The Nation

What Garbage Tells Us about Iraq

Every now and then, a set of figures buried in some newspaper piece just jumps out and grabs you by the throat. When we talk about the situation in Iraq, it's usually about the powerlessness of the Iraqi government, or the number of insurgent attacks, or exactly what staggering number of civilians have died in the country since March 2003, or some other suitably large subject. We're not ordinarily thinking about or measuring anything by garbage. As early as July, however, we learned -- thanks to the head of Baghdad's municipal garbage services -- that one of the most dangerous jobs in Iraq may not be policeman or soldier, but garbage collector. 350 trash men had been killed in the capital in a year.

This Friday a vividly well-reported page 8 story by Michael Luo in the New York Times elaborated on this. "Most of the 500 municipal workers who have been killed here [in Baghdad] since 2005 have been trash collectors," he cites the capital's deputy mayor as saying. Many have died from hidden roadside bombs or IEDs meant for passing U.S. or Iraqi Army or police patrols. Some of them -- trash men being, Luo informs us, largely Shiite -- have been murdered simply because they are easy targets in the internecine warfare now underway in the capital. In the process, Baghdad has evidently become little short of a city of stinking, fetid, disease-spreading trash, piles and piles and piles of it. This, it seems, has been one of George Bush's main liberating gifts to the Iraqi people.

But here was the passage (and set of figures) in Luo's piece that caught my eye. "[T]he city," he informs us, "is woefully ill equipped to deal with the waste of six million people. It has just 380 working trash-compacting trucks now, compared with 1,200 before the fall of the regime, said Kaabi, the deputy mayor. Most of the vehicles were destroyed or lost in the looting that seized the capital after the American invasion. He estimated the city needs 1,500 garbage trucks."

1,200 trucks before the invasion; 380 now. That catches about as vividly as anything I've seen what the American "reconstruction" program has really meant in that country. Well, as Donald Rumsfeld put the matter so memorably when the looting was at its height way back in the Spring of 2003, "Stuff happens."

Anna Politkovskaya

The killing of Anna Politkovskaya October 7 has rallied hercolleagues and fellow citizens in a way few recent events have. "Wemust all change the situation after this tragedy and stop the passivityof civil groups and the journalistic community," a Russian journalistfriend told me just hours before 3,000 people gathered in the heart ofMoscow to mourn her death and demand the government conduct an immediateinvestigation.

Politkovskaya's murder was shocking, but for anyone who follows Russianpolitical life today not surprising. As Oleg Panfilov, who runs Moscow'sCenter for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said upon learning of hermurder, "I always thought something would happen to Anya, first of allbecause of Chechnya."

I met Politkovskaya a few times, in Moscow and in New York. Herdemeanor--quiet, even shy--belied her role as a journalistenraged by the injustice and corruption she believed werestrangling her country. Since 1999 her unflinching investigativereporting on the brutality and corruption of the Chechen war had madeher the target of numerous death threats, but she never slowed down. Infact, when she was killed, Politkovskaya, 48, was at work on an articleclaiming torture of Chechen civilians by security forces loyal to theregion's pro-Moscow prime minister. Her reporting appeared in Russia'sleading opposition newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, one of the few independentoutlets left in the increasingly state- or oligarch-controlled media.

Some have blamed President Vladimir Putin for her killing. Among them isthe Washington Post, which pointed to "the climate of brutality that hasflourished under Mr. Putin, a former KGB agent himself." But that is farfrom a satisfactory or full explanation. Since 1992 forty-twojournalists have been killed in post-Soviet Russia--most in unsolvedcontract executions. Thirty of them occurred under Boris Yeltsin,Putin's predecessor. Indeed, Politkovskaya lies in the samecemetery where Dmitry Kholodov, who was killed during the Yeltsin yearswhile investigating military financial corruption, is buried.

Lost amid so much of the coverage is a sad irony: Politkovskaya wasmurdered on the twentieth anniversary of the unfolding of MikhailGorbachev's glasnost policy--which quickly led to an increasingly freepress. Perhaps reacting to the human costs of glasnost's rollback, theformer Soviet president (who recently became a shareholder in NovayaGazeta), called Politkovskaya's murder "a grave crime against thecountry, against all of us...[and] a blow to the entire democratic,independent press."

