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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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Tuesday, 22 November 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Resolving Dissonance: Major and Minor Illustrations

Enough of the congressman from the squat mountains east of Pittsburgh (Johnstown and that area) saying it's time for an orderly but rather rapid withdrawal of our troops from Iraq, as they've done as much as they can do, and keeping them there is making many things worse. The firestorm raging from that proposal last week goes on and on, and sucks in other issues - whether we were conned into this war and all the rest. There's been a good deal of name-calling as to who's a coward and who's not, and who's delusional about what we have achieved, and can reasonably achieve, and who's not.

All that may settle down into an orderly discussion of what we should do now and why we should do this or that, carefully balancing risk and opportunity, considering our short-term and long-term strategic aims, considering what is likely to happen when we're gone from there, considering what staying indefinitely or leaving soon would mean in geopolitical terms about our influence in the world (our power to bring others into approving of or even joining in our actions), and what that would do to our military capabilities, now stretched thin - but you wouldn't bet the rent money on such a discussion developing.

Too many have too much emotionally invested in this, one way or the other, to step back and think about all the complex implications of what we do now, so dispassionate and detailed analysis is almost impossible - and politicians facing the 2006 mid-term elections know that the dramatic posturing they do now can make the difference between staying in office and going back to writing wills and reviewing minor business contracts at the local law office.

But Tuesday, November 22nd things got even more complicated with the results of that conference in Cairo - Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish lawmakers, as well as leading Sunni politicians, agreeing on a few things.

From the Associated Press account (Salah Nasrawi) here -
Leaders of Iraq's sharply divided Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis called Monday for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces in the country and said Iraq's opposition had a "legitimate right'' of resistance.

The final communiqué, hammered out at the end of three days of negotiations at a preparatory reconciliation conference under the auspices of the Arab League, condemned terrorism, but was a clear acknowledgment of the Sunni position that insurgents should not be labeled as terrorists if their operations do not target innocent civilians or institutions designed to provide for the welfare of Iraqi citizens.

The participants in Cairo agreed on "calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops according to a timetable, through putting in place an immediate national program to rebuild the armed forces ... control the borders and the security situation'' and end terror attacks.
The Bush-Cheney admistration has argued with great energy that that last thing we should have is any kind of timetable for withdrawal. That would play into the hands of the bad guys - they'd just wait for us to leave and then do whatever bad guys do, and everything we've fought for would be lost. And here the three key groups we're doing all this for, say no, they do want a timetable.

Now much can be said about this, and much has, but the paternalistic and condescending " trust us, you don't really want that" messages no doubt burning up the diplomatic cable lines from DC to Baghdad after this Cairo pronouncement may make those we helped to power a bit angry. It appears we didn't ask them what they think, so we got blindsided.

The paternalism here is deciding what's best for your little kids - you don't ask them because they're too immature to know what's best for them. That's far beyond insulting when the other folks are just not kids, although fine for your five-year-olds. Oddly, this you-really-don't-know-what's-good-for-you paternalism is the defining characteristic of this administration. One suspects those who don't have much use for this gang, and haven't had since they came to power - a good chunk of the public here and around the world, and almost all other world leaders - are, underneath it all, seething a being told, implicitly, they're all little kids and really should let they grownups take care of things. Oddly, Tony Blair has no problem with it, and being told for years he's "Bush's poodle" seems to make him smile. Ah well.

They shouldn't have said "timetable."

Of course there will be the usual cover-up of the miscue - not everyone seems to be on the same page, as they say - with Washington saying everyone concerned really agrees, really, and this pronouncement is just what the president has been saying all along - "As the Iraqis stand up we stand down." No big deal.

But they had to go and use that word "timetable." One imagines our "from the gut" instinct-driven keep-it-simple my-way-or-the-highway president is well beyond miffed with these folks, but how does he lash out? What can he do?

Buried in the Cairo communiqué is, however, something even more problematic. You saw it. The leaders of the Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis said Iraq's opposition had a "legitimate right" of resistance - "a clear acknowledgment of the Sunni position that insurgents should not be labeled as terrorists if their operations do not target innocent civilians or institutions designed to provide for the welfare of Iraqi citizens."

Think about that. A "legitimate right" of resistance to what? Would that be to our guys on the ground, or are our guys there "to provide for the welfare of Iraqi citizens." The ambiguity is maddening. This can be interpreted as the combined factions saying, "Don't call us terrorists if we exercise our legitimate right to resist the foreign occupiers of our country." What else could it mean?

One view here - "In other words, Iraq's leaders just painted a bullseye on the backs of American soldiers and said they're fair game."

