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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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Consider:

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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Monday, 26 December 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist


The Week the Year Ends

Okay, the Christmas holiday is over, and, like all other obscure writers on current events and the culture, the editor and columnists here at Just Above Sunset really ought to be working on the both the "looking back" columns (what just happened) and the looking forward columns (what seems to be going to happen). But everyone does that. There are a ton of those out there. One could build a column just by pointing to this one or that, and saying that one seems to make sense, this one doesn't, this is interesting and odd, and that is both wrong and dull. The object of such a column, of which you would find many here over the last three years, is to get a sense of the national dialog - in these pages called chasing the zeitgeist - a sort of "this is the American dialog" reporting.

On the other hand, often one writes just to get one's thoughts organized, not for an audience. The idea is not to plead some case or promulgate some particular point of view, but only to look at events and see if there's a way to make some sense of them. It's just, really, trying to figure out what's going on. If readers want to tag along for the ride, that's fine. But there are no promises. Some things just don't make sense. And some things do, and they are troubling.

Of course, not much happened over the Christmas holiday - congress had adjourned and the president was at Camp David, and the Monday after Christmas was a holiday. The markets were closed, no mail, no shouting matches and no hot accusations in Washington. The president then flew off to Crawford, Texas. Cindy Sheehan didn't follow him. The weekend "talking heads" shows - politics and spin - were mainly given over to year-end retrospectives.

Everyone agreed it was a bad year for the administration. Iraq didn't turn out so well - even with the elections. If only the Shiite-run court hadn't "disqualified" a few hundred Sunni candidates after the fact, saying they used to like Saddam Hussein or something (story here) so even if they won they couldn't take their seats in the new government. What are these Shiite guys, Republicans? And Hurricane Katrina came up - yeah, the president took four days to understand it was kind of serious, then said Michael Brown was doing a heck of a job, and then Brown resigned. Oops. There was the effort to dramatically change Social Security. That went nowhere. Folks would like to keep their guaranteed old age income, no matter how meager, that they actually paid for over all the years. The idea of playing the stock market as an alternative - and winning big, or not - just seemed stupid to most folks. The Harriet Miers nomination was an embarrassment. The vice president's Chief of Staff had to resign after being indicted on five felony counts. Some folks too brought up the Terry Schiavo business, where the president abruptly ended his vacation and flew back to Washington in the middle of the night to sign legislation to keep her body functioning. I guess it was supposed to be great symbolism for the "right to life" folks and embarrass the "moral relativists" on the left. All the polls showed almost all Americans saw this as just none of the federal government's business - people knew cynical grandstanding when they saw it, and the courts, even those with conservative judges appointed by the president or his father, refused to bend the law so the more-moral-than-you folks could win some points. And doesn't take a genius to understand a good number of folks in New Orleans might feel a tad resentful the president cut his vacation short for a midnight flight back to DC to keep the body of one brain-dead woman functioning but couldn't be bothered for four whole days to deal with thousands dying in New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast and a major city being destroyed. Well, he had other things to do, and at the time that Sheehan woman was out on the road by the ranch, causing trouble.

What else? The Post reveals our secret prison system where we disappear people, and the German fellow we picked up and on whom we used "enhanced interrogation" and held for seven months turns out to be a nobody, one of many mistakes, and in general our word is not trusted any longer. We do not torture, we do not kidnap people, and we do not "disappear" people forever with no explanation. We say we don't. But no one is buying. And in late December Italy issues an arrest warrant - actually an EU warrant - for twenty-two CIA guys who they say kidnapped a fellow off the streets of Milan who was never seen again, and we lied to them about it. Not good.

And news story after news story reveals the "intelligence" we used to justify the Iraq war was crap, and we knew it, but key people pushed it into the White House, bypassing those who evaluate such stuff for a living (we pay them to do that), and foreign governments who warned us the "intelligence" was bogus. How does the song go? What a fool believes, he sees? Oops. Sorry about the dead people.

So it was a bad year, and it ended badly, as in these summaries:

Associated Press - "The Republican-controlled Congress is staggering home for the holidays. Democrats, demoralized after last year's election losses, have a spring in their step after outmaneuvering President Bush and GOP congressional leaders in a series of session-ending clashes."

Washington Post - "After four years in which Congress repeatedly lay down while President Bush dictated his priorities, 2005 will go down as the year legislators stood up. This week's uprising against a four-year extension of the USA Patriot Act was the latest example of a new willingness by lawmakers in both parties to challenge Bush and his notions of expansive executive power ... Since this spring, Congress has forced Bush to scrap plans for a broad restructuring of Social Security, accept tighter restrictions on the treatment of detainees and rewrite his immigration plan. Lawmakers have rebuffed Bush's call to make permanent his first-term tax cuts and helped force the president to speak more candidly about setbacks in Iraq."

Los Angeles Times - "Since taking office, Bush has placed the highest priority on unifying his party behind an agenda of bold conservative change, even at the price of provoking intense resistance from Democrats and sharply polarizing the electorate ... In the past, that sort of brinksmanship has allowed Bush and the GOP to win big changes in policy with small legislative margins. That formula worked again this week when both chambers narrowly passed the budget-cutting legislation without a single Democratic vote. Yet the same strategy produced two stinging defeats for the GOP when Senate Democrats, helped by a handful of Republicans, held together for filibusters that blocked the Arctic drilling and the long-term renewal of the Patriot Act."

New York Times - "At nearly every crucial turn in recent weeks, it was a group of Republicans, painfully aware of President Bush's decline in popularity, who broke from the White House and the party leadership in the House and Senate and forced concessions in major legislation or stalled it until the bitter end."

Not a good end to not a good year (those four quotes were, by the way, assembled by Tim Grieve here). Sometime you can't win for losing.

The president won the last election. Kerry lost. So he had a mandate, and all that "political capital" he was going to spend. The problem is, of course, he misread the mandate. Pulling the lever for Bush and not Kerry was not saying everything the winner proposes on all issues is what you want. Everything is not, in spite of what the president would like to believe, so black and white. "More than half the people voted for me so more than half the people agree with anything I do, because they made their choice - and I won."

