring. It just wasn't necessary. If Bush had delayed the start of the war 45 days, he could have had a majority of votes on the Security Council in favor of a war. If he had delayed 2-4 months he probably could have gotten France and Russia aboard. It wouldn't have cost $4 billion a month to wait a bit, which is what it does cost the US every month its 140,000 plus troops are in Iraq. A Security Council Resolution in favor of the war would have brought billions of dollars and thousands of troops from the international community, and made it far easier to provide security to post-war Iraq. The downside? Bremer wouldn't be able to just award contracts to Halliburton and Worldcom with no oversight or bidding. How would that constraint have hurt the American public? What if, you ask, the US had waited, and France and Russia had still refused to go along, because the inspectors could not find weapons of mass destruction? Well, the WMD wasn't there, so maybe there was not a casus belli. The war could have been called off, or the US could have gone ahead on the basis of the UNSC majority. Either outcome would have been preferable to the chaos and expense we see now."

We have been guessing at a number of reasons for the attack on Iraq, including the protection of Israel, the control of the international oil markets, the cowing of Middle Eastern oil states, the construction of bases in Iraq to lord over the Middle East and the Central Asian oil fields, the testing of new weapons on live human beings, and the desire to show that the United States is the chief motherfucker in charge and isn't afraid to do anything to prove it. As things play out so disastrously in Iraq, we are left with only one motivation that continues to control all American actions: the desire to keep the huge redevelopment contracts flowing solely to American companies. Every other part of the grand neocon plan to rule the world is in a shambles, but the stealing of the future wealth of the people of Iraq continues. The most doctrinaire Marxist wouldn't have dared propose that the most powerful country on earth would be risking huge amounts of wealth, the lives of thousands of its soldiers, and its position of dominance in the world, not to mention the security of its citizens from a massively increased risk of terrorist attack, all to sweeten the balance sheets of a tiny number of corporations with close personal ties to members of the Bush Administration, but that is exactly what is happening. In fact, to make the situation even more bizarre, there is essentially only one company really raking in the dough from all this, Haliburton, the corporation formerly led by Cheney and a corporation that continues to pay Cheney. We are now going to be treated to the unedifying spectacle of the Bush Administration trying to fool the members of the United Nations into spending big bucks and risking the lives of their own citizens to bail out the United States, a country that has essentially spit in the eye of the international community by getting itself into this mess in the first place. Of course, if the United States was prepared to give up some control, including, most notably, the right to treat the country of Iraq as part of the financial statements of Halliburton, the international community would respond. But the Bush Administration will never be able to make that particular concession. The UN bombing has proven that the United States has absolutely no control over the security in Iraq (and all these months of allowing the security situation to deteriorate in Baghdad, on the basis that the United States wouldn't spend a thin dime to keep the streets of Baghdad safe for some 'sand niggers', has now borne its bitter fruit), and no elected leader anywhere in the world can afford the risk of the massive expense and casualties that will certainly result from an Iraqi adventure (the Japanese are already getting cold feet, as has Thailand, and the Poles, valiantly representing the 'New Europe' but fearing 'risk', have decided to pull back from a 'high-risk area' near Baghdad [insert Polish joke here]). The American soldiers who are suffering and dying are essentially glorified security guards to allow Halliburton to continue to rape Iraq, and why would any other country that wasn't run by corrupt fools want to pay money and lives to assist in this outrage? If they really want to help out, it would be easier and cheaper to simply write a cheque personally payable to Dick Cheney.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

The great treasonous scandal known as Iran-Contra involved:

  • American-Israeli neocon Michael Ledeen

  • introducing mysterious arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar,

  • a man regarded by the CIA as a completely unreliable character, and a man who failed a number of polygraph tests,

  • to American officials who wanted to create a scheme using back channels outside of the established structure of the American government (as they knew that such channels would never be approved)

  • by paying Ghorbanifar to make contact with allegedly pro-western forces in Iran

  • at the instance of and for the sole benefit of the state of Israel and Israeli interests,

  • and clearly against the interests of and the stated desires of the American government.