Are there other foreign occupiers? Who else is there to resist but us?

There's a lot of angry comment out there on this, and we'll see how the administration explains this one away. They don't really mean what they say about some "legitimate right of resistance" - it was just something they threw into the mix to mollify the Sunni folks and really shouldn't be taken seriously? That's probably the best approach. Someone will look thoughtful on Fox News and say just that, no doubt. But these guys in Cairo made things harder to explain.

And there was more to explain the same Tuesday. The White House dismissed claims George Bush was talked out of bombing Arab television station al-Jazeera by Tony Blair. What? According to this in the British tabloid Daily Mirror, that's what happened on April 16 last year. We were launching that all-out assault on Fallujah, and al-Jazeera had reporter in there showing the world civilian casualties and such. Bush was angry. Was he kidding about bombing al-Jazeera headquarters in Qatar, one of our close allies in the area and where we have major sating areas? Who knows? There seems to be a memo about this.

Reaction to the Mirror items was intense. It does put the previous "accidental" bombings of Al-Jazeera and the "inadvertent" death of this or that journalist in Iraq in a different light. Maybe Eason Jordon was right. As noted in these pages last February, Eason Jordan resigned his position as CNN's chief news executive - and he had led much of that network's war coverage. It seems that on January 27 in Davos, Switzerland, at The World Economic Forum, in an informal panel discussion, he suggested that US troops had targeted and killed journalists. He immediately back-peddled and said that was what was being said in much of the Arab media, and he didn't know that was so - but the damage was done. Word got around. The same right-wing blogs that claimed to have just brought down Dan Rather sensed blood in the water, Fox News picked it up, and the fellow threw in the towel. And now?

Oh, this is a minor thing. Even if Bush was serious, Blair talked him down. Sometimes the clever child can calm the angry parent before daddy does something bad.

But the major things keep percolating away.

No, not this:
Ten days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush was told in a highly classified briefing that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks and that there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda, according to government records and current and former officials with firsthand knowledge of the matter.
There's lots of detail, and this information was withheld from the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

Is this a "smoking gun" of some sort?

Maybe. The administration was told, flat-out, that line of thinking was wrong - and decided they knew better than the spies in the field and the nerds who monitored satellite traffic and the political analysts and all the rest? This merely explains why Cheney and Rumsfeld set up Douglas Feith's Office of Special Plans - to show that the CIA and Defense Intelligence and the National Reconnaissance Office and State were all wrong - and to have something BETTER for the congress. Some would call it ignoring the facts. Some would call it lying to congress and the public. Some would call it crass manipulation and maybe an impeachable offense. And some would call it patriotic enthusiasm for what had to be done. Take your pick.

The dispute continues.

All that is surface. What lies below is more troubling.

If you have wandered over to the Just Above Sunset page of links to the big-time political web logs, left and right (here - but in need of a few updates), you find a link to a satire site - Patriot Boy - where General JC Christian signs each item "Heterosexually Yours" - the manly man - and tries to rid himself of his "inner Frenchman" and wonders why his little general (and two grenades) won't stand up at attention when called upon. You get the idea. It's political satire at its snarkiest.

But Tuesday the 22nd something happened, as in this -
Forgive me for interrupting, but for the last few hours I've been struggling with a post juxtaposing the Christian right's obsession with sexual morality and theocracy with their lack of concern about torture and murder. I can't finish. It's too painful to address satirically.

I've been in a funk for the last few weeks. I'm absolutely horrified by what my country has become. Corruption has replaced the rule of law. The media has sold its watchdog role for a few pieces of silver and invitations to the ruling class' cocktail parties. The owners in our ownership society are rigging the system to enslave the rest of the population through debt.

Worst of all, where we were once a nation that at least pretended to value human rights, we now celebrate torture and eagerly commit murder in the name of promoting freedom.

America has lost its soul.
Sometimes you just cannot do satire. It's just wrong.

What bothers him is what lots of people have thought about - what Jason Vest reported in the National Journal here -
"If you talk to people who have been tortured, that gives you a pretty good idea not only as to what it does to them, but what it does to the people who do it," he said. "One of my main objections to torture is what it does to the guys who actually inflict the torture. It does bad things. I have talked to a bunch of people who had been tortured who, when they talked to me, would tell me things they had not told their torturers, and I would ask, 'Why didn't you tell that to the guys who were torturing you?' They said that their torturers got so involved that they didn't even bother to ask questions." Ultimately, he said - echoing Gerber's comments - "torture becomes an end unto itself."
That's where we are.