It doesn't work that way. It's just not that simple. Every issue was not settled once and for all in one election. Folks voted the way they did for all sorts of reasons, and one suspects that very few voted for "anything the man does at all is fine by me." You'd have to be a simple-minded fool to read it that way, or willfully simple-minded and not a complete fool, only self-deluded. But you can't call the president names like that, so maybe he just thinks everyone else is a simple-minded fool and will believe him if he keep saying his win means anything he does in the next four years is just what the majority wants, and that's the only thing the vote could mean - that is, he relies on the stupidity of the general population. So he keeps telling us just what the vote meant.

But that's not working either now. (For a good discussion of the "misread mandate" idea see Jay Cost here.) Some major initiatives have gone down in flames, although Republicans held firm and got their cuts in social programs - almost thirteen billion dollars cut from student loan programs over the next five years to keep the riff-raff out of college, cuts in Medicaid Medicare to teach folks personal responsibility, cuts in subsidies for heating oil for the poor, and cuts keeping a two or three hundred thousand more kids out of Head Start, along with cutting meals at schools for the poor. And they got credit card reform, raising payments, and a reform of the bankruptcy laws so no one without a good lawyer can hide behind those any more, and an array of deep tax cuts for those in earning big money. That's something. But the trend has been negative.

And the New Year does not promise to be better. The Fitzgerald probe into the CIA spy business will probably get Karl Rove indicted, perhaps even for destroying evidence (see this), and two legal-eagles on MSNBC on Monday, December 26th, were suggesting Cheney may be next after Rove. Yipes! Of course, Tom DeLay, the house leader, is now gone, under felony indictment, the senate leader, Bill Frist, is under investigation by the SEC and Justice over possible insider stock trades. Then there's Jack Abramoff, master Republican lobbyist, now working on a plea bargain to stay out of jail, and likely to give up six or eight Republican congressmen to save his butt, which would be the biggest corruption scandal in fifty or a hundred years (background here). There's a sea of troubles brewing. Who knows what these next few months will bring?

And bubbling along under all that is the really basic issue raised by the recent revelation that the president ordered the National Security Agency (NSA) to do domestic spying, previously forbidden, on Americans, which would require probable cause and a warrant, without any warrants or any judicial review. It was okay because although it was against the law, the law didn't apply to him. No wonder the story broke. Someone was sure to go to the press and say they were being asked to break the law on the president's word alone, and that just didn't seem right at all.

You see that battle brewing here. The New York Times broke this story and, as mentioned last week, Jonathan Alter in Newsweek broke this - "I learned this week that on December 6, Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office in a futile attempt to talk them out of running the story. The Times will not comment on the meeting, but one can only imagine the president's desperation."

Keeping a lid on such things is hard, and Monday, December 26th, the Washington Post says the same thing happened with them - White House officials, including John Negroponte and Porter Goss, met with Executive Publisher Leonard Downie and made a similar request concerning Dana Priest's article on secret CIA prisons. Leonard Downie isn't taking but others are -
"When senior administration officials raised national security questions about details in Dana's story during her reporting, at their request we met with them on more than one occasion," Downie says. "The meetings were off the record for the purpose of discussing national security issues in her story." At least one of the meetings involved John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, and CIA Director Porter Goss, the sources said.
Hey, what good is a democracy if you cannot muzzle the press? Or something... We live in very odd times.

As reviewed last week here, the NSA domestic spying is an odd business. The president has pretty much said he's flat-out breaking the law, and will keep on doing it, because either 1.) the congress, when they approved him to use "appropriate force" to go after the terrorists and those who supported the terrorists, implicitly approved him breaking any laws that got in his way, even laws the congress had passed, or 2.) the constitution gives him, in times of war (even if one hasn't been officially declared here), broad authority to do anything necessary, so whatever congress or any law says just doesn't matter.

Couple that with concerted efforts to keep the press quiet, and you get something very odd. Even Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman, a very conservative fellow for the most part, is a bit unnerved by all this - "To call this an imperial presidency is unfair to emperors."

Everyone is quoting his Christmas weekend column (here) -
President Bush is a bundle of paradoxes. He thinks the scope of the federal government should be limited but the powers of the president should not. He wants judges to interpret the Constitution as the framers did, but doesn't think he should be constrained by their intentions.

He attacked Al Gore for trusting government instead of the people, but he insists anyone who wants to defeat terrorism must put absolute faith in the man at the helm of government.

His conservative allies say Bush is acting to uphold the essential prerogatives of his office. Vice President Cheney says the administration's secret eavesdropping program is justified because "I believe in a strong, robust executive authority, and I think that the world we live in demands it."

But the theory boils down to a consistent and self-serving formula: What's good for George W. Bush is good for America, and anything that weakens his power weakens the nation. To call this an imperial presidency is unfair to emperors.
And the middle of this item reviews many of the high-handed administration tactics, but the end is reserved for the NSA business -
The disclosure that the president authorized secret and probably illegal monitoring of communications between people in the United States and people overseas again raises the question: Why?

The government easily could have gotten search warrants to conduct electronic surveillance of anyone with the slightest possible connection to terrorists. The court that handles such requests hardly ever refuses. But Bush bridles at the notion that the president should ever have to ask permission of anyone.

He claims he can ignore the law because Congress granted permission when it authorized him to use force against Al Qaeda. But we know that can't be true. Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales says the administration didn't ask for a revision of the law to give the president explicit power to order such wiretaps because Congress - a Republican Congress, mind you - wouldn't have agreed. So the administration decided: Who needs Congress?

What we have now is not a robust executive but a reckless one. At times like this, it's apparent that Cheney and Bush want more power not because they need it to protect the nation, but because they want more power. Another paradox: In their conduct of the war on terror, they expect our trust, but they can't be bothered to earn it.
This sort of stuff from the conservative side cannot be good. This coming year is going to be rough. The administration back down, or we get martial law? This middle ground is making folks very uncomfortable.

And the plot thickens - because maybe the government could NOT easily have gotten search warrants to conduct electronic surveillance of anyone with the slightest possible connection to terrorists. As reported many places, like in the Los Angeles Times on Christmas Day here, this isn't exactly wiretapping we're talking about here. Cryptography expert Bruce Schneier - "It's really obvious to me that it's a look-at-everything type program." -
One former senior Pentagon official who has overseen such "data mining" said he also believed the NSA was probably conducting such wholesale surveillance.

