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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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Sunday, 11 December 2005

Topic: Breaking News

Teeing Up the Week - Which of these news stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Keith Olbermann has this daily news show on MSNBC, Countdown, that always opens with the question, "Which of these news stories will you be talking about tomorrow?" The show, the most popular of anything MSNBC runs and fast gaining a following, doesn't run on the weekend, but the producers really should think about a Sunday afternoon edition, because that's when the news organizations tee up the week with a scoop or two, or something sure to cause a buzz.

Sunday, December 11, was no different. Dana Priest over at the Washington Post seems to have had this Sunday off - no insider CIA stories confirming our chain of secret prisons, or how we get the wrong people, do nasty things with them, and when we realize they're nobodies, drop them in the Macedonian forest with no papers and no cash, and tell their home governments not to say anything. Dana had done enough.

So, "Which of these news stories will you be talking about tomorrow?"

Time Magazine Reporter Sacrifices Her Career to Save Karl Rove's Career

Time appears on the newsstands Monday mornings, but the content is available on the net a day ahead of the hard copy. And the headline here may or may not be unfair. What Vivica Novak (no relation to Bob Novak) has to say is here - in the matter of the CIA leak investigation she seems to have provided Karl Rove's attorney, a source who became a good friend, clear warning, early on, that Karl Rove actually did speak to Time's Matt Cooper about the CIA spy whose career the White House had to dismember in the process of trying to make the spy's husband appear opportunistic and wrong. That husband had said, nope, Saddam was not trying to buy uranium and build a nuclear bomb or three - he went and looked, and nothing of the sort was so.

The vice president's chief of staff, Libby, had been indicted for obstructing any look into the matter (five felony counts). You're really not supposed to blow the cover of CIA agents. There are laws. And you're really not supposed to lie and cheat to make sure no one can find out what actually happened. Scooter, in the latter case, had been a bad boy, or so the indictments charge.

Anyway, it seems this Novak woman unwittingly worked with Rove's attorney to make sure Rove didn't get caught the same way. She implies she was used, but basically, she let on that her colleague Cooper had talked with Rove about the woman spy, on some very specific dates, and that led the attorney - no dummy - to get Rove to go back and change his testimony to the grand jury investigating this. Otherwise, they'd have nailed him for perjury. This was a useful heads-up.

This Novak woman from Time seems real sorry about all this. She says she really didn't want to be part of the story. She just hates when that happens.

Of course she betrayed Cooper, her friend and colleague, who was trying to keep all this Rove business secret to "protect his source." Heck, he was willing to go to jail over the matter - and she was speaking "out of school" to Rove's attorney the whole time.

And of course she never told her employer, the magazine, what was going on, even after she hired her own attorney, and even after she gave testimony to the grand jury. Well, specifically, she didn't tell here editors what she had done until after she had hired her own lawyer and debriefed with the investigator, Patrick Fitzgerald. She didn't tell them until she got a formal subpoena.

And of course she kept reporting on "the CIA leak story" as if she knew nothing and wasn't involved with any of this at all. Time didn't know. Cooper didn't know. No one knew.

She's now on a "mutually agreed upon" leave of absence from the magazine. One assumes the editors are drinking heavily.

Jeralyn Merritt, the famous criminal defense attorney in Denver, has much more here. Basically, this woman saved Karl's bacon. The president keeps his key advisor.

What to make of all this?

"Insider Journalism" is tricky.

Judy Miller, late of the New York Times, gave us all those pre-war scoops about aluminum tubes for making bombs and mobile chemical weapons labs and anything else Chalabi and his team in the vice president's office could think of. She carried their water for them and overrode everyone else at the Times to plant the stories. She had the inside scoop. She knew people - important people. She got the "real" story. But none of it was so.

What does that tell you?

In a rather sarcastic manner Jack Shafer here argues outsiders know more than insiders. The Knight-Ridder reporters, he shows, were pretty much right on all matters, using what was available to everyone, tapping a few low-level confidential sources, and actually thinking about it all. They may be third-string and out of the loop, but they were even better than the CIA on most things. Looking in from the outside keeps you from being spun. In the run up to the war, they "were able to piece together a more accurate picture of Iraq's capabilities based on public information and interviews with midlevel and career sources than all the president's men, who drew on testimonials from administration stars, political appointees, and the intelligence establishment." In short, instead of swooning, they were reporting.

