August 25, 2003
No one was more shocked by Arnold Schwarzenegger's surprise announcement that he was tossing his hat in the recall ring than his own team of campaign advisers.
The veritable army of political consultants, aides, advisers, managers, spokesmen, experts, friends and hangers-on that he had hired were stunned - yes, that's right, stunned - to discover that the guy who had hired all of them as part of his campaign staff was actually planning to launch a campaign! Some of them were reportedly also stunned to discover that the sky is blue and grass is green.
Arnold's friend and Brentwood neighbor, Richard Riordan, was also stunned by the announcement. He was so stunned, in fact, that he at first fretted over what to do with the formidable campaign team that he had assembled, but then his head cleared enough for him to remember that he hadn't actually made any effort to assemble such a team. As he sat back to digest the bombshell that Arnold had dropped, he was stunned once again to realize that the guy who had already hired a campaign team, but who the media insisted wasn't running, was indeed entering the race, while the guy who had done nothing, but whom the media had been touting as the candidate du jour, was sitting the race out. Who would have guessed it?
Dick and Arnie's good friend and Brentwood neighbor, Arianna Huffington, was so stunned that she staggered out of her palatial, 8,000-square-foot, multi-million dollar estate in search of a suitable launch pad for her populist campaign. She was last seen at a Brentwood gas station, reportedly asking the attendant for directions: "Excuse me, dahlink, but could you tell me how to get to where the Colored people live?"
Some people may recall that Huffington's last foray into California politics was at the side of her right-wing husband, Michael Huffington, who attempted to buy himself a U.S. Senate seat. At that time, Arianna had not yet had the surgery to have her lips removed from Newt Gingrich's ass.
But that was a long time ago. Several years, at least. Now she's a lefty Brentwood populist with an accent, which sets her apart from the righty Brentwood populist with an accent, who demonstrated the seriousness of his campaign, by the way, by bringing Rob Lowe onto his team. Arnold told a throng of attentive reporters: "Some people have suggested that I am not qualified to run this state, even though I was once in a movie with another really bad actor with big muscles and a small penis who later became a governor. And he wasn't even the star of the movie, like I was. And now I have added a guy to my campaign team who has actually played a politician on television. So what do all those girly-men critics have to say now?"
Speaking of television, there was a 'slow' night recently, by which I mean there were no episodes of "Joe Millionaire," "For Love or Money," "The Bachelor," "The Bachelorette," "Mr. Personality," "Temptation Island," "Cupid," "Paradise Hotel," "Blind Date," or "Elimidate" scheduled to air. So the wife and I decided to rent a couple of videos. I graciously volunteered to make the trek to the local video outlet, after offering assurances that I would, of course, pick out a nice 'romantic comedy.'
The first thing that caught my eye was an obscure offering entitled Monsturd. How was I going to pass that up? As it turned out, I couldn't pass it up, but I did have the clarity of mind to - and this is important to remember, if you should, for whatever reason, decide to rent this movie - rent the tape using my new wife's account, which is still in her maiden name. That way, it won't show up on my 'Total Information Awareness' profile.
The wife and I met, by the way, in what the kids today would call the 'old school' manner, which I am sure will seem rather quaint in the not-too-distant future. People will ask: "So where did you two meet -- online or on a 'reality' dating show?" "Neither," we will say, "we just happened to cross paths in our everyday lives." They will look upon us with a bemused curiosity, as if we are relics of some distant, bizarre past. Perhaps they will put us in a museum, or maybe in a traveling circus ... but here I have, quite uncharacteristically, digressed.
As for Monsturd, the movie concerned a "fecal humanoid" -- the result, as near as I could tell, of a mishap involving a mad scientist, an escaped serial killer, and a sewage treatment plant. Surprisingly, there was a considerable amount of, uhmm, 'bathroom humor' in the film. There's not really much else to say about it, except that I'm looking forward to the inevitable sequel: Monsturd II: The Turdinator. The plot will, of course, involve an outlandishly large pile of shit attempting to devour the California governor's mansion.
The second film that I selected for our video double-feature was a Steven Spielberg effort entitled Catch Me If You Can, which tells the true story of Frank Abignail, Jr., who, before he was out of diapers (and without any help at all from the FBI/CIA, so don't go thinking otherwise), managed to make millions of dollars while passing himself off as an airline pilot, a doctor, a lawyer, and Cher.