"It's a reasonable hypothesis," the official said, adding that he believed it was necessary against savvy terrorists who would otherwise remain undetected.

One former NSA signals-intelligence analyst, Russell D. Tice, said the agency has long had such ability.

"I'm not allowed to say one way or another what the NSA is or is not doing. But the technology exists," said Tice, who left the NSA this year.

"Say Aunt Molly in Oklahoma calls her niece at an Army base in Germany and says, 'Isn't it horrible about those terrorists and Sept. 11?' " Tice said: That conversation would not only be captured by NSA satellites listening in on Germany - which is legal - but flagged and listened to by NSA analysts and possibly transcribed for further investigation.

"All you would have to do is move the vacuum cleaner a little to the left and begin sucking up the other end of that conversation," Tice said. "You move it a little more and you could be picking up everything people are saying from California to New York."

In interviews, current and former intelligence officials said communications technology was so advanced that it would probably be next to impossible for the NSA to filter out all of the U.S.-based electronic communications even if it wanted to when casting a wide net for terrorists

Some administration critics in Congress have begun speculating that the administration is specifically directing the NSA to conduct such surveillance on people in the U.S.

"Based on how much their story keeps changing, I think there's more to the story", said Susan McCue, chief of staff to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "A lot of people on Capitol Hill think that."
Sure there is. The previous law may be moot -
Because data mining entails tracing potentially millions of innocent links to find a few suspicious ones, authorities would immediately encounter problems establishing probable cause to proceed. Then, the experts say, authorities would have to obtain warrants under the surveillance act for vast numbers of phone numbers and e-mail addresses.
Or they could ask the law be changed. But they said they wouldn't ask. They'd have to reveal too much, like this (NY Times) - "The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged, the officials said. It was collected by tapping directly into some of the American telecommunication system's main arteries, they said."

According to this in the Boston Globe we're talking two million pieces of communications an hour. We've been doing it overseas for years. Doing it here is new. Here we're protected by the Fourth Amendment -
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Have we outgrown that one? Shall we toss it out?

If you've made a phone call overseas, or received one, if you've sent an email overseas, or received one, since September 2001, should you assume it's been opened, read, and recorded by the government? Maybe not the middle assumption - not read - although it has been scanned for patterns.

And maybe this is protecting us. But do we get to discuss it?

Should we amend the Constitution to allow this, or just trust the administration that this is necessary and limited, and they didn't use the intercepts to check up on John Kerry last election cycle, or to get a sense of what was in Patrick Fitzgerald's' office emails, or anything like that. Surely they'd not do that.

In any event, as tough is the last year was for the president and the administration the next year looks to be just as difficult. This year they have a bigger and far more basic task - to sell the "trust us, you don't want to know, you have no right to know, don't argue" imperial presidency. And they have the core thirty-five to forty percent who are fine with this. Let's see how they pitch this to the middle-of-the-road swing voters, and see who goes to jail, and what kind of government we get in Iraq, and all the rest.

It'll be an interesting year.

Posted by Alan at 22:00 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 27 December 2005 06:32 PST home

Saturday, 24 December 2005

Topic: Announcements

The Holiday Package

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly web magazine that is parent to this daily web log, is now available. This is Volume 3, Number 52 for the week of Sunday, December 25, 2005 - the last issue of the year.

This week's issue, the Christmas issue, has been posted a day early for obvious reasons - all those presents to wrap and then the family gets together and all the rest. So here's the Christmas issue with pages and pages of appropriate photos, along with the expected commentary from here, London and Paris.

This week the major events in the political world are covered in depth. We live in extraordinary times. And everyone struggles to explain it all, so the competing narratives are assessed here. There's no quick summary, but we're at some turning point. Dig in.

"Our Man in London," Mike McCahill, sums up the year there, in his own ironic way from triumphs (real ones) to the bombings, to the annual Queen's Christmas Address. And from Paris, Ric Erickson, sends a tale of his struggles with the devils of technology, and an ironic and complex illustration that sums it all up.

Bob Patterson is back dealing with Christmas issues here in this odd land of palm trees and surfers, and in his book column wording who read those things any more.

There's a lot of photography. From Georgia, a rooftop and chimney that may foil Santa, and from lower Manhattan, the ultimate Christmas in New York shot - palm trees and pretty lights at the Winter Garden. That's very cool.

Southern California Photography is how we do Christmas at the beach, and if you've never had a surfer Christmas, these shots will fix that. And with the highest surf in forty-five years, you get a sense the Pacific sometime isn't - but it's amazing. And there are Christmas botanicals, of course.

The quotes this week are for Christmas of course, but unlike any you'll find elsewhere. And there's a link to a new thirty-five shot Christmas photo album.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ______________________

Seventies Reruns: The Good Old Days Return
Press Notes: Now and then you have a "pile-on" day…
Documentation and Observations: Filling in the Corners of the Domestic Spying Dispute
The National Script: Whose Story Makes Sense?
Stopping for Christmas: Some Odds and Ends Just Don't Get Tied Up

The International Desk ______________________

Our Man in London: A Prince's Speech - Reviewing the Year 2005
Our Man in Paris: The Ginza Ninja

Bob Patterson ______________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Surf's Up! Santa's Coming!
Book Wrangler: On The Road To Illiteracy In The USA?

Guest Photography ______________________

Georgia: Preparing for Santa in Georgia
New York: The Palm Court at the Winter Garden

Southern California Photography ______________________

Christmas at the Beach: So Very Los Angeles
The Pacific: On the Shore Just Before Christmas
Botanicals: Christmas Blooms

Quotes for the week of December 25, 2005 - Christmas and More

Links and Recommendations: A Beach Christmas Album

This web log will go dark until Monday.


