Monthly Archives: March 2007

UPDATED: Final Four on TV: Can’t somebody PUHLEAZE give movie money to Billy Packer?

When will this man stop tormenting me? I keep hoping he’ll at least go on medication.

He is the master of the obvious. I mean, we’re watching the game, Billy….and we can see it better than you…

But yet, he also gets it wrong, especially when he tries to jump on every 5 point lead as having some earthshaking significance. Consequently, he makes about 11 declarations a game, about which guy is “taking over the game”. Sometimes before he even gets it out of his mouth, things shift the other way.

If he knows anything about basketball, he keeps it pretty secret. I mean, he throws out a lot of stats and crap from the press book. That doesn’t really help me enjoy the game, thanks anyway. If you want to know what is likely to happen next, Billy Packer gets it wrong every single time. If you want to know anything about the defenses and offenses, don’t expect it from The Color Guy. If you want to hear about rules, techniques, you got the wrong guy. If you want somebody who can do some of the call of the game, sorry, he’s not the guy.

He gets Nance distracted from calling the game; somebody will score and we won’t know who it was, because Nance and Billy are discussing Ohio State’s troubles with the NCAA. Earth to Billy …Hello?

It’s like he knows nothing about what this particular game is about. But yet, he has to get in as much mike time as the guy who is calling the game. Boy, that is a lot of space to fill for somebody who’s got nothin. And he puts heavy gravitas on all of it, like Bob Ordigal of the Mavericks (another idiot).

I have never listened to another announcer who can ruin a game for me like Billy Packer can. Unfortunately, Billy has done EVERY Final Four game ever played.

The only games he didn’t ruin for me are the ones I saw in person, the year Magic played Bird in Salt Lake City.

UPDATE: Billy actually made a shrewd call: Big men pick up cheap fouls when they get tired; then Roy Hibbard did that exact thing.  And Billy went NUTS !!  like its the first time in 30 years he’s got one right.  I’m surprised he didn’t yell, “did ya hear that, Al McGuire? did ya?”

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Inside NBC during the selling of the Iraq War

link

There were generals who came in, there were former secretaries of defense, Schwarzkopf spent a whole lot of time giving sort of off-the-record, quiet briefings. And the generals would sort of bring in a certain group of editors and reporters and I went to all of these briefings.

At one of them, Hockenberry explains, a well-known pollster told about a briefing he gave to all the senior officials at the White House about how the polling data from the Arab world showed that America’s negatives were simply off-the-charts. Everyone was quiet. Condi asked a few technical questions and then finally Karl Rove spoke up. “Well, that’s just until we start throwing our weight around over there,” he said.

Hockenberry was stunned and thought they should do a piece on what this revealed into the mentality of the war’s planners. But NBC News didn’t think this was a very good idea. America wanted the war to happen; their job was just to wait and see how it turned out. “We’re not particularly interested in the story,” Hockenberry explains. “We’re a process that’s trying to maintain people in front of the set, so in a certain sense media at that point was doing its own kind of shock-and-awe that went right along with the war’s shock-and-awe [because] the business is just to grab eyeballs.”

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Countdown to US attack on Iran: It’s Day Zero.

[Yesterday's post in this series was updated; if you didn't see the updates, go here.]

Well, the great day is here. Zero hour. x minus zero. Whatever. No war. What happened? Was I a Chicken Little? Perhaps. Should we engage in cognitive dissonance and just set back the date a few weeks or months? Let’s backtrack to how I got into this….

When I first started paying attention to this issue of an attack on Iran, Sy Hersh had written about it, and Scott Ritter was on board as well. I actually believe that there was a time last summer when this attack was being planned as a real deal. But, as they say, elections have consequences.

There is no way to justify a US attack on Iran. In the case of Iraq in 2003, that didn’t matter. But since then, even with tight secretive control of the White House and the Congress, even with a popular cable “news” channel pumping the propaganda 24/7, the lies have been exposed, the paranoid fantasies of Dick Cheney have been published for the world to see, and the utter destruction of Iraq has become plain for all but the looniest denier. Then we had an election, and the American people took back the House and Senate.

Even the early congressional investigations of malfeasance during the last six years have exposed even more partisanship, scandal and incompetence than were previously apparent. The Republican Party’s standing in the eyes of Americans is plummeting. The idea of successfully stringing together a bunch of lies today, to justify an attack, is ludicrous.

More importantly, though, Bush lost the raw power to declare war.

Yes, he has the power to bomb Iran on some “defense of troops under attack” excuse, but he should fear for his office and his liberty if he does so on some manufactured crisis, or if he extends such an attack to include, for example, nuclear research facilities.

But he will never again be able to indulge his (or Dick Cheney’s) fantasies of conquest, because the Congress will not only not vote him the power, it will also investigate his every attempt to defraud the public on this issue.

