Thursday, May 31, 2007

Bush sabotages upcoming G8 meeting.

Merkel is perhaps his former close ally. Bush is just torpedoing the G8 meeting and making motions as if he actually was interested in combating climate change. No doubt the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will follow along and replace Merkel as his close ally.

Bush unveils climate plans that reject caps
Deborah Zabarenko and Caren Bohan, CanWest News Service
Published: Thursday, May 31, 2007
WASHINGTON -- U.S. President George W. Bush unveiled a strategy on global warming on Thursday that stressed new technologies but rejected the caps on greenhouse gases that other rich countries want.

To address the problem, Bush said he wants the nations that emit the most climate-warming greenhouse gases to meet in the United States this fall.

The proposals came a week before his close ally, German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosts the Group of Eight summit where she hoped to forge an agreement on climate change.

Bush has been under pressure to give some ground at the meeting, but critics dismissed his new strategy as a diversion and a delaying tactic.

Germany and other European countries have had no success in pressing the United States to adopt firm targets for cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

"The United States takes this issue seriously," Bush said in a speech outlining his agenda for the G8 summit at the Baltic resort of Heiligendamm. "The way to meet this challenge of energy and global climate change is through technology and the United States is in the lead."

Bush said he would cut tariff barriers to sharing environmental technology. His plan was greeted with immediate skepticism by environmental groups.

"This is a transparent effort to divert attention from the president's refusal to accept any emissions reductions proposals at next week's G8 summit," said Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust.

"After sitting out talks on global warming for years, the Bush administration doesn't have very much credibility with other governments on the issue," Clapp added.

The U.S. strategy calls for consensus on long-term goals for reducing the greenhouse gases that spur global warming, but not before the end of 2008. Bush would also call on countries to set "midterm" goals "that reflect their own mix of energy sources and future energy needs."

Bush plans in the fall to convene the first in a series of meetings on ways to limit global emissions by a set amount by about 2050. About 15 countries would be invited, including two nations that like the United States are major polluters, China and India.

Merkel had wanted the G8 summit to pave the way for negotiations to expand and extend the Kyoto Protocol on climate change beyond 2012.

But Bush, who rejected the Kyoto accord, opposes the so-called "cap and trade" system at the heart of Kyoto involving credits for companies that cut emissions and penalties for those that do not.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino made clear the United States would continue to reject that approach. "We do not endorse global carbon trading," Perino said.

"This is a deliberate and carefully crafted attempt to derail any prospect of a climate change agreement (at the G8 summit)," said Tony Juniper, head of Friends of the Earth.

"The prospects of him getting this to some form of conclusion in 18 months are extremely slim," Juniper said. "Basically we should see this as a delaying tactic to keep the climate change issue off his back in terms of any real decisions until he leaves office [in early 2009]."

(Additional reporting by Noah Barkin in Berlin)

Imperial Rot?

Petras is always provocative. I doubt that Arab countries are showing much backbone in standing up to the US. I doubt too that the US is actually suffering more than minor setbacks in the larger scheme of things. The US is still the only military mega power. It will not be until conflict with China and Russia develop that there will be real challenges to US power. There are already signs of an arms race with Russia and there is renewed expenditure on the military in China. Even if the US withdrew from Iraq the country would have to work out some modus vivendi with the US that would include some accomodation on oil. At best Iraq would get a much better deal with China perhaps outbidding US and European oil interests.
Profits are soaring with the huge expenditures in Iraq. A more threatening scenario is an international depression if the military Keynsianism system should collapse.

Are the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq the Beginning of the End of the American Empire?
Imperial Rot

Washington outlined in explicit language its plans to engage in sequential wars in the Middle East, Southwest and Northeast Asia and the Caribbean. Under the offensive military doctrine of 'Pre-emptive Wars' and the 'Global War against Terrorism', the United States' pursuit of military conquest was backed by Israel, Great Britain and several newly incorporated client states from Eastern Europe. The White House's grandiose scheme of world conquest was orchestrated and pre-maturely celebrated by top Zioncon (Zionist Conservative) officials embedded in the Pentagon, White House and the National Security Council.

The imperial wars of conquest however were stopped literally dead in their tracks at their starting point: Iraq and Afghanistan. Subsequent to the US invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, a formidable mass armed resistance emerged from the underground, aided by widespread civilian support. Large majorities of public opinion, major religious communities , trade union militants , small business associations and neighborhood-based community organizations actively and passively opposed the US-led occupation forces at every turn, providing logistical support and intelligence to the armed and non-violent resistance. Similar developments took place at a later stage in Afghanistan. Despite draconian military measures, including the bombing of population centers, systematic mass round-ups of civilians followed by brutal torture, the US military failed to consolidate its rule via puppet regimes. As the resistance grew, Washington's efforts to foment ethnic-religious sectarian warfare and territorial fragmentation failed. By late 2006 it was clear that the imperial army's only territorial conquest was the bunkers in the so-called 'Green Zone'. In 2007 Washington escalated its troop commitments in a desperate effort to fend off impending defeat and to recover massive loss of domestic support.

From a world historical perspective, the Iraqi and Afghan resistance has successfully stymied Washington's pursuit of world domination through a series of offensive wars. The success of the national liberation movements led to the over-extension of the US imperial armed forces ­ weakening efforts to launch programed ground wars against Iran, Syria and elsewhere. The prolonged resistance led to wholesale domestic opposition in the face of never-ending US casualties and skyrocketing financial costs.

The demoralization of the US infantry and National Guard prevented Washington from following up its failed coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez with a direct military invasion.

The prolonged and deteriorating war in Afghanistan, with the advances of the re-grouped guerrilla fighters especially among the civilian population, has led the US-controlled colonial coalition to engage in indiscriminate bombing of civilians ­ adding to the growth of the anti-colonial resistance.

The success of the resistance movements in Iraq and Afghanistan and the appeal of their examples has encouraged new formidable anti-colonial struggles, led by Hizbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia as well as having stiffened the resolve of Iranian leaders to resist US demands to unilaterally suspend their nuclear programs. Further abroad, the weakening of US global military interventionist capacity has taken the heat off of progressive governments in Venezuela and revolutionary Cuba. The consolidation of the Venezuelan nationalist-populist government has had a powerful demonstration impact throughout Latin America, encouraging new anti-imperialist movements and dissident governments in Ecuador and beyond. In an all out battle of ideas, programs, foreign aid and solidarity, Bush is losing out to President Chavez: Unable to launch a full-scale military invasion, to eliminate the Chavez government, Washington has failed to match Venezuela's vast petrol subsidies and promising alternative integration proposals: ALBA has prevailed over ALCA.

The failure of Washington's will to a world empire has led to the shrinking of power relative to its global situation prior to 2001. And in large part that is due to the fighting capacity and organized resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan: Both have demonstrated that despite the great store of modern technological warfare and monopolies of media propaganda, wars are decided on the ground, by the popular majorities directly affected. It is they who set in motion the conversion of enthusiastic domestic majorities for the US war to demoralized minorities; it is they who have given backbone and resiliency to the Middle Eastern governments who vacillate between collaboration with and rejection of the colonial powers.

James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50 year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in brazil and argentina and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed). His new book with Henry Veltmeyer, Social Movements and the State: Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina, will be published in October 2005. He can be reached at:

Dealing Democrats

Another article about the Democrat betrayal of the peace movement. The Democrats are truly a pitiful party. The best solution for activists would be to work outside the political system or try to form a third party. Boring from within will have only the result that activists will be bored to death or exhausted without achieving much of anything.

Dealing Democrats

President Bush can meet with family friend, Prince Bandar while Vice President Cheney meets with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, but neither leader are able to meet with Cindy Sheehan and the mothers who ask to know why their children have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congress, the Democrats in particular dealt Cindy and the families of these soldiers another blow. Instead of voting-all the democrats voting against this 120 billion dollar spending bill lacking any deadline for troop withdrawal, the Democrats, as Cindy writes in her open letter to the Congress and the American public, May 28, 2007, handed the Bush administration more money for political expediency. "It is a moral abomination and every second the occupation of Iraq endures, you all have more blood on your hands."

The country was lied to by this administration.

The country has witnessed the unraveling of the Halliburton and Blackwater scheme for war profits.

We have had Katrina and a despicable response from the administration before and after the hurricane.

Eight million dollars sent to Iraq, handed over to the Iraqi "government" under Paul Brenner's control, is missing. It is a good possibility that this money was distributed as treats to hands held out, including the hands of El-Qaeda and other insurgent groups who, in turn, are maiming and killing U.S. soldiers.

What deal have the Democrats made with the Bush administration?

Over 3000 soldiers have died without the media in this country covering their return home. The President has not attended one funeral. Over 50, 000 wounded soldiers are returning to no homes and are ending up on the streets. Many are coming back to wives who are stressed out from trying to care for children while they face the possibility of foreclosures on their homes and or farms. More soldiers are suffering from devastating injuries, particularly brain trauma, requiring life-long care. Others are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Did I mention the criminal conditions suffered by returning Vets at Walter reed Hospital right there in Washington D.C.?

Teaching people to kill-to shape an "enemy" in their minds rather than incubate or foster ideas for living with others has resulted in soldiers returning home and seeing wives and other family members as the enemy. When those responsible for leading this country, betrays its military for oil profits for the few and an idea of world control for mega-corporations, should the American public speak up in outrage? Shouldn't all of America have joined Cindy in demanding accountability to the countless deaths of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi citizens alike? Shouldn't the Democrats have done more than capitulate to Bush's spending of billions for war?

Families have lost mothers and children have lost parents. These young soldiers serve as fodder for the war machine, and like the victims of Katrina, know something suffering governmental indifference.

