Wednesday, November 30

Opposition to US Middle East policy, simply explained

Since publishing my 11/28 report about a possible gaffe by The Sunday Times and John Murtha I've received a letter asking whether I thought Murtha's resolution was a preemptive move; i.e., whether he was acting on inside information that the US military had broached a plan to draw down troops in Iraq in 2006.

I ask the writer to reread my report. Representative Murtha's resolution to immediately withdraw US troops from Iraq was floated on November 17, which is almost two months after a proposal for drawing down US troops was discussed in open Senate and House hearings.

Those hearings were on September 29. So if the writer is on the prowl for leaks, he might want to note that on September 28, House Representatives Walter Jones (R-NC) and Neil Abercrombie (D-HI.), called a news conference to announce their proposed legislation to withdraw US troops from Iraq.

They were joined by Lt. General William Odom (Ret.). Odom has called the invasion of Iraq "the greatest strategic disaster in United States history." His advice since at least as early as 2004 has been to yank US troops from Iraq and replace them with a coalition of European and Asian allies "to put things in order."

If Odom's name rings a bell for readers who have been with this blog since early days -- he is on the advisory board of the New Atlantic Initiative headquartered at the American Enterprise Institute, as are Rupert Murdoch and Mikhail Khordokovsky. (Because NAI and AEI members insist that Mr Khordokovsky is a martyr for democracy, I would not be surprised to learn he's still on the board.)

To put all the above another way, President Bush had his reasons for recently extending the highest US intelligence-sharing rank to Australia and not Israel, despite all the help that the US has received since 9/11 from Israel's intelligence gathering agencies.

Some say that NAI is another front for AIPAC; while I think that's going a bit far, NAI members have perennially displayed quite a knack for being terribly well informed about planned US military and diplomatic moves.

The leaks flow in all directions, but a big pipeline has been from MI6 to Mossad and vice versa and from there to various sinks in Washington. Until Australia was elevated in rank in September, only Britain was privy to the highest US intelligence-sharing ranking.

In other words, by September Bush knew that the cat was already out of the bag. So he brought generals George Casey and John Abizaid to Washington to openly discuss their plan to draw down US troops in Iraq.

I've also been asked how the US military can run a war under such leaky conditions. Pundita is tired of explaining the same five points over and over, so in answer I will publish the entire text of an article by UPI Senior Analyst Peter Lavelle about the Kremlin's challenge to OPEC, which I linked to in a January 2005 post.

Lavelle's report explains so many things that you could have gotten away without reading a newspaper or watching the news during this past year, and still been well informed about the twists and turns of opposition -- here and abroad -- to the White House policy in the Middle East including Iraq.

To boil it down, you can graph the opposition according to President Bush's line on Russia. When he moves closer to Putin and his language toward Russia becomes more conciliatory, opposition to the US policy in Iraq explodes in Washington. When he distances himself from Putin and takes a harder stance toward Russia, the opposition settles down to a dull roar.

Recently Secretary Condoleezza Rice and some element among the State Department mandarins signaled that they were considering the wisdom of Bush's attempts to strike a balanced approach toward Russia. Like clockwork, that set off another explosion of opposition to the White House policy on Iraq. So here we are today, up to our eyeballs in leaks and anti-Bush, anti-US in Iraq moves wafting from quarters in the Republican camp.

I hope that Vice President Cheney reads this particular Pundita post because I think it's the starkest warning that one can't drive in two directions at the same time.

Dear Mr Cheney, if we want to keep US policy on track in the Middle East, it means cutting bait with Republicans whose stance on US foreign policy is directed by Europeans and Israelis who take orders from Russian billionaires, who are in up to their necks with the Russian mobs.

If cutting bait means the GOP taking a big hit in the fundraising department -- what is the alternative, Mr Cheney? To keep fighting with knives sticking out of your back and Bush's back? To expect the US military to keep doing the same? Why not do what Dean did, and take fundraising directly to the American people?

As for the Democrat party leaders, I have concluded during the past year that Democrats are terminally naive. So I venture only an Act of God can show Democrats that they're being used as pawns by foreigners whose main concern in life is to eject Vladimir Putin from power. However, it's a Republican controlled Congress so when Democrats see factions of Republicans working to destroy President Bush's policy in the Middle East, who can blame them for jumping on the bandwagon?

Now; will the world come to an end if the Kremlin's plan shoves OPEC closer to extinction? Even the Lords of the Craps Table and their mathematical models and banks of supercomputers cannot project how all the chips will fall. So if the people who oversee the international monetary system can't predict how it will turn out, Pundita can't predict.

Yet I think it's safe to say that the downsides to the petrodollar have come to outweigh the upsides. The most we can say at this point is that it will be a different world, and one with rocky patches for Americans because the Kremlin now officially accepts oil payment in a mix of currency. Yet the petrodollar made America weak; it made us too dependent on the schemes of central banks outside the US. Not to mention too dependent on OPEC.

The Kremlin's plan was inevitable; it was on its way from the day that the Soviet Union dissolved. Instead of confronting that a new era was upon us, the US joined with attempts to gain control of Russia's energy resources. The attempt wasted megabillions if not trillions in US resources, blinded American foreign policy to vast changes in other regions of the world, and hurt America's chance to form a good relationship with post-Soviet Russia. All of that has returned to bite us hard.

Ladies and gentlemen. The Cold War is over. Do not allow a few billionaires to restart it. Look over your shoulder at China and India and realize it is a new day. Adapt, rather than trying to freeze time.

OPEC Dethroned, Putin's "KremPEC" Arrives
Peter Lavelle
August 2004
Published by
In the National Interest

"For the past year, oil analysts, politicians and investors have been bewildered by the Kremlin's legal assault in Russia's largest privately own company – oil giant Yukos. For most observers, attacking and driving Yukos into bankruptcy, particularly as petroleum markets are experiencing volatility, is irrational for both Russia's domestic and international interests. However, there is a method to Putin's "madness." He intends to completely re-order the nature of oil politics, with Russia playing the leading role.

The "Yukos Affair"
The "Yukos affair" is often described as a politically motivated Kremlin attack against the country's super-wealthy known as the "oligarchs," particularly Yukos' core shareholders – Mikhail Khodorkovsky, on trial for tax evasion and other serious charges, is the most notable. Khodorkovsky, Russia's richest man, is believed to have meddled too much in politics and even might have had political ambitions of his own. Thus, using this logic, Khodorkovsky, a person of considerable means, was a political threat to Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin.

There is nothing particularly wrong this with interpretation, but it does overlook what motivates Putin's Kremlin. If the Kremlin had aimed to cut Khodorkovsky down to size, it easily could have done so without assaulting Yukos, Russia's crown jewel oil producer controlling two percent of the world's known oil reserves. The Kremlin's interest in Yukos goes far beyond the personal conduct and ambitions of Khodorkovsky. It is determined to re-order Russia's oil patch to serve national and international interests.

The Kremlin's assault on Yukos is not an impulsive act of political and economic terrorism against property rights and enterprise. Compared, Russia is the only major oil exporter (and the only major oil producing country with the two exceptions of the US and UK) where the state is not the major operator in the upstream sector. Thus, the Kremlin is re-ordering Russia's oil sector to roughly match international norms.

The way the Kremlin is re-ordering the oil sector rightfully raises concerns that all the chaotic privatization of the 1990s will eventually be targeted the way Yukos has been. However, these concerns are exaggerated. Other oligarch empires, such as in non-ferrous metals, probably will be challenged by the Kremlin as this sector, like oil, is considered of strategic importance.

One thing appears to be clear: the Kremlin and the next targeted oligarch will not play out the "Yukos scenario" again – the Kremlin has shown its determination to get what it wants and the rest of Russia's oligarchs will certainly avoid a head-on collision with the state.

Yukos as a company will soon vanish from Russia's corporate environment. Unable to pay up to $10 billion in back taxes, the company will most likely declare bankruptcy and eventually have its assets parceled out to other Russian oil companies. However parceled out, there is no doubt these valuable assets will be in the hands of Kremlin-friendly entities.

"KremPEC" (Kremlin Petroleum Export Corporation)
Putin is looking to the future. Since 1999, Russia's petroleum production has increased 48 percent, primarily on the back of flows from new wells. Producing 9 million barrels of oil a day, Russia is the world's largest producer. With that in mind, Putin has called upon his oil ministers to finalize plans increasing the number of export pipelines to increase output to 11 million barrels a day by 2009. Russia's expected export increase, in conjunction with other world suppliers, is hoped to lower the cost of crude as early as 2006.

Due to almost unprecedented global demand, the Kremlin's coffers receive an additional $1.5 billion per month, and a number of petroleum market experts claim high prices last year comprised about 3 percent of Russia's 7.3 percent gross domestic product growth. Experts also estimate that each dollar above the yearly average of $22 per barrel adds 0.25 percent to GDP.

Putin has stated that, "The government must base its decisions on the interests of the state as a whole and not on those of individual companies."

These are not just words – Russia's oil giants LUKoil and Sibneft are acutely aware that Putin means business.

LUKoil, Russia's second largest petroleum firm, has already understood Putin's message, and is more than willing to pay more taxes and work as a loyal energy foreign policy conduit for the Kremlin.

