Saturday, July 12, 2003

Letter from Central Iraq 

Here is a well written piece by Borzou Daragahi, an embedded Iranian journalist covering Iraq for NPR's Marketplace among others.

"The lieutenant has just set a trap. We're the bait. He used our two-vehicle Humvee convoy to lure attackers out of hiding. It is now a matter of watching and waiting.
After a while, you begin to understand the current troubles in Iraq from the perspective of the grunt on the ground. It's not what you might think. The U.S. soldiers aren't being hailed as liberators and warmly embraced by the vast majority of the population. Nor are they raping Iraqi women or indiscriminately shooting at anything that moves. They're ordinary soldiers trained to kill cast into inordinately complex situations.

..."Why don't we just shoot the fuckers?" one soldier asks during a stakeout of a sight used to ambush American soldiers.
"Well, there's a school nearby," the other responds. "Now, I don't think we'll hit the school, but the people of the village will think that we were trying to, and that'll make things difficult in the long run."
"Awkay," the other concedes.

...One of my favorite people is a captain who mans the base at a town north of here...He sees his job as part social worker, part police officer and part anthropologist. He gets very involved with the Iraqis in his little town. He encourages his men to go out to the hospitals and schools and make friends.
At the scene of one raid, the other men were getting jumpy. "Why are they coming towards us? Why is that one driving away? What's going on here?" The M-16 muzzles went up. The gunners tightened their grips on the mounted artillery. No, the captain told the other men, calm down. They've never seen Americans here before. The ones running away are scared. The ones approaching are just curious. Everyone relaxed.

..."No, I did not," the lieutenant replies instantly.
"Aw man, you give me a hard-on saying I can shoot and then you kill it," says the gunner.
"Whoa, dude," says the lieutenant. "Too much information."
I tell you, they're young.

...The setting sun casts a pleasant orange glow on the outdoor cafeteria. The women running the mobile kitchen, blast cool R&B on the boombox as they serve up hamburgers, beans and powdered lemonade.
"That's some straight-up ghetto Kool Aid," says one soldier.

Borzou's own website is here:
and is a treasure trove of photos, reportage and realplayer links to his NPR reporting. Working

Friday, July 11, 2003

There's just no place for a street fighting man 

From the BBC
"The Rolling Stones have called in volunteers to save a major Paris concert threatened by a French arts workers' strike.

Ninety road crew members responsible for loading stage, lighting and sound equipment have stopped work in solidarity with French colleagues. The workers are protesting about government plans to overhaul their benefits. The Stones held the first of three Paris concerts on Monday, and are to play to 60,000 people in the Stade de France football stadium on Wednesday. Road crew stopped work after Monday's concert at the Bercy stadium. They have been replaced by the Stones' own team, volunteer staff, secretaries, assistants and security personnel."

And that concludes this week's BLOGONAUT LABOR NEWS ROUNDUP.

For your enjoyment: Street Fighting Man
Written By Jagger/Richards
Published by Stones Music Publishing

Everywhere I hear the sound of marching feet, boy
Cause summer's here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy
But what can a poor boy do
'cept to sing for a rock 'n' roll band
Cause in sleepy London town
There's just no place for a street fighting man

Hey! Think the time is right for a palace revolution
But where I live the game to play is compromise solution
Well, what can a poor boy do
'cept to sing for a rock 'n' roll band
Cause in sleepy London town
There's just no place for a street fighting man

Hey! Said my name is called disturbance
I'll shout and scream, I'll kill the king, I'll rail at all his servants
Well, what can a poor boy do
'cept to sing in a rock 'n' roll band
Cause in sleepy London town
There's just no place for a street fighting man

Feds Won't Let Airport Screeners Unionize 

Sooprize, sooprize, sooprize.

From Newsday,0,4509882.story

Feds Won't Let Airport Screeners Unionize

Associated Press Writer

July 8, 2003, 3:06 PM EDT
WASHINGTON -- Airport security screeners don't have the right to unionize, according to the agency handling labor issues for the federal government. The Federal Labor Relations Authority ruled that the screeners' boss, Transportation Security Administration chief James Loy, has discretion to decide the terms and conditions of their employment. Loy in January signed an order forbidding collective bargaining by screeners, saying unions are incompatible with the war on terror that screeners are helping the government wage. Union contracts could limit the flexibility needed to make sudden changes in shift assignments in response to terror threats, Loy said.
...Union President Bobby Harnage Sr. said Monday's decision will be appealed in the courts."

