Monday, February 28, 2005

War For Profit -- The Bush Family Way

"For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" -- Mark 8:36 (NKJV)

I've just stumbled across an article by Evan Augustine Peterson III, J.D., the Executive Director of the American Center for International Law, which tells us quite a bit about one of the forces that drives the Bush administration's war agenda. It's not just about oil and empire. And it's not just because the president wants to be seen primarily as a commander-in-chief. There are also some family enrichment projects going on.

George “Dubya” Bush’s paternal uncle, William H.T. “Bucky” Bush of St. Louis, recently managed to profit from his nephew’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the amount of $450,000.00. How? Through his seat on the board of a St. Louis-based defense contractor, Engineered Support Systems Incorporated (“ESSI”).

“Bucky” Bush was appointed to ESSI’s Board of Directors in 2000, for which ESSI promptly remunerated him with 8,438 stock options. Over the next five years the price of ESSI’s stock soared 1,000%. Why? Largely because the Bush administration, beginning in 2002, had awarded several hundred million dollars worth of no-bid, sole-source, gold-plated military contracts to ESSI. Hence, Bucky’s stock options were worth nearly a half million dollars when he decided to cash them in on January 18, 2005.

Not bad, is it? Half a million dollars just for being somebody's Uncle Bucky! No wonder we had to attack Iraq!

But wait! It's not all about Iraq...

ESSI shows further evidence of having been blessed by Mars, the god of war, insofar as it has lucrative military contracts with those shining exemplars of democratic governance, China and Saudi Arabia.

That’s right, folks! ESSI’s patriots are selling state-of-the-art military hardware to both the totalitarian PRC and the authoritarian House of Saud [...]

It's a beautiful scam, isn't it? Bush has been lecturing Russia for selling arms to China, but at the same time his family members are making a small fortune by doing the very same thing.

You can't criticize this president for hypocrisy. He doesn't even know the meaning of the word.

I encourage you to read the entire piece here. It's very well-documented, and the links (at the bottom of the page) are excellent sources of further information.

Thanks to What Really Happened for the link to this article, and for many other good links, not only today but almost always.

Cracking Down on Internet Dissent

Two very similar stories are running on Aljazeera today, about governments cracking down on people who have been using the internet to publish their views.

In China, a 40-year-old man has been detained since October, accused of having

"incited subversion of state power and overthrow of China's socialist system"

Friends of freedom have been trying to help. According to the article in Aljazeera,

Internet surfers have flocked to Du's defence, even posting an online petition at saying he had not called for the overthrow of the Chinese government.

I've tried the link myself but got "404: Not Found". Big surprise there!

Meanwhile, in Bahrain, a 27-year-old man has been arrested and is being held

for allegedly stirring hatred against the government and spreading false news that could jeopardise state security.

How ironic. If spreading false news were illegal in the United States, half (or more) of the mainstream media would be in serious jeopardy. Instead the false news continues to be spread, the spreading of actual news continues to be suppressed, and the decline of American journalism continues at an ever-increasing pace.

I'm not sure what we can do for the Chinese or Bahrainain dissidents. I'm not even sure what we can do for our own dissidents. But the real news is still out there. It's just a bit harder to find these days. Please, if you haven't already, visit some of the websites which are still reporting real news. Here are a few of my favorites:

If you would like to recommend one or more other real-news sites, please leave a comment for me. I will do my best to incorporate your suggestions.

It's been a long time since I posted a song. This one's an obvious choice. It's by Joe Strummer and Mick Jones:


What are we gonna do now?

Taking off his turban, they said: Is a man a Jew?
'Cos they're working for the clampdown
They put up a poster saying: We earn more than you!
When we're working for the clampdown

We will teach our twisted speech
To the young believers
We will train our blue-eyed men
To be young believers

The judge said five-to-ten but I say double that again
I'm not working for the clampdown
No man born with a living soul
Can be working for the clampdown

Kick over the wall, cause governments to fall
How can you refuse it?
Let fury have the hour, anger can be power
D'you know that you can use it?

The voices in your head are calling
Stop wasting your time there's nothing coming
Only a fool would think someone could save you
The men at the factory are old and cunning
You don't owe nothing, so boy get runnin'
It's the best years of your life they want to steal

You grow up and you calm down
You're working for the clampdown
You start wearing blue and brown
And working for the clampdown

So you got someone to boss around
It makes you feel big now
You drift until you brutalize
Make your first kill now

In these days of evil presidentes
Working for the clampdown
Lately one or two has fully paid their dues
For working for the clampdown
But ha! Gitalong! Gitalong!

Workin' hard in Harrisburg
Workin' in St. Petersburg
And I've given away no secrets
Who's barmy now?

Holmgren Debunks The Conspiracy Theorists

For quite a while now, I've been looking for a good copy of this essay, and I finally found a link to it, courtesy of The Hollywood Liberal. That's a very cool blog, by the way, and you might enjoy exploring it.

The essay I want you to read is called "Debunking Conspiracy Theorists" and subtitled "Paranoid Fantasies about Sept 11 Distract from the Real Issues". During some earlier research, I had found links to a broken version of it -- a huge file, in which the same few paragraphs were repeated over and over. (Imagine the film "Ground Hog Day" as a PDF file, but without Bill Murray.)

Finally ... this link leads to a much better version of the essay. It's not perfect, but at least there's no repetition of material.

Like much of what you find on the net, it could have used a good editor. There are many mistakes in spelling and punctuation. But the author, Gerard Holmgren, attacks the issue from a unique and very clever point of view. It makes for refreshing reading. I'll quote a few paragraphs here in an attempt to entice you...

[I]ts hardly surprising that the events of Sept 11 2001 have spawned their fair share of [...] ludicrous fairy tales. And as always, there is - sadly - a small but gullible percentage of the population eager to lap up these tall tales, regardless of facts or rational analysis.

One of the wilder stories circulating about Sept 11, and one that has attracted something of a cult following amongst conspiracy buffs is that it was carried out by 19 fanatical Arab hijackers, masterminded by an evil genius named Osama bin Laden, with no apparent motivation other than that they "hate our freedoms."

Never a group of people to be bothered by facts, the perpetrators of this cartoon fantasy have constructed an elaborately woven web of delusions and unsubstantiated hearsay in order to promote this garbage across the internet and the media to the extent that a number of otherwise rational people have actually fallen under its spell.

Normally I don't even bother debunking this kind of junk, but the effect that this paranoid myth is beginning to have requires a little rational analysis, in order to consign it to the same rubbish bin as all such silly conspiracy theories.

There you go. Now please read the whole thing.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Not Quite 'All'

There's a new article on the CBC website which says

All eyes are on Hollywood this weekend, as it prepares to roll out the red carpet for the annual Academy Awards gala to be broadcast around the world Sunday.

