Wednesday, 5 April 2006
Topic: Couldn't be so...
There was this guy in graduate school, Phil, who had a thing for a minor subset of stage literature, the farce -
Think of the Astaire-Rodgers musicals of the thirties, or if you're literary minded (and into Beatles trivia), Joe Orton's "What the Butler Saw" - or the French classics from Feydeau like "A Flea in Her Ear." It's an acquired taste.
The word farce derives from Old French, meaning 'stuff' or 'stuffing' and may have originated in the comic interludes of medieval French religious plays serving as light-hearted stuffing in between more serious drama. Historically, the term meant a literary or artistic production of little merit.
Farce is a type of comedy that uses absurd and highly improbable events in the plot. Situations are humorous because of their ludicrous and often ridiculous nature. The choice of setting is a key factor in farce, as the protagonist is sometimes at odds with the environment. Often the central character in a farce does not (or should not) belong in the place of the action...
Well, Phil was working on his second PhD - having done early eighteenth century British literature (Pope) he was about to dive into the Victorians. But he loved farce. He'd go on and on about Feydeau and such. Maybe this was because he liked the unlikely. He was a prematurely gray courtly fellow from eastern Tennessee with one of those Shelby Foote accents, and both a fine French horn player in the local orchestras and a semi-pro baseball player (he was a catcher who could hit a curve). He knew the absurd. He could chat about the best French horn player of all time, Dennis Brain, and his favorite obscure baseball players from the thirties with odd names, like Jesus McFarland, all in one seemingly coherent conversation. The world amused him.
And he drew you into the absurdity. There was his second wedding, to the daughter of the head of personnel at the UN, a catered affair at a country estate near West Point. The bride's father was Chinese, and, oddly, a big fan of Mark Twain - but late that evening, when he wanted to make a point about a passage in Huck Finn he realized he had left his copy in Addis Ababa the week before. The FBI had guys out on the road all day taking pictures with telephoto lenses. Phil's world was like that. The day after the wedding we all drove down to the Village for the day, and at a Chinese restaurant the bride's father and Phil got into a long discussion of five different Chinese dialects, and his father-in-law kidded with the waiters in each. What?
Where is Phil now? No idea. He visited out here once in the eighties, then disappeared.
His perspective, that wry bemusement mixed with intense curiosity, kept us all sane. That would be useful, when, these days, it does seem hard to be amused in any way by improbable events in the world, and the protagonist in the White House sometimes, or most of the time, at odds with the environment at hand.
The environment at hand?
Wednesday, April 5th that would be this from Baghdad - "The Ministry of Displacement and Migration is preparing an emergency plan to assist Palestinians living in Iraq, many of whom have been the victims of violence or have received recent death threats, according to ministry official Farhan Obaid."
What? There are Palestinians living in Iraq? That complicates things. These of course are Sunnis, and there's been a bit of rape and murder. The situation there is not exactly stable. There's no government in Iraq yet, but plenty of militias with grudges. And these folks want out. But they have no way to get visas for Jordan or whatever. There's no government to issue those. So we now have refugee camps on the borders with starving Palestinians.
What's our position on the Palestinians. Oh yeah, they had a free and democratic election in the Palestinian territories and they elected Hamas, the wrong guys, so we cut off all aid so the new government would sink. What do well tell squabbling would-be leaders in Iraq now to do about this new situation with the local Palestinians, aside from sending so food to the camps on the borders? They don't listen to us anyway, so it hardly matters.
This democracy stuff is not only hard work, it's full of odd ironies. We'd better side with the Palestinians here, even if they vote the wrong way.
The Middle East seems to be splitting into the rising Shiite bloc, Iraq and Iran, and the Sunni bloc of most all other nations in the region, including Turkey. And the Kurds are, for the most part, Sunni. We cannot play favorites as the regional religious war shapes up. We can tell all parties to lighten up - after all, in America the Lutherans don't take up arms against the Methodists, and no one is killing Catholics (the KKK gave that up in the late nineteenth century). What's the problem.
We got rid of the bad guy, the oppressive murderous tyrant Saddam Hussein, and gave them democracy, and they voted. That was supposed to fix things. But it's now a farce without the humor.
But were we serious about democracy, really? The same day the Washington Post reports we say we are, but it seems we're not that serious, as in this -
We did what we did. The tense is past perfect, as you see. They voted. They have a "democracy." Case closed. Why do more?
While President Bush vows to transform Iraq into a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, his administration has been scaling back funding for the main organizations trying to carry out his vision by building democratic institutions such as political parties and civil society groups.
The administration has included limited new money for traditional democracy promotion in budget requests to Congress. Some organizations face funding cutoffs this month, while others struggle to stretch resources through the summer. The shortfall threatens projects that teach Iraqis how to create and sustain political parties, think tanks, human rights groups, independent media outlets, trade unions and other elements of democratic society....
Among the projects facing closure is the Iraq Civil Society and Media Program, funded by USAID and run by America's Development Foundation and the International Research & Exchanges Board. The program has established four civil society resource centers around the country, conducted hundreds of workshops and forums, and trained thousands of government officials in transparency and accountability. It also helped Iraqis set up the National Iraqi News Agency, the first independent news agency in the Arab world.
