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Consider:

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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Wednesday, 21 June 2006
A Day Off
Topic: Announcements

A Day Off

No commentary today - an old friend needed to get some beach time. For some shots of the day at Huntington Beach, also known as Surf City USA, click here. Additional photos will be posted in this Sunday's Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site. This beach is forty miles south of Los Angeles, and the trip took all day. What happened in the world in those hours had to wait. Commentary will resume here soon.

Posted by Alan at 21:57 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 21 June 2006 21:59 PDT home

Tuesday, 20 June 2006
Summer Reading - A Warning
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Summer Reading - A Warning

Tuesday, June 20, 2006, the day before summer began, seemed a good time to take a break from political commentary. And in his "here's summer" item, Garrison Keillor pretty much sums up why -
White custardy clouds in the blueberry sky and here I am, sprawled on a chaise on the porch, ambition leaking out of me like water through cupped hands. Ambition has left the building. Hello, summer.

The country is in danger but someone else can rally to defend it, not me. Flag-burning gay married men are taxing dead people, and godless liberals, using 9/11 widows for cover, are in cahoots with jihadists, radioing coordinates of secret nuclear sites, lighting bonfires in meadows to guide enemy bombers to their targets, but the Hardy boys will have to track them down. I'm done. I have no wish to accomplish anything other than fetch more of this iced mint tea and crank the chaise back for maximum relaxability. Whatever my goals were last week - to make a difference in the world, to light a candle and follow a different drummer, perhaps teach a man to fish - my new goal is to get out of stuff. I am no longer available for work. So don't ask.
So that about sums it up. Relax in the shade with a good book.

The problem is the book everyone seems to be talking about on the first day of summer is The One Percent Doctrine by Ron Suskind -
In this troubling portrait of the war on terror, America's intelligence agencies confront not just al-Qaeda but the Bush administration's politicized incompetence. Journalist Suskind (The Price of Loyalty) follows the triumphs and failures of the "invisibles"- the counterterrorism experts at the NSA, the FBI and especially the CIA - as they painstakingly track terrorists' communications and financial transactions, interrogate prisoners and cultivate elusive al-Qaeda informants. Unfortunately, he contends, their meticulous intelligence-sifting went unappreciated by administration policymakers, especially Dick Cheney, who formulated an overriding "one percent" doctrine: threats with even a 1% likelihood must be treated as certainties. The result was "the severing of fact-based analysis from forceful response," most glaringly in the trumped-up alarm over Iraqi WMDs. In dramatizing the tensions between CIA professionals and White House ideologues, Suskind makes his sympathies clear: CIA chief George Tenet, pressured to align intelligence with administration policy, emerges as a tragic fall guy, while President Bush comes off as a dunce and a bully, likened by some observers to a ventriloquist's dummy on Cheney's knee. Suskind's novelistic scene-setting - "Condi looked up, impatiently" - sometimes meanders. But he assembles perhaps the most detailed, revealing account yet of American counterterrorism efforts and a hard-hitting critique of their direction.
Or so says Publishers Weekly.

Suskind is at it again.

In January 2004 it was The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill - that would be O'Neill the former Treasury Secretary, and it was about how Bush was more than a bit disengaged - "like a blind man in a room full of deaf people" - and was being manipulated by his senior staff ("a Praetorian guard") and made the case that the White House was intent on overthrowing Saddam Hussein long before Tuesday, September 11, 2001 - "It was all about finding a way to do it." No one was buying that at the time, but more and more do now.

And in these pages and most everywhere else people notice what he reported in October 2004 in the New York Times here, starting that whole "reality-based" thing - he said in 2002 a White House "senior adviser" said this: "The aide said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality - judiciously, as you will - we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out.'" That's famous now. These guys don't think much of reality.

And too there was that item in Esquire in January 2003 (here) when he managed to get the former head of the president's office of faith-based initiatives, John DiIulio, to say some awful this -- "There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus," and "What you've got is everything - and I mean everything - being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis." Ouch. He's good at getting people to talk, and say what they probably shouldn't say.

And now there's this, full of interesting tidbits, like the CIA nickname for Vice President Cheney is Edgar - for Edgar Bergen, as in Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.

Actually, that may be a major point. Cheney is running the show. Bush is the ventriloquist's dummy.

Many noticed that, and that was covered in these pages, April 4, 2004, in Edgar Bergen and his wooden dummy Charlie McCarthy, At the time, the 9/11 Commission wanted to talk with Bush and Cheney - how did this all happen? - and each had agreed only to individual "visits" with the two co-chairs of the ten member panel, not the full ten-member panel, and only for one hour each, and not under oath, and with no written record of the what was said - no note-taking or any of that stuff. But then the administration's attorney sent a note with this -
I would also like to take this occasion to offer an accommodation on another issue on which we have not yet reached an agreement - commission access to the president and vice president. I am authorized to advise you that the president and vice president have agreed to one joint private session with all 10 commissioners.
This did lead some to conclude the Bush was afraid to face these ten questioners without Dick Cheney by his side to tell him what he was thinking back then, and to tell him what he did back then, and to remind him of why he did whatever it was that he did back then - so Bush could then coherently answer the questions posed to him. The problem' here was that this just made Bush look as if he could not think for himself or explain himself in a tight spot.

