Wael Abbas wins award

Not having internet at home, being very busy and feeling a little bit under the weather means blogging is light, but I could not pass up the great news that the pride of the Egyptian blogosphere, Wael Abbas, won a Knight International Journalism Award for his website MisrDigital. I am especially happy as I wrote a letter to the Knight Foundation recommending him for the award!

Elf mabrouk ya Wael!

Ailing Mubarak?

Too busy to write in more length about this today, but for over a week now the Egyptian (non-state) media has gone into another one of its Mubarak deathwatch modes. Last time was during the last big al-Ahly game, when Mubarak’s absence at the match caused a panic among journos who believed the old man was agonizing. Too much wishful thinking… but that says a lot about the state that Egypt is in right now. More later on this hopefully!

Finkelstein barred from teaching

Normal Finkelstein is barred from teaching, despite from having one year left on his teaching contract at DePaul University:

The required reading was at the bookstore, the students had the course syllabus, and space in Political Science 235, “Equality in Social Justice,” was standing-room only when DePaul University pulled the plug Friday on what was to have been Norman Finkelstein’s final year at the school.

A controversial scholar—accused by critics of fomenting anti-Semitism and lauded by supporters as a forthright critic of Israel—Finkelstein attracted wide attention across the academic world when he was denied tenure in the spring.

By Monday, the books for his course had been pulled from the DePaul bookstore’s shelves, while his case was restarting a firestorm of protest. The American Association of University Professors was preparing a letter to the university, protesting Finkelstein’s treatment as a serious violation of academic ethics.

Finkelstein vowed not to take the rebuff lying down—or, perhaps more correctly, to do something just like that. In addition to canceling his course, the university informed him that his office was no longer his.

“I intend to go to my office on the first day of classes and, if my way is barred, to engage in civil disobedience,” Finkelstein, 53, said in a telephone interview. “If arrested, I’ll go on a hunger strike. If released, I’ll do it all over again. I’ll fast in jail for as long as it takes.”

More on Finkelstein’s site.

China demands red tape for reincarnation

China Regulates Buddhist Reincarnation – Newsweek:

In one of history’s more absurd acts of totalitarianism, China has banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission. According to a statement issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the law, which goes into effect next month and strictly stipulates the procedures by which one is to reincarnate, is “an important move to institutionalize management of reincarnation.” But beyond the irony lies China’s true motive: to cut off the influence of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual and political leader, and to quell the region’s Buddhist religious establishment more than 50 years after China invaded the small Himalayan country.

Time for a Tibetan Irhab wal Kebab methinks? Although arguably the Dalai Lama’s decision not to re-incarnate in China-occupied Tibet is almost as ridiculous.

The Great Iraq Swindle

As the controversy over a dodgy arms procurement contract involving someone close to General David “Jesus Christ The Savior” Petraeus evolves, becoming both a corruption and a security scandal, do read the fantastic and expletive-filled Rolling Stone article on the contracting in Iraq. Choice excerpts below.

The Great Iraq Swindle – Rolling Stone:

A few months later, in March 2004, your company magically wins a contract from the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq to design and build the Baghdad Police College, a facility that’s supposed to house and train at least 4,000 police recruits. But two years and $72 million later, you deliver not a functioning police academy but one of the great engineering clusterfucks of all time, a practically useless pile of rubble so badly constructed that its walls and ceilings are literally caked in shit and piss, a result of subpar plumbing in the upper floors.

You’ve done such a terrible job, in fact, that when auditors from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction visit the college in the summer of 2006, their report sounds like something out of one of the Saw movies: “We witnessed a light fixture so full of diluted urine and feces that it would not operate,” they write, adding that “the urine was so pervasive that it had permanently stained the ceiling tiles” and that “during our visit, a substance dripped from the ceiling onto an assessment team member’s shirt.” The final report helpfully includes a photo of a sloppy brown splotch on the outstretched arm of the unlucky auditor.