Who wrote this? And are they sure about the 'all eyes' bit?

No offense intended, but if I can't find anything better to do than watch the Oscars, it's time to plant me.

And clearly I'm not alone in this. The article mentions changes being made in the length and format of the awards show, and even suggests that

The changes are seen as an attempt by the U.S. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to boost ratings for the annual awards broadcast, which has seen sagging viewership in recent years.

Oh well ... Maybe it's time to plant quite a few of us.

Europe Welcomes A Torturer

Victoria Brittain asks some very pertinent questions in the February 24th edition of The Guardian, in a short column called "Why are we welcoming this torturer?".

Here's an excerpt:

"How can it be that not one mainstream public figure in Europe has denounced these appalling practices and declared that, in view of all we now know of cells, cages, underground bunkers, solitary confinement, sodomy and threatened sodomy, beatings, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, mock executions and kidnapping, President Bush and his officials are not welcome? Perhaps it's not surprising given the British army's own dismal record in southern Iraq. Why has no public figure had the honesty to admit that the democracy and freedom promised for the Middle East are fake and mask US plans to leave Washington dominant in the area? And why does no one say publicly that what is really happening in the "war on terror" is a war on Muslims that is creating a far more dangerous world for all?"

In my view, the answer to all her questions is simple. It's a crazy little thing called "fear".

You can read the entire article here. And when you do, please notice this passage:
Lawyer Michael Ratner of the New York Centre for Constitutional Rights, which represents over 100 prisoners, said it reminded him of "a pornographic website - it's like the fantasy of these S and M clubs".

The resemblance may be quite intentional. If Wayne Madsen has it right, the torture is all part of something much bigger; impossibly sick and horribly sickening. His most recent article asks Did White House S&M ring order special videos from Abu Ghraib?. And his main point appears in this short paragraph:

The presence of cameras in prison facilities had many Washington insiders wondering if the gay S&M prostitution ring centered in the White House had access to pornographic videos from torture centers such as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

How could European leaders NOT be afraid of these monsters? But on the other hand, is that any reason to welcome them? One would think that modern European leaders would know all about the dangers of appeasement. How could they possibly have forgotten? One senses that they will be reminded, sooner rather than later.

He's Afraid of Questions

President Bush's team has cancelled the "Town Hall Meeting" which was supposed to be the centerpiece of his visit to Germany, presumably because the Germans have refused to run it as a scripted farce. Der Spiegel has an article about it here. [Thanks to Raw Story for the link.]

Some bloggers may make a big deal of the cancellation. But not me. I understand it very well. I wouldn't want to answer unscripted questions either, if I were pretending to bring freedom and democracy to the world, while doing exactly the opposite.

On the other hand, I would not be adverse to answering scripted questions, especially if they came from bald-headed gay male whores wanting to know how I am going to deal with "people who have divorced themselves from reality."

"Don't you get it yet?" I would say. "The people who have divorced themselves from reality are the only ones I ever deal with."

Truth By Inversion

Sometimes it's actually useful to have a president -- or an entire administration -- whose policy is never to tell the truth. As long as you understand the policy, you can often divine the truth simply by taking a misleading statement and inverting one or more of the phrases or clauses. And in the current administration, misleading statements are a dime a dozen. Or maybe even cheaper...

For example, on Feb 19th, on the eve of his trip to Europe, George W. Bush said:
"We do not accept a false caricature that divides the Western world between an idealistic United States and a cynical Europe."
A much more realistic assessment of the situation could be obtained by inverting every single part of that sentence:
"A true characterization would divide the Western world between an idealistic Europe and a cynical United States."
Europe is idealistic because it believes in solving problems through negotiation, as in the case of Iran. The USA is cynical because it has a longstanding and wide-ranging policy of saying one thing and doing exactly the opposite. Bush and his cronies have thoroughly trashed democracy at home, yet they have no compunction about travelling all over the world, lecturing foreign leaders about democracy. That's nothing if not cynical.

The disease does not afflict Bush alone, and therefore a clever observer can obtain some semblance of the truth by applying the same method to the pronouncements of his associates. For instance, in the same article, Richard Perle, described by CNN as "a conservative with close ties to the Bush White House", is quoted as saying:
"The Europeans don't like the president's style., but they have carried this disapproval of the president's style to an extreme."
Perle has been decribed elsewhere as a "radical" who has "an office in the Pentagon but no accountability to anyone". Strictly speaking, Perle is nothing like a conservative. He's a radical, as extreme as they come. He has no right to call anybody "extreme". But he is sufficiently pompous and presumptuous to do it anyway.

And despite his best efforts, the truth about European leaders, as usual, can be found through inversion:
"The Europeans don't like the president's policies, but thus far they have been very subtle in voicing their disapproval."
By and large, European leaders don't care about Bush's style. They are used to brashness from American presidents, whom they usually perceive as slightly uncivilized. But never in their lifetimes have they seen an American president who was so eager to wage war. Americans tend to forget, whereas Europeans cannot help but remember, that Europe has been ravaged by war throughout its history, including twice in the last century. Thus Europeans have a certain respect and even fear for the damage that warfare can do, whereas Bush has neither. Apparently they didn't teach those things in the AWOL section of the Texas Make-Believe Air Force.

So a wise observer will not take any of these pronouncements seriously. It's not the cynical Bush's style that bothers the idealistic leaders of Europe; it's the substance. And even the pompous and presumptuous Richard Perle cannot possibly spin that away.

Still, it's troubling to see European leaders welcoming Bush so publicly. One can only hope that behind their backs they have their fingers crossed.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

One Slick Trick

Reuters is currently carrying a story by Tom Doggett which describes how the American Petroleum Institute (API) is trying get Congress to shield oil companies from lawsuits involving methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE). MTBE is a fuel additive and a suspected carcinogen. The EPA formerly required oil companies to add MTBE to fuel in an effort to reduce air pollution. But fuel containing MTBE has leaked from underground storage tanks, polluting the drinking water of hundreds of communities across the country. And these communities are suing the industry for creating a mess that may cost as much as $29 billion to clean up.

So the API, lobbying on behalf of the industry, is now saying that they should be protected from these lawsuits, because the EPA required them to add MTBE to their products.
"This is, above all, an issue of fairness," API President Red Cavaney said, testifying before a House subcommittee on U.S. energy policy.

"Any industry that acts as mandated by the government to meet a societal need -- in this case, cleaner air and improved health -- should not later be victimized for doing what the government required it to do," he told lawmakers.
Talk about a slick spin technique! This is as bold and beautiful as any. Did you notice the sleight-of-hand at work here? There are several spin techniques at work, and they are all happening at the same time. Let's count them, shall we?