The program was supposed to run at least through June 2007 but without $15 million more, it will have to close this summer.
Officials at the White House, the State Department, the Office of Management and Budget and USAID were contacted for comment in recent days, but none would speak on the record. In response to a request for comment, USAID sent promotional documents hailing past accomplishments in Iraq, such as sponsoring town hall meetings, training election monitors, and distributing pamphlets, posters and publications explaining voting and the new constitution.
Of course it's short sighted, and there was comment all over on the news that we just stopped funding for "the frills." One comment out there is this -
Yep, this would be amusing if it weren't so deadly serious. Farce without the humor.
BushCo's shifting rationale for the Iraq invasion would be amusing if it weren't so deadly serious. When the twin demons of WMD and Saddam's ties to al-Qaeda were proven to be fabrications, the administration eventually found its way to "bringing democracy" to the people of Iraq as the primary reason for the invasion.
... Yes, the Myth of the Purple Finger strikes again. Produce enough pamphlets and posters on the wonders of voting and democracy will surely follow.
Obviously the security concerns on the ground in Iraq require the bulk of U.S. expenditures, and one could argue that without security democracy cannot flourish. Arguing in that vein leads to the inevitable conclusion that democracy in Iraq is a casualty of the poor planning and poor execution of BushCo in conducting this war. I can imagine many Iraqis thinking that if this is democracy, they'd just as soon have none of it.
But there is the overwhelming evidence that the whole "democracy" thing was a sham anyway. The best review of the actual evidence is from Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly here.
To simplify matters what he lays out matters, here, for the fun of it, cast as a court sort of thing.
EXHIBIT 1: In his campaign for the presidency that ended with that odd business in Florida in January 2000, George Bush repeatedly said the United States should never do nation building, and promoting democracy in other places in the world wasn't a high priority. The documentation is here, but many remember the words with needing their recollections refreshed.
EXHIBIT 2: After the attacks of September 2001 this didn't change. We got the talk of WMD in Iraq and the al Qaeda connection, but next to nothing on "promoting democracy." As late at the 2003 State of the Union speech (here) there were over a thousand word on Iraq and democracy was not mention at all, even once (as Drum did the word search). And at about the same time Paul Wolfowitz gave the famous interview on the "real" goals of the war. He didn't mention anything about establishing democracy as a regional model at all.
EXHIBIT 3: The plan all along was to get rid of Saddam Hussein, fly in Ahmed Chalabi and his long-exiled-in-America group and make them the government there, and immediately drop troop levels to no more than thirty thousand on the ground. (See this.) Of course Wolfowitz and Chalabi had been at the University of Chicago long ago, and we were paying the Chalabi shadow government-in-exile big bucks for "intelligence" that we decided was better than what the CIA and State came up with. We thought, or Vice President Cheney thought, that this would work out. It seems it didn't occur to anyone that Chalabi might have his own powewr agenda and be jerking us around. In any event, the plan actually had not one thing to do with democracy.
EXHIBIT 4: When that didn't work out we stumbled along, putting off any elections (they weren't ready was the line at the time), and then Ayatollah Ali Sistani made a fuss and said there'd be big trouble if we didn't allow elections. We resisted (see this from November 2003), but we had to give in. Drum doesn't put it this way, but we were shamed into allowing elections. We clearly didn't want them, as all kinds of things might happen, with the "wrong sorts" winning. Yes, we grudgingly told the UN to handle the voting (see this), and wouldn't you know, Ahmed Chalabi returned-from-decades-in-America-to-run-the-joint crowd didn't get enough votes for even one seat in the new parliament.
Drum adds this -
Case closed. It's farce, without the humor, as the protagonist in the White House is sometimes, or most of the time, at odds with the environment at hand, stumbling through another door on stage, as the audience laughs uproariously, or not, as he says things ironically at odds with the real events.
What's more, in the surrounding regions, Bush has shown himself to be exactly the type of realist he supposedly derides. Hamas won elections in Palestine and he immediately tried to undermine them. Egypt held sham elections and got nothing more than a bit of mild tut-tutting. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia remain our closest allies.
And now this. A man who is supposedly passionate about democracy can't rouse himself to bother funding it. Instead the money is going into security.
These decisions may or may not be defensible, but they are plainly not the decisions of a man dedicated to spreading democracy - and the fact that he repeatedly says otherwise doesn't change this. So once and for all, can we please stop hearing about democracy promotion as a central goal of the Bush administration? It's just a slogan and nothing more.
Well, we as a nation elected him to a second term, so this really is what we wanted, right?
We love situational irony.
So we must love this.
2003 - "Everyone who invests in the stock market and receives dividend income - especially seniors - will benefit from elimination of the double taxation on dividends. About half of all dividend income goes to America's seniors, who often rely on those checks for a steady source of retirement income."
Tom DeLay twisted arms. That was passed.
Wednesday, April 5, 2006 -
Ha, ha. The joke's on us. (That excludes readers who earn more than a million dollars a year, as those readers received additional tax refunds of a half-million each year, on average, under the new system.)
Americans with annual incomes of $1 million or more, about one-tenth of 1 percent all taxpayers, reaped 43 percent of all the savings on investment taxes in 2003.... The analyses show that more than 70 percent of the tax savings on investment income went to the top 2 percent, about 2.6 million taxpayers.