Digby at Hullabaloo adds this -
When Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined the phrase "defining deviancy down" he couldn't ever have dreamed that we would in a few short decades be at a place where torture is no longer considered a taboo. It certainly makes all of his concerns about changes to the nuclear family (and oral sex) seem trivial by comparison. We are now a society that on some official levels has decided that torture is no longer a deviant, unspeakable behavior, but rather a useful tool. It's not hidden. People publicly discuss whether torture is really torture if it features less than "pain equivalent to organ failure." People no longer instinctively recoil at the word - it has become a launching pad for vigorous debate about whether people are deserving of certain universal human rights. It spirals down from there.

... At this rather late stage in life, I'm realizing that the solid America I thought I knew may never have existed. Running very close, under the surface, was a frightened, somewhat hysterical culture that could lose its civilized moorings all at once. I had naively thought that there were some things that Americans would find unthinkable - torture was one of them
And there's this from The Observer (UK) -
Baghdad's Medical Forensic Institute - the mortuary - is a low, modern building reached via a narrow street. Most days it is filled with families of the dead. They come here for two reasons. One group, animated and noisy in grief, comes to collect its dead. The other, however, returns day after day to poke through the new cargoes of corpses ferried in by ambulance, looking for a face or clothes they might recognise. They are the relatives and friends of the 'disappeared', searching for their men. And when the disappeared are finally found, on the streets or in the city's massive rubbish dumps, or in the river, their bodies bear the all-too-telling signs of a savage beating, often with electrical cables, followed by the inevitable bullet to the head.
And there's this from Seymour Hersh -
"Do you remember the right-wing execution squads in El Salvador?" the former high-level intelligence official asked me, referring to the military-led gangs that committed atrocities in the early nineteen-eighties. "We founded them and we financed them," he said. "The objective now is to recruit locals in any area we want. And we aren't going to tell Congress about it." A former military officer, who has knowledge of the Pentagon's commando capabilities, said, "We're going to be riding with the bad boys."
And this from Bill Montgomery -
It's apparent - both from this story and from reports by human rights groups (note the date on that one) -- that the U.S. and U.K. embassies have been aware for some time that Iraq's Ministry of the Interior has been turned into what the old National Guard used to be in El Salvador, or the Presidential Intelligence Unit in Guatemala, or the National Directorate of Investigation in Honduras, which is to say: death squad central.

Truly, to quote Leonard - the psychotic recruit in Full Metal Jacket - we are in a world of shit.
And so we are.

The General also links on the BBC item on just what white phosphorous does to folks, and adds a photo. He says, "Let's not forget to revel in our God-like power to destroy cities with storms of fire and brimstone."

He then says, "I can't bear the thought of my grandson living in the world these bastards are creating. We have to do all we can to defeat them."

Satire is not appropriate.

Yeah, but this has been going on a long time.

We've been here before, with the same cast of characters.

See this from Newsweek last January -
The Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration's battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. ? One military source involved in the Pentagon debate suggests that new offensive operations are needed that would create a fear of aiding the insurgency. "The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists," he said. "From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation."
And so we have. The death squads are back.

That Newsweek item was mentioned in these pages last January here, with the note that this time around we have to make sure we don't end up raping and killing any nuns, as American Catholics do vote. (El Salvador - December 2, 1980 - four American nuns are killed by a death squad in El Salvador - financed and armed by the United States - our key guy for El Salvador at the time was John Negroponte - see CNN here.)

John Negroponte? Montgomery reminds us -
"I'm pleased to announce my decision to nominate Ambassador John Negroponte as Director of National Intelligence ? John brings a unique set of skills to these challenges."

George W. Bush
Nomination Ceremony
February 17, 2005

Among his more recent assignments, Mr. Negroponte was Ambassador to Honduras (1981-85).

U.S. Mission to the United Nations
Biography of John D. Negroponte

The DNI [National Directorate of Investigation] maintained a secret unit - the Honduran Anti-Communist Liberation Army (ELACH), a rightist paramilitary organization which conducted operations against Honduran leftists. According to DELETED, during the period ELACH operated (1980-1984), ELACH's operations included surveillance, kidnappings, interrogation under duress, and execution of prisoners who were Honduran revolutionaries.

CIA Inspector General's Office
Selected Issues Relating to CIA Activities in Honduras in the 1980s
August 27, 1997
And so on and so forth. Same crew. Same results.

John D. Negroponte - US ambassador to the United Nations from September of 2001 until June 2004 and US ambassador to Iraq from June 2004 to April 2005, and now Director of National Intelligence.

Why is "Patriot Boy" surprised?

Posted by Alan at 21:39 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 22 November 2005 21:58 PST home


Topic: Photos

Markers: Signs of Victory

When will we know we've won this war against those who hate our values?