Sibneft, third-ranked oil producer owned by oligarch-English football enthusiast Roman Abramovich, has also caught the Kremlin's attention. With investigations of Sibneft and Abramovich mushrooming, it appears only a matter of time before Sibneft will come under the Kremlin's heel as well.

What will happen to Yukos' assets after it is forced into bankruptcy is open to speculation. The smallish government-owned Rosneft Oil Company is rumored be the Kremlin's favorite – some of Putin's key aids are on Rosneft's board of directors. The natural gas monopoly Gazprom, government-owned as well, is also thought to be in the running. In the end it does not really matter. Yukos' transformation will essentially create what has been the Kremlin's goal from the advent of this affair: the creation of "KremPEC" (Kremlin Petroleum Export Corporation).

Russia – The International Petroleum Kingpin
"KremPEC" has ambitious international goals. Terrorism threatens oil export giant Saudi Arabia, a barrel of oil hovers around $45 a gallon of gasoline costs up to $2.50 in the United States and far more in Europe, and "weapons of minor destruction" limit the prospect of Iraqi oil significantly impacting international oil markets any time soon.

Add to this situation the fact that energy-hungry China and India are also actively interested in sourcing new and secure energy export markets to support their rapid economic growth.

The Kremlin has also carefully thought out what the future might hold if Saudi Arabia becomes a target of larger and increased terrorist attacks. Without Saudi exports of crude, OPEC would lose its influential powerbroker. Russia, as the largest producer in the world, might rethink its position concerning membership in the international petroleum cartel if Saudi exports were to face long-term risk.

Russia, with OPEC observer status, has flirted with the idea of joining OPEC in the past. However, regaining the former market share of international exports held by the Soviet Union has been the primary goal. With the domestic oil sector soon to be completely under the Kremlin's thumb, that goal is close to becoming a reality.

Additionally, Russia has had little incentive to work closely with OPEC when oil prices are high. However, with future supplies in doubt and prices uncertain, the Kremlin has reason to reconsider its position. Being the world's new energy kingpin most certainly appeals to Putin – intent on returning Russia to its former great power status.

Putin is on top of the world. He is in the process of creating his own oil cartel at home, "KremPEC," and just might land himself the prize of sitting at the very center of international oil politics. Putin also looks forward to a steady cash flow to pay for domestic reforms and fight the poverty so pervasive in Russia.

Russia and The World: A "Win-Win" Scenario
The "Yukos affair" will quickly become part of history and it is doubtful another Kremlin-business confrontation of its nature will occur again. In the wake of this affair, Russia's oil patch will become more secure, attracting international petroleum investment, as well as providing Russia needed cash flow to continue the reform of its economy. Instead of partnering with an oil oligarch, negotiations will take place behind Kremlin walls.

For an energy-hungry world, doing business with "KremPEC" will become almost risk-free and will eventually make OPEC's current hold over world petroleum markets irrelative. OPEC is about to be dethroned with Putin's "KremPEC" as its successor."

Bioweapon labs in New Orleans: what next will Katrina turn up?

If you heard a thundering sound last night around 10:30 PM ET, it was everybody who was watching NBC's Law and Order SVU running to their computer and Googling "New Orleans bioweapon labs."

The scriptwriter for the SVU 11/29 episode Storm had to do some fancy footwork to stay within the show's theme (sexually-based crimes), which took up the show's first half hour, and the script's target was clearly the Patriot Act. However, it was news to me and I am sure most of America that there are five Level Three bioweapon labs in the New Orleans-Covington area.

My hope was that the scriptwriter made up the whole story but 30 seconds on Google dashed that hope. As to what kind of lunatics would put Level 3 labs in a hurricane alley flood zone -- Pundita does not want to think about that question. But the more that comes out about New Orleans, the harder it gets for me to keep poking fun at the Iranians for building a nuke weapon facility near a major faultline.

My biggest concern was whether there was any truth to the plot of Storm, which wends its way to a vial of weapons grade anthrax stolen from a NOLA bioweapon lab during the Katrina hurricane.

From articles about the NOLA bioweapon labs posted on the Above Top Secret website, it seems the authorities have been close-mouthed on the question of whether any of those labs lost electricity during the hurricane and subsequent flooding and whether anything in the labs turned up missing.

For the sake of my peace of mind, I am going to assume that the Storm scriptwriter took dramatic license in order to pound home a few points. And I will assume a factual error on the scriptwriter's part regarding a statement that Ebola virus is stored at those five Level Three labs. That would have to be a Level Four lab, unless the writer was insinuating that one such lab is also in the New Orleans area.

I interject that this is the second time I've tuned in SVU in two months and this is the second episode I've seen that deals with a bombshell story about a highly infectious killer agent. So I don't know what's going on with Law and Order SVU. The show has been on the air for seven seasons; I've only seen it a few times but until last night I didn't associate it with muckraking journalism.

The earlier show (Strain air date October 18) concerns an epidemic of a new "killer" strain of AIDS. According the script those who contract the virus develop full-blown AIDS within a year and (if I recall correctly) the new strain is resistant to AIDS anti-viral drugs.

According the script, this strain of AIDS is being spread like wildfire among members of the American Gay community who are methamphetime addicts. According to the script, the Gay meth heads get stoned and forget about wearing a condum.

I did not research any of the script claims; if there is a killer strain of AIDS reaching epidemic proportions, I can't deal with this. Tracking H5N1 is enough for me at this time. But if you'd like to lose some sleep, by all means I invite you to check out the episode's claims.

The moderator of the Above Top Secret website posted a charitable statement about allowing educational sites to make extensive use the reports posted on the New Orleans bioweapon labs.* But I will only publish the first paragraph of the first report and urge you to visit the site if you want to read more.

I note that from the first report, it seems there are more than five bioweapon labs in the New Orleans area and that some of them are private firms under contract to DoD. Is it just me being hysterical, or is that carrying military outsourcing a little too far?

Tulane’s National Primate Research Center Reports No Release of Nearly 5,000 Test Monkeys or Disease Agents – Other NOLA Defense or Research Projects Involve HIV, SIV, SARS, Herpes-B, Anthrax, Botulism, Measles, West Nile and Mousepox

No Confirmed Information on Other NOLA Level-3 Labs Involved in Bioweapons Research –At Least One Lab Reportedly Compromised

Michael C. Ruppert
The Wilderness Publications

September 13, 2005 0800 PST (FTW) – Prior to the arrival of Hurricane Katrina on August 29th, the greater New Orleans area was a significant hub of infectious disease and biological weapons research. At least five Level-3 biolabs were located either in New Orleans or in its nearby suburb of Covington. [...]

Monday, November 28

War in the Information Age: Did John Murtha and The Sunday Times quote General Casey out of context?

If The Sunday Times quoted General George Casey out of context, they got away with undercutting the US rationale for keeping troops in Iraq -- and they used a statement by the senior US commander in Iraq to do it. And they did it less than a month before Iraq votes in their permanent government.

On November 20, The Sunday Times -- the sister publication of The Times, Britain's "paper of record" and arguably the world's most influential newspaper -- published an article titled American plan for first troop withdrawals within month. The first two paragraphs outline a plan reportedly drawn up by generals George Casey and John Abizaid for the US to reduce the number of troops in Iraq by more than a third by the end of next year, and compare this to the UK plan for phasing out their troops in Iraq.

The Sunday Times next presents a quote that is clearly meant to describe the generals' rationale for drawing down US troops in Iraq:
General George Casey, the US commander in Iraq, told Congress in September that the large US military presence was fuelling the insurgency.

It “feeds the notion of occupation”, he said, and “extends the amount of time it will take for Iraqi security forces to become self-reliant”.(1)
If that sounds familiar, it is virtually the same quote used by Representative John Murtha (D-PA) to introduce his rationale for calling for immediate withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq:
General Casey said in a September 2005 Hearing, “the perception of occupation in Iraq is a major driving force behind the insurgency."(2)
Yet a September 30 Associated Press report suggests that Murtha, and The Times, quoted Casey out of context:
Both Abizaid and Casey said they did not want a large increase of U.S. forces in Iraq, in part because that would fuel the insurgency by reinforcing the perception among Iraqis of the Americans as occupiers.(3)
That is quite different from saying that the US troop presence in Iraq is fueling the insurgency. If the AP account is correct, why would a prestigious newspaper and John Murtha grossly distort the words of the US commander in Iraq? Here we come to the fun part. It's not certain that is what they did.

According to a September 30 Knight Ridder Newspapers report, General Casey indeed stated that the US troop presence in Iraq fueled the insurgency:
Casey also said the U.S. presence in Iraq was fueling the insurgency because of the perception of a U.S. occupation, making a troop reduction critical to the U.S. mission in Iraq.(4)
No, we can't clarify what Casey said by going to the official transcript because it won't be published online until next year, if it's published.

And no, the hearing is not in the C-SPAN archive. All that's there is the Pentagon press briefing the day after the hearings, in which Casey and Abizaid answered questions related to their testimony at the Senate and House armed services committees. The generals did not say anything at the Pentagon briefing that specifically pertains to the quotes used by Murtha and The Sunday Times or which resolves the contradiction between the AP and Knight Ridder accounts.(5)

A news organization might have published the entire transcript but in the process of researching this I was stopped by something odd. It's almost as if there were two different Senate hearings from the way they were headlined and described by the major media and The Washington Times.

