The Iran nuclear intelligence well was poisoned from the start

Gareth Porter reveals how Western intelligence believed the procurements of an Iranian university were proof of nuclear-weapons research.

Arak nuclear facility. Image Wikimedia Commons

Arak nuclear facility. Image Wikimedia Commons

The sources of enmity between Iran and the United States are legion. In 1953, when Prime Minister of Iran Mohammad Mosaddegh (also spelled Mossadegh) sought to make Iran a democracy and nationalize the oil industry, which was owned by British corporations, the United States helped plan and execute a coup. Then, in 1979, when President Jimmy Carter allowed the just-deposed Shah into the United States for medical treatment, Iranian revolutionaries took U.S. embassy staff hostage. But, after 9/11, in a gesture of good will, Iran collected hundreds of Arabs who crossed the border from Afghanistan, deported them, and supplied copies of their passports to the United States. Iran also provided assistance overthrowing the Taliban and establishing the Karzai government in Afghanistan. Continue reading


Tackling poverty means that there will be more KFCs in Africa

Photo credit: CIMMYT.

Smallholder farmer prepares maize plot for planting with CIMMYT improved varieties, Embu, Kenya

Gates Foundation and KFC initiatives are better news than many understand.

Rural villages in Africa are not just poor, their demography is hollowed out. Continue reading


More sanctions on Iran = uranium enriched to a higher grade

Both U.S. members of Congress calling for new Iran sanctions and hard-liners in Iran assault President Rouhani from each side.

Arak heavy water plant in Iran

Arak heavy water plant in Iran

In light of how much it has invested in uranium enrichment, it’s unrealistic to expect Iran to abandon the process. At the National Interest, Colin Kahl explains.

Given the significant financial investment—estimated to be at least $100 billion—and political capital the regime has expended to master uranium enrichment, the supreme leader will not agree to completely dismantle Iran’s program as many in Congress demand. … If Khamenei senses [President] Rouhani and [Minister of Foreign Affairs] Zarif are headed in that direction, he will likely pull the rug out from under continued negotiations, regardless of U.S. threats to escalate the pressure further. Continue reading

Einstein Oppenheimer

One of the many ways Nazis shot themselves in the foot by persecuting Jews

Apparently Hitler seems to have forgotten that eliminating Jews would cause a crippling brain drain from Germany.

Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan Project.

Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan Project.

There are many parallels between Hitler and Stalin. On the personal level, they both liked to conduct all-night meetings. On a more critical level, the purge of the Red Army command that Stalin carried out before World War II in order to consolidate his hold on power left the Red Army ill equipped to handle Hitler’s invasion.

While Hitler didn’t order his army command, aside from those who tried to assassinate him, executed, he regularly demoted generals (only later to often promote them again). Continue reading

Remembering Nelson Mandela: the origins of hope and despair

Nelson Mandela emerging from Victor Verster Prison, 11 February 1990, Reuters

Nelson Mandela emerging from Victor Verster Prison, 11 February 1990, Reuters

Sunday afternoon in 1990. 11 February in Port Elizabeth. The height of summer, just after schools have returned for the start of the year. The wind howls as the air tears down South Africa’s long coast.

That day was calm. The country held its breath.

Thousands gathered at Victor Verster Prison in Paarl, about an hour outside Cape Town. They were waiting for the unhoped-for release of one man: Nelson Mandela.

I, 16 years old, poised in front of the television with my camera on a tripod. I knew it was probably futile trying to catch an image, but I wanted somehow to hang on to this moment. Continue reading

Battle of Berlin

The Battle of Berlin: 70 years ago this month

Battle of BerlinStarting on November 17, the British launched the single most intensive bombing attack on a city in World War II.

Despite the lack of a world war since and the Nuremberg Trials, which sent the message that war criminals would be held accountable by a world body in the future, it’s debatable whether the lessons of World War II have been fully learned. By that point, of course, the Western world just wanted to put all the death and devastation behind it and rebuild. But, the speed with which the United States pivoted to the USSR as an enemy and were back on war footing, where we remain as if terrorism and China were threats equal to Germany and Japan, suggests we still haven’t digested World War II. In fact, it should be central to our daily discourse on a daily basis. Continue reading

CATEGORY: WarSecurity

The outstanding bill for Iraq

A couple of weeks ago Larison reminded us that the costs of Iraq are still with us. Citing a new report on a new study about Iraqi war deaths, Max Fisher of the Washington Post and Larison both come to the same conclusion—the war was worse for the Iraqis than we’ve been told. Rather than getting better as the war went on, things didn’t get that much better at all, at least in terms of mortality. And what other measure is there, really? Continue reading

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment

Is James “The Liar” Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, on the way out?