It now turns out that Douglas Feith, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy for the Bush Administration, was involved in a scheme involving:

  • American-Israeli neocon Michael Ledeen

  • introducing mysterious arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar,

  • a man regarded by the CIA as a completely unreliable character, and a man who failed a number of polygraph tests,

  • to American officials who wanted to create a scheme using back channels outside of the established structure of the American government (as they knew that such channels would never be approved)

  • by paying Ghorbanifar to make contact with allegedly pro-western forces in Iran

  • at the instance of and for the sole benefit of the state of Israel and Israeli interests,

  • and clearly against the interests of and the stated desires of the American government.

Do you see any similarities between Iran-Contra and what Feith did? The reason for the new interest in Ghorbanifar, who actually wanted to be paid to make the contacts, may be to sabotage any chance of a negotiated agreement with Iran regarding terrorism, and thus put the neocons back into a position to insist on a war with Iran (the Jim Lobe article, which is also here, is the best single thing to read on this matter). It undercuts the positions of the State Department, the CIA, and the White House itself. Iran is trying to cooperate in the war on terror by agreeing to turn over high level al Qaeda members it has in custody to a third country, but in return wants the United States to stop its tacit support of anti-Iranian terrorist group Mujahideen Khalq, a group labelled as a terrorist group by the United States since 1997 but suddenly looking much better to the neocons as they want to use it to continue their program of stirring up unrest within Iran. Iran knows it has something of value, and won't even let the Americans interrogate the al Qaeda members in Iran. The turf war within the United States between the State Department and the neocons in and around the Pentagon continues, with the State Department winning a minor battle by shutting down the Washington offices of the People's Mojahedin, recently determined by Colin Powell to be the political wing of Mujahideen Khalq (note that this almost unnoticed battle in American politics has led to a debilitating purge by the neocons of those in the State Department and the Pentagon who refuse to play along with their insanity). Again we see a fight over the war on terror, with the neocons playing lip service to it to achieve their goals while actively working to undermine the State Department's efforts to actually take steps to fight it. By doing an end run around the State Department and normal channels in the American government, the neocons still hope to scupper any chance of avoiding war with Iran, but will also negate any chance of obtaining the valuable intelligence that could be obtained if the Americans could interrogate these high-level terrorists held by Iran. The neocons, led by Chalabi in Iraq, are even trying to resurrect the greatly feared Mukhabarat (or here), the Iraqi intelligence office, in order to work with with Mujahideen Khalq in the continuing covert war on Iran. Rumsfeld had to confirm that Pentagon officials met secretly with Ghorbanifar over a year ago, and misleadingly underplayed the matter, but it was later revealed by a senior defense official that there was an initial meeting in 2001, one or two other meetings last year in Italy, and another meeting in June of this year in Paris (France is of course where Richard Perle hangs out while he's badmouthing the French, and Perle's Defense Policy Board seems to be a major source of the creeping coup d'etat that is taking over the functions of the American government by secretly opening its own channels of communication). The June 2003 meeting was described as "an unplanned, unscheduled encounter" (I guess they were on holiday visiting the top of the Eiffel Tower and who should they run into but their old pal Manucher . . . ). Two Pentagon officials who met with Ghorbanifar were Harold Rhode, a protege of Michael Ledeen and a specialist on Iran and Iraq who recently served in Baghdad as the Pentagon liaison to Chalabi, and Larry Franklin, a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, both of whom were from the Pentagon's policy directorate, i. e., directly under Feith (also note that, in case you had any doubts about who Feith is really working for, Karen Kwiatkowski, a recently retired Pentagon policy analyst, reports that she saw Israeli officials, including several generals, entering Feith's office who were not required to sign the security book that everybody else is required to sign; see also a hint here). You'd think Feith would have had enough on his plate running the Office of Special Plans - now renamed to protect the guilty - to create the lies that led to the attack on Iraq, but I guess a man like that is capable of treasonous multitasking. A lot of people almost went to jail for what they did in Iran-Contra, and many of them ended up back in the Bush Administration. I guess they thought it was such a good idea they would try it again. There is even a good name for the new scandal: Iran-Neocon-tra.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana was murdered by American troops in Iraq:

