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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Monday, 26 September 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

A Hard Look at the Psychopathic Side of the American Spirit

Well, there were those demonstrations over the weekend, against the war, and for the war - September 24th for the former and September 25th for the latter. The numbers? Here's the contrast:
Support for U.S. troops fighting abroad mixed with anger toward anti-war demonstrators at home as hundreds of people, far fewer than organizers had expected, rallied Sunday on the National Mall one day after tens of thousands protested the war in Iraq.

"No matter what your ideals are, our sons and daughters are fighting for our freedom," said Marilyn Faatz, who drove from New Jersey to attend the rally. "We are making a mockery out of this. And we need to stand united, but we are not."

About 400 people gathered near a stage, a large patchwork American flag serving as a backdrop. Amid banners and signs proclaiming support for U.S. troops, several speakers hailed the effort to bring democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan and denounced those who protest it.
So that's tens of thousands for the one and four hundred for the other (or two hundred according to this report. Marilyn from New Jersey was rightly frustrated, and this should be noted Reuters: "More than 100,000 protesters flooded Washington on Saturday ..."

The exact numbers are unclear, but the contrast isn't. (And none of this counts the numbers protesting Saturday in London - estimated at 10,000 - and the few dozen in Rome with their banners and peace flags outside the US Embassy, and crowds of various sizes in a few other cities no patriotic American cares about.)

The argument Monday morning from the right was the mainstream media hyped the anti-war numbers and Saturday was a big failure of the progressive anti-war left. Hardly anyone showed up. The photographs are deceptive. Don't believe your eyes - maybe the angle was deceptive or something. Whatever.

All the major folks in the Democratic Party took a pass - which was just as well. It was a big "hurrah for our side" thing Saturday. It was a much smaller "hurrah for our side" thing Sunday from the other side. Mass demonstrations don't change anything. Each side gets to feel self-righteous and point at the other side and call them names.

And Monday, September 26, Cindy Sheehan gets herself arrested protesting outside the White House - apparently you can walk back and forth with a sign and say what you want, you're just not permitted to stop and sit down. The police picked her up and carted her off. The progressive anti-war left gets a "free speech" martyr? Over on the right, James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board in his daily web review calls Sheehan a hate-harpy, while Matt Drudge runs a photo over her being lifted up by the police, a big grin on her face, and a policeman's hand way, way up her skirt - and Drudge explains that big grin with the headline "Cindy Sheehan Arrested at White House in Cunning Stunt" - implying she's a sexual exhibitionist who has a thing for being masturbated by hunky policemen in public while thousands watch, or this is the only sex this kind of woman will ever get, or whatever. (That's here, and if Matt takes if down, here.)

It's all very odd, and not to the point. Things are in a bad way in Iraq. No one marching in the streets back here, for this or against that, is doing anything that will change those things.

How bad has it become? Putting it in a few words, Robert Dreyfuss says this: ""Just when it didn't seem like Iraq could get any worse - it gets worse."

Think of the Hatfield and McCoy feud. It's the Iraq version:
This time, it's the simmering battle between two Shiite paramilitary armies: the forces of the Badr Brigade, the 20,000-strong force controlled by the Iranian-supported Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and the Mahdi Army, the thousands-strong force that worships the fanatical Muqtada Al Sadr. The battle, which might flare into a Shiite-Shiite civil war in advance of the October 15 referendum on Iraq's divisive, rigged constitution, could put the final nail in the coffin of the Bush administration's Iraq policy.
So it's not just the Sunni folks being excluded and angry - the guys we are trusting to create this "New Iraq" are fighting each other? Seems so.

And as for that business with the Brits having problems in the south, in Basra, mentioned previously (see last weekend's Just Above Sunset here, about halfway down the page, and by Mike McCahill in his London column), well that's just more of the same mess:
What it all means is that the relative stability that has been present in Basra and others towns in southern Iraq may be coming to an end. For the first time, there are insurgent attacks reported in Basra. And the British, who had responsibility for Basra, suddenly find themselves sitting atop a powder keg.

Since 2003, the Bush administration's one hope has been that it can contain the Sunni-led resistance by betting on the Kurdish-Shiite alliance. But if the Shiites shatter, it's curtains for the Anglo-American occupation. That is the other exit strategy: not the one in which U.S. forces declare victory and withdraw in orderly fashion, but the one in which we get our butts kicked out of Iraq forthwith.
James Walcott pointed to Dreyfuss in his column Systems Failure and there provides a link to something by the military historian Martin van Creveld titled Why Iraq Will End as Vietnam Did. Wolcott is not nice, as the military historian says this:
He who fights against the weak - and the rag-tag Iraqi militias are very weak indeed - and loses, loses. He who fights against the weak and wins also loses. To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel; to let that opponent kill you is unnecessary and therefore foolish. As Vietnam and countless other cases prove, no armed force however rich, however powerful, however, advanced, and however well motivated is immune to this dilemma. The end result is always disintegration and defeat; if US troops in Iraq have not yet started fragging their officers, the suicide rate among them is already exceptionally high. That is why the present adventure will almost certainly end as the previous one did. Namely, with the last US troops fleeing the country while hanging on to their helicopters' skids.
But wait! There's more!

Wolcott points to William S. Lind - the big man on Fourth Generation Warfare (is that what this is?) - and clicking over to Lind you'll find this:
Fourth Generation war is asymmetrical, but it is asymmetrical on a much broader scale than simply the pitting of a conventional army against guerrillas. The larger asymmetry is political. Fourth Generation war pits a state, or alliance of states, against a shifting mass of opponents of wildly varying motives and goals. Among the problems that presents is that the state has no one to talk to about making peace. Who does Mr. Kissinger sit down with in Paris this time?

Nor does Fourth Generation war have as its objective the mind of the leader on the other side. Rather, what it does is pull its enemy apart on the moral level, fracturing his society.
Has anyone mentioned the nation seems more divided than it ever has been before? Has anyone mentioned no Democrat has dared to call Bush on all the crap, except for Howard Dean, and the media assures us he is quite mad? There is no opposition party, just Democrats afraid of offending the folks in the "red states" and being silent? Only large blocks of ordinary people are saying this war is madness and the folks in charge clueless. What up with that?

Lind:
That is just what Fourth Generation opponents strive for, a systemic breakdown in their state adversary. The danger sign in America is not a hot national debate over the war in Iraq and its course, but precisely the absence of such a debate - which, as former Senator Gary Hart has pointed out, is largely due to a lack of courage on the part of the Democrats. Far from ensuring a united nation, what such a lack of debate and absence of alternatives makes probable is a bitter fracturing of the American body politic once the loss of the war becomes evident to the public. The public will feel itself betrayed, not merely by one political party, but by the whole political system.

The primum mobile of Fourth Generation war is a crisis of legitimacy of the state. If the absence of a loyal opposition and alternative courses of action further delegitimizes the American state in the eye of the public, the forces of the Fourth Generation will have won a victory of far greater proportions than anything that could happen on the ground in Iraq. The Soviet Union's defeat in Afghanistan played a central role in the collapse of the Soviet state. Could the American defeat in Iraq have similar consequences here? The chance is far greater than Washington elites can imagine.
Well, what with the war going badly, sold to us for one reason and the resold for this reason then that one, and with the destruction of New Orleans and the Gulf there with no plan in place before the storms and not much plan for recovery after the storms, and with the current scandals and resignations, and with poverty generally rising for four years, health insurance disappearing for more and more folks, the deficit ballooning - make your own list - who sees this government as legitimate? They're faking it, and making their friends and contributors rich, of course.

