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"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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Tuesday, 9 May 2006
The Eye: Looking Down on Ghosts
Topic: Photos

The Eye: Looking Down on Ghosts

Today's political commentary will be a bit late. Current events can be dispiriting. In place of that commentary, see The Eye: Looking Down on Ghosts at the photography web log, a mediation on Hollywood history, with some odd shots.

Posted by Alan at 20:09 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Monday, 8 May 2006
The CIA Gamble: The No-Nonsense, Blue-Collar General from Pittsburgh
Topic: Breaking News

The CIA Gamble: The No-Nonsense, Blue-Collar General from Pittsburgh

Like Gertrude Stein, Oscar Levant, Gene Kelly and Andy Warhol, and Ernest Borgnine, Lieutenant General Michael V. Hayden comes from Pittsburgh, so you have to like him. His father worked as a welder and Hayden drove a cab as he worked his way through the quite respectable Duquesne University there - BA History 1967 and MA Modern American History 1969. And like Colin Powell, the child of Jamaican immigrants who grew up in Queens, Hayden come up through the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). Not all the top generals start out at West Point (or in the case of Marine Generals and Navy Admirals, Annapolis). Hayden got there the harder way.

And now he may run the CIA, as the morning announcement on Monday, May 8, was what had been rumored since the previous guy, the civilian Porter Goss, resigned the Friday before, surprising everyone. Something was up.

The News -
President Bush named Gen. Michael V. Hayden as CIA director today in the face of criticism from Republicans as well as Democrats.

In an indication that even more changes are planned at the agency, officials said Hayden's deputy would likely be former CIA deputy director of operations Stephen R. Kappes, who resigned less than two months after Porter J. Goss took over as CIA director in late 2004.

Goss was forced to resign last Friday after a turbulent tenure marked by an exodus of some of the agency's top talent, including Kappes.
Yeah, Hayden looks a little scary (photo courtesy of Martini Republic), but he's a blue-collar sort and not a Republican operative like Goss, the former congressman from Florida, and former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, who had key CIA senior managers and directors quitting left and right in disgust as Goss worked on purging the CIA of anyone who brought in facts from the field that undermined what Vice President Cheney and his associates knew was true and were feeding to the uncomplicated president. Kappes "coming in from the cold" (in a sense other than what those words mean in the spy novels) could be a good sign.

Lieutenant General Michael V. Hayden
But the Hayden guy looks a bit like an evil Elmer Fudd. And even if he's an Air Force general, and "the highest-ranking military intelligence officer in the armed forces," he is the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, responsible for overseeing the day-to-day activities of the national intelligence program - he runs the National Security Agency (NSA), and has vigorously defended the president's ongoing program to tap citizens' phones and read their email without doing what the law quite specifically requires, obtaining a warrant from the FISA court that was set up just for that purpose. And he's Principal Deputy Director to National Intelligence Director, the big cheese, John Negroponte, who has his own history, recently our ambassador in Iraq, before that our UN ambassador, and long before that reported to be the man who, as our ambassador to Honduras, funded and directed the death squads bumping off nuns and such in that Contra business down that way. Elmer Fudd just tried to shoot Bugs Bunny. These two are a little creepy.

Hayden too may have not remembered much from his classroom days at Duquesne University. Everyone worried about this appointment was reminding everyone they could buttonhole of this - speaking at the National Press Club in Washington on January 23, 2006, about that warrantless surveillance, during the question and answer period following his speech, the man flatly denied that a "probable cause" was standard in the Fourth Amendment that limits the government's ability to conduct searches and, by extension, surveillance. He said those words just weren't in the Fourth Amendment.

Knight-Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay made the mistake of opening a question with "the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution specifies that you must have probable cause to be able to do a search that does not violate an American's right against unlawful searches and seizures." Big mistake -
Hayden: No actually, the Fourth Amendment actually protects all of us against "unreasonable search and seizure."

Landay: But the measure is "probable cause," I believe.

Hayden: The amendment says "unreasonable search and seizure."

Landay: But does it not say -

Hayden: No. The amendment says -

Landay: The court standard, the legal standard -

Hayden: - unreasonable search and seizure.
More taste! Less filling! You could look it up. It says both - "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."

But Hayden persisted -
Just to be very clear - and believe me, if there's any amendment to the Constitution that employees of the National Security Agency are familiar with, it's the Fourth. And it is a reasonableness standard in the Fourth Amendment. And so what you've raised to me - and I'm not a lawyer, and don't want to become one - what you've raised to me is, in terms of quoting the Fourth Amendment, is an issue of the Constitution. The constitutional standard is "reasonable." And we believe - I am convinced that we are lawful because what it is we're doing is reasonable.
One reporter, James Bamford, asked him if the real purpose of going around the FISA was "to lower the standard from what they call for, which is basically probable cause, to a reasonable basis; and then to take it away from a federal court judge, the FISA court judge, and hand it over to a shift supervisor at NSA."

Hayden then defended the professionalism of the shift supervisors. He wasn't going to touch that.

Something is up. Perhaps an "Orwell Alert" is called for.

Of course no one questions his credentials as a wonderful officer and a man who actually knows how to run large organizations (unlike Goss, his predecessor, with no experience running anything at all). He's good. People do, however, question his grasp of what's legal, and what certain organizations are allowed to do, and not allowed to do. He doesn't seem to think that matters all that much. It's new world - 9/11 changed everything and all that.

And the organization, the CIA, does need some help.