Compared to the tale of a gigantic turd on a murderous rampage, Spielberg's offering didn't really seem very plausible, so we decided to watch a documentary on the Great Wall of China that was airing on some vaguely educational cable channel. And in doing so, I learned some things about the Great Wall, or rather Great Walls, since there were actually a series of walls built over the centuries to define and defend various northern borders.
I learned, for instance, that the building of the Wall and all of its fortresses was a construction and engineering project on a scale roughly 30 times that of the Great Pyramids, which weren't exactly weekend projects themselves. The Wall runs a total of at least 4,500 miles. It runs unbroken through impossibly mountainous terrain, along razor sharp mountain crests with sheer drop-offs on either side..
The Great Wall is an engineering marvel, impossibly ambitious in scope and scale, and yet ultimately simple in design. There is nothing else like it in the world. In an attempt to emphasize the unprecedented scale of the Wall, a talking head who appeared near the end of the show said that today, using modern technology, it would cost about $380 billion to recreate it.
He presented that monetary figure as though he was discussing an unfathomable amount of money. And $380 billion is, to be sure, an unfathomable amount of money. To convey exactly how much, he compared it to the $360 billion spent over a forty year period building the U.S. interstate highway system. What he didn't compare it to is the amount of money that is spent over a one year period maintaining the U.S. war machine.
Incredibly enough, the Pentagon actually spends enough money, every year, to completely rebuild the Great Wall of China.
Having learned that fun fact, I started flipping through the channels to see what else was on, and in doing so, I happened to catch a snippet of what I assume was some kind of archival footage of a master spy, named "Maxwell Smart," discussing what was presumably classified information with some shadowy figure identified only as "The Chief." The footage was shot in 1966, and the topic of discussion was the possibility of "KAOS," described as "an international organization of evil," going out of business. Here is the verbatim transcript of what I heard:Agent Smart: Wait a minute, Chief. If KAOS goes out of business, what happens to us?An "international organization of evil"? The 'good' guys covertly funding the 'bad' guys, thus artificially creating 'KAOS,' and along with it the need for ever more 'Control' organizations? Don't look now, folks, but I think we're living in Maxwell Smart's world.
Chief: Well, I guess the Control organization would be out of business too. There wouldn't be any need for us.
Agent Smart: Well, maybe we could get together and give KAOS enough money to keep going for a few years.
Chief: Max, that's a ridiculous notion! That would be like the police cooperating with organized crime! How would you like that?!
Agent Smart: Well, it seems to work in the big cities.
That's What Friends Are For
In Newsletter #38, posted on June 4, I posed to readers the following conundrum:Western intelligence agencies are remarkably skilled, now as then, at structuring the game so that it is a no-win situation for the opponent.Keep that in mind as you read the following editorial published by the Los Angeles Times just six weeks later, on July 19. Keep in mind also that a coup, orchestrated by U.S. intelligence agencies, temporarily deposed Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez last year, before a massive outpouring of public support for Chavez forced the coup plotters to return him to power. The spontaneous counter-coup illustrated quite effectively that the removal of Chavez was not due to popular opposition to his administration, as portrayed by the media, both here and there, but was rather due to covert machinations designed to destabilize the popular, and popularly elected, leader. Media cartels played a huge role in attempting to legitimize and misrepresent the illegal power grab.
Imagine that you are Jacobo Arbenz in the 1950s, or Fidel Castro in the 1960s, or Joseph Stalin in the 1920s and 1930s, or, skipping ahead, Hugo Chavez in the present day. You're trying to get a fledgling administration off the ground and you've got a big problem: the institutions of your country are littered with assets controlled by Western intelligence agencies.
The CIA, for instance, has moved into town and set up shop under various assumed names to operate an 'opposition' press, which daily agitates against the sitting government with heavy doses of manufactured 'black' propaganda. If you take any action against these operations, you will be vilified via the entire Western media establishment for brutally censoring the opposition press and crushing free speech. If you do nothing, the problem will continue to fester and grow. What do you do?Attack on Venezuela MediaLet's now take a closer look at some of the claims and arguments offered by the Times' editorial staff:
As Venezuelans prepare for a constitutional referendum this year on the future of their nation's leadership, President Hugo Chavez has stepped up efforts to curb media freedoms in his country, sending a disturbing message at home and abroad.
