Topic: Couldn't be so...
End of the Week: The Other Form of Marxism
There are fewer entries here this week, partly because there was a holiday in there somewhere, and technical difficulties have forced a redesign of the parent site, Just Above Sunset. Creating the new design and creating a site exclusively for the photography - Just Above Sunset Photography - takes time. And a day was lost to covering an historic event down in Long Beach.
But the week's news was interesting in all that it stirred up. So here are some thoughts.
As noted in the other items, any lingering discussion of the Vice President shooting his hunting partner in the face, and the fellow apologizing for causing the Vice president any anguish, was subsumed by the two major stories that had the nation buzzing - the administration approving a company owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates to run operations at six of our key ports, and, mid-week, what seemed like the start of a civil war in Iraq. It's beyond the cartoons now.
The only lingering news regarding the Vice President's accident was this item - "Secret Service agents guarding Vice President Dick Cheney when he shot Texas lawyer Harry Whittington on a hunting outing two weeks ago say Cheney was 'clearly inebriated' at the time of the shooting."
It seems the Secret Service guys judged that more than a few in the hunting party exhibiting "visible signs" of impairment - slurred speech and erratic actions and that sort of thing. Now we move into the realm of felony - but of course, the item appeared in Capitol Hill Blue. They're excitable folks over there. They may not exactly make things up, and they do often get the general sense of what's going on just about right (as discussed here last August). It's the specifics that seem unlikely. Some of the agents are now gone? Others have asked to be reassigned? Maybe it's all true. And note they vigorously defend themselves here. But it doesn't matter now. Other events have overwhelmed the news cycle.
Michael O'Hare gives a wide overview here, arguing that life is imitating art in a way, but the art involved has more to do with maybe the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges and W. C. Fields, and more recently The Daily Show. "Art" is being used loosely here of course, to cover slapstick and satire.
One does think of Duck Soup (1933) -
That Marx Brother film also contains the famous line - "Well, who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?" (Lots of other quotes from the film here.)
Michael O'Hare may be onto something -
There's a muse for farce, this Ludicrosia? She spoke to Feydeau? Well, maybe not, but all this is happening. Yes, out here in California, we did try to execute another fellow, and like the first two this year, there was no reprieve from our Austrian governor, Arnold Shwarzenegger, the fellow with the Nazi father. Thumbs down. That's why we love him.
But it didn't happen - the doctors (anesthesiologists) who were to handle the drip lines to make the whole thing more humane (make sure he's out cold before you open the line with the lethal stuff) walked out. They said doctors shouldn't participate in killing people - maybe unless they asked (assisted suicide) or they weren't actually people yet (first term abortion). The state medical association backed them up.
And we were trying to do this humanely - if the state is going to kill one of its errant citizens of course you should do it humanely. That way it's not cruel and unusual, or at least it's not cruel. Well, it's not cruel looking at it from one side. Morales probably does not share that view. Yep, Marx brothers stuff, and not much different than Doctor Guillotine long ago arguing his new device was so quick and final it was really much more human than that hanging or firing squad stuff - and don't even mention drawing and quartering. Where are the Marx Brothers when you need them?
And what about this "wrong war against the wrong enemy?" On Wednesday, February 22nd, the sectarian civil war there has begun in earnest, as Sunni guys dressed in official-looking commando uniforms managed to blow up the Shiite al-Askari shrine in Samarra, the one with the big gold dome. This is a big deal, with the holy graves and all - kind of like mad Lutherans blowing up Saint Peters in Rome, instead of nailing things to doors.
So the Shiite al-Askari shrine in Samarra is rubble now. What did they do about it?
Well, immediately there was this - seventy-five Sunni mosques attacked, two burned to the ground and three Sunni clergymen assassinated. There were predictable demonstations in Shiite Iran, and in Pakistan and Beruit. A later Rueters report adds an Iraq update, with one hundred eighty-four Sunni mosques damaged and ten clerics killed and fifteen abducted, if you're keeping score. The Muslim Clerics Association is accusing the Shiite religious leaders of making things worse by calling for protests.
Okay, the Prophet Mohammed didn't do any of what we in the west call a "succession planning." Every serious organization has a succession plan. Not in this case - and even if the Shiites say Ali was the successor because, after all, he married the Prophet Mohammed's daughter, Fatima, the more fundamentalist Sunnis don't buy that at all. It may seem like farce to some in the west, but it's a serous rift there, as two branches of Islam have developed a lot of layers of meaning, custom and faith based on which you believe. Of course western religion has had wars over parallel splits. Heck, how many died on the banks of the Boyne in Northern Ireland in 1690 and have died in that dispute since? Better Orange than Catholic? You'd die for that? A lot of layers of meaning, custom and faith, based on which you believe, leads to chaos.