Even if a soldier does not lose his or her life, they lose in the long run while Bush, Cheney, Rice, Halliburton, Blackwater trip over the money bags on the way to Swiss banks. They and their friends are the ones who are thought of when contracts worth billions pass from one hand to the other, when control of the "globalization" of the world is the only idea worth considering.

The atmosphere in this country for the right to dissent is as cruel and as brutal as the activities at detention campus operated by the U.S. in its "war on terror."

This "war on terror" has successfully produced terror! Read and try to feel the terror as Cindy writes of the "thousands of broken hearts." "How do you put behind you the screaming mothers on both sides of the conflict? How does the agony you have created escape you? It will never escape me I can't run far enough to get away from it."

The Democrats did not do it! They did not listen to Cindy or those mothers or the American people who gave them their vote last November. They did not do it!

Cindy wrote that the Camp Casey Peace Institution will meet in Philadelphia on July 4th "to try and figure out this 'two' party system that is brought and paid for by the war machine which has a stranglehold on every aspect of our lives." Cindy is leaving the Democratic Party because to stay with the Democrats is to "stay the course" of disaster lead by the Republican administration.

She is leaving the Democratic Party, for they "have failed" those who put them in power "to change the direction our country is heading."

"We did not elect you to help sink our ship of state but to guide it to safe harborWe gave you a chance, you betrayed us."

Dr. Jean Daniels lives in Madison, Wisconson and writes a column for the City Capital Hues and the Black Commentator. Email:

Sheehan Leaves Peace Movement

Why did it take her so long to give up on the Democrats? It is too bad that she is leaving the stage entirely although there are plenty of others who will keep working in the movement. Perhaps she just needs a rest.

May 29, 2007

Anti-War Activist Cindy Sheehan Leaves Peace Movement
Peace activist Cindy Sheehan, who camped outside President Bush's Texas ranch after her son died in Iraq in 2004, announced Monday that she will bow out of anti-war activities. She cited her frustration with the Republican and Democratic parties, as well as exhaustion and a desire to be near her children, as reasons for her return home to California.

"When I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode," Sheehan wrote in her blog. "I guess no one paid attention to me when I said that the issue of peace and people dying for no reason is not a matter of 'right or left,' but 'right and wrong.'"

Sheehan's decision to withdraw from the anti-war movement comes days after Congress approved a bill authorizing supplemental funding for the war in Iraq without benchmarks for troop withdrawals. Some Democrats, especially women representatives, voted against the bill. But other Democrats defended their support of the supplemental funding by saying that Democrats in Congress currently do not have enough votes to override the president's veto of a bill that includes benchmarks. Representative John Murtha (D-PA) said that Congress will receive a report of the surge, which he said "is not producing the results that were promised," in September. He said that the Democrats will then find "the votes from both Democrats and Republicans to change policy and direction."

The approved supplemental bill includes funds to benefit veterans and Hurricane Katrina victims. A minimum wage provision that extends to the Northern Mariana Islands is also included. In Iraq, the law prohibits the use of any funds to support "the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq" and ensures that the United States will not control Iraqi oil resources.

Media Resources: Cindy Sheehan Daily Kos Blog 5/28/07; CBS News 5/29/07; Senator Barbara Boxer release 5/24/07; Representative John Murtha release 5/24/07

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

CIA Torture Program Ensnare Innocents

This is an interesting interview. Arar by the way still has a case before US courts but it will probably be rejected on national security grounds. Grey fails to note that Arar still is on the US no-fly list.

'CIA Torture Program Ensnares Innocents'
Interview with Stephen Grey, author of Ghost Plane

Christopher Brown (christo)

Published 2007-05-28 12:04 (KST)

The names Khaled El Masri, Moazzam Begg, Binyam Mohammad, and Maher Arar may not sound familiar to most people. But they are among the hundreds of people, many of whom have no proven ties to terrorist organizations, who since 1997 have been removed from airports on suspicions based at times on the flimsiest of evidence. They have been escorted away at boarding gates, grabbed while they changed planes, and approached on street corners. Those accused disappeared into a secret world of endless interrogations and torture; all transported care of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

In his new book Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program, award-winning investigative journalist Stephen Grey tells the true story of what became of the CIA's torture program known by the euphemism "extraordinary rendition" and the airplanes that make the program run. Citizen reporter Chris Brown spoke with him by telephone while he was in New York on a book tour.

Your first encounter with the rendition program began back in December 2001 while you were interviewing a certain congressperson, who later became one of President Bush's key men in the war on terror. Could you briefly talk about this?

I was working for The Sunday Times of London and I was in Washington just after Sept. 11. I sat down on a sofa in an office on Capital Hill in the office of Porter Goss, who was then the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and later became head of the CIA. It was he for the first time who actually told me the term "rendition." I was asking about what the CIA had been doing to capture Osama Bin Laden, and I said, "Could he have been kidnapped?" And he said, "It's called rendition. Have you heard of that?" And I said, "No I haven't." And he said it's a way of bringing people to a kind of justice.

So I was very intrigued to hear about this kind of concept. And that really was the start of what had become many years of inquiries to try to get to the bottom of it.

Many in the U.S. might think that this so-called rendition policy is a new weapon to pursue terrorists. But, in fact, it's been around for a number of years. Can you speak about this?

Rendition itself -- which basically means sending people across to another country without any trial, legal process, or treaty -- that's been going on since the 1880s. It started off with the case of someone being picked up in Peru by the Pinkerton Detective Agency, quite an early example of a contractor operating under presidential authority. But the point was that this kind of rendition involved bringing people back to trial in the United States, in other words before an open trial, before a judge and jury. And as such, although laws are broken abroad, it was ruled to be legal in the U.S. And that's been going on for a very long time.

I don't suppose many people would have much to protest about that. But what I'm writing about in the book is the program of extraordinary rendition. That began as a systematic program used against suspected Islamic terrorists in the 1990s under Bill Clinton, specifically in 1995. And its been going on ever since. Although, I have to say that while this program started under Clinton, it expanded dramatically after Sept. 11.

In the book you write about Canadian citizen Maher Arar. The U.S. sent him to Syria. Before he was sent there he was interrogated for quite some time by the U.S. When Arar found out that he would be sent to Syria, where he is originally from, he pleaded with the U.S. agents not to send him there because he was certain that he would be tortured. The Bush administration has repeated that it doesn't torture. But, in fact, it is at the very least outsourcing torture when it sends people off to places like Syria, Egypt, or Uzbekistan. More to the point, the U.S. have been involved directly with interrogations that have involved torture, most notably Abu Ghraib. I was wondering if you might comment more on this?

Sure, the basic problem for the U.S. is that the laws prohibit torture and no one can be directly involved in it. So the mechanism of sending people to another country does certainly allow interrogations to take place, which wouldn't be allowed if carried out by U.S. agents themselves. And, you know, initially when President Bush first commented about rendition he said, "We don't send people to countries that torture." And they had to revise that because I think the lawyers pointed out that, in fact, America does.

And there are lots of countries that send their people to other countries to be tortured. Funnily enough the best evidence, if you want to read about torture in Syria, is to look at publications by the U.S. government that show, in very great detail, the kind of torture reserved for people who upset the state in Syria, and in particular people who are accused of being Islamic militants face the worst kind of torture.

It's not just a matter of getting people off the street, keeping them out of harm's way. I mean, Maher Arar could have been flown back to Canada; in fact he was on his way home to Canada. There was a deliberate choice to send him to a country where, it was believed, he would be properly interrogated. And when he arrived he wasn't wanted by Syria; Syria had no interest in him. He was sent with a list of questions attached. He was asked about the threat that he posed to the U.S. and to Canada. He wasn't asked about Syria. So this is a very clear example of outsourcing, of getting other people to do your dirty work for you.

I read something in the book that I found disturbing. The pilots who flew the planes were issued fake IDs and licenses by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Can you speak more on this?

It's quite striking that these people are able to fly around the world with control and knowledge of many government agencies that they're using false documents and false names. And it's involved the FAA, it's involved state offices who issue fake driver's licenses, it involves private contractors down in San Jose. You have a major subsidiary of Boeing called Jefferson Data Plan, which is a private company that is involved in organizing private flights all around the world. And they work directly with the CIA in organizing these trips, which involve rendition. There was a quite interesting interview in the New Yorker where someone who actually worked for that company said that they were quite aware that these planes were being used for the outsourcing of torture. So there were a lot of people who had knowledge of this and I suppose everybody thinks it's someone else's job to work out whether this is right or wrong.

Maher Arar was not known to have any significant links to terrorists. The CIA admit that on occasion they target the wrong person. Can you talk about this more?

Well I do believe that when they pick these people up they don't deliberately target someone who's innocent. They really do suspect that they are capturing someone and try to get him out of the way.

But there seems to be a kind of recklessness about finding out the truth here, and Khaled El-Masri, who is a German citizen for example, he was picked up by people in the CIA who thought he was somebody else. But as Khaled himself said, to verify a passport just takes a few weeks. He was held for five months in solitary confinement. And he wasn't even questioned for months at a time. Essentially he was forgotten in this jail and he wasn't really that important to try to sort out the truth.

Likewise, Maher Arar was questioned on the flimsiest of evidence. He knew somebody, went for a walk with somebody who himself was under investigation. It's amazing through these intelligence reports how you can link someone to terrorism on these small pieces of evidence. But he was completely cleared. Maher Arar was judged by an official Canadian inquiry to be a man with no connections whatsoever with terrorists. And it just highlights secret detentions, secret intelligence and no opportunity to test this intelligence in a courtroom, have a lawyer try to challenge what you're accused of, is a system that is bound to end up locking up and mistreating people who are innocent. Because there is no safety valve to really check whether we're doing to this to other people who really have got something that they're guilty of.