CNN's Aaron Brown - long gone now, replaced by the emotive Anderson Cooper - said this at the time -
There are problems you can't avoid and then there are problems that you create and we submit that the White House's problems with the 9/11 commission fall into that latter group. There never should have been any, at least not big ones, and there still has been hardly anything but big problems for the White House.

The White House opposed the creation of the commission, preferring it be left to Congress. The families objected. Polls showed the country did as well. The president gave in.

The White House resisted documents the commission said it needed and, after a nasty public spat, the White House relented again. When the commission said it needed more time, 60 more days to do its work, the White House again said no and, again under political pressure relented.

And now today, after weeks of saying no to public testimony by his national security adviser and absorbing all the political heats that position entailed, the president gave in again.
But he didn't appear alone. And now we get some background.

The New York Times explains in their review of the new Suskind book, that this is indeed so - the president is both incurious and uninformed, and time and time again is not fully briefed, as he just wouldn't get it. One example is here -
During a November 2001 session with the president, Mr. Suskind recounts, a C.I.A. briefer realized that the Pentagon had not told Mr. Bush of the C.I.A.'s urgent concern that Osama bin Laden might escape from the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan (as he indeed later did) if United States reinforcements were not promptly sent in. And several months later, he says, attendees at a meeting between Mr. Bush and the Saudis discovered after the fact that an important packet laying out the Saudis' views about the Israeli-Palestinian situation had been diverted to the vice president's office and never reached the president.

Keeping information away from the president, Mr. Suskind argues, was a calculated White House strategy that gave Mr. Bush "plausible deniability" from Mr. Cheney's point of view, and that perfectly meshed with the commander in chief's own impatience with policy details. Suggesting that Mr. Bush deliberately did not read the full National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which was delivered to the White House in the fall of 2002, Mr. Suskind writes: "Keeping certain knowledge from Bush - much of it shrouded, as well, by classification - meant that the president, whose each word circles the globe, could advance various strategies by saying whatever was needed. He could essentially be 'deniable' about his own statements."

"Whether Cheney's innovations were tailored to match Bush's inclinations, or vice versa, is almost immaterial," Mr. Suskind continues. "It was a firm fit. Under this strategic model, reading the entire N.I.E. would be problematic for Bush: it could hem in the president's rhetoric, a key weapon in the march to war. He would know too much."
So keep him in the dark, as anyway he likes it better that way? So it would seem. The less he knows the better. All the tin-foil hat conspiracy whacko theorists, hyperventilating that Cheney was and is running things and Bush was and is a boy-child kept in the dark and trotted out to say things for the rubes who like his Texas swagger, get their documentation. And they get a lot of it.

The Washington Post review hones in on another matter here, a small matter of the president flat-out lying to us all, then torturing a mentally ill man for information he didn't have -
One example out of many comes in Ron Suskind's gripping narrative of what the White House has celebrated as one of the war's major victories: the capture of Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan in March 2002. Described as al-Qaeda's chief of operations even after U.S. and Pakistani forces kicked down his door in Faisalabad, the Saudi-born jihadist was the first al-Qaeda detainee to be shipped to a secret prison abroad. Suskind shatters the official story line here.

Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be. CIA and FBI analysts, poring over a diary he kept for more than a decade, found entries "in the voice of three people: Hani 1, Hani 2, and Hani 3" - a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego. All three recorded in numbing detail "what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said." Dan Coleman, then the FBI's top al-Qaeda analyst, told a senior bureau official, "This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality."

Abu Zubaydah also appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda's go-to guy for minor logistics - travel for wives and children and the like. That judgment was "echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President," Suskind writes. And yet somehow, in a speech delivered two weeks later, President Bush portrayed Abu Zubaydah as "one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States." And over the months to come, under White House and Justice Department direction, the CIA would make him its first test subject for harsh interrogation techniques.
But wait! There's more! -
"I said he was important," Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" "No sir, Mr. President," Tenet replied. Bush "was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?" Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety - against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each ? target." And so, Suskind writes, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered."
This is a comedy of tragic errors, or a tragedy of comic errors, or as Andrew Sullivan says here - "This shallow, monstrous, weak, and petty man is still the president. God help us."

Then one of Sullivan's readers says this -
? A weak man bred to believe he is strong and a leader of men. Propelled to success by family and powerful friends, he is granted the world's foremost authority, but his victory is marred by controversy. At first he is insecure about his legitimacy, so he makes no bold moves and vacations at home where he is comfortable. Then, tragedy strikes, a historical moment that sears itself so immediately into the hearts of men that the date is marked forever: September the 11th. The leader asks God's guidance and feels a revelation: this is fate. He has been chosen to lead America and the world in this decisive historical moment. Imbued with a sense of purpose and divine right, not to mention a political landscape in which his word is the nation's command, he prepares to act. But he is still a weak, insecure man at heart, and he puts his faith not just in God, but in his right-hand men - Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove. After all, he tells himself, they are also chosen to be in these positions at this time. He trusts them and he trusts their decisions to be the right ones, but in truth it is because he does not trust himself to question their judgments.