What to do now in Iraq? That's obvious - just like a prison riot, do a lock down. There will be a curfew in the core Sunni Arab areas, including Baghdad, to prevent worshippers from rioting afer the Friday prayers ceremony. And it looks that that will extend through Saturday, at least. No one is going anywhere. Baghdad Sealed Off to Stem Violence. And the shutdown means no going out to scare up some food. And you already don't have power most of the day. Are they glad we came and got rid of the bad man? The alternative is not so nice either.
What does our ambassador say? Well, he says this -
We lost seven more guys. Unrelated. We've become like the Brits in Northern Ireland, trying to keep the two side from killing each other, and getting picked off by both. Unrelated. Sure.
The political writer Digby here reminds us that Thomas Friedman, the widely-respected and thoughtful columnist for the New York Times once said that it's not every day you get to see a political experiment in action. Friedman was always big on kicking some butt to "show our strength" - and it really didn't matter if Iraq was the wrong butt as we had to show we wouldn't be pushed around - and then was big on the grand experiment to plant a Jeffersonian democracy smack in the middle of that region to shake things up.
And now? The Marx Brothers in action - without the laughs and with a lot of dead people. And our guys get to keep the peace, and wonder, if they shoot, which side they other side will think we're taking. Keeping a lid on all this will be tricky. Maybe it's impossible.
Some of us saw Tony Blankley of the Washington Times on MSNBC's Hardball say to Chris Matthews maybe we should take sides and become the enforcement arms of the Shiites and Kurds, and destroy the local Sunnis. Yeah, the new Shiite government is shaping up to be a theocracy aligned with Iran, but maybe that's the best we can do. They might not be that unfriendly to us. Or so Blankley thinks.
Note this - screen shots of Fox News with the graphic saying a civil war in Iraq may be a blessing in disguise ("All-Out Civil War in Iraq: Could it be a Good Thing?"). And here, a screenshot and transcript of Terry Jeffery, the editor of pro-Bush Human Events on CNN saying this all proves Bush's grand plan is working - the idea being that what happened this week in Iraq is all so awful that the sensible people in Iraq will join together to form a sectarian state that has nothing to do with religion. He's channeling Rufus T. Firefly. He saw Duck Soup too many times and confused it with real life.
And on the edge of it all. Friday, February 24, 2006 Attack Fails at Huge Saudi Oil Site and Oil Prices Up After Attack in Saudi Arabia. That site? Twenty percent of the world's oil passes through there. It's not every day you get to see a political experiment in action.
And back here the business with Dubai World Ports only got more absurd. Do we allow a corporation - actually pretty good at doing what they do but owned by the government of United Arab Emirates - to run operations at six key American ports? The nation is in an uproars on this - at least most politicians and those who think about policy, and good number of ordinary folks who don't want to get blown up and hear the United Arab Emirates is where some Arabs live, and that composite government has been playing both sides. Lou Dobbs on CNN is on a tear, with guests (Joe Klein, Friday) saying if we don't do this the Arab world we hate us, and Dobbs shooting back "like they don't hate us now after all we've done?" It's all over. No point in citing everyone saying things.
Thursday the White House had Karl Rove tell us the president understands folks are upset and the president might think about delaying this (here), and that was the same day Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England was telling a senate committee "the terrorists will win" if we don't immediate do this deal (here) - "The terrorists want our nation to become distrustful. They want us to become paranoid and isolationist, and my view is we cannot allow this to happen. It needs to be just the opposite." And he said opposing this deal was giving aid and comfort to our enemies, so even the Republicans who have questions are now being called traitors. Welcome aboard, guys.
If congress passes anything to stop this, will the president veto it? He says he will. But he says that all the time and never vetoes anything (see The Emperor Has No Vetoes for a discussion of this "the boy who cried wolf" veto business).
But he will veto this -
So the president might delay implementation, but it's going to happen, no matter what. Dubai World Ports put their implementation on hold (here), to wait this out (and give the administration some breathing room), and New York and New Jersey are taking the feds to court.
Great. But none of it matters.
Congress and its laws? The courts? Piffle. The man decided.
And he says there's nothing to worry about. Trust him, not these other folks. He is the one who protects us from the bad guys. Everyone knows that.
As Tim Grieve puts it here - "The Bush administration can stand by and let all sorts of things happen - the gutting of Iraqi museums, the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, genocide in Darfur, Sudan - but it can't handle the notion that someone else might be playing the terrorism trump card."
Or maybe it's this, from Lou Dobb's show on CNN earlier in the week (video here or here and transcript) -
Ah. Just business. These folks have done business with these people, and thus they trust them. Should we?
This seems to be some kind of turning point. Folks are wondering if they should. The warning signs are going up at the conservative National Review, where you would find this late Friday afternoon from John Podhoretz -
And putting more bluntly, Rich Lowry adds - "Emergency, indeed: if Bush loses his edge on national security, he has nothing left."