I wonder if he can lie with his mouth closed?

Every once in a while, I like to check the Federal Register. This is a vice I should indulge more frequently, apparently. This evening I indulged, and discovered this:

Designation of Officers of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence To Act as Director of National Intelligence
A Presidential Document by the Executive Office of the President on 09/25/2013

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, as amended, 5 U.S.C. 3345 et seq. (the “Act”), it is hereby ordered that:

Section 1. Order of Succession. Subject to the provisions of sections 2 and 3 of this memorandum, and to the limitations set forth in the Act, the following officials of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, in the order listed, shall act as and perform the functions and duties of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) during any period in which the DNI and the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence have died, resigned, or otherwise become unable to perform the functions and duties of the DNI:…

This couldn’t get much hotter off the press if it tried, and it strikes me as a very big deal, indeed. Surely someone in the media caught wind of this, right?

Not that I can find.

A variety of news searches using Google turned up nothing on today’s presidential memo on succession for the role of Director of National Intelligence. For that matter, nothing came up about the memo when I search my news sources and blog roll in InoReader (the tool I use now that Google’s Reader is caput). That, however, is not to say that there wasn’t anything relevant out there.

Marcy Wheeler’s emptywheel had this fresh, new content today:

Senate Intelligence Committee Open Hearings: A Platform for Liars

So DiFi’s [Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA] idea of an “open hearing” is to invite two established liars. And for her non-governmental witnesses, one keeps declaring Congress NAKED! in the face of evidence the government lies to them, and the other tells fanciful stories about how much data NSA shares.

It’s like DiFi goes out of her way to find liars and their apologists to testify publicly.

I love it.  For that matter, Ms. Wheeler starts the piece off strong with:

Pentagon Papers era NYT Counsel James Goodale has a piece in the Guardian attracting a lot of attention. In it, he says the first step to reform NSA is to fire the liars.

Excellent. Ms. Wheeler might not have mentioned today’s succession memo, but perhaps Mr. Goodale did over at the Guardian?

To reform the NSA, fire officials who lie

This article is also from today, and it’s an excellent bit of reportage. Mr. Goodale ends it on this note:

Obviously, if this culture seeps into popular culture, lies and deceits will be easily tolerated – and we will all be the worse for it. President Obama should focus on this issue before it is too late. But it is not at all clear that he cares about it any more than Congress or the Justice Department do.

Interestingly, he also makes no mention of the memo hot off President Obama’s desk.

If this were a reshuffling of succession rules for just about any other agency, it would probably be among the dullest things ever. With James “The Liar” Clapper at the center of so much controversy, however, should we see this as just a bit of housekeeping minutiae? Or should we expect to see an announcement of Clapper’s resignation soon?

I hope so. Part of me will cheer. The dominant, cynical side of me will just wonder who will be signing Clapper’s checks next. My gut says he’ll still be an intelligence insider, just on a private contractor’s payroll.


Image credit: Official portrait in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Cross-posted from Ars Skeptica

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Sadly, Assad may be Syria’s best option

“Least horrible” may be a better way of putting it.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Remember how innocently the Syrian rebellion began? In March 2011, as part of the Arab Spring which started in Tunisia, Syrians engaged in mostly peaceful demonstrations, though they did demand the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad. Ironically, his heavy-handed response – shooting demonstrators – began a process that posed more of a threat to his regime than did the demonstrators. Especially when jihadists arrived from outside Syria to ostensibly help the armed Syrian resistance that rose up. In fact, they sought to capitalize on the crisis in Syria with their version of the shock doctrine – that is, exploiting a crisis for their own purposes.