You know what creases me? The airlines don't issue boarding passes on card stock anymore. It's a flimsy computer print out. What are we supposed to use for bookmarks? I'm not using that wadded up piece of paper I printed with my confirmation number from Travelocity that I have in my pocket. Boarding passes used to be the best bookmarks and now they are gone. What's being done about that?

Verizon vs. CWA 

The Village Voice has a well written piece on Verizon vs. CWA
here: http://www.viLLAGEVOICE.COM/issues/0328/robbins.php

Showdown for the Phone Union
by Tom Robbins
July 9 - 15, 2003

"Let me explain what's really going on here . . . "

Those are the words executives at Verizon Communications Inc. should employ when confronted with reporters' questions about the looming, bitter conflict between the company and its biggest union, according to a 32-page confidential memo supplied to company officials by an outside consultant last year.

Such a response, wrote consultant Jerry Manheim of Market/Media Sciences, a Maryland-based communications firm, "begins to redefine the reporter's story." The goal, stated the memo, is to develop a believable account, which "can become over time 'the reality' to which journalists, political leaders and the union itself must respond."

Defining "reality" has become a crucial imperative for Verizon-the largest of the nation's telecommunications giants and the second most profitable-as it rolls toward an angry midsummer collision with the Communications Workers of America. Contracts covering 75,000 workers expire August 2, and based on its posture at the bargaining table so far, the company appears bent on wresting away prized benefits

...The union's actual objective, according to the confidential memo obtained by the CWA, is to bolster its own sagging fortunes by trying to unionize the currently non-union Verizon Wireless.

That's hard to do, the memo asserts, because such workers "tend to see themselves as white-collar professionals, [and] are by nature far more resistant to the appeals of unionization than their blue-collar colleagues in the telecom version of an old-line 'smokestack' industry."

Actually, the CWA has already obtained one major victory by recently winning union representation for some 17,000 Cingular Wireless workers. And the union believes it would have a good shot at winning Verizon Wireless if the company lived up to the agreement it made in 2000. The agreement allowed a so-called "card-check" vote in which the company would remain neutral and recognize the union once a majority of workers signed on as members. Instead, the union alleges, Verizon mounted a campaign suggesting that workers would end up paying high dues with little to show for it.

"They completely flouted the agreement," said Master. "There was never any good-faith effort to live up to it."

Profitable employers looking for concessions 

This article from the Times marks the widespread offensive against organized labor that we've been expecting.

"For the 470 workers on strike at the Tyson Foods sausage and pepperoni plant here, the big question is why the company is so eager to cut starting salaries, freeze pensions and adopt a health plan with less coverage when the plant is so profitable...Healthy profits or not, Tyson has joined hundreds of companies nationwide demanding concessions from organized labor. As corporations grapple with a weak economy, fierce overseas competition and soaring health costs, they have made concessions a focus of labor negotiations, often demanding wage freezes, lower starting pay, stingier pensions and higher health insurance premiums and co-payments."

Companies and public employers around the country are looking for concessions. "Verizon, the telephone company, wants concessions from 75,000 employees. New York City has demanded wage freezes from nearly 300,000 municipal workers. In Pennsylvania, 48,000 state employees have had to accept a two-year pay freeze. Demanding concessions is common in teetering industries, most notably airlines and steel, but now it has spread to thriving industries as well. Even General Electric, one of the nation's most profitable companies, with more than $45,000 in profits per worker, demanded health-care concessions in recent negotiations. The Big Three automakers also insist that their workers contribute more toward health coverage

...Some unions have successfully rebuffed concessions - G.E.'s two main unions beat back the company's demand that they pay 30 percent of health-care costs, up from the current 18 percent. Labor leaders boast of examples where unions have obtained impressive contracts, notably in cities where unions have organized the vast majority of the workers in a nonmanufacturing industry. In Chicago, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union mobilized 7,300 workers at 27 hotels, threatened a strike and obtained a 54 percent increase in wages and benefits over four years. In recent talks involving janitors in Boston, Denver and Washington, the Service Employees International Union won raises of 25 percent over five years and health insurance for many part-time workers

...Even many employers with solid profits are demanding concessions. For example, the Tribune Company demanded substantial concessions from the Newspaper Guild at The Baltimore Sun. In contract talks last month, the company obtained a one-year wage freeze and more flexibility to transfer workers. "There's an old theory in industrial relations that two main factors determine who has the upper hand," Professor Clark said. "These factors are the economy and the degree to which the government in power supports workers' interests..."