And is not just Congress that Bush has lost. He has lost many military leaders, as well as the crazy Donald Rumsfeld. Robert Gates is a very different and much more responsible person. Bush has also lost a few Congressional Republicans, particularly those up for reelection in 2008. And he has lost the support of the public. Anybody seen a W bumper sticker lately? What would happen if gas went to $5 a gallon as a result of an attack on Iran?

Just as importantly, Bush has lost foreign support. Blair will be leaving, and even he has been flagging a little. The “coalition of the willing” has become a “no more attrition coalition” which is on the way out of Iraq. Condi Rice’s diplomatic “efforts” in the Middle East are a joke at home, but not at all funny in the region; we have lost our influence even with the Saudis, as unbelievable as that seems. The US is viewed as being inseparable from Israel, yet, by successfully setting Arab against Arab, more destructive than Israel.

What else? The Iraq Study Group may well have had an impact. This formidable bipartisan group recommended negotiations with Iran, not war. Further, the NY Times published an account of how the US had refused a very promising offer from Iran in 2003.

Whatever the mix, I think that Bush had never really committed to an attack on Iran, and permanently lost his enthusiasm for an attack on Iran back in November and December. Nonetheless, the ISOG began pumping out warmongering propaganda. This was confusing; but it was a substitution of the war of words for actual war. The goal was either regime change or more sanctions, or both.

The group responsible for propaganda, as we have shown, is the ISOG. This is where we get to what prompted this series. The ISOG really went overboard, to the point where not only did I get concerned, but so did the Congress, and a lot of other people….to the point that there were rumors of a revolt among the military, and Sec. Gates had to actually deny that war was being planned. As Gates’ credibility later climbed over the Walter Reed scandal, his statements have become an even more meaningful denial of the chance of an attack on Iran.

In summary, the actual crisis was over by the time everybody got worried about it.

So it is only right that the “countdown” is over as well. Following the propaganda effort closely has been a fascinating learning experience. I think I could give a class in how to read a news story. A couple of points:

  • Most news stories are commercials for somebody’s point of view.
  • Most news stories have a small germ of “news.” Often it’s just one sentence out of a whole story.
  • The identity of the reporter and the source are of paramount importance.
  • You can’t understand what’s going in the world from news stories or from your government, and help (history, analysis, etc) is easy to find on the internet.

So I will continue to post on US-Iran relations. And the ISOG will continue to pump out the stories. Every day. Like this feeble TIME story of some ancient border encounter. But I don’t think Bush is gonna bomb.

The big story continues to be the British hostages. Iran is threatening to put them on trial, a real no no.

“The legal phase concerning these British soldiers has started and if charges against them are proven, they will be punished,” said Ansari. IRNA said he spoke on Friday evening.

link

And, of course, a second sailor has been shown on television giving an apology. Also a no no.

Yet there is some evidence that diplomatic exchanges are not as strident:

Iran’s Foreign Ministry delivered a letter to Britain’s embassy in Teheran on Thursday, the first written communication between the two capitals since the crisis erupted March 23.

Iran’s IRNA news agency said the Iranian message asked for ”necessary guarantees that violations against Iranian waters would not be repeated”. But it did not appear to demand an apology from Britain as several officials have called for.

link

The UN Security Council did not give the UK all that it wanted:

the UN Security Council agreed a statement voicing “grave concern” at Iran’s actions.

The statement also calls on Tehran to allow the UK consular access to the personnel and urges an “early resolution”, including release of the crew, but stops short of “deploring” Iran’s action, as requested by the UK.

Iran’s UN mission said Britain’s attempt to involve other nations in the crisis was “not helpful”

link

The Independent suggests that the UK has little credibility over legal issues in the region, after violating the UN resolution in its invasion (with the US) of Iraq.

The US has acknowledged what has been apparent:

The State Department repeated Washington’s position on Friday that the Britons were seized in violation of international law and should be freed immediately. But officials declined to discuss diplomatic or other options for what might be done if Iran does not comply.

“This is an issue between the U.K. and Iran,” spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters, adding that the United States had been “outspoken” in urging Iran to free the sailors.

The United States, along with Britain, has come to the conclusion that Washington should remain an uninvolved third party in the current crisis, officials said.

Until Thursday, U.S. officials had refrained from uttering the word “hostage” in connection to the sailors and then it was only when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice picked up on an interviewer’s reference that it was used.
link

Hardly the talk of an administration looking to go to war. Rather, I’d say, the Bush bluff has been called. To be trapped like the inept Jimmie Carter in a hostage situation with Iran would be the ultimate humiliation for Bush.

[to view the 41 installments in this series, click on "countdown..." in the list of categories in the far right hand column.]