As the Hayden announcement was made, there was this in the background -
CIA Director Porter Goss' No. 3 man at the agency, facing investigation as part of a congressional bribery probe, quit Monday, an official said.

Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, the CIA's executive director, announced his resignation in an e-mail message to agency staff, a U.S. official told United Press International on condition of anonymity.

His departure follows Goss' hasty resignation Friday, which some reports have linked to the broadening bribe probe centered on disgraced former California GOP Congressman Randall "Duke" Cunningham.
It seems the CIA's inspector general is investigating Foggo's relationship with Brent Wilkes, the defense contractor implicated in the Randy "Duke" Cunningham bribery thing. Foggo and Wilkes are old college buddies (San Diego State) and they're close, best man at each other's wedding and all that. And it looks like Foggo may have steered CIA contracts to companies controlled by Wilkes or one of his relatives, accordinng to this.

There's some cleaning up to do. And the New York Daily News had reported here that the investigation had spooked the mysterious Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (a group of private citizens the president appoints to help out - mostly business folks) and they leaned to John Negroponte to talk the president, who never fires anayone, and tell him he really did have to dump Goss. Yeah, if you're loyal to the president and say yes a lot, and help get his enemies, your job is safe. But not always. It helps if you also are not so foolish as to be caught with you hand in the till. The "being caught" is the problem. Bad form. There are enough problems.

There are those dismal polls.

The previous week there was a bit of a break as the Fox News poll showed a reversal in the low approval ratings - the president moved up from thirty-three percent to thirty-eight percent approval. The man who thinks Bush hung the moon, and maintained Bush way back when really did volunteer to fly combat missions in Vietnam, Fred Barnes, here said things are actually turning around. Just look at the numbers.

All the other polls had the president's approval ratings in the low thirties, and dropping. The Fox News poll turned out to be an anomaly, or at least a poll with very cleverly worded questions. Monday, May 8th, as Hayden was being introduced as the new CIA guy, USA Today / Gallup released their new numbers. They showed a drop in the president's approval rating of three points in one week, down to a record low of thirty-one percent. (With two and a half years to go in his term, at a drop of three points a week, the president's approval rating when he leaves office would, in a simple linear projection, be at negative three hundred fifty-seven percent, hypothetically.) In the item the University of Wisconsin polling expert Charles Franklin adds this - "You hear people say he has a hard core that will never desert him, and that has been the case for most of the administration, but for the last few months, we started to see that hard core seriously erode in support." What? The overall disapproval rating is sixty-five percent, and just fifty-two percent of self-described conservatives approve of what he's doing. This is no time for a bribery scandal at the CIA. The straight-shooting guy from Pittsburgh was the answer, and not a moment too soon, even if he is a little shaky on what the constitution and the FISA law say. At least he's not a crook.

But he must be confirmed by the Senate, and there may be a problem there. There was discussion of the Hayden nomination the weekend before the announcement (everyone knew what it would be, of course). Key senators, including some Republicans, didn't thin the man from Pittsburgh would do at all, as Fred Kaplan explains here
One of the two main complaints, voiced on the Sunday talk shows by members of both parties, is that a military officer should not be in charge of the CIA. (Sen. Dianne Feinstein even claimed, "Federal law stipulates a civilian should run the agency.") The other issue is that Hayden was director of the National Security Agency when it launched President Bush's illegal domestic-surveillance program and, therefore, can't be trusted to balance national security with civil liberties.

Both matters account in part for the leeriness toward Hayden. But the real reason involves an overlapping slew of turf wars among three factions: the CIA's professional intelligence officers, Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon, and - especially - John Negroponte's nascent Office of the National Intelligence Director.

Let us first dispose of one myth before it takes hold: There is nothing unprecedented about naming a military officer to run the CIA (six CIA directors in the agency's history have been generals or admirals), nor is there anything improper. The relevant federal statute, 15 U.S.C. Section 403c, states that of the following three positions - CIA director, deputy director, and deputy director for community management - "not more than one" may be held by a commissioned officer, whether active-duty or retired. In other words, it is legal for one of them to be an officer. In fact, the section expresses "the sense of Congress" that "it is desirable that one of the individuals ... be a commissioned officer ... or have, by training or experience, an appreciation of military intelligence activities and requirements."

As a cautionary measure, the law further states that a military officer who holds one of these positions "shall not be subject to supervision or control by the Secretary of Defense or by any officer or employee of the Department of Defense."

It is also worth noting, in any case, that Gen. Hayden is unlikely to serve as a Rumsfeld tool. While he ran the National Security Agency, which falls under the Defense Department's formal jurisdiction, he resisted repeated attempts by Rumsfeld to curb his independence. As one Pentagon official told me today, "He is no Rumsfeld kitten."
But then Kaplan quotes Peter Hoekstra, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Goss' old job before the CIA, saying "We need to be able to get the unvarnished intelligence, and we need to be able to get it from a civilian. Putting a general in charge is going to send the wrong signal through the agency here in Washington but also to our agents in the field around the world."

Maybe so. When Baghdad fell it was the Pentagon, the Department of Defense, that was put in charge in Iraq, with the mandate to fix things. It wasn't the State Department as one might have expected. Al the generals up through their civilian task master, Rumsfeld, have not inspired confidence. A general at the CIA? That thought makes some a bit antsy.

And would Hayden report to John Negroponte or Donald Rumsfeld. As an Air Force general he does report to Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, on paper, but he's been on loan to the man in the newly created position of coordinating all intelligence of all sorts, Negroponte. This is very odd.

