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Monday, October 31

Iran's prez parodies Alan Rickman's parody of Sheriff of Nottingham

I know he isn't funny but Ahmadinejad is such a fiend that he reminds me of Rickman's wonderfully over-the-top depiction of evil in Prince of Thieves:
Frustrated with the inability of his economic advisers and experts to come up with any solution, Ahmadinejad told them that the only way out of the current stock exchange and financial market problems was to “frighten” speculators by hanging two or three of them.
For the rest of the story -- and more adventures of Sheriff Ahmadinejad -- stop by Regime Change Iran to browse the headlines and thank your lucky stars you don't live in Iran.

UN resolution on Syria passes; Pundita has advice for despots

The language of the UN resolution on Syria was watered down this weekend to accommodate China, Russia and Algeria; specific mention of an economic embargo if Syria failed to comply with the resolution and a demand that Damascus renounce terrorism were dropped from the text.

However, the resolution, which was unanimously approved by the UN Security Council, delivers a clear ultimatium and threat of action under the UN's Chapter 7, which allows for the use of force. According to the Bangkok Post the resolution ordered that:

> Governments impose travel bans and freeze assets of any Lebanese and Syrian officials or other people to be declared suspects in the assassination of Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

> Syria "must detain" its officials or individuals that the Mehlis commission will charge with planning, organizing or perpetrating the murder of Hariri.

> Syria cannot interfere with Lebanese domestic affairs "either directly or indirectly ... and refrain from any attempt at destabilizing Lebanon, and respect scrupulously the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence of this country."

The resolution says "further action" will be adopted if U.N. demands are not met by Syria.

Syria huffed that they're being kangaroo-courted. Britain, France and the US huffed back that Damascus better take the resolution seriously.

Well, at least something's down on paper now. Up next: a lot of huffing and puffing over the next two months. Assad will try running to the Arab League for help. As to how much that will accomplish, here's a tip for despots: heads of state don't like it much when a former head of state they really liked is murdered in cold blood.

Trick or Treat! George Galloway denies supporting al Qaeda

I received the following note in response to the October 25 Pundita post, George Galloway found lying under oath to US Senate subcommittee:

"Pundita:
Galloway and who else? He was a teeny little cog in the UN Oil for Food gravy train."

And here I thought of George Galloway as a cog in al Qaeda's war against America. Silly Pundita! But let's indulge my silliness a bit -- after all, it is Halloween -- and struggle to comprehend how Pundita got such a silly idea lodged in her head.

We'll have to track back almost a decade, to June 25, 1996, when 19 US soldiers were killed and 386 wounded by a truck bomb at the US military base of Khobar near the town of Dhahran in Saudi Arabia. Although al Qaeda did not overtly claim credit for the attack, it was demonstrably their work.

Just in case anybody missed the message, the day after the attack an old chum of Osama bin Laden's, Saudi Mohammed al-Massari, made statements on the BBC in London that practically shouted the Khobar attack was the work of al Qaeda, and which gave an explicit warning to the United States to clear out of Saudi Arabia if they didn't want to see more attacks. (1)

Al-Massari was the head of the London-based Committee for Defense of Legitimate Rights. Just a few months before the Khobar attack he had been granted asylum in England because he'd had to flee Saudi Arabia. He fled because he'd repeatedly called for the overthrow of the Saudi government and demanded the government be replaced with a Muslim fundamentalist regime.

George Galloway never denied his involvement with the Committee for Defense of Legitimate Rights or al-Massari. And al-Massari denied that he was involved with al Qaeda. And Mr Galloway has always denied involvement with al Qaeda and terrorism, although the last is a bit tricky because many acts that the United States and Israel and now much of the world deem terrorism, Mr Galloway wouldn't. (2)

However, George Galloway was unable to deny his involvement with an al Qaeda operative named Saad al-Fagih. That's because in 1996 Galloway held a "secret" meeting with Morocco's Crown Prince Mohammed (now king) and a senior Moroccan intelligence official. (Clearly, the meeting didn't remain secret for long.) Galloway was in attendance to represent the interests of various Saudi 'dissidents,' including Saad al-Fagih, who was involved with al Qaeda. (3)

Al-Fagih purchased and gave a satellite phone to al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The phone was used by Osama bin Laden and his associates to plan the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, which left close to 250 Africans dead and injured nearly 5,000 while taking 12 American lives.

Al-Fagih was not a nobody in the al Qaeda network. He purchased the phone at the behest of bin Laden's representative in London, Khalid al-Fawaaz. The phone was shipped to bin Laden's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Mr Galloway refused to discuss the nature of his relationship with al-Fagih when questioned about the Morocco meeting.

Correct me if my reasoning is screwy, but if George Galloway was involved with a man who was known to be an al Qaeda operative, and involved enough to "secretly" negotiate for his interests with a foreign dignitary -- wouldn't that mean George Galloway was involved with al Qaeda or at least supporting their interests, at least during 1996?

1) "[The US military presence in Saudi Arabia] is obviously not welcomed by a substantial fraction of the population there. And they are ready to go to the execution stand for it ... There are so many underground parties -- so many splinter groups, many of them made up of people who fought in Afghanistan ... I expect more of the same..."

2) In 1997, while he was a Labor Member of Parliament, George Galloway blocked proposed legislation (the "Conspiracy and Incitement Bill") to ban foreign terrorists residing in Britain from "plotting and conducting terrorist operations overseas."

The bill was introduced in the wake of concern in Britain that Mohammed al-Massari was involved with Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. This would be the same al-Massari who headed the Committee for Defense of Legitimate Rights.

Galloway's somewhat tortured argument against the bill amounted to saying that it's not terrorism if you're trying to overthrow a regime you consider repressive, and that foreigners shouldn't be penalized for plotting on British soil to overthrow wicked governments.

By blocking the bill, Galloway in effect made the British government a co-conspirator in all subsequent attacks launched by al Qaeda and other terror organizations with a base in Britain. That would include the attack against the British people in July 2005.

3) April 2003 Guardian The Observer: Fresh doubts surface over embattled MP

Wednesday, October 26

Smile for the camera, fellas

John Loftus reported on John Batchelor's show last night that several al Qaeda members, including some of Osama bin Laden's sons, have been spotted in Iran. According to Reuters in Berlin:
Iran is permitting around 25 high-ranking al Qaeda members to roam free in the country's capital, including three sons of Osama bin Laden, a German monthly magazine reported on Wednesday.

Citing information from unnamed Western intelligence sources, the magazine Cicero said in a preview of an article appearing in its November edition that the individuals in question are from Egypt, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and Europe. They are living in houses belonging to Iran's Revolutionary Guards, the report said.

"This is not incarceration or house arrest," a Western intelligence agent was quoted as saying. "They can move around as they please."

The three sons of Osama bin Laden in Iran are Saeed, Mohammad and Othman, Cicero reported. Another person enjoying the support of the Revolutionary Guards is al Qaeda spokesman Abu Ghaib, the report said.

Iran first said late last year that it had arrested and would try a number of foreigners suspected of having links to al Qaeda, a loose network of military groups that Washington blames for the attacks of September 11, 2001 and bomb attacks in Spain, Indonesia, Egypt and elsewhere.

The report in Cicero also accused the Revolutionary Guards' secret service of offering logistical support and military training to senior al Qaeda leaders.

Iran has repeatedly denied any link to or support of al Qaeda. [...]
That Iran is letting al Qaeda members hang out is not news, although the openness of the al Qaeda presence -- not even bothering to keep a low profile -- might be newsworthy. The eyebrow-raiser is that a German magazine broke the news on the latest intelligence findings about al Qaeda in Iran.

Technically, Angela Merkel at the helm in Germany should not mean a big shift in Germany's foreign policy; however, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, has already made himself unpopular in Europe. These things happen when an assassin with a rap sheet a mile long becomes a national leader.

Not content with embarrassing the EU Three (Britain, Germany and France), which worked so hard to negotiate with Iran about nukes, Amadi-Nejad is now trying to boss around Arab leaders. Yesterday he announced that Israel "must be wiped off the map" and warned Arab countries against developing economic ties with Israel in response to its withdrawal from Gaza.

Just to make sure nobody missed his drift Amadi-Nejad added, "Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury."

The EU3 are trying to ignore the tacky remarks so they can restart talks with Iran about halting work at the Isfahan uranium conversion facility. This, according to unnamed diplomats quoted in today's Financial Times. One diplomat explained that the EU3 had made a point of keeping the nuclear issue separate from Iranian support for militant Palestinian groups during two years of talks.

Okay; but how are the EU3 going to keep the issue of al Qaeda bopping around Iran separate from the nuke talks?

