Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Golden Era Our Leaders Have Brought Us; Or Duh News

Home prices about to tank. (I exaggerate but a little.)

Our allies in Afghanistan increase poppy production
(for greater heroin yields -- and thus lower prices for junkies!).

A new lie from Rudy: He falsely insinuates he became mayor with a deficit and left office with a surplus.

Thank God George W. Bush is president! (And here too.)

About This Re-Design....

The last design, with the blocky letters and Screaming Yellow Zonkers coloring was done, in great part as an accommodation to Dr. Jerry Bails (more here), founder of comic book fandom and, more importantly, a true comrade and a mensch (and a goy explains how to be one here). (And a terrific biographical esssay is here.)

Dr. Bails passed away last year, the Friday after Thanksgiving. We had met, to the extent we had met, through (unsurprisingly) a comic book history email list or two. When health permitted, he was an active participant. Although he knew, like, everything relating to the subject matter of the list, he occasionally slipped in the odd political observation. (They were too factually based to be opinions.) It was obvious that his politics were what you could call sympathetic to this list. I sent him the URL for the then-iteration of this blog and he advised that reading was difficult for him so I redesigned it to be as easy to read as possible. Which, unfortunately, wasn't easy enough. And, somewhat unsurprisingly, Dr. Bails did not go into the scope of illnesses, leaving it just as, you know, a simple vision thing, like the other old people get, part of aging; it was a lot more than that....

Anyway, the prior design failed to serve its purpose and was too, well, playful looking. So now for something a little more mature....

Here's to you, J.B.!

America: Freedom to be Deprived of Freedom, Freedom to be Forced to Live in Fear

Schneier; the nation's chief spook confesses -- because he knows the story won't get much play and no one will do anything about it anyway:
Mike McConnell, U.S. National Intelligence Director, gave an interesting interview to the El Paso Times.

I don't think he's ever been so candid before. For example, he admitted that the nation's telcos assisted the NSA in their massive eavesdropping efforts. We already knew this, of course, but the government has steadfastly maintained that either confirming or denying this would compromise national security.

There are, of course, moments of surreality. He said that it takes 200 hours to prepare a FISA warrant. Ryan Single calculated that since there were 2,167 such warrants in 2006, there must be "218 government employees with top secret clearances sitting in rooms, writing only FISA warrants." Seems unlikely.

But most notable is this bit:
Q. So you're saying that the reporting and the debate in Congress means that some Americans are going to die?

A. That's what I mean. Because we have made it so public. We used to do these things very differently, but for whatever reason, you know, it's a democratic process and sunshine's a good thing. We need to have the debate.
Link with link.

Our Leaders' Puppet in Iraq is Attacked by Our Leaders' Agents

Of course, it's okay for Republicans to do it....

Greenwald discusses it all....

Friday, August 24, 2007

Our Beloved Leader Continues the Radical Right Wing Tradition of Lying about Vietnam, of which He has No Experience or Knowledge

The Chickenhawk-in-Chief (I just made that up!) is debunked here.

And then there's this, for those not into clicking on links to history:
Bush's Bogus Vietnam History Kills

By Robert Parry
August 23, 2007

It is often said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. But a much worse fate may await countries whose leaders distort and falsify history. Such countries are doomed to experience even bloodier miscalculations.

That was the case with Germany after World War I when Adolf Hitler’s Nazis built a political movement based in part on the myth that weak politicians in Berlin had stabbed brave German troops in the back when they were on the verge of victory.

And it appears to be the case again today as President George W. Bush presents the history of the Vietnam War as a Rambo movie with the heroic narrative that if only the U.S. military had stuck it out, the war would have been won.

Or, more likely, the black wall of the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial would stretch most of the way to the U.S. Capitol.

After hearing his selective historical rendition of the Vietnam experience in his Aug. 22 address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, one is tempted to ask Bush what he would have done as President in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Presumably, Bush would have prolonged or escalated the Vietnam War, although it’s doubtful he would have called up the Texas Air National Guard where he was safely ensconced, while skipping his flight physical and seeking an early discharge.

In his speech, Bush justified an open-ended Vietnam War by citing the carnage that followed the U.S. military withdrawal.

“One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like ‘boat people,’ ‘re-education camps,’ and ‘killing fields,’” Bush said.

In Bush’s version of history, condemnation should fall on Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford for making the painful decisions that eventually extricated the United States from the Vietnam quagmire – rather than on Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon for inserting or keeping U.S. troops in the middle of the Indochinese civil war.

Bush also ignores the carnage that was inflicted by U.S. aerial bombings and massive firepower. Historians estimate that some two million Indochinese were killed during the war, along with about 57,000 American soldiers.

Also, by invading Cambodia and authorizing secret carpet-bombing of the countryside, President Nixon spread the chaos into that politically fragile country, opening the door first to a military dictatorship and then to the rise of the fanatical Khmer Rouge.

Friends, Not Enemies

In his historical account, Bush leaves out, too, the longer-term reality and the fact that the great communist enemies of Asia – China and Vietnam – did not turn out to be the strategic threats to the United States that Cold Warriors insisted they would be. Dominoes did not fall all across Asia.

Indeed, today’s biggest threats from China appear to be the quality of the cheap goods it manufactures for American companies and its ownership of large quantities of U.S. government bonds. Bush also has exchanged friendly visits with the leaders of Vietnam.

But that history and reality disappear in Bush’s selective account. Just as he cherry-picked intelligence on Iraq to justify his 2003 invasion, he is selecting what facts from history serve his political ends now.

In his VFW speech, Bush also continued his practice of baiting critics of his Iraq War policy as essentially imbecilic and anti-American. He accused them of believing “that if the United States would just leave a place like Iraq those who kill our troops or target civilians would no longer threaten us.”

In truth, Iraq War critics have argued not that al-Qaeda would stop being a threat but that Bush’s policies are playing into al-Qaeda’s hands. Not only did the U.S. invasion of Iraq divert U.S. forces from their pursuit of Osama bin Laden, but the Iraq War has proved to be a boon to al-Qaeda in recruiting, fundraising and regrouping for new terrorist attacks.

The evidence is that al-Qaeda actually wants the United States to remain bogged down in Iraq indefinitely so the organization can continue to exploit the American occupation.

In letters to Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda leaders, holed up along the Pakistani-Afghan border, warned that al-Qaeda’s position in Iraq might collapse if the United States left, removing both the magnet attracting young recruits and the glue holding together the fragile coalition between foreign jihadists and Iraqi nationalists.

A July 2005 letter attributed to al-Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri urged Zarqawi to talk up the idea of an Islamic “caliphate,” so the young jihadists, drawn to Iraq to fight the Americans, wouldn’t just “lay down their weapons and silence the fighting zeal” once the Americans left.

The “Zawahiri letter,” which was intercepted by U.S. intelligence, also predicted that an American departure would force the depleted force of al-Qaeda fighters into a desperate battle simply to carve out an enclave inside Iraq.

In a December 2005 letter, another top aide to Osama bin Laden, known as “Atiyah,” lectured Zarqawi on the need to act more respectfully toward Iraqi Sunni leaders so al-Qaeda could put down deeper roots in Iraq.

Atiyah emphasized the importance of keeping U.S. forces trapped in Iraq. “Prolonging the war is in our interest,” Atiyah wrote in a letter that was discovered by U.S. forces after Zarqawi’s death in June 2006. [See’s “Al-Qaeda’s Fragile Foothold.”]

Bush-bin Laden Symbiosis

By prolonging the Iraq War now, Bush is doing exactly what al-Qaeda wants. “As long as I’m Commander in Chief, we will fight to win,” Bush told the cheering VFW crowd.

In other words, Bush and the terrorists share a symbiotic relationship with Bush using the “war on terror” to expand his presidential powers at home and bin Laden exploiting the U.S. occupation of Iraq to enhance his standing in the Islamic world.

Now Bush has mixed in the emotional issue of the Vietnam War, as his father did during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Near the end of that standoff with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, President George H.W. Bush spurned a Russian plan for getting Iraqi forces to withdraw peacefully from Kuwait. Instead, Bush wanted a successful ground war to exorcise the demons of Vietnam from the American psyche.

After U.S. ground forces administered a 100-hour drubbing to the overmatched Iraqi troops, the elder George Bush declared in his first post-war remarks, “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.” [For details, see our new book, Neck Deep.]

Still, the elder George Bush stopped U.S. forces before they could march up the Euphrates River and capture Baghdad. He recognized that a military occupation of Iraq would alienate the Arab world and would sink the United States into another Vietnam-style quagmire, which could again embitter the American people about military adventures.

Sixteen years later, however, the specter of Vietnam has returned to hover over the deserts of Iraq, this time conjured up by the younger George Bush to justify an open-ended war, a war he is determined to pursue regardless of the number of U.S. soldiers and Iraqis who die and the number of new Islamic terrorists it creates.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, can be ordered at His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there.

Juan Cole on Our Beloved Leader as a Leader

Pitching the Imperial Republic
Bonaparte and Bush on Deck

By Juan Cole

French Egypt and American Iraq can be considered bookends on the history of modern imperialism in the Middle East. The Bush administration's already failed version of the conquest of Iraq is, of course, on everyone's mind; while the French conquest of Egypt, now more than two centuries past, is all too little remembered, despite having been led by Napoleon Bonaparte, whose career has otherwise hardly languished in obscurity. There are many eerily familiar resonances between the two misadventures, not least among them that both began with supreme arrogance and ended as fiascoes. Above all, the leaders of both occupations employed the same basic political vocabulary and rhetorical flimflammery, invoking the spirit of liberty, security, and democracy while largely ignoring the substance of these concepts.

The French general and the American president do not much resemble one another -- except perhaps in the way the prospect of conquest in the Middle East appears to have put fire in their veins and in their unappealing tendency to believe their own propaganda (or at least to keep repeating it long after it became completely implausible). Both leaders invaded and occupied a major Arabic-speaking Muslim country; both harbored dreams of a "Greater Middle East"; both were surprised to find themselves enmeshed in long, bitter, debilitating guerrilla wars. Neither genuinely cared about grassroots democracy, but both found its symbols easy to invoke for gullible domestic publics. Substantial numbers of their new subjects quickly saw, however, that they faced occupations, not liberations.

My own work on Bonaparte's lost year in Egypt began in the mid-1990s, and I had completed about half of Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East before September 11, 2001. I had no way of knowing then that a book on such a distant, scholarly subject would prove an allegory for Bush's Iraq War. Nor did I guess that the United States would give old-style colonialism in the Middle East one last try, despite clear signs that the formerly colonized would no longer put up with such acts and had, in the years since World War II, gained the means to resist them.