Kaplan -
Hayden is not just the former director of the NSA. More to the point, he is the current deputy director to Negroponte. Porter Goss met with Negroponte right before his "resignation" as CIA chief was announced on Friday. By all accounts, it was Negroponte, not President Bush, who told him he had to leave. There were, no doubt, many reasons for Goss' removal: his inability to bring the agency under control, his alienation of career officers (and not just those who opposed Bush's policies), his filling top slots with amateurish, possibly corrupt, cronies.

Whatever tipped the balance against Goss, one incontestable effect of replacing him with Hayden will be the strengthening of Negroponte and the further centralization of the intelligence community inside the White House.

Last month, Hoekstra said that Negroponte's office was "not adding any value" to the intelligence community, that it simply piled on another layer of bureaucracy. In March, Hoekstra's committee asked Congress to freeze part of Negroponte's budget until he explained his plans to expand his staff.

"We have to strengthen the CIA," Hoekstra said on Sunday. Appointing someone like Hayden, he added, "is exactly the wrong thing to be talking about at this critical moment."

It is hard to say whether the further empowerment of Negroponte's office is a good thing or a bad thing. Too little is known, really, about just what Negroponte does, just how he plans to reform the intelligence community, and just where he stands on what has long been the central internecine dispute within that community - how to divvy up authority on covert operations between the CIA and the Pentagon's Special Operations forces. Rumsfeld has been pushing for a broad expansion of Special Ops' intelligence duties. Goss was trying to stiffen the CIA's clandestine branch, but his sloppy management - and the subsequent departure of several operations chiefs - made matters worse.
It's very Byzantine - Rumsfeld wants to run everything, and so does Negroponte. Who knows what to make of the appointment of the overly-matrixed constitutionally-challenged general from Pittsburgh?

Kaplan doesn't have an answer, but is troubled by that Fourth Amendment business at the question and answer session at the National Press Club. He says that's pretty "startling" -
Hayden may have dug his own hole with this one, and it is equally amazing that the Bush White House - already beset with Republican lawmakers seeking to distance themselves from an increasingly unpopular president - didn't conduct due diligence on this point before nominating Hayden.

The critics in Congress failed in their attempt, earlier this year, to rally opposition to the surveillance program. But Hayden's nomination - especially in the face of impending midterm elections -opens the door once more. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, said of Hayden's confirmation hearings, "We could use them for leverage to find out" more about the NSA's entire program. Hoekstra predicted that this controversy could stretch the hearings out to "three or four months."

Meanwhile, others who oppose Hayden's nomination - for whatever reasons - can be counted on to use the interregnum to make as much mischief as possible. Even Pat Roberts, the usually pliant Republican chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said Sunday, "I'm not in a position to say that I am for Gen. Hayden and will vote for him." When even Roberts sits on the fence with his finger in the air, waiting to see which way the wind blows, the White House should know it's in trouble.
Maybe so, but there's a growing sense that the Fourth Amendment business at the question and answer session at the National Press Club is just why the guy from Pittsburgh was nominated. The theory there would be that since the public has been made so fearful of "the bad guys" they will rally around the president when the questions about trashing the constitution and ignoring the laws come up in the confirmation hearings - do you want a wimp who plays by the silly rules and mere niceties, or do you want a real man, a blue-collar no-nonsense welder's son who will cut through all the crap and get the bad guys? That's worked before. Hayden then becomes a symbol, someone to remind America of why they once liked George "I don't do nuance" Bush so much. The approval numbers will skyrocket, or not.

That's risky. Hidden in the polls is an odd implication that in some way perhaps two-thirds of us, when we hear someone bragging that "I don't think about things - I do things," look around at how things are going and mutter "Yeah, right." The magic may be gone.

But the hope lives on. Super-right-man, Hugh Hewitt, here thinks the Hayden nomination is just great, because it "proudly asserts that the NSA program ... was not only the right thing to do, it was completely within the law." And another comment here - "I say, bring it on. The White House NEEDS to fight this battle, to expose the anti-security Left." But that one's from a sixteen-year-old. Adults now expect nuance, and some attempt to avoid breaking the actual law, and some attempt to follow the actual words in the constitution.

We'll see. And it may not matter, as here it seems the general from Pittsburgh may be connected to the "Duke" Cunningham bribery scandal too.

The real Elmer Fudd:

Elmer Fudd

The cartoon that really applies here is Pinky and the Brain - a genetically engineered mouse (who sounds a whole lot like Orson Welles) and his quite amusingly insane mouse cohort make nightly attempts to take over the world. This was a co-production of Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment and Warner Brothers that ran from 1995 to 1998. There were sixty-five episodes, and it wasn't really for kids - the dialog was far too witty and subtle, and there were all those references to classic films like "The Third Man" and "Bride of Frankenstein" and such. It was about power and insanity.

Pinky: Gee, Brain. What are we going to do tonight?
The Brain: The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world.

Note this cell. You can clearly see Michael Hayden and John Negroponte, or George Bush and Dick Cheney. Hollywood always has been subversive.

Pinky and the Brain

Posted by Alan at 22:36 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 10 May 2006 06:55 PDT home

Sunday, 7 May 2006
Hot of the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements

Hot of the Virtual Press

Click here to go there...
The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is parent to this daily web log, is now online. This is Volume 4, Number 19 for the week of May 7, 2006.

