Tuesday, December 30
Pinching Pennies and Amassing Millions
Glen Justice, New York Times, December 26, 2003

Associated Press: At a fund-raiser in Phoenix last month, donors had no chairs and little food, but they got what they wanted: a visit from President Bush. As a new law makes it harder to raise money, Mr. Bush's frugality is paying off.

IT was the Republican social event of the season at the elegant Arizona Biltmore hotel in Phoenix. But many guests who paid $2,000 each to honor the president of the United States say they hardly felt like V.I.P.'s.

While President Bush pulled in nearly $2 million for his campaign, more than 800 supporters were left to roam the cavernous ballroom searching for food and amenities. What they found were sparsely decorated tables, a few lonely trays of salmon skewers and, for many, nowhere to sit.

"That's it for two grand?" John Trainer, a developer from Phoenix, laughingly asked a waiter when he saw the salmon satays at the event, on Nov. 25.

That is it, particularly now that the Supreme Court has upheld a new campaign finance law that makes it harder to raise political contributions. Mr. Bush's frugality, which is nothing new, means that his money will go further, a strategy that Republicans and Democrats alike can adopt.

"Supporters of our campaign expect us to be penny-wise," Scott Stanzel, a Bush spokesman, said. "That's why we serve things like corn dogs and not caviar."

Mr. Bush managed to hold his spending rate to about 17 percent through the third quarter, Federal Election Commission figures show.

The low spending is a combination of Mr. Bush's frugality and the benefits of incumbency, which allow him to travel the country and speak frequently while spending a minimum of campaign money. He also has no primary opponent. [...more]
Wednesday, December 17
Saddam on Lips At Ground Zero
Jimmy Breslin, NY, December 16, 2003

The guide from the tour bus stood in the center of a crowd in winter hats and announced, "This used to be called Ground Zero. We don't use that anymore. We now call it the World Trade Center." ...

In the wild exulting over the capture of a defeated man, Hussein, you'd think that the trade center would not be as continually and vigorously inspected by sightseers. After all, Hussein had nothing to do with this. Bin Laden is your man.

Yet small crowds such as this one with their tour guide gathered through the afternoon for the length of the fence looking out at the famous and frozen real estate.

Each person you spoke to, and they were from all over the country, were pleased that the new trade center would be the world's tallest building. Also, they were supremely happy because Saddam Hussein had had something to do with blowing up the Twin Towers

Here was a woman in the cold, Linda Jacobs, standing with her husband, Ken, from Newport News, Va., and saying, "He probably did. Who knows. But he probably did."

Her husband said, "Oh. yeah. He was in on it."

A couple from Knoxville, Tenn., Elaine and Will, agreed. "I believe he was in on it on some level," she said. "He was around there someplace," the husband said. Betty Hipp, San Antonio. "Of course Saddam was responsible."

I was out there for some time, taking notes and hometowns, and it was all the same. Saddam is bin Laden.

It is a rule of mine not to use man on the street interviews, but this was so unanimous and forceful that I had to listen. And as I did, I could hear George Bush and his people all saying: "We went and got Saddam because it is better to fight terrorists in Iraq than in Manhattan."

No matter that Saddam had nothing to do with the attack.

There were 15 Saudi Arabians who were in the suicide attack.

Then immediately, the FBI gathered up those members of bin Laden's sprawling family who were in America and got them on planes to Switzerland.

And soon, the Saudi Arabian prince was at Waco, Texas, for an amiable day with Bush.

How could you not blame Saddam Hussein for everything? He murdered his own, yes. And he was going to kill all of us with nuclear weapons.

"I know they are there," Bush announced.

There was nothing nuclear about Saddam hiding in his hole. There was no anthrax or smallpox, just rats and lice.

But the unmistakable feeling is that more and more of the American public will consider Saddam Hussein a partner in terror with Osama bin Laden
and that it was a wonderful thing we did, going to war to catch one of them.
Texas housewife busted for hawking erotic toys
Steve Rubenstein, (San Francisco Chronicle), December 16, 2003

A Texas housewife is in big trouble with the law for selling a vibrator to a pair of undercover cops, and the Brisbane vibrator company she works for says Texas is an "antiquated place'' with more than its share of "prudes.''

Joanne Webb, a former fifth-grade teacher and mother of three, was in a county court in Cleburne, Texas, on Monday to answer obscenity charges for selling the vibrator to undercover narcotics officers posing as a dysfunctional married couple in search of a sex aid.

Webb, a saleswoman for Passion Parties of Brisbane, faces a year in jail and a $4,000 fine if convicted.

"What I did was not obscene,'' Webb said. ""What's obscene is that the government is taking action about what we do in our bedrooms.''

The arrest of Webb in Cleburne, a small town 50 miles southwest of Dallas, was the first time that any of the company's 3,000 sales consultants have been busted, said Pat Davis, the president of Passion Parties. She said the company was outraged by the charges and stood behind Webb.

"It makes you wonder what they're thinking out there in Texas,'' Davis said.

