As of Wednesday, January 11th, news on the domestic front was all rehash, or is that variations on a theme? There was no big news on the congressional scandals, and the media was full of "backgrounders" on Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay. Arial Sharon was not dead, nor was the surviving miner, and there were a few SNL-like "Generalissimo France is Not Dead" stories running here and there. The Alito hearings were in their third day (a reasonable summary here) - Senators Spector and Kennedy got is a shouting match of sorts, the nominee's wife rushed out in tears, but this was a dodgeball game and the nominee dodged most of what was thrown at him. There was lots of posturing and not much substance. There was, really, no substance. The headline of the day was above the Elisabeth Bumiller New York Times item - But Enough About You, Judge; Let's Hear What I Have to Say. It was a day of the expected.
The action was on the international stage, as the day here in Hollywood opened with an email from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, with startling news -
Radio FIP just announced (14h50) that Johnny Hallyday, monumental 'National Rocker' of France, has applied for Belgian citizenship. Born as Jean-Philippe Smet, possibly in Belgium, Johnny became French in 1961. Johnny is 63 years old and is expected to grow up any day now.
But then, Hallyday has been in a bad mood, given this -
So he's taking his black leather jacket and leaving. That Paris appeals court decision was the last straw?
PARIS, Jan 4 (AFP) - France's best-loved veteran rock and roll star Johnny Hallyday has quit Universal records after 43 years to join rival Warner Music, the company announced Wednesday.
Hallyday, who at 62 still dons his trademark leather and performs with the vitality of someone half his age, left Universal after a bitter battle to win possession of some 1,000 master copies of his popular songs dating back to 1961.
The best-selling artist, once dubbed the French Elvis Presley, now plans to release his first album on the Warner label in the autumn, the head of Warner Music France, Thierry Chassagne, told AFP.
... In April, the Paris appeals court threw out Hallyday's bid to gain possession of 1,000 valuable master copies of his songs from Universal, overturning an earlier court decision and angering the French rocker.
And now France has lost Johnny Hallyday. One imagines a bit of a collective "Gallic shrug."
The other international news was not so fluffy, as John O'Neil reported in the New York Times - Leading Shiite Says He Will Oppose Changes to Iraqi Charter.
Here's the deal
The whole idea was that the post-election Iraqi government would agree to constitutional amendments that would address Sunni Arab frustration with Iraq's political structure. The Bush speech the day before (here) had a section on how disagreement is really, really bad and the Shiites and Sunni has better stop fighting with each other about all the small stuff. Our position is we're going to get a unified national government over there, an inclusive one - and we've been applying pressure for that. We were just told, by the guys who won, to butt out.
Iraq's most powerful Shiite leader today rejected making major changes to the new constitution, dealing a blow to Sunni Arab hopes of amending the charter to avoid being shut out of the nation's vast oil wealth.
Sunni Arabs were reluctant to sign on to the constitution last fall, fearing that provisions granting wide powers to autonomous regions would leave oil in the hands of Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south. The Sunnis dominate in western and much of northwestern and north-central Iraq, but the oil lies beneath Kurdistan and portions of southern Iraq that one day may be subsumed in a similar semi-independent region controlled by Shiites.
As a carrot for the Sunni Arabs, the constitution was amended before its successful October referendum so legislators elected in the national ballot last month could alter it with a two-thirds vote. Some Shiites also voiced a willingness to negotiate with Sunnis on amendments to the charter.
But today Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, vowed to give no ground on crucial portions of the constitution.
Matthew Yglesias points out here that the SCIRI leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, is basically saying no deal - "the constitution as written passed fair and square in a referendum and he likes the status quo just fine."
Yglesias - "And it seems to me that he's entitled to do so. But if the Iraqi government doesn't want to implement the Bush administration's political strategy in Iraq, then what's the point in extending an open-ended military commitment to that government? If American leaders and Iraqi leaders disagree as to what should be done, as seems to be the case, why not go our separate ways?"
Another view? Ron Beasley - And Let The Civil War Begin.
They're setting up the battle lines -
And the north (Kurds) and west (Sunnis) can go pound sand. There's lots of it there.
Mr. Hakim appeared to rule out in particular any change in the constitution's provisions allowing the creation of strong regional provinces, a point that had angered many Sunnis.
"It is our responsibility to form Baghdad provinces and southern Iraq provinces," Mr. Hakim said.
So let's see here. One side wins an election filled with questions about the vote count and election fraud of various sorts, and the losing side, formerly in power, is really unhappy. Rather than trying to draw them into a cooperative government where everyone gets at least a little say, and some respect, the winners just cut them out of everything and do what they want, twisting the knife and reminding them of what losers they are. And they do this gerrymandering thing - the real power is in selected regions.
Who do these SCIRI guys think they are, Republicans? Bush, as Rove's man, is surprised by this? They are simply replicating the Republican playbook. They learned from the masters.