And Maher Arar was compensated for his treatment by the Canadian government and issued a public apology, correct?

That's right he's been compensated, the head of the Royal Mounted Police has resigned, the government has apologized. Although there was poor evidence linking him to Al Qaeda, which turned out to be wrong, they have apologized for that. What should be said is that Canada played no role in the decision to send him to Syria. So whatever wrong intelligence they had and supplied to U.S., ultimately it was the U.S. that decided to send him to be tortured.

And what's really striking is that, although the administration continues to state publicly that it's against torture and that there are all kinds of laws that prohibit torture and ensure that people that take part in torture are prosecuted, there appears to be no way from him to complain in the U.S. He tried to file a lawsuit, and it's been judged that it can't go ahead because if it did it might reveal state secrets. So, there's been no avenue given to these people to actually get their day in court and find justice at last.

Christopher Brown is an independent journalist living in San Francisco, Ca. He produces and hosts a podcast entitled, Crossing The Line: Life in Occupied Palestine ( Stephen Grey's website is

Bush administration no closer to getting benchmarks achieved

The oil bill will hardly pass unless the objections of the Kurds are met and de-Baathification is just going to anger the Shia majority and no doubt many Kurds as well. I had not heard anywhere else the suggestion that Bush might be contemplating replacing the Malika government by some sort of National Salvation junta. Just how he could pull that off is hard to imagine!

Bush administration failing to achieve its “benchmarks” in Iraq
By James Cogan
28 May 2007

US President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have all personally warned Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that time is running out. Deadlines have gone or are fast approaching. Still, the Bush administration is no closer to achieving the “benchmarks” it demanded of the Iraqi government on January 10 and linked to the success of its current military “surge”.

The benchmarks are intended to pressure the Shiite- and Kurdish-dominated Iraqi government into agreeing to a new power-sharing arrangement. The US wanted major concessions made to the predominantly Sunni Arab elite of the former Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein, in the hope that significant sections of the Sunni insurgency would end their armed resistance. The marginalisation of the Baathists and the elevation of Shiite and Kurdish parties following the US invasion was a factor in the eruption of an anti-occupation guerilla war in Sunni areas, as well as the subsequent outbreak of a sectarian civil war.

The revamping of the puppet government in Baghdad was also an essential component of the Bush administration’s broader regional strategy. In its escalating confrontation with Iran, the White House has appealed for support from so-called Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which are hostile to the growing Iranian influence in the region, including within the Iraqi government. In part, the US “benchmarks” are aimed at fashioning a regime in Baghdad more acceptable to US regional allies and supportive of any American military action against Shiite Iran.

At the top of Washington’s agenda is the passage of an Iraqi oil law opening up the country to US corporations, but the legislation is mired in conflicting interests.

The Bush administration has demanded that the Iraqi government revise the US-drafted 2006 constitution that handed control over new oil production to the Kurdish- and Shiite-dominated provinces in the north and south where the country’s main fields are located. Unless the constitution is changed, the central Iraqi government and the predominantly Sunni, but resource-poor, provinces of central and western Iraq would see the bulk of oil revenue flowing to the Kurdish and Shiite elites. The alienated Sunni establishment would have no material incentive to withdraw its support for the anti-US armed struggle.

In another concession to the Sunni elite, the US has insisted on an end to the “de-Baathification” policy, which excludes senior members of the Baath Party from holding posts in the government, the state administration or military. Bush also wants provincial elections be held later this year, enabling Sunni parties, which boycotted the previous poll, to gain control of the Sunni provinces.

The White House calculated that the Kurdish and Shiite factions would fall into line with the US agenda. On this political front, however, the surge is clearly failing.

The Iraqi constitutional reform committee, which had until May 22 to recommend changes to the constitution to the parliament, could not agree on a final draft. The Kurdish nationalist parties, key allies of the US occupation from the outset, have refused to accept revisions that would take new oil production out of the hands of the semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), which administers three northern, predominantly Kurdish provinces.

Some Shiite leaders have also opposed any weakening of the regional and provincial powers over the oil industry. The Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), another crucial US ally, has expressed ambitions to establish a Shiite region in southern Iraq, which would contain the largest of Iraq’s untapped oilfields.

The US helped draw up a new oil law overturning regional control, which was accepted by Maliki’s cabinet in April. Parliament is supposed to pass the bill by May 31. The legislation calls for 93 percent of Iraq’s untapped oil fields to be put under the control of a state-owned national oil company, which would be answerable to the central government and would allocate contracts to foreign corporations. Revenues would be collected by the national government, then distributed to the provinces on the basis of population and need.

The failure to modify the constitution, however, effectively kills the new oil law. The KRG issued a statement on April 27 labelling the proposed legislation “unconstitutional”. It declared that the law “will not be supported by the KRG in the federal parliament”. The establishment of a national oil company, the KRG stated, “breaches requirements under the Iraq constitution that the petroleum sector be developed through private investment, with regional control over new petroleum fields, and joint development between regions and the federal government of currently producing fields”.

The wording of the original constitution also means the KRG has a veto over any changes affecting its powers. Clause 126 (4) of the document states: “Articles of the constitution may not be amended if such amendment takes away from the powers of the regions that are not within the exclusive powers of the federal authorities, except by the approval of the legislative authority of the concerned region and the approval of the majority of its citizens in a general referendum.”

The Kurdish parties have also rejected any change to the constitutionally mandated date of December 31, 2007, to hold a referendum in the province of Kirkuk to determine whether it will become part of the Kurdish region. Over 40 percent of Iraq’s known oil fields are located in Kirkuk.

The Shiite movement led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, two Sunni-based parties and the secular front headed by former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi have each declared their opposition to the referendum. The International Crisis Group warned in an April report that full-scale civil war was likely to erupt in northern Iraq if the Kurdish parties did not give up their ambitions to take the province. Representatives of the Arab and Turkomen communities in Kirkuk have threatened to take up arms to prevent the referendum—which has been structured to ensure that Kurdish voters will be a clear majority in the area.

While the Kurdish nationalists are blocking the oil law and threatening to plunge the north into turmoil, the Shiite parties in the government are blocking any end to de-Baathification.

The Shiite clerical establishment, the SIIC and the Sadrist movement have opposed any large-scale rehabilitation of the former regime’s upper echelon. While the Bush administration considers “national reconciliation” to be an essential ingredient in convincing Sunni insurgents to lay down their arms, the Shiite religious factions view it as threat to their power and privileges. Moreover, their supporters among the Shiite population suffered brutal repression under Saddam Hussein and bitterly oppose any concessions to the Baathists.

A Sadrist legislator, Falah Hassan Shansal, told the Washington Post last week: “If national reconciliation is at the expense of return of the assassin Baathists, then we will reject reconciliation.”

The Maliki government is stalling on setting dates for the holding of provincial elections. Maliki’s Da’wa Party and the SIIC fear that the Sadrist movement will take control of most of the predominantly Shiite southern provinces if polls take place.

A significant section of the Shiite population view Da’wa and the SIIC as US puppets. The Sadrists, by contrast, fought a brief uprising against American forces in 2004. While they subsequently entered into a coalition with the other Shiite parties and the government, the Sadrists have strengthened their base of support by demanding that the Bush administration set a timetable for the withdrawal of all US and foreign troops. In April, as popular opposition heightened toward the US “surge” in Baghdad, Sadr ordered his supporters to resign from Maliki’s cabinet.

The Sadrists boycotted the provincial elections in 2005 but believe they can now win most of the south in any new poll. In a show of political strength, hundreds of thousands of people took part in a Sadrist rally in Najaf on April 9 to protest against the US occupation. Over the past several months, bloody clashes have taken place between the Saadrist Mahdi Army and rival Shiite militias in Basra, Najaf, Nasiriyah, and smaller southern cities, as local rivalries intensify.

Concerned that the Sadrist movement could become a dangerous focus for opposition to the US occupation, the US military is seeking to weaken or destroy the Mahdi Army and take control of its stronghold in the Baghdad suburb of Sadr City. However, US military operations against the Mahdi Army have done little to weaken its influence.

Seeking to broaden their authority, the Sadrists have initiated talks with Sunni tribes and organisations to establish a political alliance. Some Sunni-based parties and the Sadrists share common ground. Both advocate a strong central government controlling the country’s oil resources and reject the Kurdish claims on Kirkuk. Each are also seeking to making an appeal to broad layers of the population that are deeply opposed to the US occupation.

Associated Press, citing Sadrist insiders, reported on May 23 that Sadr is preparing for the day when his movement can take power in Baghdad. The AP article stated: “The strategy is based in part on al-Sadr’s belief that Washington will soon start pulling out troops or draw them down significantly, leaving behind a huge hole in Iraq’s security and political power structure, al-Sadr’s associates said.... Al-Sadr also believes, his associates said, that Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government may not last much longer, given its failure to improve security, services and the economy. A government collapse is certain to be followed by a political realignment in which the Sadrist movement stands a good chance of emerging as the main player.”

The Maliki government’s inability to meet any of Bush’s benchmarks, combined with the entrenched divisions among the various sectarian and ethnic factions, may well trigger a US move to suspend parliament and appoint some form of “national salvation” junta. There have been reports over the past year that the Bush administration is weighing up installing a military strongman to simply impose US demands on the country.

It is clear, however, that such a naked puppet regime would have no social base of support and its survival would be totally dependent upon the US military. It would confront an increasingly hostile Kurdish north, an ongoing insurgency in Sunni areas and the prospect of a Sadrist-led uprising involving millions of Shiites in Baghdad and southern Iraq.

In Mosul Kurds driven out by Arabs

This is just one more part of the mosaic of conflicts that amount to a virtual civil war in Iraq. It seems that neither the US nor so far local authorities are able to do much to stop it.