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Voter intimidation expected of US attorneys

This is a chilling piece; doing background checks on new Democratic voters? challenging Democratic voters who don’t return a letter? I mean, we already have a terrible voter turnout. Intimidating the young, the poor, the newly arrived, the student, the apartment dweller….this is sick.

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Reversal on cause of pet food poisonings-must read

Seems that aminopterin was not the culprit. Now it seems that it may be a plastics precursor: melamine.  And dry foods are suspect as well. Read it.

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Mothers, don’t let your girls grow up to be cheerleaders

seriously.

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Worth a read: it’s about Iraq’s oil, and always has been

at Common Dreams.

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Old movie review: Robots

This flick is a couple years old but it is a winner for those stay-at-home nights, especially if you have a big hi def TV. It’s a very sophisticated animation, with great effects, and a funny script with all sorts of celebrity voices. Suitable for all ages.

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Updated: Countdown to US attack on Iran: x minus 1 day; Iran threatens to not attend confab with Rice; the ISOG; third carrier group heads for Gulf; the TIME piece.

Iran is using the British hostage situation and the upcoming “Neighbors’ Meeting-the Sequel” to publicize the fact that the US is holding Iranian hostages:

link

Iran may not send a delegation to a key meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, tentatively planned for next month, unless six Iranians detained by the United States in Iraq are released, a senior Iranian official said yesterday.

The meeting on Iraq’s future, planned for Istanbul or Kuwait, is a follow-up to a lower-level meeting held this month in Baghdad. The State Department hopes the meeting will provide a venue for Iraq to engage Iran — as well as Syria and other key players — on efforts to stabilize Iraq.

Gee, how mean; sort of like King Abdullah backing out of Bush’s dinner invitation; nobody likes the US anymore. We have not only managed to put Iran in position to control much of the Middle East, but we have driven the Saudis into their arms. You wouldn’t have thunk ANYONE could do THAT.

Meanwhile the British hostage situation is hardening into a more chronic state as both sides resort to television; the Iranians are producing tapes and confession, while the Brits are showing handheld GPS locators; the UN is involved, the prisoners are being treated well aside from the abuse inherent in the videotaping and confessions. I think the Brits are making a mistake in their management of this matter. Any pronouncement by the UN makes it harder to settle the issue, because it increases the “ego” stakes for one side or the other.

I expect the Brits are asking each other, “…tell me again, why are we there?”

The oil markets are still jittery but beginning to figure it out: there isn’t going to be any attack in the near future.

It is important to recognize that the recent US anti-Iranian campaign is a coordinated one. Most obvious is the propaganda compaign. Day after day, one planted news story appears accusing Iran of some new crime. Some of the stories are so ridiculous and false that they must be put in, say, a Russian, Kuwaiti or Turkish newspaper; others that are arguably true can be planted with friendlies in the US media eg Michael Gordon of the NY Times.

But there are other less obvious parts of the anti-Iranian campaign as well:

link

For nearly a year, a select group of US officials has been quietly coordinating actions to counter the looming threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, including increasing the military capabilities of Arab allies such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain.

The group, known as the Iran Syria Policy and Operations Group, or ISOG, is also coordinating a host of other actions, which include covert assistance to Iranian dissidents and building international outrage toward Iran by publicizing its alleged role in a 1994 terrorist attack in Argentina, according to interviews with half a dozen White House, Pentagon, and State Department officials who are involved in the group’s work.

There is the perception in the Gulf that Iran is really on the rise,” said Emile El-Hokayem, research fellow at the Stimpson Center, a Washington-based think tank. “Washington wants to prepare for a potential show down.”

The existence of ISOG reflects an intensification of the Bush administration’s planning on Iran. Syria, which has linked itself to Iran through military pacts, is a lesser focus for the group. Its workings have been so secretive that several officials in the State Department’s Near Eastern Affairs bureau said they were unaware it existed.

The United States has repeatedly said its policy is not to overthrow the Iranian regime, but one former US official who attended a meeting during ISOG’s initial phase eight months ago said in an interview that he got the impression that regime change was a key goal of many of the meetings’ participants.

He said that some of the intelligence reports ordered by members of the group were so highly classified that they were accessible to less than a dozen people in the US government, suggesting that some of the group’s activities were far from routine.

But interviews with half a dozen current White House, Pentagon, and State Department officials indicated that ISOG’s aims are more modest. Several said that as much as they would like to see the regimes in Tehran and Damascus go, ongoing military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan have limited their range of options. The main goal now, they said, is Cold War style “containment” of Iran in the hopes that Iranians one day will opt to change their own government.

