Monday, February 27, 2006

Is the US building permanent military bases in Iraq?

Even though 80% of the Iraqi people, who you would think would know what kind of bases the US is building in their country, tell pollsters that they believe the US wants to build permanent bases and remain in their country indefinitely the American media never use the words "permanent", "bases" and "Iraq" in the same paragraph except when they are quoting Administration denials that the US has any desire for a long-time military presence in Iraq.

During a visit with US troops in Fallujah on Christmas Day, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said "at the moment there are no plans for permanent bases" in Iraq. "It is a subject that has not even been discussed with the Iraqi government."

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmett, the Central Comand deputy commander for planning and strategy in Iraq said "We already have handed over significant chunks of territory to the Iraqis. Those are not simply plans to do so; they are being executed right now. It is not only our plan but our policy that we do not intend to have any permanent bases in Iraq."

Karen Hughes on The Charlie Rose Show:
CHARLIE ROSE: They think we are still there for the oil, or they think the United States want permanent bases. Does the United States want permanent bases in Iraq?
KAREN HUGHES: We want nothing more than to bring our men and women in uniform home. As soon as possible, but not before they finish the job.
CHARLIE ROSE: And do we not want to keep bases there?
KAREN HUGHES: No, we want to bring our people home as soon as possible.

If that were actually the case then you would think that any bases we created would either be very temporary, easily dismantled, or else the kind of installation that could be handed over to the Iraqis. But the US is spending billions to build very American, very permanent looking facilities.

Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post paid a visit to Balad Air Base, the largest American base in Iraq, 68 kilometers north of Baghdad:
The base is sizeable enough to have its own "neighborhoods", as well as a Subway, a Pizza Hut, a Popeye’s, a Starbucks, a 24-hour Burger King, two post exchanges where TVs, iPods and the like can be purchased, four mess halls, a hospital, a huge airstrip, 250 aircraft (helicopters and drones included) and a miniature golf course. Ricks reports that the 20,000 troops stationed at Balad live in "air-conditioned containers" that will in the future be wired "to bring the troops Internet, cable television and overseas telephone access."

Recently, Oliver Poole, a British reporter, visited another of the American "super-bases," the still-under-construction al-Asad Airbase ("Football and pizza point to US staying for the long haul.") He observes, of "the biggest Marine camp in western Anbar province," that "this stretch of desert increasingly resembles a slice of US suburbia." In addition to the requisite Subway and pizza outlets, there is a football field, a Hertz rent-a-car office, a swimming pool and a movie theater showing the latest flicks. Al-Asad is so large that it has two bus routes and red stop signs at all intersections.

There are at least 4 such "super-bases" being built in Iraq at the cost of billions of dollars.

As the midterm elections approach and the American public becomes increasingly nervous about Iraq you will see and hear politicians and television and newspaper pundits try to convince you that the US is starting to withdraw from Iraq and that the Iraqi chapter of our history is drawing to a close. I suggest that you not believe a word about any purported withdrawal and turning over to the Iraqi until you see pictures of the Pizza Huts and Burger Kings being converted into lamb kabob outlets and all those air-conditioned containers with the Internet hook-
ups being loaded onto ships.

Conservatives pretend that only Democrats oppose the President

As reported in the New York Times, from the very beginning the concern in Congress about the deal by Dubai Ports World to manage six American ports was bipartisan.

Representative Peter T. King of New York was in a room packed with reporters last week, complaining that the White House had jeopardized national security by contracting with an Arab-owned company to manage terminals in six American ports, when he felt his cellphone vibrate. It was Representative J. Dennis Hastert, the speaker of the House.

Mr. King, like Mr. Hastert a Republican, finished talking and hurriedly returned the call, expecting the speaker, who has never broken with President Bush on a major issue, to chastise him. "And before I said anything," Mr. King recalled, "he said, 'You don't have to tell me what a bad deal it is: you and I are on the same page.' "

Then why are Fox News and conservative columnists describing the opposition as if it were from Democrats alone?