Posted by Alan at 06:38 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 24 December 2005 06:39 PST home

Friday, 23 December 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Stopping for Christmas: Some Odds and Ends Just Don't Get Tied Up

Friday, December 23rd, the political stage was going dark - kill the lights, strike the set, and everyone take a long weekend for Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Solstice, or whatever you'd like, even if O'Reilly and Gibson over at Fox News are angrily defensive and saying that you are disrespectful of their specific holiday. Those of us who are a bit more ecumenical, in a different way than they use that word, wish them well. We will celebrate what we like. They can do the same, and we'll smile as they curse us. Who has the energy to make this time of the year mean-spirited? What's the point? They say we hate them and their view of militant goodness fighting tooth and claw with secular evil. Yes, some of us thought Jesus - the original version - was fine. This new avenging and angry Jesus, Bringer of Death, is a real drag. But whatever. Their prayer at Christmas dinner will be for God to eliminate us all, painfully. But we wish them a Happy Holiday, whatever it is they seem to be celebrating. We'll just say "peace on earth and good will to all men." They don't believe in that - peace is immoral when there are bad guys everywhere and "good will" in their view is reserved for the "right men" and certainly not all men. Fine. You have your holiday, and we'll have ours. And we'll come back to all this next week.

As the leaders of the nation, great and small, fled Washington for the holiday, there were some loose ends that may need some attention when everyone returns.

There's this one, and a story worthy of O'Henry. It's not the deeply ironic "Gift of the Magi" - but it'll do.

From the Associated Press, via the local paper here - Chinese Muslims in Limbo at Guantanamo -
Washington, Friday, December 23, 2005 - Two Chinese Muslims can be held indefinitely in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, even though their confinement is unlawful, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

Abu Bakker Qassim and A'Del Abdu Al-Hakim, who were captured in Pakistan in 2001, had asked to be released after the government determined nine months ago that they were not "enemy combatants."

U.S. District Judge James Robertson, who has criticized the government for holding the two ethnic Uighurs, said their "indefinite imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay is unlawful."

At the same time, he said, the federal courts have "no relief to offer" the two men.
But it's Christmas time! Can't something be done?

No. You'll find a complete discussion of why nothing can be done here. Four years ago these two were captured by bounty hunters and turned over to us for cash. Nine months ago a military tribunal found that they were not enemy combatants after all. Someone just wanted some money and these two guys were sold to us as really, really bad guys. We paid, but we were had. It happens to us all. We buy something as advertised and when we get it home find out it doesn't work or isn't what they said it was. Oh well.

So we let them go? We can't, and for those who like source documents, you can read the decision here.

The first finding - this is illegal -
The detention of these petitioners has by now become indefinite. This indefinite imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay is unlawful.
Well, that's clear, but then -
In Rasul v. Bush, the Supreme Court confirmed the jurisdiction of the federal courts "to determine the legality of the Executive's potentially indefinite detention of individuals who claim to be wholly innocent of wrongdoing." 542 U.S. at 485. It did not decide what relief might be available to Guantanamo detainees by way of habeas corpus, nor, obviously, did it decide what relief might be available to detainees who have been declared "no longer enemy combatants." Now facing that question, I find that a federal court has no relief to offer.
These two are stuck. Yes, we are illegally detaining innocent people, and there is nothing that a federal court can do about it.

Form the analysis (Hilzoy) -
Why did the judge reach this conclusion? He goes through various options. He does not need to order them to be produced in court: that's only appropriate when some fact needs to be established, which is not the case here; in any case, producing the detainees in court would leave unresolved the question what to do with them in the event he decides that they should be released. He cannot just order the government to open the gates of the camp at Guantanamo and let Qassim and al-Hakim walk free: they'd be walking out onto a military base, and judges do not have the power to order that someone be admitted to a military installation. No other country is willing to take them. The obvious solution is to release them into the United States.
But that won't work. They're Chinese nationals who received military training in Afghanistan under the Taliban, and China wants them back. And any requiring their release into the United States "would have national security and diplomatic implications beyond the competence or the authority of this Court."

So what to do? Nothing?

Mark Kleiman, the policy professor out here at UCLA, says the president ought to do something -
Of course, the lack of power in the court to order a remedy for the Uigurs' wrongs shouldn't matter. When court of competent jurisdiction finds that an act of the executive branch is illegal, the President, having taken an oath to "faithfully execute" an office whose chief duty is to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed," is oath-bound to order that the illegal activity cease. His failure to do so is grounds for impeachment.

But we have a President whose word isn't worth the spit behind it, and a Congressional majority blinded by partisanship. So the illegal (and inhumane) action of holding innocent non-combatants prisoner will continue, forever or until we elect a better President, whichever comes first.
So noted. But maybe as a Christmas gesture, the president will... not likely.

And a second thing will need some attention soon.

What's with this this - "Iraq's leading Shiite religious bloc said Friday it is ready to discuss Sunni Arab participation in a coalition government, while thousands of Sunnis and some secular Shiites demonstrated in the streets claiming election fraud." The fundamentalist pro-Iranian Shiite guys won big, and the less strictly religious among them and the Sunnis looked at the thousand or so "irregularities" in the voting and took to the streets. This is not good. The vote was to be the "coming together" moment for the new and improved Iraq. Now we get hints of civil war, the same day we announce we drawing down by two battalions, as thing are getting so much better.

What's out back-up plan here? One sense we don't do those. Experience shows we don't.

Ah well, it only gets more curious. Note this from MSNBC - the Cheney-neoconsevative man who was going to run Iraq got less than one percent of the vote in "his country." Out of two and a half million votes in Baghdad, Ahmed Chalabi got 8,645 votes. As Josh Marshall notes, "Anbar province, the center of the Sunni insurgency, was never going to be Chalabi's base. But you'd have thought there might be more than 113 voters who'd vote for the guy." Basra - 0.34 percent of the vote. This guy was a political force to be reckoned with?

Last month he was in Washington meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and was all over the television.

MSNBC: "The election results in Iraq may present Chalabi's ardent U.S. supporters with a quandary: Chalabi, as well as other losing candidates, is alleging fraud in the election, even though the Bush administration hailed the vote as a historic step for democracy in Iraq." Oops. And during the election, Chalabi's campaign posters proclaimed, "We Liberated Iraq." No one was buying that.

It's time to rethink this all. There's no good way to spin this, but they'll come up with something.

Another loose end... Last week NBC reported that the Pentagon was keeping a database of "suspicious incidents" that included such things as antiwar demonstrations and protests against military recruiters (the Quaker grandmothers in Florida, as was mentioned previously in Press Notes). The law says that data, if it is not used in any action, must be purged in ninety days, but that isn't happening -
I now know that the database of "suspicious incidents" in the United States first revealed by NBC Nightly News last Tuesday and subject of my blog last week is the Joint Protection Enterprise Network (JPEN) database, an intelligence and law enforcement sharing system managed by the Defense Department's Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA).