  1. The Americans claimed he was killed because they mistook his camera for a rocket-powered grenade launcher. There are four huge problems with this pathetic excuse:

    • Mazen Dana was extremely close to the Americans when he was killed;

    • television cameras do not look like rocket-propelled grenade launchers, especially as close as the Americans were;

    • a group of journalists who witnessed the killing said they had all been there for at least half an hour, and the Americans were fully aware that they were journalists;

    • the Reuters team had identified themselves to American soldiers guarding the perimeter of the prison where Mr. Dana was murdered, and they had been given permission to film. Mr. Dana's soundman Nael Shyioukhi said:

      "After we filmed we went into the car and prepared to go when a convoy led by a tank arrived and Mazen stepped out of the car to film. I followed him, and Mazen walked three to four meters. We were noted and clearly seen."

    Note that he was standing there filming, in full view, and did not appear in a surprising manner. The convoy arrived as if the Americans were sent specifically to murder this particular person.

  2. This murder is part of an obvious pattern of Pentagon targeting of journalists which we have seen over and over again, and comes right on the heels of the official Pentagon cover-up of the shelling of the Palestine Hotel. Robert Menard, secretary general of Reporters sans frontières, said:

    "Not only have U. S. troops committed numerous blunders during the war but - at this point - these have not been the subject of an investigation worthy of the name. The so-called inquiry by the Pentagon into the shelling of the Palestine Hotel . . . exonerates the U. S. army in a shameful way."

  3. The Israelification of the United States continues, and it ain't pretty. Mr, Dana had previously worked in the Palestine, and had been shot at and beaten up so often by Israeli troops for covering the truth there that Reuters had decided he would be safer if they assigned him to Iraq. Eventually, the United States is going to be known as the 'Shitty Big Country'.

  4. The brother of Mazen Dana, Nazmi Dana said:

    "Mazen told me by phone few days before his death that he discovered a mass grave dug by U.S. troops to conceal the bodies of their fellow comrades killed in Iraqi resistance attacks. He also told me that he found U. S. troops covered in plastic bags in remote desert areas and he filmed them for a TV program. We are pretty sure that the American forces had killed Mazen knowingly to prevent him from airing his findings."

    You might scoff at this story, except for the fact that:

    • it is clear that the Americans both knew who he was and specifically targeted him;

    • the story is extremely specific, doesn't sound like something that has been made up, and the brother has no obvious gain from telling it; and

    • it is likely, given what we know about Pentagon fudging about casualty figures, that it is greatly understating American losses in order to forestall the domestic political fallout when Americans find out how many American troops have actually been killed in Iraq.

  5. The immorality of their mission; the heat; the justified hatred of the Iraqi people towards them; the improper support provided to them by privatized military contractors who only care about profits and who provide inadequate food, water, and housing; the insanity of Rumsfeld's idea that the occupation can be conducted with about a third of the troops that are actually needed; and the fact that many of them are doomed to die at the hands of the Iraqis, from mysterious 'diseases', or from the long term effects of the depleted uranium, has driven the American soldiers completely insane. Stephan Breitner, of France 2 television, said:

    "We were all there for at least half an hour. They knew we were journalists. After they shot Mazen, they aimed their guns at us. I don't think it was an accident. They are very tense. They are crazy."

This senseless murder only became publicized because the victim was a journalist. Just think of all the anonymous Iraqi victims of the same American madness.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Alexander Cockburn has an excellent column (or here) on the Judith Miller fiasco at the New York Times, and he lays into Miller and the Times mercilessly:

". . . the conflicts of interest put the New York Times in a terrible light. Here was Miller, with a contract to write a new book on the post-invasion search for 'weapons of mass destruction', lodged in the Army unit charged with that search, fiercely insisting that the unit prolong its futile hunt, while simultaneously working hand in glove with Chalabi."