This week's issue covers the pervious week's extraordinary events, opening with a bit of photo reporting - an account of the May Day march for immigrants' rights on Wilshire Boulevard here in Los Angeles, with fourteen high resolution shots, and commentary. The "day after" column then lays down a series of markers for where we are as a nation - who can say what and who has to follow the rules. Wednesday was the Moussaoui verdict - he doesn't die - so what does that mean, and who really won and who really lost? And there's an account of all the chickens coming home to roost the following day, as the consequences of what "those who decide" did decide caused no end of real trouble. The week ended with a burst of odd news - another Kennedy in a career-limiting car wreck had the nation buzzing, when the head of the CIA suddenly was gone, and no one was saying why - a news junkie's dream. And that buried the final item, which really should be noted, because the administration was saved from real trouble by the folks in Albania. Albania? No, really.

For those not politically inclined there is the photography. For architecture buffs there's a three page spread on the Wiltern Theater and adjacent Pellissier Building, considered one of the finest examples of Art Deco architecture in the United States. If you need more Hollywood, there's that restored twenties movie palace up on Hollywood Boulevard, the famous Egyptian Theater, and the fake British pub attached to it, where the stars of yesteryear hung out. And there's the twenties apartment buildings where they lived. And for the children of the sixties, there's the George Harrison Tree at Griffith Park Observatory. That's very odd. And for those who only logon for the new high-resolution botanical shots, they're here too.

Of course our friend from Texas provides the weekly array of the weird. And the quotes this week? If you think things are going badly these days, and the polls show most of you do, read some very odd comments on pessimism.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________

On the Scene: May Day in Los Angeles
The Day After: Tuesday Tidbits
No Fried Moussaoui: The News, Reaction and Embedded Comment
Consequences: Chickens, Coming Home, Roosting
Whipsaw Friday: What A Way To End The Week
Christmas in May: Albania to the Rescue

Southern California Photography ______________________

Architecture: One Of The Finest Examples Of Art Deco Architecture In The United States
Landmarks: Walk Like an Egyptian, or Something
Long Ago: Notes on Hollywood History
Small Details: The George Harrison Tree at Griffith Park Observatory
Botanicals: Bursts of Color

Quotes for the week of April 23, 2006 - Why be pessimistic?

Posted by Alan at 17:24 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 6 May 2006
Christmas in May: Albania to the Rescue
Topic: The Law

Christmas in May: Albania to the Rescue

This is just a follow-up to an item in the these pages on Christmas Day, 2005, here, a discussion of an Associated Press item two days before Christmas about the Chinese Muslims "in limbo" at Guantánamo.

Limbo? That would be this -
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.
They were just out of luck, even if it was Christmas.

At the time there were others commenting, as in this item from "Hilzoy" noting that over four years ago these two were captured by bounty hunters and turned over to us for cash and finally, in early 2005, 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.

The December 2005 count finding is here (PDF format), saying holding these two was clearly illegal - "The detention of these petitioners has by now become indefinite. This indefinite imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay is unlawful."

And then the finding is that, in this case, the courts just cannot do anything about this, even if it is illegal -
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.
It seems no one thought that far ahead, or more precisely, who would "hate America" so much to think we needed a mechanism to manage any mistakes we made? We don't make mistakes. To propose that we might, and suggest procedures to fix them if the occur, is to give "aid and comfort" to the enemy.

Hilzoy at the time suggested the judge should have ordered that we send them to Peoria or something -
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. They were, after all, in Afghanistan to learn all sorts of ways to fight to overthrow the Chinese government, and we're working on better relations with them - President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao met in Washington on Thursday, April 20, 2006. Don't tick off the Chinese. That would be the end of Wal-Mart, and they buy all those five and ten year Federal Notes that keep our economy afloat - you just don't tick off the folks holding the IOU's. And anyway, requiring their release into the United States, as the judge notes, "would have national security and diplomatic implications beyond the competence or the authority of this Court."

The same week, Mark Kleiman, the public policy professor out here at UCLA, said 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.
But the story faded away. Too much else happened to distract those unhappy with the president, and you have to wonder whether there's an administration strategy here - do so many outrageous things, like claiming the president has the authority to ignore any law he decides he should if you think about what the constitution really says, and no one will be able to focus on any one single "outrage" for more than a day or two. You just overwhelm your opponents be giving them too many good targets. They get all confused. It works.

But this one issue was just resolved. The answer was Albania. Isn't it always?

Note this from Reuters -
WASHINGTON, May 5 - The United States said on Friday it had flown five Chinese Muslim men who had been held at the Guantanamo Bay prison to resettle in Albania, declining to send them back to China because they might face persecution.

The State Department said Albania accepted the five ethnic Uighurs - including two whose quest for freedom went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court - for resettlement as refugees.

The Pentagon said 17 other Chinese Uighurs remained at the prison for foreign terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, because, unlike the five sent to Albania, they were still deemed "enemy combatants."

... State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Albania's resettlement of the men was an important humanitarian gesture, and expressed U.S. appreciation.
Something is up when our government is publicly saying nice things about Albania, which used to be one of the two remaining hard-line old-style "Stalinist utopias" left in this world, Cuba being the other - although things in Albania have changed quite a bit as they really would like to join the European Union.

And Reuters does mention the "back story."

This was not exactly humanitarian - on April 17th the Supreme Court had "declined to consider" whether a federal judge actually could just free these two, as their detention was flat-out illegal, but the issue was far from over -
Barbara Olshansky, a lawyer for the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights representing the two men, said their case was due to be heard again in court on Monday. Olshansky said the U.S. government's decision to send them to Albania was made "to avoid having to answer in court for keeping innocent men in jail."