The Republic Militant Goes to War

In June of 1798, as his enormous flotilla -- 36,000 soldiers, thousands of sailors, and hundreds of scientists on 12 ships of the line -- swept inexorably toward the Egyptian coast, the young General Napoleon Bonaparte issued a grandiose communiqué to the bewildered and seasick troops he was about to march into the desert without canteens or reasonable supplies of water. He declared, "Soldiers! You are about to undertake a conquest, the effects of which on civilization and commerce are incalculable."

The prediction was as tragically inaccurate in its own way as the pronouncement George W. Bush issued some two centuries later, on May 1, 2003, also from the deck of a great ship of the line, the aircraft carrier the USS Abraham Lincoln. "Today," he said, "we have the greater power to free a nation by breaking a dangerous and aggressive regime. With new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians."

Both men were convinced that their invasions were announcing new epochs in human history. Of the military vassals of the Ottoman Empire who then ruled Egypt, Bonaparte predicted: "The Mameluke Beys who favor exclusively English commerce, whose extortions oppress our merchants, and who tyrannize over the unfortunate inhabitants of the Nile, a few days after our arrival will no longer exist."

Bonaparte's laundry list of grievances about them consisted of three charges. First, the beys were, in essence, enablers of France's primary enemy at that time, the British monarchy which sought to strangle the young French republic in its cradle. Second, the rulers of Egypt were damaging France's own commerce by extorting taxes and bribes from its merchants in Cairo and Alexandria. Third, the Mamluks ruled tyrannically, having never been elected, and oppressed their subjects whom Bonaparte intended to liberate.

This holy trinity of justifications for imperialism -- that the targeted state is collaborating with an enemy of the republic, is endangering the positive interests of the nation, and lacks legitimacy because its rule is despotic -- would all be trotted out over the subsequent two centuries by a succession of European and American leaders whenever they wanted to go on the attack. One implication of these familiar rhetorical turns of phrase has all along been that democracies have a license to invade any country they please, assuming it has the misfortune to have an authoritarian regime.

George W. Bush, of course, hit the same highlights in his "mission accomplished" speech, while announcing on the Abraham Lincoln that "major combat operations" in Iraq "had ended." "The liberation of Iraq," he proclaimed, "is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We've removed an ally of al Qaeda, and cut off a source of terrorist funding." He put Saddam Hussein's secular, Arab nationalist Baath regime and the radical Muslim terrorists of al-Qaeda under the sign of September 11th, insinuating that Iraq was allied with the primary enemy of the United States and so posed an urgent menace to its security. (In fact, captured Baath Party documents show that Saddam's fretting security forces, on hearing that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had entered Iraq, put out an all points bulletin on him, imagining -- not entirely correctly -- that he had al-Qaeda links.) Likewise, Bush promised that Iraq's alleged "weapons of mass destruction" (which existed only in his own fevered imagination) would be tracked down, again implying that Iraq posed a threat to the interests and security of the U.S., just as Bonaparte had claimed that the Mamluks menaced France.

According to the president, Saddam's overthrown government had lacked legitimacy, while the new Iraqi government, to be established by a foreign power, would truly represent the conquered population. "We're helping to rebuild Iraq, where the dictator built palaces for himself, instead of hospitals and schools. And we will stand with the new leaders of Iraq," Bush pledged, "as they establish a government of, by, and for the Iraqi people." Bonaparte, too, established governing councils at the provincial and national level, staffing them primarily with Sunni clergymen, declaring them more representative of the Egyptian people than the beys and emirs of the slave soldiery who had formerly ruled that province of the Ottoman Empire.

Liberty as Tyranny

For a democracy to conduct a brutal military occupation against another country in the name of liberty seems, on the face of it, too contradictory to elicit more than hoots of derision at the hypocrisy of it all. Yet, the militant republic, ready to launch aggressive war in the name of "democracy," is everywhere in modern history, despite the myth that democracies do not typically wage wars of aggression. Ironically, some absolutist regimes, like those of modern Iran, were remarkably peaceable, if left alone by their neighbors. In contrast, republican France invaded Belgium, Holland, Spain, Germany, Italy, and Egypt in its first decade (though it went on the offensive in part in response to Austrian and Prussian moves to invade France). The United States attacked Mexico, the Seminoles and other Native polities, Hawaii, the Spanish Empire, the Philippines, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic in just the seven-plus decades from 1845 to the eve of the U.S. entry into World War I.

Freedom and authoritarianism are nowadays taken to be stark antonyms, the provinces of heroes and monsters. Those closer to the birth of modern republics were comforted by no such moral clarity. In Danton's Death, the young Romantic playwright Georg Büchner depicted the radical French revolutionary and proponent of executing enemies of the Republic, Maximilien Robespierre, whipping up a Parisian crowd with the phrase, "The revolutionary regime is the despotism of liberty against tyranny." And nowhere has liberty proved more oppressive than when deployed against a dictatorship abroad; for, as Büchner also had that famed "incorruptible" devotee of state terror observe, "In a Republic only republicans are citizens; Royalists and foreigners are enemies."

That sunlit May afternoon on the USS Abraham Lincoln, President Bush seconded Büchner's Robespierre. "Because of you," he exhorted the listening sailors of an aircraft carrier whose planes had just dropped 1.6 million pounds of ordnance on Iraq, "our nation is more secure. Because of you, the tyrant has fallen, and Iraq is free."

Security for the republic had already proved ample justification to launch a war the previous March, even though Iraq was a poor, weak, ramshackle Third World country, debilitated by a decade of sanctions imposed by the United Nations and the United States, without so much as potable drinking water or an air force. Similarly, the Mamluks of Egypt -- despite the sky-high taxes and bribes they demanded of some French merchants -- hardly constituted a threat to French security.

The overthrow of a tyrannical regime and the liberation of an oppressed people were constant refrains in the shipboard addresses of both the general and the president, who felt that the liberated owed them a debt of gratitude. Bonaparte lamented that the beys "tyrannize over the unfortunate inhabitants of the Nile"; or, as one of his officers, Captain Horace Say, opined, "The people of Egypt were most wretched. How will they not cherish the liberty we are bringing them?" Similarly, Bush insisted, "Men and women in every culture need liberty like they need food and water and air. Everywhere that freedom arrives, humanity rejoices; and everywhere that freedom stirs, let tyrants fear."

Not surprisingly, expectations that the newly conquered would exhibit gratitude to their foreign occupiers cropped up repeatedly in the dispatches and letters of men on the spot who advocated a colonial forward policy. President Bush put this dramatically in 2007, long after matters had not proceeded as expected: "We liberated that country from a tyrant. I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude. That's the problem here in America: They wonder whether or not there is a gratitude level that's significant enough in Iraq."

Liberty in this two-century old rhetorical tradition, moreover, was more than just a matter of rights and the rule of law. Proponents of various forms of liberal imperialism saw tyranny as a source of poverty, since arbitrary rulers could just usurp property at will and so make economic activity risky, as well as opening the public to crushing and arbitrary taxes that held back commerce. The French quartermaster Francois Bernoyer wrote of the Egyptian peasantry: "Their dwellings are adobe huts, which prosperity, the daughter of liberty, will now allow them to abandon." Bush took up the same theme on the Abraham Lincoln: "Where freedom takes hold, hatred gives way to hope. When freedom takes hold, men and women turn to the peaceful pursuit of a better life."

"Heads Must Roll"

In both eighteenth century Egypt and twenty-first century Iraq, the dreary reality on the ground stood as a reproach to, if not a wicked satire upon, these high-minded pronouncements. The French landed at the port of Alexandria on July 1, 1798. Two and a half weeks later, as the French army advanced along the Nile toward Cairo, a unit of Gen. Jean Reynier's division met opposition from 1,800 villagers, many armed with muskets. Sgt. Charles Francois recalled a typical scene. After scaling the village walls and "firing into those crowds," killing "about 900 men," the French confiscated the villagers' livestock -- "camels, donkeys, horses, eggs, cows, sheep" -- then "finished burning the rest of the houses, or rather the huts, so as to provide a terrible object lesson to these half-savage and barbarous people."

On July 24, Bonaparte's Army of the Orient entered Cairo and he began reorganizing his new subjects. He grandiosely established an Egyptian Institute for the advancement of science and gave thought to reforming police, courts, and law. But terror lurked behind everything he did. He wrote Gen. Jacques Menou, who commanded the garrison at the Mediterranean port of Rosetta, saying, "The Turks [Egyptians] can only be led by the greatest severity. Every day I cut off five or six heads in the streets of Cairo.... [T]o obey, for them, is to fear." (Mounting severed heads on poles for viewing by terrified passers-by was another method the French used in Egypt...)

That August, the Delta city of Mansura rose up against a small French garrison of about 120 men, chasing them into the countryside, tracking the blue coats down, and methodically killing all but two of them. In early September, the Delta village of Sonbat, inhabited in part by Bedouin of the western Dirn tribe, also rose up against the Europeans. Bonaparte instructed one of his generals, "Burn that village! Make a terrifying example of it." After the French army had indeed crushed the rebellious peasants and chased away the Bedouin, Gen. Jean-Antoine Verdier reported back to Bonaparte with regard to Sonbat, "You ordered me to destroy this lair. Very well, it no longer exists."

The most dangerous uprisings confronting the French were, however, in Cairo. In October, much of the city mobilized to attack the more than 20,000 French troops occupying the capital. The revolt was especially fierce in the al-Husayn district, where the ancient al-Azhar madrassa (or seminary) trained 14,000 students, where the city's most sacred mosque stood, and where wealth was concentrated in the merchants and guilds of the Khan al-Khalili bazaar. At the same time, the peasants and Bedouin of the countryside around Cairo rose in rebellion, attacking the small garrisons that had been deployed to pacify them.

Bonaparte put down this Egyptian "revolution" with the utmost brutality, subjecting urban crowds to artillery barrages. He may have had as many rebels executed in the aftermath as were killed in the fighting. In the countryside, his officers' launched concerted campaigns to decimate insurgent villages. At one point, the French are said to have brought 900 heads of slain insurgents to Cairo in bags and ostentatiously dumped them out before a crowd in one of that city's major squares to instill Cairenes with terror. (Two centuries later, the American public would come to associate decapitations by Muslim terrorists in Iraq with the ultimate in barbarism, but even then hundreds such beheadings were not carried out at once.)