Concerns about jihadist control – however unlikely an opposition victory seems lately  –  is one reason Syria is better off (or less poorly off) with the Assad regime remaining in place. For example, writes C.J. Chivers in the New York Times,

While the jihadis claim to be superior fighters, and have collaborated with secular Syrian rebels, some analysts and diplomats also note that they can appear less focused on toppling President Bashar al-Assad. Instead, they said, they focus more on establishing a zone of influence spanning Iraq’s Anbar Province and the desert eastern areas of Syria, and eventually establishing an Islamic territory under their administration.

Another reason that Assad’s continuing rule is preferable is because it keeps chemical weapons out of the hands of jihadists, either through theft during the civil war or if they inherit ownership if the opposition won. At Warscapes, John McCreary, the veteran intelligence analyst who composes NightWatch, explains.

American strategists must recognize that [the chemical-weapons accord] deal is only good so long as the Ba’athist government survives in Damascus. Thus, the US promise to not attack Assad would amount to a protection agreement because the Islamists and the moderate Islamists will not make a similar guarantee. … even so-called moderate rebel groups announced that they recognized Israel as their enemy and would attack it if they came to power.

The US protective umbrella would also apply to Israel for the same reason it applies to the US. If the Islamists win, Israel would be under a chemical warfare threat. That threat goes away only if the Ba’athist government remains in power.

On the unlikely grounds that if the jihadists won, they’d establish the fabled caliphate, to the more likely grounds that they might not have compunctions about using chemical weapons as an instrument of war – instead of for internal repression, as it seems more and more probably that the Syrian military did, according to a UN report issued Monday  – the least worst case scenario is that President Assad, the lesser of two evils, remain in power.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Putin on the short list for a Nobel?

Russian President Putin steps into the peace breach on Syria.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

On Sept. 8, Secretary of State John Kerry made the offhanded suggestion that if Syrian President Bashar al Assad were to “turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week,” the United States would call off its plans to launch missile strikes at Syria. Russia then offered a proposal to Syria, which it accepted, to submit its chemical weapons to international supervision under which they would eventually be destroyed. Acting Editor of Foreign Policy in Focus Peter Certo wrote: “John Kerry may have just accidentally earned himself a Nobel Peace Prize.”

But, at the New York Times, Steven Lee Myers reports:

… suddenly Mr. Putin has eclipsed Mr. Obama as the world leader driving the agenda in the Syria crisis. … Although circumstances could shift yet again, Mr. Putin appears to have achieved several objectives, largely at Washington’s expense. He has handed a diplomatic lifeline to his longtime ally in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad, who not long ago appeared at risk of losing power and who President Obama twice said must step down. He has stopped Mr. Obama from going around the United Nations Security Council, where Russia holds a veto, to assert American priorities unilaterally.

More generally, Russia has at least for now made itself indispensable in containing the conflict in Syria [as well as] boxed Mr. Obama into treating Moscow as an essential partner for much of the next year, if Pentagon estimates of the time it will take to secure Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile are accurate.

Many of us in the West applaud the alacrity with which Putin has acted. Still, we always need to bear in mind that this is a leader who oppresses dissidents, oversees widespread corruption, oversaw death and destruction in Chechnya, and may have been complicit in the Moscow bombings of 1999.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov is meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva today to work out the details of the plan under circumstances so daunting that, writes Yochi Dreazen at Foreign Policy, There’s Almost No Chance Russia’s Plan for Syria’s Chemical Weapons Will Work.

Experts in chemical weapons disposal point to a host of challenges. Taking control of Assad’s enormous stores of the munitions would be difficult to do in the midst of a brutal civil war. Dozens of new facilities for destroying the weapons would have to be built from scratch or brought into the country from the U.S., and completing the job would potentially take a decade or more. The work itself would need to be done by specially-trained military personnel or contractors.

But, yesterday, at the New York Times Room for Debate, Jeffrey Lewis of the Monterey Institute of International Studies wrote:

A number of commentators have noted the slow progress of the United States in eliminating its own stockpile of chemical weapons under the Chemical Weapons Convention. But the reasons are completely irrelevant to the situation in Syria.

For instance:

It reflects local politics in the United States of siting and operating chemical weapons incinerators. [And] environmental groups in Syria will not slow the work of the United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons with lawsuits.

“In fact,” Lewis writes:

… the international community has moved faster when it mattered. The United Nations Special Commission in Iraq supervised “the destruction of over 480,000 liters of live chemical weapons agent, 28,000 chemical munitions and approximately 1.8 million liters, and over 1 million kilograms of some 45 different precursor chemicals” in a little less than two years — from June 1992 to May 1994.

