Month: October 2002

Two Views On Transportation

For the Monorail

The debate over whether or not to support the monorail seems to be turning ugly, with the pro-monorail folks lambasting anyone who questions their financial estimates and ridership figures, and the anti-monorail folks unfairly using Sound Transit as an excuse to condemn all transit projects. In the midst of all this, The Stranger, tongue-in-cheek, has urged voters to drink the poison and vote yes on the monorail.

I’m still looking for the poison here. Okay, this is my admission that I’m voting yes on the monorail and the reasons why.

It boils down to this. The opponents argue against the monorail for four main reasons which, for the sake of brevity, I’ll call “Eyesore,” “Cost,” “Ridership,” and “Parking.”

The “Eyesore” reason is ridiculous. Seattle is full of eyesores, with downtown the biggest eyesore of all. Only an idiot would assume that the new monorail will look exactly like the old one, built 40 years ago. Anyone who’s seen the strip-mall-like eyesore that Ballard is becoming (emerging from its industrial-style eyesore past) will laugh when you say the monorail will “ruin the view.” What view? The view of that huge eyesore (Harbor Island) from the West Seattle Bridge? Give me a break!

The “Cost” reason is equally puzzling. Post-Sound Transit, the monorail folks have jumped through numerous hoops to appease the “Cost” critics, including having engineers at the state Department of Transportation review the financial estimates of the project. We’re not talking about demolishing homes and businesses here, like the light rail line. Nor are we talking deep tunnels under the Ship Canal and Elliot Bay. Nor are we talking pedestrian bridges, bicycle lanes, more stop-lights, or an additional tunnel under Rainier Avenue South. Get it through your head: the monorail is not light rail.

Some folks are saying: that’s right, the monorail ought to be built as a regional line instead of the Sound Transit light rail line. They say: I won’t vote for this little, rinky-dink line from Ballard to West Seattle, ’cause what I really want is a Sea-Tac to Northgate line. My response to those folks is this: be realistic. You’ll never get it, unless this initiative passes. And even if we already had a monorail being built from Sea-Tac to Northgate, we’d still need a line from Ballard to West Seattle to serve those parts of town. It’s insulting to refer to them as “nowhere,” when they’re both two of the fastest-growing neighborhoods in Seattle.

And for those folks who complain that they’ll have to pay auto excise taxes for 30 years to support the monorail: so fucking what? We all pay taxes to support Metro bus service right now. What exactly is your problem?

The “Ridership” argument suggests that the monorail is a bad thing because fewer people will ride it than the proponents estimate and that most of those people will be bus riders. Frankly, I don’t understand why that’s a problem, either. Estimates are simply that: estimates. No one can say for sure how many people will ride it until it’s built. Currently, over 22,000 people per day ride Metro buses (and that’s just an average; it goes up on game days, snow days, rainy days and at other times). Did anyone foresee that? I doubt it.

Any new technology draws people to it out of curiosity. Some of those decide they like it and they continue using it. Many of those people will be bus riders. Fine. That frees up buses that can be used elsewhere, including my neighborhood, which could use more frequent bus service. Some of those new folks, however, will be drivers and that’s a positive thing. Can we imagine what our streets would look like with 100 fewer cars on them? What about 500 fewer or 1,000?

Which brings up the “Parking” argument. If, say 500-1,000 drivers give up their cars and use the monorail instead, where are they going to park? At pay lots, of course. Why are we conveniently forgetting how large civic projects attract smaller businesses like flies to honey? If you think nobody’s going to cash in on the monorail by building pay parking lots and garages near the stations, you’re dreaming. They build them near bus hubs, as any bus rider knows. Why not the monorail?

I gave up my car 14 years ago. I find it nauseating when people complain about traffic, parking, how hard it is to drive around here, and how it’s so important to build more roads. Grow up. Learn to use the damn bus. And don’t whine about how “it’s so hard!”–because I’ve been doing it for 20 years.

I’m going to vote for the monorail, not because it will make my life easier–it won’t even run anywhere near my neighborhood. I’m doing it because there’s no other sane, adult way for the city as a whole to deal with congestion and pollution than to build some mass transit infrastructure. Now, while we have the chance.

Pentagon Bites Back?

Now that Congress has given up its duty to rein in George Bush and his Security Council, our best hope to stop the war against the Iraq may just be the dissidents within the Bush administration itself.