So our leader assumes the role of every bad manager - calling endlessly for unity, for strength and for faith, offering platitudes and placebos with no confidence in his own grasp on the policies that will solve the problem. And the people, rocked to their core by five jetliner-missiles, trust him, need to trust in their leaders. But as time passes, as the hubristic and imperial, aggressive policies of our leader's right-hand men become clear, as it becomes obvious that these men are above governing and providing for the people, We the People begin to see that we have misplaced our trust, twice. Perhaps these leaders are merely incompetent. Perhaps they have a grand agenda they believe is too important to the globe to be bothered with international humility. Whatever the case, our fearful leader can only fumble and obfuscate when a frustrated press and citizenry begin to ask, "What policies are you uniting us behind, exactly?"

And now here we are, having abdicated our Constitutional authority to an executive whose values do not include leveling with the American people, or treating other nations as equally sovereign. Congress festers with corruption and abdicates its oversight duties in the face of the executive's aggression. Judges are accused of 'activism' when they exercise their authority as a co-equal branch of government. The party in power is corrupt and beholden to the fundamentalists who secured its voting coalition. The opposition party scrambles for an appropriate vision but cannot seem to cohere or inspire. And We the People do not protest, they do not march, they do not riot to oppose torture in their name, or espionage conducted on them.

The stories that endure are those that speak to the rhythms of history - ambition breeds success breeds hubris breeds decadence breeds a downfall breeds introspection breeds spiritual rebirth breeds confidence breeds ambition and so on. This story has been told many times, in Rome, in France, in Britain, in Germany, in Russia, and now perhaps in America.
The right ignores all this of course, as here - "I think many are going to conclude it doesn't hold up and is basically just another attempt to hurt the Bush administration by sources within the CIA."

But see also Dan Froomkin in the Post here -
The part of Ron Suskind's new book that's getting all the attention this morning is his chilling disclosure that al-Qaeda apparently planned, then called off, a hydrogen cyanide gas attack in New York's subway in 2003.

But the longer-term significance of Suskind's new book - his second major expose of the Bush White House in three years - will likely be how it documents Vice President Cheney's singularly dominant role in the foreign policy and national security decisions typically attributed to President Bush.

Where other journalists smarmily imply that Cheney is in charge, or credulously relate White House assurances that he's not, Suskind appears to have gotten people with first-hand experience to actually describe how Cheney operates - and what he has wrought.
It all happened? Maybe so.

And Time is running excerpts and says this -
Two months had passed since 9/11, and at the highest levels of government, officials were worrying about a second wave of attacks. CIA Director George Tenet was briefing Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in the White House Situation Room on the agency's latest concern: intelligence reports suggesting that Osama bin Laden and his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had met with a radical Pakistani nuclear scientist around a campfire in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Absorbing the possibility that al-Qaeda was trying to acquire a nuclear weapon, Cheney remarked that America had to deal with a new type of threat - what he called a "low-probability, high-impact event' - and the U.S. had to do it 'in a way we haven't yet defined," writes author Ron Suskind in his new book, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11.

And then Cheney defined it: "If there's a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis ... It's about our response." Suskind writes, "So, now spoken, it stood: a standard of action that would frame events and responses from the Administration for years to come."
So we know who's running things.

And there's Suskind being interviewed by Matt Lauer on the NBC Today Show here saying this "one percent" business "embraces suspicions as a threshold for action" -
Matt Lauer: "You think there are grave dangers in this type of policy. Why?"

Suskind: "The fact is for us as the most powerful nation in the world, what it does is it sends us into a kind of tactical ferocity where we're following everything, where we can't even have a one percent chance not be handled with the full force of the U.S. The difficulty is there is backlash when you act that way?"

Lauer: "Are you suggesting that Dick Cheney drives the policy of the administration?"

Suskind: "The evidence is that Cheney is the global thinker. Bush is an action-based man, but he operates within a framework that Cheney largely designed."
And the Time item notes when CIA Director Tenet and some of his briefers initially headed over to the White House to tell Bush about any new threat, Tenet has to go in first, he had to "prebrief Bush for four or five minutes" - it seems to have been a "common practice" so that "Bush could be authoritative and updated when others arrived." If Dick wasn't there he wouldn't know what to say? He's looked like he didn't have a clue?

This is depressing stuff, but it's summer. And as for beach reading, try a nice mystery or a romance. This book, arriving with the solstice, won't help you relax. You've been warned.

Posted by Alan at 23:52 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 21 June 2006 06:37 PDT home

Monday, 19 June 2006
It must be some sort of cosmic joke, even is a cruel one...
Topic: Couldn't be so...

It must be some sort of cosmic joke, even is a cruel one...