Ken Kimbro, Tyson's senior vice president for human resources, said the company, which acquired the Jefferson plant two years ago, merely wanted to get its costs in line with other Tyson plants. That, he explained, is why Tyson has demanded a four-year wage freeze in Jefferson and wants to cut starting pay to $9 an hour, from $11.10, and ultimately to cut the maximum base pay to $11 an hour, from $13. For new workers, the company would reduce maximum vacation to four weeks, compared with six weeks for current workers. Tyson also wants workers to contribute more toward their health coverage and accept a less comprehensive plan and to freeze pensions so that workers would not get larger pensions the longer they work. Instead, Tyson wants to institute a 401(k) program, which is less costly to the company."

This really goes to the question of what sort of country we want for ourselves. Shouldn't full time workers in profitable companies make enough money to raise a family, look forward to retirement and have their healthcare taken care of? Shouldn't someone who sticks it working in a sausage and pepperoni plant for twenty five years get six weeks vacation fer crissakes?

Anyway, as I said at the top, the news is hardly unexpected. Bush has finally staffed out the National Labor Relations Board the way he wants it. Employers know that they can pick fights and count on the Board to look the other way or drag it's feet in enforcing the labor law. The political climate always effects employers willingness to pick fights. When Reagan replace the public employee air traffic controllers private sector employees took the cue even though they were convered under different laws. Busting PATCO didn't set a legal precedent it set a spiritual one. And the rest as they say is history.

Here is coverage on Bush appointments at the NLRB:
Labor Research Association Online

New Bush-Appointed NLRB Could Cause Serious Damage to Labor Law (June 24, 2003)

"Yet another weapon in the Bush administration's anti-worker arsenal is the freshly packed National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the five-member body charged with enforcing federal labor laws.

The latest President Bush has only just finished staffing the now-Republican-dominated board, so blockbuster decisions have yet to be handed down. But the board is now dominated by appointees hostile to labor, so it's just a matter of time before the true Republican colors of the Bush NLRB come through.

...Already, the NLRB has shocked the labor community with its decision to support a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The business trade group seeks to strike down a California law preventing employers from using tax dollars for anti-union campaigns. The NLRB filed a friend-of-the-court brief backing the Chamber's position in the appellate court case.

Bush in Zaire inquires about the "rope a dope". 

U.S. intelligence doubted report on Iraq Bush cited in State of the Union speech

By John Solomon, Associated Press, 7/11/2003 02:21

WASHINGTON (AP) Before and after President Bush claimed in January that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa, U.S. intelligence officials expressed doubts about the British intelligence report that Bush cited to back up his allegation, senior U.S. officials said.
Those doubts were relayed to British officials before they made them public and across several agencies of the federal government before Bush gave his State of the Union speech, the officials said.

...CBS, ABC and CNN reported Thursday that CIA officials who saw a draft of Bush's speech even questioned whether his statement was too strong given the quality of the British intelligence. But the remark was left in, provided it was attributed to the British.
Critics also have attacked the administration's characterizations of the current outlook in Iraq, where the war's former commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, told a House panel Thursday that U.S. troops may have to remain in Iraq for four years.


For starters, two to four years means six to eight.

This stuff is going to start making trouble for Bush. Three or four months from now when Iraq is starting to feel like a quagmire to the broad public I think the facts behind the justifaction are going to start mattering. It also has emboldened Democrats and the media to take it to the administration. The echo chamber effect is over for now and that is going soften him up.

Chalabi Watch 

Iraq's Chalabi: U.S. Does Not Need More Troops
Wed July 9, 2003 08:58 AM ET
By Ayla Jean Yackley

ANKARA (Reuters) - Iraqi political leader Ahmad Chalabi said on Wednesday Washington should not send more troops to the Arab state to fight increasingly violent attacks but must instead swiftly arm and train a police force.