"We had no idea they were going to Albania. We didn't have any time to get anything on the ground to assist them with resettlement or to find out about whether they are trying to send them into some kind of detention," Olshansky said.
Well, if Albania has any need to suck up to China, they could jail these guys and torture them - make the eat the local cuisine (think stewed goat and garlic) and listen to Albania folk music (excruciating). But we asked them not to do that, as the Pentagon spokesman said - "The United States has done the utmost to ensure that the Uighurs will be treated humanely upon release. Our key objective has been to resettle the Uighurs in an environment that will permit them to rebuild their lives. Albania will provide this opportunity."

Everyone should have a second chance in Albania.

The Chinese are pissed, and their foreign ministry on April 20 said the United States should "repatriate Chinese-nationality terror suspects" as quickly as it can be arranged - and a Pentagon spokesman shot back - "The United States has made it clear that it does not expel, return or extradite individuals to other countries where it believes that it is more likely than not that they will be tortured or subject to persecution."

There's no small irony in what the Pentagon spokesman said. The same day we sent the two Chinese "mistakes" off to the good life in Albania we were getting hammered in UN hearings about torture and rendition (discussed here - we blustered and denied, and were met with known facts and logic, and what could be called derision).

In any event, it would be wise to remember the core issue, and what's happening.

Hilzoy says this -
Arguments in the Uighurs' appeal were scheduled to be heard on Monday morning. (I was going to go to DC to hear them.) I wish I could think it was just a coincidence that after over a year of searching, the administration found a country willing to take the Uighurs today. But I can't. This administration has built up quite a track record of freeing people (or, in Jose Padilla's case, bringing unrelated charges) just in time to render their appeals moot, thereby preventing the courts from finding their conduct illegal or unconstitutional.
Yep, the administration dodged a bullet. Thank you, Albania, all is forgiven.

The first amendment attorney Glenn Greenwald says this -
The administration has repeatedly claimed that it has ample legal justification for all sorts of extremist measures - from indefinite detention of American citizens in military prisons without a trial, to its use of torture and rendition policies, to its eavesdropping on American citizens without warrants - but it then invokes every possible maneuver to prevent judicial adjudication of the constitutionality and legality of its conduct.

The two most transparent and truly outrageous instances of these evasive maneuvers, as Hilzoy points out, were in the cases of Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla - two American citizens whom the administration abducted (in Padilla's case, on U.S. soil) and threw into a military prison without bringing any charges or even allowing them access to a lawyer or any contact with the outside world. The administration held them there for years, claiming - based solely on George Bush's secret decree - that they were such dangerous terrorists that they had lost the constitutional right not to be imprisoned by the U.S. Government without a trial.

But when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Hamdi had a right to challenge Bush's decree and that the administration therefore had to prove the validity of its factual allegations against him, the administration simply released Hamdi from its custody altogether. And in Padilla's case, the administration - one week before its brief was due to the Supreme Court, which was to rule on the legality of Padilla's 3 1/2 year lawless incarceration - suddenly and finally brought criminal charges against him, and then told the Supreme Court that there was no longer any need to rule on Padilla's claims that the administration had violated his constitutional rights, thus (yet again) avoiding a judicial determination of the legality of its conduct.

And now, they have done the same thing in the case of the Uighur detainees.

... Of all the abuses and excesses engaged in by the administration, the one that I am endlessly amazed can prompt defenses - even from the most zomibified Bush followers - is the administration's claim to have the power to incarcerate - indefinitely - U.S. citizens without any charges. Even the administration knows that much of their conduct is indefensible, which is why they abandon their efforts when they are forced to defend the legality of their behavior.
How does that thing about trail lawyers go - if you can't argue the facts, argue the law? And if you can't do that, bamboozle the jury with emotional appeals and jingoistic patriotism - but then that Moussaoui fellow didn't get the death penalty, did he? And when, as in this case, you face a panel of judges and not twelve untrained, rube jurors, and you have exhausted your options - and the president himself is going to lose the one key gonzo power that makes him very, very happy - off course you send the plaintiffs to Albania. The problem goes away. Or it goes away until the next case, and you hope Albania will be again the land of opportunity - where folks can rebuild their lives.

The whole thing stinks, of course, but this may be the start of a new tourist campaign - "Come to Albania, the land of fresh starts." Heck, they could even build a fancy statue at the port of Vlorë with some words at the base about giving Albania those huddled masses yearning to be free. The French gave us one. Maybe they'd like to build another.

Posted by Alan at 18:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 6 May 2006 18:33 PDT home

Friday, 5 May 2006
Whipsaw Friday: What A Way To End The Week
Topic: Breaking News

Whipsaw Friday: What A Way To End The Week

So the managing editor, that person who decides what news story goes first, and which stories follow, and in which order, and how many column inches or airtime each gets, depending on the medium, on Friday, May 5th, faced a bit of dilemma.

You had to go with another Kennedy, under the influence, in a car wreck, even if no one died this time. You had to go with this - "A day after a minor traffic caused a major stir by raising questions about Representative Patrick J. Kennedy's condition while he was driving, the Congressman announced that he is entering treatment for addiction to prescription medication."

