Saturday, June 25, 2005

Eminent Domain, Ry Cooder, and Chavez Ravine

Since there's been so much talk about eminent domain in the wake of the recent unconscionable decision of SCOTUS, I think this is very timely. Also, I'm an L.A. contemporary of Mr. Cooder's. We've never met, but we grew up not too far apart, although I didn't know it until I read this article, and I've been a fan of his for years. I remember the whole Chavez Ravine brouhaha. I've never set foot in Dodger Stadium because I didn't like the way it was acquired, even at 10 years of age. Must've been the dawn of any social consciousness I've got.

Ry Cooder has a new album that, given the lead time to do an album, is uncanny in its timing. This article in Mother Jones tells about the album, the neighborhood, and his inspiration.
Cooder's remarkable new album is titled Chavez Ravine, and this little neighborhood is Solano Canyon, the last intact section of the 400-acre district that gave the project its name. One of the most celebrated guitarists alive, best known for his work on Buena Vista Social Club, Cooder has spent the last three years constructing an evocation of Chicano East L.A. in the '40s and '50s - and he has become so fluent in the history of these side streets that he can go door to door telling stories.
As late as the 1940s, Chavez Ravine was an Old World enclave with 300 families of Mexican immigrants - a place where goats wandered freely and kids played in the dirt roads. But in 1950, following a city planning commission study of L.A.'s "blighted areas," it was decided that Chavez Ravine would be cleared out to make way for a low-income public-housing project. Most families took the meager payout and didn't challenge the authorities; when necessary, though, the city invoked the right of eminent domain, seized the land, and bulldozed the residences.

But the real estate lobby (which Cooder calls "hideous villains") saw an opportunity, and cast the idea of public housing as "creeping socialism." They accused the Los Angeles Housing Authority's Frank Wilkinson of being a communist agent, and the FBI stepped in to squash the project. Eventually, the housing authority sold 170 acres of Chavez Ravine back to the city, which offered the site to Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley. After a voter referendum and a California Supreme Court decision, construction on Dodger Stadium began in 1961. It's a classic Los Angeles story, full of shadowy deals and backroom corruption, reminiscent of Chinatown or a James Ellroy novel, and Cooder captures it with impressive complexity and nuance.

He drives through the adjacent fields of sprawling Elysian Park and further up into the hills before pulling to the side of the road to look down on the massive spread of the baseball stadium, perched above the city streets on a hill of its own. "That's just the parking lot," says Cooder, 58, from behind oversize yellow sunglasses. "You can see it was an enormous expanse. There's a whole town under there. I love the fact that it's high, it's up. I wanted to say that in the music - that it was set apart, and when you were here, you were somewhere else for real."

RY COODER HIMSELF seems vaguely out of time; in his checked shirt and slip-on Vans, speaking steadily but in no hurry, he exudes something like a beatnik cool (he even says "I dig it" with some frequency). His career defies easy explanation. He has recorded with the likes of the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, the Monkees, and Little Feat. His solo albums, explorations of "world music" long before such a term existed, have featured Hawaiian slack-key guitars, Tex-Mex accordions, and Indian flutes. He's written scores for numerous films such as Paris, Texas and The Long Riders. His reputation as a guitarist is such that, as he hilariously recounts, Bob Dylan showed up at his door one night, unannounced and shabbily dressed, looking for help learning a Sleepy John Estes blues song (and giving the neighbors a good scare in the process). And all that came before Cooder produced Buena Vista Social Club, which won him a Grammy and introduced traditional Cuban music to the masses.