What is clear about JPEN is that the military is not inadvertently keeping information on U.S. persons. It is violating the law. And what is more, it even wants to do it more.

... According to a JPEN classified briefing obtained by this blogger, the 90-day "data content limit...creates issues for long-term correlation and analysis."

... The managers of JPEN are hardly being inadvertent about either the 90-day restriction or the intentional collection of information on U.S. persons. So far, it appears that they have broken the law. And what is more, they are agitating internally to find ways of circumventing the legal restrictions.
Oh hell, we'll all be in the Pentagon database. What difference does it make now?

Another loose end... All this stuff about the NSA snooping with wiretaps and scanning email and all the rest? The administration says they know it's kind of against the law, but the fact of the matter is that when congress authorized "appropriate" force to take care of terrorists and those who support them, they were saying that would be okay. Now, in the Washington Post, someone who was there, Tom Daschle, who negotiated this "Authorization for Use of Military Force" with the White House, says categorically that this just isn't so. Congress never intended to give the president the power to perform domestic wiretapping.

Note this:
On the evening of Sept. 12, 2001, the White House proposed that Congress authorize the use of military force to "deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States." Believing the scope of this language was too broad and ill defined, Congress chose instead, on Sept. 14, to authorize "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed or aided" the attacks of Sept. 11. With this language, Congress denied the president the more expansive authority he sought and insisted that his authority be used specifically against Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
And then the White House, hours before the vote, tried to add this:
: (a) IN GENERAL ? That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force in the United States and against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001....
Daschle says this:
This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas - where we all understood he wanted authority to act - but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused.
Well, maybe Tom's memory is faulty. But maybe someone took notes, not that it matters now.

As an aside, the same day the Justice Department explained why breaking the laws here, on wiretapping domestically, while clearly illegal, is actually, really and certainly constitutional. That'll make your head spin. See a detailed discussion here. The claim is a tad shaky.

This topic will return after the holidays.

And that nominee to the Supreme Court up for hearings in January, Judge Alito? That's another loose end. Someone dug up a memo in the Reagan archives from he worked for the Big Guy.
Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito defended the right of government officials to order domestic wiretaps when he worked for the Reagan Justice Department, documents released Friday show.

He advocated a step-by-step approach to strengthening the hand of officials in a 1984 memo to the solicitor general. The strategy is similar to the one that Alito espoused for rolling back abortion rights at the margins.

The release of the memo by the National Archives comes when President Bush is under fire for secretly ordering domestic spying of suspected terrorists without a warrant. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has promised to question Alito about the administration's program.
This should be interesting.

What's going on here? Bruce Reed calls it executive activism -
The spy court Bush skirted has been a bigger rubber stamp than Tom DeLay, approving all 1758 requests for secret surveillance last year.

For all the high-minded huffing and puffing about checks and balances, the most interesting question in any presidential scandal is much simpler: Why did he do it? This scandal is a paranoiac's delight, confirming the worst fears of libertarians, communitarians, and vegetarians that the federal government is out to get them. Some conspiracy theorists will no doubt conclude that the Bush administration deliberately overreached in a clever attempt to turn the citizenry against their government.

The black-helicopter crowd can relax. If the Bush White House really cared about spying on Americans, they wouldn't leave it to a few data miners at NSA and gumshoes at the FBI. This scandal has little to do with wars, spies, or laws, and everything to do with presidential power.

From the beginning, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have made a fetish of asserting the power of the executive.

... Unfortunately, Bush and Cheney fail to understand that the extent of a president's power doesn't rest in how far he is willing to stretch the statutes or the Constitution. Presidential power comes from the force of a president's argument, the righteousness of a president's cause, and the support and consent of the American people.

... There may well be times in war when ends justify the means. But just as torture undermines America's cause in the larger war on terror, asserting powers the president does not have to pursue ends he cannot explain is more likely to weaken the presidency than to strengthen it.
Well, some fetishes can be fun. There are hundreds of magazine full of such stuff. But a fetish of "asserting the power of the executive" is just wrong.

Well, there will be a few things to deal with when the holidays are over.

Posted by Alan at 17:02 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 23 December 2005 17:14 PST home

Thursday, 22 December 2005

Topic: Photos

Christmas at the Beach - A Los Angeles Album

Thursday, December 22, 2005 - a storm a thousand miles out in the Pacific brings the highest surf anyone can remember. Inland it was sunny and eighty, but the beaches were socked in with fog. But it's Christmas. Irving Berlin wrote "White Christmas" one December out here while sitting in the sun under a palm by a pool just down Sunset Boulevard, as he explains in the words to the seldom-performed verse before the main melody. It's odd out here. Here, Santa and surfers -

From the photo album of thirty-five shots you will find here, you might enjoy some of these below, and some will appear in the upcoming weekend edition of Just Above Sunset, in much higher resolution.

On the strand, snowmen and palm trees -





























Down in Hermosa Beach they've got this tree -










































It looked kind of like this -


Posted by Alan at 20:41 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 22 December 2005 20:47 PST home

Wednesday, 21 December 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

The National Script: Whose Story Makes Sense?

Two of the columnists for Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-style parent sit to this web log, are planning end-of-the-year columns, reviewing just what was significant from the year that is ending. We'll see what Our Man in London, Mike McCahill comes up with, and Bob Patterson, in his guise as the World's Laziest Journalist, will no doubt have something amusing to say. Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, will offer what he chooses, but probably not a year-end retrospective.

Andrew Sullivan, in Time magazine, calls 2005, at least in regard to national and international politics, The Year We Questioned Authority, and that'll do as a place marker for now. He calls 2005 the year we stopped going along -
We gave up blind trust and demanded real accountability. We finally had it with a war in which Bush's bromides didn't even begin to match the facts on the ground. We wanted answers and detail and a plan for victory. We began to get one in the past month or so, as the President finally started to give more candid speeches in front of general audiences, even taking unscripted questions! He acknowledged "setbacks" in Iraq and wrong prewar intelligence, predicted violence ahead, asked for persistence and cited tens of thousands of civilian Iraqi deaths.