Of course, over there, there may be a civil war. As least there will be suicide bombings and other mayhem. Here, the "losers," when they cannot get even thirty seconds on Fox News, will accept the idea they really are losers - or run John Kerry again and prove it. We had our civil war back in the nineteenth century. No more of that.
Ah well, and the there's this -
Right. And the BBC here also provides this timeline -
Western powers have stepped up their warnings that Iran's resumption of nuclear research will probably result in referral to the UN Security Council.
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said European ministers meeting on Thursday would decide how to proceed, but taking the matter to the UN looks "likely".
A US State Department spokesman agreed it was now "more likely than ever".
But Iran's leader dismissed the threat. He said the research would go on despite the Western "fuss".
Tehran says it broke the UN seals on the Natanz nuclear research facility on Tuesday because it wants to produce electricity, not because it is pursuing nuclear weapons.
This was coming.
Sept 2002: Work begins on Iran's first reactor at Bushehr
Dec 2002: Satellites reveal Arak and Natanz sites triggering IAEA inspections
Nov 2003: Iran suspends uranium enrichment and allows tougher inspections
June 2004: IAEA rebukes Iran for not fully co-operating
Nov 2004: Iran suspends enrichment under deal with EU
Aug 2005: Iran rejects EU plan and re-opens Isfahan plant
Jan 2006: Iran re-opens Natanz facility
So there will be lots of turmoil at the UN, and maybe sanctions. There were ten years of sanction on Iraq, and estimates that millions died for lack of medicine and clean drinking water and all the rest, and Saddam Hussein didn't give a hoot, and in fact got rich gaming the sanctions. So this will work?
We may have hoped Israel would take out the Iranian reactors and centrifuges - Cheney hinted again and again, with a sly smile, that might happen - but with Sharon in hospital and not a factor any longer, and the Israeli government in some sort of holding pattern, we may have to do this ourselves. We don't do sanctions happily, and treat the UN as a snake pit of useless, corrupt fools, as everyone saw with this current war against their advice, and with our sending John Bolton there to piss on everyone's shoes. Will we bypass the UN again, after a show of "international cooperation" - and send in the precision bombs?
Our columnist Bob Patterson sent along this item - Der Spiegel and the German news agency DDP reporting CIA Director Porter Goss asked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to provide "full intelligence cooperation" for a possible air strike on Iran's nuclear and military facilities.
They say Goss, at a meeting December 12th, provided Turkey with three dossiers containing "evidence" Tehran is cooperating with al Qaeda, and information on what "we knew" of the current status of Iran's weapons programs. Maybe we got it right this time.
German security sources, it seems, say Goss assured Erdogan that Turkey would be alerted to any air strikes a few hours before they were launched. And as a carrot, Goss also gave the Turkish government the "green light" to strike the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Iran - which would please them.
One never knows. This would not be a move that would raise our standing in the Middle East from its nadir now. (Note: Nadir: c.1391, in astronomical sense, from Middle Latin nadir, from Arabic nazir "opposite to," in nazir as-samt, lit. "opposite of the zenith," from nazir "opposite" + as-samt "zenith". Use as the "lowest point (of anything)" first recorded in 1793.) We're already seen as bullies who smash other people's things to get what we want, or smash other people's things when we feel threatened. And the SCIRI guys, who won the elections in Iraq, friendly with Iran now, would be ticked. We've given new meaning to the word "nadir." Expect a Holy War.
Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz clearly had the idea we'd have our short Iraq war, turn the place over the Ahmed Chalabi and his merry band of Americanized exiles, and be out in six months - and then be able to turn to Iran. That didn't work out.
Now we do something about this Iran problem and tick off the guys we helped to power and who we expect to get Iraq organized, and piss off most of the Shiite nations in the region, and appall the rest of the world - or we don't, and Iran has the bomb.
This is a mess. It's a puzzle with no good solution, and maybe without any solution at all.
On a lighter note, last weekend in Changes (Just when you thought you knew the players and the rules...) you'd find a discussion of this - everyone's favorite born-again, end-times-are-coming, evangelical hyper-Christian, Pat Robertson, and the Israeli government, were developing a Jesus theme park in Israel.
Yes, he said Ariel Sharon has the massive stroke because God was punishing him for the Gaza pullout. Sharon was giving God's land to those Palestinians, and they we're God's people - and God was obviously pissed off. He has some curious ideas about God and Israel. But the theme park was going to happen.
But then, is Pat Robertson's world view really mainstream?
Consider this from Pew Research -
Andrew Sullivan, deep in writing a book on such matters, adds this -
Fully 44% of Americans believe that God gave the land that is now Israel to the Jewish people while a substantial minority (36%) thinks that "the state of Israel is a fulfillment of the biblical prophecy about the second coming of Jesus." White evangelical Protestants and, to a lesser degree, African-Americans accept both of these propositions. Significantly fewer white Catholics and mainline Protestants believe Israel was granted to the Jews by God or think that Israel represents a fulfillment of the Bible's prophecy of a second coming.