The American deployment of terror against the Iraqi population has, of course, dwarfed anything the French accomplished in Egypt by orders of magnitude. After four mercenaries, one a South African, were killed in Falluja in March of 2004 and their bodies desecrated, President Bush is alleged to have said "heads must roll" in retribution.

An initial attack on the city faltered when much of the Iraqi government threatened to resign and it was clear major civilian casualties would result. The crushing of the city was, however, simply put off until after the American presidential election in November. When the assault, involving air power and artillery, came, it was devastating, damaging two-thirds of the city's buildings and turning much of its population into refugees. (As a result, thousands of Fallujans still live in the desert in tent villages with no access to clean water.)

Bush must have been satisfied. Heads had rolled. More often, faced with opposition, the U.S. Air Force simply bombed already-occupied cities, a technology Bonaparte (mercifully) lacked. The strategy of ruling by terror and swift, draconian punishment for acts of resistance was, however, the same in both cases.

The British sank much of the French fleet on August 1, 1798, marooning Bonaparte and his troops in their newly conquered land. In the spring of 1799, the French army tried -- and failed -- to break out through Syria; after which Bonaparte himself chose the better part of valor. He slipped out of Egypt late that summer, returning to France. There, he would swiftly stage a coup and come to power as First Consul, giving him the opportunity to hone his practice of bringing freedom to other countries -- this time in Europe. By 1801, joint British-Ottoman forces had defeated the French in Egypt, who were transported back to their country on British vessels. This first Western invasion of the Middle East in modern times had ended in serial disasters that Bonaparte would misrepresent to the French public as a series of glorious triumphs.

Ending the Era of Liberal Imperialism

Between 1801 and 2003 stretched endless decades in which colonialism proved a plausible strategy for European powers in the Middle East, including the French enterprise in Algeria (1830-1962) and the British veiled protectorate over Egypt (1882-1922). In these years, European militaries and their weaponry were so advanced, and the means of resistance to which Arab peasants had access so limited, that colonial governments could be imposed.

That imperial moment passed with celerity after World War II, in part because the masses of the Third World joined political parties, learned to read, and -- with how-to-do-it examples all around them -- began to mount political resistance to foreign occupations of every sort. While the twenty-first century American arsenal has many fancy, exceedingly destructive toys in it, nothing has changed with regard to the ability of colonized peoples to network socially and, sooner or later, push any foreign occupying force out.

Bonaparte and Bush failed because both launched their operations at moments when Western military and technological superiority was not assured. While Bonaparte's army had better artillery and muskets, the Egyptians had a superb cavalry and their old muskets were serviceable enough for purposes of sniping at the enemy. They also had an ally with advanced weaponry and the desire to use it -- the British Navy.

In 2007, the high-tech U.S. military -- as had been true in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, as was true for the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s -- is still vulnerable to guerrilla tactics and effective low-tech weapons of resistance such as roadside bombs. Even more effective has been the guerrillas' social warfare, their success in making Iraq ungovernable through the promotion of clan and sectarian feuds, through targeted bombings and other attacks, and through sabotage of the Iraqi infrastructure.

From the time of Bonaparte to that of Bush, the use of the rhetoric of liberty versus tyranny, of uplift versus decadence, appears to have been a constant among imperialists from republics -- and has remained domestically effective in rallying support for colonial wars. The despotism (but also the weakness) of the Mamluks and of Saddam Hussein proved sirens practically calling out for Western interventions. According to the rhetoric of liberal imperialism, tyrannical regimes are always at least potentially threats to the Republic, and so can always be fruitfully overthrown in favor of rule by a Western military. After all, that military is invariably imagined as closer to liberty since it serves an elected government. (Intervention is even easier to justify if the despots can be portrayed, however implausibly, as allied with an enemy of the republic.)

For both Bush and Bonaparte, the genteel diction of liberation, rights, and prosperity served to obscure or justify a major invasion and occupation of a Middle Eastern land, involving the unleashing of slaughter and terror against its people. Military action would leave towns destroyed, families displaced, and countless dead. Given the ongoing carnage in Iraq, President Bush's boast that, with "new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians," now seems not just hollow but macabre. The equation of a foreign military occupation with liberty and prosperity is, in the cold light of day, no less bizarre than the promise of war with virtually no civilian casualties.

It is no accident that many of the rhetorical strategies employed by George W. Bush originated with Napoleon Bonaparte, a notorious spinmeister and confidence man. At least Bonaparte looked to the future, seeing clearly the coming breakup of the Ottoman Empire and the likelihood that European Powers would be able to colonize its provinces. Bonaparte's failure in Egypt did not forestall decades of French colonial success in Algeria and Indochina, even if that era of imperial triumph could not, in the end, be sustained in the face of the political and social awakening of the colonized. Bush's neocolonialism, on the other hand, swam against the tide of history, and its failure is all the more criminal for having been so predictable.


What Our Leaders Have Accomplished in Iraq

AMY GOODMAN: Nir Rosen is an independent journalist and the author of In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq. He is a fellow at the New America Foundation and has reported extensively from Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003.

Earlier this year, Nir Rosen wrote a piece, a cover story for the New York Times Sunday Magazine, called “The Flight from Iraq.” He estimated up to 50,000 Iraqis were leaving their homes each month.

Nir Rosen joins us now from our firehouse studio here in New York, just returned from Beirut on Sunday night. Welcome to Democracy Now!

NIR ROSEN: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk further about the refugee crisis? Again, lay out the numbers that we’re talking about inside Iraq and outside.

NIR ROSEN: Outside Iraq, we’re approaching three million refugees who have left since 2003. There were, of course, refugees who left before then, due to Saddam and other factors.

Inside, I think you have a similar number of internally displaced Iraqis fleeing their homes in mixed areas and going to more homogenous areas. Sunnis from Basra are heading to Sunni neighborhoods, Baghdad, or all the way up to Kurdistan. Shias from Diyala province are going to safer areas for Shias. Kurds from Mosul going up to Kurdistan, as well.

And a family like the one we just saw on the show is never going to go back to their home again, actually, it seems.


NIR ROSEN: Iraq has been changed irrevocably, I think. I don’t think Iraq even -- you can say it exists anymore. There has been a very effective, systematic ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from Baghdad, of Shias --from areas that are now mostly Shia. But the Sunnis especially have been a target, as have mixed families like the one we just saw. With a name like Omar, he’s distinctly Sunni -- it’s a very Sunni name. You can be executed for having the name Omar alone. And Baghdad is now firmly in the hands of sectarian Shiite militias, and they’re never going to let it go.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of Senator Levin calling for the Maliki and the whole government to disband?

NIR ROSEN: Well, it’s stupid for several reasons. First of all, the Iraqi government doesn’t matter. It has no power. And it doesn’t matter who you put in there. He’s not going to have any power. Baghdad doesn’t really matter, except for Baghdad. Baghdad used to be the most important city in Iraq, and whoever controlled Baghdad controlled Iraq. These days, you have a collection of city states: Mosul, Basra, Baghdad, Kirkuk, Irbil, Sulaymaniyah. Each one is virtually independent, and they have their own warlords and their own militias. And what happens in Baghdad makes no difference. So that’s the first point.

Second of all, who can he put in instead? What does he think he’s going to put in? Allawi or some secular candidate? There was a democratic election, and the majority of Iraqis selected the sectarian Shiite group Dawa, Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution, the Sadr Movement. These are movements that are popular among the majority of Shias, who are the majority of Iraq. So it doesn’t matter who you put in there. And people in the Green Zone have never had any power. Americans, whether in the government or journalists, have been focused on the Green Zone from the beginning of the war, and it’s never really mattered. It’s been who has power on the street, the various different militias, depending on where you are -- Sunni, Shia, tribal, religious, criminal. So it just reflects the same misunderstanding of Iraqi politics. The government doesn’t do anything, doesn’t provide any services, whether security, electricity, health or otherwise. Various militias control various ministries, and they use it as their fiefdoms. Ministries attack other ministries

AMY GOODMAN: Which is the most powerful militia?

NIR ROSEN: Well, the various Shia ones, such as the Mahdi Army, the Badr Corps, the police, the Iraqi police, the Iraqi army. Of course, the American army is also another militia, and it’s a very powerful militia in Iraq -- maybe not the most powerful. But the Mahdi Army basically controls the police and the Iraqi army. Of course, in the north the police are more in the hands of various Kurdish militias, and the army is in the hands of Kurdish militias. So it sort of depends where you are.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break. When we come back, we are going to talk more about the refugees throughout the Middle East. There are not many here in this country. We’re talking to Nir Rosen, independent journalist, author of In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Nir Rosen, independent journalist, author of In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq, a fellow at the New America Foundation, has reported extensively from Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003, most recently has just returned from Beirut, actually on Sunday night, and has particularly focused on refugees. His piece in the New York Times is called "The Flight from Iraq."

Talk about why people go to different countries, why Iraqis go in this -- you’re saying up to three million Iraqis out of a population of what? Some 27 million?

NIR ROSEN: Twenty-six, twenty-seven, originally, yeah. Nobody knows for sure.

AMY GOODMAN: More than -- so, close to 10%.

NIR ROSEN: Yes, and, of course, up to a million have died --

AMY GOODMAN: More than 10%

NIR ROSEN: -- since the occupation began. Well, there are various factors for why they choose different countries. Access is one of them. Syria is the most open and generous of all the countries in the region. They basically take anybody who comes in. And for a long time, they were giving them free healthcare, and they still provide free education. Well, they’ve been -- they are being overburdened, as well, because the Syrian government subsidizes things such as bread. So every loaf of bread an Iraqi buys is actually being paid for in part by the Syrian government. As a result, they’re finding it more and more difficult to bear the cost.

The Jordanians basically closed their borders by the end of 2005, in part because they were being overburdened, and they also have demographic issues to worry about. Half of the small Jordanian population are Palestinian, and now you’ve introduced another million Iraqis. And this is a very fragile regime in the first place, the Jordanian dictatorship.

AMY GOODMAN: What does each country gain by letting in Iraqi refugees?

NIR ROSEN: Well, Jordan took in initially many of the wealthier ones, as did Egypt, and so they certainly gained a great deal of money and investment, and they required for residency a certain amount of money in the bank. But Jordan was a less friendly environment for Shias. Syria, again, is the most friendly environment for really any Iraqi; Shias, Sunnis, Christians each find welcoming neighborhoods there. Lebanon, very difficult to get to, and there’s a likelihood of being expelled by the Lebanese government, but Christian Iraqis have found that the Christians of Lebanon have been generous in protecting them. Shia Iraqis have tended to go into the Shia neighborhoods of Beirut. Egypt closed its borders more or less after about 150,000 Iraqis came in, mostly Sunni. The majority of the Iraqi Arab refugees are Sunnis, despite the fact that Sunnis are a minority in Iraq. And Sweden has taken in, I think, 40,000 or 50,000, as well. They’ve been quite generous. As you’ve said, we took in about 700, which is a laughable amount.