It's just getting too absurd. But it should be documented. The week of Monday, June 19, 2006, started out with more of the spiral downward, and a sense that those in charge are just somehow disconnected, in some existentially absurd way.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talked tough, warning North Korea not to even think about testing that long-range missile that could reach California carrying a nuclear warhead (details here), and the whole world is worried, particularly Japan and South Korea. But when Bush took office our policy changed. We stopped direct all talks with them - no talks unless they stopped all their nuclear and missile programs first - then we named them part of the Axis of Evil, then we said we'd talk, but only as part of a group of six other nations, certainly not one-on-one, ever. That would just reward them by making it seem like they were a legitimate government. So they did what they did - went on with the bomb thing and the missile development. Why wouldn't they? We pinned our hopes on "regime change." Right. So now what?

Of course the way out of this is simple. Many have suggested it. This administration poured billions into an anti-ballistic missile program that even though it failed all its testes, we deployed anyway. Time to prove it's not a boondoggle, not just some way to make the friends and contributors to the Republicans richer than they already are. You say it works. You say it's not just a waste of money wecould have spent to deal with terrorists sneaking in small nukes through Long Beach or Baltimore? Fine. When the North Koreans launch the new missile to test it, shoot down the damned thing. It would be perfectly legal, over international waters, and the world would sigh in relief, and the supporters of the administration would cheer, and everyone, left and right would feel a whole lot safer. You say it works fine. So use it. Then again, it would be the first time it ever worked. This could be tricky. Better to bluster, and not be embarrassed.

Then there was this - "President Bush told Iran on Monday that nations worldwide won't back down from their demand that Tehran suspend uranium enrichment."

They should chat with Korea. We have steely resolve. They keep working on the uranium technology. And why wouldn't they?

Of course this is all a charade. As the second buttress of the Axis of Evil, we don't see Iran as it is as a legitimate government either. We want the youth there to rise up and unleash the hidden American in each of their souls, and throw out the clerics, and so on. That is our stated aim. We set many millions aside for the effort - to fund the rebels, to bring on the democratic revolution. Dick Cheney's daughter - the other one, not the lesbian one with the new book - is in charge of that effort. You could look it up.

So we won't back down on our demand that Tehran suspend uranium enrichment. Of course not. And we know they won't back down. That's as plain as day. Why would they choose to be humiliated? That's the only "out" we've left them. We already, three years ago rejected serious talks with them on any of these issues (see this). We don't want to work things out.

So it's a set-up. Back them into a corner where we can say, see, they need to go away. The diplomacy is not at all to get them to stop what they're doing. Whatever diplomacy involved is to set up things so people agree they're just not a government that should be allowed to exist any longer. That may or may not work. We may go it alone again, or pretty much alone. Fiji will stand with us, or someone.

We wanted Saddam Hussein to provide definitive, documented proof he had no weapons of mass destruction, and to destroy what he didn't have. Cool. And we are demanding Hugo Chavez down in Venezuela provide definitive, documented proof he has no ties to al Qaeda or any terrorists. Show us the documents that show there are no documents. Right.

This is very odd. Demanding the other prove the negative - prove to me that you aren't thinking about an orange - is just absurd.

But these guys do absurd in a major way.

And they do absurd in a minor way too, as in this - "A Pentagon document classifies homosexuality as a mental disorder, decades after mental health experts abandoned that position. The document outlines retirement or other discharge policies for service members with physical disabilities, and in a section on defects lists homosexuality alongside mental retardation and personality disorders."

What's to say? In some parts of the administration it's always 1953, in Tulsa. The armies of other nations just deal with it - good soldiers may, sometime, be gay. So what? Here that's right up there with being retarded, just like Gore Vidal is, and T. E. Lawrence. Oh well.

The military has other things to worry about of course, like the two soldiers who seem to have been captured near Baghdad by some locals tied to al Qaeda (see the AP account here and the New York Times here). This is serious stuff. Let's hope they don't get tortured or anything. That would be awkward after Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo and all. But what really happened is still unclear. This is just a "claim" after all. We're still looking, shutting down whole villages and much more.

As Tim Grieve notes here, one year and about eight hundred forty American soldiers ago, Vice President Cheney said that we were seeing the "last throes" of the insurgency in Iraq. It'd all be over soon. He knew.

Monday, June 19, 2006. he was asked about that again (see this) - does he still think that true. He does. You see there were the Iraqi elections in 2005 and then the formation of a government this year. And that was the beginning of the end of the war. It's obvious - "I think that will have been, from a historical turning point, the period that we'll be able to look at and say, 'That's when we turned the corner, that's when we began to get a handle on the long-term future of Iraq.'"

And all gays are retarded. It's all how you look at things.

So how do you look at this - the same day, in Baghdad, our U.S. military announced that a noncommissioned officer and two soldiers have been charged with murder, obstruction of justice and a few other crimes. This seems to have something to do with the death of three Iraqis in military custody last month. The spin in the Arab street, if there is such a thing as that street, will be awful. After all the rest, this. Or you can spin it the other way, as we don't stand for such things and these guys will be tried, and what other nation does that sort of thing, so it shows we take care of our own problems and do the right thing. When they get six-week suspended sentences that spin will need some adjustment.