In North Iraq, Sunni Arabs Drive Out Kurds
Published: May 30, 2007
MOSUL, Iraq — The letter tossed into Mustafa Abu Bakr Muhammad’s front yard got right to the point.

“You will be killed,” it read, for collaborating with the Kurdish militias. Then came the bullet through a window at night.

A cousin had already been gunned down. So Mr. Muhammad and three generations of his family joined tens of thousands of other Kurds who have fled growing ethnic violence by Sunni Arab insurgents here and moved east, to the safety of Iraqi Kurdistan.

“We had our home in Mosul and it was good there, but things are now very bad between Arabs and Kurds,” said Mr. Muhammad, 70, standing outside his new, scorpion-infested cinderblock house in the nearby town of Khabat.

While the American military is trying to tamp down the vicious fighting between rival Arab sects in Baghdad, conflict between Arabs and Kurds is intensifying here, adding another dimension to Iraq’s civil war. Sunni Arab militants, reinforced by insurgents fleeing the new security plan in Baghdad, are trying to rid Mosul of its Kurdish population through violence and intimidation, Kurdish officials said.

Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city, with a population of 1.8 million, straddles the Tigris River on a grassy, windswept plain in the country’s north. It was recently estimated to be about a quarter Kurdish, but Sunni Arabs have already driven out at least 70,000 Kurds and virtually erased the Kurdish presence from the city’s western half, said Khasro Goran, the deputy governor of surrounding Nineveh Province and a Kurd.

The militants “view this as a Sunni-dominated town, and they view the Kurds as encroaching on Mosul,” said Col. Stephen Twitty, commander of the Fourth Brigade, First Cavalry Division, which is deployed in Nineveh. Some Kurdish and Christian enclaves remain on the east side, though their numbers are dwindling. Kurdish officials say the flight has accelerated in recent months, contributing to the wider ethnic and religious partitioning that is taking place all over Iraq.

Nineveh is Iraq’s most diverse province, with a dizzying array of ethnic and religious groups woven into an area about the size of Maryland. For centuries, Arabs, Kurds, Christians, Turkmens, Yezidis and Shabaks lived side by side in these verdant hills, going to the same schools, bartering in the same markets, even intermarrying on occasion.

But what took generations to build is starting to unravel in the shadow of the Sunni Arab insurgency, which is tapping into several wells of ethnic resentment.

Already embittered at the toppling of the Sunni Arab government of Saddam Hussein, insurgents here have been further enraged by their current political disenfranchisement, a result of their boycotting the 2005 elections. The main Kurdish coalition now holds 31 of 41 seats on the provincial council and all the top executive positions, even though Kurds make up only 35 percent of the province. Most Kurds are of the Sunni sect, but they have little in common with the Arabs.

Sunni Arabs have asked for new provincial elections and are growing frustrated that the Shiite- and Kurdish-dominated national government seems to be ignoring their requests.

“We demanded elections a year ago, but it never happened,” said Muhammad Shakir, the local leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the province’s most prominent Sunni Arab political group. “The current council does not represent the governorate.”

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Some officials in the national government say conditions will not permit provincial elections until next year.

Just as worrisome for the Arabs is a growing push by the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan to annex large swaths of eastern and northern Nineveh. A contentious measure in the Constitution gives the regional Kurdish government the right to take the land by the end of 2007 through a popular referendum.

The parts of the province that Iraqi Kurdistan wants are called the “disputed territories” along its border, areas that were historically Kurdish until Saddam Hussein moved in Arabs and forced out half a million Kurds to strengthen Arab control, Kurdish officials say.

Mr. Goran, the deputy governor, said six of Nineveh’s nine districts — with at least 30 percent of the province’s 2.7 million people — could vote to join Iraqi Kurdistan. Before the vote is held, however, the Iraqi government must find a way to move out the Arab settlers and move back the original Kurdish residents. Some of this relocation has already taken place, but many more original residents still need to return, Mr. Goran said.

If the vote is put off, he said, violence will soar even further between Kurds and Arabs as each group struggles for the land. “This is a good time to solve the problem,” he said, “because if not, we will open another front in the north between Kurds and Arabs.”

To ensure control of the lands, the Kurdish parties are encouraging settlers to move to eastern Nineveh, just as they have been doing in disputed areas in Diyala Province and around the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Kurdish militias have also been operating in Nineveh and the streets of Mosul, stoking Sunni Arab fears of Kurdish domination, Colonel Twitty said.

The violence here against the Kurds and other minorities is vicious and unrelenting, Kurdish and American officials say. More than 1,000 Kurdish civilians have recently been killed in Mosul, and at least two or three are gunned down each day now, Mr. Goran said. One well-known Kurdish singer was murdered because he had the same last name as Mr. Goran.

“Everyone gets threats or can feel threatened here,” said James Knight, the head of the State Department’s provincial reconstruction team in Nineveh. “The intimidation of people is one of the dramatic ongoing problems we have.”

Mr. Knight said 70,000 was a reasonable estimate for the number of people who have fled Mosul, but he did not know how many were Kurds.

[On May 13, in the mostly Kurdish district of Makhmur, a suicide truck bomber rammed into the local headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, killing at least 50 people and wounding at least 115. On May 9, a truck bomb exploded in front of Kurdish government offices in Erbil, the relatively secure capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, killing at least 19 and wounding at least 70.]

While the Americans are fighting the Sunni Arab insurgency, they are also vigorously supporting what they say are legitimate Sunni Arab demands, like the call for provincial elections. The Arabs and Kurds have to reach a power-sharing arrangement, American officials say.

But the surge in ethnic violence has sharpened the animosity of Kurds toward Arabs, and few Kurds are ready to forgive the atrocities committed by Mr. Hussein’s Sunni Arab government.

“I compare the Sunni Arabs to Bosnian Serbs: their behavior, their way of thinking, their way of acting,” Mr. Goran said in an interview at the fortified government center downtown. “They are for killings, they are for mass graves. Not all of them, but the majority of them.”

So far, Kurdish militias have refrained from engaging in the kind of wide-scale reprisals against Sunni Arabs that Shiite militias have carried out in Baghdad. But the Kurds are capable, Mr. Goran warned.

“We can kill every day 50 Arabs in the streets,” Mr. Goran said with a quick smile. “Every day, everywhere, in Mosul and outside of Mosul. But we don’t do that, because we know they want us to do that.”

The insurgency here is a caldron of prominent Sunni Arab groups that include Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and Ansar al-Sunna. The city was a recruitment base for commanders of the old Iraqi Army, and former officers are now among the leaders of the local guerrilla movement.

During a November 2004 uprising, much of the Mosul police force defected to the insurgency, and Mr. Goran said he suspects that a third to half of the existing police force still aids or sympathizes with the insurgency. After the execution of Saddam Hussein in December, he said, some policemen put Mr. Hussein’s picture in their cars. A new police chief who is a Sunni Arab, Maj. Gen. Wathiq Muhammad al-Hamdani, is trying to clean house, he said.

There are some positive signs, American commanders say. As in Anbar Province, some Sunni militants are chafing at the Islamist agenda of Al Qaeda, said Lt. Col. Eric Welsh, leader of the Second Battalion, Seventh Cavalry, the single American combat battalion in Mosul.

And one of the two, mostly Kurdish, Iraqi Army divisions in Nineveh has been working well under a respected Sunni Arab general, Brig. Gen. Moutaa Jassim Habeeb, Mr. Goran said. But conservative Sunni Arab politicians in Baghdad are pushing to replace him with a hard-line commander, Mr. Goran added.

If that happens, he said, “no Kurdish soldier will remain in the division.”

Despite their heavy presence in the army, Kurdish soldiers have been unable to end the violence that is driving so many Kurds from Mosul.

Sanaa Saadan and her husband are known as “Mosulis.” They were born and raised there, but they could be the last in their families to lay claim to that title.

Last year, Ms. Saadan and her husband moved with their three sons into the home of her older sister in Khabat, 30 miles to the east. The two said they knew at least seven Kurds who had been murdered in Mosul.

Khabat, just inside Iraqi Kurdistan, has become a place of refuge. Rents have skyrocketed, said the mayor, Rizgar Mustafa Muhammad. At least 1,300 families have moved there from Mosul. More than 120 came in April alone, the most of any month, he said. Soon, he said, tent camps will be needed.

“We were unhappy to leave Mosul,” said Ms. Saadan, 28, as she watched over her youngest son in his crib. Her husband, a wedding singer, finds work scarce in Iraqi Kurdistan. Their two oldest sons had a tough time adjusting to school lessons in Kurdish rather than Arabic.

The highway from Khabat to Mosul runs past Ms. Saadan’s home and through a checkpoint a mile to the west, on a concrete bridge spanning a river that marks the border with Nineveh. Kurdish soldiers check the identification cards of people driving in. They say Kurds arrive regularly in cars packed with furniture and household goods.

“If we’re ordered to go protect residents of Mosul, we’ll do it,” said the commander, Maj. Ghafour Ahmed Hussein.

He stared out at the green hills to the west. Beyond lay the city and its newly emptied houses.

Yerevan Adham contributed from Erbil, and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times from Mosul.

On the US embassy in Baghdad

This is from Engelhardt's website. Engelhardt often has very hard-hitting original articles that are a great antidote to the pap often served up by the mainstream press.
Tomgram: The Mother Ship Lands in Iraq

The Colossus of Baghdad
Wonders of the Imperial World
By Tom Engelhardt

Of the seven wonders of the ancient Mediterranean world, including the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Colossus of Rhodes, four were destroyed by earthquakes, two by fire. Only the Great Pyramid of Giza today remains.