As for the big demonstration last Saturday, click on Wolcott and read his detailed day-after analysis: "I don't know what the answer is to the lack of adversarial energy against this accursed war, but what I do know is that yesterday's flea circus wasn't it."

But of course the administration line is that on October 15th they'll probably vote in this new constitution in Iraq - and we will have achieved our objective. That would be the new objective, not getting rid of the Iraqi nuclear weapons and other WMD, not punishing Saddam for the events of 9/11 - not any of the previous ones. It's the latest one - they get democracy and all the joys of free market capitalism and freedom of religion and rights for women, sort of.

Sunday the 25th, sounding kind of like an opposition party should, if we had one, the Washington Post ran an editorial saying this too was bullshit, although they didn't use the word. Saying what no one anywhere in the Democratic Party would EVER say, we get this:
As Iraq moves toward a referendum on its new constitution just three weeks from now, many of its senior politicians readily concede that the charter is seriously flawed, and that its approval may worsen rather than alleviate the relentless violence. Leaders of neighboring Arab states and some Bush administration officials seem to share this view. Yet none of these officials or leaders has been willing or able to stop the political process from going forward.

... Faced with sinking domestic support, the Bush administration seems driven by an unwise zeal to produce visible results in Iraq - such as a ratified constitution - however problematic they may be. ... Yet, judging from what even supportive Iraqis are saying, the risk is very great that the constitutional process will either tip Iraq decisively toward civil war or produce a state far from the goal of a tolerant democracy for which nearly 2,000 Americans have given their lives.
But no one is "willing or able" do stop the juggernaut? No one has the balls to say the obvious - WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?

Note the reasoning in the Post:
The real problem is the absence of an agreement about Iraq's future between the majority Shiite and Kurd communities and the minority Sunnis, who ruled the country from the time of its establishment until the fall of Saddam Hussein. That disconnect is expressed in the overwhelming rejection by Sunni leaders of the constitutional draft.

... Though the details of implementation were postponed, the current draft would allow the Shiites, who already control the national government, to create their own ministate in southern Iraq, which very likely would be ruled by clerics and Islamic law and would closely ally itself with neighboring Iran. It would have its own armed forces and control Iraq's biggest oil fields. The Kurds would have their own ministate in northern Iraq and would probably take over the city of Kirkuk and its oil production. This radical form of "federalism" not only would be ruinous to the Sunni community, as well as the mixed population of Baghdad: It would be threatening and even destabilizing for all of Iraq's neighbors except Iran. It would produce an Iraq that the United States would have no interest in defending.

The only way for Iraq to avoid catastrophe is a political accord among Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis, one that can be based only on the preservation of Iraq as a federal but unified state in which resources and political power are fairly shared and human rights protected. The Bush administration, and Iraqi leaders themselves, ought to be focused on striking that national compromise rather than on prematurely enshrining pieces of paper or adhering to deadlines that were set arbitrarily 18 months ago.
Yeah, well, we get some of the parties to meet the deadline, and thus get an independent state in the south aligned with Iran and ruled by the fundamentalist clergy, and an independent state in the north sure to worry Turkey (them Kurds!). And a bunch of ticked off Sunni Arabs blowing things up here and there.

A newspaper can point out this is madness. No politician can - because Karl Rove will come "get you" - and your family, and your dog Toto too.

__

So should we get out of Iraq, or what? In the discussion of the hypothetical "Worst of All Time" contest last weekend (here) that didn't exactly come up, but what did come up was Bill Montgomery's discussion of this story - about the vastly popular website where folks trade amateur, homemade hard pornography for photos sent by our guys in Iraq of the maimed and tortured and dead bodies of the locals over there. That was mentioned in passing, but it's why Montgomery thinks it's time to leave Iraq, as he explains in Heart of Darkness.

Note this:
I didn't go to the big anti-war demo in Washington today - and not just because I have the normal responsibilities of a middle-aged parent with a house, a mortgage, a dog and a backyard that badly needs mowing. I could have evaded all of those things. I decided not to go because up I've been deeply conflicted about the morality of supporting a rapid U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq.

That is, up until now.

I opposed the invasion of Iraq - from the moment, in the summer of 2002, when it became obvious Bush had made up his mind to overthrow Saddam's regime. It didn't take a degree in Middle Eastern studies to understand what a Pandora's box of sectarian conflict and strategic instability Shrub was about to open, and you didn't need to be a pacifist to see that the moral and legal case for war was deficient to the point of criminality.

It's also been clear - since about, oh, four days after the fall of Baghdad - that the Cheney administration didn't have (still doesn't have) any coherent strategy for stabilizing, pacifying or reconstructing Iraq, other than to pour money down Halliburton's gullet. And while the campaign to export "democracy" to Iraq was sincere (at least on the part of many of those who participated) it was always doomed, as much by the deficiencies of democracy here in America as by the cultural and historical tragedies of Iraq.

So I'm not, by any stretch of the imagination, an apologist for the war, much less for the administration or - for that matter - the American people, who followed their leaders into an aggressive war with barely a peep of protest. I'm also not some born-again hawk, who's suddenly discovered that the war was a noble cause after all, now that it's opened the floodgates of Iraq to the kind of fanatical terrorists the ever clueless American public thought we were going to fight in the first place.

The truth is, I don't give a tinker's damn about the war on terrorism any more - not when it's set next to the agony the war in Iraq is inflicting on the people of Iraq. The American people chose this war, and whether it was out of ignorance, fear, or a blind, hysterical patriotism is really beside the point. In a democracy (even one as puerile and corrupt as ours) people get the kind of government they deserve. And so the American people deserve the consequences of failure in Iraq - whether it's another 2,000 dead soldiers, or $10 a gallon gas, or the transformation of the Sunni Triangle into the world's biggest terrorist training camp. We've earned them all, the hard way.

So if the only risk was that withdrawal would make America less secure - say by exposing the precious U.S. homeland to blowback from an Al Qaeda revival in Iraq or the collapse of the House of Saud - I guess I'd be down in Washington yelling bring the troops home now, and to hell with the consequences. America has no right to use Iraq as the bait in Field Marshal von Rumsfeld's "flypaper" strategy.

(There is, of course, a cold-blooded strategic argument to be made for a rapid withdrawal from Iraq, in which case the military justification for continuing the war is as questionable as the moral one. In that sense, I'm actually giving the hawks the benefit of the doubt.)

For me, the overriding moral question for me is this: Would a U.S. withdrawal make things better or worse for the Iraqi people? My personal opinion is that having started the war, and uncorked the bottle of religious fanaticism and communal savagery, America is morally obliged to do whatever it can to minimize the suffering and death its actions have caused - and will continue to cause for years to come.

To do otherwise would be ? treating the Iraqis like a small boy who mixes a bunch of red ants and blacks together to watch them fight, then gets bored with the whole thing and flushes them all down the toilet.
This is followed by a discussion of who is saying what about the details of what we can do as we stay, all the arguments for finding "a path out of the swamp" to make things at least a little better. But then we get this:
As for me, I've largely kept silent on the issue - in part because I've been so conflicted about it, and in part because (I'm trying to be honest here) I've been reluctant to buck the overwhelming anti-war, pro-withdrawal sentiment on my side of the political fence, or give even the slightest aid and comfort to the war hawks on the other side.

It's not that anyone should give a shit about what I think, but I've had enough experience with being selectively misquoted by right-wing bloggers to know how even a carefully worded argument against immediate withdrawal might be played - i.e. "lefty blogger admits Bush was right all along."