For those who wish to ensure that the Russian government act to ensure that justice is done, please see the open letter circulating in protest at the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. If you wish to add your signature, please reply to gavinmacfadyen@btinternet.com (he is the Director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism at City University, and had been one of her supporters).

Dear Colleague,
This is a letter to protest the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. If you wish to join Seymour Hersh, Lowell Bergman and many others, please let us have your signature at your earliest.

"The assassination of Anna Politkovskaya has shocked and outraged journalists and all those committed to a free and independent press in Russia. Her murder has stilled a remarkable voice in Russian journalism. Her principled reporting of the crimes of the Chechnyan war, the misery of Russia's old, the infirm and the impoverished inspired reporters and readers around the world. But it was a dangerous pursuit.

Since 1993 over 40 journalists have been murdered and not a single killer has been convicted Since Putin assumed power in 2000, human rights organizations have reported that 13 journalists have been killed, and not one killer has been convicted.

These have included the popular television journalist and talk show host, Vlad Listyev, the American editor of Russian Forbes, Paul Klebnikov,and many lesser known reporters and writers.

Every year tens of journalists, both television and print have been harassed, beaten, arrested, kidnapped and some have been exiled. It was in this sinister world of oligarchs, the secret police and military for hire, Chechnyan terrorists, and organized crime from Moscow to Chechnya to London and New York, amidst Kremlin power struggles that Anna Politkovskaya wrote and wrotefearlessly. To the truth she brought a loud speaker.

Journalists, editors, everywhere join the The Centre for Investigative Journalism, for whom she spoke this summer at the Summer School at City University, in protesting this callous political assassination. It is perhaps not extraordinary that the Putin Government, despite protests around the world, waited days before condemning the killing. Putin himself was one of the main objects of her outrage at the brutality, suffering, corruption and incompetence he symbolized.

Now that Putin, after many international protests, has finally agreed to act, that government must be pressed to deliver on its promise to find and punish the guilty.

Journalists must wait now to see if anything happens at all or whether like so often in the past, the killers and those who hired them somehow vanish in confusion and mystery. "

Gavin MacFadyen, Director
Centre for Investigative Journalism, City University

Advocacy for Sale

Armstrong Williams. Maggie Gallagher. Doug Bandow. All of these people accepted money from the Bush Administration or big business, never disclosed it and then claimed to be independent commentators.

Add another to that list: anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist. Norquist, a longtime leader of the conservative movement, is hardly independent. But he also used the media to hump for his good buddy, Jack Abramoff. (And yes, we haven't heard the last of Abramoff. Just ask Rep. Bob Ney.)

Norquist helped Abramoff funnel Indian gaming money to anti-gambling Christian activists such as Ralph Reed. He helped arrange meetings for Abramoff with key Bush Administration officials. And a new report by the Senate Finance Committee shows how Norquist advocated positions beneficial to Abramoff clients, in places like the Washington Times, and then asked for donations to be made to his own organization, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR).

Only ATR enjoys tax-exempt status. Norquist's favors for Abramoff, the Senate report says, "appears indistinguishable from lobbying undertaken by for-profit, taxable firms."

Paging the IRS.

James Baker's Iraq

Americans, wherever they may actually stand, love to present themselves as in the moderate middle of any debate, just as politicians regularly gravitate toward the "center," no matter how far out it may happen to be. Recently, Bush family consigliere James A. Baker III, co-chairing the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan commission to advise a reluctant President on future Iraq policy, put himself firmly "between" policy poles. "There are," he said, "alternatives between the stated alternatives, the ones that are out there in the political debate, of stay the course and cut and run."

It's easy enough to land in the moderate middle, between what Baker terms policy "extremes," when on one side you only have to say "cut and run" and any respectable, inside-the-Beltway politician will promptly cut-and-skedaddle; while, on the other, the President, as at his delusional press conference Wednesday, is continuing to make "stay the course" sound like "jump off a cliff." We don't yet know exactly where the post-election policy proposals of Baker and his bipartisanly well-connected crew will fall, any more than we know what Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner meant when he insisted, on return from Iraq, that policy there was "drifting sideways" and that if things didn't get better in a magical couple of months -- post the midterm elections -- no "options" should be "off the table."