First and foremost, spinners always try to define every issue. "This is, above all, an issue of fairness," he says. And of course he has to say that. Because he'd have a much tougher time getting what he wanted if the issue were seen as one of, say, negligence.

A second spin technique involves casting the perpetrators as victims. Forget the people who have to drink that water. They don't count as victims in this analysis. In fact, they don't count at all. They are not even in the picture, as Red Cavaney frames it. It's a great technique, isn't it?

The third spin technique in play here involves asking for special treatment and portraying it as "fair". "Fairness" is a powerful incentive. Who would want to be unfair? And even more important in the realm of politics, who would want to be seen as being unfair?

So we get statements like this:
"Our companies acted in good faith and heeded the federal government's call to use MTBE to enhance air quality. What we ask is that the federal government also act in good faith to protect us against lawsuits for doing what the law required us to do," Cavaney said.
Aha. Did the law also require that the fuel be stored in leaking tanks? Did "our companies" act in "good faith" in polluting drinking water all over the country? And what about the people who live in those communities and drink that water? Did they not act in "good faith"? Or do they deserve to be drinking suspected carcinogens, as a matter of "fairness"?

It's a very selective view of "fairness", isn't it? To me, it doesn't look like Red Cavaney or the API have any interest in the "fairness" implicit in the notion that if you make a mess, it's your job to clean it up. Nor do they seem to respect the "good faith" inherent in the idea that if you make a mistake, you are responsible for the consequences.

So the spin continues. Another good spin technique involves pretending that what you are asking for is not for yourself, but for others.
Cavaney said lawsuits brought by personal injury lawyers over MTBE discourages investment and threatens jobs, and Congress needs to fix the problem.
So it's all about encouraging investment and preserving jobs, is that it? Whose investments is Cavaney trying to protect here? And whose jobs is he trying to save? Not his own, of course!

And in any case, it's Congress that needs to fix the problem, is it? Because presumably Congress was also responsible for storing fuel in tanks that couldn't hold it. Oops! Bad Congress!

Well... hang on a second, Red. Listen: Congress has already spent about $400 billion, and the American people have already sacrificed thousands of lives, not to mention the number of completely innocent foreigners who have been killed in the past few years, in order to get your clients free access to oil that doesn't even belong to them. And from the look of things, Congress is prepared to spend hundreds of billions more, and ruin countless thousands of other lives, to get even more oil for you and your friends. So don't you think Congress and the American people have done your clients enough favors lately?

You wouldn't want to talk about that, would you, Red? Just like you wouldn't want to talk about how that fuel got out of the underground tanks. You really wouldn't want to talk about either of these things, would you?

That would be bad spin, now, wouldn't it? Because everything boils down to what you are willing to talk about, and what you can force others to talk about. Once again, framing the issue is the main thing. It's the inviolate law of spinning: Whoever defines the issue is going to win the debate. So the API is framing this issue as a question of how and why the MTBE got into the fuel. The question of how the fuel got out of the storage tanks is simply outside the frame. And because it's outside the frame, it's not in the picture.

Do you see how this works? If you watch closely, you'll see more and more of it. It's everywhere, all the time, but it takes a trained eye to see it. If you don't stop and think about the frame, you can never get beyond wondering what's wrong with the picture.

I hope they don't get away with it. And they might not. People who drink water are fairly well-represented in Congress. But I wouldn't count on anything. And I have to admit: That's one slick trick.

Oh yeah. Slick like oil on the water.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

A Poor Choice Of Words

It's hard to believe that it was less than two weeks ago. On February 3rd, I posted a piece called "Sneaky Internet Bloggers, Cheap Media Whores". That was about a "reporter" who called himself "Jeff Gannon", and who maybe wasn't a reporter at all. "Gannon" had attracted attention by asking unusually soft questions at White House gaggles and press conferences. In that post, among other things, I wrote:
I wonder what they pay him. I wonder whether he earns enough to pay for his own lipstick.

Go ahead, Jeff. Tell us. What's your price?
Two weeks in politics is a very long time. Recent events have shown that there was a lot more involved in this story than I imagined at the time. Now we know that the man who called himself "Jeff Gannon" was using a false name. And he wasn't simply a faux-reporter lobbing softball questions. He was actually a man with another profession. The "oldest" profession, if you get my drift. And that's not all. Nobody could have guessed how much bigger and uglier the story would become, and we still don't know all there is to know!

If you haven't been following the "Jeff Gannon" story, here's a good place to start, and here's a good place to continue. There are some very interesting links on these pages, and in the stories they link to. Especially the second one. As the expression goes, "Viewer discretion is advised".

Suffice it to say that my use of the word "whore" in that title was more appropriate than I could have imagined. But I cannot claim as much credit for my use of the word "cheap". If you follow those links, you'll find out that the man who called himself "Jeff Gannon" billed his clients at the rate of $200 an hour, or $1200 per weekend. That's not what you would call "inexpensive".

But on the other hand, "cheap" doesn't always mean "inexpensive". According to, it can also mean "Worthy of no respect; vulgar or contemptible". And even though I say so myself, the lowly and nearly frozen Winter Patriot hit that nail right on the head. "Vulgar" and "Contemptible" seem like compliments compared to what some other people are saying about the so-called reporter known as "Jeff Gannon". You can surely find any number of bloggers who are ripping him to shreds, even as we speak.

But I'm not headed in that direction. Not tonight, anyway. I simply want to make one small observation, somewhat off to the side of the gay-sex-for-hire angle. It seems that the media whore who called himself "Jeff Gannon" asked a question during an interview which showed that he had access to classified CIA information pertaining to covert agent Valerie Plame, whose cover was blown, seemingly deliberately, by someone deep within the corridors of power.

Did "Jeff Gannon" play a role in 'outing' a covert agent? It seems as if he may have. And if so, we're not talking about prostitution any more, folks. We're talking about treason. There's a lot more that went on behind closed doors, and some of it may never come out. But given what we know now, and the probability that more details are still to come, it looks to me as if the "Jeff Gannon Affair" is going to wind up being very expensive indeed. But for whom?

Governments have fallen over less. Much less, in fact. But we're talking about a government which cannot afford to fall. So what else can happen?

Stay tuned, but be very careful...