On Wednesday, October 16, George Bush signed the Congressional resolution granting him unchecked war powers against Iraq and then spent his day entertaining Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (including giving Sharon the message that it’s fine to slaughter Palestinian civilians with missiles and artillery fire).

On the same day, the UN was undergoing an unprecedented open discussion about whether or not to use force against Iraq. The consensus: inspections and diplomacy should prevail. Nation after nation stood up to shake its finger at the USA and condemn the “military option,” including a key country that the US had assumed was on our side: Kuwait. The Kuwaiti representative’s exact words were: “any use of force must be a last resort and within the United Nations framework.”

Then on Thursday, as the State Department hurriedly rewrote the UN resolution to remove all references to the use of military force, the hawks in the administration announced that the US would reserve the right to attack Iraq on its own if the UN refused to take action. But as the State Department agreed to remove other key sections of the draft resolution–the parts calling for troops to accompany inspection teams and that would allow any representative of any of the five veto-wielding nations on the Security Council to join the inspection teams in Iraq at any time–the go-it-alone statement seemed to be just a lot of face-saving bluster.

Why the sudden change? Certainly losing Kuwait’s support was part of the reason. But there must be others. Perhaps the Bush administration is distracted by more immediate matters: Sharon’s visit, the upcoming visit by Chinese Premier Jiang Zemin, congressional hearings on what was known prior to 9/11, frantic fundraising and campaigning for the November elections, and, of course, the roller-coaster economy.

Maybe. But my favorite explanation for the US’ humiliating climbdown at the UN is the split at the Pentagon, State Department, and the intelligence agencies over the impending war. That split is hemorrhaging bits of information that are slowly eroding the Bush administration’s push for war.

Just in the last two weeks we’ve seen charges from the CIA that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his minion, the vile Paul Wolfowitz, are pushing senior CIA analysts to skew data on Iraq in order to support the war drive. Last week, the Washington Post reported rumors that Rumsfeld has been abusive to Pentagon personnel who produce data or opinions that don’t fit the program. And just a few days ago, the respected General Anthony Zinni took a strong public stand against Rumsfeld and the other “civilians” in the Bush administration: “I’m not sure what planet they live on, because it isn’t the one that I travel.” And Zinni has traveled the Middle East extensively in his current role as envoy to Israel and Palestine, and in his former roles as head of US Central Command (which includes the Middle East) and commander of troops in the Gulf War and Somalia.

Other embarrassing leaks have tinged the debate. No sooner had George Bush given his speech to the American people on why we should go to war against Iraq–replete with mentions of “dangerous gases” and “he [Saddam] gassed his own people”–than the Pentagon released classified documents showing that the US government had approved military experiments during the 1960s in which it had tested chemical and biological weapons on its own troops, released dispersal agents over populated areas of the US and Canada, and had tested these agents on British and Canadian troops, too. Some of the chemical agents included VX gas and Sarin.

And last week, the biggest leak of all came from the State Department: North Korea has a nuclear weapons program far more advanced than Iraq’s. North Korean officials admitted as much to a US envoy on October 4, but the Bush administration had kept a lid on this information for 13 days, obviously to prevent it from effecting the congressional vote on war with Iraq. Finally, some high-level anonymous source at the State Department was too disgusted to keep it a secret any longer and leaked it to the major wire services, putting the Bush administration into the uncomfortable position of trying to explain why North Korea, a member of the vaunted “Axis of Evil,” is now somehow different from Iraq.

Then there were the analysts who verified that North Korea got its nuclear technology from Pakistan, the Bush administration’s closest ally in the “War on Terrorism,” a nation that more clearly fits the role of arming and financing terrorist groups (the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and Kashmiri rebels) and possessing and passing out weapons of mass destruction to other nations around the world than Iraq ever has.

And let’s not forget the sharp, military wake-up call that the US press gave scant attention to back in August. The combined US military forces staged their summer exercise–the “Millennium Challenge”–over three weeks in late July and early August. Planned over the course of two years, it was the most elaborate war game ever attempted, involving 13,000 troops from all branches of the military and sophisticated virtual reality computer models. The scenario was as follows: the Blue Team (representing the US military) would undertake an invasion of Red, a Middle Eastern country in the Persian Gulf ruled by an evil dictator. Obviously, it was a dress rehearsal for the invasion of Iraq.