AMY GOODMAN: What are the politics of this, given that the US said they went into Iraq to save the people of Iraq, only allowing in 700 here?

NIR ROSEN: Well, there are various reasons for why they won’t take them in. I think the fact that they’re Arab and Muslim is probably one of them. The main factor is probably that if you take any refugees, you’re admitting that your whole program in Iraq is a failure. If Iraq is exporting refugees, people are fleeing Iraq for their lives, then everything we’ve done is a failure, which indeed it is, of course, failure.

And there are also security reasons. Homeland Security Department is finding it difficult to screen the Iraqis and difficult to even send their people to various embassies to initiate the screening process. That’s taken a painfully long time logistically.

AMY GOODMAN: Why can't they screen them?

NIR ROSEN: I think it’s just incompetence and sort of a lack of interest. And one of the factors that prevents Iraqis from getting visas, for example, if you’ve paid a ransom. Many Iraqis, virtually every family I know of, have been victims of kidnapping. If you pay a ransom to release your relative from kidnapping, according to the US government, you have materially supported terrorism, and therefore you can be prevented from obtaining a visa to the US.

AMY GOODMAN: If you’ve paid any kind of ransom?


AMY GOODMAN: Governments have paid ransoms, like the Italian government, for people to be released from Iraq.

NIR ROSEN: Yes, I’m sure the US government has, as well, but this has been an obstacle for Iraqis. And in general, there’s an aversion, it seems, on the part of America to take in Arabs or Muslims, and Iraqis, in particular. I think Christians have a much better time, Iraqi Christians, as informally the West, whether Australia, England, America, are more likely to take in Christians and are more interested in their plight. I think there’s also stronger interest groups in the West, in Canada and the US, who are active on behalf of the Iraqi Christians.

AMY GOODMAN: What does it do to the politics of a country, to Syria, to Jordan, to Lebanon, having the Iraqi refugees come in? And then, I want to broaden that to: what is the effect of the war on these countries?

NIR ROSEN: Well, when we think of the Iraqi refugee crisis, we have to think of the crisis that people in the region think of in relation to that one, and that’s the Palestinian refugee crisis. In 1948, up to 800,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes in Palestine to make way for what became Israel. They went to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan. There were put in refugee camps. Eventually, after a few years, they were militarized, mobilized. They had their own militias. They were engaged in attacks, trying to liberate their homes. And they eventually were instrumentalized by the various governments, whether Lebanon, Syria, Jordan. Different groups used them. And they were massacred, as well, by the Lebanese, by the Jordanians. They contributed to destabilization of Jordan, of Lebanon, as well.

And I think you will see something similar happening with the Iraqis, because we have much larger numbers, approaching three million, and many of them already have links with militias back home, of course, because to survive in Iraq you need some militia to protect you. And there are long-established smuggling routes for weapons, for fighters, etc.

And add to that the very sensitive sectarian issue in Syria, in Jordan. The Syrian regime is a minority regime perceived by radical Sunnis to be a heretical. Syria is a majority Sunni country. The majority of the refugees are Sunni. Syria has a good relationship with a Shia-dominated Iraqi government. There have been various Islamist opposition groups who have sought to overthrow their government in Syria. Jordan, as well, has its own Islamist opposition. We’re likely eventually to see, as Sunnis are pushed more and more out of Baghdad and as the militias are pushed into the Anbar Province, that they might link up with Islamist groups in Syria, in Jordan, in Lebanon.

So I think it’s wrong to think of Iraq as its own conflict. There’s now a regional conflict. It’s going to involve Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon. And I think we’ll see governments being overthrown -- for example, the one in Jordan. What we already see are fighters being exported, for example, the fighting in Lebanon the past few months. Many Iraq veterans have sought shelter in Lebanon among -- in the Palestinian refugee camps, for example.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about that, what’s happening right now in Lebanon with Fatah al-Islam, with, in particular, the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp.

NIR ROSEN: Well, Nahr al-Bared refugee camp doesn’t exist anymore. It’s been wiped out completely. The Lebanese army destroyed, flattened completely a refugee camp that at once housed 40,000 people. And they’ve now been made homeless. They left with only their shirts on their backs, basically.

What provoked this conflict was the existence of a group called Fatah al-Islam that declared itself in late 2006. They sort of piggybacked onto a pre-existing Palestinian group, a secular one called Fatah Intifada, taking advantage of, I think, benign neglect on the part of Syria and a very welcoming environment in northern Lebanon, where you have Salafis already work in close reliance with the Sunni-dominated Future Movement. And it seems like, as Sy Hersh explained in his article, the Future Movement, led by Saad Hariri, hoped that they could take advantage of the presence of the Salafis and jihadists in the camps and elsewhere to be sort of the Sunni militia against Hezbollah. But these groups weren’t interested in fighting Shias. They were more interested in fighting Israel, the US, the crusaders, and establishing their own sort of Islamic emirate in the north. And as a result, there’s been a very brutal and bloody clash with the Lebanese army and security forces.

They took advantage of the fact that the Palestinian camps in Lebanon are basically autonomous in terms of security. The Lebanese security forces weren’t allowed, thanks to an agreement several decades ago, to actually enter the camps. And some of these camps, Ayn al-Hilwah, south of Beirut, have long been exporting jihadists to Iraq. What happened about a year ago was that the flow was reversed, and fighters from Iraq began seeking shelter elsewhere. They can’t go to Jordan. They can’t go to Syria. Lebanon was a much more permissive environment -- no strong state, no strong security forces, Palestinian camps already sort of lawless, and a place where Lebanese seek shelter if they’re absconding from the law, and a very friendly environment for Salafis in the Sunni areas because of the increased sectarian tensions in Lebanon.

People in Lebanon are viewing their conflict, especially Sunnis, within a context of the Iraq conflict. They believe in these conspiracy theories about the Shia “Crescent,” about a Shia program, and Iran is exporting its revolution in the region. These are baseless sort of fears, but they’re very strong fears held on the part of Sunnis. And as a result, the Sunnis of Lebanon are looking for their own militia to protect them from what they believe is Hezbollah’s attempts to control the country.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the comments of Seymour Hersh, the investigation that he did, specifically saying that the US and Saudi governments are covertly backing militant Sunni groups like Fatah al-Islam as part of an overarching foreign policy to go after Iran and the Shia influence?

NIR ROSEN: Well, Sy Hersh and I deal with sort of different levels, in the sense that most of my work was on the ground in refugee camps and in poor neighborhoods of Lebanon. So I dealt with the actual militias, not on the geopolitical level with the people who might be sponsoring them. So I found no evidence that the US government or Saudi Arabia were directly involved.

What is clear, however, is that jihadist groups in Lebanon are being sponsored and assisted by various Salafis in Lebanon who are very close with the Lebanese government and who support the March 14 Movement. And money is coming in certainly from Saudi Arabia from rich patrons. They are well armed -- very new weapons compared to the Lebanese army -- laptops, very well fed. And some of their apartments are rented by people who are closely associated with the Lebanese government.

But given where I was, there was no direct US involvement, as far as I can see. It would be very foolish for the US to support these jihadists. I think the Lebanese government and its allies found that it was also very dangerous for them, that they cannot control these people and use them for their own ends. We tried this ourselves in Afghanistan and are still suffering as a result of that. And these groups in Lebanon, I think, actually ended up taking advantage of the Lebanese authorities, instead of the other way around.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Nir Rosen, independent journalist, author of In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq. He has just come out of Lebanon, has been looking at refugees, the mass crisis. I mean, you’re putting the numbers now at, well, over five million numbers, with those refugees inside Iraq, the internally displaced, around two million, and then you’re saying three million outside.

NIR ROSEN: I think almost three million inside. I mean, the rate is increasing so fast every day, every month 30,000 to 50,000 are leaving their homes.

AMY GOODMAN: Where does the UN come into this and refugee camps in these countries?

NIR ROSEN: Well, until now, there haven’t really been refugee camps outside of Iraq. Iraqis have sort of blended into the urban environments of Amman, Jordan; Damascus, Syria; Beirut; Cairo. These are urban people who have fled, and they prefer an urban environment. There’s a taboo about refugee camps. And the governments have not set up refugee camps either. So this makes it harder to help them and harder to track them, as well.

Within Iraq, there have been some camps set up for the internally displaced in southern Iraq. But about 150,000 to 200,000 Iraqis have fled to northern Iraq -- Irbil, Sulaymaniyah, Dahuk -- and they have also just rented homes in urban areas in towns.

The UN was very slow to respond, in part because of a lack of funding, in part because the UN was still in a sort of intellectual mode where they were assisting the Iraqi government. There was a reconstruction effort, stability effort, development, not dealing with the humanitarian crisis, because usually it’s the other way around. You solve the refugee crisis first, and then you initiate the reconstruction, development, etc. Iraq was unusual in that sense, in that what initially was a reconstruction effort became a humanitarian crisis. And the UN was reluctant to admit it, that there was a humanitarian crisis, because that would imply the Iraqi government, which is assisting, is a failure. And, in fact, the Iraqi government is a party in the conflict and is one of the main actors in prolonging this conflict, to the extent that we can even say that there isn’t an Iraqi government.

So the UN has been very late, in part because it depends on funders. You can’t blame the UN. The UN is basically America and the donor countries. But there was this lazy intellectual process of recognizing that Iraq is a failure. And, of course, the UN was traumatized by, first, the failure to prevent the war in Iraq -- and it’s been seeking a mission ever since then -- and, of course, the bombing in August 2003, which basically expelled the UN from Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you make of the Syrian prime minister Monday saying that his country will help rebuild Iraq, help Iraqis rebuild Iraq?

NIR ROSEN: I think it’s optimistic. I don’t think anybody can really help Iraq at this point. And Syria lacks the funds. We in the West have been focused too much on Iran and Syria, as if they are the solution to Iraq, or the problem or the cause of the problem, whereas, in fact, this is mainly an internal conflict. And there isn’t much that a country like Syria can do. The US, with all of its troops and all of its money, has failed completely.