Leader who gambled lives and country for power

For more than 40 years he was a survivor thanks to luck, a rule based on a mixture of reward and terror and the sycophancy of aides

Andrew Cockburn, The Guardian, December 15, 2003

"Every Iraqi," Saddam Hussein once remarked to an Egyptian visitor, "feels inside him that he is a winner". After nearly a quarter of a century under Saddam's absolute rule, concluding with the present horrors of invasion and anarchy, most Iraqis may well be feeling that they have in fact drawn a losing ticket, but the description did fit at least one perennially optimistic Iraqi: Saddam himself.
Blood feud ends in the spider hole

The transformation of all-powerful president to cornered wild man is the stuff of parables and will echo forever

Jonathan Freedland. The Guardian, December 17, 2003

I know that we are all meant to have moved on, that we are supposed to focus now on high-minded matters of justice and international jurisprudence, but I'm not quite there yet: I am still stuck on the pictures.

The transformation of a man, last glimpsed in a suit or in military uniform, from president into Monty Python hermit is just too shocking to forget. When last we saw him, he was on a presidential platform, waving to the masses below, unsheathing a sword or firing a ceremonial rifle. Now we see him as a wild man, dirty and mangy as a stray dog. And we have to keep reminding ourselves: it is the same person.

It makes sense that the news networks keep playing that footage of his medical examination, over and over in a loop. It remains fascinating each time you see it, prompting new questions. Is Saddam Hussein being pushed and prodded, or is the US military doctor handling him with the gentleness he might show a child or feeble geriatric? What can that experience have been like for the doctor, to touch so intimately a man identified only with wickedness?

But the power of the current crop of images goes rather deeper than that. Taken together - the bearded Saddam and his underground living grave - they are almost mythic, redolent of legends and fables that are hard-wired into the human mind. With this twist, the Saddam story has become a blend of Bible parable, folk tale, Greek and Shakespearean tragedy - and it is unexpectedly powerful.

The tale of a once-mighty leader who evades a conquering army by hiding in a hole certainly has a Biblical ring to it: " ... and the King of Mesopotamia fled unto the city of Tikrit and from there to the village of Ad Dawr which he knew, for nearby was al-Awja where he had been born more than three score years before. And he came to his cook and said: 'Keep me, here,' and it was done. And the King dug a hole eight cubits by six cubits, and there he was tormented by many rats and many mice and his beard grew long ... "

In our own time, dictators do not cower in caves, bedding down with the creatures of the earth. Slobodan Milosevic was taken into custody wearing a blue suit; he testifies in the Hague looking the same as he always did. Saddam and his dugout seem to belong to a much earlier era, the age when David was on the run from Saul, or, many centuries later, the prophet Mohammed was chased out of Mecca - both finding refuge in a cave. (Both men are also said to have been saved by a divinely sent spider, who weaved a web across the cave's entrance: when their pursuers saw the web intact they assumed no one could be inside. How fitting that the US military immediately described Saddam's hideaway as a "spider hole".)

The former dictator's capture should also draw to a close a family feud that is the stuff of Greek drama. Since the first Gulf war in 1990, the stand-off between the US and Iraq has also been a battle of dynasties. Saddam's hatred for George Bush Snr was transferred to the man he called the "son of the viper" or "little Bush".

For the American president too, Operation Iraqi Freedom was, in part, a family affair. Last year he reminded an interviewer of Saddam's 1993 assassination attempt on his father: "There's no doubt he can't stand us. After all, this is a guy that tried to kill my dad." Now the Bushes have their revenge: Saddam's sons are slain and he is their captive. As one Bush family associate told the New York Times yesterday: "It's a psychologically nice moment." A theatre full of ancient Greeks would understand that perfectly.

And what would Shakespeare have done with the scene played out on Sunday afternoon in a US military base, when Saddam awoke on his metal army cot to find he had four visitors: opponents, some of whom had paid a desperate price for their dissent, now installed as leaders of the new Iraq?

The men had been brought there formally to confirm the identity of the prisoner, but rather than simply peer at him through a window, they demanded the right to see him up close - and confront him.

One, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, had been in Saddam's torture chamber in 1979. Now he faced his persecutor with not a bodyguard between them. He asked what Saddam would say on the day of judgment. How would he account for the lives lost in the Iran-Iraq war, for the gassing at Halabja, for the mass graves? "What are you going to tell God?" Apparently, Saddam's response was defiant and foul-mouthed.

Everything about this story seems designed to endure, even as a parable that future generations might teach their children.

What better illustration of the cowardice of the bully than the story of Saddam Hussein, who strutted and threatened - only to surrender meekly?

In the end, when there were no henchmen at his side, he showed none of the bravery of the Arab heroes he had so frequently invoked but put his hands in the air and asked to cut a deal. He had a pistol, but did not fire a single shot, neither at his pursuers nor at himself.

For months, the Iraqi rumour mill had spoken of a Saddam of seven masks, secretly directing the resistance, disguised sometimes as a Muslim woman, sometimes as a taxi driver, sometimes as a nomad. Peasants would take him in for the night; when they awoke they would find their guest vanished and a vast bundle of cash under the bed.

Now, though, we know the truth: Saddam was cowering, saving only his own skin. So listen well, children, and learn the moral of the story.
The New Model of Imperialism: Saddam on Parade
Tariq Ali, Counterpunch, December 16, 2003

My first reaction to the capture of Saddam Hussein was both anger and disgust. Anger with the old dictator who could not even die honourably. He preferred to be captured by his old friends than to go down fighting, the one decent thing he could have done for his country.