Chavez's actions signal his hesitation to honor agreements aimed at resolving the Venezuelan political and economic crisis that led last year to a coup against him. Cesar Gaviria, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, brokered these accords in May. And Chavez's conduct undercuts the conflict-resolving efforts of the six-nation Group of Friends of Venezuela, whose goal is to defend democracy for their Latin American neighbors.
Freedom of the press is a pillar of democracy. But, adding to the bad old practices of getting government-sponsored mobs to beat journalists in the streets or throw rocks through their office windows, Chavez and his cronies, in presidential halls and congressional corridors, now plot ways to assault the media at a higher level.
This attack began with an investigation by the Ministry of Infrastructure of four media conglomerates, ostensibly to see if they meet existing regulations prohibiting the transmission of "false, deceitful or tendentious news."
Lest the threat to democracy seem overstated, consider that the regime also is probing whether the Venezuelan media "incites lack of respect for the legitimate institutions and authorities." Oh, please, which is really desirable — complacent respect for the autocratic or a robust democracy that permits the airing of views by all?
Chavez's allies in Congress are pressing for mendacious media laws, disguised with talk of "social responsibility" and achieving a "democratic balance" between broadcaster rights and societal duties.
Ignore the filigree — this is just more of the crackdown on the media, and the respected group Human Rights Watch recognizes this. Its leaders respectfully asked Chavez to halt this campaign. His aides replied: Butt out.
Bad move, Mr. President. You're just proving critics' suspicions about your dictatorial nature. More important, your people and your neighbors should get more, not less, media freedom and democracy.
"Chavez's actions signal his hesitation to honor agreements aimed at resolving the Venezuelan political and economic crisis that led last year to a coup against him."
This is a rather interesting interpretation of events. A somewhat more objective interpretation is that Chavez's hesitation to honor the agreements is due to the fact that the agreements are not aimed at resolving the 'crisis,' but rather at exacerbating it. And last year's coup was not, as the Times seems to imply, a spontaneous popular uprising that resulted from a "political and economic crisis." To the contrary, both the manufactured "crisis" and the coup were parallel elements of U.S.-led covert operations aimed at destabilizing and removing the Chavez administration.
"Chavez's conduct undercuts the conflict-resolving efforts of the six-nation Group of Friends of Venezuela, whose goal is to defend democracy for their Latin American neighbors."
The 'Friends' group was created on January 15 in CIA-infested Quito, Ecuador, although Ecuador isn't one of the 'Friends.' In fact, very few of Venezuela's "Latin American neighbors" can be found in this cast of 'Friends.' Colombia isn't a 'Friend.' Nor are Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Haiti or the Dominican Republic.
But the United States is a 'Friend.' In fact, the United States is really the only 'Friend' that matters. You might say that the United States is Venezuela's 'Best Friend.' But the United States, the last time I checked, isn't widely known throughout Latin America for defending democracy.
Two other 'Friends' are Spain and Portugal, whom you may remember from the 'Coalition of the Willing.' Apparently Spain and Portugal really like to get involved in worthwhile causes promoted by Uncle Sam. I'm not sure though why they have pledged to "defend democracy for their Latin American neighbors," since, if I'm not mistaken, they don't actually have any Latin American neighbors.
Another of the six 'Friends' is Chile. Some of you may remember Chile as a place where Latin American democracy once flourished. But that was before September 11, 1973 (what is it with that date?), when the United States decided to brutally oust the democratically minded, and very popular, Salvador Allende, and replace him with a jack-booted thug by the name of Augusto Pinochet. Since then, Chile hasn't really been known for defending democracy for its Latin American neighbors.
Rounding out the 'Group of Friends' are Mexico and Brazil. Mexico? Brazil? I had no idea that they had taken an interest in promoting democracy in Latin America. I had no idea that they had even taken an interest in promoting democracy within their own borders. I guess I'm a little behind the times.