Syria does have the advantage of having a good relationship with all the parties in the conflict. It’s been very good at maintaining relations with Sunni resistance groups, with Shia radicals like Muqtada al-Sadr. Maliki, the prime minister, actually lived in Syria for a long time. President Talabani was in exile in Syria when he established his own political party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. So Syria does have a very good relationship, and it could be the key to bringing some of the Iraqi groups together. But at this time, I think there’s actually no hope.

AMY GOODMAN: Nir, what about Iran? What about the whole Bush-Cheney push to attack Iran? And what is the significance of this? And how does it play out in these countries?

NIR ROSEN: Well, I think we’re dealing with a mentality on the part of our administration that nobody else is going to have the guts to take on Iran in the future, the next president, so if we don’t do it, who’s going to do it, and we’ll be vindicated in the future just like Reagan was vindicated, allegedly, for bringing down the Soviet Union. So they have this long-term view of how history will treat them, and if they don’t take down Iran, nobody else will, which is probably the case, although they can’t take down Iran, either.

Iran is not Iraq. You can bomb it, but I think you’d only basically strengthen the support for the government, as always happens when you bomb a country. We saw this in Yugoslavia and elsewhere. And they’ve been blaming Iran for everything under the sun lately, for supporting Sunni radicals in Iraq or attacking the Iranian-backed leadership in Iraq, for attacking -- and then they blame Iran for supporting the Taliban, who, of course, were bitter enemies of Iran. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

AMY GOODMAN: And interestingly, the president of Afghanistan, Karzai, coming in and saying Iran is a partner and then receiving Ahmadinejad in Afghanistan, and President Bush at the same time attacking Iran.

NIR ROSEN: Well, the countries in the region know that they can’t lose Iran as an ally and as a neighbor. The US can easily alienate Iran, without suffering too many consequences. But Iraq does depend on Iran as a friendly neighbor, likewise Afghanistan. And if you were to antagonize Iran, of course, the consequences would be much more severe than antagonizing Iraq, which had a very weak army.

AMY GOODMAN: What are the politics? Why is Bush doing this, escalating the rhetoric?

NIR ROSEN: Well, there is a general aversion on the part of the US administration towards any Islamist movement or government. This is why they brought down the Islamic Courts in Somalia, this is why they overthrew the Hamas democratically elected government in Palestine, this is why they refuse to deal with Hezbollah, an overwhelmingly popular movement in Lebanon: I think a fear of any successful Islamist model. And then, we’ve had a long animosity with Iran. We haven’t forgiven them, I think, for the hostage crisis a few decades ago.

And I think we’re now in search of a new enemy. When I wrote my book, I was doing research on LexisNexis, and I found that in May 2003 universally the US press was talking about when do we got to war against Iran? Iraq has been such a success. We brought down Saddam’s regime so quickly. So now, Iran is next, obviously. And everybody was behind this, of course.

AMY GOODMAN: The Lieberman-sponsored resolution condemning Iranians fighting in Iraq for killing US soldiers, but then the report coming out that there are more Saudi fighters in Iraq than Iranian fighters.

NIR ROSEN: It’s difficult for me to understand why the Shias would need Iranian fighters. Iraqis are very good at killing, as we’ve seen. Shias were in the army. They were the majority of the army. Shias were in the Fedayeen Saddam, as well. And they’ve been very eager to fight the Americans -- the Mahdi Army, other groups.

So Iran might be sponsoring various Shia militias, of course. It has its own proxies in Iraq: the Supreme Council, one of our main allies, the Dawa Party, one of our main allies, the Sadr Movement to a lesser extent, and, of course, some of the Kurdish parties, as well. Iran has a very good relationship with various Iraqi movements.

I am skeptical that they are actually sending fighters to Iraq. I just don’t see the need for it. Iraqis are very well trained. They might be sending some weapons. But then again, there’s also a black market in weapons, so just because a weapon is Iranian doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily been sold by Iran. Various groups use American weapons. It doesn’t mean that the Americans are arming people, although, in fact, we are arming militias.

I mean, it’s very hypocritical for the US to complain about any foreign intervention in Iraq in the first place, given that we occupied Iraq and destroyed it, and now we’re arming Sunni militias in various neighborhoods, making the situation much worse. In various Sunni neighborhoods of Baghdad, we’re creating our own militias. We are the ones who armed the police and the army, who are, in effect, controlled by a sectarian Shia militia. So it’s absurd to take the American accusations seriously, except that they are intending to go to war against Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: On that issue, Nir Rosen, Time magazine ran an article this week called “Prelude to an Attack on Iran.” It ends with a quote from an unnamed US official: “There will be an attack on Iran,” he said.

NIR ROSEN: I mean, this is just such a foolish game to play. American soldiers are basically held hostage in Iraq. They can’t leave, and they can’t stay. And Iran has the ability to make things much more difficult for the Americans. Until now, while we are fighting Shia militias, Shia resistance groups, it’s not a sort of universal uprising on the part of Shias. We did face that a little bit in 2004, and it was very difficult for the Americans. But Iran does have the ability to mobilize Iraqi Shias, of course, against the Americans and, if it wanted to, to sponsor other groups that might want to fight the Americans.

Iran, until now, I think, has been the primary beneficiary of the US war in Iraq, in that their people are the ones in charge, and their main enemy, or one of them after Israel, Saddam Hussein, was removed. So we could have seen Iran as an ally in all this, and I think that we could have seen them as an ally in Afghanistan, as well. But we’ve chosen to invent an enemy where we didn’t have one before.

AMY GOODMAN: David Petraeus, the general, this report that’s coming out, along with the Ambassador Crocker, the second week of September, it’s now reported, they may well be reporting on September 11th to Congress. What is the significance of this?

NIR ROSEN: I don’t think it’s significant. What can they say that would make any impact one way or the other?

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think has to happen?

NIR ROSEN: In Iraq? It’s too late for anything good to happen in Iraq, unfortunately. If the Americans stay, we’ll see a continuation of this civil war, of ethnic cleansing, until all of Iraq is sort of ethnically -- or sectarian, homogenous zones, which is basically what’s already happened. If the Americans leave, then you’ll see greater intervention of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, supporting their own militias in Iraq and being drawn into battle.

But no matter what, Iraq doesn’t exist anymore. Baghdad will never be in the hands of Sunnis again. Baghdad will be controlled by Shia militias. They’ve been cleansing all the Sunnis from Baghdad. So Sunnis are basically being pushed out of Iraq, period. They can go to the Anbar Province, which isn’t a very friendly place. I think you’ll see that there won’t be any more elections in Iraq. Maliki is the last prime minister Iraq will have for a long time. There is neither the infrastructure for elections anymore, nor the desire to have them, nor the ability of Iraqi groups to cooperate anymore. So what you’ll see is basically Mogadishu in Iraq: various warlords controlling small neighborhoods. And those who are by major resources, such as oil installations, obviously will be foreign-sponsored warlords who will be able to cut deals with us, the Chinese. But Iraq is destroyed, and I think we’ll see that this will spread throughout the region, and this will destabilize Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we wrap up, I want to talk about the Occupied Territories, about Gaza and the West Bank, particularly Gaza now, the news out, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza enduring a fifth day of power blackouts. The outages began after the European Union suspended its funding of Gaza’s main electricity plant. What’s happening now?

NIR ROSEN: Well, Hamas was elected democratically in elections that the US President Jimmy Carter and the international community recognized were free and fair. We, of course, were very upset that Hamas won the elections, and we imposed sanctions on them and tried to overthrow the government in a soft coup, by basically strangling the economy. And that didn’t work. As a result, we increased the heat on Hamas. We began training and sponsoring Fatah militias, with the cooperation of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and, of course, Israel, and attempted to overthrow the Hamas democratically elected government. And that, too, failed. And Hamas actually managed to eject the Fatah militias from Gaza.

And, of course, now, thanks to US pressure, the Europeans, who would like to deal with Hamas, who have a much more realistic view of the Middle East, are unable to do so. And, I mean, all you’re doing is actually radicalizing this group. This is one of the more moderate Islamist groups in the region, in fact, and they were willing to negotiate with Israel. But what you do when you allow a group like this to take part in elections, and then when they win you try to overthrow them, is merely radicalize them and encourage the Salafis, those with leanings towards al-Qaeda.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean by Salafis.

NIR ROSEN: Salafis, like the Wahabis of Saudi Arabia, a much stricter interpretation of Islam, generally they reject any innovations and any form of modernity, any deviations from what they perceive as a true Islam, whether Shiism or influences of modernity, of reform. And they often, as well, believe that if you don’t follow their line of thinking, you’re a heretic, you’re an infidel, and you can be killed. Zarqawi was a Salafi, for example.

And these movements are not very strong in Palestine yet. But what we're doing is taking a moderate group like Hamas and actually encouraging them to be more radical, telling them that negotiations, politics, elections won’t work, all you have is violence. It is such a foolish process, because you can’t push them into the sea, which is what Israel would like to do, of course. But if you keep them in this prison, which is Gaza, and you bomb them every day, which is what Israel is doing, and they’ve killed -- since Israel withdrew from Gaza, they’ve killed over 150 children and hundreds of civilians. So it’s not exactly withdrawal in the first place.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think needs to happen there?

NIR ROSEN: What needs to happen at this point is a one-state solution, where Palestinian refugees are allowed to go back to their homes, where Israel is a state for Jews and non-Jews alike, a state for its citizens. And this one-state solution is inevitable. I think the choice that Israeli Jews have is whether they accept it peacefully, following the model in South Africa, or do they wait a few decades and have to deal with a much more violent uprising on the part of the Arab Israeli population and the population in the West Bank and Gaza? But I think, one way or the other, it’s inevitable that Israel can’t exist as a Jewish state that doesn’t give equal rights to its non-Jewish Arab citizens.

AMY GOODMAN: Nir Rosen, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Nir Rosen, independent journalist, his book is called In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq. He is just back from Beirut, Lebanon.

Reagan on Our Beloved Leader

"A moment I've been dreading. George brought his ne're-do-well son around this morning and asked me to find the kid a job. Not the political one who lives in Florida. The one who hangs around here all the time looking shiftless. This so-called kid is already almost 40 and has never had a real job. Maybe I'll call Kinsley over at The New Republic and see if they'll hire him as a contributing editor or something. That looks like easy work."

From the just published REAGAN DIARIES. The entry is dated May 17, 1986.
Via Rock and Rap Confidential.

Our Leaders' Intelligence on Iraq

Doesn't matter what any National Intelligence Estimate says, Our Beloved Leader will ignore it anyway, even when someone actually tells him what it says.

