July 2007


Supporting the troops and protecting the homeland

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b real added a comment to my previous post, quoting Sy Hersh, that I thought I’d post here. It demonstrates once again how truth simply does not play a part in Bush/Cheney management. And the press continues to act as an oblivious enabler:

sy hersh on democracy now may 24th:
…the thing that’s amazing about this government, the thing that’s really spectacular, is even now how they can get their way mostly with a lot of the American press. For example, I do know — and, you know, you have to take it on face value. If you’ve been reading me for a long time, you know a lot of the things I write are true or come out to be more or less true. I do know that within the last month, maybe four, four-and-a-half weeks ago, they made a decision that because of the totally dwindling support for the war in Iraq, we go back to the al-Qaeda card, and we start talking about al-Qaeda. And the next thing you know, right after that, Bush went to the Southern Command — this was a month ago — and talked, mentioned al-Qaeda twenty-seven times in his speech. He did so just the other day this week — al-Qaeda this, al-Qaeda that. All of a sudden, the poor Iraqi Sunnis, I mean, they can’t do anything without al-Qaeda. It’s only al-Qaeda that’s dropping the bombs and causing mayhem. It’s not the Sunni and Shia insurgents or militias. And this policy just gets picked up, although there’s absolutely no empirical basis. Most of the pros will tell you the foreign fighters are a couple percent, and then they’re sort of leaderless in the sense that there’s no overall direction of the various foreign fighters. You could call them al-Qaeda. You can also call them jihadists and Salafists that want to die fighting the Americans or the occupiers in Iraq and they come across the border. Whether this is — there’s no attempt to suggest there’s any significant coordination of these groups by bin Laden or anybody else, and the press just goes gaga. And so, they went gaga a little bit over the Syrian connection to the activities in Tripoli. It’s just amazing to me, you guys.
b real


Straight reporting, disguised as satire, from Jesus’ General:

As I’m sure you’ve all heard by now, the Department of Defense issued a press release Wednesday touting its capture of one of the top leaders of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Khaled Abdul-Fattah Dawoud Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, also known as Abu Shahid. And in a stroke of sheer luck, interrogators were able to get him to confirm all of the Administration’s talking points about Al Qaeda’s involvement in Iraq just as the Democratic leadership in the Senate was moving to end a Republican filibuster of the Levin-Reed Troop Withdrawal plan.

And for true, a truly classic quote from the US Secretary of State:

From Maria Bartiromo’s interview of Condi Rice in the current issue of BusinessWeek:
MB
: Would you consider a position in business or on Wall Street?
CR: I don’t know what I’ll do long-term. I’m a terrible long-term planner.

General William Ward, nominated to be head of the Africa Command.
There are a number of reports on problems Africom is having. African leaders are not welcoming it. In South Africa, the the US embassy was complaining that the newly nominated head of Africom, General William Ward could not get an appointment with the South African Minister of Defense, Mosiuoa Lekota.

And the US is sending very mixed messages. Secretary of Defense Gates has said that al Qaeda is establishing a foothold in North Africa. Although Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Ryan Henry, who toured Africa on behalf of Africom, denied that Africom is intended to serve as a counter to terrorism, but also spoke of the growth of terrrorism in North Africa. The words terrorism and al Qaeda are also problematical when used by the Bush administration, anyone Bush/Cheney see as an enemy is al Qaeda, regardless of actual ties to al Qaeda.

And the Voice of America reports:

The officials say the command’s goals will include helping to prevent terrorists from establishing bases in Africa, and helping Africans avoid local conflicts before they start.

Certainly the Africa Command, in rare mentions in the US media, is being sold in the US as part of a counter terror initiative.

Meanwhile The Economist reports that “Unimaginable in many parts of the world, there is keen competition among African countries to host AFRICOM‘s new headquarters.” This is certainly the opposite of most of what I read in any African media. Mostly I read they cannot find a country willing to host Africom HQ, with the exception of Liberia. Ryan toured throughout Africa. West African countries, and North African countries, all turned down hosting Africom.

The way the Bush administration uses the word terrorism should cause much skepticism.

On Tuesday morning, July 17, there were two conflicting reports in the Washington Post. One said the US is in grave danger of another terrorist attack on US soil from al Qaeda, especially al Qaeda in Iraq. And the same day in the same newspaper, this story said that “the Sunni insurgent group calling itself al-Qaeda in Iraq as an “accelerant” for violence, they have cited domestic sectarian divisions as the main impediment to peace.” And that the main enemies of al Qaeda in Iraq are other Iraqis in Iraq.