By contrast, few taxpayers with modest incomes benefited because most of them who own stocks held them in retirement accounts, which are not eligible for the investment income tax cuts. Money in these accounts is not taxed until withdrawal, when the higher rates on wages apply.
Don't bitch about this. More than half the nation voted for just this. And it is funny, kind of a droit du seigneur (or Droit de Cuissage), without the sex.
The rich are very different from us, as Fitzgerald said to Hemingway. You remember Hemingway's reply.
And some things are funny, maybe, with the sex, as in the big scandal of Wednesday, April 5th - "The deputy press secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was put on leave and his security clearance suspended on Wednesday after being arrested on charges of using the Internet to try to seduce a 14-year-old girl, an official said."
If you'll pardon the innuendo, they caught him red-handed. He's a jerk. And he's not fighting extradition to the controlling jurisdiction, Florida.
An anomaly? Perhaps.
But there's this, the former head of Operation Predator, the national program to target child sex predators, Frank Figueroa, was special agent in charge of the Tampa office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the law enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security at the time of his arrest. His arrest? He dropped his pants and shorts in a food court at a Florida mall and put on a show for a sixteen-year-old girl, who wished he really hadn't, getting himself all excited with stroking himself and all. Wednesday, April 5, 2006, he had his day in court. He pleaded no contest.
It seems Michael Brown wasn't the only one frustrated at the Department of Homeland Security.
There's not much to say here. This may be beyond farce. Both the one arrest and the other "no contest" plea on the same day. Heads are exploding on the righteous Christian Bush-is-our-Jesus right. The man who listens to God and does His will has some odd people working for him. Once again the protagonist in the White House is sometimes, or most of the time, at odds with the environment at hand, stumbling though another door on stage, as the audience laughs uproariously, or not, as he says things ironically at odds with the real events.
And this not long after Claude Allen, President Bush's longtime domestic-policy adviser, is caught shoplifting, which causes his resignation (see Slate here and Just Above Sunset here).
Yep, beyond farce. The farce will be how the religious right defends the two perverts and the shoplifter, to maintain the godliness of the Bush administration. That'll be a good show.
But then, the bad guys have their problems too, as the Los Angeles Times reports the same day here -
This was a good read with the morning coffee out here in Hollywood, smoking a pipe or two while the cat sat in the window and watched the rain. Another farce, and for those of us with decades of such experience in the world of systems management (or any sort of management, of course), all too familiar. The Times ran it in the A section. They run Dilbert (sort of management Feydeau) in the D section, the business pages. They could have run them together.
To hear Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed tell it, Osama bin Laden was a meddling boss whose indiscretion and poor judgment threatened to derail the terrorist attacks.
He also saddled Mohammed with at least four would-be hijackers who the ringleader thought were ill-equipped for the job. And he carelessly dropped hints about the imminent attacks, violating Mohammed's cardinal rule against discussing the suicide hijacking plot.
... Mohammed describes a terrorist outfit fraught with the same conflicts and petty animosities that plague many American corporations. Mohammed describes himself in particular as having to fend off a chairman of the board who insists on micromanaging despite not knowing what he was doing.
The Times also runs a ton on the immigration debate. That's big here, but the best of the day was from Jacob Weisberg in Slate with this, arguing that whole business is a farce and we don't really need an immigration reform bill at all. The whole this is a farce? It seems so.
Key points -
He recommends some tinkering, but what's the problem? Accept the ambiguities. Relax.
... why not pass no immigration bill at all? The status quo of American immigration is certainly flawed. We are turning a blind eye to widespread lawbreaking and probably driving down low-end wages, at least to some degree. On the other hand, the system works in its way. The most motivated, tenacious, and enterprising immigrants, who are therefore the most economically desirable, find a way around the barriers we erect. Once here, they help our economy sustain a high rate of growth and subsidize our Social Security system. In return, those who choose to stay have a chance to create better lives for their children. Do we really want to put an end to this deal?
America always has tolerated, and probably always must tolerate, such flawed-but-functional arrangements when it comes to immigration. Our country was built by people who did not wait for engraved invitations. New arrivals draw hostility from native-born workers with whom they compete for jobs, even though the native-born can usually recount immigrant family sagas themselves. As a result, the national attitude toward immigration is marked by ambivalence. We need their muscle. We admire their pluck and sacrifice. At the same time, we object to having to compete with them, we resent their differences, and we doubt their commitment to our values. Our immigration policies will never be fully rational because our feelings about a process so central to the American experience remain contradictory.
The whole thing is a good read. There's a whole lot of posturing going on, just as in Orton or Feydeau, although he's not doing the literary thing.
But we insist on farce, as in the other big story of the day, this - "'Today' show host Katie Couric announced her departure from NBC on Wednesday to join rival CBS News and become the first sole woman anchor of a major US network evening newscast."
So long Edward R, Murrow, and so long Walter Cronkite. We now get perky and light. Journalistic farce for our times.
And so it goes. No, that was another newsman.
I wish Phil were still around.
Tuesday, 4 April 2006
Instant Oblivion, Texas Style
Topic: NOW WHAT?