That sort of thing isn't very sexy. You don't get to appear on all the political shows on television. You don't socialize with the big boys - you don't chat with the key players. You just get the story right.

Perhaps Fox News will pick up this Novak woman.

First the Germans, Now the French - We TOLD You All This Was Bogus

Ah, the local paper out here, the Los Angeles Times, broke this one Sunday, December 11, with French Told CIA of Bogus Intelligence - and the subhead is "The foreign spy service warned the U.S. various times before the war that there was no proof Iraq sought uranium from Niger, ex-officials say."

The opening four paragraphs -
More than a year before President Bush declared in his 2003 State of the Union speech that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear weapons material in Africa, the French spy service began repeatedly warning the CIA in secret communications that there was no evidence to support the allegation.

The previously undisclosed exchanges between the U.S. and the French, described in interviews last week by the retired chief of the French counterintelligence service and a former CIA official, came on separate occasions in 2001 and 2002.

The French conclusions were reached after extensive on-the-ground investigations in Niger and other former French colonies, where the uranium mines are controlled by French companies, said Alain Chouet, the French former official. He said the French investigated at the CIA's request.

Chouet's account was "at odds with our understanding of the issue," a U.S. government official said. The U.S. official declined to elaborate and spoke only on condition that neither he nor his agency be named.
You get the idea. And the scoop here is last week big guns on both sides of the Atlantic said that just as the CIA asked Joe Wilson to look into the matter, the CIA pulsed the French, and came up empty there too.

Think about that. The line from the administration and all the supporters of the war is that we may have been mistaken, but everyone in the world thought Iraq had nasty weapons and was going nuclear. Except last week the Germans said the source on the existence of those mobile weapons labs was a drunk and totally unreliable, and they told us, and we knew it. Now the French say the whole Niger yellowcake business was bogus, and they told us, and we knew it. France's Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure told us, again and again. The CIA officer notes that, well, they did. Alain Chouet, France's former chief of counterintelligence, backed up by a former CIA official, is clear on this.

The Italians tried to sell the famous forged documents proving Saddam's agents were buying up yellowcake. They didn't buy them. These were their operations in Niger. Duh.

And the CIA had rejected the documents.

So the documents got to the White House through the back door - Cheney and Rumsfeld had set up alternative intelligence operations to bypass the old bureaucracy and get the real story. In good faith, perhaps, they wanted to protect America - and thought the CIA and all the rest were pretty useless.

They could do better than the professionals? Something like that.

It didn't work out.

"When Bush gave his State of the Union address in January 2003, citing a report from the British that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium in Africa, other French officials were flabbergasted." No kidding. Would they have been sidéré? Whatever.

Of course it is hard to see where this story goes from here.

No matter how many times the administration is "busted" on such matters we are where we are - the president is in office for three more years and the Democrats are in such disarray there is no chance anyone will see a majority of Democrats in either the house or senate, or any Democrat (or even anyone whose last name isn't Bush) in the White House, in the next fifty to sixty years. Voters are defensive. Rather than admit they elected some real dangerous goofballs, they'll not admit that and keep voting for such folks.

So it doesn't matter very much.

Israel to the Rescue

The real scoop of Sunday, December 11, concerns the middle member of the Axis of Evil, Iran. In the Times of London (UK, not Canada), Uzi Mahnaimi reporting from Tel Aviv, and Sarah Baxter from Washington, give us this: Israel Readies Forces For Strike On Nuclear Iran.

Oh yeah? The opening line - "Israel's armed forces have been ordered by Ariel Sharon, the prime minister, to be ready by the end of March for possible strikes on secret uranium enrichment sites in Iran, military sources have revealed."

Well, they did the job in Iraq way back when.