The Red Team was led by a retired Lt. General and Vietnam Veteran named Paul Van Riper. Van Riper managed in the first few days of the game to bring the war to a halt and defeat the combined US military forces before the invasion has even begun. How did he do it? He sank the entire US naval fleet.

Van Riper used small speed boats, fishing boats, civilian yachts, and small propeller planes armed with conventional explosives. As the US naval fleet steamed towards Red, Van Riper gave a coded signal–broadcast not as a radio transmission (which could have been jammed by US technology), but as a call to prayer from the minarets of mosques. The fleet of kamikaze boats and planes then went to work, smashing into US military ships and airbases in the same way that terrorists had bombed the USS Cole in Yemen two years ago. In addition, some of the small boats were armed with a few Chinese Silkworm-type cruise missiles, which they used to sink the US’ only aircraft carrier and two marine helicopter carriers. Within hours, Red had won the war.

That was when the US military planners who were refereeing the exercises called a halt and resurrected the US navy from its watery grave. In addition, they told Van Riper that US planes he had already bombed to pieces had just flown over his country and destroyed his microwave communications system. He would have to use satellites and cell phones. Oh no, Van Riper insisted, we’ll use motorcycle couriers and make announcements from the mosques. When it looked like he was going to win a second time, the planners told him to turn off his air defenses and move his troops away from the beaches so the Blue Team could land and invade. Even with these improbable handicaps, Van Riper managed to inflict significant casualties on invading US forces. Finally, when Van Riper found out that his orders to subordinates were being countermanded by the referees, he quit in disgust.

Van Riper’s conclusion is that the US military learned nothing from this exercise, but I’m not so sure. With Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, and now Kuwait refusing to go along with the plan, the US will have to rely more heavily on aircraft carriers to stage the kind of huge bombing campaign that was a hallmark of the US wars in Afghanistan and Yugoslavia. A large number of uniformed officers at the Pentagon will have the disastrous “Millennium Challenge” on their minds as the civilian hawks in the Bush administration (Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, Wolfowitz, etc.) push for an invasion of Iraq.

If retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni is any indication, they may be able to put the brakes on this insane idea.

The juiciest sources for this article: “In the Council: Pleas for Unity and a Debate on Resuming Arms Inspections,” excerpts from statements made before the UN Security Council, The New York Times, 10/17/02; “France Holds Key to Deal in UN Debate on Iraq,” Evelyn Leopold, Reuters, 10/18/02; “CIA Feels Heat on Iraq Data,” Greg Miller and Bob Drogin, Los Angeles Times, 10/11/02; “Toxic agents tested on US soil,” Thom Shanker, NY Times, reprinted in Seattle P-I, 10/9/02, A1; “Marine General Speaks Out Against Bush’s War Plans,” Eric Boehlert, Salon, reposted on Alternet, 10/17/02, www.alternet.org/Story.html?StoryID=14317; “US Says Pakistan Gave Technology to North Korea,” David E. Sanger and James Dao, NY Times, 10/17/02; “Wake-up call,” Manchester Guardian Weekly, 9/26-10/2/02, p 20; and “In Small Iraqi Port, Saddam’s Handouts Keep Boats Afloat,” Wall Street Journal, 10/7/02, A1.

Weapons of Mass Destruction: Where’s the Proof?

The Bush administration is still groping for reasons to launch a war that will make sense to the American public. Tony Blair’s “dossier” won’t do the job.

The dossier, entitled “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction,” is full of qualifiers: “if,” “probably,” “possibly,” “might be,” “could,” “suspected,” and “may be.” The hard evidence is lacking.

Two things stands out. First of all, a surprising amount of the data in the report is from the pre-Gulf War era–over 12 years ago. A lot has happened since then. Bombing during the Gulf War destroyed much of Iraq’s infrastructure, including its missile sites. Since 1998, US and British warplanes have been flying bombing sorties over Iraq, selectively bombing suspected military targets for over four years. Yet no one in the US press has asked the key question: if the US and Britain have been bombing Iraq since 1998, how could Iraq rebuild its missile sites, chemical weapons plants, and nuclear capability without them becoming targets of US bombs? Neither the Bush administration nor the Blair dossier answers this question.