Obviously this 'Group of Friends' have their hearts in the right place. They came together out of a genuine, shared interest in defending democracy. It's not like this is, say, a group that was cobbled together by Washington to create the illusion of regional support for U.S. machinations designed to destabilize the freely elected government of Hugo Chavez.
Come to think of it, is it the illusion of regional support that is desired, or is it the illusion of international support? Because, technically speaking, half of the 'Friends' aren't actually Latin American nations. But then again, six 'Friends' don't really make a very impressive international coalition. So I'm a little confused here. It's almost as if Washington was willing to take any 'Friends' it could get.
Anyway, according to a U.S. State Department briefing, the Group of Friends "reflect[s] views set forth by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell." Now that's certainly reassuring, isn't it? I wonder if those views are anything like the views he set forth in the build-up to the Iraq war? I have a hunch that the group might have been able to recruit a lot more Friends if it reflected the views of Venezuela's actual Latin American neighbors.
A primary and explicitly stated goal of the group is to force a recall election, despite the fact that Chavez has been democratically elected to serve until 2006. Team Bush is apparently very big on recall elections. Perhaps in Venezuela they will be able to apply the lessons they learn from their efforts in California.
The 'Group of Friends,' by the way, proudly boasts of working closely with the Carter Center, run by presidential handyman Jimmy Carter, who people sometimes mistake for a peanut farmer and all-around nice guy.
The point of all this is that the LA Times' insinuation that Venezuela is at odds with its Latin American neighbors is a deliberate misrepresentation of fact. The truth is that Venezuela is at odds only with the United States, which has coined a suitably Orwellian moniker to attach to what is obviously a front group created to advance its 'foreign policy' objectives.
The intent of the Group of Friends is to place Chavez in the classic lose-lose situation: cooperate with a group that is covertly working to depose him, or refuse to play along and provide Washington with a contrived justification for taking more overt actions.
"Freedom of the press is a pillar of democracy."
Uh oh ... I think we might have a problem here at home. Although a lot of people don't seem to have noticed, one of our pillars is missing, so I'm not exactly sure what is holding up our 'democracy.' Actually, to be perfectly honest, quite a few of our pillars are missing. I guess we have some kind of a new 'floating democracy.'
"Oh, please, which is really desirable — complacent respect for the autocratic or a robust democracy that permits the airing of views by all?"
Well, I can't speak for everyone, but if I had my choice, I'd have to go with the latter. Unfortunately, it isn't available in the part of the world where I live. I'm wondering, by the way, if the Times editorialist who penned this particular line happened to catch the press conference held by our illustrious leader a couple of weeks later. If so, I'm wondering if the words "complacent respect for the autocratic" crossed his mind.
"the respected group Human Rights Watch recognizes this."
Here we see the Times taking a sincere interest in the views of Human Rights Watch -- which is kind of odd, when you stop to think about it, since the Times didn't show much interest when that same organization recently issued a report that documented the appalling human rights abuses in occupied Afghanistan, and attributed the conditions there to the actions of the "international community." The use of the term "the international community," of course, is a nice way of (not) saying "the United States."
I'm having a little trouble here understanding why, if the editors of the Times are so concerned with human rights and with the work of Human Rights Watch, they haven't said much about the report that reveals that the military assault on Afghanistan did not, as advertised, improve the lives of the Afghani people. Maybe it has something to do with the Times being a senior member of the Pentagon's cheerleading squad.
Human Rights Watch, by the way, is a New York-based group that was created primarily because that other human rights watchdog group, Amnesty International, was not sufficiently subservient to America's needs. That is not to suggest that Amnesty International isn't a pretty good team player, because that is certainly not the case. But even so, it's nice to have a human rights organization of your very own.
But why, you ask, if Human Rights Watch is a tool of Washington, would they issue a report critical of the mess that the Bush team has created in Afghanistan? The answer is that in order to function as effective tools of Washington, such groups have to attempt to maintain the illusion of independence and objectivity. Propaganda loses effectiveness, alas, when it is issued from what is widely recognized as a puppet organization.
That is, by the way, why the U.S. media machine is by far the world's most effective propaganda organ. Unlike the rest of the world's people, Americans truly believe that they are being fed objective 'news' from a 'free press.' Because of that, Americans also necessarily believe that if something is not reported, it did not happen.