And an analysis of the report, possibly short enough for Our Leader to read or to have read to him, as the case may be, is here.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Times Notes the Further Collapse of Modern Civilization, Western or Other

Four and a half years in Iraq, and this is what we have to show:
A stark assessment released today by the nation’s intelligence agencies depicts a paralyzed Iraqi government unable to take advantage of the security gains achieved by the thousands of extra American troops dispatched to the country this year.

The assessment, known as the National Intelligence Estimate, casts strong doubts on the viability of the Bush administration strategy in Iraq. It gives a dim prognosis on the likelihood that Iraqi politicians can heal deep sectarian rifts before next spring, when American military commanders have said that a crunch on available troops will require reducing the United States’ presence in Iraq.

And then there's this good news from Iraq and proof of what an absolute idiot and shameless liar Our Beloved leader is:
President Bush delivered a rousing defense of his Iraq policy on Wednesday, telling a group of veterans that “a free Iraq” is within reach and warning that if Americans succumb to “the allure of retreat,” they will witness death and suffering of the sort not seen since the Vietnam War.

“Then as now, people argued that the real problem was America’s presence and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end,” Mr. Bush declared in a 45-minute speech before a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention here. He added, “The world would learn just how costly these misimpressions would be.”

In urging Americans to stay the course in Iraq, Mr. Bush is challenging the historical memory that the pullout from Vietnam had few negative repercussions for the United States and its allies.

Yeah, bailing on a hopelessly corrupt, inept government we enabled was such a disaster, China's a threat from sheer capital (the West pumped in) and Vietnam is still pretty much a backwater but a capitalist one. So much for the domino theory.

And yet another example of the innate corruption of the Republicans: just can't proceed with rebuilding at Ground Zero with any competence.

Our Periodic Micro$oft Bash

Crappy as most M$ products are, can this be for real?

More about Karl Rove's Piercing Stepfather

Why Xeni Jardin is my internet goddesses -- because she's (and BoingBoing) on this story. As I've said (or tried to), personal business is personal business -- until it has an impact far beyond the personal and, arguably in this case, into the commonweal of our nation. Again, what kind of impact did Lou Rove have on Karl? Was he the crucial factor in making Karl Rove what he is (or was, till recently)?

AUGUST 19, 2007

[XENI JARDIN/BOINGBOING] This particular piece of the story is interesting for obvious reasons, but I think much of our audience is not familiar with exactly how this thing we take for granted now, body modification and piercing-- who some of the pioneers of that were, and… all of that points back to you in a big way.

[JIM WARD, FOUNDER, THE GAUNTLET] Well, I played a big part in that history, and I think -- primarily because I was the first person who began what became the piercing industry. There were a lot of people who were very interested in piercing, but they were very closeted about it. And even though they were telling their friends, it was very difficult because there was no place to get pierced, and no place you could really buy the right kind of jewelry.

[BOINGBOING] How did you first become involved in piercing? What was your first exposure to the experience?

[JIM WARD] Back in the late 1960s I was living in New York. I got involved with the leather scene in New York. It was something that's been stuck in my psyche for a long time. But I met a couple of guys who lived in Brooklyn Heights, where I did, and belonged to the New York Motorbike Club, a group of guys who were into leather and S&M. About that same time, I was reading a magazine article, and it talked about some man who had gone on a sea voyage. And when he had gotten back from his voyage, he decided to get his ears pierced to mark that occasion which is a Naval tradition as I understand it. It just -- this compulsion to have my ears pierced surfaced, and I got one of my buddies from the New York Motorbike Club to pierce my ears for me.

Not long after that, since late puberty, I'd discovered that nipple play was a very erotic thing. So about this same time, this fantasy sort of materialized of wanting to pierce my nipples. And finally I did. At that time, I knew no one who had ever done it, never heard of it, never seen it. And ironically, not too long after that some friends and I went to one of the leather bars in the Village. And lo and behold, there was a guy at the bar with no shirt on with beautiful gold rings in his nipples. That would have been about 1968, and that was kind of how I got into it.

[BOINGBOING] Now, take us forward from there to when you opened your shop, The Gauntlet, in West Hollywood, in 1975. That's often referred to as the birthplace of the modern piercing movement.

[JIM WARD] That's true, it was. I moved to LA in 1973. And one of those kinds of twists of fate kind of happened. I had a friend who had moved to LA not that long before me, and he had gotten a job as a bus driver. He drove back and forth to downtown, and one day he picked a guy up on his bus, and they got to chatting, and got acquainted, and it became a regular thing. This guy whose name was Tom would get on the bus, and chat. One day while they were visiting, another guy got on the bus who had a pierced ear, and they got to talking about piercing and my friend the bus driver said, "I have a friend who has pierced nipples," and Tom said, "Oh, I'd really like to meet him." Turned out that Tom was somebody who was very interested in body piercing and was very interested in it, and knew a number of people who were very involved in it including Fakir [Musafar], and he also knew a man named Doug Molloy, which was kind of a "nom de kink," as my friend termed it. "Doug" was a name that was used by this very wealthy Hollywood businessman, and we got to be good friends [Ed. Note: Doug Malloy was the pseudonym of Richard Simonton, an executive at Muzak Corporation].

And then, I was dating a guy not long after who wanted me to pierce his nipples. And I called up Doug and said, some of the techniques I used to pierce my own were pretty crude, I just used a wine bottle cork and a pushpin and a couple of cheap little earrings. Maybe you could share your technique with me, and tell me how to do it, tell me where you got the jewelry. And he said, I'm happy to share my technique wit hyou, tell you how to do it, but as far as jewelry's concerned, he said -- the only guy I know that makes it in San Diego and it's pretty expensive, lke $200 per ring, and this was in the early 1970s.

[BOINGBOING] So that was a lot of money back then.

[JIM WARD] That was a lot of money back then. And when I'd lived in New York, I'd taken several jewelrymaking classes, including one for professionals. I can buy the equipment and the gold wire and make these myself for a lot less than $200. So there was a little lapidary store in West Hollywood and I went there, and bought every thing I needed for about $45. And we made the arrangements for Doug to come over at the appropriate time and I pierced my boyfriend, and then Doug called me up one day and said, let's go have some lunch. So we went to a little restaurant and chatted, and he said -- you know, there is a market for this. And I think you should start a business. And that's how it all came into being.

[BOINGBOING] And what did you say? What was your reaction when Doug suggested turning this very personal experience into a business?

[JIM WARD] The investment was pretty small. Doug was even willing to lend me a little money to get me going. I could work out of my house in the beginning, and even continue with my other job as long as necessary. Seemed like a really great thing, something that I really enjoyed -- piercing, that is -- and it evolved from there.

[BOINGBOING] How old were you when you opened the shop?

[JIM WARD] The shop didn't open until 1978, but I started the business in 1975. I was born in 1941, so what would that have made me -- 34?

[BOINGBOING] So you opened the shop, and I imagine that back then, not a lot of people knew about this. There wasn't a big network of people, certainly not like there is today.

[JIM WARD] Well fortunately, Doug had traveled all over the world. He'd met people who were into it, he'd placed ads in fetish publications, trying to contact people who were interested in it. Over a period of years, he'd made contact with roughly a hundred people. So he gave me those names, that was really the core of where the business began. I made up a little catalog, and sent it to these people. Also, there was actually probably about 25 people in the LA area that he knew. So we started getting together once a month for what we called the "T&P Groups" -- tattoo and piercing. And we'd have a potluck or go out to a restaurant, and we'd end up back at my house, and anyone who wanted to get pierced -- I was happy to pierce them. And that was how the ball got rolling.

[BOINGBOING] And how did you come to meet Louis Rove?

[JIM WARD] Louie Rove was just one of those people -- I don't even remember how I met him, exactly, it may have been through The Pleasure Chest, which was -- which is -- an adult toy store in Los Angeles.

[BOINGBOING] Sure, they're still in business, over on the edge of West Hollywood.

[JIM WARD] I know that they referred people to me, that's one possibility. I also was doing some advertising in some of the local gay publications. There was a little newsmagazine that came out weekly called "Data-Boy," I ran an ad in that pretty much weekly, and it's possible that he saw that ad and responded to it.

[BOINGBOING] So he came in to the Gauntlet?

[JIM WARD] I think I would have-- yes, he came into the Gauntlet, I was probably in the store by that time. I opened the store in 1978, and I don't remember Louie being part of that at that time.

[BOINGBOING] So how did you become acquainted? He somehow became a part of the community, the circle of people around you, and what kind of man was he?

[JIM WARD] He was actually an incredibly nice man. He was genteel, a sweet nature. I don't think I ever heard him say an unkind word about anyone. He was probably an alcoholic. He drank way too much and smoked way too much. But he was never a mean drunk. If he'd had too much, he just said goodnight and went to bed. He was just really incredibly nice. He actually, a number of times through the years when I was strapped for money, he actually lent me a little money.

[BOINGBOING] And you mentioned [earlier via email to us] that he hosted some of these piercing parties for gay men at his home not far from LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

[JIM WARD] That's true.

[BOINGBOING] And you mentioned also that this was before he moved off to Palm Springs.

[JIM WARD] Yes, he moved off to Palm Springs after I moved to the Bay Area in '89. I don't remember how long after that he moved.

[BOINGBOING] Now, did you ever pierce Louie?

[JIM WARD] Oh, [laughter] many times. I pierced him -- I looked up the -- we published a magazine called Piercing Fans International Quarterly, PFIQ. He was the cover and the feature interview in one of the issues. In 1983.

[BOINGBOING] You mentioned that he used the nom de pierce, "Indy."

[JIM WARD] That's correct. And I referred back to the article -- at that time he had 37 piercings. And most of them were in his penis.

[BOINGBOING] That's a lot of hardware.

[JIM WARD] It is indeed, and it was all gold.

[BOINGBOING] It was gold -- was that unusual?

[JIM WARD] It was, because a lot of men preferred stainless steel. He had the money to buy it, and that's what he did.

[BOINGBOING] Why would someone prefer stainless steel? For economic reasons, comfort reasons?

[JIM WARD] A combination. Part of it was economy. The other thing is that a lot of gay men, particularly those in the S&M scene, came to prefer the white metal over the yellow metal.

[BOINGBOING] Just a different aesthetic.

[JIM WARD] Right.

[BOINGBOING] You mentioned also [via email to us] that you knew him as a retired geologist who had worked for the Getty Mining Company.

[JIM WARD] That is correct.

[BOINGBOING] What did you know of his family life, his personal life, before he came to LA?