Yet in almost 40 years of dizzying musical globe-trotting, Cooder had never plumbed the idioms of his native Los Angeles. "I always thought East L.A. music was so dreamy and languid and kinda greasy," he says. "I would think, something's out there - I wonder what? I used to sneak my little East L.A. instrumental ideas into movie scores. If I saw an opening, we'd dream up some little low-rider song."
"I needed a story to go with this East L.A. thing," he says. "You can't just do the old songs; they've done those to perfection. Then I found this book, The Provisional City, that's a history of public housing in L.A., and it told the whole story about the Ravine and the FBI and Frank Wilkinson. It was so vivid to me, so I thought, I'll pretend to score the book. I found the mood I want, I found myself as a speaker - which is what you have to do, you can't just be an observer, you have to get yourself located."
Armed with his research, Cooder continued sketching out the mood, texture, and narrative of the album. Musicians including bassist Mike Elizondo (Dr. Dre's musical right hand), jazz pianists Jacky Terrasson and Chucho Valdes, and East L.A. boogie king Don Tosti got involved. Cooder visited with Wilkinson, now 93 years old, who showed the musician the 132,000-page file the FBI kept on him, including details of an assassination plot that J. Edgar Hoover did nothing to prevent. ("He's very proud of that," notes Cooder.) Wilkinson even provided a cameo narrative to the album. More songs, in both English and Spanish, were written or found: the story of the Zoot Suit Riots, an account of a bulldozer driver, and even a tune sung in the voice of the scarred earth. Cooder also came up with the slightly loony character who helps tie the story together - a lonely "space vato" dropping in on the residents of Chavez Ravine in his UFO.
"WHAT A MACHINE!" Cooder beams as he stands in a small garage called CJ's, located at the entrance to the Santa Monica airport, a few blocks from where he grew up and not far from his current home. He runs a hand over the half-constructed '50s-vintage ice cream truck that he's having rebuilt. "It sits just so, I tell you. The slope is the thing - Good Humor figured that out."

He's seeing the new hubcaps (actually replicas from Taiwan) for the first time. In a few days, a low-rider specialist will put in the motor and the brakes. Then Cooder will ship the whole thing to San Antonio, where a young Chicano artist will paint a Chavez Ravine mural on the truck's side; concurrently, a local artist is building a diorama of the old neighborhood that will fit in the back. What will he do with this rolling masterwork? Who knows - it won't be completed until long after the album is out and its promotion is done. "This is for me," he says, shuffling back through the parking lot. "I've been wanting an ice cream truck forever. You can't just work and work and work - and this is worth it! This thing is something else."
One other result of his work, though, was Cooder's realization that the legacy of Chavez Ravine is not entirely negative; the neighborhood's destruction also led to a transformative moment in Mexican American activism. "Chavez Ravine is the dawn of Chicano consciousness," he says. "It was the first time they acted together in defense of themselves as a group. They went down to City Hall to these City Council meetings, to these condemnation proceedings, and they damn sure demonstrated and protested. It didn't get them anywhere, but it was the first time it happened."
Please go read the whole article. Be sure to see the links at the bottom. Oh, yeah, buy the album.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


The report from the team investigating religious intolerance at the Air Force Academy. It boils down to this:

[. . .]

"There is a lack of operational guidance that tells commanders and senior supervisors exactly what is appropriate in regard to free exercise of religion," the general said. "There were some faculty and staff, in efforts that were probably well-intentioned, who expressed their faith in ways that were inappropriate for somebody in a position of authority."

[. . .]

Lack of operational guidance? WTF? You are a publicly funded school. You have a cross-section of America's children studying to enter our officer corps. Read my lips: YOU DON'T SANCTION RELIGIOUS DISPLAYS. YOU DON'T SANCTION THE PROMOTION OF ONE RELIGION OVER ANOTHER. Got it? Leave us move on:

[. . .]

"It is not that minority cadets cannot get accommodation," he said, "but that the academy was not addressing the issue up front, such as including holy days on the calendar. So in some cases, it made cadets feel like the academy was not as sensitive to those needs, and was putting the burden on the cadet to ask for the accommodation."

[. . .]

Cannot get accomodation? When a kid asks for respect and gets called a 'filthy Jew', it doesn't sound too accommodating to me, you twits. When Islamic kids are told Christianity will crush Islam, it doesn't sound too accommodating either. Fucking morons. And you know, it's just a few bad apples:

[. . .]

"We found there was a certain amount of behavior on the part of some 18-to-22-year-olds that is less than it should be," he said. That behavior included religious slurs, jokes and disparaging remarks made by some cadets.

[. . .]

So it's just them younguns, huh? Not that the folks running the place are all Bible-thumping Christians who think it's their way or the highway. Team Jesus and all.

[. . .]

General Brady said cadets indicated religious slurs and jokes have decreased at the academy over the past few years. To further bolster that trend, and in light of recent attention on religious issues, the academy has created a new program specifically designed to help young cadets of any background become more aware of the diversity around them.