He's most likely right but, goddamnit!!! HE IS NOT AN "IRAQI POLITICAL LEADER"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Afghanistan Watch : we are coming here for picnics 

American general calls for more Afghanistan aid

(IHT) - FORT BRAGG, North Carolina - A former U.S. commanding general in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Daniel McNeill, has warned that Afghanistan's recovery from war and economic stagnation is in danger unless the international community takes bolder steps in the rebuilding efforts.
The army officer said that security in Afghanistan, while still precarious, was the better now than it had been in decades and that it would improve if the nation's economy received foreign assistance for big projects like roads.
The general acknowledged that he disagreed with leading civilians involved in Afghanistan - like the United Nations' special representative, Lakhdar Brahimi - who insist that security in the nation must be improved before it can attract more aid donors.
"We need to move more quickly and get projects out into the hinterlands," the general said in his first long interview since stepping down May 27 after a year as commander of 11,000 allied troops, including 9,000 Americans.
As elusive guerrilla fighters continue their attacks against coalition forces, McNeill said the resistance still posed a serious threat to the fragile government headed by Hamid Karzai.
He expressed amazement at the ingenuity of some of Al Qaeda and Taliban diehards. After a clash in January in southern Afghanistan, he said, U.S. soldiers found a cow, donkeys, food stocks and a kitchen big enough to feed 40 people, all behind a cave false wall.
Given the security conditions, McNeill said he anticipated no major changes in the size or shape of the U.S. force in Afghanistan until possibly next summer, when 9,000 members of a coalition-trained Afghan national army are supposed to be ready to conduct patrols and to monitor borders.
The program got off to a rocky start last year when many of the recruits quit before basic training was even finished, complaining of homesickness and the $30 a month the United States was paying them. For their part, the trainers were discouraged that relatively few members of the tough, anti-Karzai Pashtun tribe had volunteered. But now, McNeill said, the program has picked up momentum, and so far has trained 4,000 soldiers.

-Afghan News Network

UN offers to mediate between Afghanistan, Pakistan

(News International - Pakistan) - KABUL: The United Nations on Thursday offered to help mediate any differences between Afghanistan and Pakistan, after the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul was ransacked earlier this week.

On Tuesday, several hundred Afghans attacked the Pakistan Embassy, destroying furniture, windows and electronics. "We believe that is not a way to express protest," UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said. "The two countries are neighbours, the two countries are brothers. We believe all their differences can be settled through bilateral contacts and, when necessary, through their friends including the United Nations."
President Hamid Karzai has condemned the incident, apologised to Pakistan and said his government would compensate for the damage. Authorities said most of the perpetrators were students from a nursing school in east Kabul, but they have only arrested one person so far -- the school's director.

-Afghan News Network

Afghanistan: Amnesty Chief Sees Little Improvement In Human Rights
By J.M. Ledgard

The secretary-general of Amnesty International has strongly condemned the lack of progress in human rights in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. Irene Khan, the head of the London-based international human rights advocacy group, says the transitional Afghan government has failed to impose a rights-based agenda on the reconstruction of the country.
... "We wouldn't expect a lot in 18 months in a country that has gone through the history and conflict and that has always had a system where human rights is almost unknown. But, nevertheless, the failure to address any of the issues really outside Kabul is a real disappointment," she said.
...She singled out judicial reform and women's rights as key issues the government must urgently address. "The face of insecurity in Afghanistan is feminine," she said. "Women have always had a hard time here. They had a very tough time under the Taliban. Now, we hear stories of rape, abduction, forced marriages."
According to Amnesty, 90 percent of the women in Kabul's prisons are there for so-called sexual crimes. Many have deserted abusive husbands or forced marriages and have been threatened with death by family members. One woman freed by Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai last November was subsequently killed by a family member.
...Underlying the question of human rights is security, however. A lack of security, especially in southern and eastern parts of the country, has led to conditions where torture, killings, land confiscations, and kidnappings are commonplace.
... "Ordinary Afghans are not putting abuses in terms of human rights," Khan said. "What they are talking about is plain old security."
That raises questions about more effective regional leaders -- such as Governor Ismail Khan in the western province of Herat -- who may restrict freedom of speech but whose security forces maintain order and allow aid workers to better deliver services.
"Ismail Khan has got Herat under very tight control, and he's reintroducing some of the restrictions of the Taliban with respect to women," Khan said. The problem in Afghanistan, she noted, is that there has always been a dilemma over whether to choose security or freedom. "The truth is," Khan said, "you can have both."
Amnesty wants a commission of inquiry in Afghanistan to look at past and present human rights abuses. Kahn said the government and international donors have shown little interest, however.

-Radio Free Europe

A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL : Negligence in Afghanistan

THE BUSH administration's failure to help Afghans rehabilitate their war-blasted land makes the United States appear either incompetent at the work of nation-building abroad or deceitful about its interest in the welfare of peoples Washington has claimed to liberate.