Find details here from Marc Schulman in American Future, but note this -
If a military operation is approved, Israel will use air and ground forces against several nuclear targets in the hope of stalling Tehran's nuclear programme for years, according to Israeli military sources. It is believed Israel would call on its top special forces brigade, Unit 262 - the equivalent of the SAS - and the F-15I strategic 69 Squadron, which can strike Iran and return to Israel without refuelling.

"If we opt for the military strike," said a source, "it must be not less than 100% successful. It will resemble the destruction of the Egyptian air force in three hours in June 1967."

Aharon Zeevi Farkash, the Israeli military intelligence chief, stepped up the pressure on Iran this month when he warned Israel's parliament, the Knesset, that "if by the end of March the international community is unable to refer the Iranian issue to the United Nations security council, then we can say the international effort has run its course".

The March deadline set for military readiness also stems from fears that Iran is improving its own intelligence-gathering capability. In October it launched its first satellite, the Sinah-1, which was carried by a Russian space launcher. "The Iranians' space programme is a matter of deep concern to us," said an Israeli defence source. "If and when we launch an attack on several Iranian targets, the last thing we need is Iranian early warning received by satellite."

Russia last week signed an estimated $1 billion contract - its largest since 2000 - to sell Iran advanced Tor-M1 systems capable of destroying guided missiles and laser-guided bombs from aircraft. "Once the Iranians get the Tor-M1, it will make our life much more difficult," said an Israeli air force source. "The installation of this system can be relatively quick and we can't waste time on this one."

The date set for possible Israeli strikes on Iran also coincides with Israel's general election on March 28, prompting speculation that Sharon may be sabre-rattling for votes. Benjamin Netanyahu, the frontrunner to lead Likud into the elections, said that if Sharon did not act against Iran, "then when I form the new Israeli government, we'll do what we did in the past against Saddam's reactor, which gave us 20 years of tranquillity".
Well, that's cheery. Who doesn't like tranquility? But this may not get us that.

Note This Will be Ugly -
I'll be the first to admit that Israel is stuck between a rock and a hard place on this. If she does not act, and no one else (read; The United States) does either, she faces nuclear annihilation. On the other hand, an attack on Iran by Israel would bring down the wrath of world on her head. That is, the wrath that she doesn't already constantly receive in such an undeserved and unfair manner. What to do, what to do?

That's a tough one. It would appear to me that Israel's best hope is that the ever-improving situation in Iraq will drive up George Bush's poll numbers giving him the political punch to carry out the attacks without Israeli participation. And even then this would be no easy call for Bush.

We would be attacking and destroying Russian built facilities, filled with Russian technology and staffed by no small number of Russian scientists and technicians, some of whom would no doubt perish in any attack. The fallout with Russia would be of earthquake proportions.

The fallout with the Iranian government? Well, who cares? However, the Iranian people, the majority of whom seem to support efforts by The United States to help them in their cause for freedom from the Mullahs, might well react negatively towards overt American military action against their country. Man, what a mess this is going to be. "Ugly" comes to mind.
Wait a second! Israel's best hope is that the "ever-improving situation in Iraq" will drive up George Bush's poll numbers giving him the political punch to carry out the attacks "without Israeli participation." That's thin hope.

Let's assume this is all idle speculation, or a contingency plan that gets put on the shelf. We probably have a contingency plan for invading Portugal under certain circumstances, like a sudden uptick in their production and export of "fado" albums.

For idle speculation on this Israeli planning see Steve Bainbridge of UCLA here - "Can Israel Stop Iran from Going Nuclear? Can Anyone?" Also see Hugh Hewitt here - "It is a terrible task that cannot be postponed much longer."

Here's the denial -
The senior Defense Ministry official for diplomatic policy refrained Sunday from ruling out a future Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites, saying that "at the moment" the emphasis was on international diplomatic pressure, and that the details in a British newspaper report saying plans were being prepared for such an operation appeared "more imaginary than real."
That's not very comforting, but it's something.

The Russians are in Iran, helping with this and that, selling them this and that. And this will be a news story when the United States or Israel suggests any Russians in Tehran and some other parts of Iran take a vacation - go home and see mom and the wife and kids for a week or two. Until then, this item is a semi-scoop - interesting but not news, yet.