Instant Oblivion, Texas Style
Thoughts for the day -
"A stupid man's report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand." - Bertrand Russell
"I never know how much of what I say is true." - Bette Midler
Well, he's gone. Tom Delay. How odd. The news broke Monday the 3rd, as he decided to tell Tweety Bird, which would be Chris Matthews, the hyperactive (near-manic) talk show host on MSNBC, and gave Time Magazine an exclusive interview.
Knight-Ridder follows up -
Whatever. As Jack Cafferty said to Wolf Blitzer on CNN's Situation Room - "Wolf all the tough talk was reduced to, 'I quit!' To borrow a phrase from Roberto Duran, 'No Mas.' Mr. Delay suddenly became another disgraced public servant who couldn't take the heat. He would strut around on capitol hill like a cocky little, bandy rooster, but today he slithered away from Congress..." (See the CNN video here.)
Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on Tuesday voluntarily relinquished his hold on the House seat that he has held for 21 years, dismantling a political career that was laced with conservative triumphs but ultimately overshadowed by scandal.
In a televised statement to constituents, the Houston-area lawmaker announced his intentions to resign as representative of the 22nd congressional district, abruptly ending his re-election campaign against Democratic challenger Nick Lampson.
"I have no regrets today and no doubts," said DeLay, a Republican from Sugar Land in Fort Bend County, Texas. "I am proud of the past. I am at peace with the present, and I'm excited about the future."
The resignation, which is expected to take effect in late May or early June, comes amid a burgeoning scandal around disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who had close ties to DeLay's leadership office. Two former DeLay aides have pleaded guilty to corruption charges growing out of the Abramoff investigation.
DeLay, who also remains under indictment in Travis County, Texas, on money-laundering charges, repeated previous assertions that he has committed no wrongdoing but said that he was withdrawing from his re-election bid because the contest had become "a referendum on me."
And midday Tuesday this was in the email bin -
His phone numbers were also appended, but you don't want to call him, do you? In any event Exterminate Thyself: Decoding Tom DeLay's Exit Interview, is just fine, if you want to read an excellent analysis of self-righteous whining. But it's over.
Subject: Since you've linked to me before -
For which I'm grateful. I send along my latest on Tom DeLay: http://www.slate.com/id/2139263/
Chief Political Correspondent
On the other hand, this paragraph leaps out -
They didn't. He's their man. There was that late March thing, radio commentator Rick Scarborough convened a two-day conference in Washington on the "War on Christians and the Values Voters in 2006." As noted last week, DeLay was a keynote speaker and Tony Perkins was on television saying Delay had been charged and indicted because he was too Christian for evil people who run the country and want to destroy Christianity. Many of us have no idea who these people are, but the idea is they're everywhere. Drop a line if you find any such people.
Jesus is my political strategist. After he was indicted on conspiracy and money-laundering charges, DeLay smiled like a choirboy for his mug shot. The move was a political masterstroke since the picture looked better than many of his official photographs. But DeLay explains that his smile wasn't motivated by politics at all. He was wrapped in Christ. "I said a little prayer before I actually did the fingerprint thing, and the picture. And my prayer was basically: 'Let people see Christ through me. And let me smile.' Now, when they took the shot, from my side, I thought it was the fakiest smile I'd ever given. But through the camera, it was glowing. I mean, it had the right impact." So, the impact of the picture was that people would see the humility, forgiveness and generosity of Christ? Perhaps, but DeLay explains that by "right impact," he means the picture allowed him to shove it in his opponent's kazoo. "Poor old left couldn't use [the picture] at all. They had all kind of things planned, they'd spent a lot of money. It made me feel kind of good that all those plans went down the toilet." Usually when Christ and the commode are used in back-to-back sentences, social conservatives mount a protest.
But as the Washington Post noted, this Christian Right leader Rick Scarborough said DeLay was a real martyr and "God always does his best work right after a crucifixion." (You could look it up here. The Post here notes that earlier Scarborough had told the Family Research Council last year that attacks on DeLay were actually "a huge, nationwide, concerted effort to destroy everything we believe in."
You see how this is shaping up - a noble warrior has lost the battle but the war goes on.
There are histories of his rise and fall all over the press and the net, with speculation and what's next for the guy. Lobbying for the Christian Right? Being "the man behind" American conservatism pulling the strings? Who knows?
Note this from Andrew Sullivan -
That'll do. And although you get things like this - DeLay's Retirement Good News for House GOP - the question is, having shed this albatross, will the American public decide the Republicans have cleaned up their act and they are the party, now, of clean government?
Tom DeLay's resignation from elective politics, barely a year and a half after the triumphant Republican re-election campaign of 2004, is a remarkable fall from grace. It happened because the bankruptcy of contemporary Republicanism is increasingly unmissable. And it happened because of obvious corruption, sleaze and a complete lack of broad public appeal. DeLay's skills were not retail; they were back-door: the schemes and deals and handshakes that are inextricable from effective government but not pretty in daylight. DeLay took that ruthlessness too far, got exposed, and now fairly taints the GOP's broad national image. It's probably good news for the Republicans in the short term. They get some time to distance themselves from the architect of their Congressional hegemony. But he was the architect, as integral to contemporary Republicanism as Karl Rove; and the product of the same Southern/Texan Christianist movement that has turned the Republican party into a religious sect, with some business interests along for the ride.