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Liberators, Not Occupiers

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has made a surprise visit to Iraq, and where he told US troops that
America is, in fact, a land of liberators, not a land of occupiers
According to this CNN story, Rumsfeld also told the troops
The next task is to prepare Iraq security forces to have confidence to defeat the insurgency
Once they have that confidence, our forces can go home.
His comments raised a few [unasked and unanswered] questions, such as
Will the Iraqi people really consider themselves liberated when they can no longer enjoy music or play chess?
If our troops go home, who is going to take care of all the permanent bases we've been building?
How are we going to get all this oil out of here if we go home?
I suppose the questions will remain unanswered, but at least they are no longer unasked...

in violation of these instructions from Lynyrd Skynyrd:

Don't Ask Me No Questions

Well, every time that I come home nobody wants to let me be
It seems that all the friends I've got just got to come interrogate me
Well, I appreciate your feelings and I don't want to pass you by
But I don't ask you 'bout your business Don't ask me about mine

Well, it's true I love the money and I love my brand new car
I like drinkin' the best of whiskey and playin' in a honky tonk bar
But when I come off the road, well, I just gotta have my time
'Cause I gotta find a break in this action else I'm gonna lose my mind

So don't ask me no questions and I won't tell you no lies
So don't ask me 'bout my business and I won't tell you goodbye

Well, what's you favorite color and do you dig the Brothers drivin' me up the wall
And every time I think I can sleep some fool has got to call
Well, don't you think that when I come home I just want a little peace of mind?
If you want to talk about the business Buddy, you're just wasting time

So don't ask me no questions and I won't tell you no lies
So don't ask me 'bout my business and I won't tell you goodbye
So don't ask no stupid questions and I won't send you away
If you want to talk fishin', well, I guess that'll be okay

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Hero Who Wasn't

If you live in Colorado, or if you follow some of the pro-military websites, you have probably heard all about the heroism of a certain Jonathan Kenney, who
stepped in front of a young Iraqi girl, one of many children caught in a crossfire
and thereby saved her life, at the cost of his own. If you've absorbed the heart-rending details in the media, you will have learned that
A bullet struck his heart, killing him instantly. He was less than two months into his deployment.
and that
Kenney, a posthumous recipient of the Purple Heart, will be buried Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa.
and that
He and his wife, Amber, recently purchased a home in the Grand Valley. The couple met at Metro Church of Denver and would have celebrated their sixth wedding anniversary on Valentine’s Day.
and that
Jonathan Kenney leaves behind his 3-year-old son, Joshua. The couple was expecting a second child in May.
What could be more tragic? A pregnant wife, a 3-year-old son, a Valentine's Day wedding anniversary, a heroic sacrifice ... Oh wait! there's this too:
He will be buried next to his twin sister, who died at birth.
Man oh man! He even had a twin sister who died at birth! What could be more heartbreaking?

Well... How about this? None of it is true! Not a single word! Jonathan Kenney doesn't even exist! And he never did. The whole story was made up...

... by a woman who called herself Amber Kenney, and who claimed to be Jonathan Kenney's wife. And it was swallowed, hook line and sinker, by a group called Homefront Heroes, whose president, Phyllis Derby, brought it to a number of media outlets, and they all swallowed it too. I've been quoting from last Friday's story in the Daily Sentinel [of Grand Junction, Colorado], but the tragic story of Jonathan Kenney also made the Colorado TV news and was even picked up by the Air Defense Artillery Magazine.

The Sentinel's story contained a large number of supposedly factual details, including where Jonathan Kenney went to school, what sports he played, where his wife went to high school, and where he worked before he went to Iraq. Do you think Phyllis Derby of Hometown Heroes actually checked out any of these details before she went to the media? Do you think Danie Harrelson of the Sentinel checked out any of these facts before going to press with the story?

Too tough for you? OK, I'll ask a simpler question: Do you think they should have done so?

Well clearly they should have, but apparently they didn't. Hometown Heroes even started taking up a collection for the bereaved family ... but eventually someone, somewhere, started checking the so-called facts pertaining to the so-called life of our so-called hero. And guess what? Not a single one of them could be verified!

Now the woman who started the story, whose real name is Sarah Kenney, is saying "she just wants it to all be over." Well ain't that a big fat surprise? But that's what she wants, according to yesterday's story in the Daily Sentinel, a newspaper which probably shares her sentiment, at least in part. But from the tone of the story, and from its many extraneous details, it seems to me that the Sentinel also wants to make sure that the main story is about Sarah Kenney and the lies she told, not about Phyllis Derby or Danie Harrelson or any of the other people who were deceived.

Clearly Sarah Kenney is a very ill woman. There can be no question about that. But it's equally clear that Phyllis Derby should have done some checking. And it's even clearer that the so-called journalists who swallowed her story should have done their homework as well. Did Danie Harrelson phone the high school from which Jonathan Kenney had supposedly graduated? Or the Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealership where he had supposedly worked? Or the Army unit with which he supposedly served?

One phone call would have been enough! It wouldn't have even mattered which so-called fact was checked, or who tried to check it. Any attempt to verify any detail would have blown the entire story right out of the water, because every single aspect of the story was completely false.

It's bad enough that the major media will apparently report whatever the White House tells them, as if it were already verified. But if the minor media will report whatever anybody tells them, as if it were verified, what hope is there for the poor reader?

Or maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way. Maybe I should be thinking of it like this: The lies told by Bush and his cronies have cost thousands and thousands of lives, and it's taken the major media months, or years, to admit that they were deceived, and that they deceived us. But the lies told by Sarah Kenney only stood for five days, and in the end it turned out that one fewer life had been lost than we were led to believe. Maybe it isn't so bad after all. But still ... would you please excuse me while I yakkk?

It may be that we as a nation are so sick of the torture, the cold-blooded murder, the wanton destruction that is being done in our name... so sick of it all that we are longing for a hero, a story of just one human, just one act of integrity and kindness that we can be proud of. I can believe that. I can sympathize, too.

And I have a suggestion for Phyllis Derby and Danie Harrelson and everybody else who wants to give us a story to make us proud. Instead of telling us about fictional heroes in uniform in Iraq, why not telling us about real heroes, out of uniform and at home? Instead of spinning tales of men who are risking and ruining their lives to fight for the most corrupt and evil administration we can possibly imagine, why not start telling us about some of the men and women who are risking everything in order to fight against it?

Hey? How about that? Are you listening in Grand Junction? Does anybody hear me at the Daily Sentinel? You have a lot to make up for... Why don't you start with a story about the people fighting for election integrity? Or media integrity? Or any integrity at all? There are plenty of them, all over America.

If you want to stick to your Hometown Heroes, maybe you could find out something about the anti-war, anti-fascist, anti-hypocrisy crowd in Colorado. Surely there are real Patriots in Colorado. Red state or blue, they're everywhere. Maybe you could write about them for a change. Maybe you could become part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. Maybe you could try to do something that might restore our faith in American journalism, rather than tarnishing it further.

OK, I'll admit it. Tarnishing it further would be very, very difficult. There's tarnish on the tarnish. And there may be nothing under the tarnish except more tarnish. But to be human is to hope. I'm cold and I'm sick and I am so terribly tired of all this. But I'm still human. And I continue to hope. Right now I hope that underneath all that tarnish there may be a little bit of precious metal.