The Halloween Essay

"Dear Pundita:
Do you dress up and go to Georgetown for Halloween? If so, can you tell me what costume you'll be wearing? Maybe we can meet. I'll be dressed as Lucrezia Borgia.
Jenny in Washington, DC"

Dear Jenny:
Pundita has always preferred to scare herself silly on Halloween rather than scaring others. I've done this by calling at random Fortune 500 companies and asking, "Can you give me your thoughts on US foreign policy?" However, I'm bored with screaming and peeing my pants in terror. This year I plan to frighten the drunks in Georgetown by dressing up as Robert B. Zoellick.

If you need to understand why any American who cannot afford a security detail and easy access to a helipad should be scared of Zoellick, read about his career or glance through his latest speech on China. Keep in mind that the man Condoleezza Rice nominated to be Deputy Secretary of State will run the State Department in the event she is incapacitated.

If you really want to scare yourself, consider that if a Republican wins the presidency in the next election, it's a good bet Zoellick will be the next Secretary of State. Come to think of it, even if a Democrat wins Zoellick's probably a shoo-in for the post.

Those who look for Signs from on high should have figured out by now that when your nation's premier symbol of international trade collapses into dust, this is a sign that a country's foreign policy should be not controlled by big business concerns.

George W. Bush got the message on 9/11, then found himself in the same position as Vladimir Putin. Putin got it into his head that a determined band of ex-KGB officers would be enough to take down what he thought of as "gangsters" -- the group of businessmen, politicians and organized crime figures who were bleeding Russia dry.

Not long after a fire broke at his country home. The house and everything in it were reduced to ashes except for a Christian cross. Nothing else survived the flames.

Putin got the message: That's not gangsters you fool; that's the Seventh Ring of Hell you're trying to put in the slammer.

After that Putin, being a sensible sort, figured out that he was not saint material and so he needed to make compromises. That was if he wanted to live long enough to take a few whacks at Mordor's shins.

George W. Bush arrived at pretty much the same conclusion after his own father and other power brokers in the Republican Party stabbed him in the back over his decision to invade Iraq.

Actually, Pundita does not celebrate Halloween. Why bother, when it's Halloween 365 days of the year in Washington, DC? It could have been worse; there were rumors that Condoleezza Rice was angling to be Secretary of Defense.

In any case, nothing has fundamentally changed in Washington since the Clinton era; things can't change because in the mid-1990s it became official policy that trade issues would dominate US foreign policy. If that were all it would be scary enough, but that's not all.

If Eliot Spitzer or another American with experience at prosecuting gangsters becomes president, we might have a chance to learn what happened to the billions of dollars stolen from US taxpayers during the course of the US giving financial aid to Russia.

Starting in the early 90s State got deeply involved with Russian and other FSU oligarchs, who have close connections with big transnational Russian mobs and other mobs connected with FSU regions.

And by the mid-90s State had set up an American business 'desk' that put the affairs of state directly under the influence of transnational companies -- several of which doing business in FSU countries via contacts with the oligarchs.

I interject that State did not set up the desk in underhanded fashion; it's just that to this day, the American public is unaware of what State did and the implications, unless maybe they happen to have read Pundita's essays on the America Desk, better known as the Office for Commercial and Business Affairs.*

However, it's more likely it will be a freezing day in hell before there is an independent investigation of the US Department of State -- and USAID, I might add. And The World Bank.

Yet until independent forensic accountants start poring over records across all three organizations and cross-matching them, there is no way to start to investigate whether crooks are still dug in at those institutions.

Pundita wishes Paul Wolfowitz luck in his anti-corruption drive at the World Bank, but I think he will soon arrive at the same conclusion that caused Presidents Bush and Putin to back away from being martyrs and for nothing more than trying to empty the ocean with a sieve.

These musings recall me to Zbignew Brzezinski's words in 2000 about US aid to Russia during the 1990s. He said that "much of the money we have given to Russia has been misappropriated -- and we don't like to talk about this. The U.S. officials who worked closely on this are embarrassed about it."

Try to conceive of the kind of minds that would term that magnitude of theft an "embarrassment." The kind that would have been perfectly at home in Lucrezia Borgia's world.

* More on the America Desk and waiting for the cows to come home.

Tuesday, October 25

Heat increasing by hour on Syria's government

Pundita starts this post with advice for readers who didn't pay attention to the many months of tedious palaver running up to March 2003 then asked, "How the hell did that happen?" when they watched the bombing that signaled the US invasion of Iraq. Attend now to official yappity-yap and red tape winding around Syria so you're not bewildered later by fast-moving events.

This evening Britain, France and the United States distributed a draft United Nations Security Council resolution (No. 1559) under the enforcement provisions of Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The resolution demands that "Syria must detain those Syrian officials or individuals" implicated in the plot to assassinate Lebanon's former prime minister, Rafik Hariri.

China is expected to attempt water down the resolution and try to pressure Russia to do the same. But the next step against Syria is underway. According to tomorrow's edition of the UK Times Online
The draft threatened "further measures" -- a reference to economic sanctions -- if Syria failed to co-operate with the UN inquiry led by Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor. It also called for the assets to be frozen and a travel ban imposed on all individuals designated as suspects by Herr Mehlis’s investigation. [...] The resolution is likely to come to a vote at a special Foreign Ministers’ meeting of the 15-nation Security Council on Monday.
As to whether there's a military option tagged to the threat -- here we arrive at the complex part. The short answer is "no," however, Bashar al-Assad's government is not in hot water only because of their part in Rafik Hariri's assassination and refusal to cooperate with the investigation into his death.

This evening President Bush alluded to other sticky wickets by ticking off demands from the 'international community.' Syria must expel Palestinian militant groups, prevent insurgents from crossing its borders into Iraq and end Syrian interference in Lebanon.

Tomorrow, the UN will receive a second report on Syria's misbehavior. According to the (UK) Times, "UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen is expected to accuse Damascus of continued meddling in Lebanon's internal affairs."

So are we going to see military action at the end of the bureaucratic tunnel? Bush told al-Arabiya television that he hopes Syria will cooperate with demands to clean up its act, and that military action is the "the very last option."

Translation: Bush has refused to rule out the military option.

Something else may or may not happen tomorrow at the United Nations: Detlev Mehlis is expected to brief the 15 members of the UN Security Council on the findings of his commission. However, there is speculation(*) that the UN will give Mehlis another two months to finish up the investigation -- particularly under present conditions, which include a slew of credible death threats against the investigators. (It's always slow going when you have to move around investigators just to keep them alive.)

Alert readers will note that if Mehlis is given another two months, his investigation will wind up at just around the time Iraq's permanent government is installed. (The election will take place in December.)

At this point I envision several readers muttering, "What is this; the murder of Archduke Ferdinand? How come World War Three could be fought over some Lebanese guy I never heard of until his death?"

There will be no war touched off by Hariri's death. Syria's military has about two months to figure out what to do with Bashar al-Assad. They'll throw something together. This doesn't mean they'll head off war with Iraq; either they stand up to Tehran and refuse to keep sending fighters into Iraq, or there will be a military confrontation at some point down the line. The Iraqis will have no choice, if they want to draw down the terrorist attacks.

However, a quarter century from today, the 9/11 attack on America might have only a page in the history books, whereas Hariri's death could net an entire chapter. Why? Because his death was the "9/11" for Jacques Chirac and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah. What this means for the Middle East and in turn the rest of the world is only starting to unfold.

The only thing that's guaranteed in war is that both sides will make mistakes. Excluding the folly of the 9/11 attack and information still locked in classified reports, the biggest mistake the other side has made so far was ordering the death of Rafik Hariri. So keep your eye on reports about Syria.

* 10:50 PM UPDATE : John Loftus has just reported on John Batchelor's show that Mehlis has been given the extension and that the final report is due December 15.

IRAQ CONSTITUTION RATIFIED

Oct. 25 (Bloomberg) -- "Iraqis approved a new constitution that will establish a federal government, the next step in the country's transition to democracy ... Almost 79 percent of Iraqi voters approved the charter ... Voters in provinces within the so-called Sunni Triangle, a center of attacks on the U.S.-led coalition, overwhelming rejected the proposal, while Kurds and Shiites supported it, raising concern that the constitutional process won't succeed in healing divisions among the country's three main communities."

The sour grapes reaction from the United Nations: "Results of the referendum have indicated the degree of political polarization in Iraq," the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq said in an e-mailed statement in which it also praised Iraqis for turning out to vote. "This poses an ongoing challenge for all Iraqis and underscores the importance of an inclusive national dialogue."

The UN spin ignores that Sunnis who voted to adopt the Constitution did so because their clerics advised them to vote, and to vote "yes." Several Sunni clerics figured out that the Constitution gives Iraq's Sunnis a better chance of getting more representation than the practice of lobbing bombs at their countrymen. Pity they didn't come earlier to this realization; if they'd done so the number of Sunnis voting to adopt the Constitution would have been much higher.