Of course, for neither Warner, nor Baker could those options possibly include "cut and run," which, by its very self-description, is for cowards and fools, not dignified senators and well-appointed commissions. Where, then, does the moderate ground between the extremes of the present moment, that lovely center, actually lie? Whatever the dreams of critics of the war, withdrawal in any real form, phased or otherwise, is not likely to be the middle ground the new Washington opposition has in mind. Baker hinted at this Thursday night on the Lehrer News Hour when, while being cagey in a Margaret Warner interview, he nonetheless spoke of "initiatives or advice that Congress and the president could utilize in continuing the mission in Iraq."

If we turn from Washington civilians to the military brass, recent days offered clues to what a revised, no-extremes, no cut-and-run, continue-the-mission policy might look like. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker announced that his service was gearing up -- or as he put it making sure he had "enough ammo in the magazine that I can continue to shoot as long as they want us to shoot" – for four more years in Iraq at present levels (140,000+ troops). Meanwhile, in a tag-team news conference with Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, George Casey, U. S. commanding general in Iraq, responded to a question about whether he needed more troops with his own cautious hint: "Right now, my answer is no. But we're continuing to work things back there, and if I think I need more, I'll ask for more and bring more in."

"Right now," of course, means "before the election," a time when, while U.S. casualties soar and Iraqis die in their hundreds, you grit your teeth and, as Gen. Casey did, use the word "progress" eight times in a modest meeting with the press. ("I would also say that we continue to make progress with the Ministry of Interior and police forces etc…")

So we've had our hint. While the "mission continues" in Iraq with the endless build-up of our huge bases -- we still have, according to Rumsfeld, 55 of them, large and small -- and the continuing construction of the most permanent-looking embassy on the planet (with its own anti-missile system) in downtown Baghdad, it begins to look one significant "between" position may prove to be lots more of the same. If so, it will be a position extreme in its refusal to face the obvious -- that, for instance, wherever American troops go in Iraq (as in Baghdad right now), violence only escalates. The British Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, the man responsible for British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, just put "staying the course" in the kind of blunt perspective we generally don't hear in the U.S. The United Kingdom, he said, should "get ourselves out [of Iraq] sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems. We are in a Muslim country and Muslims' views of foreigners in their country are quite clear." Call that the real middle ground.

2008: Warner Is Out; Edwards Gets a Boost

The early line on former Virginia Governor Mark Warner's surprise decision to scrap an expected bid for the 2OO8 Democratic presidential nomination is that this is good news for New York Senator Hillary Clinton, the presumed frontrunner who shares many of Warner's centrist stances, and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, the other Democratic Leadership Council acolyte who is preparing a campaign.

"It's good for Hillary," bubbled Steve Elmendorf, a key aide to John Kerry's Democratic presidential campaign of 2004.

"The biggest winner might be Evan Bayh," countered Jennifer Duffy, who watches the race for the Washington-based Cook Political Report.

Don't buy either line.

Aside from the fact that Warner was the rare Democrat who in a post-9/11 election had taken a major position away from the Republicans in a southern state, and then governing successfully enough to leave office with high approval ratings, most potential primary voters knew nothing about him. His stands on the issues -- to the extent that he had articulated them -- were never what made Democrats around the country interested in Warner's serious-minded and well-financed bid for the nomination. Rather, it was the popular notion that Democrats are best positioned to win in the presidency if they nominate candidates with track records of winning in states that are below the Mason-Dixon line -- following in the footsteps of former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton in 1992.

The theory's a bad one. Democrats should be looking for presidential prospects the Midwest and West -- regions where the party's support is expanding and has the potential to tip previously Republican states -- rather than the conservative climes of Dixie. But if there is one certainty about the Democratic Party, it is that the partisans are slow to let go even of the most worn-out strategies.

So the search for a southerner will continue.

For that reason, the beneficiary of the Warner exit will be former North Carolina Senator John Edwards.