Cockburn is one of many writers who have torn a strip off Miller and the Times for this shameful exhibition of how not to mix journalism and politics (see here and here and here). The culmination of the Miller/Times game has to be her article dated July 20, 2003 entitled "A Chronicle of Confusion in the Hunt for Hussein's Weapons", in which she manages to blame the inability of the American forces to find any evidence of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction on the incompetence and disorganization of the American effort. This from a woman who was so involved in micromanaging that very effort that she was practically the commanding officer of one of the main units searching for the weapons! One officer said of Miller:

". . . this woman came in with a plan. She was leading them. . . . She ended up almost hijacking the mission."

Another officer said:

"It's impossible to exaggerate the impact she had on the mission of this unit, and not for the better."

Miller also wrote an article describing her search for a missing ancient copy of the Talmud with the unit she commandeered, a unit that was after all supposed to be looking for weapons of mass destruction and not missing religious artifacts! After all this meddling she has the audacity to write an article about the failure, managing to blame it on the incompetence of the effort by the soldiers! Miller has a very entrepreneurial way of dealing with the journalism on Iraq:

  • serve as a main conduit for the Chalabi disinformation which served as the justification for the attack on Iraq;

  • write articles such as the infamous 'aluminum tubes' article which are used by the Bush Administration as the basis for the attack on Iraq;

  • after the attack, participate in the hunt for the weapons of mass destruction, and throw your political weight around to actually direct the details of the search such that you damage the ability of the soldiers to do their jobs;

  • write stories about the hunt to find the weapons of mass destruction, and do everything you can, no matter how embarrassing, to support the Bush Administration position that such weapons do exist (culminating, of course, in one of the most infamous articles in modern journalism, an article which breaches every single tenet of reporting, with the great, and telling, title: "Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, an Iraqi Scientist Is Said to Assert");

  • write a book about the hunt for weapons of mass destruction; and

  • coming full circle, write an article wondering about why none of the evidence for the justifications for the war ever actually turned up, blaming it on the incompetence of the troops sent on the wild goose chase to find them.

It's quite a racket. The New York Times is starting to pay for its inability to admit to its massive breaches of journalistic ethics. The Washington Post is absolutely eating its lunch on the coverage of the lies of the Bush Administration which justified the attack on Iraq, and I suspect the Times can't compete due to its shoddy and completely improper involvement in the story.

Monday, August 18, 2003

The blackout:

  1. Bush said on Thursday: "The one thing I can say for certain, this was not a terrorist act." At that time, there was no Official Story as to what caused the blackout, and in fact the facts are still in dispute. How, then, could Bush be certain that it was not a terrorist act? Isn't it odd how quickly the Bush Administration knew all the facts about who was supposed to be behind 9-11, and how quickly Bush could confirm that the blackout wasn't caused by terrorists? The speed of Bush's omniscience is frightening.

  2. The system is designed to isolate any problem to the area where the problem occurred. In this case, the Official Story seems to be that the system didn't work as designed, and the initial problem was allowed to infect adjacent areas, with those adjacent areas then affecting further areas, and so on (the problem spread like an epidemic, and is perhaps best understood in the terms of epidemiology). Not only did the Ohio system break down, but the same system of automatically isolating problems, which existed in each geographically separate part of the whole system, failed in every single possible instance. Michehl R. Gent, President and CEO of the North American Electric Reliability Council, a private standards-setting organization that oversees the transmission system, and which had been formed specifically to prevent cascading blackouts, said: "The system has been designed and rules have been created to prevent this escalation and cascading. It should have stopped, we think, after the first three" line failures. The problem with the Official Story is that not only had there to be a screw up in Ohio, but the same screw up in Michigan, Ontario, New York State, and so on. At every step when the problem could have been contained, it was not. The completeness of the failure, and the impossible coincidence that the exact same type of failure had to reoccur in so many places, makes the Official Story suspect.

  3. I don't believe that part of the Official Story that nobody had any clue what happened until late on Friday, when the story seemed to be firming up that the problem began in the area of Cleveland. Somewhere, and probably in a number of places, there must be real time monitoring of all power flows and surges, which should have revealed the origins of the problem immediately. In fact, the coincidence required by the Official Story, that the same extraordinary failure had to occur in different places, is so difficult to believe that one is forced into seeing the whole problem as one occurring in some central control facility, and that same facility would be where you would expect to find monitoring of the whole system.