I felt no pity for Saddam. He had killed some dear comrades of mine and imprisoned too many others, but the US had no right to do this. It was the responsibility of the Iraqi people.

I also felt disgust with the way in which the TV networks were covering this event. CNN and BBC World had become total propaganda networks, to such an extent that it must have made Berlusconi smile. Parading a captured prisoner in this fashion is the new model of imperialism. The latter-day equivalent of how barbarian chieftains were paraded in ancient Rome, prior to their execution.
Robert Fisk: Getting Saddam, 15 Years Too Late:
Counterpunch, December 16, 2003

Saddam will Continue to Haunt Iraq for Years

Was this really the man with whom I shook hands almost a quarter of a century ago? I've spent 24 hours looking again and again at those videotapes. The more I look, the more Saddam turns into a wild animal. An American interviewed by the Associated Press said he'd gone straight to church to pray for him. The face I remember from my meeting with him almost a quarter of a century ago was chubby in an insolent sort of way, the moustache so well trimmed that it looked as if it had been stuck on his face with paste, the huge double-breasted suit the kind that Nazi leaders used to wear, too empty, too floppy on the shoulders.

So I went back again to those video pictures. True, the haunted creature in them could not rewind the film. His days were, as they say, over. Or supposed to be. There was a kind of relief in his face. The drama had ended. He was alive, unlike his tens of thousands of victims. [...more]

In the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq this year, we journalists--and all praise to Paul Wood of the BBC for his part in this--got our hands on videos of some of the most pornographic violence any of us would be able to stomach. For 45 minutes, Saddam's security police whipped and beat half naked Shiite prisoners in the courtyard of their "Mukhabarat" headquarters. They are covered in blood, screaming and whimpering. They are kicked and their testicles crushed and pieces of wood forced between their teeth as they are pushed into sewers and clubbed on the face.

The videos show that there were spectators, uniformed Baathists, even a Mercedes parked in the background under the shade of a silver birch tree.

I showed a few seconds of these films at lectures in Ireland and America this summer and some members of the audience left, nauseated by the evidence of Saddam's perverted nature. Who, after all, were these videos made for? For Saddam? Or for the victims' families to watch, so that they may re-suffer the torture of their loved ones?

And it's easy, looking at these images of Saddam's sadism, to have expected Iraqis to be grateful to us this week. We have captured Saddam. We have destroyed the beast. The nightmare years are over. If only we could have got rid of this man 15 years ago--20 years ago--how warm would be our welcome in Iraq today. But we didn't.

And that is why his capture will not save America's soldiers. He lives on. Just as Hitler lives on today in the memories and fears of millions. And it is in the nature of such terrible regimes to replicate themselves in the mind.
Monday, December 15
Kids' sexcapades worry Indian parents in UK
Kids' sexcapades worry Indian parents in UK
Shyam Bhatia in London,, December 16, 2003

Indian parents living in the UK are turning to private detectives to find out if their children are being tempted into taking drugs or having sex.

Rising levels of prosperity mean that members of the Indian community, and also some Bangladeshis, are prepared to pay thousands of pounds to have their children watched when they are away from home.

Bangladeshi Muslim parents are especially sensitive about their daughters becoming too 'westernised'.

Some European resorts off the coast of Greece and Italy, and others further afeild in the Caribbean, are notorious for attracting teenagers who get roped into drink and sex orgies.

The stories of these excesses have become alarming, especially around Christmas and in the summer months.

"Substance misuse is a big one," says Nigel Parsons of detective agency Answers Investigations in Surrey.

"Then again, it's not what the kid is doing, it's whom they are socialising with. Indian parents are extremely protective and the sense of family is much stronger than it is with the English."

Compared to five years ago, when contact with the UK-based Indian community was minimal, Parsons says he now takes four to five calls a week from worried Indian parents.

The agency does not function as a parental substitute, he says, and adds that he does not believe in 'spying' on kids. But he does admit using unorthodox methods, including hiring teenage 'agents' to keep track of clients' children.

At the equivalent of US$75 an hour his services do not come cheap, but Parsons explains the parents are so alive to the many dangers facing their children that they are prepared to go the extra mile to keep them safe.

He says White English parents are just as concerned about what goes on in their teenage children's private lives, as are some educational institutions.

Parsons cites the example of a junior college that used the services of one of his female detectives to infiltrate a suspected drug ring among some of the pupils.

The agent who was selected for the undercover job was a 26-year- old woman who pretended she was a 17-year-old teenager preparing for her 'A' levels. After successfully ingratiating herself with one group of youngsters partial to loud music, smoking and soft drugs, she made her excuses and reported them to the college authorities.

On that occasion no Indian teenagers were involved.
Bush: 'Good Riddance' to Hussein
Washington, Interview, December 15, 2003

Following is a transcript of President Bush's year-end news conference, including his remarks on the capture of Saddam Hussein:

BUSH: Please be seated. Thank you for coming to this, the last press conference of the year 2003.

Before I begin, I do want to talk a little bit about a meeting I just attended. Rend Al-Rahim is here. She is the representative from the Iraqi government -- the interim government, to the United States, as well as Dr. Khodair Abbas, who is the interim minister of health.