Charles Krauthammer writes:
The Democrats, in particular, are in full cry, gleeful to at last get to the right of George Bush on an issue of national security.
Gleeful, and shamelessly hypocritical.

Fox News' Carl Cameron reported that congressional Democrats are "hoping for an election-year chance to appear more hawkish than the president on national security," in "pushing legislation to block" a proposal to permit a company owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to manage port terminals in six major U.S. cities.

Carl Cameron then presented a video clip of Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) saying
"We will introduce next week in Congress -- Congress is out of session this week -- a resolution of disapproval." and then a video clip of another Democrat, leaving the viewer with the impression that the "we" in Rep. Harman's quotes referred to the Democrats.
But the quote was from a statement in which Harman promised to introduce legislation calling on the Bush administration to reconsider the ports takeover jointly with Republican Sen. Susan Collins (ME) and, in fact, the "we" in the Harman clip referred to Collins.

Media Matters reports
Despite ascribing political motives to Democrats who oppose the port deal, Cameron did not question the motives of Republicans who oppose the takeover or who are calling for hearings on the matter.

The Inside Dope blog has it right when he says of Fox News, Up is down, black is white. When Democrats oppose the President it is purely political posturing but the Republicans who take the same stand are expressing genuine concern.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Dispatch reports on a tour of Triumph Foods plant

The Dispatch and QCOnline today are featuring stories about a tour Friday by 17 local elected officials to the Triumph Foods pork processing plant in St. Joseph, Mo. We are told that this plant is “nearly identical” to the one proposed to be built in rural East Moline. The newspaper story focuses primarily on how much of an odor is associated with the plant and selectively quotes participates of the tour commenting on how little they smelled. In her blog entry the reporter notes that she smelled even less on this tour than she had on her first tour when she smelled “faint whiffs of manure.” There were also comments on how clean and orderly tour participants found the inside of the plant. In the newspaper two pictures accompanied the story, both taken inside the plant and showing a few men who appeared to me to be supervisors. Although we are told that 1000 people are employed at the plant, judging from the descriptions and the pictures of this tour we might conclude that it is an automated plant and all 1000 are supervisors and inspectors wearing clean white lab coats, spending their time observing the orderly procession of hogs marching off to process themselves.

Nothing was said about the outside of the plant or its effect on the area in which it was built. Thom Hart was on the tour but there were no quotes from him about whether or not the plant had revitalized that part of St. Joseph, or about whether there was any new development spurred by the presence of the plant. This was surprising to me since Mr. Hart had been quoted a few weeks ago as saying that he expected the proposed East Moline plant to cause an upsurge of other development in that part of rural Rock Island County, similar to the development going on in the 53rd Street area of Davenport. I considered that the most amazing thing said by anyone involved in the debate about the plant. Why would anyone build a doctor’s office, movie theater or upscale restaurant next to a pork processing plant? Perhaps Mr. Hart will, at some point, add some follow up to his prediction, stating whether after what he saw in St. Joseph he still has those expectations.

There were a lot of things that participants of a tour like this must have seen and noticed that the reporter did not comment on – the area around the plant, the effect of the plant on its environment, the kind of people working in the plant and the kinds of things they were expected to do. One has to suppose that these things were not reported because the story was narrowly focused – perhaps on things that would advance the cause of getting the public to support the Triumph Foods development deal. If a lot of what tour participants saw was not reported because it would not be helpful to that cause what does that say about that cause?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Bush Administration hoist by its own petard

David Brooks in his column in today's New York Times seems to have discovered to his surprise that politicians will demagogue about national security and the public's fear of the foreign.
"This Dubai port deal has unleashed a kind of collective mania we haven't seen in decades. First seized by the radio hatemonger Michael Savage, it's been embraced by reactionaries of left and right, exploited by Empire State panderers, and enabled by a bipartisan horde of politicians who don't have the guts to stand in front of a xenophobic tsunami."
Mr. Brooks seems to have a blind spot about the Bush Administration. He seems completely oblivious that Bill Frist and Dennis Hastert are just continuing to do what the administration has done since 9/11 -- exploit public fears about national security and terrorism for their political advantage.
Since there are terrorists who want to do the US harm in both Britian and Dubai it probably does not make us any more or less safe to have a U.A.E. company running our ports instead of a British one. Stopping this port deal will probably not make us any safer. But, unlike invading Iraq, putting incompentent political hacks in charge of FEMA and many other things the Bush Administration has done since 9/11, it probably does not put us more at risk, either.