It may be mainstream, but the folks in Israel aren't happy about it, as your see here (AP - 8:14 a.m. ET January 11, 2006) -
When a poll of all adults finds over a third holding the view that the state of Israel is fulfilling the prophecy of the imminent Second Coming, you can see that pre-millenarianism is not some fringe idea, touted by Robertson. It's fundamentalist orthodoxy. Robertson is cruel and tactless, and many evangelicals would agree. Their compassion forbids them from making personal attacks as Robertson does. But he didn't make up his theology. And it's mainstream.
But the same day the Rapture Index was up three points, to 154 - the end is near, or nearer, and the Jews who haven't converted are likely to die in great torment! These folks should watch it. Don't mess with Pat.
Israel won't do business with Pat Robertson after the evangelical leader suggested Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's massive stroke was divine punishment, a tourism official said Wednesday, putting into doubt plans to develop a large Christian tourism center in northern Israel.
Avi Hartuv, spokesman for Israel's tourism minister, said officials are furious with Robertson's suggestion that the stroke was retribution for Sharon's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last summer. "We can't accept this kind of statement," Hartuv said.
... "We will not do business with him, only with other evangelicals who don't back these comments," Hartuv said. "We will do business with other evangelical leaders, friends of Israel, but not with him."
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
Well, yes, sort of. Andrews Sullivan researching his book on these things offers this -
Israel won't do business with Pat Robertson?
Hey, did I say it here and it came out there, or what?
The fact that Robertson, who we hear is so famously tight with the whole situation, didn't see this coming makes me think he, for some reason, set himself up for this fall.
"Fully 44% of Americans believe that God gave the land that is now Israel to the Jewish people ... you can see that pre-millenarianism is not some fringe idea, touted by Robertson."
Maybe so, but that is not what Robertson said.
Instead of implying that God gave the land to the Jewish people, Robertson said God didn't like it when folks started giving away HIS land - the implication being that the land still belongs to God.
This all makes God sound like some (pardon the politically incorrectness of this term) "Indian Giver!"
Seems to me if God didn't like the plan as outlined by Sharon, he should've hired a lawyer to search the deeds in the county courthouse, rather than just smiting the guy and doing him bodily harm.
"... while a substantial minority (36%) thinks that 'the state of Israel is a fulfillment of the biblical prophecy about the second coming of Jesus.'"
I may be wrong but I think this substantial minority is confused about the theology.
It seems to me all those "End-Timers" who take this crap seriously do NOT believe modern Israel is the fulfillment of the prophecy - one reason why they distinguish between the "Israelis" of modern times and the "Israelites" of the bible - but that the fulfillment will have to wait until something else or other (I forget what) happens first.
Anybody? Any evangelicals who can straighten me out on this?
Maybe that helps. Crazy folks on both sides.
Here's a document
from some evangelical leaders specifically attacking the notion that the current state of Israel is Biblically mandated. These leaders differ from the increasingly popular and now mainstream fundamentalist notion of the End-Time, the Rapture, and the role that a unified and expansionary Israel will play in such a moment. Evangelical Protestantism is not monolithic, but the dispensationalists are clearly gaining ground, as the astonishing success of the "Left Behind" books shows. I should add that dispensationalism is a relatively recent development. Like much that now passes for ancient truth (like the Catholic church's insistence on the human person present in the zygote), its origins are actually very modern
. In this new and modern brand of absolutist faith, the more extreme Christian fundamentalists are similar to many Islamic fundamentalists.
In any event, our high-powered Wall Street attorney notes Rick in Atlanta saying, "Seems to me if God didn't like the plan as outlined by Sharon, he should've hired a lawyer to search the deeds in the county courthouse, rather than just smiting the guy and doing him bodily harm."
He says - "But smiting is such good sport these days!"
Rick in Atlanta -
From Wall Street - "I like billable hours, but then I'm on the other side of the equation! God bless America!"
Not only that, it's quicker and simpler than going through the legal system. And when you consider all those billable hours you don't have to pay for, it's also much cheaper - which is one reason it's the path so often taken by drug dealers and jealous husbands. But still, this doesn't make it right!
We should heed the recent wisdom of Sam Alito here when he opined that nobody but nobody is above the law!
From Atlanta - "Yeah, I had you in mind when I wrote that. I hope I didn't queer the deal; I think you and God probably had a pretty strong case."
Okay. Enough. The Rapture Index just jumped six points. We're supposed to take this seriously.
In any event, while the news in the United States was essentially static, the international news was, shall we say, dynamic.
When Bush and his team came to power five years ago it seems their way of dealing with the difficulties in this sorry world was to shake things up real good and see what happened. So we're finding out what happens. Never a dull moment these days.