But for absurd spin the same Monday there was a lot of talk about what Karl Rove said the week before, accusing Jack Murtha and John Kerry of being "cut-and-run" politicians who "may be with you for the first few bullets" but won't "be there for the last tough battles." Again, Rove was eighteen in 1968 but managed to avoid serving alongside men like Murtha and Kerry in Vietnam, and Grieve nicely puts it. The talk was all about what former Marine a pro-military man Murtha had to say about that on "Meet the Press" that Sunday, and he wasn't kind - "He's in New Hampshire. He's making a political speech. He's sitting in his air-conditioned office with his big, fat backside, saying, 'Stay the course.' That's not a plan. I mean, this guy - I don't know what his military experience is, but that's a political statement."

Still those on the right call Murtha a coward and traitor for suggesting redeploying and rearranging our forces, and call Rove the real hero, the tough guy. Go figure. Who knows more about such matters? Don't ask.

And by the way, there's also this, a new report on Cheney's old company Halliburton. It's the "single fastest-growing federal contractor between 2000 and 2005," or so the report says. In 2000, Halliburton received $763 million in federal government contracts. In 2005, it received nearly $6 billion worth of work, taking it from No. 20 to No. 6 on the list of the government's biggest contractors. War is good. Reading the Tim Grieve daily surveys of current will drive you nuts.

So will reading stuff buried deep in the Washington Post, like this. It seems the Post got their hands on a "sensitive" memo from the public affairs office of the US. Embassy in Baghdad and it offers "snapshots" of what life is like for its Iraqi employees who live outside the Green Zone. The Post has it here in PDF format, and everyone seems to be discussing it.

One summary is here -
Women's rights: Female employees report increasing "harassment" over what they wear and how they act; they say they have been told to stop wearing Western clothes, to cover their heads and faces in public, and to stop using cellphones.

Electricity and gasoline: With temperatures in Baghdad reaching 115 degrees, many embassy employees report that their homes have electricity for only four to eight hours each day. One central Baghdad neighborhood has had no government-supplied electricity for a month, and embassy employees report waiting in line for as long as 12 hours to fill their cars with gasoline.

Threats against embassy employees: Some embassy employees fear that sectarian militia members now control the entrances to the Green Zone. Of nine Iraqis who worked in the public affairs office in March, five kept their employment secret from their own families out of fear for their safety. For the same reason, the embassy often cannot contact its employees at home during off-duty hours and cannot use them to help translate events when cameras might be present.

Risks from informants: Embassy employees report that they "daily assess how to move safely in public." Sometimes that requires adopting the clothes and "lingo" of a particular neighborhood in order to avoid attention from "alasas," or informants. "The Alasa mentality is becoming entrenched as Iraqi security forces fail to gain public confidence," the memo's authors write.

In sum, the memo's authors say that the conditions outside the Green Zone continue to make their work inside it extremely difficult: "Although our staff retain a professional demeanor, strains are apparent," they say.

"We see that their personal fears are reinforcing divisive sectarian or ethnic challenges, despite talk of reconciliation by officials. Employees are apprehensive enough that we fear they may exaggerate developments or steer us towards news that comports with their own worldview. Objectivity, civility, and logic that make for a functional workplace may falter if social pressures outside the Green Zone don't abate."
But other than that things are fine, except men who wear shorts or jeans have come under attack from "what staff members describe as Wahabis and Sadrists." And different neighborhoods are controlled by different militias, and staff members have to be careful to dress and speak differently in each one - "People no longer trust most neighbors." And a newspaper editor reports that ethnic cleansing is taking place in almost every Iraqi province.

Great. The document is dated around the time the president dropped by. He probably didn't see it. The name on the bottom is Khalilzad, our ambassador there.

An assessment here -
In a very straightforward descriptive style, Khalilzad writes that Iraqis must hide the fact that they work for the US or face ostracism or worse. Women are being treated only slightly better than if they were living under the Taliban in 1999 -- and they are being asked to wear clothing that Khalilzad admits was not even required by the most repressive Iranian Ayatollahs. They are losing their driving privileges and are considered suspicious if they use a cell phone - they might be calling a lover, you see. (This is your fundamentalist religion working to "free" women from the burden of being full citizens.)

People are being gouged for electricity, to which they barely have access anyway (in 115 degree heat!) They face kidnappings and violence every day of their lives. Sectarian divisions are showing up in all their social interactions, even among families. They must adopt separate customs, dress and manner of speaking to travel freely through various neighborhoods in Baghdad or risk violence. They cannot trust the security forces, who seem to be getting more hostile to the population, especially those who work for the US. Their anxiety is palpable as they feel their lives are hurling out of control.

Did I mention that the people he is talking about in this cable are all employees of the US embassy in Baghdad? That's right. These are the highly privileged, educated elite who work inside the Green Zone. Imagine what it's like out in the hinterlands.

... The country has obviously already spiraled into a state of civil war. It's not surprising that it's taken on this character of secret informants, ethnic cleansing, paranoia and neighborhood militias because the whole society was shaped by an authoritarian police state. But civil war it is, and from the sound of this cable, it's happening on a far more fundamental level than we knew. The whole society is breaking down from inside out.