Bubble Boy Returns

As with Time, the other big weekly, Newsweek, appears on the newsstands Monday mornings, but their content is available on the net a day ahead of the hard copy. The cover story is amusing, but won't have traction. It's been done before, and this is just filling in detail - Bush in the Bubble.

The idea here is this: "He has a tight circle of trust, and he likes it that way. But members of both parties are urging Bush to reach beyond the White House walls. How he governs - and how his M.O. stacks up historically."

So we're talking historical perspective here, not news per se. Bush may be the most isolated president in modern history? It's been said before, but actually, never in such detail and in such an organized manner. It's long, but fascinating.

What's immediately fascinating is who is quoted -
- A White House aide, who like virtually all White House officials (in this story and in general) refused to be identified for fear of antagonizing the president...

- According to senior Pentagon officials who did not want to be identified discussing private meetings...

- One House Republican, who asked not to be identified for fear of offending the White House...

- ... this official, who did not want to be identified discussing high-level meetings ...

- A foreign diplomat who declined to be identified...

- ... a senior aide who wouldn't be identified talking about his boss ...

- ...a GOP staffer who did not want to be identified criticizing the president ...
These folks are scared. Why?

Two nuggets. This -
Bush may be the most isolated president in modern history, at least since the late-stage Richard Nixon. It's not that he is a socially awkward loner or a paranoid. He can charm and joke like the frat president he was. Still, beneath a hail-fellow manner, Bush has a defensive edge, a don't-tread-on-me prickliness. It shows in Bush's humor. When Reagan told a joke, it almost never was about someone in the room. Reagan's jokes may have been scatological or politically incorrect, but they were inclusive, intended to make everyone join in the laughter. Often, Bush's joking is personal - it is aimed at you. The teasing can be flattering (the president gave me a nickname!), but it is intended, however so subtly, to put the listener on the defensive. It is a towel-snap that invites a retort. How many people dare to snap back at a president?
And this -
Bush generally prefers short conversations - long on conclusion, short on reasoning. He likes popular history and presidential biography (Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington), but by all accounts, he is not intellectually curious. Occasional outsiders brought into the Bush Bubble have observed that faith, not evidence, is the basis for decision making. Psychobabblers have long had a field day with the fact that Bush quit drinking cold turkey and turned around his life by accepting God. His close friends agree that Bush likes comfort and serenity; he does not like dissonance. He has long been mothered by strong women, including his mother and wife. A foreign diplomat who declined to be identified was startled when Secretary of State Rice warned him not to lay bad news on the president. "Don't upset him," she said.
But isn't that what we pay him for - to deal with what is upsetting and do what he, and the government, can about it? Surely we do not employ this man as our chief public servant to avoid unpleasantness, exercise four hours a day, get to bed by ten (both these apparently true), and watch ESPN for hours a day?

The authors, Evan Thomas and Richard Wolffe, lay out many, many details that suggest a level of indifference, if not denial, "that is dangerous for a president who seeks to transform the world." They do point out that all presidents face "a tension between sticking to their guns and dealing with changing reality." And yes, it can be a mistake "to listen too closely to the ever-present (and often self-aggrandizing) critics." They are just pointing out that the idea that any president can go it alone "is, to say the least, problematic."

Others are more alarmed, if not worried sick that we're in real trouble. Between this purposeful intolerance of anything upsetting, and the idea Karl Rove and Dick Cheney will take care of what the president proudly chooses to miss in details and concepts, when the state is not rudderless it's heading in some mighty strange directions.

Okay, this is not a news story you will be talking about tomorrow, as Keith Olbermann would say. It's a backgrounder.

But it's one hell of a backgrounder. And it already has generated a wide array of comment.

"Which of these news stories will you be talking about tomorrow?" That depends on what happens on any given tomorrow.

Posted by Alan at 20:38 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 12 December 2005 07:17 PST home


Topic: Announcements

Everything About Everything (with photos)

The new issue of Just Above Sunset - Volume 3, Number 50 for the week of Sunday, December 11, 2005 is now on line. The is the magazine-format weekly parent to this daily web log, containing extended (and corrected) versions of what first appeared here, along with a wealth of new material.