...During the worst of the Taliban depredations, US officials were describing that regime as a stabilizing force and US energy companies were seeking to reach agreements with the Taliban for a pipeline that would carry natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan. It was only in response to Sept. 11, 2001, and with the aim of depriving bin Laden's terrorist gang of its base of operations in Afghanistan that the Bush administration invaded and, coincidentally, freed Afghans from the tyranny of the Taliban.

Today, partly as a consequence of the administration's doctrinal enmity toward foreign policy as social welfare, warlords are in the saddle again in many Afghan provinces. Poppy production and the heroin trade are flourishing. Roads and irrigation works are yet to be rebuilt. Worst of all, neither the American soldiers hunting Al Qaeda nor the International Security Assistance Force in the country have provided basic security. As a result, vengeful Taliban forces are staging raids in the south while militias of ethnic Tajik and Uzbek commanders in the north attack each other.

Activist pleads for more help in Afghanistan
Australian Broadcasting Company
The World Today - Friday, 11 July , 2003 12:18:48

TAHMEENA FARYAL: You can see some surface changes. Yes, women are not forced to wear the burka and you see some women without the burka. At least they dare to have their faces open but still most, most of the women prefer to wear the burka. And if you ask them why, they say fear and that's, you know, unfortunately um, something that they find protective.

NANCE HAXTON: Does that reflect the lack of stability still in Afghanistan?

TAHMEENA FARYAL: Absolutely. Yes, yes. The security situation is quite bad, especially in the parts, in most of the parts of the country that we do have the UN peacekeepers. In Kabul, probably is the best because of the presence of the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) forces, and even with that there have been explosions and assassinations, assassination threats, abductions, rape.

NANCE HAXTON: So, unfortunately the situation really hasn't improved since the days of the Taliban?

TAHMEENA FARYAL: Not much in any radical sense.

...NANCE HAXTON: Do you think Afghanistan has fallen off the global radar to a degree? Have people forgotten this country since that blaze of publicity when the war was in full swing?

TAHMEENA FARYAL: Absolutely, and that's one of the fears of our people? that Afghanistan has become a forgotten story once again and worse, and it's thought as a liberated country now things are fixed there and, you know, it probably doesn't need attention and support of international community as much as it really does and people?

The other worse thing is that a lot was promised, a lot was promised by the United States and allied countries. A lot was promised by the Government of Afghanistan, which of course, is based on the support of the United States. Nothing was done.

People do not see any reconstruction happening. If there are some it's basically some buildings, houses of the commanders, of the jihadi, I mean, fundamentalist leaders, or some NGOs, ah, not for the ordinary people."

read here:
or listen here:

Afghanistan: Doubling Reconstruction Aid Needed
Friday, 11 July 2003, 8:50 am
Press Release: United Nations

Afghanistan: UN Official Calls For Doubling International Aid For Reconstruction

Calling for at least doubling international assistance for Afghanistan, a senior United Nations official said today that international financial commitments were neither large enough nor coming in fast enough to guarantee the war-ravaged country's reconstruction.
...Noting that at a meeting in Tokyo in January there had been a commitment of $4.6 billion to Afghanistan, Mr. Fisher said: "(It) sounded like a lot of money, but when the World Bank and the UN made an estimate of what was actually needed in this country for the next three years, they estimated conservatively $13 billion and optimistically $19 billion. So you put the $4.6 billion commitment for reconstruction in that context it's not enough."
He pointed out that the Afghan government requested $2.2 billion for this year's budget, while promises by the international community made in Brussels in March totalled just under $2 billion, even without counting additional costs for elections."

-The Scoop (New Zealand)

You gotta be kidding me. This country is our showpiece laboratory on nation building and good will in the Muslim world and they are quibbling over 3 billion dollars? Jesus Christ!!!

Afghanistan arrests top official of ousted Taliban
Thursday, July 10th, 2003

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan authorities have arrested a senior official of the ousted Taliban and seized a large quantity of bomb-making material in a raid in the restive southern province of Kandahar, the provincial governor said on Thursday.
The man, a brother and aide of former Taliban defence minister Mullah Obaidullah, was seized in a house in Kandahar city, said governor Gul Agha Sherzai.
"We captured him and with him we seized about 1,200 detonators," he told reporters in Kabul. "Lots of equipment for explosions and some 50 light and heavy machineguns."