That is why the Washington crowd doesn't worry too much when groups like Human Rights Watch are compelled, in order to maintain credibility, to issue reports that are damaging to U.S. objectives. Washington knows, as does Human Rights Watch, that those reports are not intended for, and will not be seen by, the home crowd.
And so it is that the LA Times' editors can, with no fear of revealing their hypocrisy, reference Human Rights Watch when that group is working to advance U.S. 'interests,' and yet completely ignore the organization when it issues a report that reveals the actual cost of advancing those 'interests.' And the American people, of course, are none the wiser.
"Bad move, Mr. President. You're just proving critics' suspicions about your dictatorial nature."
Hmmm ... that sounds kind of familiar. What were the words of advice that I offered to our hypothetical leader? "Not a wise choice." And what are the Times' words? "Bad move."
And what else was it that I wrote? "... thus 'proving' to all the world that you are indeed the monstrous tyrant that Washington claims you to be." And from the Times? "You're just proving critics' suspicions about your dictatorial nature."
Are they stealing my material now? I'm going to have to talk to my attorney about this ...
In the meantime, let me repose the conundrum:Imagine that you are the leader of a 'Third World,' Latin American country. You have been democratically elected twice in elections widely regarded as free and fair, both times by a substantial majority of votes. You can legitimately claim to have been handed a mandate by the people to lead your nation in a particular direction. You are trying to get your administration off the ground and headed in the right direction but you've got a big problem: the institutions of your country are littered with assets controlled by foreign intelligence agencies.
Native fifth-columnists, working together with foreign intelligence assets, have already violently deposed you once. Though the law was clearly on your side in taking action against the treasonous coup plotters, pressure and propaganda from the aforementioned foreign interests have largely prevented you from doing so. The fifth-columnists are, therefore, still in place, and the foreign intelligence agencies are still pulling their strings.
The coup plotters are now pursuing a slightly different strategy: rather than staging another violent coup, the illegal power grab will this time be disguised as a recall election. It will still be a coup, but it will be a much more politically correct coup.
You are being pressured to submit to what will almost certainly be a rigged election, the result of which will be to overturn two legitimate elections. Ironically enough, the military superpower that is attempting to oust you, in the name of promoting democracy, is led by a man who was installed in power by court order, after falling short of gaining a victory at the ballot box.
You have broken no laws, domestic or international. You are guilty of nothing other than setting your country on an economic course other than the one proscribed by the aggressor nation. In a fair and just world, you would have a number of allies and a tremendous amount of international support. But you live in a world where your protagonist has an extraordinary ability to influence world opinion, and to cast you, the democratically elected non-aggressor, as the bad guy.
So what are you going to do? If you play along, you will almost certainly be deposed in what plotters hope will be a bloodless coup. If you refuse, then you will just be "proving critics' suspicions about your dictatorial nature."
What do you do? And regardless of what you do, how will 'history,' written by your adversaries, remember you?
The Middle East's Fledgling Democracy
According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, the southernmost portion of Iraq, frequently identified on maps as "Kuwait," has taken a giant leap down the path to becoming a full-fledged democracy.
("New Kuwaiti Premier is Named," Los Angeles Times, July 14, 2003)
The Times enthused that the naming of a new premier "boosts hopes for reform in this close U.S. ally and fledgling democracy." An allegedly independent economist by the name of Amer al-Tamimi gushed: "This is a good step toward political and economic reform." And Abdul-Rudha Asiri, a political scientist at Kuwait University, claimed that the "precedent" signaled that the administration was "tuned in to the aspirations and pressures of the [Kuwaiti] people."
And what exactly was this radical change that occurred in Kuwait? What was this momentous political event? According to the Times, Sheik Jabbar al Ahmed al Sabah, the emir of Kuwait, stripped the premiership from the crown prince, Sheik Saad al Abdullah al Sabah, who happens to be his cousin, and appointed in his place Sheik Sabah al Ahmed al Jabbar al Sabah, who happens to be his brother. Sheik Saad al Abdullah al Sabah, meanwhile, will continue to serve as the crown prince.