[. . .]

They've decreased, but they haven't stopped. I don't know, threatening them with expulsion (for the cadets) and courts-martial (for the commanders) might end them, but that's just me.

This investigation was done the way all Chimpy Inc 'investigations' are done. No rebuke of the commanding officers who condone this crap. None of the upperclassmen who fomented this 'yay God' mentality, none who disrespected their fellow officer-candidates we're expelled or disciplined. This report is good enough to wipe your ass with, better than Air Force TP anyway, trust me. I guess it's time for the kids who are persecuted to start passing out some ass-kickings. It's up to you boys and girls, your government ain't standing behind you.

Hokay, back to the proofs.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Here's a good one, via DemVet. Not only is this guy young and stupid, he's also a fucking idiot:

On Jesus General's Operation: Yellow Elephant:

[. . .]

The group was obviously fraudulent. There are specific military rules banning partisan political activities during enlistment. Plus, a Google search shows that no such group really existed. Liberals have no sense of humor, which frankly is why they cannot win elections. (But then again, I wouldn't be entirely opposed to the military rounding up certain Democrats in our society and taking them to labor camps...if nothing else, this would aid the military in doing their job).

[. . .]

It's called satire, dickweed. I haven't been a hippie for close to 30 years, but this little twit must've read a history book once:

[. . .]

Well, this morning, I received numerous emails from various liberal pot-smoking hippies around the country who were amused at the exchange of emails. (Why were they not at work? Well we all know that answer). Here are a few selections:

[. . .]

Although I am liberal and pot smoking, though I think this clown's done his share:

[. . .]

Leftist hippies are the real threat to America - these "domestic terrorists" wish to destroy our country. They hope to remove everything we stand for. They strive the adoption of French as our national language and the forced conversion of the country to Islam.

[. . .]

We're pot smoking hippies, we don't want to force anything. In fact, I want a couple Oreos.

[. . .]

Obviously these hippies would rather support a draft dodger (both Bill Clinton and Howard Dean) than members of the current Bush administration who have extensive military careers.

They are calling us "hypocrites" for the supposed support of a war...but refusing to join the military. Does this even make sense? Since when do I have to support my political stances with physical action. I believe in tougher testing standards for children in schools, but you don't seem me going to become a test writer for the Education Testing Service. Following this round of logic....if these people thing abortion is so great, how come they don't all sign up to be abortion doctors? Because it doesn't make sense!

[. . .]

Extensive military careers. Rummy. That's it. I guess it's good to be 20-something and know everything. But he does support the troops:

[. . .]

I do support the troops and I support their efforts to defend America. I support military action wherever it takes us when the cause is good and just. I am a proud American. If I was asked by my country to join the military in order to preserve these great traditions we share, I would do so in a heartbeat. I salute those men and women who do make the choice to serve in the armed forces and will always continue to be a strong supporter of their efforts.

"If I was asked . . ." Shit, son, Army recruiting's down 40%. They ain't asking, they're screaming.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The bin Ladens

Since we seem to have forgotten about Good Ol' Osama, killer of 3000 friends and neighbors of mine, I figure it's time to see what others have been doing to track him. I mean, it's not like (p)resident Dicknose gives a shit anymore. Osama gave him 9/11. Der Spiegel has done an investigative piece on the terrorist and his family:

The Bin Laden family disowned black sheep Osama in 1994. But have they really broken with the mega-terrorist? Recently revealed classified documents seem to suggest otherwise. Osama's violent career has been made possible in part by the generosity of his family - and by his contacts with the Saudi royals.

In early spring 2002, American intelligence agents tipped off authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina that something wasn't quite right with the "Benevolence International Foundation." Their reaction was swift; special forces stormed eight offices of the Islamic foundation in Sarajevo and in Zenica. They found weapons and explosives, videos and flyers calling for holy war. More importantly, however, they discovered a computer with a mysterious file entitled "Tarich Osama" -- Arabic for "Osama's Story."

[. . .]