The only thing different about the xenophobic, unreasoning fear aroused by the port deal is that the Bush Administration is on the receiving end of its negative effects.

I wonder how if feels.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Removing historical information from public view

According to the New York Times In a seven-year-old secret program at the National Archives, intelligence agencies have been removing from public access thousands of historical documents that were available for years, including some already published by the State Department and others photocopied years ago by private historians.
How can it increase our security to remove from public view documents which had already been made public? The documents being reclassified secret are not street maps or blueprints that terrorists could use to plan an attack. They are just historical documents that are embarrassing to someone in power. Just who is being protected here?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Valid Concerns about the Triumph Foods Pork Processing Plant

In this morning’s Daily Dispatch is an opinion written by Moline Alderman Dick Potter who disagrees with the idea of giving incentives designed to lift the standard of living in impoverished areas to the proposed East Moline Triumph Foods pork processing plant which will only pay starting wages of $8.25 an hour. Even the average wage of $25,000 a year is still below the poverty line. Why should a project which will pay its workers poverty wages receive subsidies and special treatment? Let them pay all the taxes and fees that any other business would pay.

In this morning’s Quad City Times is a letter to the editor by Tim Murphy of the Quad-City Audubon Society who worries about the environmental impact of the proposed plant and suggests an independent, third-party evaluation of the impact of the plant before final approval is given to the project.

These are valid concerns about the proposed project which I share. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to have reservations about this plant. There is no need to demagogue about illegal immigration or the ethnicity of the people who will work there.

Navy Lawyer Argued President Was Breaking the Law

According to the New York Times one of the Pentagon's top civilian lawyers repeatedly challenged the Bush administration's policy on the coercive interrogation of terror suspects, arguing that such practices violated the law, verged on torture and could ultimately expose senior officials to prosecution, a newly disclosed document shows.

We now see that there were lawyers within the military and the administration who vigorously protested about the legality and wisdom of the "coercive interrogation" (read torture) of terror suspects. Just as George Bush and Dick Cheney cherry-picked intelligence to support the decisions they had already made we now see that they cherry-picked legal opinions among their own lawyers.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Stop the Hate Rally/Workshop

I have been asked to speak at the “Stop the Hate” rally/workshop Monday, Feb. 20, 2006 at the Moline Community Center, 1515 5th Ave, Moline at 4PM. The event is being organized by Quad City residents, most of whom are native born American citizens of Mexican descent. They are concerned that in the public discussion about the proposed Triumph Foods pork processing plant some people were saying they were opposed to the plant because Mexicans would be drawn to the area to work at the plant and this would have a negative effect on the community. The most troubling aspect about these comments was how little reaction there was to them.

Note that the arguments were not that illegal immigrants or lazy people looking for a handout or poor people who would tax our social services would be attracted by these jobs. Those things could not be claimed because that would obviously be untrue.

Illegal immigrants will not be attracted by these jobs because as a result of special INS attention to the meat packing industry it is more difficult for illegal immigrants to work in the pork, beef and poultry processing plants than in, say, restaurants and hotels. People looking for a handout will obviously not be attracted by these jobs. Only people expecting to work for a living and willing to work hard would come here to work in a meat packing plant. These jobs would pay better than many jobs in this area including jobs at Walmart, McDonalds and many other jobs in the retail and service industries and so the families of people working at this plant would be less likely than many of the working poor already in our community to need financial help.

It was implied that having more non-English speaking children enroll in our schools would put an extra burden on them. I have never heard any educators worry about this. Our schools have been teaching English to immigrant children for a very long time and they are very good at it. The schools would be much more threatened by decreasing enrollments than increasing ones.