... He [Khalilzad] pretty much says that he doesn't know if he can trust his own employees much longer because they are being driven a little bit crazy by fear and paranoia. Heckuva job, there, Uncle Sammy.
Ah well. At least the president is on top of things. Monday, June 19, he delivered the commencement address at the US Merchant Marine Academy, and tossed in this - "This morning, I flew here on Air Force One with my friend, Andy Card. You might remember Andy - he was my former chief of staff, and he attended this Academy in the 1960s. It just so happens when he was a plebe, he was stuffed in a duffel bag and run up the flagpole."

What? That sounds like a line from some absurdist's play - didn't Stoppard have Rosencrantz say that to Guildenstern?

It's hard to make sense of it all. It must be some sort of cosmic joke, even is a cruel one.

And then there's the torture business and Guantánamo.

As reported late in the day Monday, June 19, here, after the three prisoner suicides, and after we tossed out all the reporters there, so no one will now know anything, the military tribunals, for the ten of the four hundred ninety we think we can prove might actually be bad guys, have been put off. The idea is that maybe it might be a good idea for the Supreme Court to rule on whether we can do that at all, in the way we planned. Things have gotten a bit out of hand.

And too, the previous Friday the Pentagon actually declassified a November 2004 report about detainee abuse by our Speical Operations guys in Iraq (here in PDF format). That's the one where Brigadier General Richard Formica (great name). That's the one where he told reporters that it was "regrettable" that the troops he investigated had inadequate guidance about detention policy, but really, no one was ultimately responsible. Just a bit of a mix up.

But then folks finally got around to reading the details, and the New York Times noted this -
General Formica found that in the third case at a Special Operations outpost, near Tikrit, in April and May 2004, three detainees were held in cells 4 feet high, 4 feet long and 20 inches wide, except to use the bathroom, to be washed or to be interrogated. He concluded that two days in such confinement "would be reasonable; five to seven days would not." Two of the detainees were held for seven days; one for two days, General Formica concluded.
See Spencer Ackerman here -
Here are two such questions you can puzzle over from your home or office. Take all the shelving out of a typical filing cabinet. (My own office cabinet happens to be slightly smaller than the cell described here.) Now lock yourself in it for two days. You may notice you can neither stand up straight nor lie down, and crouching gets really uncomfortable extremely fast. Remember that as an Iraqi detainee, the Geneva Conventions apply to you. Now ask yourself: Why would Formica consider such treatment "reasonable" for two days? And if someone put an American soldier in such conditions for two days - or authorized doing so - what should happen to that person?
Two of our guys are missing. Think about it.

Yeah, but what about Guantánamo?

Andrew Sullivan here points to a list of interrogation techniques reliably documented at our detention centers in Guantánamo or Afghanistan, compiled by medical ethicist, Stephen Miles, in a book coming out soon, Oath Betrayed. Miles has examined 35,000 pages of government documents and "credible witness" testimony and this is what we seem to have done -
Beating; punching with fists; use of truncheons; kicking; slamming against walls; stretching or suspension (to tear ligaments or muscles to cause asphyxia); external electric shocks; forcing prisoners to abase and to urinate on themselves; forced masturbation; forced renunciation of religion; false confessions or accusations; applying urine and feces to prisoners; making verbal threats to a prisoner and his family; denigration of a prisoner's religion; force-feeding; induced hypothermia and exposure to extreme heat; dietary manipulation; use of sedatives; extreme sleep deprivation; mock executions; water immersion; "water-boarding"; obstruction of the prisoner's airway; chest compression; thermal burning; rape; dog bites; sexual abuse; forcing a prisoner to watch the abuse or torture of a loved one.
Did all that work wonders? Over one hundred prisoners died. But then, no more planes were flown into Manhattan skyscrapers. The connection is tenuous, if there at all.

The Post says this -
This political and administrative mess stems directly from Mr. Bush's decision in the weeks after Sept. 11 to take extraordinary measures against terrorism through the assertion of presidential power, rather than through legislation, court action or diplomacy. His intent was to exclude Congress, the courts and other governments from influencing or even monitoring how foreign detainees were treated. Senior officials, led by Vice President Cheney, argued that this policy would give the administration the flexibility it needed to fight the war effectively. Instead it has done the opposite: Mr. Bush's policies have deeply tarnished U.S. prestige abroad, inhibited cooperation with allies and prevented justice for al-Qaeda.
Sullivan -
The trouble is: the architects of this policy - Cheney, Rumsfeld and Gonzales - are still in power, and unable or unwilling to reverse course and face a real accounting. And so we stagger on, with secrecy lending credibility to the worst possibilities, with abuse documented in every field of conflict, and with the international moral standing of the United States at its lowest ebb since Vietnam. There are two wars right now, it seems to me: one is against Islamist terror; and the other is to protect the constitution and the Geneva Conventions from those who would bypass them to protect us. Both wars are vital; and in some ways, as defenses of our civilization, are the same.
And one of his readers, puzzled over the evangelical Christians in charge - good is good and evil is evil, so you fight pure evil anyway you can - says this -
As good non-relativists, Christians ought to believe in universal standards, moral codes that apply to everyone. In some fashion that's what the Geneva Conventions and other international agreements are meant to provide. But an unshakable article of conservative faith is that the United Nations and most other international compacts are inherently evil. So we come to a point where all that matters is American laws, American goals - and American power.