We just had an interesting discussion in the Roosevelt Room about the health needs of Iraq, about the future of the health care system in Iraq.

And we were joined by doctors -- Iraqi doctors who are anxious to work with their fellow counterparts here in America to enhance educational opportunities and to get caught up on the latest technologies in health care.

The thing that struck me about the meeting was the joy that they expressed about being free. It was a touching meeting.
Sunday, December 14
TIME Exclusive: Notes from Saddam in Custody
Brian Bennett,, Decenber 14, 2003

Saddam is talking, but he isn't cooperative. New details on his capture and his first interrogation

Saddam Hussein was captured on Sunday without a fight. But since then, according to a U.S. intelligence official in Iraq, the fallen dictator has been defiant. “He’s not been very cooperative,” said the official, who read the transcript of the initial interrogation report taken during the first questioning session.

After his capture, Saddam was taken to a holding cell at the Baghdad Airport. He didn’t answer any of the initial questions directly, the official said, and at times seemed less than fully coherent.
The transcript was full of “Saddam rhetoric type stuff,” said the official who paraphrased Saddam’s answers to some of the questions. When asked “How are you?” said the official, Saddam responded, “I am sad because my people are in bondage.” When offered a glass of water by his interrogators, Saddam replied, “If I drink water I will have to go to the bathroom and how can I use the bathroom when my people are in bondage?”

The interrogators also asked Saddam if he knew about the location of Captain Scott Speicher, a U.S. pilot who went missing during the first Gulf War. “No,” replied the former Iraqi president, “we have never kept any prisoners. I have never known what happened.”

Saddam was also asked whether Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. “No, of course not,” he replied, according to the official, “the U.S. dreamed them up itself to have a reason to go to war with us.” The interrogator continued along this line, said the official, asking: “if you had no weapons of mass destruction then why not let the U.N. inspectors into your facilities?” Saddam’s reply: “We didn’t want them to go into the presidential areas and intrude on our privacy.”

The official is doubtful that the U.S. will get a significant amount of intelligence from Saddam’s interrogations. “I would be surprised if he gave any info,” he said. Other high-ranking regime members, he said, have by and large remained mum. “Tariq Aziz [former deputy prime minister] hasn’t really spoken,” he said, “and Abid Mahmoud [Saddam’s former personal secretary] hasn’t really given any information.”

The raid on the farm in al-Dawr, a village 15 miles from his hometown of Tikrit, initially came up empty, the official said. There was no Saddam Hussein in sight. Then one man on the property, apparently realizing the game was up, pointed out a bricked-in wall inside the basement of a small house on the property. Saddam is in there, he told the special forces operators from Task Force 121, who took down the farm with the aid of soldiers from the 1st Brigade of the Fourth Infantry Division. Saddam was bricked into his hiding place, he added. “They couldn’t get him out at first and had to dig, from either side of the hole,” said the official. The soldiers finally made a large enough passageway to drag him out. When he came out, he looked bedraggled, said the official: “He looked like a homeless man at the bus station.”

Along with the $750,000 in cash, two AK 47 machine guns and pistol found with Saddam, the U.S. intelligence official confirmed that operatives found a briefcase with Saddam that contained a letter from a Baghdad resistance leader. Contained in the message, the official said, were the minutes from a meeting of a number of resistance leaders who came together in the capital. The official said the names found on this piece of paper will be valuable and could lead to the capture of insurgency leaders around the Sunni Triangle.
Arabs Share Little of World Joy Over Saddam's Capture
Agence France Presse, December 14, 2003

CAIRO - Arabs shared little of the world's joy over Saddam Hussein's capture, with many bitter over another victory for an "arrogant" pro-Israeli United States.

Though officials in Kuwait hailed the arrest of the dictator who ordered the invasion of their emirate in 1990, those in other Arab states were subdued, expressing hope only that US troops may soon end their occupation of Iraq.

An elderly Jordanian man kisses a picture of ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in downtown Amman December 14, 2003. Arabs greeted the capture of Saddam Hussein with divided emotions, welcoming the arrest of a dictator yet tinged with regret that a symbol of Arab defiance against the United States was behind bars. (Ali Jarekji/Reuters)

Palestinian officials refused to comment after having paid a heavy political price for supporting Saddam during the 1991 US-led Gulf war to free Kuwait.

Many people in the streets of Cairo and Beirut openly cursed a victory for a United States they see as an arrogant and unjust power, while some even refused to believe their eyes and ears.

Eyes riveted to the television screen in a Cairo coffee shop, customers worried about this "American victory" and feared it would ensure the re-election of President George W. Bush next year.

"It's not Saddam that they should arrest," blurted Aziz al-Shaburi, a 34-year-old government employee, when he saw television images showing an American medic inspecting a bearded Saddam's mouth.

"They would have been better to capture (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon, the real war criminal," he said, eliciting applause from other patrons in the Awlad al-Hareth cafe.

Merchant Hassan Abdel Hamid, 34, refused to believe the news, dismissing it as "American propaganda and lies, just like the deaths of Qusay and Uday," Saddam's sons who were killed in a shootout earlier this year.

"Everybody knows who the real murderers are, they are the murderers of the Palestinians," Abdel Hamid said.