Monday, October 24

George Galloway found lying under oath to US Senate subcommittee

"Galloway needed money to pay for his actions. We gave him oil to sell to make the money."
-- former Iraqi vice-president Taha Yasin Ramadan

The US Senate subcommittee investigating the UN Oil for Food program has found that George Galloway lied under oath about his involvement with the program. According to the UK Guardian the latest report from the committee finds that:

· "Galloway personally solicited and was granted oil allocations from the government of Iraq during the reign of Saddam Hussein. The Hussein regime granted Galloway and the Mariam Appeal (an organisation he set up to help Iraqis suffering from sanctions) eight allocations totalling 23m barrels from 1999 through to 2003."

· "Galloway's wife, Dr Amineh Abu-Zayyad, received approximately $150,000 in connection with one of those oil allocations."

· "Galloway's political campaign, the Mariam Appeal, received at least $446,000 in connection with the oil allocations granted to Galloway and the Mariam Appeal under the oil-for-food programme."

· "The Hussein regime received improper 'surcharge' payments amounting to $1,642,000 in connection with the oil allocations granted to Galloway and the Mariam Appeal."

· "Galloway knowingly made false or misleading statements under oath before the sub-committee."

Statements from former members of Iraq's qoverment support the paper trail leading to Galloway:
Tariq Aziz, the former [Iraq] deputy prime minister who has been in jail since the US invasion of Iraq, allegedly told the investigation the oil had been allocated in the name of two of Mr Galloway's agents, one of whom was Fawaz Zureikat.

However, he added: "These oil allocations were for the benefit of George Galloway and for Mariam's Appeal. The proceeds from the sale benefited the cause and Mr Galloway."

Mr Aziz is one of the primary witnesses mentioned in the new Senate investigation. It quotes him as authenticating a letter supposedly sent by the head of Iraqi intelligence detailing a meeting between Mr Galloway, Mr Zureikat and an unnamed intelligence officer during which [Galloway] is said to have asked for an increased oil allocation. The letter was published in the Daily Telegraph in 2003. Mr Galloway successfully sued the newspaper, which is currently appealing against the ruling.

According to the new report, Mr Aziz "stated that he recognised the ... letter and recalled seeing it in the past".

Mr Aziz also allegedly told investigators that Mr Galloway had expressed concern to him about "the appearance of taking money directly from the Iraqi government", and asked for his and his wife's name to be omitted from official documents.

However, the report found that several documents, authenticated by former regime officials, did mention Mr Galloway by name. The report quoted the former Iraqi vice-president Taha Yasin Ramadan saying Mr Galloway, who is now an MP for the Respect party, was a "friend of Iraq" who "needed to be compensated for his support".

"Galloway needed money to pay for his actions," Mr Ramadan allegedly told investigators, adding "we gave him oil to sell to make the money".

According to the report, the claim was confirmed by the former minister of oil, Amer Rashid."
Of course Galloway is denying everything and his wife is quoted in the subcommittee's report as denying having received any money.

Senators Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Carl Levin (D-MI), Chairman and Ranking Member respectively of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) have led the investigation.

Thinking back to the May 17 testimony before the subcommittee, I well remember how those two very experienced attorneys carefully and politely questioned Galloway, and how they patiently and carefully listened to his insults, accusations and mockery.

At one point Coleman and Levin exchanged a glance but kept a deadpan expression. Roses for Norm Coleman and Carl Levin for their patience, persistence and careful detective work! Suddenly I feel an old song coming on. From May 16 Pundita post:

Vladimir "Lips" Zhirinovsky, "Gorgeous" George Galloway, David B. "Bunny" Chalmers, and Charles "Poofdaddy" Pasqua practicing for their American Idol audition:

"We're NOT crooks doo-wop doo-wop! We're not CROOKS yabba dabba! We got you goin in circles doo-wop!"

Simon to Paula: Who told them there was a Four Tops-barber shop quartet-Frank Sinatra soundalike category?

Paula to Simon: Probably the ABC Primetime crew.

Randy: (Wrapping his head in a towel) Okay dogs, you got 15 seconds.

"Doo-wop Doo-wop doop doop diddy
Talk about the boys from Ripoff City!
Talk to our bankers we ain't signed nothin
Talk to our lawyers we ain't seen nothin
O we're the same old song
Just a diff'rent meaning with the billions gone!
So here is our love song, not fancy or fine
We got you goin in circles
And we did it ouuuuur waaaaaaaaaaay
Doop!"

May 12 Coleman-Levin report: SUBCOMMITTEE INVESTIGATION INDICATES SENIOR FRENCH AND BRITISH OFFICIALS WERE AWARDED MILLIONS OF BARRELS OF OIL FROM SADDAM HUSSEIN

Sunday, October 23

Another kind of darkness

"The sense of disillusionment in the years between the [world] wars was heightened by political and economic disasters for which people were wholly unprepared: there was the folly of Prohibition and its attendant gangsterism, as well as growing evidence of illicit connections between crime, business and politics in American cities.
-- From Hard Boiled Crime's analysis of Film Noir

"The streets were dark with something more than night."
-- Raymond Chandler

"Dear Pundita:
Re your Chinese Puzzle post. I wonder if anyone else caught the allusion (assuming it was deliberate) to "Broadway's my beat." Now I'm hoping for a Damon Runyonesque posting.
Dr. Ernie in California"

Dear Dr. Ernie:
Yes, I wanted to convey a touch of the Runyonesque gangster genre but mostly Film Noir. Damon Runyon's stories represent a clearly delineated underclass in America's largest cities during the 1930s. The gangster films based on his stories draw a line between good and bad guys. In films based on stories by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, which exemplify Film Noir ("black film"), the line is barely visible.

There are 'good guys' -- detectives such as Sam Spade. They move in the shadows of the underworld but also in another kind of darkness -- a confluence of organized crime, corrupt government, and illegal business practices. Heroism under such conditions equates to hanging onto a moral compass for another day.

That's also a fair assessment of the lot for heroes in Mainland China's society, which is why I gave a nod to the Film Noir genre to introduce the posts on China's mystery illness. Whatever the true nature of the illness, the tactics the government used to deal with it are a window on the society's pervasive moral decay.

Another window on today's China is found in the movie "Chinatown," which is a fictionalized account of the California Water Wars. Chinatown is also a tribute to Film Noir, so it came to mind while I surveyed earlier posts about mystery illness and also Taishi Village.

If you study the Taishi Village situation against the illegal maneuvers in the water wars, a hazy 'foreign' situation comes into clear focus and is perfectly understandable; there's nothing uniquely Chinese about it.

What happened in Taishi, which is repeated across the Mainland and the Third World, is an illegal government-arranged land grab using the most brutal means. The Taishi villagers were simply in the way of development in the Pearl River Delta, in the way residents of Owen Valley were in the way of plans to divert water to Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.

Apologists for China argue that the country is going through an era of bare-knuckle capitalism as America did in earlier days. That's a crock because it implies the rule of capitalism. Capitalism doesn't rule anywhere in China, any more than it ruled in 1930s Chicago -- or 1890s Los Angeles; corruption ruled in those cities.

What rules in China doesn't have a neat label. It's imprecise to call it gangsterism or totalitarianism, nor can it be labeled mercantilism or communism. It's the worst of everything about every bad system of government, glopped together.

If that sounds vaguely familiar, re-read Dr. Wang's description of the makeup of China's mystery illness. He's not so much describing an illness as a cesspool of worst-nightmare diseases: bubonic plague, Ebola, and something so strange and awful he didn't know what it was. When I read his description I exclaimed, "If he's making it up, it's a Freudian slip. It's how Chinese bureaucrats think of their government: the glop horror!"

According to Wang the glop horror illness is also highly contagious -- perhaps another Freudian slip. The wealthiest Western democracies have pandered to China's glop horror government. That has encouraged China to promote their form of government to nondemocratic countries in the developing world.

So imagine if you saw a man shooting bullets into his feet while saying, "I'm having a hard time walking." That is the United States of America trying to promote democracy in the world. You have to leave Film Noir and turn to Theater of the Absurd to appreciate the situation:

On Monday a US official shows up in X country to make an impassioned speech about why they should adopt democracy.

On Tuesday the same official shows up in China to fawn over their newest economic miracle.

On Wednesday a Chinese official shows up in X country and tells that government: "Look how well we've done by keeping to a military dictatorship and introducing some free market principles. In fact, we just got a visit from an American official praising our success."

China has been carried on the backs of advanced democracies. Of course the dictators wooed by China know this but the vast majority of people they rule don't. So it's now easy for China to promote glop horror as a more reachable form of government than democracy for the world's poorest.