Still, I haven't felt right about avoiding the issue. So I've been promising myself for a while now that I would break cover and at least admit that I'm not sure withdrawing from Iraq is the morally right thing to do, and have deep doubts about the arguments in favor of it.

But something happened on my way to a confession: I came across the Nation article on nonwthatsfuckedup.com, which meant I had to take a good, hard look at the psychopathic side of the American spirit, and consider its implications not just for the war on terrorism and the occupation of Iraq, but its role in the emergence of an authentically fascist movement in American politics, one which feeds on violence and the glorification of violence, and which has found an audience not just in the U.S. military (where I think - or at least hope - it's still a relatively small fringe) but in the culture as a whole.

... Suffice it to say that my visit to nowthatsfuckedup.com was a reminder of the genocidal skeletons hanging in the American closet. It left me with the conviction - or at least an intuitive premonition - that an open-ended war in Iraq (or in the broader Islamic world) will bring nothing but misery and death to them, and creeping (or galloping) authoritarianism to us.

We have to get out - not because withdrawal will head off civil war in Iraq or keep the country from falling under Iran's control (it won't) but because the only way we can stop those things from happening is by killing people on a massive scale, probably even more massive than the tragedy we supposedly would be trying to prevent.

... There was a time when I would have argued that the American people couldn't stomach that kind of butchery - not for long anyway - even if their political leaders were willing to inflict it. But now I'm not so sure. As a nation, we may be so desensitized to violence, and so inured to mechanized carnage on a grand scale, that we're psychologically capable of tolerating genocidal warfare against any one who can successfully be labeled as a "terrorist." Or at least, a sizable enough fraction of the American public may be willing to tolerate it, or applaud it, to make the costs politically bearable.

I don't know this for a fact, but after a stroll through nowthatsfuckedup.com, or reading the genocidal lunacy routinely on display at Little Green Footballs or freerepublic.com - or your average redneck watering hole for that matter - I can't rule it out.

Which means I should have gone to Washington today after all. Because we really do need to get the troops out of Iraq - before hell is the consequence.
We get out because of what we're turning into?

Digby over at Hullabaloo adds more:
... I have seen no evidence that the military hierarchy has instituted a policy of posting gory pictures on sex sites of Iraqis whom we've liberated from their lives. It's possible, I suppose, but this looks to be a matter of individuals entertaining themselves. As I wrote before, I know that taking pictures of battlefield dead has been around since Matthew Brady - and it has served the purpose of documenting the horrors of war for all to see. But this melding of sexual porn and bloody war gore is the sign of something sadistic and perverted (and yes, fascistic.)

There is one stomach-churning picture that shows a horrible mangled stump where a foot should be, presumably blown up in a land mine or something like it - and the naked crotch of the woman whose stump is being displayed. It's called "Nice puss/Bad foot." It's possible that the picture is photo-shopped, but regardless of the veracity of the picture itself, it's obvious that any man who gets an erection from that pic is a man who should not be carrying a gun.

These guys are allowing their ids to run wild and I don't think there is any excuse for it. They know the difference between right and wrong. They are not under orders to post these pictures nor can there be any thought that it helps the war effort by scaring the "Hajis" or giving these soldiers a forum in which to "release" their "steam." It's pure titillation - "warporn" in the most literal sense and it speaks to something seriously wrong with the military culture that says on the one hand that we are there to liberate the Iraqi people and on the other that these people's dead and mangled bodies are strangely sexually stimulating.

Note that there is no discussion as to whether these Iraqis are "Baathists" "bitter-enders," "terrorists," "insurgents" - or the "good" Iraqis who we liberated from the sick, depraved Saddam. One of the pictures is simply entitled "Die Haji Die." It is assumed that any dead Iraqi is a terrorist - and that, as we know, is impossible.

None of this is to say that the systematic sexual torture regime we've seen in both Iraq and Guantanamo is just the result of a barrel of bad apples. Clearly, the military have taken the simple-minded lessons of "The Arab Mind" to heart and believe that if they sexually humiliate the "Hajis" they'll crumple. (Big strong American men, meanwhile, wouldn't be affected whatsoever by being forced to simulate anal sex with other men or being jeered at while wearing ladies underwear.) I think it's pretty clear that the highest reaches of the government signed off on a whole lot of questionable kinky stuff in the mistaken idea that Arabs are different from you and me. And it would appear that some of the soldiers have predictably taken this to heart.

And even if you are to set aside the kinky sexual nature of the War On Terror, I can't actually understand how anyone would think that even the total abdication of the Geneva Conventions allows for a cook to break a prisoner's leg with a baseball bat because he needed to relieve some stress. ...
So how did this happen?
The fact that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney said, "we're taking the gloves off" certainly created an environment in which the rule of law seemed to have been completely tossed aside. This country went temporarily insane after 9/11. I guess the military hierarchy lost its bearings too, which I find surprising since the highest levels of the officer corps are steeped in the lessons of Vietnam and presumably understood that this was likely the road to perdition.

The lies and misdirection conflating Al Qaeda with Saddam probably contributed more than anything to the horrors that many Iraqis faced at our hands during the first year or so of the occupation. Many soldiers surely internalized the idea that they were wreaking revenge for 9/11. In this, the buck goes all the way to the top and comes to a screeching halt on the desk of the heroic Commander Codpiece. Bush and his boys should have to answer for that, but I suppose it will be left to history to sort it out.
Digby doesn't but the "few bad apples" argument, it would seem. Well, it has become less and less plausible, hasn't it?

What about the counter argument from Rush Limbaugh here: "I think the reaction to the stupid torture is an example of the feminization of this country. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of need to blow some steam off?"

What about the argument that we "didn't start this shit. These Arab people killed three thousand of our people. Fair is fair - the argument of the conservative apologists, the columnists and bloggers.

Digby:
Only we did start this shit, didn't we?

This is why the warmongers who type themselves into a frenzy supporting this war should have the balls to go over and fight it. Jonah Goldberg and Peter Beinert and Paul Ghouley should have to stand there and ask themselves these questions - confront the nightmares that are going to curse these soldiers for the rest of their lives as they try to reconcile what they saw and did.

It's a nice, pretty abstract concept - fighting tyranny and terrorism for the red, white and blue. But in reality it's standing in a doorway watching a psychopathic cook break a prisoners leg with a baseball bat because he's is feeling stressed. It's hearing innocent people screaming because they have had chemicals dripped into their eyes and on their skin so they'll "glow in the dark" and amuse the soldiers. It's having your humanity and your decency challenged every single day and not knowing if you will meet all the tests of bravery, conscience and loyalty that are required in a war that is being fought for vague and inscrutable reasons.

Jonah believes that we are liberating the Iraqi people from a totalitarian dictator. Does he then agree that it's part of the mission to ogle an Iraqi woman's privates while he gloats that her foot was blown off? Does he know what he would do if confronted with sadists who believe that the only good Iraqi is a dead Iraqi? That "they started this shit?"

The chickenhawks can claim that it is perfectly acceptable to support a war that they have no intention of fighting. But they cannot claim that it is just fine to support a war in which our troops have behaved in an immoral and indecent fashion, which the military has covered up and which was implicitly condoned by the highest reaches of our government. If they supported this they should have to share in the trials of conscience that afflict these poor bastards from the 82nd Airborne who came forward (and the ones who did not.) They should have to share in the visions of blood and gore that we see on that sick porn site and they should have to live with what has been done in their name.