As digby says:

Like so much of Washington reporting, you have to sift through the runes to decipher what these two articles are actually telling us. I’m guessing that we are once again dealing with a battle of the intelligence agencies. . . . It’s up to the reader to decide what is true. (emphasis mine)
. . .
There is good reason to be suspicious that they are hyping the Iraq terrorist threat at a time when the congress is getting serious about reining them in. (We know they like to “introduce product” according to a political timetable.) With their track record of dishonestly conflating the terrorist threat with Iraq (as well as crying wolf dozens of times over the years here in the homeland) it’s completely fair to take into account that foreign policies based on the Bush administration’s “threat assessments” haven’t exactly worked out very well. A second, third and fourth outside opinion should always be required from these people.

Any government dealing with Bush/Cheney should keep this in mind.

Dubai by night

One way to fight the oil curse is to look for models, countries who have managed to use oil revenues for the benefit of their citizens. The secret for success is to use the oil money to strengthen other sectors of the economy, rather than undermine them, as has been the case with African oil so far, where agriculture in particular has been devastated. And most critical for long term success, is to make health care and education available to all citizens.

Some countries have used their petrodollars to actually improve the lives of their citizens. In the Arab world, the Emirates of Dubai and Bahrain have utilised their petrodollars to diversify their economies.

In 2006, oil and gas revenues accounted for only around 3 percent of Dubai’s gross domestic product (GDP) of 46 billion US dollars. It is expected that the country’s oil reserves will run out within the next two decades. Yet the economy is booming thanks to the promotion of tourism and the positioning of the country as a shoppers’ paradise.

In Bahrain, 30 percent of GDP is derived from the oil industry. Structures are in place which see huge amounts of money being poured back into education, the tourism sector and health services. This has created jobs and investment opportunities for the local people.

In Norway, with around 50 percent of its exports consisting of oil, the government has secured the income for citizens by investing it in a national pension fund. Since 1990, the fund has seen dramatic growth and, with 200 billion US dollars, it is the largest pension fund in Europe.

‘‘These countries have realised that oil is a finite resource,” said Athmani. ‘‘They have diversified their economies. They are not overly dependent on oil. If this resource does run out, the other sectors will be strong enough to support the economy.”

. . .
Mary M’mukindia, an independent Kenyan analyst for the oil industry . . . argued that governments have to put in place structures which ensure that citizens benefit from oil wealth. She supports initiatives such as ‘‘Publish What you Pay” which forces international oil companies to publish the amounts of money they pay to governments.

Cesar Chelala, the award-winning writer on human rights issues, wrote in an article in the ‘‘Gulf Times” on 16 May this year that oil companies, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and powerful governments should demand transparency from African governments.

In 2002, British Prime Minister Tony Blair launched the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Under the regulations of this initiative, countries rich in mineral and oil wealth as well as the companies extracting the wealth have to publish payments received and made.
. . .
M’mukindia says there should be three-way compliance. First: governments should ‘‘want to have” a transparency model. Second: extractive companies should be keen. In this regard, governments can implement laws which force companies to comply.

Third: Civil society organisations (CSO) should be involved. ‘‘They represent the people who are the real owners of the resources,” said M’mukindia.

But for CSOs to have an effect, they need to be well-informed. ‘‘They need to be brought up to speed with international standards and the intricacies of the industry.

The most curious feature of this article is that it reports Nigeria, and oil companies working there, are the only ones who have indicated willingness to submit their accounts. Since transparency, both in federal and state government, and from the oil companies, has been completely lacking in Nigeria, and a source of much of her problems, I’m extremely doubtful about EITI having that much effect as yet. If it is, that would be a very good sign. Transparency, accounting for money coming in, and money spent, is critical to anything resembling an equitable distribution of profits.

There isn’t a chance of the US putting any pressure, or making any push for transparency. Bush/Cheney are the most secretive and imperial of any US government to date. They refuse to share information with their citizens, and both Bush and Cheney are part of the oil industry. Their foreign policy and flair for incompetence have severely undermined US credibility, and the credibility of institutions associated with the US, such as the World Bank. The US is likely to provide more hindrance than help. Its recent actions in Somalia, its support for Nguema in Equitorial Guinea show behavior and motives more sinister than friendly. And rather than working for an equitable solution in Nigeria, the US seems to be supporting the Nigerian government in treating the Niger Delta as a military problem.

If Ghana, and other African countries rich in resources, can support and diversify their economies, and establish some financial transparency, they will be in a good position to develop themselves. They won’t get much outside support, and the dangers are many.