The second thing that stands out in the dossier is that, when it mentions the UNSCOM weapons inspections from 1991 to 1998, it reminds us of how effective they were. Particularly in the early years, from 1991-1995, UNSCOM was busy: they dismantled Iraq’s nuclear weapons program, destroyed most (if not all) of its chemical munitions, and exposed its highly secret–albeit tiny and fledgling–bioweapons program (which, the Blair report admits, was probably destroyed by Iraq in secret to prevent its exposure). By 1996, UNSCOM was running out of work and was relegated to poring through boring Iraqi government documents–a testament to its own success. The Blair report reads like an outright endorsement for inspections.

Unsurprisingly, the dossier contains no new information other than vague assertions that Iraq has reconstituted its weapons of mass destruction at a handful of sites around the country. It does, however, make some statements that have been seized upon by the Bush administration and the US press as arguments for why Iraq is a danger to the US. Those include:

Iraq purchased uranium from Africa. There is only one source for enriched uranium in Africa: South Africa. Currently all of South Africa’s weapons grade material is under the oversight of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the same UN commission that oversaw the dismantling of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program in the early 1990s and has been monitoring every since. As recently as earlier this year, Iraq was continuing to make regular reports to the IAEA on the status of its former nuclear facilities.

There are other sources for uranium in Africa. The Congo, Niger, Botswana, and Gabon all mine uranium oxide. But that ore must be refined before it can be used in a nuclear weapon. In spite of reports about special aluminum tubes, Iraq has not been able to get its hands on any equipment to refine its own ore, because the sanctions have prevented it. Even if Iraq could get the equipment, it would take between five and eight years for them to make enough material to fit in one nuclear warhead.

The Blair report doesn’t specify when Iraq bought uranium from Africa for its weapons. The former apartheid government of South Africa–an ally of the Reagen administration–sold enriched uranium to Iraq in 1989. If this is what the Blair report is referring to, then it’s misleading. That material was destroyed by UNSCOM.

Iraq’s missile technology. Iraq has no long-range missiles, although the Blair report shows a grainy satellite photo of a suspected missile site under construction. Iraq’s missile sites were bombed in 1991 during the Gulf War and again in 1998, and have been targeted by US and British planes regularly since then. So why haven’t they bombed the suspected site shown in the Blair report?

During the 1990s, UNSCOM dismantled 48 of Iraq’s remaining SCUD missiles, 14 warheads, 6 mobile launchers, 28 fixed launch pads, 32 suspected launch pads under construction, and huge amounts of support equipment. Conservative political analysts and pentagon spokespeople estimate that, if Iraq has any SCUDs left, they number less than 10. And remember how accurate those SCUDs were during the Gulf War?

Mobile bioweapons labs. Clearly the Blair government is relying on our ignorance of how Third World countries operate. In the US and Europe, we’re used to electricity at the flick of a switch, clean water from the kitchen faucet, high-speed rail, and well-paved superhighways traveled by giant, refrigerated trucks.

In Iraq, it’s another story. Electricity is a function of where you live–if it’s inside Baghdad, you might have it most of the time. Clean water is elusive; contaminated water still kills thousands of people every year, particularly among the very young and the very old. After the Gulf War, a decade of sanctions, and four years of US and British bombing, there are few well-paved roads.

Bio-weapons laboratories need a constant supply of electricity, sterile water, refrigeration, heat, nutrients, glassware, special air filters, sophisticated equipment, hundreds (if not thousands) of trained personnel, and buildings constructed with rooms that have multiple doors and barriers to the outside to maintain adequate bio-containment. Nobody slings around glass slides and petri dishes full of anthrax cultures in the back of a truck that’s trying to dodge potholes on a dirt track while US fighter bombers are screaming overhead. It’s simply nonsense.

Iraq’s chemical weapons.When the Blair report was released and passed around to the members of the UN Security Council, they read it, scratched their heads, and exclaimed: “this contains nothing new!” And then they threw it away. Why? Because the only real threat it describes is Iraq’s chemical weapons capacity, which is still modest compared to many nations around the world.

Without a missile system, Iraq’s aging canisters of sarin gas can only be used within Iraq itself, inside artillery shells and sprayers. Short-range chemical weapons are highly risky to deploy; they can only be used when the weather conditions are just right–or else gas can drift back onto Iraqi troops or a nearby civilian population.

If anything, Iraq’s short-range chemical weapons capability is a very, very good argument against going to war and invading Iraq.