If you support this country's loss of honor you should have to get down in the mud and grovel with all those who've lost their struggle to maintain their humanity while fighting a war that has no end, that doesn't know who it's fighting, that sees sex and violence intertwined in a sick and twisted way - and that celebrates random, wanton killing of the people we are allegedly fighting for. The chickenhawks in this war, of all wars, are the ones who should have to suffer alongside those who lost their souls killing and beating and torturing for a cause that didn't exist.
Yeah, I worry about my nephew in Baghdad, for many reasons.

Back in late August, here, you'd find a detail discussion of a item from Juan Cole, The University of Michigan professor of Middle East studies, explaining how we could put the fat out the fie, so to speak. That's here - a ten part plan for staying a bit longer in Iraq and fixing things.

Sunday the 25th he changed his mind. See Why We Have to Get the Troops Out of Iraq.The issue is not the rights and wrongs of the war. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There was no nuclear program, and the mushroom clouds with which Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice menaced us were figments of their fevered imaginations, no more substantial than the hateful internal voices that afflict schizophrenics.

But that is not a reason to get the ground troops out now.

The issue is not the lack of operational cooperation between the secular, socialist, Arab nationalist Baath Party of Iraq and the religious fanatics of al-Qaeda. There was no such operational involvement. Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and Abu Zubaydah were captured before the Iraq War, and told their American interrogators that al-Qaeda had refused to cooperate with Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration deliberately hid this crucial information from the American people, and puzzled US intelligence officials who knew about it were astounded to see Cheney and others continually go on television and assert that Saddam and Bin Laden were in cahoots in the build-up to the war.

But that is not a reason to get the ground troops out now.

That US soldiers are dying in Iraq, with the number approaching 2,000, is a tragedy. But it is not in and of itself a reason to get the troops out of Iraq. We lost some 1700 at Guam alone in World War II. The question is whether a war is worth fighting, not its human toll, since a much worse human toll may result from giving up the fight (if the US could have launched D-Day in 1940, the Holocaust might never have happened).

So that is not a reason to get the ground troops out now.
So go read his reasons.

The first is we need to get the ground troops out now is that they are being fatally brutalized by their own treatment of Iraqi prisoners, and he runs down the evidence.

The second is we are not accomplishing the mission given them, and are making things worse rather than better, and he runs down the evidence, tons of it.

He ends with this:
Let's get them out, now, before they destroy any more cities, create any more hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons, provoke any more ethnic hatreds by installing Shiite police in Fallujah or Kurdish troops in Turkmen Tal Afar. They are sowing a vast whirlwind, a desert sandstorm of Martian proportions, which future generations of Americans and Iraqis will reap.

The ground troops must come out. Now. For the good of Iraq. For the good of America.
That's what's going around now. It has come down to a question of who we are and who we want to be.

Maybe we need two countries - one for Bush and Rush and those who love them, and one for the "feminized" folks.

__

Other comment of note:

Regarding Time Magazine, Friday evening, September 23 the long article with this -
The U.S. Army has launched a criminal investigation into new allegations of serious prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan made by a decorated former Captain in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, an Army spokesman has confirmed to TIME. The claims of the Captain, who has not been named, are in part corroborated by statements of two sergeants who served with him in the 82nd Airborne; the allegations form the basis of a report from Human Rights Watch obtained by TIME and due to be released in the next few days (Since this story first went online, the organization has decided to put out its report; it can be found here). Senate sources tell TIME that the Captain has also reported his charges to three senior Republican senators: Majority Leader Bill Frist, Armed Services Committee chairman John Warner and John McCain, a former torture victim in Vietnam. A Senate Republican staffer familiar with both the Captain and his allegations told TIME he appeared "extremely credible."
This seems systematic, and approved. Someone approved it, or at the least, allowed it. It might be time to see who did, and at what level. The president's abandonment of the legal ban on inhumane treatment of military detainees is the problem?

Andrew Sullivan here:
It's still unclear what impact the war on terror is having in the Middle East, with some positive signs and still worrying possibilities in Iraq and elsewhere. But the impact on America - and on the U.S. military - is already clear. The United States has become a country that practices and condones torture and abuse of war detainees - even in a conventional conflict, such as Iraq. The legal memos allowing this are clear; the responsibility is clear - from President Bush down. And the consequences are clear: hundreds and hundreds of cases that prove systematic, approved torture and abuse of prisoners in every field of conflict, in camps and bases across Afghanistan and Iraq. The latest news about Camp Mercury is sickening, horrifying, but, at this point, utterly predictable. And when you read the Human Rights Watch report, and hear what the courageous and heroic soldiers say about what they witnessed, the conclusion is unavoidable.
Scott Horton here:
Soldiers state they fully appreciated that the abuse to which the detainees were subjected was sanctioned up the chain of command. A decision apparently had been made not to apply the Geneva Conventions in the War on Terror, and unambiguous instructions had come down the line of command to "take the gloves off" with the detainees. But one officer saw Donald Rumsfeld testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2004 saying that the Geneva Conventions were being respected in Iraq. "Something was wrong," he said. The officer went up the chain of command and to the JAGs in theater trying to get clarification of how the Geneva Conventions could possibly permit what was happening. He got nowhere. Moreover, he found he was subjected to implied and direct threats. Asking questions or reporting on what he saw would affect "the honor of the unit" and would damage his career.

The officer attempted to report these matters to several Republican senators. When his intention to do this became clear, officers in his chain of command denied him leave and took other steps to block his actions.
Sullivan:
I think it's pretty clear that the military knows they have a lot to hide and that Rumsfeld knew he was lying when he assured Senators that the war in Iraq was being conducted in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. The cover-up of abuse that was the norm went all the way up the military command to Rumsfeld himself. Someone had told these officers that torture was now okay. That someone told the Senate another version.

The Bush administration - especially vice-president Dick Cheney and Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld - have fiercely resisted releasing critical documents that could nail this down without any doubt. They threatened to veto any bill that would bar the CIA from inflicting torture, and they oppose any Congressional attempts to insist that the U.S. military be legally forbidden from "cruel, inhumane or degrading" treatment of detainees. We need to see the rest of the Abu Ghraib photos that have been withheld, but we also need some critical documents, in order to categorically disprove propaganda like that recently published by National Review.
Horton again:
Until the Yoo March 14, 2003 memo is released to congressional oversight - and to the public - it is impossible for any serious analyst to accept the Harvey and Schoomaker claims about the role of doctrine. To the contrary, the unjustified withholding of this document - along with the military's own Church Report, and the numerous primary documents collected during that investigation - invites a strong inference that their claims are false. Moreover, at this point the text of the March 14, 2003 memo in and of itself is not enough. We need to see exactly how it affected military doctrine in the form of advice given by the DOD General Counsel's office, the JAG Corps, and the Military Intelligence branch, among other things. Some e-mail traffic I have seen among MI officers in Iraq suggests that this memo shaped actions on the ground in the War on Terror within a matter of weeks, if not days.
Sullivan:
Horton reminds us of an important fact. In the military, responsibility goes up the chain of command. Punishing the grunts, while excusing those who devised these policies is not only unjust, it violates basic principles of military accountability. Read this analysis from someone who actually cares about the military's reputation. The president has already repeatedly declared his own view of his own responsibility for what goes on in his administration: others are always to blame. Only with Katrina did he manage to spit out his own responsibility. But destroying centuries of honor in the U.S. armed services is a graver crime than slovenly hurricane response.
That's an interesting little exchange.