Construction of university begins in western Afghanistan
Thursday, July 10th, 2003

KABUL (AFP) - A five million dollar project to build one of the largest ever universities in Afghanistan got underway in the main western city of Herat this week, officials said.
The university of Herat will provide educational facilities for over 10,000 students for the western provinces of Herat, Ghor, Farah and Badghis, eclipsing the current institution which accommodates 3,300 students, authorities said.
The university, which will take three years to build, will cover an area of 70,000 square meters (83,719 square yards) at a total cost of five million dollars for 12 buildings.
The project is funded from the development budget of Afghanistan´s central government and will be drawn from customs revenues in Herat, officials said.

Andrew Sullivan linked to this the other day under the heading "Silver lining".

Afghans can see progress since fall of Taliban
By Mark Memmott, USA TODAY
ISTALIF, Afghanistan - The simplistic way to look at what's been happening here since the Taliban regime was vanquished a little more than 19 months ago is to focus on the broken promises, the lack of progress and regular warnings that at any moment Afghanistan could again be torn apart.
For a better view, drive to this mountainside village 90 minutes north of Kabul.
Come on a warm, sunny Friday, the Muslim holy day. Stop at a picnic area in a wooded plateau with a commanding view of the Shomali Plain. Chances are, men such as Haji Zahir Kargar, 50, will be there with friends and family who also have driven up from Kabul.
"Often on Fridays now, we are coming here for picnics," Kargar, a clerk, says through an interpreter. "During the Taliban years? No!" Such entertainment was banned by the fundamentalist militia.
...To be sure, Afghans don't think there has been enough progress. And they don't dismiss the daunting problems their country still faces:
* The government has made only modest headway extending its reach beyond the capital, Kabul, and reducing the power of warlords who control most of the country.
* Afghans constantly tell foreigners they want more done to rid their nation of the "gunslingers" and warlords who squabble among themselves, demand bribes to provide basic services, persecute minorities and allow their henchmen to rob travelers.

...The world's richest nations have spent several billion dollars to help feed the Afghan people, provide security in Kabul and set up emergency aid operations in the country. But relatively little has gone to actual reconstruction or long-term assistance. Most roads outside the cities are still little more than dirt paths pockmarked by bomb craters. Hospitals don't have basic medicines or equipment.

Women are still expected to stay at home and wear the head-to-toe burqa covering, even though the Taliban's harsh interpretations of Islam are no longer in force.

Afghanistan's economy is in shambles. Foreign investment is coming into Kabul and some of the other major cities. But nearly all is aimed at providing services to foreigners and generates relatively few jobs. The number of hotels, restaurants and Internet cafes is growing rapidly, but most Afghans remain unemployed or underemployed. In the countryside, many people survive on the food they can grow and sell.

The one homegrown industry that is thriving: the cultivation of poppies and resulting trade in opium and heroin. Though poppy production is illegal, this year's crop is expected to be among the largest ever in a nation that traditionally has been the world's biggest supplier. It's too lucrative for farmers to give up. The average Afghan family involved in poppy cultivation earned $6,500 last year, according to U.N. estimates. The average annual household income in Afghanistan: about $300.
Security is still just a dream in many places. In the south, along the border with Pakistan and around Kandahar, U.S. and Afghan soldiers engage in firefights with Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters every few days. A convoy of U.S. special operations forces and Afghan soldiers was ambushed Sunday in eastern Afghanistan by attackers using homemade bombs, according to the U.S. military.
President Hamid Karzai is still guarded by U.S. commandos because there aren't enough trained and trusted Afghan guards to keep him safe from would-be assassins.

...Finance Ministry officials say they collected $40 million from the warlords in just two months this year. Last month, they said they would soon be able to pay many of the country's million or so civil servants at least one month's salary. Some haven't been paid in more than a year. The average teacher, clerk or other civil servant earns about $30 a month...

I hate to call the glass half full but "Silver lining"? Gimme a fucking break. USA Today would have found a ray of sunshine in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge rolled into Phnom Penh

CIA World Factbook : Afghanistan

World Press Review MAP : Afghanistan

Thursday, July 10, 2003

When it absolutely, positively has to be pacified overnight. 

Here is an interview
with PW Singer on the private military corporations.

What's interesting is the contrast of two firms. In 1995 Sierra Leone had no money and couldn't get any help from the international community to defend itself from a group of rebels, the RUF. The RUF were universally recognized as bad characters, with a habit of chopping the arms of civilians. The government hired Executive Outcomes to pacify the guerillas. Executive Outcomes is made up of veterans from the South African apartheid regime's elite forces. "With a battalion-sized unit of assault infantry (numbering in the low hundreds), who were supported by firm-manned combat helicopters, light artillery, and a few armored vehicles managed to defeat the RUF in a matter of weeks."* In exchange the government deeded over some diamond mines in rebel held territory to corporate allies of Executive Outcomes. They just had to secure the mines.