The major media reports on the hearings and the questions at the Pentagon press briefing focus on what Congress thought about the generals' testimony:

General Casey raised alarm among the Senate Armed Services Committee members when he announced that the number of combat-ready Iraqi military battalions had dropped from three to one. Heated discussion revolved around the issue, so naturally the major news media fixed on that portion of the hearing:
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he was troubled that with such uneven progress in training the Iraqi army, the Bush administration is still planning for the possible withdrawal of some U.S. troops from Iraq next year.

Casey said troops reductions are an important part of the overall military strategy for stabilizing Iraq. He declined to predict, as he had in July, that the Pentagon could make a fairly substantial troop withdrawal next year if political progress continues and the insurgency does not grow more violent. But he said under questioning by committee members that troop reductions were possible in 2006.

“You’re taking a very big gamble here,” McCain said to Casey. “I hope you’re correct. I don’t see the indicators yet that we are ready to plan or begin troop withdrawals, given the overall security situation.”

Democrats on the panel pressed Casey and Gen. John Abizaid, the Central Command commander who also testified, for clear measures of progress on the military front and for indications that the Iraqis are taking seriously the need to assume more responsibility for their own security.
The Washington Times, which is oriented to the Pentagon and war/ counterterroism issues, highlights a part of the testimony that discusses al Qaeda's threat:
Gen. Abizaid raised the stakes for Iraq by presenting a chilling assessment of al Qaeda's worldwide goals. He said leader Osama bin Laden's sights are set on Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and then the entire region, as well as Asia.

Although the Bush administration describes the conflict as the "war on terror," Gen. Abizaid made clear the enemy is al Qaeda.

"Their objectives are very clear," Gen. Abizaid said. "They believe in a jihad, a jihad, first and foremost, to overthrow the legitimate regimes in the region. But in order to do that, they have to first drive us from the region. This is what they believe. They believe, ultimately, that the greatest prize of all is Saudi Arabia and the holy shrines there."

He said the war against Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq, and al Qaeda worldwide, presents "a rare opportunity to get in front of these extremists and focus on them now before al Qaeda and its underlying ideology becomes mainstream."
If those words sound familiar, they hark to passages in President Bush's headline-making speech to the National Endowment for Democracy on November 6.

The speech set off a media firestorm, if you recall; critics charged that Bush's discussion about al Qaeda's plan for a global caliphate switched horses midstream in an effort to shore public support for the US operations in Iraq. But as the Washington Times article indicates, actually all Bush did was summarize a portion of testimony given by General Abizaid at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in September.

These observations don't bring us closer to learning whether the Knight Ridder reporter, John Murtha, and The Sunday Times quoted General Casey out of context. Yet I find it hard to entertain that after describing the nature of Qaeda's threat, Abizaid or Casey would flatly assert that the US presence in Iraq is fueling the insurgency. That's because Qaeda is not an insurgency movement.

Indeed, Iraq's Baathist insurgency made a fatal mistake by hooking up with Qaeda, which has invaded Iraq and is intent on setting up their own government in the country. The vast majority of Iraqis who had joined Qaeda fell away when they saw that the insurgency's tactics were directed at Iraqi civilians and took indiscriminate civilian casualties.

Ayman al Zawahiri's plan is the major Qaeda recruitment tool, not the US presence in Iraq. Certainly, Qaeda has used whatever situations are available, including the US presence in Iraq, to help with recruitment. But if all the Coalition troops in Iraq went home tomorrow that would not stop Zawahiri's plan. If the US had never invaded Iraq, that too would have made no difference to the plan.

General Casey and General Abizaid went to the Hill in September 2005 in part to deliver that news. However, the members of Congress they spoke to were grappling with public concern about mounting US casualties in Iraq and worry that the US had not sent enough troops to Iraq to quell the insurgency.

That placed the generals in the difficult position of arguing somewhat at cross purposes or at least on two different fronts. The generals wanted to tamp down calls for a large additional troop deployment to Iraq. At the same time they wanted to justify a plan to draw down US troops in 2006.

The latter had to be justified in the face of news that two out of three Iraqi battalions had been downgraded during a time when al Qaeda's attacks in Iraq were in full tilt. And the generals had to make their arguments without spilling classified information.

So it might turn out that the official transcript of the Senate hearing supports both the Knight Ridder and Associated Press versions of Casey's remarks. It could be that at different points Casey used his concern about the insurgency's relation to Qaeda's plans to support two different arguments.

Then where does that leave Knight Ridder's version of what Casey said? Out dancing with a contradiction on thin air, until a complete transcript of the generals' testimony is located.

And where, for that matter, does it leave Casey's reported assertion that an increased US troop presence would help fuel the insurgency? Filed under "War During the Information Era," perhaps?

1) November 20 The Sunday Times. Report filed by Sarah Baxter and Michael Smith.

2) November 17, The Hon. John P. Murtha, press release introducing his resolution to redeploy American troops in Iraq.

3) September 30 Associated Press. Report filed by Robert Burns. Via Spokane, Washington newspaper, The Spokesman Review.

4) September 30 Knight Ridder Newspapers. Report filed by Nancy A. Youssef and Jonathan S. Landay. Via Seattle, Washington newspaper, The Seattle Times.

5) September 30 Department of Defense press briefing.

6) September 30 The Washington Times. Report filed by Rowan Scarborough.

Friday, November 25

Say, whatever happened to all that tsumani aid thrown at Indonesia?

Here's another news item that America's TV broadcasters ignored: Indonesia has imposed a one-year ban on a prominent U.S. terrorism expert days after the United States lifted a 6-year-old arms embargo on Indonesia.

More on the story from Riehl World View's But they shoot Christians, don't they?, which reports on the daily murders of Christians in Indonesia and the country's anti-American policy.

It's the thought that counts

Revised 11:45 PM, ET

Memo to self: Do not publish while falling asleep over the keyboard. Saw upon awakening that I left a few things out of my report on John Batchelor's Thanksgiving Day program, which is included in today's earlier post America's News of the Day.

Pundita forgot to mention that the report of a firefight across the Syrian border is (of course) "unconfirmed." And that Assad is also waiting for Chirac to leave office in the hope the flap about Hariri's assassination will die down then.

I'd also forgotten to mention the Shropshire-Kosovo segment (or rather I didn't notice until this morning that I inadvertently dropped it while cutting and pasting).

These lapses wouldn't have required an explanatory post if I'd remembered to add the obligatory caveat whenever I publish my hasty scribbles on broadcast reports.

Ah well, this will teach Batchelor's webmaster not to take a holiday off. And teach Pundita not to publish a post after too much Thanksgiving dinner.

In penance I put up a link to Shropshire's site when I corrected the post; here's the addition for readers who saw the early edition:

"Inspiring report on the Kosovo Children's Music Initiative. An American music teacher and composer uses her talents to help children in Kosovo. Pundita notes that Liz Shropshire's initiative is a good example of the 'small is beautiful' aid project."

Thursday, November 24

America's news of the day

If you missed the NBC Nightly News Thanksgiving Day report, shame on you! You missed a report on the plight of buffalo who stray from Yellowstone Park and Michael Brown's reincarnation as a motivational speaker since he left FEMA. How can you hope to be well informed if you are unaware of such vital news?

If you didn't tune into John Batchelor's Thanksgiving Day program, you didn't miss any vital news; just details such as:

> US troops in Iraq got into a firefight with Syrian border guards while chasing terrorists across the Syrian border. Report is unconfirmed, of course. Nope, Syria can't lodge a complaint unless they want to underscore that they're sending terrorists into Iraq.

> Tehran has now used up their nine lives with the European Union leadership. Russia has also had it up to their eyeballs with Tehran, leaving China with the decision about whether to stand out in the cold. Next week's European meeting will tell us more than Thanksgiving's IAEA meeting on the question of Iran, but the issue of UN sanctions is coming closer and closer.

> The current situation with Syria's leader Bashar al-Assad. Assad is reportedly prepared to wait out Bush's term in office on the theory that it will be back to business as usual in Washington when the next US president takes over. So, Assad may well thumb his nose at UN sanctions if they're imposed.

> Report on the outrage in China about Beijing's initial cover-up of the Harbin chemical spill.

> Reports on Israel's new political party led by Ariel Sharon and the current political climate in Israel.

> Report from Dr. David Nabarro, Senior United Nations System Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza explained what it's going to take for the world to avoid economic disaster if H5N1 becomes a human pandemic.

Batchelor's show also carried a report on the latest terror attack on US soldiers and Iraqis, as did NBC and the other TV news broadcasters. But the TV broadcasters ignored important news in favor of cookie-cutter Thanksgiving Day stories and editorializing on the US in Iraq.

I understand that Batchelor's radio program has three hours to play around with, whereas the Big Three TV broadcasters (ABC, CBS and NBC) only have a half hour. But who threatened to revoke their license if they expanded their evening news beyond a half hour? Nobody. Who blackmailed them into airing puffery they present as the day's top news? Nobody.