Posted by Alan at 20:57 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 26 September 2005 21:31 PDT home

Sunday, 25 September 2005

Topic: Announcements

Redirection

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format parent to this web log, was posted early this morning. That would be Volume 3, Number 39 for the week of Sunday, September 25, 2005 - and like any magazine it's full of illustrated articles, some of which began here, along with pages of photos, weekly collections of pithy quotes, and an archive of all past issues. Consider it a week-in-review of current events, with some special features from correspondents in three foreign cities, with a bit on the arts, architecture and this and that - and with pretty pictures too.

This week's current events items cover things spinning a tad out of control, but curiously without much mention of hurricanes. There seem to be changes afoot politically - an unusual spate of new scandals, the administration under fire, and Ric in Paris is asking me to start a "Worst American of All Time" contest. Add to that race and religion are being discussed more openly that ever before. Note what Rick Brown has to say about where religion and the law intersect in "What We Forbid." Of course the war in Iraq just gets more fruitless.

On the international scene, Ric in Paris connects with an old friend opening a studio there - the famous Gilbert Shelton - and with the artist Matt Rose at an opening outside Paris, Mike in London raises some interesting questions about Anglo-American cross-cultural matters (and more), while Sylvain takes us to the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem. Oh, and the German election turns out to be a mess that reflects a worldwide clash of ideas.

Bob Patterson is back, remembering 1968 and commenting on what one can and cannot say.

Photography? In "Dialogs of the Dead" you'll find some of shots of a hidden place where many of the famous Hollywood dead lie, along with a photo essay from Phillip Raines on where those tombstones and such things are made, in the granite quarries of Georgia. Local photography includes some intense botanicals, and a very odd place in West Los Angeles where time has stood still. That's spooky in and of itself.

Features? More on the Brits and the Americans arguing over the nature of time, and new quotes on the nature of power - unusual ones.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ________________

Momentum: A Meme Snowballs
Lists: The 'Worst of All Time' Idea
Teenagers: Always a Problem
Race: The Fire Next Time, Again
Iraq: The 'Other' Story
The Law: What We Forbid
God Stuff: An Odd New Lobbying Group in Washington

The International Desk ________________

Our Man in Paris: Get Rich Not So Quick
Our Man Slightly Outside Paris: You Is Like a Painting
Our Man in London: Things I Don't Get (from the Pussycat Dolls to Iraq)
Our Man In Tel-Aviv: Addictive Jerusalem
World Politics: Just More of the Realists versus the Idealists

Features ________________

Follow Up: The Other Great Debate (about time itself)
Quotes for the week of September 25, 2005 - Power

Bob Patterson ________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Is it "The Eternal Recurrence" with a new war and different dates?
Book Wrangler: Is censorship flourishing in a country that believes in "Freedom of Speech?"

Dialogs of the Dead ________________

Dead Hollywood: The Stars at Rest
Phillip Raines: Cemeteries as Method

Local Photography ________________

Unchanging Los Angeles: Service on Sawtelle Boulevard
Botanicals: Rhyming With Purple
Links and Recommendations: New Photo Album - The Stars at Rest

__

Note to European Readers: This issue was a few hours late, and I know some of you visit the site on Sunday morning over there. Sorry, but as the new issue was compiling in the middle of the night out here in Los Angeles, unattended (everyone needs sleep), the computer here decided to reboot itself - probably a brief power outage. This wiped out the site index, so the interconnections among all 1,125 pages had to be regenerated, an automated process, but a time-consuming one. Everything was reestablished by six in the morning out here - but that's three in the afternoon in Paris. Oops.

One of the pictures this week in Botanicals -


Posted by Alan at 18:09 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 25 September 2005 18:10 PDT home

Saturday, 24 September 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Lists: The 'Worst of All Time' Idea

Reacting to the list of this-just-couldn't-be-so items in A Meme Snowballs, chronicling the events that seem to show the Bush administration falling apart at the seams (or at the "seems"), Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, suggests it's time for Just Above Sunset exclusive. He suggests this press release:
Hollywood - Former everything, pipe-smoking, cozy-cat guardian, publisher of internationally renowned political sarcasm, Alan Pavlik announces poll survey to discover the 'Worst American of All Time.'

"I don't know who it is, but the time seems right to find out," Pavlik said in the world headquarters of Just Above Sunset - or JAS for short - just as he was leaving to cover the political implications of the annual Malibu longboard surfing championships.

"All JAS bureaus are working on 'Worst of All Time' and there will be international feedback to reinforce American perceptions," he said, adding, "It will be tough race. Many want to be the historic worst."
Well, perhaps we won't go that far, as JAS does not have the resources of AOL and the Discovery Channel for such a contest. But it's an idea. (As for international renown, that is curious as there were an awful lot of unique logons in the last eight days from servers at idi.ntnu.no - the Norwegian University of Science and Technology - the Gløshaugen campus in Trondheim, Norway. Why?)

Anyway, one could start to work out list of folks who could be nominees. Over at Daily Kos, the proprietor, Kos himself, suggests top Republicans, as he points out The trifecta is complete - the Republican leadership in the Senate, House and White House are ALL officially under investigation.

He cites this on senate leader Frist:
The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating stock sales made by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist in HCA Inc. shortly before the Nashville, Tenn.-based company warned it wouldn't meet its previous second-quarter earnings forecast.

Mr. Frist, a Tennessee Republican and a potential presidential candidate in 2008, sold all his stock in HCA about two weeks before the company's share price plunged. News of the stock sales surfaced in news reports earlier this week. The company was founded as Hospital Corp. of America in 1968 by Mr. Frist's father, Thomas Frist, his older brother Thomas Frist Jr., and Jack Massey, who had made millions as the owner of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The SEC is looking into whether Mr. Frist had any inside knowledge of problems at the company that prompted his sales, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
What this about Kentucky Fried Chicken? Well, Kos posted that before the Associated Press on Saturday, September 24, reminded folks of a few more things:
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., was updated several times about his investments in blind trusts during 2002, the last time two weeks before he publicly denied any knowledge of what was in the accounts, documents show.

... Frist, asked in a television interview in January 2003 whether he should sell his HCA stock, responded: "Well, I think really for our viewers it should be understood that I put this into a blind trust. So as far as I know, I own no HCA stock"

Frist, referring to his trust and those of his family, also said in the interview, "I have no control. It is illegal right now for me to know what the composition of those trusts are. So I have no idea."
But he called the trustee tell him to dump the stock he didn't know he had, just before the earnings report came out and the stock price sank like a rock? Well, it's just securities fraud, insider trading stuff. Only Martha Stewart goes to jail for such things. He doesn't make the "worst" list, although one might give him honorable mention for what he said on the floor of the senate a few months ago - reminding everyone that he was a doctor he said he watched an hour of heavily edited videotape of Terri Schiavo and he was certain that all the other doctors and the courts were wrong and she wasn't in a persistent vegetative state at all, and the federal government should rescue her in some way. Big federal crisis - Bush dropped everything and flew back from Texas on a Saturday night to deal with it (the woman's name was Terri, not Katrina). Everyone knows the story and what the autopsy showed. Frist is not the worst, just a little confused with the rules and the truth.

And Karl Rove, over at the White House? The Washington Post notes this:
Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff bragged two years ago that he was in contact with White House political aide Karl Rove on behalf of a large, Bermuda-based corporation that wanted to avoid incurring some taxes and continue receiving federal contracts, according to a written statement by President Bush's nominee to be deputy attorney general.

Timothy E. Flanigan, general counsel for conglomerate Tyco International Ltd., said in a statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week that Abramoff's lobbying firm initially boasted that Abramoff could help Tyco fend off a special liability tax because he "had good relationships with members of Congress," including House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.).