That's actually good news for progressives, since Edwards stands well to the left of both Warner and Clinton on most issues. The 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president has renounced his vote to authorize President Bush to take the country to war in Iraq, encouraged efforts to hold the administration to account for warrantless wiretapping and other assaults on basic liberties, strongly opposed conservative nominees for the Supreme Court and made fighting poverty his trademark issue.

If Clinton runs, she will be the frontrunner. The primary question will become: Who's the anti-Hillary? The calculus will be both ideological and regional. Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, with his consistent record as an opponent of the Patriot Act and the war, will have the upper hand on the ideological score -- although there is a good chance that Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, the party's hapless 2004 nominee, will try to make a play from the left. Regional arguments may be made by westerners such as New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and, perhaps, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer.

But Edwards, positioning himself as a progressive with a southern background and potentially a southern appeal, is set to compete on both the ideological and regional fronts. And his task will be a good measure easier now that Warner's exit has cleared the southern flank.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Paranoia Strikes Deep

Okay, I admit it. As the election approaches, I amfeeling a creepy sense of paranoia. My right brain reads the newspapers,studies the polls and thinks we are looking at a blow-out next month--Dems conquer at last. My left brain hoots in derision. Get real, sucker.

The run-up has been pure fun for me: Generals leak the NationalIntelligence Estimate. Rep. Foley falls from grace. Senator Macaca blowshis lead. The reports from the field are more than promising. The hardnews has trumped every move by Bush-Rove to win once again on theirusual fear and smear campaign.

Yet the least little thing jerks away my optimism, like ripping off ascab that's not quite healed. When I heard the news flash that a planehad crashed into a Manhattan apartment tower, I didn't think, howhorrible. I said to myself: those rotten bastards in the White House.

I wasn't thinking terrorists. I was thinking the Bush regime had gone tonew extremes in its search for a believable "red alert." That tactic isworn out, it's been used so many times in election seasons. Instead, whynot blow up a chunk of New York City to remind folks how scary life canbe in these United States? Okay, that thought is irrational (alsoslanderous). But office conversations the next day told me I was notalone.

Like Alex Cockburn, I don't play conspiracy-theory games. Theplots are always too complicated and assign too much skill and foresightto the alleged conspirators. If wicked politicians or the "ruling class"were that smart, America would never lose a war.

But, boy, am I feeling vulnerable these days to ugly surprises. The lastfew weeks, helicopters and small planes have been buzzing heavily overmy neighborhood in northwest Washington. What's that about? I asked aneighbor and he laughed weakly. Maybe Cheney had a heart attack andthey're flying him to Bethesda Naval Hospital. Maybe it's just a trialrun for the big one.

In the office elevator, I bumped into an old friend, a reporter fromDow Jones. (Yes, the Wall Street Journal and The Nation can co-exist inthe same building (this is incestuous Washington and we all think ofourselves as kindred insiders). My friend is a smart and observantconservative who doesn't peddle cheap partisan opinions.

Democrats, he told me, won't get more than eight to ten seats in the House,forget the Senate. What? Why? Money and method, he said. Betweenblanketing TV with killer ads and turning out the righteous right-wingbase, the Republicans are in the process of buying it one more time.

I got off the elevator and found myself trembling. Didn't want to arguewith him, didn't want to hear more about what he knew.  He mightconvince me.  

Forget facts. I just want it be over. Soon. Actually, right now.

Give Peace a Vote

Here's why I've always loved Willie Nelson's music and message:

"Give Peace a Vote"

October 11 , 2006

By Willie Nelson

I was at a concert this weekend in California to raisemoney for the National Veterans Foundation. I'm an AirForce veteran, and I have great respect for themilitary. I like to support the soldiers whenever Ican. But I don't support this war in Iraq.

I was against the war before it started. I alwaysthought it was a terrible decision, badly thought out,badly planned, and then horribly executed.

I want to see our troops come home right away, and sodo most Americans. Unfortunately, too many politiciansin both parties refuse to listen.

So when will the troops come home? When we won't put upwith it anymore-when we change our government. And howwill we do that? By voting the bastards out! OnNovember 7, you should vote for anyone who's againstthe war and vote against anyone who's for the war. It'sthat simple.