Probably not. And too, this was the man who rode herd on the House voting a got the president's work done - the tax cuts, the Medicare prescription program in its pro-pharmaceutical form and all the other legislation. Who will be there to twist arms, to threaten, to hold out "inducements" and all the rest? The hammer is gone.
What just happened is a major political event, and why it happened and what it shows is all over the media. Not here.
What's next? Too much is going on to be concerned with this guy. The left may gloat, and the right be sad, or angry, or contemplative or anything at all. It doesn't matter.
Think about the big shot at work who leaves the company or retires. You have a nice lunch and folks say a few things, and an hour later you're back at your desk dealing with the next crisis and he's forgotten. There's work to do. And within a day or two it's as if he never existed.
There are big things afoot.
Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly has some finds.
See Fool Me Twice by Joseph Cirincione in Foreign Policy (registration required). It contains this - "For months, I have told interviewers that no senior political or military official was seriously considering a military attack on Iran. In the last few weeks, I have changed my view. In part, this shift was triggered by colleagues with close ties to the Pentagon and the executive branch who have convinced me that some senior officials have already made up their minds: They want to hit Iran."
And the Brits are aboard, pretty much, as the Telegraph (UK) reports here -
It is believed that an American-led attack, designed to destroy Iran's ability to develop a nuclear bomb, is "inevitable" if Teheran's leaders fail to comply with United Nations demands to freeze their uranium enrichment programme.
... A senior Foreign Office source said... "If Iran makes another strategic mistake, such as ignoring demands by the UN or future resolutions, then the thinking among the chiefs is that military action could be taken to bring an end to the crisis. The belief in some areas of Whitehall is that an attack is now all but inevitable."
When that first appeared in the Telegraph you might have dismissed it. The UK papers are full of "advocacy journalism" - solid facts but presented to make a point. And the Telegraph used to be Conrad Black's paper, the Canadian right-wing nut, buddies with Richard Perle and that crowd (see Lord Black And His Pearl from December 28, 2003), so perhaps this is just wishful thinking. But Lord Black is long gone from that British paper, sued six ways from Sunday for using his press holdings as a personal piggy bank. And who knows where the paper stands now? But Foreign Policy too?
Drum - "There's no question that the administration is already preparing the ground for an air strike on Iran, but it's likely that the real push won't come until late summer when it can be used as a cudgel in the midterm elections. Same song, new verse."
Like Tom DeLay matters now?
A new war? A chance for a regional war? A chance to further enrage the nations of the Middle East? Cool.
And the war we've got going is going so well, as Associated Press reports here late on the 4th - "BAGHDAD, Iraq - An Iraqi vice president called Tuesday for the embattled Shiite prime minister to step aside so a new government can be formed, becoming the most senior Shiite official publicly to endorse demands for a leadership change to halt the slide toward civil war."
Earlier in the Guardian (UK) there was this - "Iraq's embattled prime minister has defiantly refused to give up his claim to head the country's next government... In an exclusive interview with the Guardian in Baghdad - his first since Condoleezza Rice and Jack Straw pleaded with him and his rivals for an immediate agreement to prevent a slide to civil war - Ibrahim Jaafari insisted he would continue to carry out his duties."
Current US casualty count 2,343 dead, for this.
Last week Newt Gingrich had a suggestion for a simple slogan the Democrats could use to sweep to power - "Had enough?"
Maybe. The New York Times on Wednesday, April 5, prints this, an op-ed item by John Kerry -
The item carries the title, "Two Deadlines and an Exit" - straightforward, and the sort of "tough love" the Republican moralists like Bill Bennett love to chat up. Get your act together or we're outta there now. And if you do get your act together, we're out at the end of the year. Enough is enough. Grow up.
So far, Iraqi leaders have responded only to deadlines - a deadline to transfer authority to a provisional government, and a deadline to hold three elections.
Now we must set another deadline to extricate our troops and get Iraq up on its own two feet.
Iraqi politicians should be told that they have until May 15 to put together an effective unity government or we will immediately withdraw our military. If Iraqis aren't willing to build a unity government in the five months since the election, they're probably not willing to build one at all. The civil war will only get worse, and we will have no choice anyway but to leave.
If Iraq's leaders succeed in putting together a government, then we must agree on another deadline: a schedule for withdrawing American combat forces by year's end. Doing so will empower the new Iraqi leadership, put Iraqis in the position of running their own country and undermine support for the insurgency, which is fueled in large measure by the majority of Iraqis who want us to leave their country. Only troops essential to finishing the job of training Iraqi forces should remain.
Well, it's more of a plan than the administration has ever presented, even if not in PowerPoint. The administration's plan is to win, but they cannot or will not define what winning would look like.
This? Winning is getting a stable government in place there, an elected one and something like a democracy of sorts. So get it done, and if you can't, we're not picking sides in a multi-decade civil war, just for the fun of it. Kerry took Gingrich to heart.
So the president says we'll be there until we "win" - and no one knows what that even means any longer. And Kerry says "whatever" and presents this, what some might think a competent leader might propose, something concrete and says we're not going to be jerked around any longer. And it turns the tables on the president, who now looks weak and trapped by the feuding factions who are fighting for power in Iraq, pretty much ignoring what the administration wants. Who has the brass balls now?