"Why did no Arab king offer 25 million dollars for Sharon's arrest?" he asked, referring to Washington's reward for the capture of Saddam.

Abdel Hamid shook his head scornfully while watching Iraqis celebrate Saddam's arrest. "Yesterday they shouted 'with our soul and our blood, we will defend you, oh Saddam'," he said.

Mustafa Bakri, the pro-Saddam editor in chief of the independent Egyptian weekly Al-Osbou, said on the television: "It's a black day in the history of the Arabs. It's a humiliation.

"It's Bush, Blair, Berlusconi, Aznar and Sharon who should be put on trial," said Bakri, who organized several solidarity trips from Cairo to Baghdad before US troops invaded in March.

Mahmud el-Azzazi, 29, another patron, said: "It's the end of the Arabs. There will be a domino effect. His fall will lead to that of other Arab leaders who displease the Americans."

In Beirut, Doha Shams, a journalist with the leftist newspaper As-Safir, said: "It's great to be finished with Saddam but when will Bush's turn come? He is threatening world peace."

An elegantly dressed 70-year-old Lebanese woman named Lilie said she was sad "because it's a victory for the Americans whom I detest. It will increase their arrogance."

Her remarks were in sharp contrast to those of Kuwaiti Information Minister Mohammed Abulhassan.

"Thank God that he has been captured alive, so he can be tried for the heinous crimes he has committed" against the Iraqi and Kuwaiti peoples, said Abulhassan, who was Kuwait's UN representative at the time of the invasion.
We Americans Talk of 'Peace on Earth,' But Our Actions Speak Louder
Bruce Mulkey, Common Dreams, December 13, 2003

Now we are in the season of Christmas. Celebrations are being held, carols are being sung and prayers are being prayed (not to mention consumers going amok and Atkins dieters falling off the wagon). And in this season many of us honor the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

I have heard those who proclaim that this is a nation founded on Christian principles. I have heard President Bush assert that Jesus is his favorite philosopher. But when we look at where our government, in our names, puts its attention and a massive portion of its resources— [...more]

—can we really claim to uphold the tenets of the Prince of Peace?

Some have said that you can determine your priorities by looking at your checkbook ledger. So let’s look at a few of the stubs in our nation’s 2002 checkbook courtesy of the Office of Management and Budget.

Military spending: $319 billion
Education: $77 billion
Transportation: $55 billion
Environment: $27 billion
HIV/AIDS: $14.7 billion
Peace Corps: $277 million

It’s projected that total military spending from 2000 through the end of 2008 will amount to $3.2 trillion. A trillion here, a trillion there. Pretty soon we’re talking about real money, even by government standards.

As much as we talk of “peace on earth,” our actions make our words ring hollow. If we were really serious about creating peace in our time, wouldn’t we be putting a more substantial portion of our resources toward that end? As long as we put our focus on kicking our real or imagined adversaries’ butts rather than reconciliation,

How to Alienate Your Friends, At Home and Abroad
Bush's Puzzling Actions Leave Even Neo-Con Backers Wondering

by Tim Harper, Toronto Star, December 14, 2003

Here's how you make friends in George W. Bush's world.

You bar countries from sharing in some $18.6 billion (U.S.) in Iraqi reconstruction contracts, then later the same day, you pick up the phone and ask the leaders of those very countries to be nice to your personal envoy, James Baker, when he comes calling this week asking you to forgive the money Iraq owes you.

Here's how you welcome your northern neighbor's new prime minister.

You let your official spokesperson say how much you look forward to working with Paul Martin, then you make sure Canada is similarly shut out of reconstruction contracts, ignoring the financial help from Ottawa and the deaths of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan fighting your war on terrorism.

Here's how you keep Europe guessing.

You send your defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, to meet with the counterparts he once dismissed as "old Europe" and have him extend an olive branch, leading to widespread speculation that the U.S.-Europe rift is on the mend.

Then, you yank on the stitches by poking fun at German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's suggestion that your reconstruction policy could violate international law by glibly saying, as Bush did Friday: "International law? I better call my lawyer; he didn't bring that up to me."

And here's how to alienate your neo-con base.

You make a major speech on the quest for democracy in the Middle East, calling it your Number 1 priority and saying your work must be continued by successive presidents for decades to come.

Then, a couple of weeks later, when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao comes calling, you make him happy by telling Taiwan it cannot hold a democratic referendum.

Put it all together and your list of detractors includes United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan; governments in France, Germany, Russia and Canada; commentators on the left and right; and your own party's senior congressional leadership.

Even factoring in Bush's go-it-alone, with-us-or-against-us style, last week's developments caused no end of puzzlement.
In Iraq, an ayatollah we shouldn't ignore
By Robin Wright, Los Angeles Times, December 14, 2003

A quarter-century ago, the United States misread the power and legitimacy of a Shiite ayatollah -- and ended up "losing" Iran, then one of two pillars of American policy in the Middle East. The impact is felt to this day.

Could Washington be on the verge of making the same mistake in Iraq in a way that could also compromise, even betray, the very democratic process that the Bush administration has begun to demand for the entire region?