The idea was to separate the posts of crown prince and premier, which had previously been simultaneously held by Sheik Saad al Sabah for twenty-five years. Now, instead of having one unelected Sheik al Sabah serving indefinitely as emir and another unelected Sheik al Sabah serving indefinitely as both crown prince and premier, there will be one unelected Sheik al Sabah serving indefinitely as emir, another unelected Sheik al Sabah serving indefinitely as crown prince, and a third unelected Sheik al Sabah serving indefinitely as premier.
So as you can see, the Kuwaiti system is clearly more democratic now. There are "checks and balances." For example, the newly appointed premier gets to appoint a new cabinet, but his cabinet selections have to be approved by his brother, the emir, who also, by the way, personally appoints every judge in the country. The Kuwaiti people, of course, have no say in any of this.
What is the proper descriptive term for a country that bans political parties? And that has a state-run press? And that practices informal censorship? And that grants just 15% of its citizens the right to vote? And that restricts workers' rights? And that makes widespread use of "guest workers" who even the U.S. State Department admits are little more than indentured servants? And that restricts freedom of assembly and association? And that treats women as less than human? And that places limits on freedom of religion and movement? And that has been ruled by the same despotic family since the country was artificially created 42 years ago? And that has at least two internal secret police forces to enforce the dictates of the ruling family?
Before you answer, I should warn you that what has been posed is a trick question. There actually is no correct answer because a crucial bit of information has been withheld. In fact, all of the information that has been given is largely irrelevant. This is kind of like one of those questions on an IQ test where they give you all kinds of extraneous information in an attempt to confuse you, when there is really only one piece of information buried in the mix that is necessary to answer the question. So let's try this once again, this time with the critical bit of information included:
What is the proper descriptive term for a country that bans political parties? And that has a state-run press? And that practices informal censorship? And that grants just 15% of its citizens the right to vote? And that restricts workers rights? And that makes widespread use of "guest workers" who even the U.S. State Department admits are little more than indentured servants? And that restricts freedom of assembly and association? And that treats women as less than human? And that places limits on freedom of religion and movement? And that has been ruled by the same despotic family since the country was artificially created 42 years ago? And that has at least two internal secret police forces to enforce the dictates of the ruling family? And that is a "close U.S. ally"?
Now we can clearly see that the correct answer is: "fledgling democracy." Does everyone now understand how this game is played? Good. Then let's play one more round:
What is the proper descriptive term for a country that, unlike Kuwait, actually treated women with respect and afforded them rights -- far more so than in any other Arab country? And that, also unlike Kuwait, had a separation between church and state? And that granted citizens, including women, the right to a free education through university level in some of the best schools in the region? And that also made quality healthcare universally available? And that, before being bombed by the first George Bush, afforded its citizens the benefit of having the most advanced civilian infrastructure in the Arab world? And that boasted of quality-of-life indicators (life expectancy, infant mortality, etc.) that were, in relative terms, quite high? But that, alas, was led for a couple of decades by a despotic leader with a demonstrable lack of respect for human and civil rights? And that, worse yet, had ceased to be a "close U.S. ally"?
The correct answer, obviously, is that the country in question, Iraq, was a rogue/outlaw/terrorist-sponsoring nation that posed a grave threat to the entire world -- even though it hadn't actually issued any threats, to anyone, for over a decade, and even though it didn't possess any weapons to enforce the threats that it never made, and even though it couldn't even field an army capable of defending its own capitol city, let alone launching any sort of substantial offensive operations. The ruling regime nevertheless had to be deposed to bring to an end the suffering of the Iraqi people -- even though the Iraqi people, prior to a dozen years of U.S.-led bombings and crippling sanctions, were actually suffering much less, overall, than the people of any other Middle Eastern nation.
Now that Iraq has been liberated, the liberators will install some type of military junta, as is generally required to keep dissenters in line as a country is stripped of its natural resources. Education and healthcare services will fade to mere shadows of what they once were. Religious fundamentalism will prevail. Women's progress will be set back decades. Abject poverty will become the socioeconomic status du jour. Death and disappearances will be a part of daily life.
But the new Iraq will not be a threat to world peace and regional stability. The new Iraq will not be a rogue state or a terrorist-sponsoring nation.
The new Iraq will be a "close U.S. ally." The new Iraq will be a "fledgling democracy."