We no longer know who built those fabled monuments to the grandiosity of kings, pharaohs, and gods; nowadays, at least, it's easier to identify the various wonders of our world with their architects. Maya Lin, for instance, spun the moving black marble Vietnam Memorial from her remarkable brain for the veterans of that war; Frank Gehry dreamt up his visionary titanium-covered museum in Bilbao, Spain, for the Guggenheim; and the architectural firm of BDY (Berger Devine Yaeger), previously responsible for the Sprint Corporation's world headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas; the Visitation Church in Kansas City, Missouri; and Harrah's Hotel and Casino in North Kansas City, Missouri, turns out to have designed the biggest wonder of all -- an embassy large enough to embody the Bush administration's vision of an American-reordered Middle East. We're talking, of course, about the still-uncompleted American embassy, the largest on the planet, being constructed on a 104-acre stretch of land in the heart of Baghdad's embattled Green Zone, now regularly under mortar fire. As Patrick Lenahan, Senior Architect and Project Manager at BDY, has put it (according to the firm's website): "We understand how to involve the client most effectively as we direct our resources to make our client's vision a reality."

And what a vision it was! What a reality it's turned out to be!

Who can forget the grandiose architecture of pre-Bush-administration Baghdad: Saddam Hussein's mighty vision of kitsch Orientalism melting into terror, based on which, in those last years of his rule, he reconstructed parts of the Iraqi capital? He ensured that what was soon to become the Green Zone would be dotted with overheated, Disneyesque, Arabian-Nights palaces by the score, filled with every luxury imaginable in a country whose population was growing increasingly desperate under the weight of UN sanctions. Who can forget those vast, sculpted hands, "The Hands of Victory," supposedly modeled on Saddam's own, holding 12-story-high giant crossed swords (over piles of Iranian helmets) on a vast Baghdad parade ground? Meant to commemorate a triumph over Iran that the despot never actually achieved, they still sit there, partially dismantled and a monument to folly; while, as Jane Arraf has written, Saddam's actual hands,"the hands that wrote the orders for the war against Iran and the destruction of Iraqi villages, the hands handcuffed behind his back as he went to trial and then was led to his execution are moldering under ground."

It is worth remembering that, when the American commanders whose troops had just taken Baghdad, wanted their victory photo snapped, they memorably seated themselves, grinning happily, behind a marble table in one of those captured palaces; that American soldiers and newly arrived officials marveled at the former tyrant's exotic symbols of power; that they swam in Saddam's pools, fed rare antelopes from his son Uday's private zoo to its lions (and elsewhere shot his herd of gazelles and ate them themselves); and, when in need of someplace to set up an American embassy, the newly arrived occupation officials chose -- are you surprised? -- one of his former dream palaces. They found nothing strange in the symbolism of this (though it was carefully noted by Baghdadis), even as they swore they were bringing liberation and democracy to Saddam's benighted land.

And then, as the Iraqi capital's landscape became ever more dangerous, as an insurgency gained traction while the administration's dreams of a redesigned American Middle East remained as strong as ever, its officials evidently concluded that even one of Saddam's palaces, roomy enough for a dictator interested in the control of a single country (or the odd neighboring state), wasn't faintly big enough, or safe enough, or modern enough for the representatives of the planet's New Rome.

Hence, Missouri's BDY. That midwestern firm's designers can now be classified as architects to the wildest imperial dreamers and schemers of our time. And the company seems proud of it. You can go to its website and take a little tour in sketch form, a blast-resistant spin, through its Bush-inspired wonder, its particular colossus of the modern world. Imagine this: At $592 million, its proudest boast is that, unlike almost any other American construction project in that country, it is coming in on budget and on time. Of course, with a 30% increase in staffing size since Congress approved the project two years ago, it is now estimated that being "represented" in Baghdad will cost a staggering $1.2 billion per year. No wonder, with a crew of perhaps 1,000 officials assigned to it and a supporting staff (from food service workers to Marine guards and private security contractors) of several thousand more.

When the BDY-designed embassy opens in September (undoubtedly to the sound of mortar fire), its facilities will lack the gold-plated faucets installed in some of Saddam's palaces and villas (and those of his sons), but they won't lack for the amenities that Americans consider part and parcel of the good life, even in a "hardship" post. Take a look, for instance, at the embassy's "pool house," as imagined by BDY. (There's a lovely sketch of it at their site.) Note the palm trees dotted around it, the expansive lawns, and those tennis courts discretely in the background. For an American official not likely to leave the constricted, heavily fortified, four-mile square Green Zone during a year's tour of duty, practicing his or her serve (on the taxpayer's dollar) is undoubtedly no small thing.

Admittedly, it may be hard to take that refreshing dip or catch a few sets of tennis in Baghdad's heat if the present order for all U.S. personnel in the Green Zone to wear flak jackets and helmets at all times remains in effect -- or if, as in the present palace/embassy, the pool (and ping-pong tables) are declared, thanks to increasing mortar and missile attacks, temporarily "off limits." In that case, more time will probably be spent in the massive, largely windowless-looking Recreation Center, one of over 20 blast-resistant buildings BDY has planned. Perhaps this will house the promised embassy cinema. (Pirates of the Middle East, anyone?) Perhaps hours will be wiled away in the no less massive-looking, low-slung Post Exchange/Community Center, or in the promised commissary, the "retail and shopping areas," the restaurants, or even, so the BDY website assures us, the "schools" (though it's a difficult to imagine the State Department allowing children at this particular post).

And don't forget the "fire station" (mentioned but not shown by BDY), surely so handy once the first rockets hit. Small warning: If you are among the officials about to staff this post, keep in mind that the PX and commissary might be slightly understocked. The Washington Post recently reported that "virtually every bite and sip consumed [in the embassy] is imported from the United States, entering Iraq via Kuwait in huge truck convoys that bring fresh and processed food, including a full range of Baskin-Robbins ice cream flavors, every seven to 10 days." Recently, there has been a "Theater-Wide Delay in Food Deliveries," due to unexplained convoy problems. Even the yogurt supplies have been running low.

But those of you visiting our new embassy via BDY's website have no such worries. So get that container of Baskin-Robbins from the freezer and take another moment to consider this new wonder of our world with its own self-contained electricity-generation, water-purification, and sewage systems in a city lacking most of the above. When you look at the plans for it, you have to wonder: Can it, in any meaningful sense, be considered an embassy? And if so, an embassy to whom?

The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland in the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books terms it a "base" like our other vast, multibillion dollar permanent bases in Iraq. It is also a headquarters. But what a head! What quarters! It is neither town, nor quite city-state, but it could be considered a citadel, with its own anti-missile defenses, inside the increasingly breachable citadel of the Green Zone. It may already be the last piece of ground (excepting those other bases) that the United States, surge or no, can actually claim to fully occupy and control in Iraq -- and yet it already has something of the look of the Alamo (with amenities). Someday, perhaps, it will turn out to be the "White House" (though, in BDY's sketches, its buildings look more like those prison-style schools being built in embattled American urban neighborhoods) for Moqtada al-Sadr, or some future Shiite Party, or a Sunni strongman, or a home for squatters. Who knows?

What we know is that such an embassy is remarkably outsized for Iraq. Even as a headquarters for a vast, secret set of operations in that chaotic land, it doesn't quite add up. After all, our military headquarters in Iraq is already at Camp Victory on the outskirts of Baghdad. We can certainly assume -- though no one in our mainstream media world would think to say such a thing -- that this new embassy will house a rousing set of CIA (and probably Pentagon) intelligence operations for the country and region, and will be a massive hive for American spooks of all sorts. But whatever its specific functions, it might best be described as the imperial Mother Ship dropping into Baghdad.

Amazingly, despite complaints from Congress, the present U.S. ambassador is stumped when it comes to cutting down on that planned staff of his -- every one more essential than the last -- and the State Department is actually lobbying Congress for an extra $50 million to construct yet more "blast-resistant housing" on the vast site. Maybe this is what the "build and hold" strategy, pushed by many counterinsurgency types, really means. We'll simply plan in Washington, design in Kansas City, build through a Kuwaiti construction firm using cheap imported labor, and try to keep building out forever from our "embassy" in Baghad.

As an outpost, this vast compound reeks of one thing: imperial impunity. It was never meant to be an embassy from a democracy that had liberated an oppressed land. From the first thought, the first sketch, it was to be the sort of imperial control center suitable for the planet's sole "hyperpower," dropped into the middle of the oil heartlands of the globe. It was to be Washington's dream and Kansas City's idea of a palace fit for an embattled American proconsul -- or a khan.

When completed, it will indeed be the perfect folly, as well as the perfect embassy, for a country that finds it absolutely normal to build vast base-worlds across the planet; that considers it just a regular day's work to send its aircraft carrier "strike forces" and various battleships through the Straits of Hormuz in daylight as a visible warning to a "neighboring" regional power; whose Central Intelligence Agency operatives feel free to organize and launch Baluchi tribal warriors from Pakistan into the Baluchi areas of Iran to commit acts of terror and mayhem; whose commander-in-chief President can sign a "nonlethal presidential finding" that commits our nation to a "soft power" version of the economic destabilization of Iran, involving, according to ABC News, "a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran's currency and international financial transactions"; whose Vice President can appear on the deck of the USS John C. Stennis to address a "rally for the troops," while that aircraft carrier is on station in the Persian Gulf, readying itself to pass through those Straits and can insist to the world: "With two carrier strike groups in the Gulf, we're sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike. We'll keep the sea lanes open. We'll stand with our friends in opposing extremism and strategic threats. We'll disrupt attacks on our own forces.... And we'll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region"; whose military men can refer to Iraqi insurgents as "anti-Iraqi forces"; members of whose Congressional opposition can offer plans for the dismemberment of Iraq into three or more parts; and all of whose movers and shakers, participating in the Washington Consensus, can agree that one "benchmark" the Iraqi government, also locked inside the Green Zone, must fulfill is signing off on an oil law designed in Washington and meant to turn the energy clock in the Middle East back several decades; but why go on.