It was a strange kind of relief, but relief it was. Some of us had wondered if this man, who had so steadfastly refused to match rhetoric with reality for so long, would ever finally hit a wall he couldn't deny, a fact he couldn't dismiss, a world he couldn't fully control. We wonder no more. Bush's signature second-term domestic agenda - Social Security reform - died a pitiless, lingering death in 2005, as the public simply refused to buy it. His gleeful opening of the fiscal spigot - the biggest increase in public spending since FDR - got deficit hawks squawking enough to force the first tiny potential cuts in pork, if nowhere near enough to control the looming debt. The Republican congressional guru, Tom DeLay, discovered that gerrymandering districts in Texas could lead to a Supreme Court challenge and that money-laundering campaign cash could lead to an indictment. Karl Rove lost some sleep over Patrick Fitzgerald. The President's argument that he didn't authorize torture but that he would veto any law that forbade it tanked so badly in the Congress that he had to capitulate and co-opt the McCain anti-torture amendment in full.
All this has to do with those moments when "the powerful were forced to concede the limits of their own clout and spin." Katrina was the turning point, "the moment when the extent of cronyism, incompetence and sheer smugness in Washington reached a level that even the White House couldn't ignore." Yep, we all saw Michael Brown was not doing a "heck of a job." Sullivan suggests a President who could say such a thing "obviously had no clue about what was going on in his own government."

Maybe so, and the year ends with evidence things are spiraling out of control, or that the script, the narrative we were all supposed to follow ("Act well your part; therein all honor lies." - Pope) is being tossed aside. Everyone's improvising, like this is some John Cassavetes' film from the sixties. Who gets to write the script, and who really needs one?

Evidence of this on Wednesday, December 21st, as the government tries to wrap everything up for the year - a federal judge on the secret FISA court, the folks who approve domestic spying if it must be done, issuing warrants, suddenly resigns in protest. His colleagues said he "expressed deep concern" that the warrantless surveillance program authorized by the president in 2001 "was legally questionable and may have tainted the FISA court's work." And the remaining ten judges will meet sometime over the next two weeks to decide just what they want to do. A prominent attorney discusses the resignation here, but really, this wasn't in the script. Many are pointing to something from three years ago, this secret federal court issued a "public rebuke" to the administration, in this opinion - they charged "the government had misused the law and misled the court dozens of times." They thought the Attorney General then, John Ashcroft, had jerked them around. And maybe they're just as unhappy now. Who knows? But they're not following the script.

And the New York Times keeps messing up the narrative, as, on the same day, here they report that this Bush surveillance program spied on "purely domestic communications." But the White House said its own requirement was "that one end of the intercepted conversations take place on foreign soil." Drat. No one is paying attention to the narrative of the resourceful hero saving us all by bypassing the outdated and time-consuming rules. They're saying we're not getting the facts.

Of course you see how this is lining up. Those who subscribe to the hero-savior-cowboy model - the president is the man who does what it takes to keep us safe even if he does too much at times - are arguing those who don't see things this way are typical liberals, who don't do much of anything and argue with each other and argue about arcane laws. Who would you rather have running things? The opposition here may be sorry any of this ever came up. The original script may have holes in it that you can drive a truck through, as they say out here in Hollywood, but it's compelling - a winner at the box-office.

Holes in the script?

Here's a big one, and it regards the ever-changing script regarding Jose Padilla. He was the American citizen from Chicago we held for three years as an "enemy combatant" - the storyline was this fellow was conspiring with al Qaeda to set off a "dirty bomb" in America and irradiate tens of thousands of folks. So - no lawyer, no charges, no communication. Lock him up and throw away the key. That's what you do with such folks. The old rules don't apply.

Then we changed the script. Forget the "dirty bomb" stuff. That wasn't testing well. The idea was to move him from the military brig to a civilian jail and charge him with helping move money around overseas and chatting with the wrong people. This was a Hollywood rewrite - time for a new narrative.

So the administration filed a motion in the Padilla case to transfer the guy from military custody to civil authority. They asked the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate its prior ruling that he was someone the president could hold forever because he was so very dangerous. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a decision written by Michael Luttig, who was on the short list of nominees for the Supreme Court, didn't think much of the rewrite. You can't just change the narrative like that. On Wednesday, December 21, motion denied -
Because we believe that the transfer of Padilla and the withdrawal of our opinion at the government's request while the Supreme Court is reviewing this court's decision of September 9 would compound what is, in the absence of explanation, at least an appearance that the government may be attempting to avoid consideration of our decision by the Supreme Court, and also because we believe that this case presents an issue of such especial national importance as to warrant final consideration by that court, even if only by denial of further review, we deny both the motion and suggestion.
As noted here, the denial says only that the government's conduct "creates the appearance" that it is trying to duck review by the Supreme Court, while speculating that it might have legitimate reasons for its actions which it mysteriously refuses to articulate.

Maybe so, and perhaps "by avoiding the Supreme Court, Bush was hoping to preserve his imagined right to decide unilaterally what the law is, and the extent of his seemingly boundless Constitutional powers."

Whatever the motive, you just cannot keep changing the storyline. People actually do notice. "Say, honey, but wasn't he the mad bomber in the last episode? Did I miss something?"

And via cursor.org you see everyone is getting into the act, trying to change the script -
Calling Bush The anti-American president, and rejecting the "Three Monkey argument", a Southern Baptist commentator argues that "Richard Nixon merely spied on his political opponents, while George Bush is spying on the American people.

Ruth Conniff finds Bush looking "more like Richard Nixon every day", while Earl Ofari Hutchinson argues that Bush Domestic Spying is Old News.
Seems there's a fight here over just what the narrative is. The "three monkeys" argument, by the way, seems to have something to do with saying something is okay because everyone is doing it. Yipes.

As Howard Fineman puts it - "We are entering a dark time in which the central argument advanced by each party is going to involve accusing the other party of committing what amounts to treason. Democrats will accuse the Bush administration of destroying the Constitution; Republicans will accuse the Dems of destroying our security."

That's about it.