As this Kennedy, a six-term Democratic congressman from Rhode Island, is the son of Ted Kennedy - the Democratic senator from Massachusetts who could never run for president, as his two older brothers had, after he had driven off a bridge and the sweet young thing with him died - this was just too juicy not to run top right, page one, or use to open the newscast. You could play up "The Curse of Camelot" - America's "first royal family" and its tragic flaws, or, if you were playing to the right, its inherent sleaziness and immorality that mirrored the inherent sleaziness and immorality of all liberals (the current crop of Republicans may be crooks and going to jail in twos and threes weekly, but at least they are pious Christians who have some self-control).

The administration and the Republicans in the House and Senate had been taking a beating, and the day had opened with another new poll, with the president's approval hitting a new low, the lowest of any second term president except for Nixon the week before he resigned, thirty-three percent, and with the Republican congress dropping ten points down to twenty-five percent approval. The Democrats had been making hay (or hey) over all the problems - the size of the "strongly disapprove" numbers and the word "incompetence" coming up so often seemed to have a whole lot to do with war in Iraq and the problems there more than three years after we "won," and the lingering issue of FEMA and the slow-reacting president and the still obvious mess in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast long after Hurricane Katrina, and the record-high gasoline prices, and this and that. And the morning had opened up with the job numbers for the last month - the Labor Department reported American employers added 138,000 jobs in April, and economists had expected 200,000 new jobs as a median, a little below the 217,000 news jobs that would keep up with population growth. Bummer - but actually great news for some. The stock market hit a six year high - maybe there'd not be another inflation fighting interest rate hike from the Fed, making doing business one notch more expense, and this would hold down costs by tamping down salaries, killing "wage demand" (see Bloomberg here). Hey, no one would be demanding higher wages or bailing out for a better job now, and labor cost would go down again. Business would continue to boom. Yes, it is troubling that those who actually vote have seen their real wages decline significantly in the last six years, and their health care and commuting costs jump amazingly higher and higher quite regularly, and that corporations don't vote (they only buy the behavior of those who have been voted in). But you could spin this. The economy is really great. Business is booming. And as for the eighty percent for whom it isn't, the new data could be spun as being their own fault for not taking personal responsibility for their lives, or for not buying big blocks of stocks and bonds, like normal people.

In the context of the day's "numbers" the Kennedy story was a godsend. No matter how bad things seemed, you could at least say "look at the druggie, or really, the drunk - do you want those sort of people in charge?"

The Kennedy story played into the Republican "We're the Responsible Ones" narrative that had been being torn to shreds. And the younger Kennedy had a mid-day news conference where he said he'd be off to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for some rehabilitation treatment, as he said the problem was, really, that for years he'd been dealing with clinical depression - the deadly serious underlying problem.

This was too good, evoking the name Thomas Eagleton, the senator who withdrew from the Mondale ticket back in 1972 when it came out that he had the same problem, and had had shock treatments. Democrats are just certifiably insane. The Kennedy story was a gift - a ray of light after months and months of darkness.

Of course there was a bit of gloom the same day for the evangelical right and the "values" crowd and their fight against Darwin and science that supports him, and the math and physics and astronomy that support that evolution stuff, as the Vatican's astronomer visited Scotland and said some distressing things, as we see in The Scotsman here -
Believing that God created the universe in six days is a form of superstitious paganism, the Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno claimed yesterday.

Brother Consolmagno, who works in a Vatican observatory in Arizona and as curator of the Vatican meteorite collection in Italy, said a "destructive myth" had developed in modern society that religion and science were competing ideologies.

He described creationism, whose supporters want it taught in schools alongside evolution, as a "kind of paganism" because it harked back to the days of "nature gods" who were responsible for natural events.

Brother Consolmagno argued that the Christian God was a supernatural one, a belief that had led the clergy in the past to become involved in science to seek natural reasons for phenomena such as thunder and lightning, which had been previously attributed to vengeful gods. "Knowledge is dangerous, but so is ignorance. That's why science and religion need to talk to each other," he said.

"Religion needs science to keep it away from superstition and keep it close to reality, to protect it from creationism, which at the end of the day is a kind of paganism - it's turning God into a nature god. And science needs religion in order to have a conscience, to know that, just because something is possible, it may not be a good thing to do."

Brother Consolmagno, who was due to give a speech at the Glasgow Science Centre last night, entitled "Why the Pope has an Astronomer", said the idea of papal infallibility had been a "PR disaster". What it actually meant was that, on matters of faith, followers should accept "somebody has got to be the boss, the final authority".

"It's not like he has a magic power, that God whispers the truth in his ear," he said.
Damn - even if the Catholic Church has a problem with war as a good thing, and doesn't see torture as morally right even if only Americans do it for the greater good, at least they adamantly condemn abortion, and the use of birth control of any kind, and seem so obviously Republican - and now we get this. Creationism and Intelligent Design are just paganism repackaged. Religion needs science to keep it away from superstition and keep it close to reality? Bummer.

But the news from Brother Consolmagno was lucky insignificant in light of the Kennedy story, as every managing editor over here knew. The Catholic Church ripping apart of creationism, and by implication its subset Intelligent Design, was put on the backburner. We had other Friday fish to fry. And very few care what if anything happens in Glasgow.

So the day was to be a turning point for the sinking Republicans and the beleaguered president.

Then it all fell apart. The CIA Director resigned, or was fired, or forced out, or something, and the news hit the wires an hour or two before the younger Kennedy made his remarks and left the room for Rochester Minnesota.

The official explanation of what this was all about, delivered as usual by way of leaks from those inside who demanded anonymity (how Americans get the White House version of things), came from the Washington Post Saturday morning with this array of tidbits -
Porter J. Goss was forced to step down yesterday as CIA director, ending a turbulent 18-month tenure marked by an exodus of some of the agency's top talent and growing White House dissatisfaction with his leadership during a time of war.