The problem stems from the game of chicken the United States is playing with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani over the future of Iraq. The cleric, the most powerful leader in Iraq since Saddam Hussein was toppled, wants elections for a government that will assume control when the American occupation ends on July 1. [...more]
Breaking News......
Hussein Captured
Bremer: 'We Got Him'

Bradley Graham, Washington Post Staff Writer, December 14, 2003; 7:36 AM

Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was captured by U.S. troops during a raid on a farmhouse near Tikrit, U.S. officials said in a news conference in Baghdad today.

"We got him . . . ," L. Paul Bremer, Iraq's U.S. civilian administrator, said when making the announcement. "The tyrant is now a prisoner . . ."

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, described the operation and said that "not a single shot was fired."

Sanchez said Hussein, who was hiding in a "spider hole" dug near the house, was talking to his captors and "being cooperative." Video of Hussein, with a long gray beard, getting a medical checkup after his capture was shown by Sanchez. Then, he showed video of the man after he had been shaved and compared that to earlier photos of Hussein.

Continuous celebratory gunfire could be heard in Baghdad as the news of Hussein's possible arrest spread across the Iraqi capital.

The capture of Hussein has been a high priority for U.S. forces since last spring's invasion, but the former Iraqi leader had proven elusive despite a $25 million reward that the Bush administration offered for information that led to him.

U.S. authorities had received numerous tips about possible hiding places for Hussein and suspect they were close to nabbing him on a few occasions. Hussein's two sons, Uday and Qusay, were found in July in a house in Tikrit and died in a firefight with U.S. troops.

From his hideouts, Hussein continued to taunt U.S. authorities, issuing periodic audio tapes urging resistance to the American-led occupation. To spearhead the search for him, the Pentagon established a group of Special Operations forces known as Task Force 121. In recent months, U.S. forces have focused on hunting down mid-level former Iraqi officers and mid-ranking onetime Baath Party operatives in hopes they could provide intelligence that might lead to Hussein.
Thursday, December 11
US bans anti-war countries from Iraq deals

Governments outraged by ploy aimed at getting more troops

Julian Borger in Washington, Luke Harding in Berlin and Ewen MacAskill
Thursday December 11, 2003
The Guardian

The Pentagon's decision to exclude countries that opposed the Iraq invasion from bidding for reconstruction contracts provoked anger and incredulity in the capitals involved yesterday.
The bar on French, German, Russian and Canadian companies seeking more than $18bn (£10bn) in contracts, announced in a memorandum by the US deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, immediately stalled attempts to heal post-war rifts.

The EU said it intended to examine whether the decision violated World Trade Organisation rules.

"We are asking the US to provide us with information so we can see whether or not their commitments with regard to the WTO have been respected," Arancha González, the trade spokeswoman for the European commission, told Reuters.

The first casualty was Washington's attempt to have Iraq's international debts written off, which is being led by a special White House envoy, the former secretary of state James Baker.

Russia's defence minister, Sergei Ivanov, declared that Moscow was not interested in a deal, reversing the Putin government's readiness to negotiate.

"Iraq's debt to the Russian Federation comes to $8bn and as far as the Russian government's position on this, it is not planning any kind of a write-off of that debt," Mr Ivanov said.

The Pentagon's decision boosts the chances of British companies winning contracts, but the government was privately dismayed.

It is anxious that France and Germany should become involved in Iraq next year, and with as broad an international coalition as possible. It does not regard the US snub as helpful.

It wants French and German support for a new UN resolution in the spring to back the political process for a partial transfer of power to Iraqis, and for a UN-endorsed international force along the lines of those in Afghanistan and East Timor.

The German government spokesman, Bela Anda, said the decision was "not acceptable" and in contravention of "a spirit of looking to the future together".

The snub appears to have stunned German officials, who had believed that Berlin's relationship with Washington had improved since Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's meeting with President Bush in September.

The foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, said Germany had greeted the news with "astonishment".

The Canadian government threatened to cut off its contributions to the international reconstruction effort. In Paris a government spokesman questioned the legality of the restrictions under international trade regulations.
The privatisation of war

· $30bn goes to private military
· Fears over 'hired guns' policy
· British firms get big slice of contracts
· Deals in Baghdad, Kabul and Balkans

Ian Traynor, The Guardian, December 10, 2003

Private corporations have penetrated western warfare so deeply that they are now the second biggest contributor to coalition forces in Iraq after the Pentagon, a Guardian investigation has established.

While the official coalition figures list the British as the second largest contingent with around 9,900 troops, they are narrowly outnumbered by the 10,000 private military contractors now on the ground.

The investigation has also discovered that the proportion of contracted security personnel in the firing line is 10 times greater than during the first Gulf war. In 1991, for every private contractor, there were about 100 servicemen and women; now there are 10.

The private sector is so firmly embedded in combat, occupation and peacekeeping duties that the phenomenon may have reached the point of no return: the US military would struggle to wage war without it.

While reliable figures are difficult to come by and governmental accounting and monitoring of the contracts are notoriously shoddy, the US army estimates that of the $87bn (£50.2bn) earmarked this year for the broader Iraqi campaign, including central Asia and Afghanistan, one third of that, nearly $30bn, will be spent on contracts to private companies. [...more]

When America launched its invasion in March, the battleships in the Gulf were manned by US navy personnel. But alongside them sat civilians from four companies operating some of the world's most sophisticated weapons systems.