Of course the overarching narrative we are told to accept is that things are turning around in Iraq. They had elections. That's a real turning point. Of course the previous turning points in the story had to be discarded - the fall of Baghdad with the fall of the famous statue, our displaying the mutilated bodies of Saddam Hussein's two nasty sons for the entire world to see and marvel at, the capture of Saddam Hussein, the handover of the joint to the interim government, the first elections to choose folks to write a constitution, the approval of the new constitution even if it wasn't exactly finished. At least in Hamlet you get one turning point - Hamlet stabs Polonius in his mother's bedroom. He was one guy before that, and a different guy after that. That changed everything. It seems in real life structured narratives are a little looser, as in improvisational theater.

But is this the big turning point? Well, there's this - "Votes along sectarian and ethnic lines mean Washington must do more to quell tensions and may have to forge ties with Shiite-led Iran." And there's this - "Sunni, Secular Groups Demand New Vote - Claims That Iraqi Ballot Was Rigged Threaten to Derail Government, Boost Insurgency." And you have Niall Ferguson in the Los Angeles Times with this - "... if the history of 20th century Europe is anything to go by, all the ingredients are now in place for the biggest conflagration in Middle Eastern history. The only good news is that the first thing to go up in smoke will be the theory of a democratic peace."

All this is not in the script. And Patrick Cockburn in the Independent opens his analysis with this - "Iraq is disintegrating."

Well, we'll see.

In any event, keeping people on script can be difficult. Wednesday, December 21, the senate was a mess. The Republicans control the place, but couldn't get a spending bill passed, what with a few in their own ranks not getting their lines right. Cheney, in his other role as President Pro Tem of the Senate, had to drop in to break a tie vote, so we could get more tax cuts and tighter limits on Medicaid, Medicare and student loans. But legislation to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling failed to overcome the Democratic filibuster, and attaching it to the bill that pays for our troops around the world just looked creepy. That was a narrative trap, of course. The idea was if you voted against the bill in order to save the refuge, or to protest gifts to the oil industry or whatever, the other side could say you hated the troops and all that. No one wanted to act in that episode of Who Really Hates The Troops any more.

And in the middle of the week there was all the stuff about the Patriot Act. Renewing it was hung up in the senate - filibustered by the Democrats and five or six Republican off script. Every time you cough the news on television the president was saying we'd all die if it was renewed, and others saying it needed some work, as they thought maybe it was still full of a lot of things that were pretty creepy and intrusive. The president said, renew it for many years - just do it. The opposition said let's extend it for three months and work out the problems. The president said no, he'd veto any extension - renew it all now for many years, or really, forever, or else.

It went something like this.

"We just want to fix it!"

"If you don't renew it with each and every one of the provisions for searches and snooping and all the rest, we'll all die and it'll be your fault for opposing my wishes."

"How about three months to work this out?"

"No - all or nothing, now, so just do it."

"Let's be reasonable and talk."

"No, you hate America and want us all to die because you don't understand terrorism and you're stupid and irresponsible."

"We don't want to get rid of it, we just want to extend it for three months so we can make it better."

"No you don't - you just want to make me look bad."

"No, we don't."

"Yes, you do."

"What's your problem?"

"What's your problem?"

"Bully!"

"Cowards!"

It was like that. Late in the evening everyone agreed to a six-month extension. We'll see if the house agrees, but for now everything stays in place, just as it is, until next June. That's six months to discuss the provisions, each of them, and discuss the details. Guess who just hates details? Someone is seething.

Ah well, controlling the narrative is hard work - you want to make the other side come off as spineless cowards, and they end up looking reasonable and thoughtful and all that. How did that happen?

One of the hard things in controlling the narrative is, of course, getting everyone to see who the bad guys are. Only in the old westerns do the bad guys wear black hats and the good guys white ones. And that brings us to Canada, and the new effort, odd as it is, to make them the bad guys.

What?

Note here Montana Senator Conrad Burns said Tuesday he "misspoke" when he claimed terrorists involved in the September 11 attacks entered the United States from Canada. Well, first you have to get your facts straight. Newt Gingrich had to apologize too (see this). But you see what's up. Fox News has been on the story - "Could our neighbors to the north soon be our enemies?" Well, you never know. The Washington Times warns here that "our once great friend is turning against us."

A frightened population will agree to almost anything to feel safe. We do get the bearded guys in robes out to kill us all just because "they hate our freedoms." Maybe PETA and Greenpeace are really terrorist groups, and maybe the two gay guys down the street living together want to destroy your marriage and make your sons listen to Barbara Streisand singing show tunes. Bird flu is a worry. But Canadians? The only time anyone successfully pitched that narrative we got a comedy. That one is hard to pitch. But they're working on it. People got tired of having to hate the French. The food, the wine, friends one makes with actual French folks, and too many of us have been there too many times. That just stopped working. They were too harmless, and annoyingly charming - and too far away. But the Canadians are NEXT DOOR! Boo!

Ah well. Fox News and the Washington Times may have, as they say in Hollywood, jumped the shark on that one.

The other narrative that didn't fly this same week was the whole notion that when teaching science one should, when one sees something complex that has not yet been explained, and verified by experiment, say that this gap is not something that awaits further investigation. One should say this complexity can only be attributed to the supernatural, as it is clearly the work of some intelligent designer, the mysterious maker of the universe. If you don't yet see how something complicated works, that proves, ipso facto, there is an intelligent designer.

But that one bit the dust this week, as in Judge Bars 'Intelligent Design' From Pa. Classes - "Intelligent design" cannot be mentioned in biology classes in a Pennsylvania public school district, a federal judge said Tuesday, ruling in one of the biggest courtroom clashes on evolution since the 1925 Scopes trial.

The 139-page ruling is here, and it is rather clear. This narrative is whacky, and the local school board, since voted out of office, had resorted to "breathtaking inanity" in pushing it.

Basically, Judge John Jones III decided that the board's policy violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by endorsing a religious belief. - "In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."

And this - "The breathtaking inanity of the board's decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources."

The Washington Post has a full analysis here, and you could go to the ACLU of Pennsylvania's website for more, or see this in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Note here William Saletan says in this "intelligent design" case, federal district Judge John E. Jones "sets out to kill ID's scientific pretensions once and for all" -
After a six-week trial that spanned twenty-one days and included countless hours of detailed expert witness presentations, the Court is confident that no other tribunal in the United States is in a better position than are we to traipse into this controversial area," he writes. Jones proceeds to tear ID limb from limb "in the hope that it may prevent the obvious waste of judicial and other resources which would be occasioned by a subsequent trial" on the same question.