To recognize such imperial impunity and its symbols for what they are, all you really need to do is try to reverse any of these examples. In most cases, that's essentially inconceivable. Imagine any country building the equivalent Mother Ship "embassy" on the equivalent of two-thirds of the Washington Mall; or sailing its warships into the Gulf of Mexico and putting its second-in-command aboard the flagship of the fleet to insist on keeping the sea lanes "open"; or sending Caribbean terrorists into Florida to blow up local buses and police stations; or signing a "finding" to economically destabilize the American government; or planning the future shape of our country from a foreign capital. But you get the idea. Most of these actions, if aimed against the United States, would be treated as tantamount to acts of war and dealt with accordingly in this country, with unbelievable hue and cry.

When it's a matter of other countries halfway across the planet, however, Americans largely consider such things, even if revealed in the news, at worst tactical errors or miscalculations. The imperial mindset goes deep. It also thinks unbearably well of itself and so, naturally, wants to memorialize itself, to give itself the surroundings that only the great, the super, the hyper deserves.

Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem "Ozymandias," inspired by the arrival in London in 1816 of an enormous statue of the Pharaoh Ramesses II, comes to mind:

"I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

In Baghdad, Saddam's giant hands are already on the road to ruin. Still going up in New York and Baghdad are two half-billion dollar-plus monuments to the Bush imperial moment. A 9/11 memorial so grotesquely expensive that, when completed, it will be a reminder only of a time, already long past, when we could imagine ourselves as the Greatest Victims on the planet; and in Baghdad's Green Zone, a monument to the Bush administration's conviction that we were also destined to be the Greatest Dominators this world, and history, had ever seen.

From both these monuments, someday -- and in the case of the embassy in Baghdad that day may not be so very distant -- those lone and level sands will undoubtedly stretch far, far away.

Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews with American Iconoclasts and Dissenters (Nation Books), the first collection of Tomdispatch interviews.

Copyright 2007 Tom Engelhardt

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posted May 29, 2007 at 10:17 am

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Conservative Voice: Democratic Jellyfish, Republican Lemmings

Obviously opposition to the Iraq war is not a monopoly of left wingers. This fellow is about as anti=left as you can be. He is also not opposed to "fighting terrorism" as he thinks that it would be appropriate to bomb Iran back into the stone age if they support terrorism. His opinion of middle easterners is not exactly liberal!
A link to Turtel's own site can be found at the Conservative Voice.
by Joel Turtel
Democrat Jellyfish, Republican Lemmings
May 27, 2007 01:00 PM EST

I never in my life thought I would be rooting for Democrats to get some spine. I despise the liberals’ and Democrats’ fascist-socialist steal-your-money and regulate us to death philosophy. But they are now the only power we have who can stop this sick, meaningless war in Iraq. Yet the Democrats are jellyfish.

What dopes we were to start this war. We played right into the hands of the terrorists. We are fighting on their ground, in their territory, in their kind of guerrilla war, in a tribal, religiously fanatic region of the world. We have now spent over $500 billion on this war, draining the life-blood and hard-earned taxes of average Americans, with no end in sight.

Thousands of young Americans have already died to give “democracy” to fanatic Islamic millions whose mullahs and religion preach hatred against the very concept of democracy. They practice a religion that detests democracy and individual liberty, a religion that demands absolute obedience to their god and Islamic law.

The only way this war will end is if Democrats get the spine to cut off the war funds, now. I have given up hope on the Republicans. Like lemmings, they just follow the President over the cliff, taking the American people with them.

President Bush is playing a huge bluff game with the Democrats. He dares them to cut off the funds, and thereby “endanger our troops,” and the Democrats have once again caved in to the bluff. They have just passed the President’s newest request for another $95 billion for the war.

Democrats in Congress, here’s what would happen if you cut off the spigot. Without money for the war, the President would have to withdraw the troops. He would never endanger our soldiers in the field. He would withdraw the troops, then rant at Congress for making him do this. But Democrats, if you don’t call his bluff, he will never end this war. He is on a messianic mission to “spread democracy” to a democracy-hating Middle-East, and is in complete denial about the futility of such a mission.

Democrats, our Founding Fathers gave you the ultimate weapon to stop a President who endangers our country with useless wars. That weapon was the power of the purse. If you don’t use it, you and the Congress you control are just utterly useless to the American people and to our security.

The Democrats will say, “we have tried to stop the war, but we don’t have the two-thirds majority to overturn the President’s veto. That’s why we had to pass the new bill giving President Bush another $95 billion for the war.”

No, Democrats, you did not have to capitulate. You did not up the ante in this power poker game. Your strategy should be to refuse to pass ANY spending bill until the President stops this war. If necessary, bring the government to a halt. Cut off all funding to every department, every bureaucrat, every recipient of a government check. Hell, even stop the President’s salary and the salary of his cabinet members.

Oh, how government-union employees will howl when they don’t get their weekly paychecks. Oh, how Social Security recipients will howl when they don’t get their Social Security checks. Post office employees might even go on strike. Take away the billions of dollars that millions of Americans get from government paychecks and you will see how fast this war stops. Millions of Americans will demand President Bush’s resignation or impeachment if he doesn’t stop the war immediately (Social Security recipients—don’t worry. With your help, the war should end in about a week, and you’ll then get your checks).

But do you Democrats have the spine to do this? Do you have the nerve to take away government paychecks from millions of government-union employees that voted you into office? What do you value most, your own power in office, or stopping this war? Care to up the ante?

We constantly hear from the President and his fellow Republicans that there would be horrendous consequences if we withdrew from Iraq. OK. What consequences? If we left Iraq tomorrow, here’s my guess on what would happen. There would be a blood-bath civil war between the Shiites, Sunnis, former Saddam’s Bathe party militia, Al Qaida terrorists, Iranian infiltrators, and a dozen other fanatical groups, all at each others’ throats. It would be like another Palestine, where Fatah and Hamas terrorist groups are now at each other’s throat for power.

Does it really matter who wins this civil war? Most of the groups there are either secular or religious fanatics, and the group that wins will probably create a dictatorship as bad as Saddam Hussein’s. When we hung Saddam, we just ousted one sick dictator, only to make room for another. In the Middle East, from past experience, what more can you expect?

Then what happens when this new secular or Islamic dictator is in power? He will not disrupt our oil supply (which is all we really care about), because oil is the only thing that keeps these Middle-East countries from descending back into the Middle Ages. It is their only resource. Did Saddam cut off our oil? Does Iran stop selling us oil, even though they hate our guts? Do they want to lose their billions of dollars in revenue? I don’t think so.

Moreover, it might be the best thing that happened to us if Middle-East countries cut off our oil. What we need is a massive, alternative-energy “Manhattan project” like the Manhattan Project in World War II that created the atomic bomb in record time. We already have the technology to become oil-independent.

We also have huge, untapped supplies of our own oil, gas, and coal if we stop strangling our energy companies with “save-the-earth” environmental regulations that stop us from drilling all over the Arctic, Alaska, and offshore. If we combine an alternative-energy “Manhattan project” and take the strangling shackles off our oil and gas companies, we soon won’t need Middle-East oil anymore. When that happens, these countries will go bankrupt, their economies will shrivel up, and they’ll have no more money to fund the terrorists.

What about the poor people of Iraq? I feel truly sorry for them. But if they can’t get their act together to defend their own liberty, should we waste the lives of thousands of Americans and bankrupt ourselves in a never-ending war to “spread democracy?” Should we strangle Americans’ freedom, turn America into a police state with “Patriot” acts and massive surveillance of Americans by our own FBI, to protect the “freedom” of Iraqi muslims?

If we left Iraq now, we could use part of the hundreds of billions of dollars we save to hunt down Al Qaeda terrorists all over the world. They were the original and still worst threat to our security. We could also build a high wall between us and Mexico to keep out Middle-East terrorists, and pay for surveillance equipment at airports and all our harbors to check every package and container coming in.

We could also threaten Iranian leaders that we will decimate their power like we did to the Taliban in Afghanistan if they continue to support terrorists who try to attack America. We don’t need nuclear weapons. We can level their power centers and infrastructure with massive bombings like we did against Nazi Germany. To win, we can’t get sucked into a guerrilla war on their territory, far from our supply lines. Instead, we could bomb them into the Stone age so they could no longer support terrorists. I just hope the good Iranian people overthrow their current rulers before we have to destroy their country one day.

But none of this will happen with our Democrat jellyfish. This war will go on and on, sucking the lifeblood from America like the barbarians sucked the lifeblood from ancient Rome. Instead of hoarding our strength to fight the real enemy, the Al Qaeda terrorists, we now squander our strength in a useless civil war in Iraq. God forbid, will we have to elect a Democrat President to end this war?

The Iraq Oil Law: A view from Cuba

The author is an American. I wonder how he manages to be in Cuba. I thought that in general the US did not allow travel there. I guess he does not intend to go home! Given the tone of his articles he probably will not be regarded as a refugee fleeing Cuba and welcomed back with open arms.

US-Iraq Pullout Bad for Business
Por Etchegaray / Jueves, 24 de Mayo del 2007 / 12:10:14 /

By Circles Robinson*

A US pullout from Iraq would jeopardize the windfall profits for a host of well-placed corporations specializing in oil, weapons, construction, security, and other war services.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is at a record high, so it’s no surprise that Exxon, Chevron, Halliburton, Bechtel, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Parsons, BP, Shell, etc., are firmly behind President Bush in his efforts to maintain and extend the Iraq occupation as long as possible.