In spite of the Blair report, there’s proof that Iraq is not restocking its chemical weapons. Within 2 hours of the Blair dossier being released to the press, British journalists from The Guardian and The Independent were able to inspect two sites of their own choosing from the report. The Iraqi government gave them full, unfettered access.

The first site was al-Qa’qa, which the Blair report claims is making phosgene for chemical weapons. The journalists found that al-Qa’qa is a plant for making explosives for Iraq’s conventional weapons. Phosgene is produced as a by-product of making explosives, but the liquid phosgene was being pumped into tanks for storage and much of it was actually leaking from a pipe all over the ground. There’s no money to repair the broken pipe.

The second site was the Amariyah Sera and Vaccine Institute, supposedly a bioweapons storage facility, according to the Blair report. Journalists described it as follows: “The entrance to the Amariyah plant, a smaller scale operation with a staff of 140, has no military guards, as might have been expected of a place storing biological weapons. It is rundown, its laboratories near empty, and the staff, in dirty white lab gowns, looked bored. Rubbish was piled high outside, especially empty bottles.”

No chemical weapons and no bioweapons in sight–only leaky pipes and empty vaccine bottles.

The “Presidential Palaces.”. Both the Blair dossier and the Bush administration cite the “Presidential Palaces” as possible locations for weapons of mass destruction. From all this posturing, you’d think that no one outside of Iraq has ever been inside one of these sites. UNSCOM, however, visited the Presidential sites on March 25 through April 4, 1998. The sites contained no weaponry; they were mostly composed of housing for Republican Guardsmen and their families and government office buildings. Hans Blix, the current head of the new weapons inspection team, has said that he doesn’t expect to find any weapons or labs on these sites; instead, he’ll be looking for classified government documents with information on weapons programs, and not the weaponry itself.

Links to Al Qaeda. The Blair report’s biggest omission is its lack of any evidence that Iraq supports terrorist groups. Al Qaeda is not mentioned at all, but that’s not surprising, given that even the Bush administration can’t produce details of a link. In fact, Iraq has fewer ties to groups on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations than either Syria or Iran. And one of the groups supposedly linked to Iraq is the National Council of Resistance of Iran–a group that’s supported by several members of Congress. The NCRI recently held a press conference two blocks from the White House.

As for high-level Al Qaeda operatives residing in Iraq, US intelligence sources agree that these men are hiding in northern areas of Iraq not under Saddam’s control (remember the northern “no-fly” zone, set up to prevent Saddam’s troops from fighting Iraqi Kurds?). The assertion by Condoleeza Rice that senior Al Qaeda members have visited Baghdad refers to only one guy: Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian who passed through Baghdad two months ago, and who had no contact with the Iraqi government or military.

The Bush administration’s push for war is not based on fact. Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Rice’s reliance on the Blair report to make the case for war is either a measure of how mediocre our own intelligence services are or, more likely, an indication of how divided the Pentagon and US intelligence agencies are over the wisdom of this war. If it’s the former, then we can expect war without reason or resolution, regardless of what the UN or Congress decides. But if it’s the latter, then there’s still hope that the hawks can be stopped by either a vote in Congress against granting Bush the war powers he craves or a vote against the US’s draft resolution in the UN Security Council.

We can, and should, lobby for both. Call your Senators and Representatives.

Some of the many sources for this article:

“Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction; The Assessment of the British Government,” from the BBC website, www.bbc.co.uk, it can also be found at www.pm.gov.uk, www.fco.gov.uk, and www.mod.uk; “S Africa denies Iraq nuclear link,” Alistair Leithead, BBC news online, 9/26/02; “African gangs offer route to uranium,” James Astill and Rory Carroll, The Guardian, 9/25/02; “Blair’s dossier assessed,” Paul Reynolds, BBC news online, 9/24/02; “Iraq Faces Obstacles in Making Nuclear Weapon,” John J. Fialka and Greg Jaffe, Wall Street Journal, 9/10/02, A10; “Iraq takes journalists on tour to expose Blair ‘lies’,” Kim Sengupta, The Independent, 9/25/02; “Suspect plants open their doors; Iraqis arrange tour of factories named in report,” Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, 9/25/02; “Iraqi palaces are stumbling blocks for inspectors,” David Usborne, The Independent (London), 9/27/02; “Swede Inspector: Iraq Arms Experts Probably Spied,” Reuters, 10/4/02; and “More passion than proof against Iraq?” Calvin Howard, Associated Press, reprinted in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 9/28/02, A4.

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