Who has demanded for years that American TV broadcasters adopt higher standards? The American public. And who among the broadcasters has listened to the demand? Nobody. Yet still those rickety bastards rake in billions in advertising dollars from publicly held transnational corporations, which don't want the American public -- or any public, for that matter -- to be well informed.

Well-informed voters make changes in the status quo; changes create uncertainty, which is bad for investors, which is bad for people who sit on the sponsors' board of directors. So I dunno; if you are perpetually steamed that TV news producers treat you like an idiot, maybe the place to lodge your complaint is with your company or union pension fund.

To be fair (in honor of Thanksgiving), I will mention the one bright spot in this week's TV broadcast news: Barry Peterson's investigative report for CBS news on environmental pollution in mainland China. Peterson, his film crew, and the Chinese villagers who cooperated with the news team took considerable risks and showed real courage.

The question is whether Peterson will be allowed back in China now that the report, replete with footage from a hidden camera, has aired. If so, this is another sign that a power struggle within the CCP is translating to slightly more tolerance in Beijing for the journalism profession.

If you missed Peterson's report, you can read the transcript at the CBS website.

Yet the occasional good reporting from the Big Three only highlights their low journalism standards. Now that I have that off my chest, I might as well round out my report on Batchelor's Thanksgiving Day program by summarizing what else was discussed. (As always, my hastily scribbled notes on broadcast reports are just that.)

> A tip from John Loftus about DEBKAfile: Reportedly the people who run the website have an "in" with a member of Israel's IDF, who has been known to leak reports from US and British intelligence. John advises that you can ignore their political analysis but that Debka's reports on troop movements are generally pretty accurate.

> Inspiring report on The Kosovo Children’s Music Initiative. An American music teacher and composer uses her talents to help children in Kosovo. Pundita notes that Liz Shropshire's initiative is a good example of the 'small is beautiful' aid project.

> James Palmer's report on his article in New Jersey's Star-Ledger about the situation for Iraq's journalists under Saddam's regime and since the regime's fall. Palmer is a freelance reporter stationed in Iraq; he also described the difficult situation he faces there.

> Report on the post-Katrina resurrection of the scrappy Gambit Weekly newspaper. (Remember Gambit's great in-depth reports on Louisiana politics and Kathleen Blanco?) Also, a report from Gambit's editor-in-chief, Clancy Dubois, about the current state of things in New Orleans.

> An interview with the head of the New York Historical Society, which has mounted an exhibition on pre-Civil War slavery in New York. "There is the myth that slavery only took place in the South." Some 40% of New Yorkers owned slaves.

> Rick Beyer related stories from his book, The Greatest War stories Never Told, including the story of the pizza delivery man who correctly predicted the start date of the Gulf War.

> Mention of the latest European study on earth's carbon dioxide levels; the details recounted by John Terrett are too depressing to pass along on Black Friday.

Applause for John Terrett's great job as the show's substitute host. Thanks also to Batchelor regulars Malcolm Hoenlein, John Loftus, and Aaron Klein for volunteering to give up part of their Thanksgiving to research and present important news of the day.

John Terrett holds down the fort on Thanksgiving Day

I see from the website that my favorite British reporter will be hosting Batchelor's show on Thanksgiving and the day after. Check Batchelor's website around 9:00 PM, ET to see tonight's lineup -- assuming the webmaster is working on Thanksgiving.

One thing for certain: the IAEA is working today. Al Qaeda is working today. Hezbollah is working today.

Able Danger: Freeh answers Gorton and Roemer

John Batchelor writes about his interview last night with Louis Freeh. See Batchelor's November 24 diary entry Freeh, Able Danger, Gorton, Roemer at Red State.

Wednesday, November 23

A look back

As I note in my introduction to the republished version, the Anti-jive policy essay suffered from optimism. The truth is that American big business is greatly opposed to Bush's idea that foreign policy should be grounded in a consistent defense of democratic principles. Factions in the Pentagon are also opposed to the idea. However, I remain firm in my arguments that since 9/11 the world has been forced to confront where foreign policy grounded in expediency has led, and that playing ostrich again won't make the issue go away.

Tuesday, November 22

Haunting images

When the 9:00-10:00 PM segment of John Batchelor's program started last night, I made a face. I chafed at listening to the latest installment in the Joseph Wilson soap opera and was impatient to hear Yossef Bodansky's report. I turned down the sound then restlessly turned on PBS to see what was showing.

PBS was showing "Perilous Flight: World War II in Color." The documentary featured color footage of the war shot by Hitler's filmographers, the US military and Hollywood filmmakers such as George Stevens.

The footage had not been shown before to the public. I fiddled with the TV mute button when Alireza Jafarzadeh started to give his report to Batchelor's audience about Iran's deep tunnels; the news was about North Korea's involvement in the tunnel building. But I couldn't stop watching the war footage. I tried, then, with limited success to listen to both the program announcer and Alireza.

I am not sure how far to carry the parallels between Germany's war buildup in the 1930s and the Iran-North Korean cooperation to build a nuclear weapons program. Yet parallels exist, and evoke Bush's Axis of Evil warning. So it was eerie to listen to Alireza's discussion while watching images of the US liberation of France from Hitler's forces.

The Germans massacred French patriots ahead of the invading Allied army, explained the announcer. Images of rotting corpses pulled from mass graves....

Images of weary French soldiers in trucks after being released from POW camps....

Image after image of the horrific devastation left by the Allied bombings. The French were amazingly philosophical about this. ("The French understood that modern war does not distinguish between civilian and military targets.")

A Frenchman recounts that he chastised his wife for weeping about prized armoires destroyed along with everything else in their house during a bombing. "We are all alive; why cry over furniture?"

Pretty farm girls mugging for the camera. A smiling French farmer serving wine from a cooking pot to a US soldier....

"Color renders the images of war unbearable," intoned the announcer.

Yes. I switched off the TV when the title "Dachau 1945" flashed on the screen.

Seffy reported that Assad is trying to cook up diversions rather than fulfilling the demands of the UN resolution. Assad has about three weeks before Mehlis wraps up his investigation into the Hariri assassination, which is a deadline, of sorts, for Syria.

And because Assad won't cooperate with the Mehlis investigation, the challenge returns to the UN Security Council. Assad and his handlers in Tehran are betting that no one wants a showdown.

Things went on too long in that part of the world for there to be an easy resolution. Yet I wonder if Assad and Tehran haven't miscalculated, as they miscalculated about Iraq.

The law of unintended consequences worked in favor of the Iraqis in a way no one could have predicted. The US did so much stumbling around during the first year of the occupation that this left many Iraqis at the mercy of Muqta al-Sadr and the reign of terror his Iranian-style brand of Islamic justice created.

"By God these are monsters!" cried one Iraqi woman. Soon, Iraqis were telling the Americans to bomb their houses to get rid of Mookie's henchmen camped there.

I remember Chalabi and Sistani finally managed to talk a grain of sense into Mookie (weeks of house arrest also helped). But by that time the Iraqi Shiites (who had dreamed of an Islamic government) had seen the pattern to Iranian style Islamic justice.

The Iraqis wouldn't have see the truth so soon, if the Coalition military had imposed the blanket martial order that I had prayed for in vain.

Then, once Allawi took over from Bremer, reality TV came to Iraq. Soon the Syrians, Saudis, and Iranians masquerading as Iraqi insurgents were singing like a bird on Iraqi national TV.

After a few months of watching the Iraqis were wised up: neighbors were trying to create a civil war in Iraq. So then, the Iraqis dug in their heels.

People everywhere are like that: fool me once, fool me twice, but not a third time. The more the pattern of Iranian scheming became evident, the more the Iraqis said, "Ah ha!"

I am not getting my hopes up, but it could be the same will happen with Assad's machinations to provoke civil war in Lebanon and start a war with Israel.

From Bodansky's report, it seems Assad is trying anything to stir up a mess that will keep his crew in power. His gamble is that short of a march on Damascus he wins whether or not Syria loses a war with Israel. The catch is that Assad's machinations are by now forming a pattern.

They didn't have satphones, satellite radio, Internet, and television in the 1930s. So, despots in those days could get away with trotting out the same bag of tricks over and over again. Few people could readily see the repeating patterns of behavior.

That is something the French need to keep in mind while warning the US to be cautious about provoking Tehran to make moves. An aggressor is always making moves. The trick is to spot the patterns made by the moves.

Caution is always needed. Yet the other side of caution is a refusal to make reasonable demands in the face of aggression. That gives an open road to aggressors. In the 1930s, the road led to the haunting images of a war recorded on color film.

Monday, November 21

Roses, Brickbats, and Pundita's 2005 Milkbone Awards

Pundita is still on vacation but we snatched a few hours yesterday to catch up on some recent events, which prompted this quick take:

The US armed forces in Iraq, for keeping a stiff upper lip while used as a political football by Brussels Heads and Likudniks on both sides of the US political aisle.

Condoleezza Rice, for toughing it out at negotiations on Gaza while plugging her ears against complaints that Abu Mazen is not in control in Gaza. Who would want him in control of anything?

Ariel Sharon, for staking his political career on his belief that a Palestinian state won't destroy Israel.

The vast majority of the Iraqi people, who continue to show grit and patience with their first attempts at democracy. Good luck to them in their December 15 election to choose a permanent government.