The good news is that during the last few years many of China's brutalized farmers are showing the same pluck as the Owens Valley farmers and ranchers. They were not called water "wars" for nothing. Ranchers dynamited the aqueduct at Jawbone Canyon in 1924 to open the Alabama gates and divert the flow of water for four days, which raised the price of water. That forced the City of Los Angeles to negotiate.

The megacity that is today's Los Angeles would not have been possible without the diversion of water from other regions, including Owens Valley, so those with short sight are philosophical about the triumph of the bad guys. However, there were a few drawbacks to the triumph, such as galloping desertification today and an arid flat that blows alkali dust storms across California's southern valley.

Water will have to be returned to Owens Valley else Nature will win the final round of the water wars. The law is making the point that Nature has not yet impressed on the shortsighted. (See the article on Owens Valley at the above link.) Starting in the 1970s, litigation has dragged on about re-watering Owens Valley, and Los Angeles has dragged their feet about compliance -- a tragic reminder that the law can be tediously slow. Yet when the will of the people supports the rule of law it is a force more powerful, sure and lasting than the edicts of despots.

Holding Pattern

"Pundita! Sam wants to know if you can rip yourself away from China pig disease long enough to comment about Syria. Are we going to war with them or what?
Not Born Yesterday in New York"

Dear NBY:
Iraq first has to ratify their Constitution (waiting on vote count) then elect a permanent government. Then they can declare defensive war on Syria and use US troops to help invade.

Iraq has tons of evidence that Iran and Syria have been making war on their country. Reality TV is huge hit in Irag -- foreign fighters caught then confessing in detail on TV about who put them up to the operation. Allawi's idea, I think it was. Survivor producers, eat your heart out.

So the plot to split Iraq by provoking civil war is so well known to Iraqis that it failed. Now Tehran is in a pickle because they know the timetable with regard to Syria and know their water boy Assad is on the way out.

Sticking point for the US: who do you put in Assad's place? Choices are between venomous snake and venomous snake. One of the candidates, Rifaat al-Assad, (same family), is a mass murderer.

If a suitable candidate can be found; i.e., one who goes after al Qaeda and remnants of Saddam's Baathists holed up in Syria, and calls off Syrian incursions into Iraq, then no major US troop action with regard to Syria.

Another sticking point is the Saudis, who want Assad gone (Hariri was close personal friend of King Abdullah) but are under obligation to defend Sunni interests in Iraq. Keeping Iraq off balance via incursions across the Syrian border is one bargaining chip.

Also there is Tehran, not happy with the thought of losing Syria puppet. And there is China's military, which wants to be best friends with Tehran. And there are the China flunkies on both sides of US Senate aisle.

To boil it down, China is exerting pressure through UN 'Third World' flunkies, Euro flunkies and flunkies in US to get Bush to draw down troops in Iraq.

Where does Russia stand? Not wanting to offend Tehran and China's military but not wanting to be left holding the bag. They know Assad -- the one who ordered Hariri's assassination -- is on his way out.

What a cast of characters. A shame Charles Dickens isn't around to chronicle them.

Also, and while this is not a scientific survey, Pundita has noticed something over the years since Bush and Putin became friendly. Every time Russia drags their feet about being cooperative with China, by coincidence Chechen rebels launch a spectacular attack inside Russia. Then by another coincidence the attacks stop when Russia agrees to attend China's picnics and backyard barbecues.

Putin would probably tell me I'm imagining things.

Anyhow, the way things stand now, State is trying to help the Syrians find a suitable replacement for Assad and taking pot shots at Rumsfeld and Bush every time there is fresh news of a border skirmish up Syria way.

As to whether Assad can stave off regime change, right now it looks no. However, Pundita is not in favor of the US meddling in Syrian politics. State should not be in such a rush to see Assad replaced because at this time, any replacement is going from the frying pan to the fire, if you think in terms of the Syrians embracing real democracy.

The longer Assad and his crew stay in office, the more obvious it is to the Syrians that the Baathist party and their politics are completely wrong for the country. What they need now is time to muster genuine opposition to the Baathists. They can't do that with Washington and Brussels breathing down their neck to replace Assad yesterday.

A cynic might say that Brussels is so all-fired anxious to get rid of Assad before he starts singing like a bird.

Friday, October 21

A betrayal beyond reckoning

"Pundita, That China's leaders are even making a show of considering democratic reforms is to me another sign that Bush's democracy doctrine is gaining ground. What do you think?
Tom in Sioux City"

Dear Tom:
Sure the doctrine is making headway; there was never any question it would. Once I was summoned by the chief in a remote village in Asia. He asked me to stop smoking cigarettes while I was walking around the village. I had already made a lot of adjustments in my behavior so as not to offend the locals. That was the final straw; I made an uncooperative retort.

He replied that he wouldn't be asking if I came from any other foreign country but everything I did was imitated by the women and children because I was American and everybody knew America was king of countries.

Now just see how clever those old chiefs can be; he knew he'd gotten me in a hammerlock. But his logic was unassailable; everyone wants to imitate success. So if we had wanted the world's poorest countries to embrace genuine democracy, much depended on America's postwar leaders to lead -- to clearly articulate the principles on which this country is founded and make a sincere, consistent effort to stand by the principles they mouthed.

Instead, the leaders stood by the principles of NATO, which devolved to going along with Western Europe's idea of geopolitics, which is founded on expediency. The upshot was a betrayal of democracy so vast it is beyond reckoning.

The kindest thing you can say is that we lost our compass. George W. Bush found it. That plus 50 cents won't get us far without a lot of sustained effort. The biggest problem for America is not China's leaders; the problem is American academics, policy experts, government officials and businesspeople who find genuine democracy too messy and uncertain a process on which to base foreign relations.

Nowhere is this observation more applicable than with regard to China. Few Americans know the extent of the West's collaboration with Red China's regime because the history has been pretty well cemented over but some cracks have appeared and they are widening.

Yesterday Simon World published a review of Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. Simon observes about the wonderfully named reviewer:
Keith Windschuttle starts and ends his piece highlighting the responsibility of western intellectuals and journalists for praising the barbarism of Mao era and for lying against every evidence [...]
Lie they did, and on a scale that's almost beyond comprehension for Americans raised in the era of satellite communications and the Internet.

T. E. Lawrence had Lowell Thomas; Mao Zedong had Edgar Snow. Windschuttle writes:
In the summer of 1936, the American journalist Edgar Snow left Peking for China’s northwest to visit the new territory taken over by the Chinese Communist Party. There he conducted a number of lengthy interviews with the party leader Mao Tse-tung. He wrote them up and published them as The Mao Tse-tung Autobiography, the first and only extensive account of his life Mao ever gave. Snow interviewed other Communist leaders and then converted all his material into his own book, Red Star over China, published in English in 1937–1938. [...]

He portrayed Mao and his supporters as heroic figures, dedicated to liberating their country from both the foreign invaders and the hopelessly corrupt Nationalists. Snow depicted them less as socialist revolutionaries and more as agrarian reformers, determined to break the shackles of feudal agriculture and liberate the peasants from their rapacious landlords. [...]

Snow’s book played a major role in converting public opinion in both America and Europe towards a more favorable view of Mao. Its biggest impact, however, was within China itself, where it had a profound influence on radical youth. Red Star over China and the Mao autobiography were quickly translated into Chinese and widely distributed.

Many young, urban, middle-class Chinese men and women who read Snow’s books were converted. They cut their long hair short -- still a daring and eyebrow-raising gesture in the 1930s -- and joined the Communist Party. By 1941, thanks to the reputation Mao had earned from the Long March, party membership had grown to some 700,000. [...]

The story that drew them there, however, was a fiction. The new biography Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday shows that every major claim made by Snow was false.
Read the rest of the review for a small idea of the consequences, then read The Unknown Story.

As to what today's Edgar Snows are up to with regard to China -- same thing they've been up to since they sold a cross between neomercantilism and slave plantation economy as "Chinese capitalism." You can bet they're gearing up to sell whatever swill China's leaders put out about democracy reforms.

However, I think your observation is on the mark. Without Bush breathing down their neck about democracy, China's leaders wouldn't have even bothered to put on a show. So that's how we measure progress. And it helps Chinese inside the military and the civilian government who've concluded that democracy is vital to China getting through this phase of their nation's development.

What does not help is the Kissingeresque approach of allowing lies and evasions to go unchallenged; this, on the excuse that China's leaders pick up their marbles and go home when they hear unequivocal language. Stop and think: how insulting is that? "Greetings. I see you are Chinese. That means you are incapable of reading anything but insult into straight talk."

What they're really concerned about is meddling, and they have good reason to be concerned after the circuses in Georgia and Ukraine. Yet we don't have to meddle; indeed, meddling is counterproductive. No orange, purple, pink or polka-dot revolution. All we need do, if we want to give really effective help, is stand by our principles and remind China's leaders at every turn what those principles are.