With the corporations’ security expenses and investment risks being picked up by the US taxpayers, what incentive is there to hurry up any eventual withdrawal?
To keep the profits flowing, Bush has just named Lt. General Douglas E. Lute as the new “war czar” for Iraq and Afghanistan. In appointing Lute -who must be confirmed by the Senate- Bush said he is “a tremendously accomplished military leader who understands war and government and knows how to get things done.”

Gen David H. Petraeus, commander of the multinational force in Iraq said Lute would be “a great addition to the team that is striving for success in Iraq.”

What “success” means at this point in the war has never been fully explained to the people of the United States.


Washington’s current top agenda item in Iraq is getting the puppet Iraqi government and legislature to approve a bill that would assure that private foreign corporations control the Iraqi oil industry and hundreds of billions in profits for decades to come.

Author and oil analyst Antonia Juhasz says the law being pushed by the Bush administration for Iraq, “opens up at a minimum, two thirds of Iraq’s oil to private, foreign corporate investment on terms that are literally the most generous available, just about anywhere in the world. Generous to the oil companies that is.”

The law is so slanted to favor the transnational corporations that it has little support even among the Iraqis that have collaborated with the occupation forces. The Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU),-not the resistance- are threatening to strike if it proceeds.


The charade over why Iraq had to be attacked ended shortly after the 2003 occupation began. The pretexts of weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein being on a first name basis with Osama Bin Laden collapsed like a house of cards. Congress overwhelmingly supported the first hundreds of billions of dollars for the war. Now, the President is betting that when push comes to shove many critics on Capitol Hill will buckle to the fear of being accused of deserting the troops.

The 67-29 Senate vote last week against stopping funding for major combat operations within a year has bolstered the President’s hand, at least temporarily. There is still grumbling in the House of Representatives and among Democratic Party presidential candidates in the Senate but a prolonging of the war and related profits is almost guaranteed.


For years now, the US news media has published one Pentagon report after another boasting of scores of “insurgents” killed in Iraq and rejoicing at the death of supposed “top ranking” Al Qaeda leaders. The hanging of Saddam Hussein and other former Iraqi officials was also supposed to mark a turning point. If killing Iraqis was the solution, the war would have been over a long time ago. Instead, for every “militant” or “leader” killed, many more Iraqis are willing to take their place. Kill five today and fight fifty tomorrow.

To counter the would-be quitters, the State Department and its supporters on Capitol Hill warn of a civil war and possible large-scale bloodbath if the US forces leave Iraq. I wonder what they call the 50 to a 100 dead and hundreds more wounded every day; month after month, year after year?

As was the case in the early years of the Vietnam War, the vast majority of major US newspapers rushed to support the war on Iraq. Three hundred fifty billion dollars later with $90 billion more on the horizon, and public opinion turning against the war, several major newspapers are now calling for some sort of pullout.

The L.A. Times made its about face in a recent editorial stating: “The longer we delay planning the inevitable, the worse the outcome is likely to be. The time has come to leave.”

But the California daily misses the point: Worse for whom? If the real reason for being in Iraq is to help US corporations make a buck than every day the troops remain in place is another day that the dollars flow. Isn’t the motto: What’s good for business is good for the nation?

*Circles Robinson is a US journalist living in Havana. His reports and commentaries can be read at

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US, Arab states supply military aid for Lebanon

The US and some Arab States have been ganging up on Shia's in Lebanon but in this case the target is radical jihadist Sunnis.

Lebanon defends military aid from U.S.

By ZEINA KARAM, Associated Press Writer Sat May 26, 5:15 PM ET

TRIPOLI, Lebanon - Lebanon's pro-Western prime minister on Saturday
rejected opposition criticism over planeloads of U.S. military aid
pouring in to shore up the country's army in its battle with Islamic
militants in a Palestinian refugee camp.

Three more U.S. transport planes with military supplies arrived from
Kuwait as part of an international airlift. A total of eight military
transport planes have landed at Beirut airport since late Thursday —
four from the U.S. Air Force, two from the United Arab Emirates and
two from Jordan.

A four-day-old truce between the Lebanese army and al-Qaida inspired
Fatah Islam militants mostly held up on Saturday despite sporadic
gunfire in the Nahr el-Bared camp on the outskirts of the northern
port city of Tripoli. But the Lebanese army has been gearing up for a
renewed fight, rolling more troops into place around the camp already
ringed by hundreds of soldiers backed by artillery and tanks.

The military confirmed it has received supplies from Arab countries
and the U.S. but gave no details. Media reports said they included
ammunition, body armor, helmets and night-vision equipment.

U.S. military officials have said Washington will send eight
planeloads of supplies, part of a package that had been agreed on but
that the Lebanese government asked to be expedited.

The U.S. aid is sensitive in a nation deeply divided between
supporters of the pro-Western government and an opposition backed by
America's Mideast foes,
Iran and
Syria. The opposition, led by the Shiite Hezbollah, accuses Prime
Minister Fuad Saniora's government of being too closely allied to

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah warned Friday that Lebanon was
being dragged into a U.S. war against al-Qaida that would destabilize
the country.

But Saniora told the Arabic service of the British Broadcasting Crop.
on Saturday that the aid was not a "crime"...

In Full:

Free Speech in Venezuela

There is still much privately owned media in Venezuela. It is interesting to note that Chavez is closing down a station much of whose programming is popular among poorer people part of the mass entertainment diversion that is becoming virtually Global. In the Philippines Korean(translated into Tagalog) and US soap operas are both immensely popular. The Philippines have their own variants and even has modern day equivalents of "I was a communist for the FBI" in a soap opera in Tagalog that has NPA (New People's Army) operatives as the bad guys.
It sounds as if Chavez intends to foster a revolutionary substitution for these sorts of programs to buttress his "socialism".

Zero Hour for Venezuela's RCTV
by George Ciccariello-Maher

The expiration of Venezuelan broadcaster RCTV's public concession draws near: at 11:59pm on Sunday, May 27th, RCTV's concession will expire without renewal, and its space on channel 2 will be handed over to the newly-founded Venezuelan Social Television (TVes), which will begin broadcasts at 12:15am on May 28th. This sovereign decision of the Venezuelan government not to renew RCTV's concession has prompted claims that freedom of speech is somehow under threat in Venezuela.

But many discussions of freedom of speech rely on a fundamentally flawed assumption: that existing media outlets in some way embody "freedom." The debate surrounding RCTV is no exception. It is this flawed assertion that has been openly embraced by the Venezuelan opposition and equally openly challenged by those who reject efforts to paint the non-renewal of the broadcasting concession for Venezuela's RCTV as an issue of free speech at all (see my previous comments here).

Decades spent under the hegemonic shadow of the discourse of "civil society against the state" has led us to assume that all that is not under state control is free, thereby conveniently obscuring the unfreedom of economic, specifically market forces. So for the non-renewal of RCTV to be a free speech issue at all, one would have to make the ultimately doomed argument that RCTV, under the direction of Marcel Granier and media conglomerate "1 Broadcasting Caracas" (1BC), somehow represents an expression of the people's freedom rather than the freedom of its small group of shareholders.

The Oligarchy and the Media

Don't get me wrong, these shareholders are a fine bunch, and among the purest specimens of the rancid oligarchy that has controlled Venezuela since the colonial conquest. 1BC was founded in 1920 by William H. Phelps Jr. (then under the name Phelps Group), whose father emigrated to Venezuela from the United States. Phelps Jr. would marry Alicia Tucker, thereby giving rise to an oligarchic family tree of colossal proportions with 1BC and RCTV at its center. RCTV's broadcasting concession would pass from Phelps Jr. to his children Johnny Phelps and William Phelps Tucker, and the latter's wife Katherine Deery de Phelps, and finally on to Johnny Phelps' daughters Dorothy and Patricia.

Current 1BC stockholders reflect this dense tangle of blood and wealth: the principal stockholder is Peter Bottome (son of Deery, son-in-law of Phelps Tucker), as well as Alicia Phelps de Tovar (daughter of Johnny), U.S.-educated Mavesa grease magnate Alberto Tovar Phelps (son of Alicia), Guillermo Tucker Arismendi (related through Phelps' wife Katherine, as well as to one of the heads of the conglomerate controlling Globovisión). And then there is current 1BC president Marcel Granier, who entered the picture by marrying Dorothy Phelps, and to whom it now falls to convince Venezuelans that the conglomerate (which also controls radio stations, record stores, and an airline) is in some way "democratic." To emphasize the power that the Phelps wield in Venezuela, one need only note that Johnny Phelps' other daughter Patricia is married to Gustavo Cisneros, Venezuela's most powerful media magnate and direct competitor of 1BC.

Together, 1BC's RCTV and Cisneros' Venevisión control 85% of publicity investment, 66% of transmitting capacity, and 80% of the production of all messages, information, and media content in the country, according to a recent White Book on RCTV issued by the Ministry of Communication. As a journalist in the opposition-controlled newspaper El Universal argued a few years back: "On what moral basis can they come out in defense of free speech and competition when these are at risk, when they themselves propose to monopolize them?" If Venezuela relies on the likes of Granier and Cisneros to defend free speech, then the situation is indeed as bad as the opposition claims.

The Last Gasp of the Opposition

In the aftermath of Chávez's landslide December victory, the opposition is running out of options, and they know it. The path of the coup and the bosses' strike failed in April and December of 2002, respectively, and despite widespread claims that Chávez is a "dictator," the electoral path too has failed on eight separate occasions. While some, like former presidential candidate and governor of Zulia Manuel Rosales' Un Nuevo Tiempo party (which comprises some recent defectors from Primero Justicia), call for the creation of a centrist coalition and a "new majority," others are more realistic. Realizing that they cannot win, but using the pretext of unfair elections, organizations like Antonio Ledezma's Alianza Bravo Pueblo and sectors of Acción Democratica have repeatedly advocated abstention and open resistance to the regime (a call embodied at present in the heroic-sounding "National Resistance Committee").