Australia's government, for consistently and courageously proving since 9/11 they're a true ally of the United States of America.

The Democrat Party, for taking an unequivocal stand in favor of trade sanctions against China.

Donald Rumsfeld, for

> standing firm against the Department of State's machinations to appease Brussels on Iraq, and

> surviving the combined onslaught of State, Treasury and Commerce in retaliation for his firm stand against China's deadly foreign policy.

The genius at the White House who said, "I have an idea! Why don't we expand our reading on Russian politics beyond the press releases of Putin's enemies?"

One Rose
The Kremlin, for clearly signaling they would take a tougher stand on Iran at this Thursday's IAEA meeting. We'll see whether the Russian Bear stands up to China's Dragon at the face-to-face meeting.

President Bush, for agreeing to honor Hu Jintao with a visit and inviting him to Washington for another round of listening to Hu's lies.

Republicans who continue to stab President Bush in the back about Iraq.

Democrats who continue to studiously ignore data on Saddam's WMD threat.

The Brussels Heads and Likudniks among retired US military brass who aid and abet US politicians working to undermine Bush's strategy in the Middle East. Get a foreign government lobbying license, ya bums!

American corporations copying the Gates Charity Formula for getting around anti-bribery laws in dealings with developing world governments.

Pravda on the Potomac (Washington Post) and The Brussels Times (The New York Times) for continuing to betray journalistic integrity in favor of keeping access to high ranking officials who wage the Beltway Wars.

2005 Milkbone Awards
Robert Zoellick, for being the poodle to US corporations that betray democracy in the name of free trade even after he moved to State.

Democrat Party bosses, for continuing as Brussels' poodle.

Republican Party bosses, for continuing as Beijing's poodle.

Wednesday, November 16

Pundita Encore

Pundita is finally off to her vacation! I will check back in at this blog on December 3. This morning I set up a new blog Pundita Encore, which republishes selected Pundita essays. At this point I don't know whether the entries will be on a daily basis, although I'd like to aim for that.

I don't know how much I'll edit the original essays for republication, although I'd like to spruce them up. It will depend on my mood and how much time I have to fiddle with them.

I've said before that I greatly appreciate that you've taken the time to read my writings. There, I've said it again! Thanks also to readers who wrote with comments and questions. I do not think I'll return to blogging on a daily basis, at least not for the duration of this year. For now, events have overtaken me.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Best regards to all,

Tuesday, November 15

Harvest for the world

Gather every man, gather every woman
Celebrate your lives, give thanks for your children
Gather everyone, gather all together
Overlooking none
Hoping life gets better for the world *

I read an essay about a quarter century ago that moved me because of its implications for democratic government. I came across the writing by chance, while browsing through a Vogue magazine. I cannot remember the writer's name; perhaps Molly someone, a film critic. She analogized the Star Wars-type films to humanity's cathedral building era. She did this to make the point that in the place of the lone director handling all aspects of the film-making process (a la Cecil B. De Mille) were now thousands of talents laboring to produce a film.

A few months earlier I'd sat in an auditorium in India watching an unassuming young woman receive an award. She was one of several Indians brought there to be awarded for service to a village. She looked out over the throng for a moment, clearly nervous at having to speak before such a large gathering.

Then in a clear, ringing voice she said, "We cannot all be great people but no matter how small we are, we can all do great things."

A roar of agreement went up from the audience. I felt as if I'd been running for ten thousand years and finally reached a goal post. The age of democracy is here. It's been such a long time coming. It has gathered a force that cannot be stopped.

I do not romanticize "the people" or the democratic process. I see them as the only workable solution to a central problem that government has never faced until the rise of megapopulations. Mussolini promised to make the trains run on time. Today, people are realizing that there are now too many trains, too many ways they can derail, and too many people riding them to expect just one person or an elite to deliver on a government promise.

Megasocieties not only require and demand solutions, they require that government anticipate problems and head off the most serious ones. (Think pandemic, hurricane relief.)

Here we come to a snag. Until the era of megapopulations government has only been expected to manage problems (e.g., kick the can down the road, respond to the loudest complaints, etc.) not solve them.

Another snag: it is very hard to anticipate (a) whether a situation is problematical before it occurs, and (b) whether a potentially problematical situation is large or small.

Re (b) a case in point: A few dead crows are found on the streets in Chicago in a few locations. Calls to the sanitation department to remove them go to the bottom of the list because there are much bigger emergencies. A short time later there is an outbreak of West Nile virus, killing several people in Chicago. Later, officials grid the neighborhoods where the virus broke out and discover the outbreaks arose where the dead crows were reported to the sanitation department. (1)

If you drill down to bedrock you find that the worst problem was not the dead crows, the virus or the sanitation department. It's that Chicago's municipal government, as with all governments, necessarily hires management that specializes in one area or another of municipal management. A problem arose in Chicago that was outside the areas of specialization of the government workers, and which required a cross-section of knowledge bases to anticipate and solve.

You cannot get away from that situation -- not unless you pool all the knowledge bases and specialties represented in the population; i.e., put the entire population to work for the government. Yet that is essentially what democracy does.

The biggest challenge of our era is connecting diverse knowledge bases and generalists with day-to-day administration of governments. But you can't even begin to work at that challenge until the society has a democratic government. Why? Because you can't count on widescale volunteer input in any other form of government. Why report dead crows if you're hauled off the prison for complaining?

People in megasocieties have to see evidence that at the end of the road, their efforts are going toward problem solution, as versus keeping in power an elite whose only idea of problem solving is keeping themselves in power.

So today's despots are shoved into a smaller and smaller corner in order to defend their regimes. And using more and more energy and resources to shore the defenses. Classic examples are the regimes in China and Iran. What are they down to now? Manipulating the media in the effort to present phony evidence that they are solving problems.

It's all over for them; I know it might be hard to believe at this moment but we're in the mop-up period. No matter how ruthless the military commander, no matter how silver-tongued the demagogue, huge problems rippling in falling-domino effect through a megasociety are a force more powerful than guns and rhetoric.

When the chain reaction sets off, despotic governments are forced to run around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying to cover up a million different manifestations of the problem. They're outwitted at every turn by the sheer size of the populations they rule and the complexity of problems -- in an age dominated by technology.

The relative cheapness of technology has meant that the masses no longer need to yearn to become a king or general in order to lead the good life. Government in developed countries is seen as a highly paid servant. If the servant screws up, people are too busy earning a paycheck to believe more than twice the promises of the servants. They want results.

That places non-democratic governments in a quandary. If they succeed in development, the masses will view them as a servant and act accordingly when despots fail to deliver on promises.

If the despots block development in order to keep the masses down, they find it increasingly hard to get the money to allow them to fend off revolutions -- in an era when bomb-making instructions are posted on the Internet and the bomb chemicals can be bought for a song.

There are still places in the world where despots can fob excuses onto others but, "God is punishing you" doesn't have quite the same effect when you run into an aid worker who exclaims, "Gee, your government really screwed up disaster relief! Same happened to us but we put the fear of God into the bureaucrats."

Populations today are simply too large to hope that a vast bureaucracy laboring under an emperor or oligarchy can fill the bill. Thus, democracy is no longer an option; it's the only edge humanity has against the downsides of our success as a race, which is measured in our great number.

1) See Dial 311..., which mentions the technology that could have headed off the virus outbreak in Chicago -- if officials had thought to use it before the fact. The implications for fending off H5N1 hardly need emphasis.

* From an Isley Brothers song, Harvest for the World

Sunday, November 13

One long summer day

I think most American adults understand by now that we spent the 1990s putting off pressing Washington to retool for the post-Cold War era, and that 9/11 was a sign we'd put things off too long. Knowing this doesn't make it easier to get through the vast and complex readjustment period, which includes a war.

I suspect no small part of the anger that's arisen among Americans about the war and related issues is rooted in impatience stemming from an uniformed assessment. We are not just engaged in a war with terrorists; we are living through the end of an era and the start of a new one.

The state of American-led institutions such as the United Nations, World Bank, NATO; the European Union and OPEC; the international monetary system; the end of the European colonialist period -- these and many other situations converged and entwined with ones that led President Bush to declare a new "axis of evil."

All this entwining is not good news for the Type-A personalities and those who like to solve one problem before moving to another. There seems at this point to be no solution, just another unraveling of another skein that leads to another ball of yarn.

Case in point: governments in developing nations set up a howl about repaying debts to the G8 nations, then it turns out that about 30% of the debt they incurred represented loan money stolen through government corruption. Meanwhile, the culprits absconded to Switzerland or wherever, or they're dead from a coup, and the legacy they left behind is a country in ruins.

If you ask, "Now they're getting around to complaining they were robbed; why didn't they do that a quarter century ago?" -- Well, it did no good to complain a quarter century ago. Indeed, it's only since 9/11 that the US government has mustered any real will to fight corruption; before that it was only token protests, token anti-corruption measures. Even today, it's like pulling teeth.

Yet once that particular ball of yarn started unraveling, governments perceived how their tolerance for corruption led to well-financed terrorists armed to the teeth.

In short, we are having to change long-entrenched 'cultures' in Washington and other developed-world capitals. And we are having to get involved with developing nations on a level we never did before.