  4. In the two hours before the blackout, there the Official Story is that there was a series of problems in transmission lines in Ohio. Voltages sagged too low at a number of times. The last two drops in voltage didn't correct themselves. There was initially some thought that the line problem was caused by tree contact, but the lines appear to be undamaged and that sort of problem occurs so often that it is extremely unlikely to have resulted in the massive blackout. One of the lines may, however, have overheated and sagged, thus hitting a tree (another story is that a tree fell on a line). This is all very interesting, but of course in no way explains what happened. It may very well be that the problems with power lines were a symptom, rather than a cause, of the problem, particularly as FirstEnergy Corp. is now reporting that there were unusual energy flows well before there was a problem with the lines. Since the problem was of a type which would have occurred in a matter of seconds, it cannot be blamed on human error, as the shut-off mechanism must have been set up to work automatically (claiming that the operators did not notice the problem quickly enough won't suffice as an excuse, as this type of thing happens so quickly that human intervention could not possibly have helped). Of course, human error may be responsible for failing to notice earlier warning signs or failure to take any steps to prevent the problem from starting once the warning signals occurred.

  5. Due to criminally incompetent planning by Ontario politicians and electricity bureaucrats, Ontario is in a deficit position with respect to electrical power, and was drawing power on the line from Michigan (for weird Canadian political reasons, Quebec, which produces massive quantities of hydroelectric power and sends most of it to the United States, provides hardly any power to Ontario). The Official Story was that the power flow, which was headed towards Ontario, suddenly reversed direction and surged back to Ohio. Although this has not been fully explained (except for the insufficient explanation of the power line and the tree), presumably the surge occurred because Ohio suddenly found itself in a power deficit, probably because a local source suddenly stopped producing.

  6. The initial accounts that the problem began in Canada, particularly by Mayor Bloomberg, probably derive from the fact that energy is often routed through Ontario. The breakdown of the Canadian system, probably caused by a breakdown in the transmission of energy into Ontario at Detroit, then would cause Ontario to be unable to send the energy back down to New York by sending it across the border in the Niagara area. From a New York City perspective, it appears that the problem derives from Canada. The line between Michigan and Ontario has not been hooked up again, with the claim that this is "due to operational security reasons", but I suspect it is because Ontario power bureaucrats still aren't confident in being hooked up to the same problem, particularly as its origin is still shrouded in mystery.

  7. After blaming Canada, New York state officials said they thought the problem originated at the Perry Nuclear Power Plant near Cleveland. This is denied by the plant on the rather odd basis that there were several transmission lines in Michigan that had tripped out of service first, which of course begs the question as to why this happened in Michigan and whether it was caused by something that happened in Ohio.

  8. The Perry plant, and at least two of the lines that are said to have been involved in the problem, are owned by FirstEnergy Corp. (FirstEnergy Corp. also owns the extremely troubled, and troubling, Davis-Besse nuclear plant near Toledo). FirstEnergy Corp. is a very large political donor to George Bush, and that fact may have something to do with the information blackout which accompanied the power blackout, perhaps providing time to craft the Official Story. Financial difficulties caused by Davis-Besse may mean that another problem may have required hiding.

  9. The whole series of official Canadian explanations is, to the say the least, very odd. The Prime Minister's office initially said that the problem originated in the Niagara Mohawk power grid in upstate New York, and was caused by a lightning strike on a power plant. Then they said it was caused by a fire at a power plant in that area. No one knows where these ideas came from, as there was no lightning in the area at the time, and apparently no fire. John McCallum, Canadian Minister of Defence, said at a press conference that he understood that the problem originated at a fire at a nuclear plant in Pennsylvania. He said he was aware of earlier erroneous Canadian reports, but had learned the latest information from his U. S. counterparts about 10 minutes before the conference. He said:

    "We're going by the latest information we have received from our U. S. counterparts. We are told this as a fact."