The likely successor to Goss is Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the former director of the National Security Agency and now deputy to Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte, senior administration officials said. He could be named as soon as Monday.

Seated next to President Bush in the Oval Office, Goss, a Republican congressman from Florida before he took over the CIA, said he was "stepping aside" but gave no reason for the departure.
Bush, who did not name a successor, said he had accepted the resignation and thanked Goss for his service.

... senior administration officials said Bush had lost confidence in Goss, 67, almost from the beginning and decided months ago to replace him. In what was described as a difficult meeting in April with Negroponte, Goss was told to prepare to leave by May, according to several officials with knowledge of the conversation.

"There has been an open conversation for a few weeks, through Negroponte, with the acknowledgment of the president" about replacing Goss, said a senior White House official who discussed the internal deliberations on the condition of anonymity. Another senior White House official said Goss had always been viewed as a "transitional figure" who would leave by year's end. His departure was accelerated when Bush shook up his White House staff in hopes of beginning a political turnaround.

... administration officials said Goss never forged a strong relationship with Bush. "It just didn't click," one official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Goss's reserved personality and inability to master details of intelligence activities dampened the atmosphere of the president's morning intelligence briefing, which had been a central feature of the close relationship between Bush and Tenet.
So that's what was leaked to the Post so they could provide the "real story" as the White house wants it told - Goss was just not a good ol' boy and it that wouldn't do. He was too "reserved," and that was his downfall. And he probably didn't like the ranch either. Snob. Not one of the regular guys.

The Post does mentions other factors the White House didn't need to leak - the open revolt in the agency with a good number of key high-level executives quitting in disgust as top positions went to Republican operatives who knew next to nothing about what the CIA did and how things worked.

Keith Olbermann on his MSNBC show "Countdown" interviewed an ex-CIA fellow and asked him if Goss had been trying to turn the CIA into FEMA, with a whole array Michael Browns running the major operations. The ex-CIA guy got a kick out of that and smiled broadly.

There is that 'let's make it political" factor, the effort to make the agency Republican, and not neutral. The old CIA was mad as hell when that Plame woman, a key secret agent, was exposed in the process of a political "hit" to discredit her pesky husband, and demanded an investigation, the one that we have now. Goss, who was head of the House Intelligence Committee at the time said he saw no problem. That didn't endear him to those he was then supposed to manage. And firing the woman who leaked to the Post all that stuff about our secret prisons in the old Soviet prisons in Eastern Europe, and about the nasty "renditions" that filled them, didn't work out well when it turned out she hadn't and this was part of an effort to purge the agency of those who even once voted fro a Democrat or who were just neutral? That didn't make Goss too popular in the ranks - you don't dump professional directors of key operations with decades of hard-won experience and excellent contacts because they're not enthusiast Republicans. And you don't laugh off exposing a key agent because her husband embarrassed the president and suggested he was a liar or a fool. Or maybe you do. But it doesn't make you popular with those risking their lives just trying to find out what's really going on in the hotspots of the world.

The Los Angeles Times runs this -
Four former deputy directors of operations once tried to offer Goss advice about changing the clandestine service without setting off a rebellion, but Goss declined to speak to any of them, said former CIA officials who are aware of the communications. The perception that Goss was conducting a partisan witch hunt grew, too, as staffers asked about the party affiliation of officers who sent in cables or analyses on Iraq that contradicted the Defense Department's more optimistic scenarios.
But the White House just lost confidence - and too this Goss fellow didn't like working under Negroponte instead of the old way where the CIA director controlled more and had the president's ear.

But the leaked White House version of what happened just doesn't make sense. No public reason for what happened is offered, and, if this was in the works for weeks and weeks, no successor named. And they drop this bombshell, so to speak, right in the middle of the day when Kennedy story was relieving a whole lot of pressure on the stories of the "incompetent president no one like at all and his even more feckless House and Senate enablers." It could have waited. Something else is going on?

Many are guessing that.

Jane Hampsher does here -
Color me confused. Everyone on TV seems to be buying the line that the Goss resignation has been planned for weeks. No natural curiosity about the fact that it takes effect immediately, or that there is no replacement, or that he had a meeting scheduled this afternoon he didn't show up for. Not to mention the fact that ... the White House would've probably sacrificed its collective left nut to avoid stepping on a drunk Kennedy story.

But has the entire press corps turned into such a pile of humorless prudes that they can't connect the dots in the Brent Wilkes hooker scandal?
The hooker scandal?

There's a nice review of that from Josh Marshall here -
... The hookers in Hookergate are, of course, the sizzle. But there's a bigger story. It stems directly from the Randy "Duke" Cunningham bribery scandal, which many had figured was over. But it's not. You may have noticed that while Duke Cunningham is already in jail and Mitchell Wade has already pled guilty to multiple charges, Brent Wilkes has never been touched. Wilkes is the ur-briber at the heart of the Cunningham scandal, you can see pretty clearly by reading the other indictments and plea agreements. Wade was Wilkes' protégé.

Now, on the surface one might surmise that the prosecutors are just taking their time, putting together their best case.

I hear different.

Wilkes has deep ties into the CIA. The focal point of those ties is to Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, the man Porter Goss appointed to the number three position at CIA when he took over the Agency last year. Remember, Wilkes' scam was getting corrupt contracts deep in the 'black' world of intelligence and defense appropriations, where there's little or no oversight. Foggo was in the contracting and procurement field at the CIA. So you can see how he and Wilkes, who have been friends since high school, had plenty to talk about.