But could this really be possible? Are the bin Ladens (or "Binladins," as they more commonly spell it), with their 25 brothers, 29 sisters, in-laws, aunts and, by now, at least 15 children of Osama, nothing but a clan of terrorists? Or are relatives being taken to task for the crimes of one family member, all on the strength of legends and conspiracy theories?

[. . .]

The bin Laden story, with its dramatic twists and turns, almost comes across as an Arab version of Thomas Mann's novel "Buddenbrooks." In both cases, it's the story of an imposing patriarch, who has managed to hold the clan together, and of his sons, who cannot or do not wish to stop the family's moral decline.

[. . .]

In late 1979, Osama, with the royal family's blessing, set off for Afghanistan to participate in the jihad against the Soviet Union, which had invaded its neighbor to the south. Both the CIA and Saudi Arabia helped fund the Mujahedeen's armed struggle against the communist "infidels." Prince Turki, head of the Saudi secret service, visited Osama several times in Afghanistan and heavy equipment provided by the SBG family business was used to excavate secret tunnels. For Osama, the support of the Saud family and the bin Ladens became a reliable source of funding.

[. . .]

On Jan. 9, 2001, OBL attended his son Mohammed's wedding in Kandahar, accompanied, according to CIA sources, by his mother and two of his brothers. The CIA also claims that "two of Osama's sisters traveled to Abu Dhabi" a month later, where they met with an al-Qaida agent at the Gulf emirate's airport to deliver large sums of cash.

In mid-January 2005, New York federal judge Richard Casey wrote, in his grounds for allowing the civil suit against SBG filed by the families of 9/11 victims, that "the Saudi Binladin Group maintained close relationships with Osama bin Laden at certain times," and that it remains "unclear" whether these ties continued when OBL became involved in terrorism.

[. . .]

{former CIA Agent and author of Imperial Hubris anonymously Mike] Scheuer's axis of evil differs markedly from the president's. He believes that Pakistan and, even more so, Saudi Arabia are the epicenters of global violence. "Many Saudis support the terrorists in Iraq to this day - but we're the ones who are putting up the money -- by paying $50 for a barrel of oil and making ourselves dependent on oil imports."

Scheuer, an experienced intelligence expert, doubts that the entire bin Laden family has severed ties with Osama: "I haven't seen anything in the last 10 years that's convinced me that would be the case." In his view, SBG still derives some of its profits from business dealings in the Islamic world that can be linked to the family's supposed "black sheep." "He's treated as a hero almost everywhere over there," says Scheuer.

[. . .]

Of course, former CIA agent Scheuer is well aware that the bin Ladens, as investors in and customers of the Carlyle Group, an investment company, had common business interests with the Bushs. In fact, until October 2003 George W.'s father and predecessor in the White House still worked as an "advisor" for Carlyle, which is also involved in the defense sector. Although Scheuer is no wild-eyed conspiracy theorist, he also believes that the US government was "unusually" accommodating to the bin Ladens. Does he regret leaving the CIA, and does he dream of returning? Scheuer, a father of four, says: "I liked my job. I wanted to protect the country against its enemies -- but not the president against his critics."

Part One.
Part Two.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Google bomb

Downing Street Memo Downing Street Memo Downing Street Memo Downing Street Memo Downing Street Memo Downing Street Memo Downing Street Memo Downing Street Memo Downing Street Memo Downing Street Memo Downing Street Memo Downing Street Memo Downing Street Memo Downing Street Memo Rycroft Memo Rycroft Memo Rycroft Memo Rycroft Memo Rycroft Memo Rycroft Memo Rycroft Memo Rycroft Memo Rycroft Memo Rycroft Memo Rycroft Memo Rycroft Memo George W Bush George W Bush George W Bush George W Bush
George W Bush George W Bush George W Bush George W Bush George W Bush George W Bush George W Bush George W Bush George W Bush George W Bush Iraq war Iraq war Iraq war Iraq war Iraq war Iraq war Iraq war Iraq war Iraq war Iraq war Iraq war Iraq war Iraq war Iraq war

Downing Street Minutes

My notes are in [italic]. Emphases are mine.



From: Matthew Rycroft

Date: 23 July 2002 [Note the date]

S 195 /02

cc: Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Attorney-General, Sir Richard Wilson, John Scarlett, Francis Richards, CDS, C, Jonathan Powell, Sally Morgan, Alastair Campbell


Copy addressees and you met the Prime Minister on 23 July to discuss Iraq.