Finally, also at Room for Debate, Cheryl Rofer, chemist and proprietor of Nuclear Diner, reminds us not to put the cart before the horse:

… it will be essential for the fighting in Syria to stop to allow inspectors in and to build plants. Negotiating a ceasefire may be more difficult than destroying the weapons.

 Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.


Assad and Obama whiff at chances to defuse crisis

Both insist on viewing the chemical-weapons attack in black or white: mounted by either the Assad administration or the opposition.

The hypothesis that the Syrian chemical weapons attacks may not have been perpetrated by President Bashar al-Assad – or the opposition – has been graining traction. Reuters reports (Sept. 8):

Syrian brigade and division commanders had been asking the Presidential Palace to allow them to use chemical weapons for the last four-and-a-half months, according to radio messages intercepted by German spies, but permission had always been denied … Germany’s Bild am Sonntag paper reported on Sunday, citing German intelligence.

In other words

Syrian government forces may have carried out a chemical weapons attack close to Damascus without the personal permission of President Bashar al-Assad.

Meanwhile, on Sept. 6, in a New York Times op-ed Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) lamented the Obama administration’s failure to share intelligence on Syrian chemical-weapons attacks with – never mind the public – lawmakers themselves. In the course of the op-ed, it was surprising to hear one of the most progressive members of Congress cite the right-wing Daily Caller:

The danger of the administration’s approach was illustrated by a widely read report last week in The Daily Caller, which claimed that the Obama administration had selectively used intelligence to justify military strikes in Syria, with one report “doctored so that it leads a reader to just the opposite conclusion reached by the original report.”

The allegedly doctored report attributes the attack to the Syrian general staff. But according to The Daily Caller, “it was clear that ‘the Syrian general staff were out of their minds with panic that an unauthorized strike had been launched by the 155th Brigade in express defiance of their instructions.’ ”

I don’t know who is right, the administration or The Daily Caller. But for me to make the correct decision on whether to allow an attack, I need to know. And so does the American public.

The author of the Aug. 29 Daily Caller article was Kenneth Timmerman, president of the conservative Foundation for Democracy in Iran, who ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in Maryland last year. He wrote:

The Obama administration has selectively used intelligence to justify military strikes on Syria, former military officers with access to the original intelligence reports say, in a manner that goes far beyond what critics charged the Bush administration of doing in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war.

According to these officers, who served in top positions in the United States, Britain, France, Israel, and Jordan, a Syrian military communication intercepted by Israel’s famed Unit 8200 electronic intelligence outfit has been doctored so that it leads a reader to just the opposite conclusion reached by the original report.

… According to the doctored report, the chemical attack was carried out by the 155th Brigade of the 4th Armored Division of the Syrian Army, an elite unit commanded by Maher al-Assad, the president’s brother.

However, the original communication intercepted by Unit 8200 between a major in command of the rocket troops assigned to the 155th Brigade of the 4th Armored Division, and the general staff, shows just the opposite.

The general staff officer asked the major if he was responsible for the chemical weapons attack. From the tone of the conversation, it was clear that “the Syrian general staff were out of their minds with panic that an unauthorized strike had been launched by the 155th Brigade in express defiance of their instructions,” the former officers say.

According to the transcript of the original Unit 8200 report, the major “hotly denied firing any of his missiles” and invited the general staff to come and verify that all his weapons were present.

The report contains a note at the end that the major was interrogated by Syrian intelligence for three days, then returned to command of his unit. “All of his weapons were accounted for,” the report stated. [Emphasis added.]

In his op-ed, Congressman Grayson isn’t pushing the story that the opposition was responsible for the attack. He states that “The allegedly doctored report attributes the attack to the Syrian general staff,” and by implication President Assad, when the order may have come from lower on the command chain. But Grayson fails to acknowledge what Timmerman reported in the last two paragraphs of the excerpt. The Syrian general staff accepted the major’s denial as, if not truth, a story to which they chose to stick. Assad and the military don’t seem interested in pinning the blame on a unit that was attacking independently.