This week, in Current Events, or a kind of "that was the week that was" collection, we see everyone is breaking stories left and right. He did what? She said what? We've been doing what? It's all here, from the Rice foray into Europe to explain what we're up to, to what Cheney has been saying and where's he's saying it. And there was the president's big speech midweek, the second of four explaining everything. Did he explain everything? But what would John Kennedy have done, and what is Arnold Shwarzenegger up to? Mel Gibson comes up again? And why is everyone, including playwrights and quantum physicists, on our case? A Paris Hilton Christmas display? It's all here.

And there's an atypical business column - what's a utility and what isn't, and what do you do when your customers hate each other and you're asked to choose sides?

The International Desk has some fine material. "Our Man in London," Mike McCahill, has the word on big political news there, and what is it with Margaret Thatcher's children? "Our Man in Paris," Ric Erickson, has the word on what's up there, with the riots that weren't really riots and the short and surly politician who is taking the heat, and sends some amazing photographs.

Bob Patterson is back, in one guise discussing the dog-eared ace of spades in the political world, and in anther guise getting as up close and personal as one can with a famous curmudgeon.

There are four pages of special, high-resolution photography from the land of the rich and famous, Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive, so you know what these folks do for Christmas.

Quotes this week bring you Russell Mania (Bertrand, that is). And there's a link to a new Christmas photo album.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ______________________

Looking Back: The Sunday Funnies in Six Panels - Now Don't Get All Excited
Main Concerns: The Passing Parade versus the Big Stuff
Diplomacy: What's the Message and Who Do You Trust?
Midweek News Explosion: More Grist for the Mill
Nailed: The Hits Keep Coming

Business Notes ______________________

Choosing Sides: The Business of Business

The International Desk ______________________

Our Man in London: Cameron and the Thatcher Legacy
Our Man in Paris: Howling Sirens

Bob Patterson ______________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Is Bush Playing "Three Card Monte" with the Issues?
Book Wrangler: Curmudgeons Prepare for the Bill O'Reilly Holiday

Southern California Photography ______________________

Christmas Money Shots: Christmas in the Land of the Obscenely Wealthy, Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills
Christmas Displays: In the Windows of the Major Stores on Wilshire Boulevard
Christmas Whimsy: All Those Details of the Season
Botanicals: Beverly Hills Blooms

Quotes for the week of December 11, 2005 - Russell Mania
Links and Recommendations: New Christmas Photo Album

New Christmas Photo Album

Posted by Alan at 14:30 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Saturday, 10 December 2005

Topic: Announcements

No Posting Today

Off to Poway, California - Nicholas turns two - party time -


Posted by Alan at 09:08 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Friday, 9 December 2005

Topic: Photos

Christmas 2005 in the Land of the Obscenely Wealthy

Thursday, December 8, was a trek to the land of the obscenely wealthy - Rodeo Drive and the center of Beverly Hills - for Christmas photos of what's on display in the windows of Saxs Fifth Avenue and Barney's and Neiman-Marcus - and what's on the streets.

You will find those photographs in an album of thirty-eight shots here.



Posted by Alan at 17:06 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Topic: Couldn't be so...

The Hits Keep Coming

In these pages, on November 13 here and November 20 here, there was some discussion of the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. This is the fellow who was the source of all the lies about Iraq training al-Qaeda operatives, even though the Defense Intelligence Agency and other high-level intelligence operatives had already dismissed this information as unreliable. Well, as Newsweek reported in June, this was a test case to see what we could get from torture - the fellow spent some time with our friends in Cairo.

There was some follow-up by Douglas Jehl, in the New York Times on Sunday, November 6 here - this al-Libi provided us with false information suggesting that Iraq had trained al-Qaeda to use al kinds of very nasty weapons of mass destruction of all sorts, but a whole lot of our intelligence agencies pretty much knew the information was bogus as early as 2002 - and Colin Powell presented this crap to the UN in February 2003 anyway, as "credible evidence of Iraqi WMD programs" - just before we told the rest of the world to buzz off and invaded Iraq. We knew the threat. Yep.

