More independent journalism hits the web

David Appell has picked up the baton of independent journalism and is asking for a modest donation for a story on the Sugar Association.

David Appell over at Quark Soup has picked up the baton of independent, reader-funded journalism. He is investigating a story on the Sugar Association, the World Health Organization and Congress. He’s asking for $250 from readers to report the story on his blog first — $5 from -40- 50 readers. (A lot more modest than the $10,000 I asked for!)
Dave’s a freelance science writer with a good resume and a nice collection of clips. In other words, he’s a real journalist. I urge people to support him, since I’m about to put my money where my mouth is and pop him $5. Let’s show the world Back-to-Iraq wasn’t a one-time stunt.

What kind of world do you want to live in?

What would you do if someone in your community took the law into his own hands and murdered an admittedly bad character? What if he then had trouble proving why he pulled the trigger?

Let’s open this up with a hypothetical situation: There’s a murderer living in your community. He’s struck before and one of your neighbors, the richest and most powerful guy in town, is convinced he’s going to strike again. Rich Guy tells everyone in town that the murderer is a bad guy and needs to be taken care of, that he has a torture chamber in his garage and that he’s a threat not only to you but to the whole town. To top it off, he beats his attractive wife and abuses his children. But no one wants to join Rich Guy’s lynch mob. And the cops aren’t much help; they say they have no evidence that he’s done anything lately. He’s a wily criminal and covers his tracks. But he gives you and everyone else in town the creeps.
Finally, Rich Guy decides to take the law into his own hands. One day, after repeated warnings, he shoots the old guy dead in the street in full view of everyone. The community is secretly glad he did it, and — bonus! — his attractive wife and children are no longer terrorized. Why, you might even date her yourself although Rich Guy has already started wooing her.
One small problem: As Rich Guy is rummaging around in the murderer’s house, he can’t find a single instrument of torture or the murder weapons that he used on his previous victims. All signs, in fact, point to a decrepit old man whose reign of terror — which at most extended to his front lawn — would soon be coming to an end anyway. There are no indications he was able to kill again. However, Rich Guy does find the old man’s personal fortune stashed away in mason jars, which he said he would take “to hold on to while his wife and child recover from their horrible ordeal.”
So now Rich Guy has killed a man — who no doubt deserved to die and could hardly be considered innocent — but he’s broken the law. He committed murder and there’s really no denying that.
Should the cops now lock him up? Prosecute him for first degree murder? What would you say if this situation happened in your community?
You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Well, if that mean old man was really about to do some nasty stuff, perhaps Rich Guy should get manslaughter or justifiable homicide.” But the mean old man’s means of terrorizing his neighborhood are inconveniently absent. Do you still trust Rich Guy? Would you look at him counting the old man’s money with his arm around the beautiful widow and think, “Ah, hell, the wife and child are happy so all’s well that ends well”? Would you shrug and think, “This is the kind of town I want to live in! Who needs cops when Rich Guy can take care of the bad guys?”
But what happens if Rich Guy is wrong?
Okay, this was obviously an analogy for Iraq and the United States, and this report from the Washington Post makes it clear that not only is the search for weapons of mass destruction coming up empty, it’s looking increasingly futile. As the Post says:

The 75th Exploitation Task Force, as the group is formally known, has been described from the start as the principal component of the U.S. plan to discover and display forbidden Iraqi weapons. The group’s departure, expected next month, marks a milestone in frustration for a major declared objective of the war.

The task force is being shuttered next month, and the number of fruitless missions paints a damning indictment.
CENTCOM began the war, the story says, with 19 top weapons sites. Only two remain to be searched, with nothing coming up in the first 17. Another list had 68 top “non-WMD” sites that might offer clues to the locations of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons programs. Forty-five have been dead ends. Despite the Bush administration’s assertions that the inspections have barely begun and — irony alert! — must be given time, Task Force 75’s inspection of the high-priority targets has been marked by poor intelligence on the part of Washington or poor security that led to sites being looted or burned. This means that any materials that might have been used to produce WMD are now missing, which is what this was was allegedly fought for.
“Am I convinced that what we did in this fight was viable? I tell you from the bottom of my heart: We stopped Saddam Hussein in his WMD programs,” said Army Col. Richard McPhee, according to the Post. “Do I know where they are? I wish I did … but we will find them. Or not. I don’t know. I’m being honest here.”
But the key parts of this article are the ones that show how poorly the retroactive search for a casus belli is going.

“We came to bear country, we came loaded for bear and we found out the bear wasn’t here,” said a Defense Intelligence Agency officer here who asked not to be identified by name. “The indications and warnings were there. The assessments were solid.”
“Okay, that paradigm didn’t exist,” he added. “The question before was, where are Saddam Hussein’s chemical and biological weapons? What is the question now? That is what we are trying to sort out.”
One thing analysts must reconsider, he said, is: “What was the nature of the threat?”

The suspicion that the American people — and the United Nations — were not simply misled but actively lied to by Team Bush to gain support for this war leads to a bit of a queasy feeling. At least it should.
Look, I’m not denying that good came of this and that the Iraqi people likely will eventually be better off, but I do have to ask some questions to the people now crowing that what the United States did was right:

  1. Was the good that came out of this worth the problems and costs now facing the United States?
  2. Was it worth it to saddle the United States taxpayer with a multi-billion dollar commitment to Iraq when the nation’s deficits are climbing ever higher and the economy is as stagnant a Florida swamp?
  3. Was it worth the damage to international order and alliances that has been done?
  4. Why did the United States start a war armed with a quiver full of lies?
  5. Is this the kind of world you want to live in?