We also need to stop acting as enablers -- allowing China's leaders to save Face every time they evade reality and expect us to agree that the moon is made of blue cheese.

Why is that all we need do? Because we're not Pongo-Pongo. Hello, we are the most successful nation the race of humans has ever raised up. And people, being people, listen to success, provided it doesn't switch its story every 15 minutes and betray every principle it stands for in the name of triangulation.

If sticking to a story sounds hard, not as hard as living with the consequences of betraying democracy. To pound home the point I'll give the last word to Roy Hattersley, of The Observer
"Jung Chang and Jon Halliday have not, in the whole of their narrative, a good word to say about Mao. In a normal biography, such an unequivocal denunciation would be both suspect and tedious. But the clear scholarship, and careful notes, of The Unknown Story provoke another reaction. Mao Tse-Tung's evil, undoubted and well-documented, is unequalled throughout modern history."

Thursday, October 20

China Mystery Ilness - Chronology of 2005 Pundita posts


". . .the China Mystery Illness investigation is more proof that when information exchange is democratized, when knowledge and talent are pooled and freely exchanged, the fog gets lighter. If China's government doesn't like that -- in a pig's eye will they hold up human progress."
-- from Chinese Puzzle post

August 3
China Alert: mystery disease reportedly Ebola; disease spreading fast

Ebola Outbreak in China: CCP Cover-up

August 4
About Boxun

When pigs fly

A cautionary note

August 5
Correction and more cautions

August 6
HN51, Virus X and a frightening flash from the past: Spanish Flu

August 8
Pundita plays Devil's Advocate about latest viral outbreak in China

August 9
On the difference between intelligence gathering and scientific method: lesson for serious news consumers

August 10
More on pandemic: Liz does math, Pundita does cryptic, and is there a Chinese biomedical expert in the house?

August 15
A new translation of the Boxun interview about the Sichuan disease outbreak

August 16
About Boxun

Once upon a midnight dreary quoth the Raven "The vodka is good but the meat is rotten."

August 17
The Pig from Outer Space

Dr. Wong's fan club, rejoice!

August 18
China: Tale of Blind Men and Dragon

August 19
The power of suggestion and bao jia

August 20
China: Arsenic and Old Race

August 21
Ignorance, Knowledge and the Three Strikes Rule

August 22
Places in the Heart

August 25
The Third Man

August 28
Sleight of hand

September 30
China Ebola virus reports: finally, a break in the case

October 1
Mystery disease outbreak in Shenzhen: Casablanca Factor and bolts of lightning out of the blue

October 17
Chinese Puzzle

Related
The Epoch Times vs Xinhua News Agency

China Puzzle Cheat sheet...

Fu Manchu electronics and Accountocracy

What would happen, I wonder, if Americans started asking managers at Target, Sears and Wal-Mart, "Why does this stuff have a Made in China label on it? If I have to buy imports, can't you sell more things made in India and other democracies?"

Do you think if enough Americans did that, it would send a message to China and encourage US transnationals to set up more branches in democratic countries?

Those ideas came to me last night while visiting Simon World. Simon has a treasure trove of reports on Taishi Village and issues related to China's forward retreat from an experiment in democracy.

Actually I didn't get very far into Simon's Taishi file because I was so excited to learn that Chinese have created a new system of government. Arthur Anderson of Enron fame is still working out the philosophical underpinnings, so we'll skip the abstract stuff and go right to how Accountocracy works.

First what you do is take away the right to vote -- voting being a socially regressive impolite process. Then, whatever it is that's bothering people enough to make them want to vote, you send in financial specialists to modernize accounting procedures in the trouble spot so the problems go away.

No system of government is perfect so Accountocracy has a few bugs; mainly, you have to be a very advanced human being to practice it. For those Chinese just descending from the trees the Communist Party has worked out an alternate form of government called Socialist Democracy, which is Accountocracy without the accounting part.

Point #3 in the Socialist Democracy credo is sure to appeal to people who still demand bananas for breakfast, lunch and dinner: "China's democracy is a democracy guaranteed by the people's democratic dictatorship."

To strip it down, Socialist Democracy is the system of government already in place in China but with the word "democracy" prominently featured in the pamphlets and with thugs who say, "This is your democratic right" before they beat you to a pulp when you ask for the right to vote.

Now we move to the problem of ensuring Chinese are happy with their new forms of government. Here, technology has the answer because if you can easily check up on how everyone is thinking you can learn whether they're happy.

This is also a good way to ensure foreign journalists aren't responsible for deaths in China by asking probing questions of Chinese.
A European journalist on a recent reporting trip to the central provinces was using her mobile phone to track down a local activist. While she was talking, a voice broke into the conversation and scolded her for sticking her nose into local affairs.

Another journalist tells of how she interviewed a source in a noisy local restaurant one evening. The next day her mobile rang and she heard the last voice she expected: her own. The call was a recording of her conversation in the restaurant.

She has no idea if it was some kind of bounce-back blip in the hi-tech spying game, or whether it was spooks wanting to let her know they were on her case. Either way, it was a jolting reminder of the system's invisible eyes and ears.

The latest technology ... is a chip that can secretly turn a mobile phone into a microphone. Security experts say the phone's software is adjusted so that when the phone is called from a certain number, it will answer automatically without ringing, vibrating or lighting up -- essentially turning it into a bugging device.
Another report in Simon's Taishi Archives gives considerably more information about what went on in Taishi Village. Pundita was particularly interested to learn that the authorities weren't only arresting the elderly who protested. Every household had somebody who was arrested. They were promised that their family members would be released if they signed a document withdrawing from the recall vote. If they refused to sign, the detained family member would go to jail for three to ten years.

So the way I figure it, we can't stop China's government from brutalizing their people; we can take a stronger stand against the brutality by -- dare I use the V word -- voting with our pocketbook.

Come to think of it, Americans could also make a stand by investing more in US companies that have branches only in democratic countries. On paper a democratic country investing business in thugocracies is supposed to move the countries toward democracy. In practice it hasn't worked out that way. And it's only encouraged despots to the idea that democracies don't really have an issue with despotic government. Such has been the case with China.

Wednesday, October 19

Money talks nobody walks: why Beijing stopped democracy in Taishi Village

If you haven't heard the news yet, Beijing succeeded in canceling the October 7 Taishi Village recall vote on their village chieftain. Foreign reporters have been beaten up for nosing around Taishi, and the village is now under a "virtual stage of siege" according to Reporters Without Borders. If you need a refresher:
The Taishi standoff, widely seen by Chinese scholars and the legal profession as a test of local governments' commitment to village democracy and rule of law, began in July after a 100 million yuan (U.S. $12 million) land deal involving more than 2,000 mu (133 hectares) of village land. Villagers and their lawyers said accounting procedures around the sale were not transparent, and they suspected Chen of embezzling public funds.(1)
The mystery has been why China's leaders preferred to lose Face on the international stage, rather than allow one small experiment in democracy in one small village.

This year Premier Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao made speeches overseas about their willingness to give grassroots democracy a try in China. Wen said in one speech, "If rural communities can be trusted to run their own villages, then they should also be trusted to run townships."

Yet China's central authority was unwilling to trust even one rural community to run their affairs. Beijing got their way in Taishi by ordering local authorities to conduct a "white terror" campaign against every villager who showed support for the recall vote -- and against outsiders who tried to help the villagers.

The terror campaign included death threats, intimidation and a particularly nasty kind of extortion. When the villagers finally held street demonstrations to protest Beijing's moves to stack the Taishi reelection committee, police turned a water cannon on the crowd, which included several elderly villagers. The police then arrested protesters in their 70s and 80s. Then families were told that if they voted against the recall of the chieftain, their elderly relatives would be released from jail.

The local bosses also had carte blanche to go after the legal profession. A human rights attorney working for a law firm in Beijing disappeared in September while advising Taishi's residents how to mount a legal campaign to have their elected village chief removed from office. He disappeared after he and another attorney and a law professor were chased and beaten.

The missing attorney, Guo Feixiong, turned up weeks later -- in jail, where he'd been since his disappearance. The authorities got around to formally arresting him only once rumors of his detention spread. He's being held without bail. So much for the rule of law in China.

The terror campaign extended to foreigners. A Chinese official was beaten up while he accompanied a UK Guardian reporter to Taishi -- this as a warning to the reporter to leave the village. A Malaysian reporter and a French reporter were also beaten when they showed up in Taishi, according to an October 10 report from Reporters Without Borders.

So what in blazes is really going on in Taishi Village? Are they sitting on a gold vein or a petroleum gusher, or what?

Well, it turns out that Taishi is located near a manufacuturing hub in Panyu district, in the province of Guangdong. Here readers who closely followed the China Mystery Illness will be sitting up straight.