Well, the ridicule of Kerry will start anew, exposing him again as an opportunistic coward in Vietnam, not the jet fighter ace that Bush was in the same war. We'll see if that works again.
But with Iran to bomb if not invade and occupy, and Iraq without a government and too inward-turned and self-absorbed to care what the United States wants, or even says, the fall of Tom DeLay already seems, twenty-four hours out, a curious footnote to history.
Kerry has nothing to say about DeLay. What would be the point? There's work to do, and things to fix.
It was a science story that ran late on April fourth, as the Kerry plan hit the wires, and not a political story about Tom DeLay at all, but someone has a sense of humor over at Associated Press with this - New Dinosaur Resembles Large Turkey - "Fossils discovered in southern Utah are from a new species of birdlike dinosaur that resembled a 7-foot-tall brightly colored turkey and could run up to 25 mph..."
Hagryphus giganteus? That's the name, not Tom DeLay.
Monday, 3 April 2006
Fantasy and Avoidance
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Fantasy and Avoidance
The week began with the usual madness.
"It is not very comfortable to have the gift of being amused at one's own absurdity." - W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage
That said, Zacarias Moussaoui, is now quite comfortable.
Why? On Monday, April 3rd, he got what he wanted -
Charming. So he gets convicted, now he's made "eligible" for being removed from this world by the state, and the jury will hear days of "impact" testimony, from the widows of the World Trade Center attack of course, and hear lots of the audio tapes of distress calls that day, and decide if, since he's now eligible, he wins the prize.
A federal jury found al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui eligible Monday to be executed, linking him directly to the horrific Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and concluding that his lies to FBI agents led to at least one death on that day.
A defiant Moussaoui said, "You'll never get my blood, God curse you all."
Dahlia Lithwick, the attorney who does legal analysis for the online Slate site and the Washington Post (and now and then appears on MSNBC) nails the absurdity here -
Yep, there is convincing testimony that his al Qaeda buddies thought him a useless fool and generally ignored him as a tiresome incompetent, and he seems to have resented that. Now he's the big man he always said he was when his friends all shrugged that Arabic equivalent of "whatever, big guy. He showed them all. Waleed bin Attash, Sayf al-Adl, and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed were wrong ion their testimony. He was important. The jury said so. So there.
Hand it to Zacarias Moussaoui, who managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with his fantastical eleventh-hour trial testimony last week about a never-before-mentioned fifth 9/11 airplane; the one that he would apparently have co-piloted with Richard Reid and flown into the White House. In a trial featuring some of the most spectacular episodes of government overreaching and misconduct we will ever see, Moussaoui managed to persuade the jurors that he was a key figure in the 9/11 attacks - even though he was in jail at the time and had always claimed before that Sept. 11 was "not my conspiracy."
When it looked like little Moussaoui was too small to play the outsized role the prosecutors had scripted for him, he simply grew himself to fit into it.
Lithwick on the dynamics -
That's the rub. Even the judge was saying this was odd, new legal ground being opened here. This is the death sentence for conversations that did not happen - if, hypothetically, way back when, he had been truthful on this one date about these particular things, which he wasn't, then the authorities might have done this thing or that thing, hypothetically, which they didn't. That's a curious if-then reason to kill him. But the jury made the leap. There might have been this alternative, better reality. You never know.
Put aside the uncomfortable fact that Moussaoui was always willing -even eager - to die as a martyr. Put aside also the fact that Moussaoui told the prosecution that he wanted to be executed. And that he was willing to testify against himself if it would mean avoiding a life sentence - because it was "different to die in a battle ... than in a jail on a toilet," as he put it.
Why shouldn't his jurors make his dreams come true?
This was what negotiators describe as a Pareto-optimal result: a win-win, in which Moussaoui, the government, and Americans craving vindication all got what they wanted. In the end, the verdict's only casualties are a few impossible-to-explain facts. Facts that should have added up to just this: We don't execute people for fanciful happenings that may have followed from imaginary conversations.
Of course that leap assumes the swift-acting and highly competent FBI that would have leapt into action and collated all the information, working seamlessly with all levels of law enforcement, and stopped the plot cold. Well, they might have. You never know. All real-world, empirical evidence suggests otherwise, but they might have. You never know - if the conversation that never happened had happened, they might have done what they don't quite seem capable of doing. It's possible.
But as Lithwick concludes, this exercise in alternative realities works out fine for everyone -
It's a funny thing, and almost as if we're all in one of those fifth rate science fiction tales where someone travels back in time and bumps off Hitler's grandfather and WWII never happens and the world is a far different place that the one we've got, or the other tale where someone goes back in time and changes something that seems insignificant but turns out to be critical and a means the someone who went back was then never born so really didn't go back and change that one things, so that person was born and did go back, and so on and so forth.
Nobody will dispute that Moussaoui would have happily done anything at all to help the 9/11 plot succeed. But he did nothing to help it succeed because, as everyone but Moussaoui now agrees, he was flaky, wifty, and weird. It's not a capital crime to be flaky, wifty, or weird. Nor is it a capital crime to wish you were a hero instead of a dud.