Snapped by someone I know, just a few weeks ago, in Casablanca, Morocco -























Too bad the text is in French.


Posted by Alan at 17:36 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Monday, 21 November 2005

Topic: God and US

Deep Thoughts: Mondays With Murrow

When one no longer commutes to work but leads the life of an obscure minor writer and professional photographer (actually sold a few) in Hollywood, one doesn't often listen to what made creeping along in Los Angeles morning traffic tolerable - National Public Radio's "Morning Edition." There's no way to listen to that in this old Hollywood apartment building, built in the late sixties - the floors and load-bearing walls are poured concrete with reinforcing bar. Only KUSC, the classical music station, seems to be able to push its FM signal through all that, and the oldies station - but how much of the Beach Boys and the Supremes can one take? I never "got" Diana Ross. So mornings are the cable news shows murmuring in the background, reading the paper, and checking the news services and blogs on the net - and lots of black coffee and smoking the pipe.

But it seems you can miss a lot by not driving off into the sunrise each weekday to face the next systems problem and the crew of eager computer folk, listening to NPR so you don't have to think about servers and code and all that stuff before you get there.

What I missed? On April 4th of this NPR started a new Monday series, "This I Believe," and say this is a national project "that invites you to write about the core beliefs that guide your daily life." (No one asked here.)

NPR airs these "personal statements" each Monday on "Morning Edition" and again on the afternoon commute-show, "All Things Considered." And I see by their promo that series producers Dan Gediman and Jay Allison "hope to create a picture of the American spirit in all its rich complexity." Good luck with that.

But the cool thing is "This I Believe" (current version) is based on a fifties radio program of the same name, hosted by Edward R. Murrow. Murrow said his program sought "to point to the common meeting grounds of beliefs, which is the essence of brotherhood and the floor of our civilization." And who spoke on that program? Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller and Harry Truman - and corporate executives, and cab drivers, and scientists, and secretaries.

Jay Allison today - "As in the 1950s, this is a time when belief is dividing the nation and the world. We are not listening well, not understanding each other - we are simply disagreeing, or worse. Working in broadcast communication, there's a responsibility to change that, to cross borders, to encourage some empathy. That possibility is what inspires me about this series."

And these radio essays are going to bring us together?

Well, we are divided. Edward R. Murrow had Joseph McCarthy and all that that fellow stood for - McCarthy was the "us versus them" guy of his day. We have Bill O'Reilly and his new enemies list of people who are bad for America (and don't like him either). O'Reilly says he'll publish that soon. Americans will KNOW who the bad guys are. Joseph McCarthy shouted out "I have a list!" - Bill's doing the same.

NPR has its work cut out here. We are divided. O'Reilly and the whole Fox News network have mounted a campaign to end the oppression of Christians in this country and save Christmas from the secular overloads. See this for a discussion, or check out the new book by another Fox News anchor - John Gibson's The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought (Sentinel, October 2005). Bill says we need to get back to what the Founder Fathers intended (but ignores that they worked on Christmas Day 1776 and Christmas wasn't a national holiday before 1870).

And then there's that new Harry Potter film -
… no matter how skillfully the story gets told or how selfless, ethical and heroic Harry may be, it's impossible for me to invest myself in a series that glamorizes witchcraft.

… Even those in the "go with it" camp may find their patience tested with Goblet of Fire, the first film to warrant a PG-13 rating. It's extremely grim at times and even features the death of a Hogwarts student. I was amazed at the number of small children seated around me in the theater. At what point will moms and dads who've been saying "yes" to voracious young Potter fans decide that things have gone too far?
Yep witchcraft is a serious problem - always has been.

It's not just the war that divides the country, or social policy (those folks died in New Orleans because they chose to be poor). It's the fundamental stuff, the God stuff, the science stuff, and the sense that there are those who want to understand things and those who have faith and think understanding how things work undermines their chance to meet their savior in the sweet beyond.

It's the big stuff, and this NPR show, independently produced by This I Believe, Inc. in Louisville (that's Gediman and Allison) and Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and supported by the Farmers Insurance Group of Companies, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Righteous Persons Foundation (Santa Monica, of course), may make things worse.

They will make things worse airing this sort of thing - Monday, November 21, 2005, There is No God by Penn Jillette.

You might remember Penn Jillette from his HBO series Bullshit - documentaries on the odd things people believe. It wasn't very nice to Creationists or "life style coaches" and many other folks. But it was funny. He just let them all talk.