When I wrote the song "Whatever Happened to Peace onEarth" at Christmastime in 2003, a lot of people werefor the war, a lot of people didn't know the facts orthe truth. But people are waking up now. They'relearning that they were lied to about the war. They'refeeling lied to about this Mark Foley scandal in termsof who knew what and when. They're questioning theleadership in this country.

And that gives us new possibilities for November 7th.If we all go out and vote for peace candidates and getour friends to vote, and if our votes are reallycounted, it's no contest. There'll be a change in theCongress, and then we'll just have to keep building sowe can get a president who won't send our soldiers tofight a war based on lies.

We should have thrown the bastards out years ago. Let'sdo it now! Give Peace A Vote!

Willie Nelson

Give Peace a Vote is organized by CodePink.

Don't Let Them Manufacture Another War

Representative Dennis Kucinich knows the neocon playbook used to lead our nation into war. That's why the courageous Congressman is doing everything he possibly can to ensure that the Bush administration fails in its effort to pull the same old tricks in manufacturing a war with Iran.

On October 10 Kucinich convened a panel of experts on Capitol Hill to answer two questions: is the Administration preparing for war? And is Iran an imminent threat?

Panelists included former chief weapons inspector, Dr. David Kay; retired Colonel Sam Gardiner of the National War College; Joseph Cirincione, senior vice president for national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress; Alfred Cummings, specialist in intelligence and national security foreign affairs at the Congressional Research Service; and Dr. Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council. There was unanimity around a few key points:

1) Iran is at least 5 years – but more likely 10 or more years – away from producing weapons-grade nuclear materials

2) Iran poses no imminent threat to the US, Israel, or its neighbors

3) The Bush administration has already selected the military option and is moving to make it operational

4) The consequences of a military confrontation with Iran are global and nightmarish

5) We should be pursuing multilateral negotiations and have missed key opportunities to do so – including not even responding to an Iranian offer to put recognition of Israel and suspension of its nuclear program on the table. Perhaps more than anything else, our refusal to engage Iran frustrates this panel.

There was also a consensus that the threat assessment conducted by the intelligence agencies should be declassified. Let dissenters voice their opinions before Congress. We should have learned this lesson from the intelligence failure in Iraq.

The panel suggested that the cheerleaders for this war are – you guessed it – Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. The Joint Chiefs are believed to be opposed to yet another catastrophic misadventure.

Some consequences of this insane déjà vu-like war would include: skyrocketing oil prices; Hezbollah attacks on Israel; Iranian attacks on US forces in Iraq; Iranian sabotage of pipelines in Iraq; Iran blocking Gulf oil flow; and threats to regional governments.

Cirincione summarized, "If you like the war in Iraq, wait until you see the war in Iran. It will be a massive, global war."

Wal-Mart Endorses "Homosexual Agenda"

Happy National Coming Out Day! The right-wing nuts are going, well, nuts. Wal-Mart is sponsoring LGBT Diversity Week at Boise State University in Idaho--October 9 to 13--and once again, the American Family Association is apoplectic. The group's action alert on the issue makes entertaining reading: "Wal-Mart has given its full endorsement to the homosexual agenda and homosexual marriage," the AFA fumes, noting, with trademark far-right salaciousness, that one of the event's other sponsors is a purveyor of sex toys (the "Pleasure Boutique"). But the conservative loons realize that when Wal-Mart supports a cause, it has become truly mainstream; that's why they're particularly upset that one of the (Wal-Mart-sponsored) events in Boise offers information on the campaign to defeat a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Idaho.

It's joyous to see elements of the conservative coalition falling apart. Why not join the fun by countering the AFA campaign? Write to Wal-Mart (use the AFA website, but "edit" the letter provided) and tell CEO Lee Scott you think it's wonderful that the company is funding decency and human rights in Idaho. (I just did this. I also checked a box on the same page agreeing that "I will pray for Lee Scott.") Now, if Wal-Mart would advance decency and human rights in the Philippines, or behind its own cash registers throughout the United States, that would be better still. But we'll enjoy one victory at a time.