This really cannot stand. We will reach a point where we have infinite power, but zero influence. The nations we desperately need to change and win over will come to think that we get our authority solely from the barrel of a gun - or the damp gauze of a waterboarder. We will claim that we believe in universal, unalienable rights, but will refuse to hold ourselves to any meaningful universal standards. No one will take anything we say seriously, except our threats of war.
And what of our two soldiers who seem to have been captured by the bad guys? What if they are tortured?

There are some questions here -
What will our government do? What could it do? Could it condemn the actions as not abiding by the Geneva Conventions? Could it call the actions "torture"? Could it demand accountability? Could it demand that the soldiers be treated as POWs? Could it simply say, "Well, we don't do that shit ... anymore"?
Who knows what our government would do or say in such a case? They kind of got boxed in here. That's what the absurd is all about. Too bad it's likely.

Enough. This calls for scotch.

Posted by Alan at 23:02 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 20 June 2006 07:37 PDT home

Sunday, 18 June 2006
Hot of the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements

Hot of the Virtual Press

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 25, for the week of June 18, 2006.Click here to go there...

This week, on a new computer, with most of the files from the old one recovered, a new issue - with six extended observations on current events, from Guantánamo to Karl Rove, to that trip to Baghdad to the foolishness in congress at the end of the week, to the political theory that underlies who will likely win the World Cup, and why.

At the International Desk, photo essays - Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, provides a real taste of Paris last Friday night, on the quays and in the crowds on the day of James Joyce, and Our Man in Tel-Aviv, Sylvain Ubersfeld, does the beach bum thing and lets us know they do have their own Malibu there, sort of.

Hollywood? This week the most famous of hotels (where Marilyn Monroe lived for a time, as did other legends of that world), some really curious tourist matters (the famous footprints), and the new and old murals these days.

Local photography covers, for our readers in London, Ontario, Canada, the fantastic old trains on display in an odd spot in Griffith Park, and for the botanically-minded, this year's jacaranda madness, and the expected extreme close-up shots suitable for framing, if that's your thing.

Our friend from Texas provides us with more of the weird, and the quotes pertain to deciding not to be ordinary.

Direct links to specific pages…

Extended Observations on Current Events ________________________

The Absurd: Kafkaesque, in a Good Way
Differentiations: Notes on the Transitory and the Big Stuff
Things Imploding
Resolved: They think we're all fools. We shall see.
Other Voices: Offered Without Comment
Sports: Harmless Theory

The International Desk ________________________

Our Man in Paris: Dining Out
Our Man in Tel-Aviv: Beach Bumming at Chinky's

Hollywood Matters ________________________

Icons
The Hollywood Tourist
The Movies: Hollywood Murals Old and New

Southern California Photography ________________________

Trains: Wheels Are Turning
Jacaranda Time: Close-Up Color

__

The Weird: WEIRD, BIZARRE and UNUSUAL
Quotes for the week of June 18, 2006 - Just Getting Along

Posted by Alan at 17:49 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Saturday, 17 June 2006
Sports: Harmless Theory
Topic: Oddities

Sports: Harmless Theory

Let's go to the odd sources. Saturday, June 17, 2006, the National Post up in Canada reprints an item from The New Republic the previous day, which in turn was adapted from an item in the anthology The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup. This is Franklin Foer asking the question that has probably occurred to more than a few people after seventeen World Cup football (soccer) extravaganzas, one every four years - what kind of governments produce winning soccer teams? Freedom and football victory? Juntas produced winners? Let's see.

The Czechs this time just embarrassed the United States in the opening round, and then they managed to lose 0-2 to Angola, a major upset. The heartened Americans then went out to face the Italian team - maybe it wasn't all over - and managed a 1-1 tie, with two players ejected and what would have been the winning goal disallowed. What does this mean about the governments? Who knows?

From Kafka through "The Good Solider Svejk" to the deeply ironic Havel Václav Havel (good friends with Frank Zappa) to the recent vote for the "greatest Czech of All Time" - the whole fictitious and absurd Jára Cimrman - the Czechs have looked upon the whole idea of government itself with some skepticism. It's not football. It's sillier. Who knows how things are run in Angola, other than badly? And how many governments has Italy had since WWII, with the most recent being that of the clownish Silvio Berlusconi?

Still, Franklin Foer wants to make a connection, as he explains here -
There have been revolutions to create socialism, democracy, and authoritarian dictatorship. But humankind has yet to fight a revolution to guarantee one of the most vital elements - if not the most vital element - of the good life. That is, a winning soccer team. If we were to take up arms for this reason, what kind of government would we want to install?