“Iran is the key to everything at the strategic level — the biggest problem we have faced in a long time,” said a senior State Department official involved in ISOG, citing Iran’s negative impact on Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, and the Palestinian territories. “These are all things they are doing because they sense weakness [on the part of the United States]. The best thing for us to project is strength, not ‘please talk to us.’ “

ISOG was modeled after the Iraq Policy and Operations Group, set up in 2004 to shepherd information and coordinate US action in Iraq. ISOG has raised eyebrows within the State Department for hiring BearingPoint — the same Washington-based private contracting firm used by the Iraq group — to handle its administrative work, rather than State Department employees.

Some lower level State Department officials saw the decision to outsource responsibility for scheduling meetings, record keeping, and distributing reports as an effort to circumvent the normal diplomatic machinery and provide extra secrecy for the group.

ISOG is led by a steering committee with two leading hawks on Middle East policy as chairmen: James F. Jeffrey, prinicipal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, who once headed Iraq policy, and Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser for “Global Democracy Strategy.” Michael Doran, a Middle East specialist at the White House, steps in when Abrams is away. Elizabeth Cheney, the vice president’s daughter, who was the former deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, served as cochairwoman before she took a maternity leave earlier this year.

ISOG is made of five main “pillars,” or working groups. The military group explores ways to bolster Arab defenses and create more military cooperation between the Persian Gulf states….A second working group deals with “democracy outreach,” focusing on the State Department’s effort to provide secret financial assistance to dissidents and reformist organizations inside Iran and Syria….

A third working group focuses on finances and the Treasury Department’s efforts to beef up bilateral restrictions on money transfers to and from Iranian banks. A fourth group focuses on Iran’s “special relationships” with Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and terrorist organizations. That group has closely followed Iran’s alleged role in a 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Argentina.

A fifth working group coordinates media outreach to the people of Iran, Syria, and the region.

UPDATE: The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz will be going to the Gulf:

The USS Nimitz and its support ships will depart San Diego on Monday for the Persian Gulf to join another local aircraft carrier strike group already in the region, military officials said.
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier will join the San Diego-based John C. Stennis Strike Group and relieve the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, according to Naval Air Forces Public Affairs.Military officials said in a statement that the two-carrier presence in the Persian Gulf area is intended to demonstrate the country’s “resolve to build regional security and bring long-term stability to the region.”
The Nimitz Strike Group is comprised of the guided-missile cruiser Princeton, guided-missile destroyers Higgins, Chafee, John Paul Jones and Pinckney, two helicopter squadrons and an explosive ordnance disposal unit.

This, of course, sets off a whole new round of speculation, which I will try to discuss more fully tomorrow. However, it is important to recognize immediately that this is not a crisis response. The USS Ronald Reagan is only a week and a half sail from the Gulf, if something was truly up. As it is, this third carrier group will not arrive for over two months. What this means is that Bush didn’t want to admit that he’s taking the “attack card” off the table; he has to rotate the Eisenhower group back to the states soon, so he is going to replace it. In other words, call me back in two months.

TIME Magazine has a piece suggesting that war with Iran is inevitable. As I pointed out above in this piece, there will be stories appearing in the media every day; the foreign stories will be false, the US stories will be true enough to not be called propaganda, but will be given to “friendly” reporters. So who is the TIME reporter? Bob Baer, who is an ex-CIA spook of a very serious order. His story is based on nothing, if you look at it, other than a supposed phone call to someone in the Gulf. Like Bush’s two blogger pals in Iraq. But here is his “take” on the 1979 hostage crisis, illustrative of his lack of information on what is going on there:

The Bush Administration is doing nothing to allay Tehran’s paranoia. With the largest buildup in the Gulf since the start of this Iraq war, it’s actually fanning it. You have to wonder if Bush is counting on the Iranians’ overreacting the way they did when they seized our embassy in 1979. And lest we forget, this was driven by paranoia that we were plotting to destroy the revolution.

That is the official whitewash view. To leave out any mention of the Shah, his crimes against the state, and his escape to the US, is ridiculous. The Iranians wanted the Shah back to put him on trial, and they thought they could get him in exchange for the embassy personnel. This had been predicted at the time when the Shah was given admission to the US by that lovable but sometimes foolish Jimmie Carter.

This is a clear indicator of Baer’s sympathies.  And as far as TIME goes: they had zero space for the US attorney scandal this week. Nothing. So this is another domestic story, given to a “friendly” by the ISOG, adding to the pile of anti-Iranian stuff, adding “pressure” to Iran. Nothing in there that’s really a lie, but nothing of substance either. Just like Gordon’s piece in the NY Times the other day. But every time you get a piece in a major media outlet, that piece adds to the drip, drip.

[earlier posts in this series can be seen by clicking on "countdown...." in the categories list in the far right hand column.]

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3245 US soldiers killed in Iraq (12 this week), have a nice weekend

US and Iraqi casualties continue at about the same levels as in previous months. All personnel within the Green Zone (“secure”) in Baghdad must now wear battle protection when going outside because of rocket attacks.

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