Yes this is the very same Guangdong province where Daya Bay is situated, and where a big American trade delegation showed up, not long after two unfortunate customs officials were set upon by "black smugglers" and soon after disappeared forever -- along with their families and fancy women -- on account of being stricken with Preston Virus, oops, Ebola Virus.(2)

So now we're down to bedrock:
"The truth is that a victory in Taishi would have thrown into question the legality of a whole slew of similar property deals right across the Pearl River Delta region," U.S.-based commentator Liang Jing said on a recent broadcast on RFA's Cantonese service.

"Because an awful lot of property there is built on illegally acquired land in which the original land-rights holders -- the farmers -- had not consented to these transactions. The fierce reaction by the Guangdong authorities to the Taishi campaign shows just how clearly they realize that the Taishi issue is not an isolated phenomenon."

Liang said the authorities had to react with all their power to "avoid precipitating a wave of similar challenges to already established land deals in the event of a victory for the Taishi campaign, which would be an unthinkable scenario."(1)
Okay, let's get out our map of China and look for the Pearl River Delta. Perhaps casual observers of China have been focused on the other delta (Yangtze) which is home to Bling Bling City aka Shanghai. But to understand why Liang is not talking through his hat about the seriouness of the Taishi Village blowout, we need to know a little about the Pearl River Delta and its importance to China's global trade -- and to the foreign businesses setting up branches there.

The business is not limited to manufacturing. Shenzhen, in Guangdong, is competing with Shanghai to become China's financial hub. To do this, they have reached out to Hong Kong.

A 2003 People's Daily report is somewhat dated, but it's a clear window on China's two powerhouse delta regions, Yangtze and Pearl. A 2004 editorial in China Economic Review (Which Delta Reigns?) disputes the report's contention that Shenzhen City (Pearl River Delta) and Shanghai City (Yangtze River Delta) are in competition. However, the report is very helpful to understanding the forces at work against democracy in China at this time, so I've published it in its entirety at the end of this post.(3)

1) Radio Free Asia report: Chinese Authorities Arrest Rights Lawyer in Test Case Taishi Village

2) China's Ebola Virus reports...

3)
"March 18, 2003
by People's Daily Online reporter Li Heng
Shenzhen Pits Shanghai for China's Financial Center
To consolidate Shenzhen's status as a regional financial center, the city recently published an 18-article regulation on supporting financial development. By pitting against Shanghai the city's intention to become China's only financial center is quite apparent, expert pointed out.

The new regulation is aimed at creating a more favorable environment to bring real benefits to financial institutions, finance official of Shenzhen government told reporter recently.

Despite that, facing the growth enterprise market (GEM), which has long been called for but reluctant to show up, Shenzhen in fact slowed down its paces towards a financial center in recent two years, economist Mao Yushi pointed out. But now the city's strategy to join hands with Hong Kong is very correct.

March forward with all might
Shenzhen's financial industry took 12 percent of the city's GDP and over one fourth of the tertiary industry, its position as one of the three pillar industries in the city was further strengthened, noted Yu Youjun, Shenzhen mayor in January 2003.

What's more important is that Shenzhen government pays great attention and offers full support to the reform and development of financial industry, and is now busily studying related policies and measures to create a favorable financial environment, Yu added.

Shenzhen needs indeed new strength to improve its investment environment, and most of the articles of the regulation are new policies, but some services have already been put into operation.

According to the regulation, a financial capital management office, a consultative committee on financial policy and a special fund will be set up. The office will soon be put into operation.

How to wrestle with Shanghai?
Stressing its position as a regional financial center, how is Shenzhen going to measure its strength with Shanghai?

Generally a country has only one national financial center, even the US, said Mao. Currently China doesn't have conditions to possess two financial centers, and it has not been decided yet which will become the financial center, Shanghai or Shenzhen, and competition between the two is unavoidable.

Yet Shanghai is generally favored as a domestic financial center, Mao said, as it has a good historical background and had in fact been the financial center of the whole far-east region even before liberation. What's more, Shanghai also has more favorable conditions on its culture and state policy.

So as pointed out in its regulation, Shenzhen is to actively push forward exchanges and cooperation between overseas and domestic banking, securities and insurance industries in information, technology, service and financial innovation, as well as to deepen long-term, stable cooperation between Shenzhen and Hong Kong and strengthen ties with Hong Kong financial industry."

China Puzzle Cheat Sheet. Egad, what would Dashiell Hammett say!

It has come to my attention that some visitors don't want to actually read the essays I posted about the China mystery illness but want to know how it all came out in the end. This must be the same people who read movie reviews that publish the spoiler ending. Maybe even the types who write the spoiler ending.

Now that I have that grumble off my chest, I'm reluctant to give away the "ending," to the extent there is one, because the essays are as much about news/data analysis as a mystery illness outbreak in China. So I'm hoping new readers can find the time (maybe the summer of 2006?) to look through the essays.

The intense time pressures under which American workers now operate put them in much the same position as a defense intelligence analyst or forward observer when they take in the day's news. In a world where thousands of news reports clamor daily for attention, which ones are vital to investigate?

And civilians who follow defense-related news face the same tough question that police and intelligence analysts wrestle with daily: how much meaning should be assigned to data? At what point can data be considered "information" -- data that is valuable to an objective?

The 9/11 attack illustrated both the danger of tuning out the news because "it can't be trusted" and over-reliance on "trustworthy" news sources. Four years out from 9/11, Americans on the cutting edge of news analysis (including many bloggers and their readers) have felt their way to a middle ground between those two extremes, which is highly empirical; i.e., they're looking at news stories first as data rather than information and thus, they're willing to keep adjusting their view of the data as more of it accumulates.

The China Mystery Illness essays are a journey through that type of news analysis, and a case study in how it unfolds. Pundita is not a bystander in all this; the essays follow my unfolding views on the reports. So there is an aspect to the essays that appeals to mystery novel fans.

However, I'll grant this is not news about an apple pie bake-off we're analyzing. It's serious stuff, just about as serious as it gets, and with implications for US defense and foreign policy. So it's not fair to new readers to introduce the essays without providing more information about the content.

I was sharply reminded of that yesterday while reading comments about the Chinese Puzzle essay that were posted on Dan Riehl's Riehl World View, which had linked to the essay. A reader had criticisms even though it was clear from his comments that he'd only read the introduction and not the Mystery Illness file.

So I wrote replies to the reader's comments and posted them at Dan's blog. I also decided to post the earliest replies to this blog. In this way, readers clamoring for a cheat sheet have at least a rough outline of the issues addressed in the essays.

Those who want to read all the reader's comments, click here. (While you're visiting, be sure check out Dan's link on Donald Rumsfeld's questions about China's figures on defense spending!) Then scroll to comments by "pkt" on Dan's blog. Here I only quote one part of reader "pkt's" comments.
[...] "It is interesting to note that after SARS broke out in China, there were many paranoid numbnuts in the authoritarian country (I'm an American who lives part of the year in China) that believed that SARS was a U.S. bio-engineered attack on China. [...]"
Pundita replies:

Many more Chinese suspect that the SARS virus is an experiment that jumped a biowar lab in China. Unfortunately, there are aspects of the situation that tend to support the suspicion:

First, even Beijing eventually stopped denying that the first infection had surfaced in a military hospital in China.

Second, the SARS virus seems to be a "cocktail" of older highly infectious diseases. (Unlike the mystery illness that broke out this year, medical facilities outside China have been able to obtain samples of the virus because the outbreak spread outside China.)

Third, Beijing's initial draconian attempts to cover up the outbreak, which put millions of Chinese lives at risk. This was followed by Beijing's elaborate campaign of denial and deception, which put even more millions of lives at risk -- both in China and around the world.

The suspicions were fanned this year because of a sensational speech reportedly made by a former high-ranking officer in China's military. He said in the clearest terms that biowar against the United States (with a vaccine to protect Chinese from the bioweapon) should be pursued because in coming years China will need more room to expand and the North American continent is the logical choice for China's overflow to settle down.

The source for the speech (The Epoch Times) is controversial, but it fits with the information in the book Unrestricted Warfare, which was published with the blessing of Jiang Zemin and China's military.

In any case, Beijing's draconian attempts to cover up a 'mystery' outbreak this year repeated the pattern of their actions in response to the SARS outbreak. And in this situation China refused to share medical samples. This is despite all the warnings they had been given by WHO, and the world community at large, after the SARS outbreak.

Thus, defense agencies (and intelligence analysts such as John Loftus) take the mystery outbreak very seriously, as well they should. What I did in the series of essays Dan linked to was sort through the complex and confusing reports about the outbreak, in the attempt nail down exactly what was actually known (as versus rumored and suspected).