It is no longer acceptable for people to claim, as was once done, that it would be bad for a community if more Irish, Jews, Italians or blacks came there to live. Why is it seemingly acceptable to say that about Mexicans?

Immigrants from Mexico are not here to transform the United States into Mexico. They came here to become Americans and despite what you sometimes hear, they are learning English and becoming assimilated as quickly as any previous generation of non-English speaking immigrants.

If you come to the rally as a result of reading this be sure to seek me out and let me know. It will good to meet someone that reads this blog.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Chamber of Commerce and Eminent Domain

According to the Daily Dispatch “The Bettendorf Chamber of Commerce and DavenportOne are encouraging members to ask legislators to oppose any new restrictions on eminent domain because they believe it could hamper urban redevelopment.”

Eminent domain was created to allow the government to purchase private property to build roads or other public purposes even if the property owner does not want to sell. For most of its existence, up until 25 years ago or so, it was used for that purpose and there was little opposition to it.

During the last 25 years some local governments have started using their power of eminent domain not for building projects of their own but to help private development projects. They started seizing private property in order to hand it over to private developers, using the rationale that the new owners would pay more property taxes than the current owners which was in the public interest and therefore a "public use". People opposing this practice realized that new laws were needed a few months ago when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of this new use of eminent domain.
There is no reason why the local Chamber of Commerce or local businessmen would have to oppose new laws restricting the use of eminent domain to its original purpose. After all, they are property owners also. They could easily side with the rest of us against this practice of the “golden rule” – someone who has more gold can, with the help of local government, seize the property of someone with less influence. After all, not matter how big you are someone bigger can always come along.

By taking this position they are placing themselves in opposition to the ordinary citizens. They are making it clear that when it comes to us against them, they are them.

Investigators for U.N. Urge U.S. to Close Guantánamo

According to the New York Times Human rights investigators working for the United Nations called on the United States on Thursday to shut down the Guantánamo Bay camp and either try its detainees quickly or free them.
If we are so sure these are bad guys why don't we prove it to the world in a court of law? Holding them indefinitely without trial is something a Stalin or a Hitler would do. This is the United States of America -- land of brave and home of the free. Has fear of terrorism transformed us into our worst enemy?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I am against the pork processing plant and I am not a racist

I had not noticed that the discussion about the proposed Triumph Foods pork processing plant in East Moline had stirred up some racist, anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican sentiments but several Moline residents whose parents were born in Mexico have told me that they most certainly had. Although they had initially been as concerned as I was about a smelly plant, built in the flood-plain when they started hearing hateful rhetoric in opposition to the plant that became the deciding issue in their minds and they are now in favor of the plant being built.

If you are in opposition to the plant and are not a racist you probably do not want your reasons for opposing the plant to become irrelevant as the deciding issue becomes whether you are for or against Mexicans in the Quad Cities. If you speak against the plant be sure to emphasize that your reasons have nothing to do with the ethnicity or nationality of the people that might work there. Do not allow your desire for a winning political coalition make you complicit with racists and xenophobes.

Some of my friends are so concerned about the anti-immigration rhetoric they have been hearing they are organizing a "Stop the Hate" rally in Moline next Monday, Feb 20, 2006 at 4 pm at the Moline Community Center, 1515 5th Ave. More details to follow.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A Telephone Poll

I got a phone call about a week ago that asked if I had the time to participate in a poll about local politicians. I said “yes” and started answering questions. It quickly became apparent from the questions that the poll was by or for the campaign of State Senator Mike Jacobs. The most interesting part was when they read a few reasons for voting for Mike Jacobs and then a few reasons for voting against him and asking me to rate the persuasiveness of each. I did not write anything down so I am doing this from memory but the reasons for voting for Mike Jacobs had to do with him being instrumental in getting funding for the WIU campus in Moline, support for the Thomson Prison, his support for education and things like that. The reasons for voting against Mike Jacobs were him “speaking before thinking” when defending the riverboat gambling industry and him saying that union workers made too much money and since he was appointed rather than elected he was beholden to the party insiders rather than to the voters.