When the unmanned Predator drones, the Global Hawks, and the B-2 stealth bombers went into action, their weapons systems, too, were operated and maintained by non-military personnel working for private companies.

The private sector is even more deeply involved in the war's aftermath. A US company has the lucrative contracts to train the new Iraqi army, another to recruit and train an Iraqi police force.

But this is a field in which British companies dominate, with nearly half of the dozen or so private firms in Iraq coming from the UK.

The big British player in Iraq is Global Risk International, based in Hampton, Middlesex. It is supplying hired Gurkhas, Fijian paramilitaries and, it is believed, ex-SAS veterans, to guard the Baghdad headquarters of Paul Bremer, the US overlord, according to analysts.

It is a trend that has been growing worldwide since the end of the cold war, a booming business which entails replacing soldiers wherever possible with highly paid civilians and hired guns not subject to standard military disciplinary procedures.

The biggest US military base built since Vietnam, Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, was constructed and continues to be serviced by private contractors. At Tuzla in northern Bosnia, headquarters for US peacekeepers, everything that can be farmed out to private businesses has been. The bill so far runs to more than $5bn. The contracts include those to the US company ITT, which supplies the armed guards, overwhelmingly US private citizens, at US installations.

In Israel, a US company supplies the security for American diplomats, a very risky business. In Colombia, a US company flies the planes destroying the coca plantations and the helicopter gunships protecting them, in what some would characterise as a small undeclared war.

In Kabul, a US company provides the bodyguards to try to save President Hamid Karzai from assassination, ... [...more]
Firms on the frontline
David Pallister, The Guardian, December 10, 2003

Global Risk Strategies

Has more than 1,000 personnel, including 500 Gurkhas, in Iraq providing security for the coalition provisional authority, the US defence department, USAID and the UN. Its use of former Fijian soldiers to distribute the new Iraqi currency has been attacked as improper by human rights groups.

Erinys International

Headed by South African Sean Cleary, a former senior official in pre-independence Namibia. Directors include Alastair Morrison, former SAS officer. Erinys has been awarded a $40m contract to guard oil sites and pipelines.

Rubicon International

South London-based firm is a partner with Erinys on the contract. Founded in 1996 by former British army officer John Davidson. Directors include major general Bob Hodges, former commander of land forces in Northern Ireland.

Olive Security

Based in Mayfair. Provided security for TV crews during war then was awarded initial security contract by major US contractor Bechtel. Directors include former Welsh Guards officer, Harry Legge-Burke, brother of former royal nanny Tiggy and skiing partner of Prince William.

Control Risks Group

Hires armed guards to protect officials from Whitehall, aid workers and businesses. Directors include Sir Michael Rose, former SAS commander and head of UN protection force in Bosnia.

Janusian Security Risk Management

Subsidiary of The Risk Advisory Group, set up in 1997 by ex-SAS soldier Arish Turle. Active in Iraq since April running western trade delegations into Baghdad.

Genric Ltd

Located in Hereford and Plymouth for recruitment from SAS and Royal Marines. Has set up unit outside Basra providing armed site security and armoured vehicle hire.
Wednesday, December 3
Drudge Report, December 3, 2003

Hollywood's New Generation power and money brokers gathered Tuesday night in Beverly Hills to organize and streamline fundraising efforts to unseat President Bush.

"We're going to take our country back!" declared a voice in the crowd, which was greeted by cheers at the Hilton. "Bush is the great unifier! We are unified against him and his policies!"

Organizers claimed attendance -- and financial pledges resulting from the event -- surpassed their "wildest expectations."
Monday, December 1
Talking Turkey About The Bush Bros.
by Harley Sorensen, San Francisco Chronicle, December 1, 2003

Eat your heart out, Ronald Reagan!

George W. Bush has made you look like a rank amateur. His Thanksgiving Day publicity stunt in Baghdad was the stuff of true genius.

Take a back seat, Mr. Great Communicator. "Win one for the Gipper" just doesn't cut it any more. This is the new millennium. Bush rules!

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, readers of all ages, it may surprise you to learn that I'm sincere. Do I still detest Bush?
Most assuredly. What person who loves his country would not detest a man dedicated to ruining it?

But one must give credit where credit is due, and the advantage our current president took of a slow news day was absolutely brilliant. He must be commended for his audacity, which rivals his mendacity.

And, as much as I dislike Bush, even I had to fight back a tear as he emerged from behind the mess hall curtain and the room erupted in cheers on the television replay. Had I been there, I would have cheered, too.

It was great showmanship.

Now, I don't want to appear churlish about this (even if I am), but I do feel obligated to point out that the trip to the Baghdad airport, for all its grandeur, was slightly less dangerous than the three hours I spent on Highway 101 Thanksgiving Day.

(Please, please, no applause. One risks Highway 101 only because one must. I'm no hero. Aw, shucks, I'm just a regular guy, more or less like Dubya. And although our president is now legally entitled to a campaign ribbon for his two and a half hours in Iraq, I honestly don't feel I should be given a comparable ribbon for Highway 101 combat.)

Pulling outrageous stunts and getting away with them seems to be in the Bush family genes. My heart still bursts with admiration for Papa Bush, who, when the Iran-Contra mess started closing in on him, used his presidential pardon powers to pardon all five of the guys who might have fingered him.