Well, his NPR contribution gets right to this point -
I believe that there is no God. I'm beyond Atheism. Atheism is not believing in God. Not believing in God is easy - you can't prove a negative, so there's no work to do. You can't prove that there isn't an elephant inside the trunk of my car. You sure? How about now? Maybe he was just hiding before. Check again. Did I mention that my personal heartfelt definition of the word "elephant" includes mystery, order, goodness, love and a spare tire?

So, anyone with a love for truth outside of herself has to start with no belief in God and then look for evidence of God. She needs to search for some objective evidence of a supernatural power. All the people I write e-mails to often are still stuck at this searching stage. The Atheism part is easy.

But, this "This I Believe" thing seems to demand something more personal, some leap of faith that helps one see life's big picture, some rules to live by. So, I'm saying, "This I believe: I believe there is no God."
And it all flows from that -
Having taken that step, it informs every moment of my life. I'm not greedy. I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it's everything in the world and everything in the world is plenty for me. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more. Just the love of my family that raised me and the family I'm raising now is enough that I don't need heaven. I won the huge genetic lottery and I get joy every day.

Believing there's no God means I can't really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That's good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around.
Who said one cannot be ethical without being deeply religious - it's impossible as religion is the sole source of all concepts of write and wrong? Dennis Praeger? Jillette says that's bullshit. In fact, he says the opposite is true.

And then there's this -
Believing there's no God stops me from being solipsistic. I can read ideas from all different people from all different cultures. Without God, we can agree on reality, and I can keep learning where I'm wrong. We can all keep adjusting, so we can really communicate. I don't travel in circles where people say, "I have faith, I believe this in my heart and nothing you can say or do can shake my faith." That's just a long-winded religious way to say, "shut up," or another two words that the FCC likes less. But all obscenity is less insulting than, "How I was brought up and my imaginary friend means more to me than anything you can ever say or do." So, believing there is no God lets me be proven wrong and that's always fun. It means I'm learning something.
Yes, it is hard to agree on reality - just what is what - when you cannot talk, or more precisely, when it is a given that no matter what one party says the other cannot and will not consider anything about it. How did Swift put it? - "It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into."

And Jillette then turns the "personal responsibility" mantra of the evangelical Christian right on its head. Not believing in God makes you more responsible and forces you to deal with things. As in this -
Believing there is no God means the suffering I've seen in my family, and indeed all the suffering in the world, isn't caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force that isn't bothered to help or is just testing us, but rather something we all may be able to help others with in the future. No God means the possibility of less suffering in the future.
This man is dangerous. He thinks we mere mortals here on earth can fix things - it's not in God's hands.

On the other hand, what he says may be a reply to this NPR segment on "What I Believe" - William F. Buckley, Jr. on May 23, 2005, How Is It Possible to Believe in God?

Buckley doesn't exactly answer the question, but he doesn't answer the question quite elegantly -
I've always liked the exchange featuring the excited young Darwinian at the end of the 19th century. He said grandly to the elderly scholar, "How is it possible to believe in God?" The imperishable answer was, "I find it easier to believe in God than to believe that Hamlet was deduced from the molecular structure of a mutton chop."

That rhetorical bullet has everything - wit and profundity.
You can almost hear Penn Jillette mutter the name of Jillette's old HBO series. Search high and low in everything Darwin wrote and you won't find any reference to Hamlet being the result of some process of natural selection. Darwin does not address why people write really good literature (or bad literature either), nor does he discuss cheeses or glass blowing. The "elderly scholar" just missed the point. But it's good enough for Buckley.

Then there's this -
It has more than once reminded me that skepticism about life and nature is most often expressed by those who take it for granted that belief is an indulgence of the superstitious - indeed their opiate, to quote a historical cosmologist most profoundly dead. Granted, that to look up at the stars comes close to compelling disbelief - how can such a chance arrangement be other than an elaboration - near infinite - of natural impulses? Yes, on the other hand, who is to say that the arrangement of the stars is more easily traceable to nature, than to nature's molder?
Let's unpack that. That "historical cosmologist" (Marx) is dead, so what does he know? Look at all them stars up there! Could be just a natural phenomenon, or could be a big design by God. Assume the latter. Why? Because it feels good to assume the latter? No, just because it's easier.

As in this -
This I believe: that it is intellectually easier to credit a divine intelligence than to submit dumbly to felicitous congeries about nature.
He just doesn't want to "submit" to the other concept - "felicitous congeries" - the idea that you can examine natural phenomena and see how things thing developed - this happened which caused this which cause that and then we got a sky full of stars. Yep, they're pretty, and that is felicitous of course. But empirical science - figuring out what happened from the evidence - here is something he call mere congeries - magic tricks.