In these pages there were links to all sorts of folks being a bit amazed by this news - from Middle East scholars to the people at Editor and Publisher to the usual anti-war crowd. But the buzz about this passed, until Friday, December 9, when Douglas Jehl, in the New York Times, hammered home the obvious with this - "The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them to escape harsh treatment..."

Yes, he already said that. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was finishing up her diplomatic mission to Europe to lay down the law to them, and defend whatever the heck it is we're doing with "disappearing" people to secret prisons and practicing what some call torture, and we call "enhanced interrogation." It seems the Times just wanted to point out this particular instance of when we used we call "enhanced interrogation" didn't work out so well -
Mr. Libi was indeed initially held by the United States military in Afghanistan, and was debriefed there by C.I.A. officers, according to the new account provided by the current and former government officials. But... it was not until after he was handed over to Egypt that he made the most specific assertions, which were later used by the Bush administration as the foundation for its claims that Iraq trained Qaeda members to use biological and chemical weapons.

... American officials including [Condoleezza] Rice have defended the practice, saying it draws on language and cultural expertise of American allies, particularly in the Middle East, and provides an important tool for interrogation. They have said that the United States carries out the renditions only after obtaining explicit assurances from the receiving countries that the prisoners will not be tortured.
Well, as many have pointed out, this is a bit disingenuous. We obtain these "explicit assurances" which, of course, leaves us with clean hands, but we leave it at that, and we use whatever information we get. Think of it like buying a hot Rolex watch from a seedy man in lower Manhattan - you were told it wasn't stolen so you're not guilty of any illegal transaction, the seedy fellow who sold you the watch is.

Putting all the moral and ethical issues aside, and all the diplomatic issues too, the "new account" of these details that Jehl has uncovered and reported, shows what we call "enhanced interrogation" produces not only useless information, but this particular array of useless information took us to war, or at least was used to sell the war to the American public, and to intimidate reluctant American senators and congressmen in granting the president unlimited authority to do "whatever was necessary" to keep us safe. How could these folks vote otherwise?

But as a test case for what Cheney characterized as "taking the gloves off" - doing the previously unthinkable because everything changed on September 11, 2001, and that's just how it is now - this test case showed, well, "taking the gloves off" got us burned.

Of course, traditionally one actually uses torture to obtain "false confessions" you can use to justify this or that. The whole idea, from the Catholic Church's rather effective Inquisition to the Soviet gulags, was to get folks, in the first case, to admit they were witches or agents of the devil or whatever, and in the second case, to get them to admit this plot or that against Stalin or his subordinates. You were trying to get quite useful bogus information. It was a power thing. Think of the Salem witch trials - submerge the woman and if she drowns she was telling the truth and she's no witch, but if she oddly doesn't, well she must be one. That is hardly seeking information. It's just a statement of power, and a way to keep it. Torquemada wasn't really looking for information.

But we thought we'd get the "real story." What were we thinking?

Here's one thought. It was just laziness -
Torture is the tool of the slothful. The main attraction to those who defend the use of torture is how easily and quickly a suspect can be broken. Unlike other forms of interrogation, torture requires only a small amount of training, no particular understanding of the suspect, and scant concern for the veracity of what is revealed. It requires only the willingness to do to another human being what one would not do to an animal. Understanding torture as the lazy person's tool makes it a bit more comprehensible why the Bush Administration would be the first in American history to defend the practice.
Ah well, we got our war.

And what else are we now admitting. Well, there's this -
The state department's top legal adviser, John Bellinger... stated that the group International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had access to "absolutely everybody" at the prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which holds suspects detained during the US war on terror.

When asked by journalists if the organization had access to everybody held in similar circumstances elsewhere, he said: "No".

He declined to explain further.
There are no "black sites" where we have "disappeared" people? No comment. We're just not saying. Draw your own conclusions.

But surely our allies the Brits are okay with what we do.