Too bad because it might have provided Assad with an out – remember he’s not being threatened with strikes for possessing chemical weapons, which he doesn’t deny, but for using them. He could have claimed the chemical-weapons attack wasn’t a top-command decision, punished the major or one of the brigade or division commanders to which Bild am Sonntag alludes.

Instead Assad clings to claims – true or not, but which the West, aside from Russia and Iran, reject – that the opposition was responsible. It would also have provided an out for President Obama, who, just as black and white as Assad, holds the Assad regime responsible. If both had dared to venture into the gray area of an attack down the command chain, they could have defused the crisis – especially if the United States had provided a forum for Syria to explain how that happened.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

CATEGORY: American Culture

Death, Iowa and being 30 minutes late to an orgy with Marcia Brady and Laurie Partridge: What’s the best time zone in America?

The United States spans six time zones. I have now lived in four of them (Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific), visited a fifth (Hawaiian-Aleutian) and flown over the sixth (Alaskan), so I feel comfortable addressing the question of which one is best with some authority.

Eastern Time Zone

I begin with a certain bias. Like most kids, I hated going to bed. The big reason: I was afraid I’d miss something. I knew that other people were still awake and doing things, and it drove me crazy. Truth is, this is the same thing that bothers me about dying. Death doesn’t scare me, but I think about things like all the Chelsea FC matches that will be played without me and again, it drives me bonkers. And yes, I’m actually serious about this.

During the summer months, especially, I’d have my anxieties confirmed on occasion. Back in the old days we didn’t have the Internet or cable or a 24/7 news cycle or ESPN. All we had was newspapers. Hell, we didn’t even have touchtone and wireless phones. I’d get up in the morning, grab the newspaper and flip to the sports section to see how the Orioles had done. That was the team that had four 20-game winners, Boog Powell, Davey Johnson, Mark Belanger, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, and Earl Weaver at the helm. They were my favorite team. But when they were on the road playing West Coast teams, the games would still be in progress when the East Coast papers went to press (I lived in NC, which was in the Eastern time zone back then; these days it’s lobbying for a move to the 17th century time zone, but that’s another conversation). So there, where the score ought to be, would simply be the word “late.”

DAMMIT! See, I went to bed and something that I care about happened and not only did I miss it, everybody east of Louisville did, too.

I lived the first 27 years of my life alternating between Eastern Standard and Eastern Daylight, the whole time feeling like the kid who got sent to bed early because mom and dad were throwing an orgy downstairs and they’d invited both Marcia Brady and Laurie Partridge.

Verdict: Sucks.

Central Time Zone

Then I marched off to grad school at Iowa State, which sits smack-ass in the middle of the Central time zone. This was a tad better. Going to bed early-wise, anyway. Of course, I was in grad school and club DJing on the side to make ends meet, so it’s not like I went to bed early very often, regardless. The downside was that time zones notwithstanding, if something interesting did actually happen, at any hour of night or day, it highly unlikely to happen in Iowa.

Verdict: A little better but, you know, Iowa.

Mountain Time Zone

In 1993 I moved to Colorado for yet another round of grad school. I know, I know – how much book learnin’ does a simple country boy really need? But it worked out great. Colorado’s tourism motto ought to be Come for the Doctoral Programs, Stay for the Time Zone! Seriously, that beats the hell out of Iowa’s Gateway to Nebraska, don’t you think?

The bottom line is that as time zones go, the MST/MDT combination rocked. Braves games came on at 5pm and were over by 8, which meant I could watch them lose in the playoffs and still have plenty of time to take a shower and head out for a beer by 9:30. When I wasn’t studying, that is. But even when I had to spend the night reading 2000 pages of single spaced, 6-point blather about Semiotics (double sided, no pictures, written in a language that only vaguely approximated English), it was comforting know that I could, in principle, have watched the game and gone out for a beer.

All those losers in the Eastern time zone were going to bed right about the time I was ordering my second pint of stout and settling into SportsCenter (or rereading the same page by motherfucking de Saussure for the 12th time because the first 11 bounced off my brain like a superball off the deck of an aircraft carrier). HAH! Send this to bed early, bitches.

The West Coast was still out there with an hour in hand, but by now we had cable and 100 sports stations and the worst case scenario was an excuse to stay up an extra hour watching the Nuggets in Portland.

Verdict: Rocks!