    He specified a fire at a nuclear power plant, and said he believed the plant to be in Pennsylvania. He indicated that his information had just come in from U. S. military officials. Part way through the press conference he was interrupted by his press secretary, and corrected himself to say that it was an incident at a nuclear plant, and not a fire. It is as if someone in the Canadian or American military monitoring the conference stepped in to ensure that the record was corrected. It is very difficult to dismiss the whole McCallum press conference, as apparently has been done by everyone, some making the comment that McCallum is a drunk (which is true, but probably irrelevant!). McCallum is a very smart man (a former chief economist of a large Canadian bank and the Dean of Arts at McGill University), seemed very confident of his American military sources, and was specific enough in his version of the cause and his source of the information that it seems unlikely to be a mistake. As well, Thoren Hudyma, a senior spokeswoman for the Prime Minister's Office in Ottawa, said:

    "It was caused by a power outage at a nuclear plant in Pennsylvania."

    However, Pennsylvania officials vehemently deny that there was any such problem at any Pennsylvania nuclear plant. Since McCallum was vague about Pennsylvania, we should look for a likely nuclear plant near Pennsylvania. My first thought was the troubled Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey, but it appears that it was shut down in an orderly fashion as a result of the blackout, and was not a potential cause. If you look west, however, quite close to the Pennsylvania-Ohio border is the Perry Nuclear Power Plant, which is quite near Cleveland and about 65 miles west of Erie, Pennsylvania. Could McCallum have been referring to this plant when he referred to a plant which he thought was in Pennsylvania? This plant appears to be under particular protection against terrorist attack. It is also one of the first causes mentioned by New York State officials after they got over blaming Canada, and is owned by FirstEnergy Corp.

  10. The bomb incident in Florida is an interesting parallel. In that case, a soldier from Fort Stewart, Georgia was arrested in May 2002 at a power plant in Jacksonville, Florida (not a nuclear plant, as there is no nuclear plant in Jacksonville), and held on charges of attempting to discharge a destructive device. In the light of 9-11, this caused some consternation. He claimed he was in the area to "practice recon tactics." He pled no contest and will receive 18 months probation. You have to wonder if the puny sentence reflects the fact that he was on (semi-)official business. The Army seems rather nonchalant about the whole thing.

Some thoughts:

  1. Was the whole system intentionally shut down?

  2. Did something really bad happen at the Perry Nuclear Power Plant? Was there a terrorist attack, or a threat of one? Was it necessary to find some sort of excuse to shut down all nuclear power plants in the northeast?

  3. Bush and Cheney are keen to allow the construction of a whole new series of nuclear power plants. Any huge safety threat would bring back images of Three Mile Island, and scuttle their plans to enrich their greasy friends. Was the blackout a way of disguising some safety threat at a nuclear power plant?

  4. Is there a central control facility where all problems can be monitored, and where the whole system can be shut down if necessary? Given the current American paranoia about terrorism, I'd be surprised if such a facility didn't exist, and even more surprised if it wasn't somehow connected with the Homeland Security bureaucracy.

  5. The combination of privatization and deregulation of essential government services, including such things as power, roads, health care, and security, is so utterly and obviously stupid that it is not worth while even writing about it. Sadly, the existing neocon orthodoxy, backed up by autistic economic theory, will no doubt lead to more of the same corporate corruption which has recently so greatly reduced the quality of life for the majority of the population. I fully imagine that we'll start to see articles pointing out that the problem was caused by insufficient privatization and deregulation. Visionary civil servants like Robert Moses and Adam Beck, whose plans for government production of inexpensive hydroelectric power led to the prosperity enjoyed in New York and Ontario respectively, must be spinning in their graves.

  6. Is the whole story of the source of the problem, involving power lines in Ohio and power surges, just an elaborate construct of misinformation intended to hide some awful truth?