"Executive Outcomes was able to defeat the RUF in a span of weeks. Its victory brought enough stability to allow Sierra Leone to hold its first election in over a decade. After its contract termination, however, the war restarted. In 1999 the U.N. was sent in. Despite having a budget and personnel size nearly 20 times that of the private firm, the U.N. force took several years of operations, and a rescue by the British military, to come close to the same results."

EO was cheaper and more effective that the UN. What can be done to make the UN more effective in these situations?

Compare this with the record of DynCorp in Bosnia. "Here Dyncorp the American private military firm were found guilty of unfair dismissal in the UK. This after employee Kathryn Bolkovac blew the whistle on how the west's nation builders, including UN policemen, were having underage sex, starting their own prostitution rings and raping minors (The Times, Aug 7 2002). Rather than investigate, Dyncorp sacked Ms Bolkovac for threatening their lucrative contracts with the United Nations. One UN officer took a minor captive, kept her in his apartment and used her both as his own sexual slave and as a pimped her to other men. Dyncorp, in the process of being found guilty, were forced to admit in court that they had dismissed three of their officers for involvement in prostitution. Eight others have been sent home. No legal proceedings have been taken against those men."

DynCorp has been contract to run law enforcement for the provisional government in Bagdad.

I'm not necessarily against rivate military firms. There are a number of thorny issues surrounding them.

1. There ground ops aren't covered by the Geneva Convention. What happens when they are taken prisoner?
2. In Columbia when some were taken prisoner the US had to go bail them out.
3. This is creating a disturbing lobbying dynamic. It's very easy to envision any number of things being contracted out to these folks under the rubric of cost savings and actually costing more.
4. The old bait and switch. A typical dynamic of privatization is that the services are provide more cheaply than government can provide them until government no longer has the capacity to provide them.
5. Accountability.
6. Drug dealers, evil insurgent groups, nasty governments can all hire these firms.

There are a number of other concerns, but I have to get to work and you're so clever I'm sure you've already thought of them and then some that I haven't.

Read more about DynCorp

or apply to join their police force in Bagdad

Iraqi oil 

There is a Q&A with John Cassidy in the New Yorker online about his piece in the magazine this week.

Here is something that's been gnawing at me for awhile:

"NYer:There was an idea before the war that Iraq would be able to pay for its own reconstruction through oil revenues. Is that proving to be realistic?

JC:That depends on how quickly the oil revenues come onstream. If the current situation continues, there won't be much in the way of oil revenues, and there probably won't be much reconstruction, either. British and American officials on the ground are already said to be arguing about whether the occupying authority should start investing in reconstruction-things like power stations and dams-before the oil revenues start to flow in big amounts. The British want to start spending money now; the Americans don't. Since this is basically an American show, I predict that the chances of large-scale reconstruction beginning anytime soon are slim."

Now, are we talking about using the Iraqi's oil money to rebuild the things that we blew up or were sacked in looted in the aftermath? or are we talking about rebuilding in a deeper sense, rebuilding the things that fell into neglect due to Saddam's military spending and a decade of embargo and trade sanctions.

Because I really think that we should pay for the things we blew up. And the hospitals that we allowed to be looted.

But why is the Administration dragging it's heels on large scale reconstruction? Isn't time to show the Iraqi's that we really mean business when it comes to rebuilding their country?

Back and burnt. 

Just back from a whirlwind tour of the rollercoasters on the Santa Cruz boardwalk, the beaches at Big Sur and the redwoods at Big Basin State Park. Beautiful day at Big Sur. The sky was so clear and cloudless it was almost surreal. I thought I had been out enough that I only needed sun screen on my legs. Turns out I that that wasn't the case.

It was good to see my friend David.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Gone fishin' 

Gone to Santa Cruz until Wednesday afternoon. No blogging until Thursday. If you can't find anything else to read on the web until then check out "dossier : 2004" down the left margin.
Bye bye.

It's not easy being Green 

Those damn fool Greens.

I've been meaning to get to this for a week.

Here's RealPlayer video of Dean's announcement speach.