Yet because of Moussaoui's false testimony, the government's nutty conspiracy theory, and the nation's need for closure, Moussaoui's name will be in the history books and the law books for all time; inextricably linked with 9/11, just as it has always been in his dreams. And perhaps we will all sleep better for believing that if Moussaoui had come forward and told what little he knew, we could have stopped those terrible attacks, just as it happens in our own dreams.
How lucky for Moussaoui that his fantasies and ours are such a perfect match.
The case law established here, with its hypothetical realities, is perhaps the legacy of those "Back to the Future" movies where Marty and the mad professor are always trying to work out such problems. And it is fun. But it's an odd way to run a legal system, where you execute people for the hypothetical "might have been."
But then, yes, here all parties get what they want - the real essence of the law, not what is logical.
And it's better than just punting.
That's what happened with the Supreme Court, Monday, April 3rd, as noted here - "The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal by terrorism suspect Jose Padilla and avoided deciding whether President George W. Bush can order Americans captured in the United States to be held in military jails without criminal charges or a trial."
The question is, can, as the administration asserts, the president order the arrest of an American citizen on American soil and hold that citizen without charges, without any right to an attorney much less to any appeal, and certainly with no trial, for as long as he chooses (in this case, nearly four years) on the president's declaring that this person is really an enemy combatant - with the reason for that designation not open to any examination by any other branch of government, and certainly not the courts, as such actions are within his constitutional, plenary powers as commander-in-chief time of war.
It's an interesting question. In a time of war, does the president have the right to declare that some citizens have forfeited their rights as citizens by some action or planned action, on evidence he has been presented, evidence that should not be presented to any court, as that would interfere with his waging the said war, which is his job, after all? That the person may be innocent, in these cases, not relevant. The decision has been made - for the safety and security of the nation. This is too important.
Then are we at war? The administration says we are, but the Attorney General in the first NSA hearing says, strictly in terms of the law, we're not. But close enough?
And with the Jose Padilla case it's complicated. He was held four almost four years as someone who had, in the judgment of the president, forfeited his rights as a citizen - for planning to blow up something or other with a dirty bomb. Then the administration dropped that whole idea and charged him with an actual crime, transferring him to civilian custody (discussed in these pages here last December). The administration 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. He was, really, just a criminal, so he did have rights - to know what he was being charged with, the right to an attorney, and to a trial and all that. They changed their minds. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals was not impressed.
So the question comes up to the Supreme Court. What's with this original ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that the president could hold him for four years? That doesn't seem right, that the president can order the arrest of an American citizen on American soil and hold that citizen without charges, without any right to an attorney much less to any appeal, and certainly with no trial, for as long as he chooses, upon the president's declaring that this person is really an enemy combatant - with the reason for that designation not open to any examination by any other branch of government, and certainly not the courts, as such actions are within his constitutional, plenary powers as commander-in-chief time of war.
What's with that? Is that right?
By a six to three vote the court Monday the 3rd said, well, it's moot. They tell the attorneys for Padilla, that since the guy is no longer locked up with no rights but is being tried on actual criminal matters, now is not the time to decide whether the president can do such things. But they say if it happens again Padilla can certain come back and ask about it. No problem. Let us know. Keep in touch.
This - "Keep in mind that Padilla has not been charged as the dirty bomber. My guess is that the evidence against him wouldn't hold up in civilian court. Backed into a corner the Administration had two choices: let Padilla's appeal go through and risk losing the 'right' to detain Americans forever - or charge Padilla only on broad ties to terror and hope that the Supreme Court would let their swindle stand."
This - "The importance of this case and this area of law in post-9/11 America should not deter judicial review, it should invite it so that it can be settled once and for all, lest the ambiguity invite more and more abuses."
Or this, noting that it was Justice John Paul Stevens' "dissenting opinion two years ago that concluded that Padilla's case implicated 'nothing less than the essence of a free society.' Today, he appears to be the critical vote to deny review."
So they're kicking that can down the road. Later.
So we roll on.
Ah well, make of it what you will. And how it's reported will be as an outrage, or a sound legal decision, or as a curiosity. But nothing was settled. Smiles in the White House on this particular Monday evening.
But be careful. The president is said to be an impulsive fellow. And this site you're now reading had a logon last week from the CIA, and one from the Department of Homeland Security, and Monday, April 3rd, one from the Sergeant of Arms at the US Senate. And the Customs Department has been reading the various items here on visas and entry to the United States, the items on Farley Mowat and the musings of Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, who has commented on such matters. We live in odd times.
Or we live in fine times. It depends on what you believe. It depends on what you read or see.
Is the media biased and messing with your mind? That's hard to say.
But then, here Jack Shafer points to a new and interesting study by Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro, two economists from the University of Chicago - Media Bias and Reputation (PDF format).
Economists? Math? Complex formulae and all that? Yep. Just something that will appear in the April issue of the Journal of Political Economy, everyone's favorite magazine.
But Shafer makes it easy stuff, with this summary -
Jack Shafer uses this to do a riff on CNN versus Fox News and all the rest, and if you're a news junkie you can click on the link and read all that. You believe who you trust, and the economics are such they give you what you want, so you trust them, and they make money. It's a self-reinforcing economic loop. And if they're biased it's on things no one can verify at the moment, or the next day.