I guess we shouldn't have had that Enlightenment.

And maybe I should listen to the radio a bit more.

__

Penn Jillette (on the left) on display in the offices down at the Goodyear Blimp - he took a ride and left a photo -





































Edward R. Murrow on Hollywood Boulevard




Posted by Alan at 18:33 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 21 November 2005 18:40 PST home

Sunday, 20 November 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Big Story Weekend, or the Sunday Funnies

Sunday, November 20, the newspaper of this odd town out here in the west, the Los Angeles Times, has the scoop of the week, if nothing else at all happens this week – and they ran it on the front page, upper right – dateline Berlin (see photo at end) -

THE CURVEBALL SAGA
How U.S. Fell Under the Spell of 'Curveball'
The Iraqi informant's German handlers say they had told U.S. officials that his information was 'not proven,' and were shocked when President Bush and Colin L. Powell used it in key prewar speeches.
Bob Drogin and John Goetz, Special to The Times

Ah yes, the Bush administration publicly repeated information from a source known as Curveball despite warnings from his German handlers that the information was unreliable, as in this:
Five senior officials from Germany's Federal Intelligence Service, or BND, said in interviews with The Times that they warned U.S. intelligence authorities that the source, an Iraqi defector code-named Curveball, never claimed to produce germ weapons and never saw anyone else do so.

According to the Germans, President Bush mischaracterized Curveball's information when he warned before the war that Iraq had at least seven mobile factories brewing biological poisons. Then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell also misstated Curveball's accounts in his prewar presentation to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, the Germans said.

... "This was not substantial evidence," said a senior German intelligence official. "We made clear we could not verify the things he said."

The German authorities, speaking about the case for the first time, also said that their informant suffered from emotional and mental problems. "He is not a stable, psychologically stable guy," said a BND official who supervised the case. "He is not a completely normal person," agreed a BND analyst.

... The senior BND officer who supervised Curveball's case said he was aghast when he watched Powell misstate Curveball's claims as a justification for war.

"We were shocked," the official said. "Mein Gott! We had always told them it was not proven... It was not hard intelligence."
There's a ton of detail in the item, but the whole thing is concrete evidence one key justification for the war, and one key section of what Colin Powell presented to the UN, was bogus, and key players were told it was bogus - and they used it anyway. And it worked. People bought it. Curveball was not first in his class at the technical school, he was last, and he didn't have a big job with the evil people making mobile chemical weapons laboratories on big trucks, but was a minor functionary in another area who heard someone might be thinking about that, and he was fired in 1995 anyway for being a flake, and on and on. He was glad-hander and an alcoholic and full of crap. Even Saddam's bad guys found him useless. We didn't.

There's a storm of controversy over this, beside the obvious comments that we used this useful idiot's yarns because they were useful when we knew they were not based in any kind of reality most people acknowledge. The secondary commentary is all the wonderment that the congress cannot get around to "Phase Two" of their investigation of whether or not intelligence was manipulated before the war, but the Times, out here in the land of movies, pneumatic starlets and smog, can get a small team together, talk to all the key people in various foreign intelligence services, do some digging of their own, and come up with this.

What can the administration say? Everyone thought this guy was giving us the truth? The Germans didn't think that. They told us. The CIA knew better. The DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) knew the guy was hopeless and the information just junk.

Well, this really isn't much of story. It'll sink. What else is new? This is no "smoking gun" or "nail in the coffin." It's supporting evidence for the disgruntled whose kids have died or come home limbless with brain damage. The administration will say was an honest mistake made because they were so worried about us all, or if you follow Jonah Goldberg's line of reasoning, a "noble lie" for a greater good - told on purpose, knowing it was a lie, but to achieve something really important. FDR did the same, saying we'd stay out of WWII when he was getting us in. It's the same thing, or so Jonah says.

It doesn't matter now.

Over at the Washington Post, former senator (and Florida governor) Bob Graham, and former Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, explains that, way back when, he was getting information that the intelligence was questionable - "I, too, presumed the president was being truthful - until a series of events undercut that confidence." So he was saying we were being conned, nicely, in debate after debate - and that this call for taking over Iraq would lead to a war that would undercut "the war against al Qaeda." He didn't do so well with that. The Democrats ran Kerry.

So you couldn't get away with that then. You'd appear some sort of unpatriotic tin-foil hat kind of guy. But you can say it now, in a major newspaper (if you're part of the Graham family that owns the newspaper). It's not news.