This does not mean America is 'responsible' for the failures of the poorest nations. And none of it makes us responsible for terrorism and widescale corruption. But as the world's only superpower nation it's fallen to America to improvise a path through an uncharted era.

I've seen progress since I launched this blog in November 2004 -- in fact, so much progress it's heartening. It can take years for people to sort out things in their mind but once they get the general idea, things can move very fast.

Before sorting out must come putting attention on a situation. The impetus for many Americans to pay attention, to get involved in following world events, has been the war. The war has its good days and bad, yet there has been an a perceptible shift in opinion across the globe since the war began:

People the world over are coming to realize that you do not have to accept corruption as an inevitable fact of life; that terrorism feeds on despotism; and that democracy means you are responsible, not Them.

All the rest is slug work: pushing and pulling, prodding and nudging. Success is measured in shoring up a centimeter's worth of progress. That's how it will go for us day after day, year after year -- abroad and at home.

Women's rights is the issue I put at the top of the agenda; if roughly half a country's voting-age population can't vote, or is intimidated into parroting the male vote, you can't expect to find a large enough pool of human resources in the country to make democratic government work out in practice.

American consumers need to acknowledge the dark side of the globalized era in trade. They need to get very discriminating with their spending power and very vocal when they see American businesses betraying fundamental American principles in their eagerness to cut business deals with despots.

Consumers need to confront American businesses that act as corroborators with despotic regimes. They also need to confront American officials, academics and media figures who 'normalize' the betrayal of American principles on the lie that people living under despots are not quite ready for democracy.

The Secretary of State and the President can't do it all; a lecture on human rights goes in one ear and out the other when despotic governments see Americans eagerly buying their stuff. It's a big world; there are plenty of developing countries that are struggling to make democracy work and which have laws respecting human rights. These are countries we should buy from.

Yet the greatest persuader is to clean up our own house; we need greater external oversight of our international lending and aid institutions. If the World Bank continues to refuse an independent audit of the books, withhold US replenishments and start a USA development bank that adheres to the strictest auditing procedures.

Similarly, we need to find out how many USD billions were stolen from the American taxpayer (and the Russian people) during the 1990s as part of US aid deals with Russia -- and the part that USAID and US congressionals and lobbyists played in this grand theft.

Any such investigation will lead to the World Bank and the US Department of State, and will be very embarrassing to the American government. Yet we need to send a strong message that the American people have zero tolerance for corruption. This will pay off in countless ways. When people in other countries see Americans are serious about battling corruption, they will get up the will to make the same demands on their own governments.

Again, a few people can't do it all. If Paul Wolfowitz is to make genuinely effective changes at the World Bank, the mandarins who run the place -- and the US congressionals who serve their interests -- need to know he's got the American people at his back.

John Bolton is pushing hard for UN reforms but it helps if the mandarins who run that place see the American public cheering him on.

Americans also need to get more articulate about arguing the democracy doctrine with European allies who defend multilateralism at the expense of human rights. Let's face it, Europe's welfare system means that a lot more Europeans than Americans have time to delve into the philosophy of government and foreign policy.

There are a lot of Europeans (and Middle Easterners) who are university students for life. The American worker is at a disadvantage here. Between commuting, raising a family, working one or two jobs and taking night business courses, many Americans don't have the time to stay abreast of international affairs, much less analyze the fine points of the Chirac school of foreign policy.

But where there's a will, there's a way. One way is to become a regular listener of the John Batchelor program. This is also an investment of time because his show (including station and news breaks) runs three hours (and a fourth hour in the Washington, DC area).

Yet the length of his show allows him to provide an in-depth, coherent picture of the modern era. After several weeks of listening to his show (I joined the audience in 2003 during the first week of the Iraq invasion), I realized that the war on terror was akin to the elephant in the fable of the Twelve Blind Men.

The Talking Heads who held forth on nationally broadcast television and their press counterparts were looking at the war though the lens of their specialized area of knowledge, which effectively blinded them -- and their audience -- to the war's scope and roots.

I realized John Batchelor's show was as much a school for the mentally blind as a news program. "It's all connected," he would tell his audience back then. He was right.

The politics of oil, a world still in transit from the post-Soviet era, the history of the Middle East, the emergence of the European Union as a power, the decay of the United Nations, the tragedy of Africa, the complex history of Islam, Israel's struggle against its enemies, China and India as emerging powers, rivalries between European allies and their relationship to the US, failures and triumphs of globalization, Muslim terrorist organizations, Middle Eastern and Central Asian governments, Beltway Wars, the vastly changed US military and post 9/11 battles to modernize America's intelligence agencies and foreign office, battles in the US Congress....

All of this was not thrown at the audience in the piecemeal, disjointed fashion one finds by taking in TV news or reading newspapers. John Batchelor integrated the themes, wrested order out of the jumble of war news reports. At the same time, he defined America's challenges in the early 21st century and analyzed the war in that context.

John's empirical approach is not good news for the Democrat or Republican party machines, which run on agendas rather than facts on the ground. But I guarantee that after you listen to his show for six months you will astound your circle with your grasp of world and domestic affairs. The problem is eking out the time to listen.

One way might be listener clubs, in the manner of book or hobby clubs. One member of the club could agree to listen during a specific hour, or listen on a designated night, then report at the end of the week to the rest of the club.

Another aid is John's website, which features links to newspaper articles related to topics under discussion, and John's published reviews of books he discusses on the show. The links are found under the "Current Intelligence" section on the home page.

While these are not a substitute for listening to the show, they point you to excellent news reports on current events that need watching, and important trends.

John's show also provides, over time, many tips on good news sources, and he features some of the world's top mainstream media reporters. Listening to his show is an education in becoming a more discriminating news consumer.

Another strategy, which is so simple I'm surprised a TV producer hasn't thought of it, is to develop a sports 'scorecard' approach to following international news. This is an approach that a foreign policy club might want to use.

Make up a chart of major organizations, e.g., World Bank, IMF, UN, BIS, NATO, OPEC, etc. List their stated goals for the year, and check in routinely to see what they're up to, and score their efforts.

Same with major annual meetings (e. g, G8, World Bank).

Same with major US policy initiatives (e.g., Six Party Talks with North Korea) and check in regularly to see what's up and score.

Same with major issues in world regions.

The beauty of the scorecard approach is that helps build a coherent picture of world events. The problem with the nightly TV news is that it is event driven (and to a great extent, picture driven). This means the viewer is getting a jumble of impressions about a situation. However, if you already have a coherent picture of the situation, it's easier to fit the current reports into a pattern that leads to deeper understanding instead of confusion.

Another strategy is simply practice at following and discussing international news. If you seek out people who enjoy talking about such matters then of course your conversation level and interest will rise.

Finally, you need to muster patience. Whether it's the Cold War tribe still dug in at the State Department, or a tribe in the Middle East or wherever -- stuck in the mud tribes are all pretty much the same, at root, in their outlook.

The world outside our shores is mostly a bunch of really old clans and tribes, which didn't have the advantage of picking up and heading for the New World when things got really awful. They stayed in one place, century after century, millennium after millennium, and hacked things out as best they could.

The upshot is a bunch of stubborn, proud peoples who know they need to change, understand they need help from the most developed nations, but don't want to be bossed around by a bunch of youngsters.

When Americans throw up their hands about this, I tell them to take two viewings of Cold Comfort Farm and call me in the morning. The movie is a British comedy; a send-up of the feudal-minded farmers who managed to resist the passage of time.

None of us should be expected to display the superhuman tenacity, patience and cheerfulness of the film's thoroughly modern, city-bred heroine, as she nudges her country relatives into the modern age. It's okay to shout at the top of your lungs, "We have our own problems to deal with!"

Many a time -- many, many a time has Pundita done that. But I am reminded of something President Bush's father once said: "Ninety percent of winning is showing up."

You just need to stay in there and keep nudging because people are not stupid; eventually, they get it. Very few of the world's people are conditioned to the kind of robotic behavior that makes a suicide bomber. As for the rest -- it's just a bunch of people. If you dig into the history, you understand how people came to act as they do.

For example, many Americans are hopping mad at the Saudis for setting up a network of Muslim fundamentalist schools around the world. Hello, the American government breathed down the Saudis' neck to blow USD billions of petrodollars on setting up those networks.

Have you forgotten the Green Belt? The Cold War? Fighting the Godless Commies around the globe? Or maybe you are too young to know about that. Yes, the Saudis were instrumental in helping the NATO alliance win the Cold War.

So now we want the Saudis to fix those Muslim schools so they promote democracy, and ditch the radical stuff. The Saudis are waiting for signs that the Bush democracy doctrine outlasts his presidency. Being very knowledgeable about the way things work in Washington they are betting it will be right back to business as usual, as soon as Bush cleans out his desk.

"Business as usual" means a high tolerance for anti-democratic governments, and backing phony democracy revolutions that ramrod an American puppet into power. This, on the theory that stability serves American interests better than genuine democracy.

So we need to surprise the Saudi rulers. Doing so is not glamorous work. It requires patience and persistence, and a willingness to engage with each other and foreigners about their concerns -- and ours -- with regard to making the democracy doctrine work. And it takes a lot of listening.