Dean takes the stage at 22 minutes in. At 25:50 a giant green sign "VOTE FOR GREEN PARTY" shows up behind his head just at the moment when he actually anounces. The sign turns around and says "NADER 7% IN VERMONT". At 33:18 the Dean campaign leaps into action with a big ladder and then Dean handsigns stacked on long poles. For anyone who's worked on campaigns and know the kind of freaks running that kind of event it's just bathos to watch.

The Greens are a bunch of jackasses. Why not bring a sign that says, "GREENS : FRINGE PARTY"? Why hassle Dean? If you want to go hassle someone go hassle Joe Lieberman. You only get to announce that you're running for president the first time once in your life. Why ruin it for the guy? And what kind of self respecting party runs somebody for president that won't join the party or endorse the party's platform, anyway? Wasn't your role in the Florida debacle enough? These elitists are more concerned with being right than the actual state of affairs. There's no difference between the partys? If you're a group of workers trying to organize a union, it matters who heads the NLRB. If you are someone trying to get redress for discrimination, it matters who is running the EEOC. If you are Muslim living in New York City and your name is in the phonebook, it matters who's running the Department of Justice is. If you are a National Forest, it matters who the Secretary of the Interior is. If you are the air we breathe, it matters who the head of the EPA is. (kudos to Christina Todd Whitman for pissing everybody off.) There is a big difference between governing and complaining. Call us when you've won the mayorship of Boulder or the governorship of Wisconson. "VOTE GREEN PARTY"? That's illiterate. "NADER 7% IN VERMONT"? What's the message? There is no message.

The Greens haven't even run anyone for anything in Vermont this year as far as I can tell. Not even dog catcher.

And the name of the party in Green Party USA. GPUSA. Is that supposed to have historical resonance with CPUSA. Give me a break.

God, I feel like Ed Anger.

the powerball 

I didn't win the Powerball on Saturday. Again. I can't believe it. Do you know how many times I've played the Powerball and not won? I play at least a dozen times a year and I've been playing for years and I've never won $200,000,000. I just doesn't make any sense. I'm starting to think that they have it rigged so that it's almost impossible to win.

al jazeerah 

On the Media had an interesting piece on Al Jazeera this week.

Listen to it here:

Pain Station 

This is just awesome.

Sunday, July 06, 2003

And Iran, Iran so far away. I just ran, Iran all night and day. I couldn't get away." -Flock of Seagulls  

From Australian Broadcasting Company:

Several Iranian students on hunger strike over arrests:
"A number of students from Tehran and provincial universities have gone on hunger strike to demand the release of classmates arrested during recent anti-regime protests, press reports said Thursday.
The reformist Nassim Saba paper said several students from Tehran's Allameh Tabatabae University had stopped eating since Monday.
They were demanding that detained demonstrators be freed and "rogue elements" of the clerical regime, namely hardline vigilante groups that helped violently quell the June 10-20 protests, be put on trial."

Can I just say how beautiful is it to see non-violent civil disobedience in an Islamic country.

The Islamic Republic News Agency reports:

"Tehran, July 4, IRNA -- Substitute leader of Tehran Friday Prayers
Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani called on the university student and
youth not to allow enemies to infiltrate in the universities to pursue
their evil objectives making allusion to the recent varsity events in
Iran's capital Tehran and other major cities."

Whatever, dude.

From the Guardian:
"The United States will beam a Farsi-language television news programme into Iran tonight, the latest in the propaganda war to create discontent among an alienated younger generation.
US officials say News and Views will air nightly for a half-hour via satellite to provide an alternative to the country's state television, which answers to the all-powerful Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei."

Hooray! ('bout time.)

Bush and Taylor 

I didn't see the hold up for sending troops into Liberia given Taylor's statements that he would step down once there was adequate US presence to enforce the cease fire. I had to give the guy credit for basically saying, "If I step down now we'll just end up with someone as bad as me and none of us wants that do we?"

This post by AfricaPundit gave me pause.

"...Taylor won't leave power easily. He's proven time and time again that he will do or say anything to remain in Monrovia. Therefore, a UN mission to enforce a ceasefire will only buy time for Taylor and further establish him as an authority who must be negotiated with... Don't be fooled: Taylor will negotiate forever, but he'll never agree to leave power."

Granted, this was written before Taylor pledged to leave contingent on US presence. Nevertheless, why couldn't we get a hard agreement from him to leave by a specific date and oust him for being in violation of that agreement if he doesn't leave. Our troops will be there anyway.

US intervention here would change Mugabe's political calculus in Zimbabwe.

For basic information on Liberia go here:
The CIA World Factbook : Liberia

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