Over at Rolling Stone, James Bamford here says the same thing happened with an informant named Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri. This guy said he was a civil engineer who had helped Saddam's merry madmen secretly bury tons of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. But he failed the CIA polygraph test and that sort of thing. He was making it up. We knew it was bull. But what he said was carefully leaked to Judy Miller and the New York Times ran with it. She got her scoop. Hey, you market the product you have, not the product you want.

So? It doesn't matter now.

And the Christian evangelical party that runs the joint now is trying to be a little looser about things. Last week, one of their big thinkers, Charles Krauthammer, here addressed "intelligent design" and told the true believers that science and faith were not incompatible, and maybe this God-did-it stuff might best be left for philosophy classes, or comparative religion or that sort of thing. Newton was a believer, after all - science might be a good thing, and by the way, we could lose some voters if we keep up with this business about the earth being only six thousand years old and the Grand Canyon proof of the Noah flood and all that. The Vatican's astronomer too said last week Darwin was just fine - the Catholic Church had no problem with him at all. The pope hasn't weighed in yet.

Of course, out here a group of students from Christian academies are suing UCLA, actually the whole University of California system. The problem is bias, in particular anti-Christian bias. It's a problem with admissions criteria. The University of California schools won't give them credit for high science courses that say science is wrong - God did it all - so they cannot get in. And they haven't read "ungodly" books so they seem to be a bit short in history and literature. One assumes they're fine in mathematics.

We'll see how that one goes. These are pubic universities, and the argument is such public institutions cannot use a religious test to bar applicants for admission - it's a violation of the first amendment regarding the state not taking sides in religious matters. Interesting.

Anyway, even the president is lightening up. All that talk that anyone who said the pre-war intelligence was in intentionally manipulated would send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will" - it was unpatriotic and close to treason?

Just kidding, as in this -
People should feel comfortable about expressing their opinions about Iraq. I heard somebody say, well, maybe so-and-so is not patriotic because they disagree with my position. I totally reject that thought. This is not an issue of who's patriot [sic] and who's not patriotic. It's an issue of an honest, open debate about the way forward in Iraq.
What happened?

Steve Benen here -
At this risk of sounding ungracious, isn't it a little late in the game for Bush to express tolerance for dissent?

After all, only a week ago it was the president who said criticisms from Democrats "send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will." It was also his White House that issued a formal statement in response to Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), comparing him to Michael Moore - for the Bush gang, a serious insult - and suggesting that Murtha's position purports to "surrender to the terrorists." And it was the Vice President who offered similar rhetoric, lashing out at "a few opportunists" he believes are undermining the troops.

Indeed, at a press conference in Korea last week, a reporter told Bush that Dick Cheney called it "reprehensible" for critics to question how the administration took the country to war, while Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said it's patriotic to ask those kinds of questions. Asked who he thinks is right, Bush said, "The Vice President."

But now the president wants everyone to know that we're having an "honest, open debate" and he "totally rejects" calling others' patriotism into question. Looks like he was for demagogic attacks before he was against them.
Well, perhaps he's been told that when just ordinary people, the bystanders watching all this, see him and Uncle Dick, again and again, say anyone asking questions is unpatriotic and aiding and abetting the enemy in time of war, they're getting the idea that something is wrong here - it looks someone you has something to hide. And bystanders vote. And the administration needs the house and senate in their party's hands after the 2006 mid-term elections, or they cannot get things done their way. There's three more years of ruling America at stake. Better play nice. Bush has got his core thirty-four percent. Time to be a good guy for the bystanders, those middle people.

And it's time to be nice on another front. With a close family member serving in Baghdad, I know the default position in that environment of hope and danger, intense idealism and boredom, wanting to be home and wanting to stay and do the job honorably and right, is pro-war and pro-administration. Of course.

But then there's this guy "Stryker," also over there in the thick of things, who on this blog Digital Warfighter says this of Bush and the Republicans -
I have never seen a Party so full of shit when it comes to supporting the military. They fight wars on the cheap and get people killed unnecessarily, instead of fighting with everything we've got under a coherent and cohesive strategy that ensures military victory. They let domestic politics trump military necessity, preferring to lie and shift the blame rather than address the problems and solve them like real men. They care about image rather than substance, empty rhetoric instead of courage, mediocrity instead of excellence, and Machiavellian maneuvering instead of strong moral character. They have demonstrated nothing but contempt for us and for those that have served honorably in the past. They play us for suckers and weep crocodile tears at our deaths as their stock values rise. They are strangers to integrity and completely bereft of the basic values that we hold dear. They are without honor. They can go to hell.

If this is what Republicans mean by 'supporting the troops,' then they can by all means support the insurgents. We'd have a free and democratic Iraq by the end of the year.
The man is pro-war, and he's there. And he's unhappy.