The CIA wasn't the only place Wilkes and his protégé Wade plied their corrupt trade. There were also in the mix contracting on the Bush Pentagon's extra-constitutional spying operations. And I am told that senior appointees at the DOD knew about their corruption but overlooked it.

Now, since the Cunningham scandal got under, and particularly of late, there's been a big tug of war between federal law enforcement and the CIA over whether to really go after Wilkes. Probably a little more specificity is in order there, folks at CIA in the orbit of Foggo and presumably Goss.

Now, how does Goss know Foggo?

That's how we get into the other part of this story - those 'hospitality suites', that moveable feast of food, poker and love, Brent Wilkes ran in Washington for maybe fifteen years. We hear that's how Goss got to be friends with Foggo, whom he later promoted to executive director of the CIA, the number three post at the Agency.

Now, last week, Goss denied he had attended any of Wilkes' parties. ... Foggo admitted attending the parties but claimed he'd never seen the hookers.

Now, corrupt contractors saucing up Agency officials and members of Congress to get contracts and free money. Hospitality suites where the saucing takes place. Hookers in the mix. It's going on for more than a decade, various members of the key committees in the mix. Goss, former member of one of those committees, appoints one of the key players in all this mess as the number three guy at CIA? The feds leaning hard on the limo company owner who probably knows all the details and already has a long rap sheet and can't afford another conviction?

There's a lot going on here, a lot we don't know, what's connected and what's coincidence. But this is the backstory. And why this story is likely to turn out to be a very big deal.
Is it? Even the editor of the Weekly Standard, William "Bill" Kristol, the public voice of the neoconservative movement, and one of the founding members of the Project for the New American Century that became the definers of what our foreign policy should be, was on Fox News saying to Shepard Smith that there must be something else going on (video here) -
KRISTOL: It wasn't done in a routine way. I don't think people - certainly people close to Goss did not expect this to happen. Senior congressmen and senators didn't expect this to happen. I'm not sure the White House expected this to happen. ... I do think this was sudden. It was unexpected. There will be more of a story that will come out. I don't know what it implies for the future of the agency and Goss' effort to shake up an institution, an institution that's very difficult to shake up. But I do not believe it was part of a long-planned -

SHEPHARD SMITH: How the heck could it have been? In a Bush White House world, things are lined up and they're put out in a sort of meticulous, controlled way. I can envision - if this had been planned in advance, there would have been almost an immediate announcement of a replacement, the hugs, the thank yous, probably a medal or something. Instead what we have now is a vacuum, and you have to wonder what could have gone boom like that to cause him, A) to tender the resignation and, B) for the President to accept it under these circumstances.

KRISTOL: Well you and I think alike, Shep. Either it's brilliant minds or suspicious minds thinking alike -

SMITH: It is just out of character.

KRISTOL: It looked that way to me. What was striking about the statement in the Oval Office with the President, he didn't say, "I will serve until my successor is confirmed," which is the usual practice. In the written statement, he says he intends to be there for a few weeks to help ensure a smooth transition, but implying he could well leave before his successor is confirmed by the United States Senate. So again, I think there were either serious disputes or some internal problem at the agency or some scandal conceivably involving an associate of Goss'. Who knows? Something that popped this week and that caused this sudden event this Friday.
It could be the FBI agents fanning out all over DC wanting to talk to hookers.

And there's this suggesting the key is this "Dusty" Foggo fellow, the low-level supervisor Goss lifted from obscurity to make him number three at the CIA -
As we've reported previously, the CIA's inspector general is looking into Foggo's oversight of contracts at the agency; NBC says the investigation includes allegations that Foggo steered a $2.4 million contract to Brent Wilkes, one of the contractors implicated in the Cunningham case. Wilkes and Foggo have been pals since college, and Foggo made the scene at - and even hosted some of - the contractors' poker parties.
Maybe it was just time to resign, before it all ended in an embarrassing prep walk. And it had to be done now, before everything came out. Yeah, it neutralized the wonderful another-drunk-Kennedy-driving-badly story, but perhaps there was no choice.

Maybe it's what the Wall Street Journal reports Saturday Morning, that the Friday bombshell resignation had something that came up, oddly, on Friday -
The agency also has been drawn into a federal investigation of bribery that has sent former Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham to prison. Just this past week, the CIA confirmed that its third-ranking official, a hand-picked appointee of Mr. Goss, had attended poker games at a hospitality suite set up by a defense contractor implicated in the bribing of former Rep. Cunningham. Friday, people with knowledge of the continuing Cunningham inquiry said the CIA official, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, is under federal criminal investigation in connection with awarding agency contracts.
Odd. Meet a fellow at a decades long series of poker-plus stag parties run by shady contractors the guy has known since high school, promote him from obscurity to a top position where he manages all contracts, and stand back? And within the Post item at the top, this - "After Goss's announcement yesterday, Foggo told colleagues that he will resign next week."

This is a mess. And the managing editors all over lost their juicy another-drunk-Kennedy-driving-badly story. The man who ran the key agency keeping us safe from foreign threats by finding out what was going on in the shadowy corners of the world had to cut out, quickly.

But then, the younger Kennedy gets less attention, and his problems seem insignificant.

What a way to end the week.

Posted by Alan at 23:31 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 5 May 2006 23:34 PDT home

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