No, as you see here - Britain's highest court has ruled that intelligence extracted by torture is not admissible in any British court. It never has been, but the Blair government argued when someone else does it, not the British, there should be an exception. There may be really useful stuff in what was "extracted." Tony got slapped down, and he's not happy.

Andrew Sullivan, the expatriate British conservative commentator out at the end of Cape Cod, as been on fire about this, as you can explore here -
The ruling by the House of Lords this week, barring any legal testimony extracted by torture, makes for inspiring reading. It provides a long history of how English common law banned torture for any reason from as far back as Magna Carta. Torture was indeed introduced in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century by the Crown, but was revoked in 1640, which was the year the last torture warrant was issued in Britain. After that, the use of torture was unthinkable in English jurisprudence. Nineteenth century legal historians deemed the practice "totally repugnant to the fundamental principles of English law" and "repugnant to reason, justice and humanity."

In the words of one scholar, writing in 1837, "Once torture has become acclimatized in a legal system it spreads like an infectious disease. It saves the labor of investigation. It hardens and brutalizes those who have become accustomed to use it."
Basically, there can be no weighing of any evidence procured by torture. Case closed.

And Sullivan quotes Lord Hoffmann in his concurring judgment, invoking Blackstone -
That word honour, the deep note which Blackstone strikes twice in one sentence, is what underlies the legal technicalities of this appeal. The use of torture is dishonourable. It corrupts and degrades the state which uses it and the legal system which accepts it. When judicial torture was routine all over Europe, its rejection by the common law was a source of national pride ... Just as the writ of habeas corpus is not only a special remedy for challenging unlawful detention but also carries significance as a touchstone of English liberty which influences the rest of our law, so the rejection of torture by the common law has a special iconic importance as the touchstone of a humane and civilised legal system. Not only that: the abolition of torture ... was achieved as part of the great constitutional struggle and civil war which made the government subject to the law. Its rejection has a constitutional resonance for the English people which cannot be over-estimated.
So the Brits have this honor thing, and don't want to go back to the days before 1640. We do? It seems so, and we're working hard on tossing out this writ of habeas corpus thing, as well documented here.

What is so appealing about the sixteenth and early seventeenth century? Conservatives venerate the past, but seriously, those were dark days. There was that plague and all.

But we're arguing about torture. See Charles Krauthammer, one of the most respected conservative intellectuals in Washington, offering this, his cover story for The Weekly Standard endorsing the legalization of full-fledged torture by the United States under strictly curtailed conditions. The supporters of the administration are all swooning over this. The man is a psychiatrist who gave that up for the world of conservative political theory. He knows things. Yeah well, the counterargument is here in The New Republic. Both are quite detailed. And CNN's everyman, Lou Dobbs, just out and said on his show on the 8th that he just cannot believe we're even discussing this in America.

Ah well, we are.

At least Charles Krauthammer is right on one big hit the United States is taking right now. In the Washington Post he writes this - "Of all the mistakes that the Bush administration has committed in Iraq, none is as gratuitous and self-inflicted as the bungling of the trial of Saddam Hussein. Although Hussein deserves to be shot like a dog - or, same thing, like the Ceausescus - we nonetheless decided to give him a trial."

Leaving aside what the man deserves, it's pretty obvious Saddam Hussein is in control of the "theater" of this thing - berating the judge as not a real Iraqi when the judge says he'll have to ask the Americans about this or that, and just walking out. He's playing it for all it's worth, and dividing the new and improved Iraq, playing on their resentment at being occupied. In an odd way he's winning the thing. And an open trial seemed like such a good idea at the time.

Hits? Well, there's Sweden at the moment.

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, has been following the Nobel Prize acceptance speeches. Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize for literature, and Ric notes this from Pinter's acceptance speech -
The United States no longer bothers about low intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It quite simply doesn't give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant. It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain.
Ouch!

The whole speech is here, and contains nuggets like these -
... Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

...Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America's favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as 'low intensity conflict'. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued - or beaten to death - the same thing - and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.

I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speechwriters but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man's man.

'God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don't you forget it.'
Well the man is not happy. But he's a playwright, right? What does he know?