How would you rate the persuasiveness of the reasons for compared to the reasons against? On the reasons for it is not clear how much credit Senator Jacobs should be given. You just have to take his word for it that he was instrumental in getting the funding. There is no doubt about the reasons against voting for him. You know that he said those things. You know he was appointed and is beholden to those who did the appointing. No doubt about it.

I don’t want to make any predictions because it seems kind of risky to predict the defeat of an incumbent with the backing of party and a hundred fold advantage in money. But I keep thinking about those reasons for and against as defined by his own campaign. It was sort of like debating an empty chair and losing.

Thoughts Upon Returning to the Quad Cities

My wife and I just returned from a 4 day trip to Orlando, Florida paid for by my day job employer. In terms of surviving a Quad City winter I am not sure whether a break such as that is a help or a hindrance. My first thought when exiting the Moline terminal into 20 degrees (it had been about 60 degrees in Orlando when we left a few hours before) was “Why exactly did we come back?”

On the other hand it was a pleasure to walk through our airport which was so much less crowded than the Atlanta and Orlando airports and to drive on our much less congested roads. Our community has a lot of advantages in quality of life. I wonder why the East Moline and Moline city councils seem to think we are so desperately in need of development that they are willing to accept any offer which promises jobs no matter how ugly and smelly?

Monday, February 13, 2006

Extreme Weather Prediction

In a comment to a blog entry on the Inside Dope blog on New Years Day asking for predictions for 2006 I fearlessly predicted extreme weather in 2006. I predicted that many locations would record the hottest, coldest, wettest or driest years since records have been kept. New York City just recorded the largest snowfall since records have been kept and even though I did not specifically mention snowfall I am claiming victory for my prediction. Of course, if we lived in a sane society in which everyone admitted obvious facts staring them in the face my prediction would have been the equivalent of “I predict that the pope will be Catholic” and I would look pretty silly trying to do a victory lap. But large numbers of Americans are conservatives, most of whom claim with apparently straight faces not to see any evidence of global warming or any other weather trend at all.

Of course, this is a tragedy in the sense that our inability to take any collective action now means we and our children and their children are going to be paying a very high price in the future for our current inaction. But looking on the bright side, their myopia is a golden opportunity to win some bets for those of us able to see the world directly rather than filtered through an ideology. Every time you run into a global warming skeptic suggest a friendly wager. It will be like shooting fish in a barrel.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Naom Chomsky on the definition of terrorism

From Noam Chomsky's ZNet Blog

The US Code for defining an "act of terrorism" is an activity that -- (A) involves a violent act or an act dangerous to human life that is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State; and (B) appears to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by assassination or kidnapping.

Two points. First, I've been using this and other official US definitions since I began writing on the topic in the early 80s, immediately after the Reaganites declared their war on terror.

For two reasons: (1) they are reasonable and close to common usage, and (2) they are appropriate, because the government that offers these definitions cannot claim that it is exempt from their consequences. Second point is that later this definition has been withdrawn, presumably because it was recognized that an immediate consequence is that the US is a leading terrorist state. Though it is safe to rely on the intellectual class not to draw the conclusion, nevertheless there are always mavericks who tell irritating truths, and sometimes the usual techniques of lying, hysteria, tantrums, etc., do not suffice among the general public, even though they almost invariably do among the educated classes. For that reason, the standard view now is that defining "terrorism" is a profound problem, to be dealt with in international conferences, academic studies, etc. And it's true that it is a very hard problem to define "terrorism" so that it singles out what they do to us and our clients, but excludes what we and our clients do to them -- a problem so far not solved and very profound, no doubt...

Noam Chomsky

Friday, February 03, 2006

Interview with Richard Dawkins

Q: "Still, so many people resist believing in evolution. Where does the resistance come from?

Richard Dawkins: "It comes, I'm sorry to say, from religion. And from bad religion. You won't find any opposition to the idea of evolution among sophisticated, educated theologians. It comes from an exceedingly retarded, primitive version of religion, which unfortunately is at present undergoing an epidemic in the United States. Not in Europe, not in Britain, but in the United States."

See the complete interview here.