I just received an email from a reader who asked, "How do you know so much?"

Partly through long practice at Common Sense Reasoning, which I discussed once on this blog. Asking yourself, "How would I feel if I were in that person's position?" won't always give you the right answer, but it creates a mental bridge to help you across the unknown.

But mostly through asking questions and listening to answers in the manner of a small child hanging on the words of a parent. Thus, I've had countless thousands of teachers in my life.

You can't fill up a full cup; in the same manner you can't learn anything if you know it all. Whatever wisdom I gained is not through book learning; I gained it by experience and a willingness to play the role of the Fool to others' Wise Person.

I spent many years taking instruction from peoples all around the world. Thus, today I cannot be beaten in a debate about democracy. When I tire, I remember that I am debating on behalf of all those believed they did not struggle in vain for a life of dignity.

The more you learn about individual instances of human cruelty and suffering, the more it's necessary to keep looking over your shoulder to see how far we've come as a race. Then you see humanity's troubles are but a thunderstorm's brief appearance on one long summer day.

Okay; now -- really and truly -- it's time for Pundita to take that vacation, or sabbatical, or whatever it will turn out to be. I will not be able to answer any more letters for a time.


"Hi Pundita,
Did you did see this??
"Pigs in China's Hunan Province Test Positive for Bird Flu"

From what I know about the bird flu, that's a big problem.
Benjamin in Framingham"

Dear Benjamin:
It sure is a huge problem; it's a very scary story. But I am going to be cautious about the story until we hear from CDC or another independent source. The story could be a plant.

China's MOH is battling the provincial health offices; e.g., Hunan, for more control. Because China has not been forthcoming in past about bombshell news, this new eagerness to share with the world is a little suspicious.

In any case, it is going to be a nervous winter. More and more reports coming about Avian Flu outbreaks.....

A plant? I didn't even think there were such things. I guess it could be. lol, OK then here's another catastrophe for you to worry about!

Kuwait's biggest field starts to run out of oil

So. You would try to frighten a frail old woman. Right back atcha:

Water scarcity spreading. Only thing wrong with the article is that there's no "may be" about it. Water scarcity is the real bogeyman stalking the human race.

But before I forget; back to the pig bird flu infection story for a moment: Remember what I taught in the China Pig Disease series of posts? The Epoch Times has become Leak Central for every disgruntled CCP official or Chinese political party trying to take down the CCP. So while ET is an important source, the question is how to 'read' the stories. Some are true, some are plants, some are rumors with inaccuracies.

How to tell the difference? Often no way, except over time or with a lot of digging. However, we shouldn't forget that ET broke the SARS story, so we can't ignore their reports on bird flu in China.

At the same time, we have to keep in mind China's version of the Beltway Wars. We learned from wading through pig disease reports that one of the battles seems to be between China's (central) ministry of health and provincial health officials. Thus, until the CDC or WHO weighs in, I have to put a question mark next to the reported pig "oral secretions" testing positive for bird flu.

Even if the story is based on inside information, it could be garbled. For example, the oral secretions that were tested could turn out be nose secretions. Swabs of pig snouts have turned up bird flu virus at various times, which ain't the same as an infected pig.

Piggies have generous snouts that snuffle up all kind of bugs but the bugs just lounge around in the snouts. Same for human snouts, I might add -- and for all snouts. No harm, unless there's a cut inside the nose, I suppose.

The Kuwait report you sent is interesting but not surprising. Iran is also running out of oil, which is why they are developing nuclear power. It isn't just a blind for a nuke weapons program. The problem in that regard is that Iran is Earthquake Alley.

How fast are the Middle Eastern oil kingdoms running out of oil? I think the answer is mostly state secrets. But a silver lining to Saddam's regime, which ran the Iraqi oil fields into virtual ruin, is that gross inefficiency slowed down the rate of oil pumping in Iraq.

Also, the embargo removed the impetus for Saddam to modernize the equipment and oil extraction processes. So it could take years before many of the wells are operating at peak capacity, which helps brake the amount of oil consumption.

However, the biggest worry right now is water. The Middle East is running out of water, as is much of the world. Note the article above starts with a passing mention of Colorado's water problem. Yet the problem is approaching crisis in parts of Africa and in the Middle East. The seawater desalination plants are very expensive to operate; they use petroleum to run. The higher the price of petroleum, the more the desert kingdoms feel the pinch to keep the plants going.

Anybody with a solution would become a trillionaire, so Pundita readers might want to put on their thinking cap.

I think I still have somewhere a National Geographic magazine from the 1950s showing Sudan irrigating fields of crops using sprays -- at high noon. Zillions of gallons of water evaporating in the desert sun. Imitating the Western commercial crop irrigation methods of that era.

I remember seeing the same outside Phoenix when I was a kid; same era. They used to irrigate the citrus groves with sprays. I assume they learned to switch to drip but water conservation techniques are still in their infancy.

I haven't researched this but I seem to recall that the Israelis have done a lot of work in the area of highly efficient irrigation technologies yet conservation is as much a mindset as engineering.

As much as a third of Iran's water is wasted due to poor usage techniques. So finally they got the idea that they should return to traditional agriculture techniques to conserve water. As reported in Africa Water Journalists blog (which is a good source if you're interested in issues concerned with desertification and drought world wide):
With only 230 mm of rainfall a year, Iran has less than a third of the global average. Yet Iranians have farmed the land for thousands of years using ancient irrigation systems. Water channels known as qanats tap into underground reservoirs and can carry water along an underground network of channels for thousands of kms, from the foothills of mountains though deserts.
Not all traditional farming/irrigation methods work in today's climate patterns, but in too many cases around the world, governments instituted Western-style farming, building, and irrigation methods at the behest of development banks.

Why? Because the lead contractors hired for the development projects used the Western methods and materials, which of course are vastly more expensive than the traditional indigenous ones.

Yet in many cases that's like taking a farm in Kentucky or England and setting it down in the middle of the Sahara. Raving lunacy, yet no more lunatic than we see here in the USA.

It doesn't get nuttier than building a box-style house on a beach in Hurricane Alley. Some time back during a hurricane -- maybe Charley -- a TV repoter spent a night on the beach in an experimental house that was built in the shape of a dome. He came out the next morning and all the boxy houses nearby were smashed to smithereens. The dome house gave the wind and waves nothing to grab onto and wasn't harmed a bit.

You see the same lunacy in the American West in Forest Fire Alley. But one homeowner said to himself, "Okay, we've bought a vacation home next to a forest so maybe we should read up on how to fireproof a house and grounds."

The alterations were not expensive or ugly; they didn't have cement over the yard. Came the inevitable forest fire and their house was the only one in the neighborhood that was spared. The fire had nothing to grab onto, so it leaped over them.

Why didn't his neighbors copy what he'd done? I do not know. Maybe we should ask the Americans who build boxes on beaches in Hurricane Alley.

All this is mindset; nothing else. Same for water conservation.

I remember one stay with a lower income family in Asia; they lived in the monsoon belt but they were in a desert area. They had a beautiful garden -- amazing, for that climate. I knew water was more precious than gold in that region so I asked the wife how they had managed to raise such a garden.

She replied that when they started the garden more than twenty years before, they saved every bit of excess household water for the plants. The children were raised to save every spare drop of water.

When her family spit out water from brushing their teeth, the water would be saved. Every bit of dish washing water, bathing water, water for washing vegetables and grains, excess cooking water -- every drop they saved then carried out in buckets to the young plants. They used natural soaps and plants for washing, so as not to poison the plants.

Eventually, the trees they planted put down deep roots, which helped the trees weather the driest periods, and eventually the trees grew tall and shaded the more delicate plants.

The garden was a refuge on the hottest nights. I remember sitting there on a bench underneath a tree, listening to a nightingale perched among leaves shimmering silver in moonlight. It seemed like paradise. Yet in the harsh light of day it was seen that paradise was set in a parched land.

CIA Voodoo?

(The situation is taking on an operatic quality. See the 4:45 PM update at the end of the post.)

Pundita has dragged herself out of retirement to comment on John Batchelor's latest post at Red State titled Joe Wilson and the Spooks. I missed several segments of John Batchelor's show last week, so it was news to me that Larry Johnson, an ex-CIA employee who posts at the Counterterrorism Blog, jumped into the Joe Wilson-Paul Vallely tiff by calling Maj. General Vallely a liar. (1)

Not content with that salvo, Johnson blabbed to Jed Babbin at The American Spectator that he was getting information from "active duty" CIA workers about the Wilson/Plame affair. (See Batchelor's post for details.)

Talk about loose lips sinking the ship. It's a no-no for the CIA to run operations against US citizens; in fact, it's against the law. This point galvanized John Batchelor to raise tough questions in his latest blog:
[...] To communicate that Johnson and the Wilsons (who [Johnson] says he has spoken with since Vallely was on my show) are aided and abetted by active CIA officers is to warn ham-fistedly that the abuse thrown so far by Wilson, his lawyer Wolf, Johnson, and not a small number of unnamed voices in cultish blogs, is part of some action from a government entity that, last time I checked, is prohibited from practicing its magic inside the United States.