Does Pinter know anything about the quantum nature of light, and has he worked out ideas that resulted in more precise optical clocks and measuring systems, ideas now used in today's satellite positioning systems? Americans Roy J. Glauber and John L. Hall know such things. They won the prize for physics, along with one German fellow.

And the hits keep coming -
Two American Nobel Prize winners said Thursday they are worried about President Bush's attitude toward science and accused his administration of ignoring important research findings.

"There is a measure of denial of scientific evidence going on within our administration, and there are many scientists who are not happy about that," said Roy J. Glauber, who shared this year's physics prize with fellow American John L. Hall and Germany's Theodor W. Haensch. Their research on the quantum nature of light has resulted in more precise optical clocks and measuring systems, and is used in today's satellite positioning systems.

Glauber also said some U.S. Congress members are more concerned about the political consequence of research projects than their scientific importance when they decide where to allocate money.

"(The projects) are not evaluated scientifically, they are only evaluated politically," Glauber said, but did not give details on specific projects. He spoke at a news conference after the three physics laureates gave a lecture to students and fellow researchers at Stockholm University.

Hall agreed that the attitude toward science in the Bush administration "does not go in the right direction."
Just more folks who don't have any respect for the sixteenth and early seventeenth century.

In the meantime, the Fox News response to the "War on Christmas" no one else quite sees rages on. That's what we need to consider. It's a worry.

And Bill O'Reilly is the hero in this real war, as he says here -
I am not going to let oppressive, totalitarian, anti-Christian forces in this country diminish and denigrate the holiday and the celebration. I am not going to let it happen. I'm gonna use all the power that I have on radio and television to bring horror into the world of people who are trying to do that. And we have succeeded. You know we've succeeded. They are on the run in corporations, in the media, everywhere. They are on the run, because I will put their face and their name on television, and I will talk about them on the radio if they do it. There is no reason on this earth that all of us cannot celebrate a public holiday devoted to generosity, peace, and love together. There is no reason on the earth that we can't do that. So we are going to do it. And anyone who tries to stop us from doing it is gonna face me.
But will Bill bring horror (torture, perhaps?) to this fellow in Rhode Island? What has he done?

Man Creates Paris Hilton Christmas Shrine

Say what?
See Paris Hilton in all her seductive splendor, striking a provocative pose for passing motorists and spreading hot Christmas cheer in a chilly Rhode Island winter.

Blown-up images of Hilton and strings of pink Christmas lights adorn the front lawn of a home in a middle-class neighborhood of this city, part of a head-turning holiday display that pays homage to the famed hotel heiress.

The over-the-top pictorial is the work of Joe Moretti, a 38-year-old designer who was arrested last year for trespassing on Martha Stewart's property in Maine.

Passersby get an eyeful of Hilton sporting a tiny pink top hiding little of her chest, or wearing knee-high boots and a sultry pout or holding a finger to her lips. Even Hilton's faithful Chihuahua, Tinkerbell, is celebrated in a colorful portrait.

"If it's offending anyone, I apologize," Moretti said in a telephone interview Thursday.
O'Reilly has not yet commented on this, but Moretti says he was just trying to be different and "to be creative and let them see a little bit of Hollywood or New York - bring it to Cranston."

Hollywood to Moretti - why would you do THAT? It says you have a life-sized shot of Hilton with high boots, legs spread and eyes partly closed. This is just too odd.

But the AP story adds this detail -
This is the latest in a series of artistic lawn displays decorating Moretti's lawn. Last year, he paid tribute to Martha Stewart even as he and another man faced charges for sneaking on to the domestic maven's property. The charges were later dismissed, and the men donated money to public libraries near the property. Moretti calls the incident a "big misunderstanding."
Okay then, this man has an odd concept of Christmas, and of trespassing law. What would O'Reilly do? Moretti, it seems, has, in the past, built Christmas tributes to Madonna, Princess Diana and Liberace.

The question for America is crucial. What should be done about this man?

The other questions above? We'll see what Fox News covers.

Posted by Alan at 13:18 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 9 December 2005 14:21 PST home

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