I invite you to share that hope, as well as a song. This one was written by Phil Manzanera and Bill MacCormick.
Law And Order

Saw your face on TV
You said its all right, have no fear
I'm here
Panic's ended
Your rights defended
From those who tried to tell you
About the other side of life
The strife that's going on
Go to sleep now
Count the sheep now
With us the dream will never end

It's easy to take what you are told
They said we need law and order
But now all your lives are bought and sold
And just for some law and order

Now the days grow colder
The plans they've got for you are clear
So clear
You're not so sure
You want that cure
And those who tried to tell you
About the shit that's going down
Are found out on the moor
But just don't ask how
Curfew starts now
Get off the streets and bolt the door

We'll get away from here one day
I'll take you across the border
There's gotta be somewhere we can stay
Where they don't need law and order

All Done Guest Blogging

I've been warped by the rain, driven by the snow. Frozen nearly solid and I haven't blogged for days. Sue me if you like. Or just take me out and shoot me. It's all the same to me.

My spell of guest-blogging at the BradBlog is over. I did my best. Take me out and shoot me if you didn't like it. Or just sue me. It don't make no difference.

For the sake of completeness: My last posts there were...

"a premeditated plan to reap unjust profits"
Major New Enron Documents Posted Online

The news story that disappeared and came back again
CNN Pulls A Fast One!

Having fun in Iraq?
MARINE GENERAL: It Is "Fun To Shoot Some People"!

Read 'em if you like, or not. It's all the same to me.

The Fat Man knew how it feels. So did his friend Keith.

Here's a tune by Lowell George and Keith Godchaux.

Six Feet Of Snow

Six feet of snow
Coming through my radio
It's raining in stilettos
From here clear down to Mexico

My hands are numb
From hanging on that steering wheel
They're frozen tight
Hope the wind don't blow me off the road tonight

Don't you know the ice and snow
Is sneaking in through my window
Don't you know how much I hate to be so cold
And so alone
I'm coming home

If it wasn't for the lines that wind side by side
I'd be lying next to her
Next to her tonight

Sweet New Orleans
That's where my girl, she waits for me
Hair so long and eyes so green
She's the prettiest girl I've ever seen

Don't you know the ice and snow
Is sneaking through this boy's window
Don't you know how much I hate to be so cold
And so alone
I'm coming home

If it wasn't for the lines that wind side by side
I'd be lying next to her
Next to her tonight

Saturday, February 5, 2005

It's Too Surreal

US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has been in Europe for only a few days, but already her trip has become too surreal. Among other things, she has been lecturing the Russians for not being sufficiently serious about democracy. According to this piece from the BBC, she met with the Russian foreign minister in Turkey, and told him not only that "Russia must do more to show it is committed to democracy if it wants deeper relations with Western nations", but also that "Russia must show it is intent on strengthening the rule of law and permitting a free press."

Meanwhile, at least one Russian has shown that he is very serious about democracy. On Tuesday, Mikhail Gorbachev was quoted in this article as saying:

[E]ven though I am a supporter of elections and of the transfer of power to the people of Iraq, these elections were fake. I don't think these elections will be of any use. They may even have a negative impact on the country. Democracy cannot be imposed or strengthened with guns and tanks.

Does this sound like a man who is kidding? He sounds pretty serious to me.

Clearly she wasn't talking about Gorbachev. So which Russians was she talking about? Who among the Russian elite has too little concern for democracy? Could it have been Vladimir Putin? He was quoted in the same article as saying he believed the election in Iraq was a "positive event" on the road to normalising the situation in the country. Sounds like a pretty good joke to me. This is the same Putin who earlier said the very idea of holding elections in an occupied country was "a farce", is it not? They didn't get a new Putin while I wasn't looking, did they? Oh well, maybe he was just being polite.

But what about the Russians who weren't being so polite? Who were those guys sitting in the corner, whispering and giggling? Could she have been talking about them?

According to our sources, they were having the following very quiet conversation:

Sergei: This is too surreal.

Ivan: Why? Do you mean because a diplomat of the United States is telling us what we must do to become acceptable to 'Western nations'? As if she had the authority to speak for any country other than her own?

Sergei: No, Ivan, that's not it.

Ivan: Well, why then? Is it because she talks to us about a free press when the major media in her country is quite the opposite? As if we haven't heard of Jeff Gannon?

Sergei: No, that's not it either.

Ivan: Is it because she lectures us on democracy when she represents a regime that has taken and held power illegitimately? Does she think we haven't heard of Ken Blackwell? Or John Conyers? Or the Free Press? Or the BradBlog?

Sergei: No, Ivan. Those are all good guesses, but you still haven't found the answer.

Ivan: OK, then. I give up. Why do you say this is too surreal?

Sergei: Because she can't be here. Because she's dead. Because she melted!

Ivan: What do you mean, she melted?

Sergei: Didn't you see the movie, Ivan? They threw a bucket of water on her and she melted!

Arkin Spills The Beans

Pssst! Don't tell anybody! The book at the top of my wish-list was written by William M. Arkin, and it's called "Code Names". The book isn't a secret; it's about secrets. People are already talking about it, and here's what some of them are saying:

From the publisher's press release:

The war on terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have led to a secrecy explosion. In the 9/11 world the U.S. military and intelligence organizations have created secret plans, programs, and operations at a frenzied pace, each with their own code name. In a perfect world, all of this secrecy would be to protect legitimate secrets from prying foreign eyes. But in researching Code Names, defense analyst William M. Arkin learned that while most genuine secrets remain secret, other activities labeled as secret are either questionable or remain perfectly in the open. The sheer volume and complexity of these operations ensures that the most politically important remain unreported by the press and shielded from the scrutiny of the American electorate ... From “Able Ally” to “Zodiac Beauchamp,” this book identifies more than 3,000 code names and details the plans and missions for which they stand.

From "The Connection", hosted by Dick Gordon, and broadcast courtesy of WBUR Boston and NPR:

This week Washington learned that the Defense Department has been keeping a big secret. Turns out it's been running covert intelligence operations since 2002 -- without anyone, including the CIA, knowing. The military has always been in the business of keeping secrets --that's nothing new. But what is new is the extent to which all that classified information is being shielded from the public and the civilian leaders who are supposed to oversee such activity. The defense analyst William Arkin says that post 9.11 -- the military has become obsessed with secrecy...and that obsession is hurting its ability to protect the nation at home and abroad. He argues that the elaborate system of classification and code names not only blinds the public and the politicians -- but it distracts the military as well.

From Amy Goodman's interview with William Arkin:
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what “Polo Step” is.