This cleared some of the fog surrounding the reports; e.g., speculations about the most alarming claims about the nature of the mystery outbreak. Yet at this time, there is no way to rule out that the mystery illness was created in a biowar lab. Just as there is no way to rule out that the illness is caused by a 'natural' mutation of a virus (or virus/bacteria combination).

In other words, we're working blindfolded because no medical samples are available. However, militaries that use spy satellites are not entirely blindfolded. It's easy to put two and two together from my notes on Loftus' report (which form my first post on the topic). We can safely assume that the US military (and/or the CIA) was concerned about images picked up by the satellites.

So, whatever the true nature of the outbreak, something very alarming had been going on in Sichuan -- something Beijing tried to cover up. Something which seemingly had a connection to an outbreak that China's health ministry eventually claimed was strep suis bacteria. That diagnosis that flew in the face of logic on several levels, and contradicted many anecdotal reports about the symptoms of the illness.

So unfortunately, it's not paranoia that keeps the US military, China's populace, and any informed observer deeply worried about China's biowar program.
* * * * * *
I don't ignore or dispute China's role in spreading highly infectious disease. Under dispute are claims that a mystery illness appearing in Guangdong and Sichuan province this year is a strain of Ebola virus and worse, according to one anonymous report -- it's a "doomsday" virus made up in part of Bubonic plague, a strain of Ebola, and a virus (or bacteria) so strange that the doctor who described it said he couldn't name it.

After weeks of analyzing the claims -- an effort joined by translators, physicians, etc., and several readers who enjoy doing research on the Internet -- I was able to call the terrifying claims into serious question.

What's more, I was able to point out what no one in their panic had noticed: because there was absolutely no medical evidence available to determine the nature of the mystery outbreak, it wasn't possible to determine whether the outbreak was a disease!

I noted that it could have been an illness due to poisoning -- perhaps a poison substance released from an industrial accident, which are widespread in China.

As to whether there was anything about the described symptoms to suggest this possibility -- yes! Plenty! But my point was that without medical evidence in hand, it was silly to speculate, and equally silly to brand the outbreak an "infectious disease."

Yale University Online, and others who should have known better, got roped into giving serious consideration to the Ebola virus claims because they didn't do the slug work of analyzing all the published reports about the Ebola claim.

The series of essays listed in the Pundita post that Dan linked to tells the story. The story is a strong reminder to news consumers (and intelligence analysts) to do your homework -- and to keep your wits about you while taking in terrifying news.

Monday, October 17

Chinese Puzzle

FILM NOIR MUSIC RISES. SOUND OF RAIN ON PAVEMENT. WORLD-WEARY CYNICAL WOMAN'S VOICEOVER. CIGARETTE COUGH Cut! Cut! Dammit, Pundita, this is a family blog! From the top!

FILM NOIR MUSIC RISES. SOUND OF RAIN ON PAVEMENT. WORLD-WEARY CYNICAL WOMAN'S VOICEOVER.

Back before the war began, I had a name. Now they just call me Pundita. My beat is the Beltway, or it was, before some guy started in with a crazy story about China, but I might as well start at the start.

MUSIC AND RAIN FADE OUT.

It all began one steamy summer night. John Loftus, a former U.S. Department of Justice prosecutor and former Army intelligence officer, and who once held a list of security clearances as long as your arm, made a shocking announcement on a radio show heard round the U.S. and the world.

Loftus, who had retained high-level contacts in the Department of Defense and various intelligence agencies, related that he had received unconfimed reports of an epidemic and mass death in China's Sichuan province arising from a terrifying new virus.

"Think half Ebola, half AIDS," Loftus told the subsitute host for the John Batchelor Show while Batchelor was away on vacation.

The outbreak in Sichuan had followed on the heels of mass deaths of wild fowl at China's Qinghai Lake -- deaths caused by the lethal H5N1 "bird flu" virus.

Heck, even a birdbrain could put those two stories together. So I took notes.

Sometimes I wish I'd never started listening to Batchelor's show. I'm always having to explain the little wire when I'm at dinner parties in Georgetown. But war is war. I'd been tuned in since the third day of the Iraq invasion. So by that time I knew the drill backward and forward.

Loftus could only reveal open source intelligence. What is open source intelligence? In a world of shadows and rain it can mean anything. For Loftus it meant he could reveal recently declassified intelligence that was already in the public domain.

The public domain is a big place, so Loftus's contacts would sometimes steer him where to look for a needle in a haystack.

Trouble was, Loftus's contacts had been wrong before. For months he had publicly stood by his sources at CENTCOM, who stood by an informant in Saddam's regime, who swore that Saddam Hussein had been killed during the first air strike on Iraq. The informant, CENTCOM eventually learned, was a double agent.

That's the nature of intelligence work. Sometimes the data add up to something. Sometimes they don't.

On the other hand, here had never been a correction to a Loftus report that SARS had originally broken out at a military hospital in China, which would be practically a giveaway that the very odd SARS virus had started as a biowar experiment.

Since then militaries around the world, not to mention the CDC and WHO, had been jumpy about signs of weird disease outbreaks in China.

Then there was the march of H5N1. It doesn't take a biowar lab to convert H5N1 into a doomsday virus; every back yard that houses fowl and pigs together is a potential breeding ground for lethal, highly infectious virus mutations.

I shut off the radio. In the silence all that could be heard was the rasp of the air conditioner fighting the humidity outside. I went to the kitchen to pile ice into a glass of lemonade.

The way I figured it, the story was so crazy it must have come from the CIA. They never were very good at reading satellite photos. Half the time they're looking at them upside down.

So maybe they wanted help from the public in figuring out what was going on some province in China that uses a lot of chili in the cooking. They probably do this kind of thing a lot. Cheaper than hiring thousands more analysts and spending millions on software programs.

I looked at the packed suitcase near the door. I was getting ready to blow this town for a couple weeks. It was dead in Washington at this time of year, and hot enough to fry an egg on the pavement.

I lit open a pack of gum. Then I switched on the computer, went to a search engine and started reading. After a few hours I emailed John Loftus.

He could only confirm that according to his sources something very strange was going on in Sichuan province and that "large" numbers of deaths had occurred there. He couldn't confirm the nature of the illness or even whether it resulted from a virus.

I poured another lemonade. Then I thought back. It was not only the Qinghai Lake situation that might be connected with the mystery illness outbreak in China.

It just so happened the earliest anonymously published reports in China about an outbreak of Ebola coincided with an explosion of Cold War-style rhetoric between the US and China. And with a sharp escalation of angry rhetoric between Japan and China.

So was it possible the mystery illness represented a game of Chicken launched by the People's Liberation Army?

"Ha ha we have doomsday virus and vaccine. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, running dog of imperialism Rumsfeld and Tokyo toady."

Was General Cao's cadre, which had ousted Jiang Zemin's camp from the top positions in China's military during 2004, slicker than a greased pig?

Or was Jiang's loyalist camp in the PLA set on ruffling Cao's feathers by putting on a big show to embarrass him?

With the entrance of The Epoch Times into the Mystery Illness story, both possibilities had to be considered. If either or both explanations showed promise, Loftus' sources might be caught in the crossfire of a nasty foodfight at the highest levels of government in China.

There was another possibility. China's central authority was caught in the crossfire of a firefight between local power brokers and corporate giants trying to hog control of China's lucrative pork industry.

Another possibility: Beijing was locked in an Armageddon-like showdown with the bosses in Sichuan province.

Or was the PLA running around like chickens with their heads cut off simply because they were blindsided by a killer epidemic?

A problem was that there was no medical evidence to review. As usual, China's central government was practicing Denial and Deception. They had locked down Sichuan province and quashed news reports inside China that contradicted the official diagnosis of the illness, which was a streptococcus suis bacteria transmitted to humans by infected pigs.

Strep suis. "Pig feathers," I snorted, and reached for another glass of lemonade.

I ran through the options. Whatever hard evidence existed was classified. Only anecdotal reports, many of them anonymous, were available to the public. The best that could be done was keep going over the ground, hoping to spot something that had been missed. For that, as many pairs of eyes as possible were needed to help with the search.

After a moment I heaved a sigh and went to unpack the suitcase, then sat down to write a blog.

China Mystery Illness File

August 3
China Alert: mystery disease reportedly Ebola; disease spreading fast

Ebola Outbreak in China: CCP Cover-up

August 4
About Boxun

When pigs fly

A cautionary note

August 5
Correction and more cautions

August 6
HN51, Virus X and a frightening flash from the past: Spanish Flu

August 8
Pundita plays Devil's Advocate about latest viral outbreak in China

August 9
On the difference between intelligence gathering and scientific method: lesson for serious news consumers

August 10
More on pandemic: Liz does math, Pundita does cryptic, and is there a Chinese biomedical expert in the house?