Now, catching the scent of an opportunity, the Venezuelan opposition has thrown their full force behind the mobilizations in defense of RCTV. These efforts focus, unsurprisingly, on the international stage, where the opposition has courted European and North American public opinion. Representatives of the European Union, the Organization of American States, and even the Pope have jumped on the pro-RCTV (and hence pro-"free speech") bandwagon. Domestically, however, the opposition's strategy has been a mixed bag. Opinion polls show that the RCTV question divides Chavistas, and this is clearly why the opposition finds it so alluring as an issue. But when the opposition threw its weight behind the "mother of all marches" last Saturday, the results were pathetic.

The march featured an all-star lineup: Rosales himself spoke, along with Granier as well as a number of RCTV personalities, the most reactionary of which is Miguel Angel "Little Granier" Rodríguez (see below). The speakers duly pronounced upon the massive nature of the mobilization, and a boom camera swept across the group, transmitting misleadingly narrow crowd shots. When interviewed leaving the march, many participants would parrot claims about the size of the march: "The entire pueblo turned out!" one clearly upper-middle class protestor exclaimed while walking eastward toward the wealthiest zone of Caracas, "We should have marched on the highway."

To provide some necessary context: the Venezuelan opposition has indeed marched on the Francisco Fajardo highway on several occasions, notably during the run-up to the 2002 coup, the 2004 referendum, and the recent presidential elections. That is to say, this is an opposition that has indeed been able to mobilize on a mass scale in the past. But if this past Saturday's march had "taken" the highway, the results would have been even more pitiful than they looked on a four-lane city street in Chacaito.

Mario Silva, host of Chavista evening program La Hojilla, showed helicopter video footage of the march at its height, at which point it hardly filled a small city block (see the footage yourself here). While this footage would suggest that fewer than 10,000 turned out, the Venezuelan opposition press and its international allies didn't shy from claiming that "tens of thousands" (BBC, Reuters, AP) participated. To the contrary, the only thing "warming up the streets" last Saturday, to adopt a colloquial expression, was the sweltering sun.

A Doomed Strategy

What explains this massive failure of the Venezuelan opposition to mobilize even a fraction of what they were able to mobilize in past years? Clearly, given their emphasis on RCTV's non-renewal, they felt it would be a hot-button issue: Why were they so wrong? The answers lie in the nature of RCTV itself. Firstly, while most surveys show a clear majority opposing the non-renewal of RCTV's broadcast concession, they show an equally clear and comparable majority supporting Chávez and his government. While this explains in part the opposition's attraction to the issue (it's not everyday that they get a chance to divide Chávez's support base), it also explains their failure.

RCTV's programming is best known for an emphasis in soap operas, or novelas, programs which are largely aimed, by virtue of their content and time-slot, at lower-middle-class segments of society. The popularity of these novelas is largely responsible for the cross-spectrum support for RCTV. But it is one thing to favor RCTV enough to support it in a poll. It's quite another to take to the streets alongside a largely discredited and reactionary opposition to actively defend it. Moreover, given that these trashy and sexy novelas are a sort of guilty pleasure among some Chavistas, we might expect them to be much less likely to defend RCTV in public.

But this inability to divide Chavistas is not enough to explain the poor turnout at Saturday's march, since the issue is further complicated by the opposition's misjudgement of their own social base. They seem to have overlooked a simple fact: most middle and upper-class Venezuelans don't watch VHF programming at all! With their televisions permanently tuned to cable or satellite broadcasts, many wealthy Venezuelans would hardly even notice if RCTV were to disappear from the public airwaves. And since RCTV's broadcasts on cable and satellite will almost certainly continue, there will be absolutely no effect on those wealthy Venezuelans who currently watch RCTV-produced novelas via third-party cable or satellite stations anyway.

When All Else Fails. . . .

Given their utter failure to mobilize significant support for the renewal of RCTV's broadcast license, it has become clear that the opposition has effectively put all of their eggs in one (poorly-conceived) basket. By tying their fortunes so tightly to those of RCTV, the opposition runs the risk of drifting further into irrelevance after the concession expires on Sunday. Their only hope appears to be that the Supreme Court accept one of their appeals, which would possibly delay the expiration of RCTV's concession. But this, too, is very unlikely, as the court already dismissed one such appeal last week.

As a result, desperation has begun to set in, along with the threats of violence to which the Venezuelan opposition is so prone. Speaking from Miami alongside Patricia Poleo (currently under investigation in Venezuela for planning the 2004 assassination of Danilo Anderson, the prosecutor investigating the bloodshed of April 11th 2002), "Little Granier" Rodríguez issued a thinly-veiled threat to President Chávez: "thinking of his personal security," Rodríguez argues that the non-renewal of RCTV's broadcast concession would "put the President at great risk."

"Little Granier" continues: "Look in the mirror during Pinochet's last days, look in the mirror of Peron's widow, look in the mirror of Slobodan Milosevic, and I hope you aren't crazy enough to institute the death penalty in Venezuela, because then you would need to see yourself in Saddam Hussein's mirror, they all met their end for crimes against humanity." Coming from a station that broadcast, with some sympathy, the various defenses of Pinochet during the thankfully late dictator's funeral, this statement is ironic at best and utterly cynical at worst.

Echoing this, Primero Justicia leader Julio Borges that the government could see blood in the streets if the decision is upheld. Such threats go hand in hand with the ever-present threat of disruptive guarimbas (violent roadblocks) and even attacks on civilians to provoke a situation of chaos. Últimas Noticias has reported that several have been arrested in recent days, charged with plotting destabilizing violence, and given that several submachine guns and sniper rifles were confiscated, we can't be entirely sure that these were merely empty threats. And this is an opposition that is quickly running out of options, so any and all strategies, including "strategies of tension," will soon be on the table.

TVes: Democratizing the Media

If the opposition is good for anything at all (something which isn't entirely clear), it's good for radicalizing the Bolivarian Revolution. This is because regardless of what may have been the government's initial vision of the new channel 2, opposition efforts to attack the non-renewal of RCTV's license as an undemocratic attack on free speech have forced the government to emphasize that the new TVes is all about the democratization of the airwaves. In recent days, the future shape of TVes has become a bit clearer. Lil Rodríguez, an Afro-Venezuelan woman, Últimas Noticias journalist, and host of Telesur's cultural program Sones y Pasiones, was sworn in as director of the TVes Foundation. As Rodríguez put it: "TVes will be born in a week with a name, with dreams, with a bit of the road behind it but an entire highway ahead. She [TVes] is a woman, and she has her ovaries on straight."

While there remains some question as to what autonomy TVes will enjoy in practice, Minister of Communication Willian Lara argues that, "we wouldn't be so stupid as to make TVes a clone of [state-run] VTV, Vive. . . ." In an effort to assure this, the law regulating TVes provides the directorial committee with a role which is fundamentally administrative: rather than actively producing programs, TVes is meant to be merely a conduit through which independent cultural production reaches the airwaves.

As Lil Rodríguez puts it, TVes will be "a space in which popular resistance will be what guides our destinies." Moreover, the importance of the new channel transcends a political undermining of the opposition and even the deepening of media democracy, as important as both of these are. As Rodríguez describes it, TVes "will be a useful space for rescuing those values which other models of television always ignore, especially our Afro heritage," in short, a weapon against the white Eurocentric self-image that has long prevailed in the media, devaluing Venezuelan history and culture and thereby justifying dependent development.

Should we believe the Venezuelan government that the new TVes will be an experiment in democratic, community-run media? If we take our cue from those with the most to lose (i.e. those who suffer most from media monopolies), then the answer is yes. This Sunday, mere hours before RCTV's concession expires, the National Association of Free and Alternative Community Media (ANMCLA), representing hundreds of community media outlets, is convoking a march in defense of the non-renewal of RCTV's license. Deeming their position as "neither private, nor the state," the march celebrates the non-renewal as "a step forward against golpismo [coup-ism] and toward the socialization of the media."

But it is merely one step, and ANMCLA urges the government to go further: to expropriate the private media magnates of their transmitters and equipment, to hold coup-plotters responsible for their actions, and above all to move beyond statist conceptions of the public media. As they argue: "The new channel 2 that will soon go on the air will surely be better, closer to the people, with less violence and perversion. . . . But in order for it to really become the TV that we desire, for it to really be our television, it will be necessary to establish and exercise direct popular control over the channel, as well as over the media as a whole." While ANMCLA "will be on the streets to celebrate the execution of this measure [against RCTV] and the opening of new perspectives," they see the gesture as "a point of departure for an entirely new era of struggles for the socialization of all the media, through popular protagonism, toward the construction of socialism."

In all honesty, even a state-run station would be more "democratic" than one directed by the economic oligarchy that has ruled Venezuela for the past 500 years. But the vision expressed by ANMCLA and others is infinitely more radical and more suited to the entirely new kind of socialism that is being built in Venezuela.

Do RCTV and Marcel Granier represent "freedom"? The response from independent media producers is blunt: as a media activist from Caricuao's Radio Perola, one of the ANMCLA signatories, puts it: "Freedom of expression is the expression of freedom, not the voice of privilege." The historic concession granted to RCTV is a direct expression of the economic privilege of Venezuelan and international elites, now so insistently and opportunistically masquerading as "free speech."

As a recently-popularized slogan puts it: "RC Te Vas" -- "RCTV, You're Gone."

George Ciccariello-Maher is a Ph.D. candidate in political theory at the University of California, Berkeley. He lives in Caracas, and can be reached at gjcm(at)

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