WILLIAM ARKIN: “Polo Step” is one of the many in this book. It is a compartment that was used by the Bush Administration, actually was used by the Clinton Administration, too, to compartment secret planning in the initial war against Osama bin Laden. So, in the late l990s, when many covert operations were being mounted against al Qaeda in Afghanistan, a “Polo Step” was the compartment that you needed a clearance for in order to be privy to what was going on. So, something might be stamped “Top Secret, Polo Step” and if you weren’t read into that program and indoctrinated into Polo Step, you wouldn’t be privy to the ongoing day-to-day operations.

After 9/11, Polo Step was borrowed by U.S. Central Command -- responsible for the Middle East, Tommy Frank’s command -- to be the sort of cover, if you will, for offensive planning in Iraq. And at the very time when the government was denying that we were planning to go to war with Iraq, they were building war plans, building courses of action. And in about mid-2002, I became aware of the existence of this Polo Step compartment, and a Polo Step briefing about courses of action in Iraq was leaked to me. I wrote about it in the Los Angeles Times, and the reaction of the government was electric. The New York Times followed up with a front-page story on July 4th. And they were very worried that all of their sort of preparations for war in Iraq were going to be compromised.

It seemed to me that the far more interesting question was not what was obvious, which was that the Bush Administration was planning to go to war in Iraq, but that they were methodically excluding even people internally within the Pentagon from the process of war planning by using their own internal secrecy, so that those who could have made a contribution and what, of course, we know now is those who could have helped to sort of frame the war, even if we did go to war to better prepare for the peace, were methodically excluded. And that -- so then it just seemed to me that this was the worst case of the use of secrecy, because it here was, basically, being used to exclude even people from the inside from participating in what arguably was the most important debate of this Administration.

Of course not all those who interview William Arkin are quite so astute. Here's a short excerpt from an interview by Brooke Gladstone of WNYC Radio:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: And do you really believe that the publication of code names will actually lead to less secrecy within government - especially within the Bush administration?

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, I think it will lead to less secrecy immediately, because there are less secrets. [LAUGHTER] They're now in the public domain.

Let's go back to the publisher's press release. "Code Names" has been taken very seriously by some very serious people...

... like Charles A. Horner, General USAF (Ret.), commander of coalition air forces in Operation Desert Storm, and former commander, U.S. Space Command:

"William Arkin's Code Names will rock the National Security Community. We do not agree on any issue, my problem when we argue is that unlike most of his ilk, he researches the facts thoroughly and has impeccable integrity."

... and Seymour Hersh:

"William Arkin makes amateurs of all of us who think we know something about America's constantly expanding hidden world. Code Names is quite simply a stunning array of secrets and super-secrets that Arkin has put together in a way that makes it easy for any citizen to comprehend - and decide for himself or herself whether such activities are consistent with democracy and good government."

And as you might expect, it's been making the news in foreign countries as well. This from Israel's Haaretz:

The United States has five secret military bases in Israel, according to a new book published recently in the U.S.

I'm looking forward to reading this book. I've even made a secret plan to buy it. And guess what? I've given my plan a code name. Like all good code names, it doesn't really mean anything, unless it does. Listen: The code name for my plan is "Blue Stick". Please don't tell anybody.

Thursday, February 3, 2005

Sneaky Internet Bloggers, Cheap Media Whores, the online connection to the Boston Globe, has a hot item tonight, headlined: "White House-friendly reporter under scrutiny"

I want you to read the whole thing, but I'll quote a few paragraphs [and add some emphasis]:

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration has provided White House media credentials to a man who has virtually no journalistic background, asks softball questions to the president and his spokesman in the midst of contentious news conferences, and routinely reprints long passages verbatim from official press releases as original news articles on his website.

It's clear that the president needs a few softball questions every now and then. But even his spokesman? Pathetic! Watch how the truth starts flowing here, and why...

[T]he question of how Gannon gets into White House press conferences is coming under intense scrutiny from critics who contend that Gannon is not a journalist but rather a White House tool to soften media coverage of Bush. The issue was raised by a media watchdog group and picked up by Internet bloggers, who linked Gannon's presence in White House briefings to recent controversies over whether the administration manipulates the flow of information to the public.

That media watchdog group, by the way, is Media Matters, and their recent reports have included this very 'complimentary' portrayal of Mr. Gannon. David Brock wrote a fantastic snarky letter to Press Secretary Scott McLellan a few days ago. The most recent piece at Media Matters concerning Gannon is here.

And the Internet bloggers the article refers to are legion. A few days ago I read a comment on another blog saying [paraphrasing now] "get used to it, this is the new reality, blogging doesn't make any difference."

I beg to differ. It is making a difference. Things are happening now that wouldn't be happening without internet bloggers. OK, OK, they're talking about other bloggers, I'm sure. They are definitely not talking about Winter Patriot. They don't even know about me. Or dozens (or hundreds) (or thousands) of other guys like me. But we're all out there, each doing our bit, and every little bit helps. You read me and I point you to somebody who knows what he's talking about. Or something like that.

But on the other hand, even the lowly [and nearly frozen] Winter Patriot has been muttering about cheap whores recently, in the media and elsewhere. Jeff Gannon is only the latest to be 'outed'.

I wonder how many more we will find. I wonder what they pay him. I wonder whether he earns enough to pay for his own lipstick.

Go ahead, Jeff. Tell us. What's your price?

Please read the newest piece on the so-called reporter, Jeff Gannon, at Media Matters. At the bottom of the page you will find some interesting contact info. Perhaps you could write a letter of encouragement to one or more of the addresses provided. But tell them you read about the whole sad situation at Media Matters. By all means, don't tell them I sent you. They don't even know about me yet. Sneaky internet bloggers...

Here's Joe Jackson:

Sunday Papers

Mother doesn’t go out any more
Just sits at home and rolls her spastic eyes
But every weekend through the door
Come words of wisdom from the world outside

If you want to know about the bishop and the actress
If you want to know how to be a star
If you want to know about the stains on the mattress
You can read it in the sunday papers, sunday papers

Mother’s wheelchair stays out in the hall
Why should she go out when the tv’s on
Whatever moves beyond these walls
She’ll know the facts when sunday comes along

If you want to know about the man gone bonkers
If you want to know how to play guitar
If you want to know about the other suckers
You can read it in the sunday papers, read it in the sunday papers

Sunday papers don’t ask no questions
Sunday papers don’t get no lies
Sunday papers don’t raise objection
Sunday papers don’t got no eyes

Brother’s heading that way now I guess
He just read something made his face turn blue
Well I got nothing against the press
They wouldn’t print it if it wasn’t true

If you want to know about the gay politician
If you want to know how to drive your car
If you want to know about the new sex position
You can read it in the sunday papers, read it in the sunday papers

Sunday papers don’t ask no questions
Sunday papers don’t get no lies
Sunday papers don’t raise objection
Sunday papers don’t got no eyes

Sunday papers don’t ask no questions
Sunday papers don’t get no lies
Sunday papers don’t raise objection
Sunday papers don’t got no eyes

Read all about it, sunday papers

Gwynne Dyer: "It's not God's gift"

I've been reading Democracy - It's not God's gift, by Gwynne Dyer.