Looking over the internet, I am quite surprised at the lack of crazed conspiracy theories concerning the blackout. Are we actually starting to believe all the lies that we are being told, no matter how implausible they may be? The Official Story, which involves unlikely Bushian omniscience about terrorism, implausible official inability to immediately pinpoint the problem, the Canadian Minister of Defence spouting oddly specific nonsense, and simultaneous multinational failures of a system across widely-spaced geographical areas, is difficult to believe.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Maryland is the proud owner of thousands of Diebold touch-screen voting terminals, and plans to buy a whole bunch more. The security of such terminals has recently been questioned (for lots of scary material on Diebold, see here and here and here - what is most striking is that Diebold doesn't really seem to care whether its machines are secure or not, and is attempting to bluster and bluff its way past recent criticisms), and some have even wondered about the whole business of voting machines, particularly given some recent extremely peculiar election results in the United States. Maryland has now ordered an independent, third-party audit of the software for Diebold's touch-screen voting machines. This sounds like a good thing, except for one tiny problem. The company chosen to do the audit: Science Applications International Corporation (for more on SAIC, see the links in item 2 here; as an aside, SAIC's foray into the Iraqi television/propaganda business has not been a big hit). If the real deep problem with Diebold relates to its unusually close ties to one political party which tends to represent the interests of one group, appointing another company unusually associated with that same group and that same party to do the audit is worse than useless. The report that SAIC produces is likely to be kept from the public, and the only indicator of what the report says may be whether Maryland in fact buys more Diebold equipment. How is any resident of Maryland supposed to feel comfortable about this? How is any resident of Maryland supposed to feel that his or her vote will be fairly counted? I have but five words on voting: Paper Ballots, Counted In Public. Anything less is a dictatorship.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

The New York City medical examiner's office, using DNA analysis, has managed to identify slightly more than half of the 2,792 people killed in the attack on the WTC towers, and it is feared that the remains of as many as 1,000 victims may never be identified. Given the fire and collapse of the two towers, this is not surprising. What is surprising is the contrast between the DNA identification process in New York and the DNA identification process that took place with respect to the victims of the Pentagon crash. Again, there was an horrific crash and a terrible fire, but authorities report that they identified remains of 184 (or here) people who were aboard Flight 77 or inside the Pentagon, including those of the five hijackers, but could not match the other remains with any of five people who were also known to be on the flight. In fact, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology claims to have identified the remains of all but one of the passengers on Flight 77. If they achieve their goals, the New York investigators hope to achieve a 65% rate of identification. That is in a situation where many bodies were found intact as many of the victims died due to the collapse of the buildings and not due to fire. Identifying 184 out of 189 Pentagon victims is a 97% success rate in a case where we are to believe that heat was sufficient to vaporize the fuselage and engines of the plane, a vaporization needed to explain the almost complete absence of wreckage left behind of the plane, but not degrade the DNA of the passengers inside the plane. How do we reconcile a 50% rate of identification in New York, or 65% if they achieve their goals, with a 97% identification rate in Washington, especially where much of the DNA obtained in Washington had to be obtained from the area where the fuselage surrounding the passengers was before it was vaporized by the heat?

Thursday, August 14, 2003


  1. Colorful, if not always fully dressed, Iran-Contra operative (and U. S. Deputy Secretary of State) Richard Armitage, speaking to to the Asia Society in Sydney:

    "President Bush has made it crystal clear we do not intend to stay in Iraq longer than necessary. But let me also make this crystal-clear: we are not going to leave until we find and destroy Iraq's capability to produce biological, chemical and nuclear weapons."

    Since they'll never find these weapons, I guess they'll never leave.

  2. The British kept telling us how superior to the Americans they are, and how much easier their relations were with those Iraqis living in Basra. They also delighted in informing us of how well Basra was running, as opposed to the disastrous situation in Baghdad. The riots in Basra have proven that the British had no idea how their mismanagement of Basra had enraged the inhabitants. The same problem that plagues Baghdad, chronic shortages in electricity coupled with 50 degree heat, together with anger that Kuwaitis were smuggling oil out of southern Iraq while the residents of Basra faced shortages of fuel, seems to have precipitated the riots. Laith al-Tayi, a resident of Basra, said:

    "We are very happy that Saddam Hussein is gone. But sometimes we say at least Saddam Hussein is a Muslim, but the British are foreigners. We cannot accept them. They must know they cannot stay here for 40 years. If they try, we will kick them out. What would you do if you were in our shoes?"