[JIM WARD] Not that much. I knew he was divorced, I knew he had children. The only story I remember about his family was, I remember his telling me about when he came out to his mother. And this may be a little off color, but -- her response was, "You mean you put that dirty thing in your mouth?" So, for some reason that stuck in my mind. He was actually fairly private about his family and didn't go into a lot of detail.

[BOINGBOING] I don't know if you had a chance to read the essay on BMEzine, does any of that resound with the Louie Rove you knew?

[JIM WARD] Oh yes. It did indeed.

I spoke to him on the phone a few times after he moved to Palm Springs, and he told me about doing hospice work there, and told me about his lung problem, having to be on a respirator, on oxygen, that kind of thing. I did not see him, I have not been to Palm Springs in years, and unfortunately I never saw him again.

[BOINGBOING] The author of this essay identifies Louie Rove's son as being Karl Rove. Have you heard this before?

No, this is the first time I'd heard it. And then I did a Google search today, and apparently there's a biography of Karl Rove that came out not long ago…

[BOINGBOING] The Architect?


[BOINGBOING] I hadn't read the book myself but saw those references online as well.

[JIM WARD] That was the first I'd heard about it.

[BOINGBOING] In that book, as I understand from excerpts on the web, the elder Mr. Rove is identified as having come out as a gay man, but none of those accounts ever related his role or experience in early body modification culture, so this is a pretty new thing.

[JIM WARD] [laughter]

[BOINGBOING] Not new for you, sir, but a new thing for the rest of the world to know about, with regard to this person. Well, so you opened The Gauntlet, the shop, in 1978. And as I understand it you left that business or somehow the business crumbled without you. Can you tell us what happened and how as I understand it, it sort of came back under your wing again?

[JIM WARD] In the late 90s the business got into financial trouble. A few years before I'd hired a general manager for the company because it had gotten pretty unwieldy. The main store was in West Hollywood, we had a branch in San Francisco, in New York, Seattle, and a franchise store in Paris, France.

I needed a general manager. And I hired a man who unfortunately, was probably embezzling money. The business went into serious financial decline. My health was in a bad state at that same time, which didn't help. And I got conned into turning controlling interest over to a man who was basically a con artist.

[BOINGBOING] When was that?

[JIM WARD] In 1997. He basically pumped as much money out of it as he could, drove it into bankruptcy, tried to play some games with the bankruptcy court. Because he'd filed a Chapter 7, which allows for some reorganization. He tried to play these games, and they said to heck with you, and converted it to a chapter 11, and closed the business. And when they did that of course, all the property came under the control of the bankruptcy court. I no longer owned it. They sat on that for some years and sold off the machinery, the inventory. They were going to sell off the intellectual property including the name, and the copyright, as a separate sale. They couldn't find anybody who was interested. Finally, two or three years ago, the trustee decided to put it up for bid on eBay.

[BOINGBOING] I'm looking at the website, the winning bid was $6,623.32, an anonymous bidder.

[JIM WARD] Well, he asked to remain anonymous at that time, but has since said it's not a problem to say who he was. Barry Blanchard, and he owns a body piercing and jewelry manufacturing company in Santa Cruz. He bought the intellectual property and then basically gave it back to me.

[BOINGBOING] Wow. What was that like, to regain control over that, to regain possession over something that had meant so much to you?

[JIM WARD] It really -- I cannot describe what a tremendous feeling it was. I felt that my child had died. By losing the intellectual property I didn't have anything to remember it by. I didn't have any mementos. So it felt like [re]gaining something that was a part of me. It also freed me -- I had wanted to write a book about the history of the modern body piercing movement. And I felt like if I didn't own the intellectual property and didn't have control over it, I didn't know what kind of problems I might run into in telling the story. Since that's come back, that gives me the ability to draw on some of that material in telling the story, the history of piercing.

[BOINGBOING] And are you working on that now?

[JIM WARD] Yes. I'm trying to find a literary agent. If you hear of anybody who's interested, let me know! (laughter)

[BOINGBOING] What's it like to look around you, all over the world now, and see what a huge part of popular culture body modification and piercing has become. Something that was so rare and foreign when you first encountered it in the late 1960s. What's that like?

[JIM WARD] I have very mixed feelings about it. Because it's like a child growing up and taking on its own personality. When I started the business, I saw body piercing as a means of erotic enhancement. It has long since gone far beyond that. Where that is definitely a secondary or tertiary interest for people. Now, it's so much more about the aesthetic, making a social statement, rebellion, a lot of things -- but the erotic enhancement aspect is down on the list. I wish that this were more a part of it these days, but I have to be realistic, it's not. And I'm honored that I did create something that captured the imagination of so many people and has enriched their lives. Constantly people tell me, you made a big difference in my life, and that is a really wonderful feeling. The only downside is, it no longer supports me. (laughter) But that's life.

[BOINGBOING] And the Gauntlet brand and the goings on around that are now managed by both you and your life partner Drew Ward.

[JIM WARD] That's correct.

[BOINGBOING] One of our readers who read the BMEzine essay about Louie Rove wrote in to say they felt it was sort of ironic, or strange to think that this man's son is credited with being the architect of so many policies that would limit the lifestyle freedoms of gay men who want to be committed to each other formally. And I wonder if you have any thoughts on that? It's kind of interesting that with your life path, and the fact that you have a long-term, committed relationship with someone you love very much, there's this odd wrinkle in history you're a part of there.

[JIM WARD] It's sort of difficult. In families -- you can always have rotten children come out of the best families. There's such incongruity between Louie, and the outgoing warm human being that he was, and this architect of evil as I see him, that Karl Rove is. I mean the disparity is just mind-boggling. I'm incredulous.

[BOINGBOING] So what's next for you now? The book is what you're developing then, right now?


[BOINGBOING] And I was just reading online that you and Drew are thinking of republishing some back issues of Piercing Fans International Quarterly, PFIQ -- doing a new edition of the publication?

[JIM WARD] I don’t' think we'll ever bring the magazine back. You know, as an ongoing thing. We've talked about the possibility of reprinting back issues, that remains a possibility. But I have to find out about the legalities of issuing them, and I also want to be able to draw on that material for the book and I don't know if it's reprinted, you know -- what copyright issues might arise. So I'm just taking it one day at a time.

[BOINGBOING] Well, I for one very much look forward to reading the book. That's going to be a fascinating account of history. I can't imagine anyone more qualified to tell that story.

[JIM WARD] Well, (laughter) I don't think anybody can, because a lot of those people, unfortunately, are dead. People who were around at that time, there aren't that many oldtimers around. And being one of the key players I can tell things nobody else can.

[BOINGBOING] If there's one thing you'd like people to know about who Louie Rove the individual was, what would that be?

[JIM WARD] He was a man who was not afraid to be himself. He realized that he was a gay man. He ended a marriage that was a lie. He lived openly as a gay man. He was very true to himself.

[BOINGBOING] And years later, here we are thirty years after you started the Gauntlet, what would you like people to know about that time that you think is missing from public awareness?

[JIM WARD] I suspect that a lot of people don't realize there is a history. Especially young people, they just think it's something that's always been there. And they don't realize unless they do some research, that there is some history. Before that, this was the world of hardcore fetishists who were doing it in secrecy in the closet. They don't know how far they've come.

[BOINGBOING] It's not like there were websites or messageboards back then, huh.

[JIM WARD] There was no internet then.

[BOINGBOING] No real ways for people to connect around those kinds of lifestyles that were frowned upon at the time.

[JIM WARD] It's very difficult. You could put ads in fetish or gay publications. When we published PFIQ, for many years we included a classified ads section, a separate piece of paper stuck into the magazine, and sent only to subscribers. That was one of the reason we started PFIQ, so people who were interested in piercing could meet one another. It was very hard in those days.

[BOINGBOING] A lot has changed since then. I wonder how you feel about the fact that the internet is just this -- instant, pretty much free way for people to connect with an infinite number of others who are into body modification around the world.

[JIM WARD] Like everything, it's a mixed blessing. You never know somebody until you actually meet them face to face. And there are plenty of kooks in the world regardless of what they're doing, whether it's piercing, or you're a banker, a lawyer, whatever. You can have the most bland, conservative lifestyle, and you can still be very strange.

[BOINGBOING] You never know, huh.

[JIM WARD] You don't.

Further Debasement of elections in Our Great Democracy

Really, one kind of wonders what kind of scumbag sees easily corruptible mechanisms as any sort of solution to anything but corruption in kickbacks and rigging elections more easily....

The end of the secret ballot:
Ohio's method of conducting elections with electronic voting machines appears to have created a true privacy nightmare for state residents: revealing who voted for which candidates.

Two Ohio activists have discovered that e-voting machines made by Election Systems and Software and used across the country produce time-stamped paper trails that permit the reconstruction of an election's results--including allowing voter names to be matched to their actual votes.

Making a secret ballot less secret, of course, could permit vote selling and allow interest groups or family members to exert undue pressure on Ohio residents to vote a certain way. It's an especially pointed concern in Ohio, a traditional swing state in presidential elections that awarded George Bush a narrow victory over John Kerry three years ago.

Ohio law permits anyone to walk into a county election office and obtain two crucial documents: a list of voters in the order they voted, and a time-stamped list of the actual votes. "We simply take the two pieces of paper together, merge them, and then we have which voter voted and in which way," said James Moyer, a longtime privacy activist and poll worker who lives in Columbus, Ohio.

Once the two documents are merged, it's easy enough to say that the first voter who signed in is very likely going to be responsible for the first vote cast, and so on.

"I think it's a serious compromise," said David Dill, a Stanford University computer science professor who has followed electronic voting issues closely. "We have a system that's very much based on secret ballots. If you have something where voters are involuntarily revealing their votes, it's a very bad practice."

Moyer and fellow activist Jim Cropcho tested this by dropping by the election office of Delaware County, about 20 miles north of Columbus, and reviewing the results for a May 2006 vote to extend a property tax to fund mental retardation services (PDF). Their results indicate who voted "yes" and who voted "no"--and show that local couples (the Bennets, for instance) didn't always see eye-to-eye on the tax.

Patrick Gallaway, communications director for Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, said on Friday that his boss had already been planning to begin a "comprehensive" review of e-voting machines as part of a campaign pledge she made before taking office in January. He said the review now is likely to include a look at the ES&S voter privacy concern as well.

ES&S machines are used in about 38 states, according to the Election Reform Information Project, created by the Pew Center on the States. Of those states, Arkanasas, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia are among those using ES&S iVotronic machines with paper audit trails.