I love the way Gwynne Dyer writes. I respect the way he thinks, too, even though I disagree with him from time to time. Dyer is a life-long student of war and man. His writing pops up in unlikely places; this one was published by the New Zealand Herald.

Quoting George W. Bush's Second Inaugural Address, he wrote:
"By our efforts, we have lit a fire in the hearts of men. It warms those who feel its power, it burns those who fight its progress, and one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world."

Bush speeches are a treasure-trove of innocent fun. His speechwriters took the quote about having "lit a fire in the hearts of men" from Fyodor Dostoevsky, presumably not realising that they were quoting a bunch of terrorists who featured in his novel The Devils, and the "dark corners of the world" phrase pops up in every second Bush speech.
But once past the mandatory [relatively] light moment, he turns quickly to more serious problems...
Bush's belief that Americans basically own the copyright on democracy is widely shared even by Americans who deplore his actions.
It's everywhere. More confident ignorance than you can shake a stick at.
America's democratic revolution had a huge impact on the world, but it was both less, and less indispensable, than most Americans suppose.
Americans are not accustomed to being told that anything American is either less or less indispensible than they suppose. And they don't like hearing it, either. This may be one of the reasons why Gwynne Dyer is published in places like New Zealand.
This notion that the US should "seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world," as Bush put it in his inaugural speech, is profoundly misleading because it suggests that American support for such transformations is essential.

It isn't even relevant, in most cases. People have to do it for themselves, and the most helpful thing that Washington could do would be to stop supporting the oppressors.
Why is it so easy for everybody to see this except our so-called leaders? OK, I know. That's a rhetorical question. They don't really believe what they tell us, do they? They don't even care anymore, as long as we believe it.

Not only do they hope we will believe their lies, they also hope we will never realize things like this:

Most of the world's countries already are democratic, and the exceptions are mainly in the Middle East and Africa, the two regions of the world where Western military interventions have been most frequent since the end of the colonial era.

Indeed, it's striking that within the Middle East, the primary focus of American anxieties about terrorism, the Islamist terrorists come overwhelmingly from countries that have close links with Washington -- Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and now Iraq -- and not from places like Syria, Libya and Sudan. This is hardly an argument for further US military interventions.
I should say not!

You can read the entire (short) piece at Information Clearing House or the New Zealand Herald.

Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Still Guest Blogging

Down by the Brad Blog
Down by the sea
Until my friend gets home from Utah
That's where I'll be

Just in case you haven't visited the Brad Blog recently, here are some of the posts you will find there with my name on them:

The writings of Robert Parry
Freedom From Disinformation

This is what is looks like when a struggling democracy goes down the drain
King Sacks Government! Declares State of Emergency!

Good friends and good times in Uzbekistan
PHOTOS: Senior US Officials Cozy up to Dictator Who Boils People Alive!

Money disappears as if by magic
Iraq Audit Finds More Fuzzy Math!

News from the Freedom Cinema Festival
Friedman Interviews Curtis!

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Dyer: "Orwell Was Wrong"

Sometimes we need to back away from the issues of the day (or of the week) and look at a slightly larger picture. Here's one such picture...

If the name "Gwynne Dyer" doesn't ring a bell, you are in for a treat. Welcome to one of my favorite writers. If you're familiar with Gwynne Dyer's work, you probably don't need to be told that he's a life-long student of human history with a special focus on warfare and society. The following piece is an excellent example of why I like Gwynne Dyer so much. It's not easy to find it elsewhere on the net, at least not all in one piece. For these reasons I quote it all here, and I urge you to read it.

Orwell Centenary
By Gwynne Dyer
[June 2003]

He was 'Don Quixote on a bicycle', 'the wintry conscience of his generation' and if he had lived long enough he would have been very surprised. George Orwell, born a century ago this month (25 June), wrote two deeply pessimistic novels about the inability of human beings to resist tyranny, died at 46, and subsequently became the most widely read political philosopher of the 20th century: 'Animal Farm' and 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' were translated into 60 languages and sold 40 million copies. But he was wrong.

His original readers were a generation who survived the fascists and the Second World War only to fall straight into the Cold War decades of confrontation with the Communists. They were already afraid that totalitarianism would ultimately win and that the future, in the words of Winston Smith's interrogator O'Brien, would turn out to be "a boot stamping on a human face forever." Orwell's books told them that they were probably right -- but they were wrong, too.

He would have been delighted to know that, but he died forty years too soon. Right down to the end of the 1980s the democratic peoples remained a beleaguered minority, while a third of the world's people lived under Communist tyrannies and another third languished under sordid dictatorships of a more traditional kind. They all controlled what people said, and the more ambitious ones also tried to control what people thought. And Orwell's name became a commonplace adjective.

A useful one, too. The first time I was in the old Soviet Union, in 1982, we drove past a derelict Orthodox church in the southern Russian town of Belgorod one day and one of the film crew remarked on it. "There was no church there," the local Communist Party guide insisted as we watched it recede through the rear window and when we innocently suggested that he drive around the block for another look, he flatly refused. "Orwellian", we said -- and then realised by his embarrassment that he knew exactly what we meant.

That moment should have told me that Orwell was wrong and that the old Soviet Union was doomed, for the official SHOULDN'T have known what we meant. It was more than his job was worth to let us look at that church, and he was used to making the people around him swallow bare-faced lies. But they didn't actually believe the lies, and neither did he. There was surface compliance, but no Doublethink: sixty-five years of ruthless censorship and totalitarian rule had not even managed to keep low-level provincial Party officials from knowing what 'Orwellian' meant.

The totalitarians NEVER achieved the kind of thought control that Orwell and the rest of us feared. Underneath, most people kept their own values and opinions, and by the 80s they were getting ready to dump the dictators. All they needed was a way of doing so that didn't involve buckets of blood, and by the middle of the decade a powerful non-violent technique for bringing the dictators down was being developed in Asia.

The technique spread by example from the Philippines in 1986 to Thailand, South Korea, Bangladesh and Burma in 1987-88, and then to Tienanmen Square in the heart of Communist China in 1989. Not all of these non-violent revolutions succeeded -- in Burma and China they were drowned in blood -- but the example was so powerful and the technique so promising that later in 1989 the citizens of European Communist countries picked it up and ran with it. 350 million Europeans were freed in two years, with hardly a shot fired.

You can extend the sequence of non-violent, more or less democratic revolutions to include the end of apartheid in South Africa in 1994, the overthrow of Suharto in Indonesia in 1998, and the fall of Milosevic in Serbia in 2000, but 1989-91 was when the balance of power in the world changed. From then on, totalitarianism was on the defensive and a majority of the world's people (for the first time in history) lived in democratic countries.