Abramoff later said "he had contact with Mr. Karl Rove" about the issue, according to the statement by Flanigan, who oversaw Tyco's dealings with Abramoff and his firm and received reports from Abramoff about progress in the lobbying campaign. Flanigan's statement is the latest indication that Abramoff promoted himself as having ready access to senior officials in the Bush administration.
Okay, the man may have, or may not have revealed the name of a covert CIA agent to six press people, and Robert Novak may have published it, and it may have published it and out her and her contact in danger and ruining years of intelligence work, just to get back at the woman's husband for embarrassing Bush - but none of the has been officially established. And is mentioned in the other item, the whole thing could be the work of John Bolton, our current UN ambassador. No one knows. This stuff in the Post just shows a man who helps big donors to the Republican party how to get out of paying any taxes if they incorporate offshore and steers big federal contracts their way. Standard stuff. Goes on in all governments. You expect such things. But Rove might be a nominee for other matters, long in the past - political dirty tricks. Ask John McCain, or ask his illegitimate back child by the cocaine addict that cost him the South Carolina primary six years ago, or ask Max Cleland, who somehow for a time was a supporter of the Islamic fundamentalists who want to kills us all. Rove might do.

Tom DeLay - the house Republican leader? Just the latest:
A grand jury in Texas indicted yesterday a state political action committee organized by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) for accepting $120,000 in allegedly illegal corporate campaign contributions shortly before and after the 2002 elections that helped Republicans cement their control of the House of Representatives.
The man is ethically challenged. Does he go on "the worst" list? Maybe, but he wouldn't win.

Do we pick on Michael Brown, who resigned as head of FEMA? Old news. Do we pick on the new acting head of, the man who told us to be safe we should buy lots of duct tape and plastic sheeting? (Good comment here.) Nope. Too easy.

And why did the head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just resign? The Associated Press item here:
Embattled Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Lester Crawford abruptly resigned Friday, telling his staff that at age 67 it was time to step aside.

President Bush designated the National Cancer Institute's director, Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, to be the FDA's new acting commissioner.

Crawford's resignation came just two months after the Senate, in a long-delayed move, elevated the longtime agency deputy and acting commissioner to the top job.

His three-year tenure at FDA was marked by increasing criticism and a particularly rocky final 12 months. The painkiller Vioxx was pulled off the market for safety problems, FDA was embarrassed last fall when its British counterparts shut down a supplier of U.S. flu vaccine for tainted shots, and over the summer recalls of malfunctioning heart devices mounted.

Finally, last month, morale at the agency plummeted when Crawford indefinitely postponed nonprescription sales of emergency contraception over the objections of staff scientists who had declared the pill safe. The FDA's women's health chief resigned in protest.
Yeah, and the administration appointed a veterinarian to take her place. But folks who leave don't make the list.

Maybe contest will have to wait to see how this works out - Time Magazine, Friday evening, September 23 opens a new, long article with this -
The U.S. Army has launched a criminal investigation into new allegations of serious prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan made by a decorated former Captain in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, an Army spokesman has confirmed to TIME. The claims of the Captain, who has not been named, are in part corroborated by statements of two sergeants who served with him in the 82nd Airborne; the allegations form the basis of a report from Human Rights Watch obtained by TIME and due to be released in the next few days (Since this story first went online, the organization has decided to put out its report; it can be found here). Senate sources tell TIME that the Captain has also reported his charges to three senior Republican senators: Majority Leader Bill Frist, Armed Services Committee chairman John Warner and John McCain, a former torture victim in Vietnam. A Senate Republican staffer familiar with both the Captain and his allegations told TIME he appeared "extremely credible."
Well, the chickens are coming home to roost. This seems systematic, and approved. Someone approved it, or at the least, allowed it. It might be time to see who did, and at what level. We may get a candidate for "worst" after all. The president's abandonment of the legal ban on inhumane treatment of military detainees is the problem? Maybe so.

On the other hand, of this "Worst of All Time" contest is a matter of popular vote, there's this discussion of this story - about the vastly popular website where folks trade amateur, homemade hard pornography for photos sent by our guys in Iraq of the maimed and tortured and dead bodies of the locals over there. If these people vote too then all bets are off. To them, the Time scoop might elicit only one response. "So?" The casual torture of prisoners held by their unit was routine, well known at "varying levels of command," and directed by military intelligence personnel. "And your point is?"

To agree on what's "worst" one must agree on what the right thing to do is. This could be a problem. Well, the Army has started up a high-level criminal investigation. They'll let us know if they find themselves at fault for anything.

Meanwhile, not back at the ranch, the Washington Post on its front page on Saturday, September 24, says the president senses that things aren't going well and everyone is trying to help him regain his swagger.

Really. Honest.

That's why he's at Northern Command at Cheyenne Mountain (used to be NORAD), under miles of protective rock, at that old cold-war nerve center where we would have tracked incoming nukes from the USSR, should that have happened. But the Post says this:
[A] growing number of Republicans inside and out of the White House have noticed an administration less sure-footed and slower to react to the political environment surrounding them.

A top Republican close to the White House since the earliest days said the absence of a "reelection target" and pressure from first lady Laura Bush and others to soften his second-term tone conspired to temper Bush's swagger well before Katrina hit. "A reelection campaign was always the driving principle to force them to get things together," said the GOP operative, who would speak candidly about Bush only if his name was not used. He said the "brilliance of this team" was always overstated. "Part of the reason they looked so good is Democrats were so discombobulated." Since the election, this official said, White House aides reported that Laura Bush was among those counseling Bush to change his cowboy image during the final four years.

William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, said the psychological turnabout started with the failed Social Security campaign, billed as the number one domestic priority six months ago. "The negative effect of the Social Security [campaign] is underestimated," Kristol said. "Once you make that kind of mistake, people tend to be less deferential to your decisions." This coincided with a growing number of Republicans losing faith in Bush's war plan, as Republicans such as Sens. Chuck Hagel (Neb.) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) openly questioned the president's strategy.

In a series of private conversations over the past few months, aides began second-guessing how they handled the Social Security debate, managed the public perception of the Iraq war and, most recently, the response to Katrina. The federal CIA leak investigation, which has forced Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove and others to testify before a grand jury, seemed to distract officials and left a general feeling of unease, two aides said. Aides were calling reporters to find out what was happening with Rove and the investigation. "Nobody knows what's going to happen with the probe," one senior aide said.
His wife is on his case. William Kristol, of all people, is on his case. His people are saying, not for attribution, that he never was that smart.

Ouch.

Note this comment:
Hell, the press is making Bush out to be a cartoon character who needs to go to a military base to regain his image, while top Republicans are openly blaming Laura Bush for neutering her husband. To top it off, and as we have been saying for awhile now, this same top Republican says that team around Bush was never really that good to begin with; they only appeared good because the Democrats were so worthless.

Bigfooter Kristol now says what we knew months ago: if you could stop Bush on Social Security, and were able to mix that with growing unease over Iraq, then his first term signature event and his second term priority would both drag him down. Add to that the uncertainty over Plame, and what you get is the typical second term banana peel.

And now it's happened. It must be fun around the house now, with a top Republican saying openly that Laura's got Bush's balls in her pocket. If Skippy wasn't drinking before, he is now.
And even that has been in the press, although if you click on the link you might consider the source -
Family sources have told how the 59-year-old president was caught by First Lady Laura downing a shot of booze at their family ranch in Crawford, Texas, when he learned of the hurricane disaster.

His worried wife yelled at him: "Stop, George."
Whatever.