Pacific Time Zone

Now I live in the Pacific Time Zone and by god nothing happens before I go to bed. Or, you know, before I would be going to bed if I had a mind to stay up. I have a job and am approaching middle age, so I go to bed earlier than I used to. But not because I have to. No, it’s because I choose to.

The upside of PST/PDT is obvious – you don’t miss anything. If you’re back east, you’re thinking about bed right about the time I’m thinking about dinner. You’ll be snorking into a drool-soaked pillow for three hours by the time the orgy gets started out here. Advantage: me.

The downside is that if you aren’t careful, you can miss things because they happen too soon. Take Thursday night. The Broncos game was timed for a nationwide viewing audience: 8pm Eastern. Which, if you do a little math, you’ll realize is right about the time those of us in the Emerald City are getting off work. Holy fuckstockings. I had to bus home, then go pick up Ronan MacScottie from daycare, then get home, walk him, feed him, grab a bite to eat, and it’s gonna be halftime before I can tune in.

Fortunately there was a lightning storm in Denver that held the game up, and I flipped on the game just as whoever she was got thoroughly into her enhanced interrogation of the national anthem. But this was what’s known as an “exception.” The “rule” is that things used to be too late for me and now sometimes they’re going to be too early.

Back in Denver I’d sometimes have to get up at ungodly hours on the weekends because Chelsea, sitting over there in Cockney Standard Time, had the early game. On multiple occasions I was down at the Bulldog for a 5:30am kick on Saturday or Sunday (heck, there were two 3:30am kicks when they were playing in the World Club Championships in Japan). Which means I might be looking at 4:30am starts out here on the left coast.


Verdict: Can we change Pacific Time so that it’s only 30 minutes behind Mountain instead of a whole hour? Because that’d be great.

Those Other Time Zones

I haven’t spent a lot of time in the Hawaiian zone, but boy howdy, let me say that there was nothing wrong with Kauai that I could find.

Verdict: More research needed.

Never been to Alaska. I hear it’s pretty. Also, cold and devoid of single women.

From what I could tell looking out the airplane window, the Alaskan zone is mostly water. (This, by the way, is known as dramatic license. In reality I was nowhere near a window. The way this jet was laid out you had a section on either side with a window seat and an aisle seat, then you had the middle section which featured an aisle seat on either end and 16 seats in between. 16 very narrow seats. I had my ex-wife, who was mostly zonked on Dramamine to deal with her terror of flying on one side and a sweaty guy who was only able to get into his seat with the help of butter and large shoehorn on the other. At one point I had to fight my way out to go to the lavatory and by the time I got back I’d missed three episodes of Friends. Also, the big guy had slumped over and drooled on my seat. I spent the rest of the flight feeling like I was sitting in an inflatable kiddie pool.

Verdict: Sarah Palin.

To sum up, then:

Eastern: Everything interesting happens while you’re asleep.

Central: Iowa.

Mountain: Theoretically makes even de Saussure okay.

Pacific: You’re 30 minutes late to the orgy with Marcia Brady and Laurie Partridge.

Alaskan: Sausagefest.

Hawaiian: Poipu, Brennecke’s Beach Broiler.

Have a nice Sunday.

This “just” in: Jabhat al-Nusra rebels claim chemical weapons attack in Ghouta with an oops

StopJabhat al-Nusra Rebels Admit Responsibility for Chemical Weapons Attack
Paul Joseph Watson, Global Research/Centre for Research on Globalization
September 1, 2013

Militants tell AP reporter they mishandled Saudi-supplied chemical weapons, causing accident

 Syrian rebels in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta have admitted to Associated Press correspondent Dale Gavlak that they were responsible for last week’s chemical weapons incident which western powers have blamed on Bashar Al-Assad’s forces, revealing that the casualties were the result of an accident caused by rebels mishandling chemical weapons provided to them by Saudi Arabia.

This article also posted the following important update:

UPDATE: Associated Press contacted us to confirm that Dave Gavlak is an AP correspondent, but that her story was not published under the banner of the Associated Press. We didn’t claim this was the case, we merely pointed to Gavlak’s credentials to stress that she is a credible source, being not only an AP correspondent, but also having written for PBS, BBC and

By all means, take a few minutes to read the full article and peruse the ones linked below.