Concerning the control of oil

The United States has placed a proposed resolution before the U.N. Security Counil to lift most of the sanctions against Iraq. The draft also — surprise! — would grant the United States “broad control over the country’s oil industry and revenue until a permanent, representative Iraqi government is in place.” (_Washington Post_)

The United States has tabled a U.N. Security Council resolution to lift most of the sanctions against Iraq. The draft also would — surprise! — grant the United States “broad control over the country’s oil industry and revenue until a permanent, representative Iraqi government is in place.” (Washington Post)
“The resolution, which is to be presented to the 15-nation body Friday, would shift control of Iraq’s oil from the United Nations to the United States and its military allies, with an international advisory board having oversight responsibilities but little effective power. A transitional Iraqi government, which U.S. authorities have said they hope to establish within weeks, would be granted a consultative role.”
In an earlier article on B2I, I wrote about Feisal al-Istrabadi, a founding member of the Iraqi Forum for Democracy and an activist on various humanitarian issues relating to Iraq. Istrabadi is also a member of the planning committee for the State Department?s Future of Iraq Project, serving on its Transitional Justice and Democratic Principles working groups.
During his talk, he outlined the ideas for a transitional government.

It would last two to three years at most, must provide immediate benefits to the people of Iraq, would hold municipal elections within six months and regional elections within another six months after that and begin immediate criminal prosecutions. The other duties must be to fulfill obligations to the U.N. regarding weapons of mass destruction, he said, and human rights agreements must be adhered to. “It’s critical to me that the transitional period not be seen as a final status,” he said. “I don?t think the transitional government should be the government that signs a peace treaty with Israel. That should be the permanent government.”
And most important, he said, the United Nations should not _lift_ the sanctions. Instead they should be _suspended_ so that the transitional government doesn?t gain control of the country?s treasury and the permanent lifting of sanctions is an incentive to democratize.
“If you want to ensure the transitional figures do not become transitional in the Iraqi sense of the word — by that I mean lasting 40 years — you cannot hand over the purse strings of Iraq,” he said. “Saddam did not immediately rule by fear. He co-opted the elite during the 1960s and ’70s by drowning them in cash.”

Taking control of the oil industry, while looking really, _really_ bad to the rest of the world, is probably the best that can be made of a bad situation. Istrabadi’s right; if a transitional government took control of Iraq’s oil revenue, there likely result would be wholesale robbing that would make the looters in the closing days of the war look like pikers.
Granted, this will not help the United States’ image in Iraq or in the Arab world. They’re already convinced the U.S. was making an oil grab. The only way to combat this impression is to manage the oil industry in an enlightened and benevolent manner with no favortism given to corrupted Iraqis or American companies.
Handing out crony contracts to Halliburton subsidiaries and other, well-connected American corporations ain’t the way do this. There really don’t seem to be many good solutions to this mess.

A couple of quick pointers

This is a short entry as I’m swamped in pulling together work on various projects, but I wanted to draw your attentions to a couple of interesting-looking sites now that the war is “over” and Iraq is “free.”

This is a short entry as I’m swamped in pulling together work on various projects, but I wanted to draw your attentions to a couple of interesting-looking sites now that the war is “over” and Iraq is “free.”
The War in Context.org is pulling together a host of articles on the aftermath of Gulf War II in an attractive and easily accessible form. The Iraq War Reader, edited by Michah L. Sifry and Christopher Cerf, looks to be a good resource for people trying to understand the so-far dominant story of 2003. The Village Voice has a review online. (Sifry and Cerf edited The Gulf War Reader, a collection of documents and essays about the first Gulf War in 1991.)

Call for comments

Hello all. I’m gathering material for research on the B2I proposal, and wanted to ask the readers some questions. Feel free to answer in the comments or email me. I’ll also be contacting some of you directly to interview you (if that’s OK.)

Hello all. I’m gathering material for research on the B2I proposal, and wanted to ask the readers some questions. Feel free to answer in the comments or email me. I’ll also be contacting some of you directly to interview you (if that’s OK.)
Questions

  1. What was the primary factor that attracted you to B2I?
  2. What was the primary factor that kept you coming back?
  3. How important was the “community” aspect of the site to you? Did you take part in the debates and comment sections?
  4. If you donated, what was the factor that led you to do so?
  5. How would you describe your political leanings?
  6. Did you support the war?
  7. Do you think B2I brought you stories and information that the mainstream media didn’t? If so, why do you think that’s the case?
  8. Are blogs — and specifically reader-funded blogs — a viable and new form of journalism? How willing are you to support other independent sites such as B2I?
  9. What would be the deciding factor(s) in supporting other sites?

Thanks very much everyone! Like I said, I’ll be contacting some of you to follow-up with more questions, unless you don’t wish to be contacted. If you don’t, please tell me in your email and/or comment. Thanks very much for all of y’all’s help.
Note:
Some who have written in have expressed concern about your email address being shared or distributed. This will _never_ happen. I will never give out your emails to anyone for any reason — period. I can’t emphasize this enough. The only mailings you’ll get from me are those you signed up for. (Unless you’re an old friend of mine and then I’ll bombard you; friendship often carries a burden.) Yes, I have your emails in a database, but the MoveableType software needs that for the notification emails. If you wish to be taken out of the database, please feel free to email me and — with a heavy heart and teary eyes — I’ll remove you.
If you post in the comments and you give a valid email address, however, there’s nothing to prevent someone contacting you based on the information you have provided in a public comment section, so keep that in mind.
Again, thanks for everyone’s feedback.