I did send this along to my friends, a bit of history. Take yourself back to late eighteenth century England. King George the Third, the man who "lost" the colonies in America:
"It was a sad day for the British Empire when King George became its political master. He was a man of narrow intellect, and lacked every element of the greatness of statesmanship. 'He had a smaller mind,' says the British historian, [Peter] Green, 'than any English king before him save James II.' He showered favors on his obsequious followers, while men of independent character whom he could not bend to his will became the objects of his hatred."
Sounds familiar. That George, our George - either be a nominee for this hypothetical list.

Send suggestions.


Posted by Alan at 13:41 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 24 September 2005 13:52 PDT home

Friday, 23 September 2005

Topic: Photos

Dead Hollywood: The Stars at Rest

Just posted a new photo album - Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park - Glendon Avenue, just off Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood, not far from UCLA - a hidden, tiny place covering about a city block. The final resting place of Marilyn Monroe, Donna Reed, Dean Martin, Natalie Wood, Roy Orbison, Carroll O'Connor, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Peggy Lee, Mel Tormé, Peggy Lee, George C. Scott, Burt Lancaster, Eve Arden, Eva Gabor and even Truman Capote. Frank Zappa's grave is unmarked - number 100, and few yards to the west of Roy Orbison and right next to Lew Ayres. A lot of the big name stars were cremated here with a service, like Janis Joplin. Gene Kelly too, but his ashes aren't here. Get all the details about the place here.

Friday, September 23, 2005 - early morning, deep fog off the Pacific - a minor tour of the place.

The place everyone looks for first -





























Posted by Alan at 18:14 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Thursday, 22 September 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Momentum: A Meme Snowballs

In last Sunday's "Meme Watch" - Chasing the Zeitgeist - it seemed the current meme that had started making its way through the nation's discourse was that we were seeing "The End of the Bush Era," most openly stated by E. J. Dionne in the Washington Post on September 13th here. Other folks have picked it up since - it's all over the place - and the latest mainstream iteration can be found in Bob Herbert's column in the New York Times on September 22nd - Voters' Remorse On Bush. Herbert is always clear and earnest, and late.

[Note: Monday, September 19, the New York Times and its European sister publication, the International Herald Tribune, put all of the columnists who write for them behind a "wall." If you want to read them or quote them it will cost you around fifty dollars a year. You can see this as an attempt to recoup the cost of publishing a major newspaper. Editor and Publisher on September 20th carried this: "The New York Times Co. announced a staggering staff reduction plan Tuesday that will likely mean some 500 job loses at the company's many properties, including an expected 45 newsroom positions at The New York Times newspaper and 35 at The Boston Globe." Many subsequent stories add detail. The Herbert column noted is from a secondary source here. Herbert is quoted here as allowed by the fair use doctrine.]

Herbert's take on the new meme? The public is "beginning to see through the toxic fog of fantasy, propaganda and deliberate misrepresentation that has been such a hallmark of the George W. Bush administration, which is in danger of being judged by history as one of the worst of all time."

He reviews how things have been going for the Bush team and concludes, "Reality is caving in on a president who was held aloft for so long by a combination of ideological mumbo-jumbo, the public relations legerdemain of Karl Rove and the buoyant patriotism that followed the Sept. 11 attacks. The Bush people were never big on reality, so sooner or later they were bound to be blindsided by it." The idea is Americans are finally catching onto is "the utter incompetence of this crowd" and that there is a general sense now that things are falling apart.

He says this is what happens "when voters choose a president because he seems like a nice guy, like someone who'd be fun at a barbecue or a ballgame." And agreed, you'd never use that criterion "when choosing a surgeon, or a pilot to fly your family across the country."

No kidding.

So how widespread is this?

Robert Novak, the rightist of the right, who seems to have helped out that CIA agent to punish her husband for embarrassing Bush, on Thursday, September 22nd in the compendium of pro-Bush conservative opinion, Townhall, notes this:
For two full days, George W. Bush was bashed. He was taken to task on his handling of stem cell research, population control, the Iraq war and, especially, Hurricane Katrina. The critics were no left-wing bloggers. They were rich, mainly Republican and presumably Bush voters in the last two presidential elections.

The Bush-bashing occurred last weekend at the annual Aspen conference sponsored by the New York investment firm Forstmann Little & Co.

... Longtime participants in Forstmann Little conferences ... told me they had not experienced such hostility against a Republican president at previous events. Yet, they were sure a majority of the guests had voted for Bush.

... U.S. News & World Report disclosed this week, with apparent disdain, that presidential adviser Karl Rove took time off from the Katrina relief effort to be at Aspen. He was needed as a counterweight. I settled in for serious fireworks, expecting Bush-bashers to assault his alter ego at the conference's final session. However, direct confrontation with a senior aide must have been more difficult than a remote attack on the president. It would be a shame if Rove returned to Washington without informing George W. Bush how erstwhile friends have turned against him.
The idea that "it's over" has spread wider than anyone guess.

Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly:
Have they really turned against him? Or are they just letting off steam? I'd like to believe it's the former, but my gut tells me it's probably the latter.

I wonder how Republican fundraising is going right now?
Not well.

Thursday, September 22nd in Bloomberg News there's this from Jonathan Salant - Abramoff Probe May Threaten Leading Republicans as It Expands -
The widening investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff is moving beyond the confines of tawdry influence-peddling to threaten leading figures in the Republican hierarchy that dominates Washington.

This week's arrest of David Safavian, the former head of procurement at the Office of Management and Budget, in connection with a land deal involving Abramoff brings the probe to the White House for the first time. [Mentioned Monday in these pages here.]

Safavian once worked with Abramoff at one lobbying firm and was a partner of Grover Norquist, a national Republican strategist with close ties to the White House, at another. Safavian traveled to Scotland in 2002 with Abramoff, Representative Robert Ney of Ohio and another top Republican organizer, Ralph Reed, southeast regional head of President George W. Bush's 2004 re-election campaign.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who once called Abramoff "one of my closest and dearest friends,'' already figures prominently in the investigation of the lobbyist's links to Republicans. The probe may singe other lawmakers with ties to Abramoff, such as Republican Senator Conrad Burns of Montana, as well as Ney.
This is serious stuff, and if you're interested in detail, click on the link for paragraph after paragraph after paragraph of detail. And by the way, Safavian was one of three former Abramoff associates who joined the Bush administration. Another was Patrick Pizzella, assistant secretary of labor for administration and management. The third was Susan Ralston, special assistant to White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove. If you know the right people at the White House and ask about her, she's been reassigned - she now works for Rove "in a different capacity."

Note this from the Washington Post, Friday, September 23rd: "Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff bragged two years ago that he was in contact with White House political aide Karl Rove on behalf of a large, Bermuda-based corporation that wanted to avoid incurring some taxes and continue receiving federal contracts, according to a written statement by President Bush's nominee to be deputy attorney general."

And note this form a UCLA professor of public policy:
The linchpin seems to be Grover Norquist, whose Islamist sympathies - whether genuine or mercenary - have been an ill-kept secret.

... Rove was the acknowledged Grand Vizier of the Bushite Caliphate, Norquist, thorough the agency of Rove's assistant Susan Ralston, was able to determine which lobbyists could, and which could not, get through to the Boy Genius.
The lobbyist for this Islamic madmen had his girl in place as the gatekeeper to make sure Bush heard what he was supposed the hear? Read it if you wish. It's a bit wild.

But it's not any wilder than the idea John Bolton, our new UN ambassador - there by a recess appointment because the senate wouldn't confirm him - will be indicted as the one who actually orchestrated outing the CIA agent because her husband embarrassed Bush with the truth. The logic is there. The act fits what people say about his personality. We'll see.