And these are Bush guys. This is a political mess. And it had to come.
See this from Michael Hirsh in Newsweek - "How then did we arrive at this day, with anti-American Islamist governments rising in the Mideast, bin Laden sneering at us, Qaeda lieutenants escaping from prison, Iran brazenly enriching uranium, and America as hated and mistrusted as it ever has been? The answer, in a word, is incompetence."
Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly adds this -
The ports deal seems to have just brought up the underlying problem.
See William Greider in The Nation here -
The politics of fear just hit the wall. It turned out to be a farce, and, like that Marx Brothers movie, a demagogic dance of hysterical absurdities, with endless opportunities to waste public money, and an this case, to do deals with your friends and thumb your nose at everyone.
And the president spent the end of the week in Indiana and Ohio, raising more than one and a half million for congressmen he needs to keep their seats, and saying things like this - "I wish I wasn't talking about war. No president ever says, 'Gosh, I hope there's war.' For those of you who are young here, I want you to know what I'm leading to is how to keep the peace and do my job that you expect me to do, which is to prevent the enemy from attacking again."
But it seems that the final credits are rolling and the lights are coming up.
Ah, but we will remember some hysterical absurdities with fondness thinking back on it all. Major General Geoffrey Miller was in charge of Guantánamo from 2002 to 2004, when he was then assigned to make Abu Ghraib in Baghdad work the same way. Late in the week disclosed a bit more of what was going on in the Muller years at Guantánamo, as reported here (Knight-Ridder) -
Absurd, and hysterical is the other sense of the word. But did it work? That depends -
Got it? No evidence it works. So keep doing it. It might, one day. Or not. And the FBI behavioral-analysis guys wanted this crap stopped, and Miller's guys got on the line and told the Pentagon the FBI said they were doing just the right thing.
You want absurd? It's not A Passage to India - it's another farce.
First - Bush Prepares For India Trip, Says India Is Responsible Nuclear Nation. Yep, he's going for a visit. Complex stuff. Fast rising economy there, as the have all those industries doing what American workers used to do, but a great market for American goods - maybe they'll buy our stuff with their new riches. That'd take off some of the political heat back here regarding outsourcing. And they could be a buffer if China gets uppity. They have nuclear weapons, but have never signed onto the non-proliferation treaty, and are in conflict with our flakey war on terror ally Pakistan, and they have nukes there too. Tricky. And the may be the world's largest democracy, but were way friendly with the Soviets in the Cold War days. The idea is to make 'em happy. Then they'll help us with China and terror, and buy our stuff.
What to do? Offer them advanced nuclear technology. But of course make them promise to use it only on civilian stuff. But the offer upset all the national security worriers back here, thus the statements that these Indian folks were responsible.
It didn't matter. Late Friday they told us to stick our advanced nuclear technology where the sun don't shine (story here) - seems they don't give a hoot about our economic and political issues with China, and the don't like George treating them like children he can bribe and fool. It seems they want to be treated as adults, and not like American voters or American congressmen or senators.
Of course this didn't help - "The United States apologized and granted a visa on Friday to the Indian-born president of a world science body after he said he was refused entry on charges of hiding information that could be used for chemical weapons."
What? Professor Goverdhan Mehta, 62, an internationally recognized organic chemist, president of the Paris-based International Council for Science (ICSU) had been invited to a conference by the University of Florida. Some low-level staffer decided he was a terrorist and blew him off. He didn't make it. Ah well, it's not just Cat Stevens. This happens to world-famous scientists all the time. They complain. We look childish and foolish. Maybe we should have Dubai World Ports do the screening.
Of course it might be this - "George W Bush's protocol handlers have notified South Block that the American President's deep belief in his born-again faith precludes his visiting Mahatma Gandhi's Samadhi at New Delhi's Raj Ghat - during his forthcoming visit to India."
Nice move. What? They aren't Methodists over there? What's wrong with them?
It should be an interesting trip. He'll need to turn on some real Texas charm. Maybe he'll take along our new Minister of Propaganda, Karen Hughes. She can do her "I'm a mother so I understand" routine that she tried out in the Middle East.
No? It is a Marx brother film.
Ah well, as for wanting to be treated as adults, and not like American voters or American congressmen or senators, you cannot beat this -
Change the name and no one will notice. This is the gimmick in more than a few vaudeville routines, and happens in many a farce. That works.
And on it goes. Anyone could find five or ten such farce stories a day (six more here were dumped as citing more would just be piling on). So what?
Maybe the "so what" is that all these items, while not that bad in and of themselves, start to build a growing sense - in those not previously fed up with this combination of incompetence, blind pride and dim-wittedness - that something is amiss. And maybe something should be done. Maybe the middle will move. The port deal pushed any number of people over the edge. It's no fun living in a farce. You could die.