It invites speculation as to how far back this unnamed group, including serving active CIA officers, has abetted the Wilsons. As early as the criminal referral by the CIA to the DOJ in September, 2003?

As early as the Novak columns in July 2003, when we now learn the CIA did not make much protest to Novak's inquiry before he published?

As early as Wilson's op-ed in the NYT in June, 2003, when, we now learn, there was no CIA requirement that Wilson submit his version of his Niger trip to the CIA for review?

As early as the Kristoff column in the NYT in May 2003, when we now learn Wilson participated in the preparation and yet was not contacted by the CIA about creative uses of information that was stamped as classified when it was sent to the [Vice President's] office in March 2002?

As early as February 2002, when Valerie Plame identified her husband Wilson as the man to go to Niger, despite the facts that he was not trained in WMD, had not been in Niger in two decades, was not a CIA officer or asset?

In sum, how long have active officer[s] in the CIA been running alongside the Wilsons?

And when did the actives get in, and are officers who have subsequently retired since February 2002 still involved in the unnamed group? And are the active and retired officers from that treasured gang that is now celebrated as NOCs?

Are we dealing with a clique that regards itself as exempt because of the convenient uses of the 1982 law? Do we go forward with the Libby prosecution while ignorant of the names of the active officers at the CIA who are participating in Joe Wilson's adventures? [...]
The present CIA reminds me of New York City's embattled police force during the 1970s. The NYPD was under fire from the public on many fronts, while at the same time officers were being shot down right and left in the line of duty.

This was during an era when it was fashionable to call cops "pigs;" an era when the NYPD was overwhelmed in trying to deal with crimes related to the flood of heroin into the city. An era when the mayor's office was not giving the police the support they needed, while at the same time scoring off the NYPD to make political points.

The upshot was a bunker mentality among police; you didn't betray the Brotherhood at any cost, as Frank Serpico learned the hard way.

The CIA found themselves in much the same position after 9/11. Despised by many Americans because they fell down in dealing with the al Qaeda threat. Then caught up in a tug-of-war between the White House and the State Department, and a war between factions at State and Pentagon.

One can sympathize with the CIA's difficult position but Batchelor's questions need to be answered. If the CIA has stepped over the line to defend their own, this is not serving the US intelligence community and the national interest.

For more on the mess see Jed Babbin's The CIA Disinformation Campaign.

(1) If you need refreshing, Vallely said on Batchelor's show that he recalled Wilson telling him back in 2002 that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. Then Joe Farah at World Net Daily picked up the story. Then Wilson jumped into the fray by hinting that he would sue Vallely and WND for publishing Vallely's letter. At which point Pundita fogged out, after warning that Joe Wilson is Bre'r Rabbit. (A reader disagreed; he wrote it was plain to see that Wilson is Yosemite Sam).

By the way, I was wrong when I told readers last week that Batchelor's post about the tiff between Wilson and Vallely represented his first entry into the blogosphere. His latest post at Red State is attached to earler posts, which show he's been blogging at least since October 23. Pundita really must poke her nose out of her cave more often. The earlier posts, including Mr. Johnson and Mrs. Wilson, and Who Tasked Plame? are also a window on the Beltway Wars.

Update 4:45 PM ET
From Red State site
More on Vallely and Wilson
By: streiff

Apparently some lefty websites, as well as some of our own lefty denizens, have picked up the theme that General Vallely and Joe "My Wife is in the CIA" Wilson never appeared on FoxNews together.

Unsurprisingly, former CIA agent and egregious tool Larry Johnson is in that slobbering pack.

Alas and alack, Brit Hume reports:

This as liberal Websites say they have proof Vallely is lying, saying research service LexisNexis shows Vallely and Wilson never appeared on FOX on the same day. But in fact, Vallely and Wilson appeared on the same day nine times in 2002, and on the same show twice -- on September 8 and September 12, when both men appeared within 15 minutes of one another. [...]

Friday, November 11

Bao Jia: "Nine families die with one person's crime."

To this day, few American workers realize that they're not actually in competition with individual Chinese workers; they're in competition with China's government, which I have likened to the reign of ancient Egypt's pharaohs.

Of course this is something American government officials, congressionals and captains of industry don't want to hear about jobs offshoring and outsourcing, which is why few Americans know the story. The story is simple, however:

If China's government decides they need X number of say, software or electrical engineers in order to be competitive in a certain area of global trade, they 'order up' those workers by imposing the necessary specialized education on the needed number of Chinese.

The penalty for refusing to major in a particular subject and specialize in a particular profession or business? The same penalty that was imposed on Taishi villagers who wanted to vote out their corrupt chief; really unpleasant things, which can include imprisonment of one's family.

So today's China has a method of governing has more in common with the rule of the pharaohs than with capitalism. In an essay titled Pharaoh I pointed out that apologists for China ignore that individual workers in democracies are not in competition with individual Chinese workers for jobs. They are in competition with China's government, which is another way of saying they are competing with China's military.

In short, individual workers in democracies are playing against a stacked deck when it comes to competing with China's workers for jobs in the globalized marketplace.

The question is how China's government has been able to maintain such control over China's huge work force. The system of bao jia explains how.

To understand bao jia, and how it played out in modern times, is to understand how central authorities maintain control in China. Bao jia also explains the collectivist or 'wolf pack' mentality so prevalent among Chinese. ("All must agree and follow in line with leader.")

Even if bao jia has less hold in the biggest cities and Hong Kong, the attitudes developed under two millennia of the bao jia system remain. Below are three short pieces (with references) that explain bao jia and how it still impacts Mainland China, but first a little good news:

Objectivism, Ayn Rand's philosophy of individualism, has gained attention in China and a Chinese translation of Rand's The Fountainhead went on sale there this month. (Hat tip: Simon World.)

Critics sniff that Rand's philosophy helps China's robber barons justify their rampant greed. However, Objectivism is the best medicine for people who were born and raised to the idea that if one person in the family does wrong, the entire family must be punished -- so to save the entire village from punishment.

Bao Jia references

1. "Where was that sense [of collectivism] fostered in the Chinese history? When Qing Dynasty united China, the Emperor established a national government system: County, District, and Province. Under the county, it had a system called Bao Jia. Ten families were in one Bao and ten Bao constituted one Jia. Bao Jia system had many social and government functions: security, tax collection, charity, school, etc. and it was maintained till 1949 under the Nationalist government.

All dynasties in Chinese history developed a "Heavy Award and Heavy Punishment" policy for the Bao Jia's performance. For example, if one person passed the national civil examination, the government would send a band to his hometown to announce the news, chanting his county and family name all the way there. If one person committed crimes, the whole family would suffer from the wrongdoings. Naturally, there were more good things that people do so the award appeared to be more associated with the collectivism.

There are a few of sayings about this award practice. One of them says: If one can fly, his dogs and chickens arise with him to heaven. We have another saying for the punishment side: Nine families die with one person's crime.

It developed into its worst form of crime by association when power struggles became fierce."

2. "A reference to the system under which neighbours were requested to keep watch on each other's activities and report them to local authorities."

3. Death Trap:
How One Chinese City
Resorted to Atrocities
To Control Falun Dafa

by Ian Johnson

Pressured by their Superiors,
Weifang's Police Tortured
Members of Banned Sect

(From 2000 series of Pulitzer Prize-winning articles on Falun Gong written by Ian Johnson for the Wall Street Journal.)

"WEIFANG, China -- Rising out of the North China Plain in a jumble of dusty apartment blocks and crowded roads, this is an unremarkable Chinese city in every respect but one: Local police regularly torture residents to death. [...]

Across this country of 1.3 billion, at least 77 Falun Dafa adherents have now died in detention, according to reports by human-rights groups.Weifang, which has less than 1% of the national population, accounts for 15% of those deaths.


The answer has its roots in imperial China, when the country developed a system of social control that is still used today. It puts huge pressure on local officials to comply with central edicts -- but gives them absolute discretion over implementation. For officials running Weifang, that mean they were under strict orders to eliminate the huge number of Falun Dafa protesters in their district but faced no scrutiny of the methods they used. [...]

Officials in Beijing set up the framework for the killings one year ago after they became impatient with the continued flow of protesters from around China into the capital. Deciding drastic measures were needed, they reached for a tried-and-true method of enforcing central edicts, one honed over centuries of imperial rule.

Based on the 2,200-year-old bao jia method of controlling society, the system pushes responsibility for following central orders onto neighborhoods, with the local boss responsible for the actions of everyone in his territory. In ancient times, that meant the headman of a family or clan was personally responsible for paying taxes, raising troops and apprehending criminals.

A variant of this is now in use to implement even broader policy goals. After the Communist Party launched economic reforms in the late 1970s, it had great success by signing "contracts" with peasants and factory chiefs, who had to deliver a certain amount of grain or industrial output but were given complete latitude over the methods used. By the late 1980s, provincial governors were also signing similar contracts, being held personally responsible for maintaining grain output in their province or holding down births to a certain level.

Now the problem was Falun Dafa. The government's Office 610, a bureau that was coordinating the crackdown, issued an order in December 1999, telling officials of local governments they would be held personally responsible if they didn't stem the flow of protesters to Beijing, according to Weifang officials. As in years past, no questions would be asked about how this was achieved -- success was all that mattered. [...]"