As everyone has heard, Republican Senate leader Bill Frist seems to have secretly dumped somewhere between seven and thirty-five million dollars of his stock in HCA, the hospital chain his father founded, just before the stock dropped like a rock. Sold all his shares, all his wife's shares, all his children's shares. So did most of the senior management, a few weeks before a surprise earnings report that they we're making a whole lot less money than they had been saying previously. It was in a blind trust. Doesn't that mean he doesn't get to decide? What about insider trading rules? What about Martha Stewart? She landed in jail for such things. He explains himself here - he was just getting rid of a conflict of interest millstone he had carried around. He wanted to be able to vote on healthcare issues with anyone asking questions.

Now they're asking questions about timing here. He could have sold the stock long ago. Guess he was lucky to get around to doing it that particular week. Just a coincidence.

Those of us who have worked in hospital finance do remember that five years ago HCA pleaded guilty to fourteen criminal counts - they'd been filing fraudulent Medicare reports and paying doctors kickbacks for referrals. That finally cost them nearly two billion in fines and penalties. I myself have worked with large hospital accounting systems - I led teams of systems people programming and maintaining them. Such things do not happen by accident. And this does sound like the man licked a lucky day to dump all his stock in HCA.

People are noticing such things now, more widely than before.

And this. Wednesday 21 September the Federal Trade Commission announced they were opening a probe investigating whether gasoline price profiteering has occurred and if oil companies have constrained refinery capacity to manipulate fuel prices, an agency official said Wednesday. Who in charge of that? The head of the FTC he appointed last year - former top ChevronTexaco lawyer, Deborah Majoras.

Folks are beginning to notice such things. Teapot Dome crap.

Then there's just you run-of-the-mill bungling. Thursday, September 22nd this only gets page A23 in the Washington Post -
The Pentagon has no accurate knowledge of the cost of military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan or the fight against terrorism, limiting Congress's ability to oversee spending, the Government Accountability Office concluded in a report released yesterday.

The Defense Department has reported spending $191 billion to fight terrorism from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks through May 2005, with the annual sum ballooning from $11 billion in fiscal 2002 to a projected $71 billion in fiscal 2005. But the GAO investigation found many inaccuracies totaling billions of dollars.

"Neither DOD nor Congress can reliably know how much the war is costing and details of how appropriated funds are being spent," the report to Congress stated. The GAO said the problem is rooted in long-standing weaknesses in the Pentagon's outmoded financial management system, which is designed to handle small-scale contingencies.

The report said the Pentagon overstated the cost of mobilized Army reservists in fiscal 2004 by as much as $2.1 billion. Because the Army lacked a reliable process to identify the military personnel costs, it plugged in numbers to match the available budget, the report stated. "Effectively, the Army was reporting back to Congress exactly what it had appropriated," the report said.

The probe also found "inadvertent double accounting" by the Navy and Marine Corps from November 2004 to April 2005 amounting to almost $1.8 billion.
That gives you a lot of confidence. Those two years with the systems shop at the locomotive plant in Canada? This stuff would get you fired. GM would have tossed us out the door. All those forty-two hospitals in three states running Infinium and SMS Med-Series IV and HBOC Star? The software there was in the realm of "outmoded financial management systems." But we had to balance the books. The basic stuff matters.

This is the MBA president? These guys will responsibly fund the reconstruction of New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities? And now maybe southeast Texas? Great.

And why even follow this story?
The Pentagon said today that it had blocked a group of military officers and intelligence analysts from testifying at an open Congressional hearing about a highly classified military intelligence program that, the officers have said, identified a ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks as a potential terrorist more than a year before the attacks?

The announcement came a day before the officers and intelligence analysts had been scheduled to testify about the program, known as Able Danger, at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
This ticked off the Republican senator -
The Republican chairman of the Senate judiciary committee accused the Pentagon on Wednesday of stonewalling an inquiry into claims that the U.S. military identified four September 11 hijackers more than a year before the 2001 attacks?

The Defense Department barred several witnesses from testifying at a judiciary committee hearing and instead sent a top-level official who could provide little information on al Qaeda-related intelligence uncovered by a secret military team code-named Able Danger.

"That looks to me like it may be obstruction of the committee's activities, something we will have to determine," said the panel's chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter.
Who cares about 9/11 any longer? So we knew who the bad guys were two years before the event. Like it matters now?

What matters now? Well, how about the new FBI squad to go after pornography by adults and for adults? In addition, this is now "one of the top priorities" of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Along with the FBI's anti-porn squad, he's created an Obscenity Prosecution Task Force, a brand new part of the Justice Department. It takes prosecutors currently working on organized crime and racketeering, money laundering and computer crime cases and shifts them to this War on Porn. The Post link quotes an experienced national security analyst who calls the culture war initiative "a running joke for us." The Daily Business Review here says high-level Justice Department report prosecutors are being assigned porn cases "over their objections." The Family Research Council said it gave them "a growing sense of confidence in our new attorney general." Arianna Huffington is all over the story here, but she's Greek, isn't she?

Aren't there more important things? Isn't there a free speech issue involved here that has come up before? James Joyce's novel in Boston long ago - that sort of thing? But maybe it does matter to almost all Americans, more than the war or the dead floating in the streets of New Orleans or the economy tanking or anything else. They have the president's ear, and they're courted by Karl Rove. I'm not.

Now I try to like Dan Abrams at MSNBC, the lawyer with the degree from Duke Law School. I did my graduate work at Duke, and the law school is pretty good - heck, it turned out both Richard Nixon and Angela Davis. But the Abrams show is really irritating. It's him. He's a smart-ass. (But perhaps all of us Duke graduate folk turned out that way.) On the other hand, he's clear about these now efforts against porn here:
It sure seems like Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is campaigning for a job on the U.S. Supreme Court. You see many on the far right have already announced they won't support him for fear he is not conservative enough on abortion and affirmative action.

Well surprise, surprise. In Tuesday's Washington Post we learn that Gonzales has decided the FBI will make pornography one of its top federal priorities - not child pornography, not violent pornography, just regular smut.

The justification? Pornography, even when viewed by mature, consenting adults, threatens families and children. Okay, maybe.

But that means the precious resources of the FBI are going to this instead of recruiting for, let's say, the terror task force.

No one is saying that terrorism isn't going to remain the FBI's top priority or that Gonzales considers combating pornography on par with combating al Qaeda. But what about other national crime concerns like cyber-crime, identity theft and corruption? I would rather expand other units rather than add 10 agents to make sure Ron Jeremy can't do anything else arguably inhuman.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the war in Iraq, you would think Congress would have other priorities for our already-strained budget.

The Supreme Court recognizes it's often tough to distinguish legal pornography from obscenity. So making that distinction will now be a national priority? Come on. This is not the best use of resources in an effort to save American families.
Yeah, and if more in the mainstream start asking "What's up with THAT?" - then maybe something sensible will happen.

But don't count on it. Religion is what matters now, as in this:
The House voted Thursday to let Head Start centers consider religion when hiring workers, overshadowing its moves to strengthen the preschool program's academics and finances.

The Republican-led House approved a bill that lets churches and other faith-based preschool centers hire only people who share their religion, yet still receive federal tax dollars.

Democrats blasted that idea as discriminatory.
Ah, don't let the godless heathens near the preschoolers. Whatever.

All this stuff!

Normally these sorts of things are only noted by those who fume on the internet. But note, the meme that "it's over" depends on regular folks noticing this stuff and talking about it. And they are.

Posted by Alan at 22:56 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 22 September 2005 23:47 PDT home

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