I read an interview today with Mike Davis about his book, Planet of Slums. I have copied some key quotes from the article, though I recommend reading the whole article. It has implications for people on every continent. It has relevance to the US and US policies, most immediately in Iraq. It also has particular relevance to West Africa and citizens of the countries of the Gulf of Guinea. Here follow some passages from the interview:

Sadr City, at one point named Saddam City, the Eastern quadrant of Baghdad, has grown to grotesque proportions — two million poor people, mainly Shia. And it’s still growing, as are Sunni slums by the way, thanks now not to Saddam but to disastrous American policies toward agriculture into which the U.S. has put almost no reconstruction money. Vast farmlands have been turned back into desert, while everything focused, however unsuccessfully, on restoration of the oil industry. The crucial thing would have been to preserve some equilibrium between countryside and city, but American policies just accelerated the flight from the land.
. . .
In my book, I looked at the relationship between the pervasive global slum, everywhere associated with sanitation disasters, with classical conditions favoring the rapid movement of disease through human populations; and on the other side, I focused on how the transformation of livestock production was creating entirely new conditions for the emergence of diseases among animals and their transmission to humans.

We have the:

. . . urbanization of livestock . . . millions of chickens living in warehouses, in factory farms. Bird densities like this have never existed in nature and they probably favor, according to epidemiologists I’ve talked to, maximum virulence, the accelerated evolution of diseases.
. . .
At the same time, wetlands around the world have been degraded and water diverted.
. . .
This is a formula for biological disaster and avian flu is the second pandemic of globalization. It’s very clear now that HIV AIDS emerged at least partially through the bush-meat trade, as West Africans were forced to turn to bush meat because European factory ships were vacuuming up all the fish in the Gulf of Guinea, the major traditional source of protein in urban diets.
. . .
the future of guerrilla warfare, insurrection against the world system, has moved into the city. Nobody has realized this with as much clarity as the Pentagon, or more vigorously tried to grapple with its empirical consequences. Its strategists are way ahead of geopoliticians and traditional foreign-relations types in understanding the significance of a world of slums…
. . .
The question of the exchange of violence between the city of slums and the imperial city is linked to a deeper question — the question of agency. How will this very large minority of humanity that now lives in cities but is exiled from the formal world economy find its future? What is its capacity for historical agency?
. . .
Well, here you have an informal working class with no strategic place in production, in the economy, that has nonetheless discovered a new social power — the power to disrupt the city, to strike at the city, ranging from the creative nonviolence . . . to the now universal use of car bombs by nationalist and sectarian groups to strike at middle-class neighborhoods, financial districts, even green zones. I think there’s much global experimentation, trying to find out how to use the power of disruption.
. . . I’ll tell you what I suspect may be the greatest of disruptive powers — the power to disrupt global energy flows. Poor people with minimal technology are capable of doing that across the thousands of miles of unguardable pipeline on this planet.
. . .
The city is our ark in which we might survive the environmental turmoil of the next century. Genuinely urban cities are the most environmentally efficient form of existing with nature that we possess because they can substitute public luxury for private or household consumption. They can square the circle between environmental sustainability and a decent standard of living. I mean, however big your library is or vast your swimming pool, it’ll never be the same as the New York Public Library or a great public pool. No mansion, no San Simeon, will ever be the equivalent of Central Park or Broadway.

One of the major problems, however, is: We’re building cities without urban qualities. Poor cities, in particular, are consuming the natural areas and watersheds which are essential to their functioning as environmental systems, to their ecological sustainability, and they’re consuming them either because of destructive private speculation or simply because poverty pours over into every space. All around the world, the crucial watersheds and green spaces that cities need to function ecologically and be truly urban are being urbanized by poverty and by speculative private development. Poor cities, as a result, are becoming increasingly vulnerable to disaster, pandemic, and catastrophic resource shortages, particularly of water.

Conversely, the most important step toward coping with global environmental change is to reinvest — massively — in the social and physical infrastructures of our cities, and thereby reemploy tens of millions of poor youth.

On the mark – here.

One of my favorite blogs is Ramblings of an African Geek. He writes with a measured tone, and a great deal of insight. He recently assisted with the secondary school programming competition in Tamale in the Northern Region. Click here to read his account of the competition, and see pictures of the students working intently. I really like to see this. Still, so many young people need this kind of opportunity and more. When governments invest in education, it pays back many times over in business development. Everyone benefits. It would be nice if more people in government understood this, in Ghana, in the US, and pretty much everywhere else.

He writes:

As usual, this was fun and refreshing. The schools need more support than they currently get from the government by far but they are doing a lot with what they have and I suspect the nationals will be seriously competitive. Still, I’d rather not have to hear stories of high performing schools only doing well because a teacher brought in his 3 year old laptop and trained his kids on it.

Still, the sights made me happy.

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