Other suppliers of electronic voting machines say they do not include time stamps in their products that provide voter-verified paper audit trails. Sequoia Voting Systems and Hart Intercivic both said they don't. A spokesman for Diebold Election Systems (now Premier Election Solutions), said they don't for security and privacy reasons: "We're very sensitive to the integrity of the process."

An ES&S spokeswoman at the Fleishman-Hillard public relations firm downplayed concerns about vote linking. "It's very difficult to make a direct correlation between the order of the sign-in and the timestamp in the unit," said Jill Friedman-Wilson. (ES&S iVotronic machines are used in 10 Ohio counties, mostly in the center of the state, according to a map on the watchdog site.)

"That is so fatally flawed," Friedman-Wilson said about Moyer's and Cropcho's analysis. "It doesn't take into consideration any of the times that there would be interaction with a voter and a poll worker before the ballot is activated." As for the interaction of Ohio open records law with ES&S logs, she said that "it is most appropriate that the secretary of state's office and others who are responsible for carrying out elections respond to questions regarding Ohio election law and procedure."

Timestamps + Ohio law = trouble

One explanation is ES&S had never expected that the paper with the time stamps, known as a voter verified paper audit trail, or VVPAT, would be made public under state open records laws.

A report evaluating ES&S security prepared by Compuware auditors two years for the Ohio secretary of state--marked "Confidential" but available on the Internet (PDF)--does warn about keeping electronic time stamps. It says that the electronic representation of votes, called the Cast Vote Records, "should not have time stamp associated with it" and must be randomized to protect privacy.

But the auditors viewed timestamps on the physical printout, called the audit log, as needed to detect "tampering" with the ES&S iVotronic hardware. "All actions to the iVotronic are recorded in the audit log with a time stamp," the report said. "This includes opening and closing the polls, voting, inserting invalid voting cards, loss of power, and supervisor access."

David Wagner, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, said electronic storage of votes in the order that voters cast them is a recurring problem with e-voting machines.

"This summer I learned that Diebold's AV-TSX touchscreen voting machine stores a time stamp showing the time which each vote was cast--down to the millisecond--along with the electronic record of that vote," Wagner said in an e-mail message. "In particular, we discovered this as part of the California top-to-bottom review and reported it in our public report on the Diebold voting system. However, I had no idea that this kind of information was available to the public as a public record."

The July 20 report on Diebold (PDF), written by Wagner and five Princeton University researchers for the California secretary of state, cites the electronic time stamp as a voting privacy concern. "If the time when each voter checks in is recorded in the poll log book, an attacker with access to the log book could correlate this data with the timestamps to determine how voters voted," the report says. "Alternatively, observers in the polling place could note the time when target voters cast their votes and find the corresponding vote records in the ballot results file."

Ohio law allows just this. Section 3501.13 of state law says "the records of the board and papers and books filed in its office are public records and open to inspection." Anyone who interferes with the public's right to inspect the records, in fact, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

Of course, the correlation may not be perfect. If Voter No. 1 signs in but gives his space in line to Voter No. 2 who's in a hurry, a reconstruction of the votes based on public records will incorrectly identify their votes.

Having multiple machines and multiple lines can also create a randomization effect, but Moyer says that in his experience as a poll worker there's only one line that feeds into multiple machines. In addition, he says, poll workers log the voter into the ES&S iVotronic, which starts the time-stamped entries and means there's no additional randomization of voters taking different amounts of time to start the process.

A uniquely Ohio problem?

Even though other states do use the ES&S iVotronic paper trails, they don't necessarily make them available for public perusal.

Natasha Naragon, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas secretary of state, said she knew of no way to disable the time stamps on the voting machines' printed output. But, she said, "our law does not allow for public access to our voted ballots" and said they remain sealed unless there's a recount.

Iowa's procedures seem designed precisely to avoid the Ohio situation. "Iowa has an administrative rule, because the paper trail is in voter sequence, that prohibits providing to any of the bodies that have access to the paper rolls any information that would allow them to link individual ballots on paper roll to the voters," said Sandy Steinbach, the state's director of elections.

Computer scientists and security experts say restricting the public's access to e-voting paper trails by tinkering with open records laws is insufficient--it doesn't protect against, for instance, an insider perusing the ballots and reconstructing them.

They do say paper trails are necessary to provide a physical check on what could be a buggy or maliciously programmed machine. But they offer three suggestions: deleting the time stamp, not keeping a list showing in which order people vote, and adding a paper slicer and shuffler to randomize how the physical audit trail is recorded.

Lorrie Cranor, director of the Usable Privacy and Security Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University, says that "you need to have mixing either in the recording of the orders of the voters or the votes, or preferably both."

"Audit trails are really important, but so is privacy," she said. "Many of the vendors of (e-voting machines) have actually put ID numbers on the paper records, which also could be used to reconstruct which voter is associated with a vote."

Moyer and Cropcho have posted a summary of their findings on their Web site,

For its part, ES&S claims that printing out time stamps is recommended by standards adopted in 2002 by the Federal Election Commission.

ES&S spokeswoman Friedman-Wilson pointed to two sections of the standards, one of which says "all audit record entries shall include the time-and-date stamp." The other says error messages, critical system status messages, and a record of a voter "activating and casting each ballot" should be part of the audit log. (It does not, however, explicitly mandate that the outcome of the vote be printed.)

"Because the voter verifiable paper audit trail is one element of the audit function of a voting unit, one could interpret these guidelines as requiring the time stamp have citations within the guidelines," Friedman-Wilson said in an e-mail message.

Johnnie McLean, the deputy director of the North Carolina Board of Elections, said: "Our public records laws don't include that paper record. A voted ballot is considered confidential." In West Virginia, secretary of state spokesman Ben Beakes said: "There would be no way to match the time with the voter because in our poll book system, all you would find is an alphabetical list of the people they voted, not the time they came into the polling place."

Ohio, by contrast, may be unique. "It's my understanding from our legal staff that a public document consists of anything that is in the public domain," said Gallaway, the secretary of state's communications director. "I think that both of those (the time-ordered poll books and the time-stamped paper trail) would be considered that."

That has left computer scientists, already alarmed about the security of e-voting machines, dismayed at the interaction between time stamps and Ohio laws. "Security and privacy and the integrity of the voting system depend not only on the technology, but also on the procedures and the combination of the two," said Stanford's Dill. "This is a case where the combination of technology and procedures are working together to create a privacy threat."
Onee more time (in case you missed it); it's not only Diebold:
ES&S to be Rebuked, Fined and Possibly Banned in CA?
By Kim Zetter August 21, 2007 | 3:12:02 PMCategories: E-Voting, Election '08

California announced today that it plans to hold an administrative hearing on September 20th to discuss the fate of Election Systems & Software for violating state election codes. ES&S, the top voting machine company in the country, is being accused of selling at least five CA counties a version of its AutoMark ballot marking system that hadn't yet been tested or certified for use in the state or the country.

ES&S apparently sold at least about 1,000 uncertified machines to San Francisco, Marin, Colusa, Solano and Merced counties. (The number of uncertified machines delivered to California was supplied by ES&S to the state; CA officials have yet to conduct their own inventory to determine if more machines are involved.)

Per CA law, ES&S could be fined $10,000 per uncertified voting system unit (or $9.72 million) and be required to give a complete refund to counties of all money spent on the machines -- the latter would amount to about $5 million.

Additionally, ES&S could be barred from doing any business in the state for between 1 and 3 years, which would impact more than just the five counties mentioned -- potentially affecting more than 14 counties that use ES&S machines, including Los Angeles County.

The issue raises questions about how many other uncertified AutoMarks the company may have sold to other states.

ES&S did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

The AutoMark A100 was certified for use in California in August 2005. However, in 2006, ES&S, by its own admission, sold about 1,000 units of its subsequent AutoMark model -- the A200 version -- to five CA counties months before the system passed federal qualification testing in August 2006. Voting machines generally undergo two stages of testing and certification, first by independent testing labs overseen by the federal government and then by the states themselves. But according to secretary of state spokeswoman Nicole Winger ES&S still has not submitted the A200 system to the state to examine and certify.

Winger also says that the A200 machines had stickers on them (see photo below) that identified them as having passed federal qualification testing, when they hadn't yet passed that testing. Winger says that the qualification stickers that were placed on the A200 machines were the stickers that are supposed to apply only to A100 machines. Winger says it's possible that the stickers were applied in error. But if ES&S deliberately placed the stickers on the machines it could suggest a deliberate attempt on the part of the company to deceive California election officials.

"We are in the early stages of learning about the facts," Winger told me. "We don't know who would have applied the A100 stickers to uncertified equipment."

Winger said the differences between the A100 and A200 systems are significant and easily identified just through visual inspection (see the photos above at right). The size of the motherboard and the types of wiring inside the machines are just two examples of the differences.

"Those are the first things on visual inspection that even a computer novice would notice," Winger says.

ES&S is not the first voting machine company to have sold uncertified equipment in CA. In 2003, the state discovered that Diebold Election Systems had installed uncertified software in machines in 17 counties. (UPDATE: Joseph Hall at UC Berkeley reminds me that Diebold wasn't the only company that had uncertified software running in CA counties in 2003. A subsequent review of all election software in the state at that time found that eight counties were using versions of ES&S software that had not been federally qualified or state certified. Other counties were also found to be using uncertified software made by vendors other than ES&S and Diebold.)

Stephen Weir, the clerk for Contra Costa County, which has 762 AutoMark units as part of a $14 million contract with ES&S, supports Bowen's decision to punish ES&S for violating state laws -- although his county isn't among those that received uncertified equipment.

"If a vendor is using equipment in California that is not certified, they need to get busted," he told me. "If in fact (Bowen has) found equipment that was not ceritifed, that's a violation of not just the trust that a vendor has with election officials and the state, that's a violation of law."

The AutoMark is a ballot marking device that is a hybrid between a touch-screen machine and an optical-scan unit. Voters insert a full-size paper ballot into the system and make their selections on a touch-screen. The machine marks their selections on the ballot before returning the ballot to voters. The ballot is then passed through an optical scanner and tabulated. The machine has been touted as an answer to both the accessibility issues involving disabled voters and the verification issues around paperless touch-screen machines since the machines include audio for blind voters and use a full-size paper ballot that voters can verify before submitting it to be scanned and tabulated.

ES&S has been the focus of much attention in recent months. Last week Dan Rather Reports disclosed that the company was assembling its touchscreen machines in a sweatshop factory in Manila, the Philippines. The company's touch-screen machines are also at the core of a disputed election in Sarasota, Florida.