This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. It should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know its contents.

John Scarlett summarised the intelligence and latest JIC [Joint Intelligence Committee] assessment. Saddam's regime was tough and based on extreme fear. The only way to overthrow it was likely to be by massive military action. Saddam was worried and expected an attack, probably by air and land, but he was not convinced that it would be immediate or overwhelming. His regime expected their neighbours to line up with the U.S. Saddam knew that regular army morale was poor. Real support for Saddam among the public was probably narrowly based.

C [Sir Richard Dearlove, head of Britain's foreign intelligence service] reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. [Note again, they believed this in July of '02] Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. [This is the kicker] But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. [In July '02, they were already working on 'fixing the facts'] The NSC [National Security Council] had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action. [Which is why we're in the mess we're in now]

CDS [Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, chief of the defense staff] said that military planners would brief CENTCOM on 1-2 August, Rumsfeld on 3 August and Bush on 4 August.

The two broad U.S. options were:

(a) Generated Start. A slow build-up of 250,000 U.S. troops, a short (72 hour) air campaign, then a move up to Baghdad from the south. Lead time of 90 days (30 days preparation plus 60 days deployment to Kuwait).

(b) Running Start. U.S. forces already in theatre (3 x 6,000), continuous air campaign, initiated by an Iraqi casus belli. Total lead time of 60 days with the air campaign beginning even earlier. A hazardous option.

The U.S. saw the UK (and Kuwait) as essential, with basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus critical for either option. Turkey and other Gulf states were also important, but less vital. The three main options for UK involvement were:

(i) Basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus, plus three SF squadrons.

(ii) As above, with maritime and air assets in addition.

(iii) As above, plus a land contribution of up to 40,000, perhaps with a discrete role in Northern Iraq entering from Turkey, tying down two Iraqi divisions.

The Defence Secretary [Rumsfeld] said that the U.S. had already begun "spikes of activity" to put pressure on the regime. [Remember again, this is July '02] No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in U.S. minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the U.S. congressional elections.

The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. [So, when Powell went to the U.N., he knew he was shoveling shit] It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.

The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change.

The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors. Regime change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD. There were different strategies for dealing with Libya and Iran. [They knew what they had to do, they just had to make the case] If the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work.

On the first, CDS[Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, chief of the defense staff] said that we did not know yet if the U.S. battleplan was workable. The military were continuing to ask lots of questions. [I wondered for months why the generals went along so easlity. They didn't, they just had their arms twisted for a longer period of time until they caved] For instance, what were the consequences, if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? You said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary.

The Foreign Secretary thought the U.S. would not go ahead with a military plan unless convinced that it was a winning strategy. On this, U.S. and UK interests converged. But on the political strategy, there could be U.S./UK differences. Despite U.S. resistance, we should explore discreetly the ultimatum. [That's the route they finally took] Saddam would continue to play hard-ball with the UN.

John Scarlett assessed that Saddam would allow the inspectors back in only when he thought the threat of military action was real.

The Defence Secretary said that if the Prime Minister wanted UK military involvement, he would need to decide this early. He cautioned that many in the U.S. did not think it worth going down the ultimatum route. It would be important for the Prime Minister to set out the political context to Bush. [So the Smirking Moron wouldn't fuck it up]


(a) We should work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action. But we needed a fuller picture of U.S. planning before we could take any firm decisions. CDS should tell the U.S. military that we were considering a range of options.

(b) The Prime Minister would revert on the question of whether funds could be spent in preparation for this operation.

(c) CDS would send the Prime Minister full details of the proposed military campaign and possible UK contributions by the end of the week.

(d) The Foreign Secretary would send the Prime Minister the background on the UN inspectors, and discreetly work up the ultimatum to Saddam.

He would also send the Prime Minister advice on the positions of countries in the region especially Turkey, and of the key EU member states.

(e) John Scarlett would send the Prime Minister a full intelligence update.

(f) We must not ignore the legal issues: the Attorney-General would consider legal advice with FCO/MOD legal advisers.

(I have written separately to commission this follow-up work.)


[Rycroft was a Downing Street foreign policy aide.]