    Sabri Zugheyer, a restaurant owner, said:

    "The British promised to make everything better, but now it's worse. Even in the old days it was never as bad as this. Their promises are worth nothing."

    Adnan Abud, a taxi driver, said:

    "The British and Americans come here and promise us everything, but things are worse now than under Saddam. You cannot know what it is like to live in this heat with no power and no fuel. It is intolerable."

    The British were able to greatly improve the electricity situation almost immediately, which leads me to wonder why it took a riot to make them do what they should have already been doing. A sentence from the Guardian is telling:

    "The weekend trouble has underlined the deep frustration of British military commanders at the failure of the international community to help restore Iraq's infrastructure."

    Woah! The international community is effectively blocked from helping due to the Bushite insistence that the U. N. is not to be involved. On top of that, many elements of the reconstruction, which could be done more quickly and cheaply by international aid organizations, have been allocated by Bush to American private companies so they can make a profit from it. If the British have a problem with the international community, perhaps they should have a talk with Bush.

  3. Because of refinery problems, U. N. officials have said there is a 'near certainty' that Iraq will face winter shortages of kerosene, the fuel that is used to heat homes in northern Iraq. There is a similar problem with another vital fuel, liquified natural gas. Smuggling, probably to Kuwait, has made the problem worse. John Levins, the head of fuel planning for the United Nations Joint Logistics Center, said:

    "There is no doubt the coalition has the best interests of the Iraqi people at heart, but if they cut off coalition imports of gasoline and don't alleviate the diesel situation before Iraqi refineries are able to provide for the needs of their own people, there will be a fuel-induced humanitarian crisis in the coming months."

    I guess we'll have to wait for the winter heating fuel riots.

  4. From Salam Pax, referring to a press conference given by the current president of the Iraqi Interim Governing Council:

    "As usual, getting into these press bashes is an event in itself. You have to be there an hour early, you get searched a thousand times and, of course, as an Iraqi I get treated like shit. I have no idea why the American soldiers at the entrance to the convention centre . . . are so offensive towards Iraqis while they can be so nice to anyone with a foreign passport. I have to be the Zen master when the soldier at the gate gets condescending. The reporters of Iraq Today were not allowed to get to the press conference and they went ballistic. 'This is my friggin' government, what do you mean I can't get in?' My sentiments exactly. Keep this image in your head: an American officer stopping you, an Iraqi, from attending the press conference your government is holding."

    and, from his blog:

    "G. my friend got beaten up by US Army last night, he was handcuffed and had a bag put on his head. he was kicked several times and was made to lie on his face for a while. All he wanted to do was to take pictures and report on an attack, he works for the New York Times as a translator and fixer. He got more kicks for speaking english. his sin: he looks Iraqi and has a beard. story will be told, I need to get him drunk enough to get the whole thing out of him he doesn't want to talk."

  5. For some no-doubt stupid reason, perhaps connected with a bet or something, the Americans decided to use a Black Hawk helicopter to hover and attempt to remove an Islamic banner from a telecommunications tower in the Baghdad slum now called Sadr City. Not surprisingly, this angered the residents of the area, and 3,000 people gathered to protest. Deciding not to leave well enough alone, the Americans apparently regarded this gathering as a challenge to show up and drive around the crowd in Humvees. Stones were thrown, which were met with return fire from the geniuses, killing one Iraqi civilian and wounding four others. The Americans claim a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at them, but this sounds like an excuse for the murders, and even if true, wouldn't have happened if the Americans hadn't gratuitously angered the people of the area and then provoked them by unnecessarily driving around. This is exactly the kind of completely moronic behavior that characterizes the whole occupation. The American authorities will then wonder out loud why it is that the liberating Americans, who are sacrificing themselves in the best interests of the Iraqi people, are so hated by the Iraqis. The ingrates! Almost all of this escalating violence, which is of course going to come back to haunt the Americans, could be avoided if the American troops were just a tiny bit smarter.

There is much, much more to write about, particularly the security, electricity, and POW situations, all of which appear to be getting worse.