. . .

The system not only had the advantage of eliminating red tape in a war zone, it also encouraged the “entrepreneurship” of patriots like Custer and Battles, who went from bumming cab fare to doing $100 million in government contracts practically overnight. And what business they did! The bid that Custer claimed to have spent “three sleepless nights” putting together was later described by Col. Richard Ballard, then the inspector general of the Army, as looking “like something that you and I would write over a bottle of vodka, complete with all the spelling and syntax errors and annexes to be filled in later.” The two simply “presented it the next day and then got awarded about a $15 million contract.”

The deal charged Custer Battles with the responsibility to perform airport security for civilian flights. But there were never any civilian flights into Baghdad’s airport during the life of their contract, so the CPA gave them a job managing an airport checkpoint, which they failed miserably. They were also given scads of money to buy expensive X-ray equipment and set up an advanced canine bomb-sniffing system, but they never bought the equipment. As for the dog, Ballard reported, “I eventually saw one dog. The dog did not appear to be a certified, trained dog.” When the dog was brought to the checkpoint, he added, it would lie down and “refuse to sniff the vehicles” — as outstanding a metaphor for U.S. contractor performance in Iraq as has yet been produced.

Like most contractors, Custer Battles was on a cost-plus arrangement, which means its profits were guaranteed to rise with its spending. But according to testimony by officials and former employees, the partners also charged the government millions by making out phony invoices to shell companies they controlled. In another stroke of genius, they found a bunch of abandoned Iraqi Airways forklifts on airport property, repainted them to disguise the company markings and billed them to U.S. tax payers as new equipment. Every time they scratched their asses, they earned; there was so much money around for contractors, officials literally used $100,000 wads of cash as toys. “Yes — $100 bills in plastic wrap,” Frank Willis, a former CPA official, acknowledged in Senate testimony about Custer Battles. “We played football with the plastic-wrapped bricks for a little while.”

The conclusion:

According to the most reliable estimates, we have doled out more than $500 billion for the war, as well as $44 billion for the Iraqi reconstruction effort. And what did America’s contractors give us for that money? They built big steaming shit piles, set brand-new trucks on fire, drove back and forth across the desert for no reason at all and dumped bags of nails in ditches. For the most part, nobody at home cared, because war on some level is always a waste. But what happened in Iraq went beyond inefficiency, beyond fraud even. This was about the business of government being corrupted by the profit motive to such an extraordinary degree that now we all have to wonder how we will ever be able to depend on the state to do its job in the future. If catastrophic failure is worth billions, where’s the incentive to deliver success? There’s no profit in patriotism, no cost-plus angle on common decency. Sixty years after America liberated Europe, those are just words, and words don’t pay the bills.

But don’t expect anyone to be held accountable.

Think-tanker calls for Bush dictatorship, genocide of Arabs

Philip Atkinson, a writer for the conservative think tank Family Security Matters has penned a call for US President George W. Bush to commit genocide in Iraq, settle the country with Americans and then take power for life, modeling himself on Julius Caesar after the Gaul campaign.

Before anyone answers that any cooky idiot can write what they want on these internets, pause to consider that this man works with former CIA Director James Woolsey, former Reagan administration official Frank Gaffney and other PNACers who make up the Center for Security Policy and have great stature within the neo-conservative moment (that is, the movement whose only fixed belief is Israel).

Here are some choice excerpts from the piece, which has been taken off the think tank site but is reproduced in full in this article:

The wisest course would have been for President Bush to use his nuclear weapons to slaughter Iraqis until they complied with his demands, or until they were all dead. Then there would be little risk or expense and no American army would be left exposed. But if he did this, his cowardly electorate would have instantly ended his term of office, if not his freedom or his life.