Is his position so far from those who are calling Bush out here?

Even those of the left know war is sometimes necessary, but you do your best to know when it is and when it is not. And you don't trick people into supporting it - you lay it all out, all of it, and discuss it. And if war, then, damn it, you do it right, and you don't screw the people who stand up and do the job for us all.

There's a big and odd middle here who are not happy - folks from left and right who just don't like being kept in the dark, and want some say in what happens and not be told to keep quiet. That was the whole idea back in the 1770's, wasn't it? Remember some folks met in Philadelphia, there was this war with the Brits, we put some basic rules and such on paper and agreed some things were fundamental to how we'd get along?

What happened? It doesn't matter now?

__

Footnote:

About the Los Angeles Times posting a feature story from Berlin - it's not so odd. On the long trail from the Griffith Park Observatory, high over Hollywood, across the hills to the Hollywood sign, this is just up the hill from the observatory.


Posted by Alan at 21:06 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 20 November 2005 21:10 PST home


Topic: Making Use of History

This Day in History

Sunday, November 20, 2005, would have been Bobby Kennedy's eightieth birthday, or so I see here - a discussion of who he was and what he was doing, and what it all meant. I remember the sixties.

What stuck me was this excerpt from a speech the younger Kennedy made in Cleveland -
For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions, indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor; this poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man's spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all. I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies - to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look on our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear - only a common desire to retreat from each other - only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this there are no final answers. Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is not what program to enact. The question is whether we can find in our midst and in our own hearts that leadership of human purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all. We must admit in ourselves that our own children's future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled nor enriched by hatred or revenge. Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land.
Well, he got shot, but be that as it may, one wonders who in the political realm is saying such things today.

Heck, with the most important leader of the Christian evangelicals, Pat Robertson, last month calling for our government to assassinate the elected leader of Venezuela, we have the State Church, so to speak, arguing disagreement should be met with force. They call themselves soldiers for Christ - some of them bomb abortion clinics and assassinate doctors, to save the "lives" of the yet-to-be-born.

But Robertson was not elected to any office. So he doesn't count.

As for the meeting this difficult world "not with cooperation but with conquest," and seeing others as those "to be subjugated and mastered," those we have elected to office say we are not doing that sort of thing at all. We just occupy Iraq - going on two and a half years now - telling them their oppressor is gone and they should run their place the way we say, because it's the best way to run things - secular and free-market and privatized for the maximum influence of large corporations. Everyone knows that, right? How can they be so dumb? Why are they resisting?

As for how the administration gets its way, well, "when you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family," well, that works. You stay in power.

I posted this on 28 May 2003 - and stand by it -
Do you remember the clear-headed, no-bullshit, let's-be-fair liberals of yesterday? Bobby Kennedy in that last run just laying it all out - hey, some stuff is wrong here and why don't we think it through, fix it and make things better? Well, Bobby got shot. Martin Luther King doing the same thing. Well, he got shot a few months earlier than Bobby. Of course, to be fair, George Wallace got shot too. Lots of people got shot.

But the point is that those optimistic "why don't we fix it and make things better" kinds of guys are nowhere to be found these days. What you'll see on Bush campaign stickers in the 2004 election? You know - variations on "Just Do It" or "Money Talks, Bullshit Walks" or "Get In, Sit Down, Shut Up, And Hold On" - and of course that quote from Marge Simpson - "We can stand here like the French, or we can do something about it." The other side, the Democrats, will have bumper stickers asking if we all can't just get along.

No Democrat will win anything by whining about the smirking frat boy or by fretting about some British essayist hating cheeseburgers and everything American. To win the Democrats would have to field an opponent with a sense of humor, some brains, and a lot of optimism, someone who listens to what is being said, and is willing to say - "Hey, some stuff is wrong here and why don't we think it through, fix it and make things better?"

It does not seem like that is going to happen. And if it did, he or she would get shot.
How are things different now?

Well, on the Kennedy birthday you could see Senator Joseph Biden on Fox News, talking about a possible filibuster of the Alito nomination, and Fox anchor Chris Wallace, Mike Wallace's son, wishing Joe a happy birthday. Same day? Same party? Yep. But we're living in diminished times.

Also I see here, oddly enough, that Sunday, November 20, 2005, is the sixtieth anniversary of the International Military Tribunal (IMT) trials staring up in Nürnberg, Germany. There are a few links there to jog your memory, and the comment that, although we helped create the International Military Tribunal, we now don't want anything to do with the International Criminal Court.

All these decades later... the world has changed. So have we.

Posted by Alan at 16:43 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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