From a Google news search just now, Monday, September 2, 2013 2:42 AM MST, here is what amounts to full coverage of this claim at a first pass.

Saudi Prince Bandar behind chemical attack in Syria: report
Tehran Times, August 31, 2013

Syria: Rebel Groups, Not Assad, Behind Chemical Attacks Says Pat Buchanan
IBTimes, September 1, 2013

Saudi Bandar Provided Gouta Chemical Weapons, Militants Mishandled
Al-Manar TV Lebanon, August 31, 2013

Further, a search on Bandar chemical weapons turns up the these results.  One might say there is a dearth of Western coverage.

Syria’s deputy foreign minister on accusations over chemical weapons, September 1, 2013

What passes for American coverage?  The New York Times does not disappoint.  By that, I mean if you expect selective silence and beating the drum for war, you’ll not be disappointed.

President Seeks to Rally Support for Syria Strike
2 hours ago

To be certain, Saudi Prince Bandar is mentioned…in exactly one sentence.  That sentence, however, had absolutely nothing to do with the context presented above.  One might think, given the gravity of the allegations and, for that matter, the sheer mind-boggling nature of a terrorist organization issuing a mea culpa rather than a boast, as well as the implication of an AP reporter’s credibility in the matter, that maybe some mention would be made of these journalistic developments from the Middle East.

Naturally, a cosmic prank of this magnitude must come with a punchline.  Here it is, from three days ago.

EXCLUSIVE: Syrians In Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack
MintPress News, August 29, 2013

Of note at the end of the MintPress article:

Some information in this article could not be independently verified. Mint Press News will continue to provide further information and updates . 

The same can be said, in spades, for US claims. See the FAIR analysis for examples.

With all the doubt flying around, let’s take just a moment to vet MintPress as a source, shall we?  Here’s their About page.  Here’s a write-up from MinnPost from nearly two years ago. Here is an excellent compare and contrast analysis from Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting.

Zero Hedge, a blog of mixed distinctions, was also on top of the MintPress story. covered the story from MintPress.

Here’s my burning question for you, dear reader.  Where else have you heard this coverage?

Whatever the truth is, before we go lobbing so much as one shot across the bow the American public would be well advised, whatever the short-term humanitarian cost, however horrible it is, to demand a full independent investigation to ascertain as well as possible just what the hell actually happened.  We have had far too many conflicting claims, far too many inconsistencies, and far, far too many weasel words, strong assurances, and empty platitudes compounded with nothing but circumstantial evidence and strident demands for trust from this administration to just sit back and let hawks from both the left and right railroad us into what may turn out to be a cataclysmic conflict.


Image credit: MSVG @  Licensed under Creative Commons.

CATEGORY: Barack Obama

Bush III: Obama’s deteriorating legacy

Way back in March of 2008, as the campaign was running in high gear, I made clear that while I wasn’t in love with the Democratic frontrunners, the emerging alternative was worse: John McCain represented the third Bush presidency.

I was undoubtedly right. But… You knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?





Poppy. Dubya. And now Barack. I was right – the 2008 election gave us the third installment in the Bush Dynasty.

Perhaps we’ll get to see Colin Powell back in front of the UN again soon…


WordsDay: The politics of love and poetry…thinking and doing…

As I have extended the 2013 reading list, I’ve tried to balance works such as histories and science studies with my penchant for literature.

But you know what? I still like literature best. And here’s a reason why.

Cover, The Postman by Antonio Skarmeta (courtesy, Google Books)

I have just finished Antonio Skarmeta‘s book El Cartero de Neruda (originally called  Ardientia Paciencia) on which the wonderful 1994 Italian film, Il Postino was based (though Skarmeta’s work is based on his own screenplay, which uses that original title mentioned above) – yes, a tad confusing, I know. In English we know Skarmeta’s work as The Postman (not to be confused with David Brin’s post-apocalypse sci-fi novel turned into the problematic Kevin Costner film - and yes, I know that’s more confusion).

Skarmeta’s novel tells the story of a shy young man who accidentally becomes friends with the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, wins the girl of his dreams, tries to support and protect both Neruda and his friends in their loyalty to Salvador Allende, and in the end is swept away, one of the desaparecidos of the government of Augusto Pinochet and Operation Condor.