Maybe Orwell wouldn't have been so surprised after all. Looking at the cross-cultural appeal of those democratic revolutions, he might even have felt vindicated in his optimistic belief that the desire for equality and freedom is an attribute of human nature, not of some specific culture.

Orwell would certainly not have greeted this extraordinary historical liberation with the reflex pessimism of most Western intellectuals. Consider Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood, for example: "With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, it seemed for a time that....henceforth state control would be minimal and all we would have to do is go shopping and smile a lot, and wallow in pleasures, popping a pill or two when depression set in."

No, Margaret. The discrediting of the totalitarian dream and the democratisation of a large part of the world were genuine gains for the human race. Coping with too much wealth and leisure is a problem too, no doubt, but a different and lesser one that only troubles very fortunate people. Frankly, on this one I'm with President George W. Bush: "Freedom is a powerful incentive. I believe that some day freedom will prevail everywhere because freedom is a powerful drive."

What Mr Bush overlooks, however, is that all the people who overthrew their oppressors in recent decades did it for themselves. It is doubtful that powerful countries with suspect motives can successfully export democracy to others by force and the attempt of the Bush White House to do just that could yet bring a certain aspect of 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' back to life. Not the politics of it, of course that is now gone in most of the world -- but the geopolitics.

"What 'Nineteen Eighty-Four') is really meant to do is to discuss the implications of dividing the world up into 'Zones of Influence'", George Orwell wrote to his publisher at the end of 1948 -- and it certainly does that. The three-way cold war of 'Nineteen Eighty-Four', with constant skirmishes between the three totalitarian mega-states of Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia and no freedom left anywhere in the world, is geopolitics as nightmare. It would be a pity if the 21st century turned out like that.

The 20th century didn't, actually. There was a long cold war between two great power-blocs, but only one of them was totalitarian. Besides, it all ended pretty well, with no nuclear war and a wave of non-violent democratisation. But now we can see the faint outline of exactly those three Orwellian blocs glimmering on the horizon ahead.

It may never come to that, of course. Most people outside the United States (and many Americans, too) assume that the reign of the neo-conservatives in Washington and the current extreme unilateralism of American foreign policy are self-limiting phenomena, soon to be discredited by the sheer cost of empire-building in the Middle East. Local resistance to the American presence is growing in Iraq and Afghanistan, and before long Americans themselves will turn against this policy and normal service will be restored.

That is the assumption, and it is why other governments are keeping their heads down and playing for time. Why have a confrontation with the US now if you can just wait a bit and see it change course of its own accord? But what if it doesn't? What if there is a bigger American empire in the Middle East three or five years from now, and the United Nations is on the scrap-heap, and NATO is gone too? The rest of the world won't just roll over and accept American global hegemony, but what will it do instead?

In that case we're back in the jungle, where the only way to contain the ambitions of other great powers is the old game of alliances. What would those new alliances look like? Quite a lot like the world of 'Nineteen Eighty-Four'.

Oceania is already taking shape: essentially, the English-speaking world of North America, Britain ('Airstrip One' in Orwell's novel), and Australasia. Give or take a Pole or two, that's who actually showed up for the invasion of Iraq last March (though Canada and New Zealand are so far managing to avoid being swept away by their respective giant neighbours).

Orwell's Eurasia isn't too hard to identify, either. It is NATO minus North America and Britain, but plus Russia. It is nobody's first choice, but if it becomes necessary it's a good fit: the European Union's economic strength plus Russia's resources and nuclear deterrent would be a credible counter-weight to America/Oceania -- and it's the only way Russia could get into the EU (which it very much wants) within the next decade.

Eastasia is the puzzling one, mainly because it's hard to figure out which way Japan would jump: rapprochement with China and a junior partnership in a new 'East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere', or honorary Anglo-Saxon status and a role as Oceania's Asian 'Airstrip Two'. Neither option is appetising, so Japan would certainly try to avoid the choice as long as possible -- but if it did opt for Eastasia, it would go very nuclear very quickly, as the best way of establishing an equal relationship with China.

Which leaves the Middle East (a string of restive American protectorates), Latin America (client states of Oceania), Africa (contention between Oceania and Eurasia), South-East Asia (a zone of conflict between Oceania and Eastasia) -- and India. The Indians would be the one major power with the freedom to stay clear of the global alliance confrontations, but conflicts with Muslim neighbours to the west could easily pull them into alliance with the United States.

This is an ugly world, but it is not unimaginable. If the multilateral consensus that has kept things sane for a long time breaks down, a massive realignment like the one that occurred in the twenty years before the First World War is quite possible, and the result would be a more militarised, less free, more compartmentalised planet.

There would be no primitive 'Big Brother'-style totalitarian systems, for their time has passed, but the foundations are already being laid everywhere for subtler 'national security' regimes that would encroach greatly on civil rights and political liberty. Hardly anybody wants this outcome, but then the pre-1914 great powers didn't really want their idiotic alliance system either. They didn't design it, but their responses built it.

Something similar could be happening again soon. Listen, for example, to the tone of some recent remarks by America's favourite hate figure of the moment, French President Jacques Chirac -- almost as if events were sweeping him away against his will.
"...War should not be used to settle a crisis which can be resolved by other means....The world today obliges us to seek a consensus when we act, and not to act alone. The US has a vision of the world which is very unilateralist."

"Europe to stay as a major world power. Then we have to take account of the emergence of China on the world stage, and India too....Whether you like it or not...we are moving towards a multi-polar world."
'Multilateral' implies cooperation and consensus; 'multi-polar' means confrontation and conflict.

A three-cornered cold war like that of 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' is as stupid a way to spend the 21st century as can be imagined. It would also minimise American freedom of action in the world, which is hardly the declared goal of those now directing White House policy. But five more years on this course and we could be getting close.

A year and a half of those "five more years" are now gone, of course, and "four more years" of the same are indicated. We could be getting close indeed.

The following song by Bill Nelson has always reminded me of 1984. Many of Nelson's songs do that. But this one does it more than most.

The Atom Age

I can't sleep, I can only dream
I talk so fast, I don't know what I mean
I'm so imperfect in this perfect world
my beauty limps, it's like a synthetic pearl
I stand proud as the flags displayed
citizen of the atom age

I can't march, I can only dance
I'm just a victim of circumstance
I try to change but oh what's the use
I am the lie that tells the truth
I stand proud as the flags displayed
citizen of the atom age

I'm all hooked up to every modern appliance
but I hang with the angels from the gallows of science
it's a neon future and it tears me apart
'cause it's the state of the nation, the state of the art
I stand proud as the flags displayed
citizen of the atom age