That took chutzpah. But it worked. The compliant liberal press said, "Oh, my," and Papa Bush went on to start a new career as a war profiteer ... which, one might argue, takes chutzpah to the max, considering the son started the war that now profits the father and his loyal moneymaking sidekicks.

One of my favorite Bushes is our brave president's younger brother, Neil. He is best known as a director of Silverado Savings & Loan in Denver, which went belly up in the 1980s and left the taxpayers with a $1 billion bailout tab.

Neil Bush profitted mightily from Silverado's shenanigans, but he was let off the hook with a $50,000 fine, just a fraction of his ill-gotten gains. It was kind of like robbing a bank of $1,000 and being punished with a $50 fine.

Neil made news recently when some of his heretofore unreported activities came out in divorce proceedings. A Nov. 25 Reuters article by Jeff Franks pretty well sums up the main points.

The most fascinating part, perhaps, is Neil's associations with certain women during business trips to Thailand and Hong Kong. As luck would have it, these women knocked on Neil's hotel room doors, and, after he let them in, proceeded to have sex with him, no questions asked.

Neil said he didn't know if these women were prostitutes because they didn't ask for money and he didn't give them any.

In a deposition, Neil was asked: "Mr. Bush, you have to admit it's a pretty remarkable thing for a man just to go to a hotel room door and open it and have a woman standing there and have sex with her."

"It was very unusual," Neil replied.

Some guys are just unusually lucky. [...more]

Most Women Successful in Stopping Hormone Therapy
Reuters, December 1, 2003

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Most women who try to discontinue their use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) succeed. However, about one quarter resume therapy because of troublesome withdrawal symptoms, investigators report in the December issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Extensive media coverage followed publication of the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) trial results showing that HRT increased the risk of cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.

A team of investigators, led by Dr. Bruce Ettinger, at Kaiser Permanente Northern California in Oakland, and Dr. Deborah Grady, at the University of California in San Francisco, examined the effects of the trial results on women's decisions to continue HRT.

They surveyed 670 women 6 to 8 months after the WHI results were published. The subjects were Kaiser Foundation Health Plan members, ages 50 to 69 years, who had used HRT regularly for at least one year. [...more]

More than half of the women tried to stop using HRT. Thirty percent reported "troublesome symptoms," such as hot flashes, mood problems, fatigue and vaginal dryness, which started about one week after stopping HRT.

After about six months after stopping, 26 percent resumed taking HRT. However, the researchers point out, approximately 20 percent of women who remained off therapy also experienced withdrawal symptoms.

Women with troublesome withdrawal symptoms were almost nine times as likely to resume HRT use. Having a hysterectomy, receiving HRT from a non-gynecologist, and self-perceived higher than average risk of bone fracture were also associated with HRT resumption.

Doctors can reassure their patients who are preparing to stop hormone therapy that about 70 percent women have no symptoms or tolerable symptoms, "even if they stop abruptly," the researchers conclude. They suggest behavioral measures, such as cooling the body, drinking cold liquids and deep abdominal breathing, can help patients with recurring hot flashes.

SOURCE: Obstetrics and Gynecology, December 2003.
Bush Takes Political Gamble with Decision on Steel
By John Whitesides, Reuters, December 1. 2003

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush's expected repeal of tariffs on steel imports is a political gamble with the potential to hurt him where it counts -- in the battleground states that could decide the 2004 election.

The repeal, expected to be announced by the end of the week, is certain to provoke anger in steel-producing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, which have been hit hard by job losses and are key targets for both political parties in 2004.

But Bush faced an even greater threat in sticking with the tariffs, imposed last year but ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization, with Europe and Asia poised to retaliate against $2.2 billion in U.S. exports, analysts said on Monday.
The December hot streak

For more than 50 years, it's been the S&P's best month. But after the rally, will December stall?

By Alexandra Twin, CNN, December 1, 2003

New York (CNN/Money) - Jingle bells, jingle bells, stock gains on the way, but nothing to write home about, they'll be muted, analysts say.

Since 1950, December has been the best month for the S&P 500 and the second best month for the Dow, according to the Stock Trader's Almanac. Since 1971, when the Nasdaq began trading, December has been its second best month.

In particular, the last five sessions of the year and the first two of January tend to be very strong.

This year, however, it's will be tough for December to end up No. 1 or No. 2. (For the best months for the major indexes this year, see chart.)

"We expect the year to end 2 to 3 percent higher or lower than where it is now," said Douglas Altabef, managing director at Matrix Asset Advisors. "The case for it going down is a massive run of profit taking. The case for it going up is people wanting to get a jump on the January rally."

The case for the market not moving that much either way is that it already has risen so much.

As of Monday's close, year-to-date, the Dow is up 18.7 percent, the Nasdaq is up 49 percent, the S&P 500 is up 21.6 percent and the Russell 2000, which measures small caps, is up 44.8 percent.

If the first session of December is any indicator, improving economics should provide something of a catalyst. Monday's reports showed that manufacturing is surging and that the holiday shopping season is unlikely to disappoint.

But whether that is enough to jump start a new stage of the rally is up in the air.

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