The novel (really a novella given that the work is only 112 pages in English) has some of the same poetic qualities as Neruda’s poetry: a spareness that belies a cosmic vision of love in its physical, emotional, political, and spiritual characters. The shy teen Mario Jiménez, who takes the job of postman in the tiny fishing village of Isla Negra just off the Chilean coast and whose only real delivery customer is Neruda, is transformed by the poet – through the power of poetry, especially through the power of poetry’s most important device, the metaphor – into a lover (Mario’s Beatriz is named as a nod to another great poet), a husband, a father (whose son is an accident prone money pit), a provider (despite the complaints of his mother-in-law, Mario somehow finds money – or money finds him), a thinking, acting citizen. As possibly was the case with even Neruda himself, sadly, that last transformation leads to his victimization by the brutal forces of the Pinochet regime.

Skarmeta follows, with his own twists, the Hemingway dictum: an author can leave any part of a story out as long as the author knows that he/she has done so. Part of the magic of El Cartero de Neruda is that, like Neruda’s poetry, what is unsaid can leave, in the words of another great poet, “thoughts that lie too deep for tears.” We don’t completely understand the why of all that Mario thinks or does or the why of all that Neruda thinks or does. What we do understand is that both are inspired – whether by love, art, or politics – to think and do.

Mario’s ultimate act of thinking and doing is to write and submit a poem to a contest run by a Chilean magazine – a poem that, in the epilogue to his story, we learn was forgotten by the contest’s judge. Mario never knows this, for Pinochet’s secret police take him away before he learns his work’s fate. Like so much of life, it seems,  Mario’s greatest moment is simply the thinking and doing itself – outcome is not the only, or even the chief, measure of human worth.

In a recent conversation with a writer friend of mine, he asked me why literary fiction (he was referring to a piece of my writing, but the same question could be asked of many literary fiction types) sometimes doesn’t seem to be anything but thinking and doing. I’ll now point him to El Cartero de Neruda – which explains that to think and to do is what makes us human – and that that is enough.


Syria and chemical weapons attacks: “Just trust us,” says everybody.


Today, as covered by nearly everyone, Secretary of State John Kerry said:

“The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard, it is inexcusable. And despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable.”

Mr. Kerry alleges that the Assad regime destroyed evidence:

“Instead, for five days, the Syrian regime refused to allow the U.N. investigators access to the site of the attack that would allegedly exonerate them,” Mr. Kerry said. “Instead, it attacked the area further, shelling it and systematically destroying evidence.”

Evidence, of course, is forthcoming. Until then, just trust us.

 In the coming days, officials said, the nation’s intelligence agencies will disclose information to bolster their case that chemical weapons were used by Mr. Assad’s forces. The information could include so-called signals intelligence — intercepted radio or telephone calls between Syrian military commanders.

Meanwhile, Walid Shoebat, who claims to be a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, presents some kind of evidence that it was the rebels that used the chemical weapons, not Assad. Was Shoebat a member of the Muslim Brotherhood? Confirmation is needed, but how rigorous would the confirmation need to be for it to be accepted as fact? Would it matter if he were? As for the evidence he presents, how good is it? Is it merely circumstantial? Taken out of context? Entirely fabricated? Who should judge?

Meanwhile, Russia, likely to veto any UN Security Council measures against Assad, claims that there is no evidence that Assad did use chemical weapons.

Meanwhile, Assad denies using chemical weapons.

The drums are beating for war, and all too many, some perhaps with dubious motives, are eager to get the jump on Assad. How about we wait until the UN inspectors actually have a chance to report on the evidence, if any is found?

Meanwhile, speaking of obscenities committed with chemical weapons:

“They are tantamount to an official American admission of complicity in some of the most gruesome chemical weapons attacks ever launched.”


“The declassified CIA documents show that Casey and other top officials were repeatedly informed about Iraq’s chemical attacks and its plans for launching more. “If the Iraqis produce or acquire large new supplies of mustard agent, they almost certainly would use it against Iranian troops and towns near the border,” the CIA said in a top secret document.But it was the express policy of Reagan to ensure an Iraqi victory in the war, whatever the cost.”

Surprising no one, Mr. Kerry didn’t mention this bit of our history.


Image credit: US Army Materiel Command Licenced under Creative Commons