The simple truth that modern weapons now mean a nation must practice genocide or commit suicide. Israel provides the perfect example. If the Israelis do not raze Iran, the Iranians will fulfill their boast and wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Yet Israel is not popular, and so is denied permission to defend itself. In the same vein, President Bush cannot do what is necessary for the survival of Americans. He cannot use the nation’s powerful weapons. All he can do is try and discover a result that will be popular with Americans.

. . .

When the ancient Roman general Julius Caesar was struggling to conquer ancient Gaul, he not only had to defeat the Gauls, but he also had to defeat his political enemies in Rome who would destroy him the moment his tenure as consul (president) ended.

Caesar pacified Gaul by mass slaughter; he then used his successful army to crush all political opposition at home and establish himself as permanent ruler of ancient Rome. This brilliant action not only ended the personal threat to Caesar, but ended the civil chaos that was threatening anarchy in ancient Rome – thus marking the start of the ancient Roman Empire that gave peace and prosperity to the known world.

If President Bush copied Julius Caesar by ordering his army to empty Iraq of Arabs and repopulate the country with Americans, he would achieve immediate results: popularity with his military; enrichment of America by converting an Arabian Iraq into an American Iraq (therefore turning it from a liability to an asset); and boost American prestiege while terrifying American enemies.

He could then follow Caesar’s example and use his newfound popularity with the military to wield military power to become the first permanent president of America, and end the civil chaos caused by the continually squabbling Congress and the out-of-control Supreme Court.

I know the recent HBO-BBC production Rome is excellent and great fun, but really this is taking it a bit far.

The lesson to take from this, of course, is not that this is representative of how Americans see the mess of Iraq, but I do think it is telling of how neo-conservatives, with their single-minded obsession with Israeli dominion over the Middle East, care nothing for American institutions, democracy, or human life — never mind that of other people. You are known by the company you keep.

More looniness at Atkin’s website, OurCivilization.com, including that AIDS is not caused by HIV and that everything went downhill after the French revolution overthrew the old aristocracy. Sometimes I wonder if these guys exist just to make the crowd that’s advising Rudy Giuliani (now featuring the terrible trio of Podhoretz-Kramer-Pipes) look more reasonable.

Palestinian child beggars in Israel

West Bank poverty spawns child beggars:

NAZARETH, Israel – For 15-year-old Issa, days of summer start when the sun rises over a northern Israeli hill, shining on a garbage dump, a thorny field and then the dirty mattress that is his bed.

Issa is among hundreds of Palestinian child laborers who sneak into Israel from the West Bank, hawking or begging at traffic junctions.

Note that this story just barely mentions the occupation as a primary cause of poverty in the West Bank. Not surprising from AP, whose State Department correspondent (Barry Schweid) is a notorious Zionist and often tilts his coverage in favor of Israel.

Keeping Alms for Jihad in US libraries

I have read about the Alms for Jihad affairs in Britain — and I would fully support the Association of Librarians of America in keeping the book available in the US, regardless of the quality of the book (which I have no idea about).

OIF is hearing from librarians who are wondering if they must comply with a request from British publisher Cambridge University Press to remove the book Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World from the shelves of their libraries.

Alms for Jihad is the subject of a British libel lawsuit brought by Saudi banker Khalid bin Mahfouz, who has filed several similar lawsuits to contest claims that the Saudi government has used Islamic charities to fund terrorism. Cambridge University Press chose to settle the suit rather than risk a large damage award at trial. Under the settlement, Cambridge University Press has agreed to pulp unsold copies and to ask libraries to return the book to the publisher or destroy the book. (See “Cambridge U. Press Agrees to Destroy Book on Terrorism in Response to Libel Claim” from the Chronicle of Higher Education.)

Critics claim that Mahfouz is attempting to silence critics by using British libel law. Unlike U.S. libel law, which recognizes First Amendment freedoms, and requires plaintiffs to prove statements about them are false, British law places the burden of proof on defendants, who must demonstrate the truth of their claims.

Someone should leak an electronic version of the book onto the internet.