Scientifically, Jones settles the issue. Culturally, he fails. And until we learn the difference, the fight over creationism in schools and courts will go on.
What?

It seems the judge defined science too carefully. As in first, scientific explanations must be natural, not supernatural. Second, they must be testable. These criteria instantly kill this stuff as science. So teach it in some other class, maybe comparative religion. The other side defines science differently - "all scientific evidence which fails to support the theory of evolution is necessarily scientific evidence in support of creationism." The judge says that's not science. He calls this "contrived dualism." Of course it cannot be tested or proven, but they call it science. So does the Kansas school board.

Saletan -
ID theorists assume evidence against evolution is evidence for ID; Jones assumes any unscientific theory is religious and therefore forbidden.

Jones acts like it's no big deal to declare ID unscientific, since science is just one kind of learning. "Supernatural explanations may be important and have merit," he says. "ID arguments may be true," could have "veracity," and possibly "should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed." But if unscientific theories are religious, and religion can't be taught, it's unclear how notions related to ID could be debated in schools, or how their truth or merit could be entertained. And that's bad news for science, because it offers people with creationist sympathies - roughly half the American public - no outlet in the public education system outside of the science classroom.
And that's the problem. These folks feel threatened -
Is the pseudo-science of creationism ultimately being driven by religion? Or is this brand of religion, in turn, being driven by cultural anxieties? Is it possible to open a conversation with these folks and their kids, not in biology class but in, say, social studies?

According to Jones, the founder of the ID movement has written that evolution contradicts "every word in the Bible." Every word? You mean, including the part about not killing or stealing? No wonder so many people cling to creationism. And no wonder scientists and judges can't make it go away.
This isn't over.

Oh, and by the way, here's something just lost in the war for who controls the narrative.

Report - The Constitution in Crisis
By House Judiciary Committee Minority Staff
Tuesday 20 December 2005
The Downing Street minutes and deception, manipulation, torture, retribution, and coverups in the Iraq war.

Executive Summary
This Minority Report has been produced at the request of Representative John Conyers, Jr., Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee. He made this request in the wake of the President's failure to respond to a letter submitted by 122 Members of Congress and more than 500,000 Americans in July of this year asking him whether the assertions set forth in the Downing Street Minutes were accurate. Mr. Conyers asked staff, by year end 2005, to review the available information concerning possible misconduct by the Bush Administration in the run up to the Iraq War and post-invasion statements and actions, and to develop legal conclusions and make legislative and other recommendations to him.

In brief, we have found that there is substantial evidence the President, the Vice President and other high ranking members of the Bush Administration misled Congress and the American people regarding the decision to go to war with Iraq; misstated and manipulated intelligence information regarding the justification for such war; countenanced torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and other legal violations in Iraq; and permitted inappropriate retaliation against critics of their Administration.

There is a prima facie case that these actions by the President, Vice-President and other members of the Bush Administration violated a number of federal laws, including (1) Committing a Fraud against the United States; (2) Making False Statements to Congress; (3) The War Powers Resolution; (4) Misuse of Government Funds; (5) federal laws and international treaties prohibiting torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; (6) federal laws concerning retaliating against witnesses and other individuals; and (7) federal laws and regulations concerning leaking and other misuse of intelligence.

While these charges clearly rise to the level of impeachable misconduct, because the Bush Administration and the Republican-controlled Congress have blocked the ability of Members to obtain information directly from the Administration concerning these matters, more investigatory authority is needed before recommendations can be made regarding specific Articles of Impeachment. As a result, we recommend that Congress establish a select committee with subpoena authority to investigate the misconduct of the Bush Administration with regard to the Iraq war detailed in this Report and report to the Committee on the Judiciary on possible impeachable offenses.

In addition, we believe the failure of the President, Vice President and others in the Bush Administration to respond to myriad requests for information concerning these charges, or to otherwise account for explain a number of specific misstatements they have made in the run up to War and other actions warrants, at minimum, the introduction and Congress' approval of Resolutions of Censure against Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. Further, we recommend that Ranking Member Conyers and others consider referring the potential violations of federal criminal law detailed in this Report to the Department of Justice for investigation; Congress should pass legislation to limit government secrecy, enhance oversight of the Executive Branch, request notification and justification of presidential pardons of Administration officials, ban abusive treatment of detainees, ban the use of chemical weapons, and ban the practice of paying foreign media outlets to publish news stories prepared by or for the Pentagon; and the House should amend its Rules to permit Ranking Members of Committees to schedule official Committee hearings and call witnesses to investigate Executive Branch misconduct.

The Report rejects the frequent contention by the Bush Administration that there pre-war conduct has been reviewed and they have been exonerated. No entity has ever considered whether the Administration misled Americans about the decision to go to war. The Senate Intelligence Committee has not yet conducted a review of pre-war intelligence distortion and manipulation, while the Silberman-Robb report specifically cautioned that intelligence manipulation "was not part of our inquiry." There has also not been any independent inquiry concerning torture and other legal violations in Iraq; nor has there been an independent review of the pattern of coverups and political retribution by the Bush Administration against its critics, other than the very narrow and still ongoing inquiry of Special Counsel Fitzgerald.

While the scope of this Report is largely limited to Iraq, it also holds lessons for our Nation at a time of entrenched one-party rule and abuse of power in Washington. If the present Administration is willing to misstate the facts in order to achieve its political objectives in Iraq, and Congress is unwilling to confront or challenge their hegemony, many of our cherished democratic principles are in jeopardy.

This is true not only with respect to the Iraq War, but also in regard to other areas of foreign policy, privacy and civil liberties, and matters of economic and social justice. Indeed as this Report is being finalized, we have just learned of another potential significant abuse of executive power by the President, ordering the National Security Agency to engage in domestic spying and wiretapping without obtaining court approval in possible violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

It is tragic that our Nation has invaded another sovereign nation because "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," as stated in the Downing Street Minutes. It is equally tragic that the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress have been unwilling to examine these facts or take action to prevent this scenario from occurring again. Since they appear unwilling to act, it is incumbent on individual Members of Congress as well as the American public to act to protect our constitutional form of government.
No one noticed.

Posted by Alan at 21:58 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 21 December 2005 22:07 PST home

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