1) If a media outlet cares about its reputation for accuracy, it will be reluctant to report anything that counters the audiences' existing beliefs because such stories will tend to erode the company's standing. Newspapers and news programs have a visible incentive to "distort information to make it conform with consumers' prior beliefs."
2) The media can't satisfy their audiences by merely reporting what their audience wants to hear. If alternative sources of information prove that a news organization has distorted the news, the organization will suffer a loss of reputation, and hence profit. The authors predict more bias in stories where the outcomes aren't realized for some time (foreign war reporting, for example) and less bias where the outcomes are immediately apparent (a weather forecast or a sports score). Indeed, almost nobody accuses the New York Times or Fox News Channel of slanting their weather reports.
3) Less bias occurs when competition produces a healthy tension between a news organization's desire to conform to audience expectations and maintaining its reputation.
The idea here is that if you don't want bias you have to break the loop - split up the big media giants and all that. That's unlikely. And these two Chicago people say if you want to combat all that anti-Americanism in the foreign media, instead of trying to get Al Jazeera off the air, or get them censored, you stimulate completion for them, funding anyone who want to play - flood the market with start-ups, no matter what they broadcast. That's unlikely too. The president is on record thinking it might have been a good idea at one time to bomb the main Al Jazeera headquarters. The president is said to be an impulsive fellow.
Should we bomb the Washington Post for reporting this on the same Monday morning?
Three U.S. Marines and a sailor were killed in action in volatile Anbar province, the U.S. military reported Monday, bringing to 10 the number of American deaths over the weekend amid insurgent violence that also claimed dozens of Iraqi lives.
... Also Sunday, the military reported the deaths of six soldiers and airmen, including two who were killed when their helicopter apparently was shot down during a combat air patrol southwest of Baghdad on Saturday.
... Their deaths added to a toll of at least 50 Iraqis who were killed Sunday in a spate of violence that included a mortar attack, military firefights, roadside bombings and other explosions.
Or we go after the New York Times for reporting that over there the Shiite bloc now appears willing to chuck out Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari - the Kurdish and Sunni members of the National Assembly are ticked. The dynamic duo of our Secretary of State Rice and the UK Foreign Minister Jack Straw make a surprise visit and tell them all they really have to get it together - a government of some sort three months after the damned elections is something we expect - and as the Times says - "The developments suggested that a new phase in Iraq's convulsions might have started by opening a possibly violent battle for the country's top job between rival Shiite factions, which both have militias backing them. The incumbent prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, has said he will fight to keep his job, and his principal supporter is Moktada al-Sadr, a rebellious cleric whose Mahdi Army militia has resorted to violence many times to enforce his wishes."
A reconstruction contract for the building of 142 primary health centers across Iraq is running out of money, after two years and roughly $200 million, with no more than 20 clinics now expected to be completed, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says.
The contract, awarded to U.S. construction giant Parsons Inc. in the flush, early days of reconstruction in Iraq, was expected to lay the foundation of a modern health care system for the country, putting quality medical care within reach of all Iraqis.
Parsons, according to the Corps, will walk away from more than 120 clinics that on average are two-thirds finished. Auditors say the project serves as a warning for other U.S. reconstruction efforts due to be completed this year.
This is not looking good. Is it bias to report these things? Is there a way to spin this positive?
And what do you do about, on NBC's Meet the Press, General Anthony Zinni, former commander of our forces in the Middle East, calling on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush officials to resign for making a "series of disastrous mistakes" in Iraq?
You can watch the video clip here
Zinni: ... I heard the case being built to go to war right away- I was hearing a depiction of the intelligence that didn't fit what I knew. There was no solid proof that I ever saw that Saddam had WMD...
ZINNI: I saw the - what this town is known for, spin, cherry-picking facts, using metaphors to evoke certain emotional responses or shading the context. We know the mushroom clouds and the other things that were all described that the media has covered well. I saw on the ground a sort of walking away from 10 years' worth of planning. You know, ever since the end of the first Gulf War, there's been planning by serious officers and planners and others, and policies put in place - 10 years' worth of planning were thrown away. Troop levels dismissed out of hand. Gen. Shinseki basically insulted for speaking the truth and giving an honest opinion.
The lack of cohesive approach to how we deal with the aftermath, the political, economic, social reconstruction of a nation, which is no small task. A belief in these exiles that anyone in the region, anyone that had any knowledge, would tell you were not credible on the ground. And on and on and on, decisions to disband the army that were not in the initial plans. There's a series of disastrous mistakes. We just heard the Secretary of State say these were tactical mistakes. These were not tactical mistakes. These were strategic mistakes, mistakes of policies made back here. Don't blame the troops. They've been magnificent. If anything saves us, it will be them.
Ah, but he's biased. Or not.
But then, things are coming right along. Zacarias Moussaoui will die, making everyone happy, even Zacarias Moussaoui. That Padilla fellow will be fine, and if they lock him up again and throw away the key, his attorneys can ask for a clarification. And the war is going as well as you see it going.
All's fine. And our friends at Parson's headquarters out in Pasadena, near the Rose Bowl, get to come home after all that work overseas.