August 15
A new translation of the Boxun interview about the Sichuan disease outbreak

August 16
About Boxun

Once upon a midnight dreary quoth the Raven "The vodka is good but the meat is rotten."

August 17
The Pig from Outer Space

Dr. Wong's fan club, rejoice!

August 18
China: Tale of Blind Men and Dragon

August 19
The power of suggestion and bao jia

August 20
China: Arsenic and Old Race

August 21
Ignorance, Knowledge and the Three Strikes Rule

August 22
Places in the Heart

August 25
The Third Man

August 28
Sleight of hand

September 30
China Ebola virus reports: finally, a break in the case

October 1
Mystery disease outbreak in Shenzhen: Casablanca Factor and bolts of lightning out of the blue

Related
The Epoch Times vs Xinhua News Agency

That doesn't close the file on China's mystery illness. And Hurricane Katrina intervened before I could share a look at China's pork industry with Pundita readers.

However, the China Mystery Illness investigation is more proof that when information exchange is democratized, when knowledge and talent are pooled and freely exchanged, the fog gets lighter. If China's government doesn't like that -- in a pig's eye will they hold up human progress.

FILM NOIR MUSIC RISES. SOUND OF RAIN.

Saturday, October 15

"It is different this time, father"

The polls are closing in Iraq, where an estimated 15.5 million people were expected to vote on Iraq's Constitution at more than 6,000 polling places around the country. Reportedly it will take days to tally the vote.

Yesterday "Mohammed" at Iraq the Model wrote of his excitement about today's vote and told a personal recollection that underscores how far Iraq has come:
I am so excited but a flashback from Saddam’s referendum three years ago still hurts; he wanted a 100% [voter turnout] as the 99.96% of the previous one shocked the dictator. I was depressed that way and I decided not to go to the voting office and so did the rest of the family but my father was afraid that not going could be dangerous.

He said that maybe one member of the family could go alone and cast votes for the rest of us. We looked at each other thinking who’s going to volunteer to do this ugly job to protect the family. At that moment my father said “it was my generation that caused the misery we’re living in so I’m the one who should do this.”

I couldn’t stop him and I couldn’t utter a word but I felt sad for him; his sacrifice was big and I had teary eyes when I watched him taking our papers and heading out.

It is different this time father, no more 100% and a ‘no’ would make me happy just like a ’yes’ would do and no one ever will force us to do something against our will anymore.

Tomorrow will be another day for Iraqi bravery.
We haven't gotten to see much of Iraqi bravery, much less US bravery, due to the crummy job of reporting on Iraq done by the Establishment media. As to why the reporting has been so crummy -- part of the reason was revealed by US Navy Captain Chuck Nash (Ret.), a military analyst for Fox cable news.

On Wednesday Nash told John Batchelor that most of the reporters stay inside the Green Zone and pay stringers to go out and get footage for them. Chuck added that the US military keeps offering to embed the reporters but most don't accept the offer.

Why don't reporters leap at the offer? Reporter Michael Yon, who is embedded at this time in Iraq, explains the process of embedding. It makes fascinating reading. From Yon's account, it seems the answer is that it takes more dedication to good reporting than the Establishment and their megbucks advertising sponsors are generally willing to muster.

So until Iraqi TV news goes global we'll have to rely on a few dedicated reporters such as Michael Yon. And we'll have to keep improvising, if we want an idea of what is happening in Iraq aside from bloodshed. Here are some suggestions:

> Visit the "milblogs" on a routine basis -- The Fourth Rail is one I visit regularly (see Pundita blogroll) -- and check out the blogroll there and at Winds of Change and Belmont Club for lists of many good milblogs.

> Dan at Riehl World View advises to check out CENTCOM's website to gain a more balanced view of the situation in Iraq.

> Become a regular listener to John Batchelor's daily news program (see Pundita sidebar).

> Be sure to visit Good News Central, which carries on Arthur Chrenkoff's great public service of providing briefings on the "good news" from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of course it's not good news for the terror masters or media organizations that can't stand the thought the US is meeting their objective in those countries. But the reports on Good News Central suggest that the vote today in Iraq went better than the Establishment media would have led us to believe.

Friday, October 14

Two sides of the coin called pandering

On Wednesday the UK Guardian reported that the European Commission is backing a demand by "developing" nations that the United Nations be given oversight of the Internet. (Hat tip: Belmont Club's The Battle for the Internet.)

Viviane Reding, the European Union's IT commissioner, said that if a multilateral approach cannot be agreed at a meeting in Tunisia next month, "developing" countries such as China, Russia, Brazil and some Arab states could start operating their own versions of the Internet.
The EU plan was applauded by states such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, leading the former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt to express misgivings on his weblog: "It seems as if the European position has been hijacked by officials that have been driven by interests that should not be ours."
Carl Bilt's observation is on the mark but let us be frank; it does not take much to hijack the European position. When trade considerations are involved the European commission tends to ignore the plight of the masses ruled by despots.

Of course countries living in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. But since 9/11 the White House and the Congress, and even at odd times the US Department of State, have come to understand that sooner or later very harsh penalties accompany pandering to despotic governments.

Now one would think that after decades of mulling over the messes left by their colonial adventures, the Europeans wouldn't need to be lectured on that point. But here we are today, with the European Commission backing a demand by the United Nations that the EC knows full well is not about who assigns Dot Com names. They know the demand is another move to choke the little freedom of expression among peoples ruled by despots.

Up until the US response to 9/11 the European Union had their excuse: Europe was tied to the United States via NATO. If the US wouldn't stand up to tyrants who controlled very lucrative trade deals, why should the EU countries stick out their neck?

So what's their excuse, now that US has served notice on despotic governments? It revolves in part around the very limited criteria applied to categorizing "developing" nations.

It's time for the European Commission to study the list of developing nations ruled by tyrants and ask just how long it will take before they pass into the Developed Nation category. The EC should recall western Europe's nations and also Japan -- pretty much bombed to rubble by the end of World War Two -- and ask how long after the war it took those countries to move back onto the Developed Nation list.

One can argue that the war-torn countries now among the developed nations received tremendous help from the United States and US-backed institutions such as the World Bank-IMF. Yet that's just the point: to whatever extent tyrannies have "developed" during the past half century they have been carried there on the backs of free nations.

Thus, the flaw in the European argument that despotic nations should be accorded their due in the spirit of multilateralism. It's silly to give a gun to a thug then claim he has a right to hold you up at gunpoint.

Why has the European Union gotten away with that much silliness? Because they haven't had to carry the responsibility of defending themselves. That responsibility has been left to the United States of America.

So the other part of the EU's excuse is that they know the USA will always be there to save them from the worst consequences of their colonialist mindset. The thinking behind the colonial enterprises has not changed; it's just been given a new label: "multilateralism."

Multilateralism translates to accords with heads of government. In a democracy the government is the people but by convenient oversight the EU ignores that this does not hold true in a tyranny.

As to how much longer the United States can afford to put up with the EU's ruthless disregard for the rights of people in countries ruled by tyrants, I do not know. I do know that I'd have to stop and think about it, if you asked whether I'd prefer to meet Osama bin Laden or Viviane Reding in a dark alley.

Then again, the two are just flip sides of a coin called "decades of pandering."

Thursday, October 13

Governing in the age of megapopulations

Pundita 2005 essays (listed in order of publication) exploring problems of governing megapopulations and the implications for US foreign policy.

Stuck at the Intersection of Government and the Mass Age series

Is there a traffic engineer in the house?
Applying principles of large scale systems design to governing megapopulations.

Your village called, they're missing an idiot
Making government more responsive to new challenges.

Foreign policy and large scale systems

Seeking a field of large scale systems design
"This mystical blend of analytic and qualitative thinking about the problems of government" A decision analyst weighs in.

Getting unstuck from the intersection of government and the Mass Age

Pundita struggles to define scope of issues
Discussion with Michael Wright.

Dial 311
One tactic for getting unstuck that's already met with resounding success.

Related essays

How do you run a government when the voters are smarter than you?
What happens when a large segment of society is more knowledgeable than civil servants and elected officials?

The Elephant in the World's Living Room
Thinking in terms of a large-scale systemic problem. How did so many governments in so many diverse cultures, and with such diverse histories, end up plain crooks during this era?

"There is no box"
Bringing real democracy to world's rural peoples.

Fire up the cell phone, gather round the radio
Not by any one way does democracy come to the rural developing world.

Force vs Power and China's costly cyberwar
Horror story about incompetents running government.

A few words in praise of incompetents and their archenemies
A Boston Tea Party brewing in California: another sign that Americans are tired of mismanagement in government.

The End of Ignorance
As global communications spread in the poorer countries, a larger number of the world's population gets involved in disaster relief. Heartening implications for governing in the age of megapopulations.

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