Political theory, for all its talk about equality and virtue, has strangely evaded this question.
Probably for good reason.

But here's the rundown, and it starts with communism -
Communism, despite its gulags and show trials, produced great players and rock-solid teams. The Hungarian squad of the early '50s has gone down in history as one of the best to never win a championship. A few decades later, in 1982, the Poles finished third in the tournament, drawing with Paolo Rossi's Italy and beating Michel Platini's France en route. These triumphs are reflected in the overall record. In World Cup matches against non-communist countries, the red hordes bested their capitalist foes more often than not - by my count, 46 wins, 32 draws, 40 losses.

But the fact remains that a communist country has never won the World Cup. After watching the communists perform efficiently in preliminary rounds of the tournament, you could usually count on them to collapse in the quarterfinals.
Yep, just like the whole system itself - sounds good, and doesn't work.

Foer implies the problem really was embedded in the political nature of the communist system - they weren't like us, the risk talking entrepreneurial loose and happy risk-takers of American capitalism, or something like that -
Valeri Lobanovsky, the great Soviet and Ukrainian coach of the 1970s and '80s, believed that science could provide underlying truths about the game. He would send technicians to games to evaluate players based on the number of "actions" - tackles, passes, shots - that they performed. These evaluations perversely favored frenetic tackling over the creative construction of an attack. Lobanovsky's method captures the pernicious way in which the rigidity of Marxism permeated the mentality of the Eastern bloc. Such rigidity might produce a great runner or gymnast, but it doesn't produce champions in a sport that requires regular flashes of individuality and risk-taking.
Yeah, right. The interesting thing is these guys lost the big ones because they trusted "science." One thinks of George Bush.

And what of fascism? There's evidence their teams are crap too -
Fascist governments can masterfully manufacture a sense of national purpose and, more than that, national superiority. This ethos, while not so appealing from the perspective of those who worry about individual rights, cultivates the perfect climate for a World Cup. Not only can it produce a healthy confidence, but it can also generate a powerful fear of losing. Who wants to disappoint a nation swept up in this kind of fervor? Or, more to the point, who wants to disappoint a leader who might break your legs and imprison your grandmother? What's more, fascist governments subscribe to a cult of fitness and hygiene that leads them to siphon considerable national resources into sports programs.

The fascist record speaks for itself. During the '30s, Il Duce's Italy claimed two trophies; Germany took third in 1934, as did Brazil in 1938. Overall, fascism compiled a record of 14-3-3 in that decade.
Okay, and since then Francisco Franco's Spain and Juan Peron's Argentina got nowhere. And Antonio de Oliveira Salazar's Portugal appeared in only one tournament in the thrity-six years he ruled there. Jingoism and personal fear only go so far, or not very far at all. Someone tell Karl Rove. Bad for soccer, bad for the country. It's a losing strategy. Hyper-patriotism mixed with telling everyone they should be very, very afraid is only good for winning elections. What happens after you win matters too.

And then there is this odd "fact" -
No country has ever won a World Cup while committing genocide or gearing up to commit genocide. Germany and Yugoslavia both faltered on the eve of their mass murders. In 1938, Germany didn't win a single game. The greatest Yugoslavian team of all time lost in the quarterfinals of the 1990 tournament. Apparently, lusting after the blood of Jews and Muslims distracts vital energy from the more pressing task of scoring.
Yeah that can be distraction, or it's a coincidence here.

But old-fashioned military juntas do win -
The Brazilian and Argentine juntas presided over the most glorious victories in the tournament's history in the '70s and early '80s. It makes sense that juntas would excel at this. They are collective efforts, where even the strongmen are part of a broader apparatus. A good soccer team is, in a sense, a junta.
It is? But then they've won three of the seventeen times.

But the good conservative Foer says nothing beats good old cut-throat western competative capitalism for turning out real winners, where everyone talks about teamwork but no one believes in it -
... even the worst social democratic teams - Belgium, Finland - win more consistently than their authoritarian peers. To understand this success, one must understand the essence of the social democratic economy. Social democracies take root in heavily industrialized societies, and this is a great blessing.

No country has won the World Cup without having a substantial industrial base. This base supplies a vast urban proletariat, which in turn supplies players for a team. Industrial economies also produce great wealth, which funds competitive domestic leagues that improve social democratic players by subjecting them to day-to-day competition of the highest quality. And, while the junta mindset nicely transposes itself to the pitch, the social democratic ethos is a far neater match. Social democracy celebrates individualism, while relentlessly patting itself on the back for its sense of solidarity - a coherent team with room for stars.
So that's six of the World Cups for the world of individualism and cull-out-the-losers competition - over cooperation, forced or not, and over or the "science" of the sport.

Foer contends "the outcome of each match in the World Cup can be forecast by analyzing the political and economic conditions of the countries represented on the pitch." Just what we need, another sort of neoconservative theory of how the world really works.

You'd think, after Iraq, they'd learn. But maybe there is a correlation, and maybe the Iraq war was a fine idea. At least this theory is harmless.

Posted by Alan at 17:30 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 17 June 2006 17:59 PDT home

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