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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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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, 8 November 2006
Things Changed
Topic: Election Notes
Things Changed
Out here in Los Angeles, Election Day was the hottest November 7th on record - ninety-seven degrees downtown. The records go back to the 1870's or so - and this was off the charts. But it was hotter elsewhere. The war in Iraq and President Bush's stubbornness and air of militant entitlement, and the openly corrupt and stunningly ineffective congress, and the sense that the economy was only good for the rich folks, and so much else, seemed to have people rather angry. Exit polls couldn't quite capture it - for some it was the war, for some the Teri Schiavo business, for others it was the incompetence revealed with the nearly useless and inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina more than a year ago, for others all the money that went to Halliburton and the like there and in Iraq, for others the issue of the president claiming no laws applied to him, and underneath it all the inarticulate who couldn't afford health insurance, who knew they could lose their jobs tomorrow with the next round of "enhancing shareholder value" and who just felt something was wrong and it might be time for a change. The midterm elections changed things

By late Wednesday it was clear what had happened. The nation seems to have agreed it might be nice to have a House and Senate of new people, not the old crew making their friends and families rich and agreeing to whatever the president said, and when they eventually got around to working concerned with issues like changing the constitution to ban flag-burning as a form of protest and making sure gay people couldn't ever get married or even have the legal rights straight folks have. Three weeks before the election they spent a day or two working on banning the commercial production of horsemeat - a niche export industry but very worrisome. With legislator after legislator reading statements into the record documenting the love of horses things did reach the near edge of the absurd. (For the record, Just Above Sunset thinks horses are fine animals.)

Late Wednesday is when Associated Press and NBC called the final Senate race - Jim Webb over the incumbent Republican, George Allen, in Virginia. That assured Democrats of fifty-one seats when the Senate convenes in January. That was a net gain of six seats - a sweep. Earlier, State Senator Jon Tester - the outspoken organic farmer who long ago lost three fingers in a meat grinder accident (a "man of the people" in some strange way) - had won over the incumbent Republican Senator Conrad Burns Montana. Both races were close and the results late, but the possibility of a recount changing things was so remote only the concession speeches were in question - seeing who could be most gracious. Rick Santorum had set the bar high there.

The Democratic Senate total does include two independents - Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont - but they both say they will caucus and vote with the Democrats. Bernie Sanders certainly will, but Lieberman is an odd duck - a six term Democrat with a long history, from the Civil Rights days in the sixties, of voting with that side, but a recent history is whining and voting with the Republicans on all issues and scolding Democrats for any public or private disagreement with any policy or position of the president. He's the wild card, publicly saying the war in Iraq is going great and no one should disagree with this particular president on anything. And when he lost the Democratic primary and ran as an independent, financed to a large extent by the White House and saying it would be better than having him in the Senate rather than the man officially selected by the Party, he burned a few bridges. The Senate may actually be split in an odd way.

The House will not be split - by Wednesday the Democrats had gained almost thirty seats, and they only had needed fifteen for a majority. Ten more seats were too close to call, but control of the House was not in question. Things had changed.

And other things had changed. Conservative values were in question.

In Arizona voters rejected a measure to ban gay marriage and any sort of civil unions - in spite of John McCain arguing that this had to pass for the moral good of that state and the whole nation. So in the land of Barry Goldwater the people spoke in one voice - restricting the rights of gay folks was dumb, intrusive and mean-spirited. The late Barry Goldwater had actually held that same position, although the issue at that time was gays in the military and in public office. He didn't see the big problem. And neither did the voters there now - they'd had enough of being jerked around by the "values" crowd. (Oddly enough, somewhere around here, perhaps in a box in the back of the closet, I have a tape of my second ex-father-in-law, when he was Assistant Secretary of Defense for Heath Affairs in the Reagan administration, appearing on the McNeill-Lehar News House show arguing the opposite, and not very convincingly.)

In Missouri the voters also told the values crowd to take a hike - the initiative funding stem cell research passed handily, and the incumbent Republican senator who opposed it was tossed out as well. The argument that such research involved murdering actual children - or that it secretly legalized human cloning - didn't gain much traction. The "values" crowd seemed a bit loopy on the issue.

In another setback for values conservatives, South Dakota rejected a law that would have banned virtually all abortions. This had been passed overwhelmingly by the legislature earlier in the year and would have been the toughest abortion law in the country, allowing abortions only to save a pregnant woman's life. The idea was that the ban would be challenged in court, and that might provoke litigation that might eventually lead to a Supreme Court reversal of Roe v Wade. It lost by a 55-45 margin - folks saw it as too intrusive, with language that failed to guarantee the rights of victims of rape and incest. It was a bullshit ploy, and they'd have none of it.

"It was a thumping," Bush conceded in his press conference Wednesday at the White House. "It's clear the Democrat Party had a good night." (He will not use the term "Democratic" Party - it gives them too much respect - it's the "Democrat" Party.)

But with power on Capitol Hill tilting the other way now, the president faced the unpleasant reality of both houses in the opposition's hands for the final two years of his term. This will not be nice. He announced that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would step down as Democrats, and most everyone, have demanded.

That was a surprise. Two weeks earlier he had said Rumsfeld would stay on to the end of his term - two more years - as Rumsfeld had done an "excellent job." He was adamant, and vehement about that. Things change, and the big issue really was the war. Something is happening.

Internationally, you got things like this -
… from Paris to Pakistan, politicians, analysts and ordinary citizens said Wednesday they hoped the Democratic takeover of both Houses of Congress would force Bush to adopt a more conciliatory approach to global crises, and teach a president many see as a "cowboy" a lesson in humility.

In an extraordinary joint statement, more than 200 Socialist members of the European Parliament hailed the American election results as "the beginning of the end of a six-year nightmare for the world."

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has consistently railed against the Bush administration, called the election "a reprisal vote."

In Paris, American expatriates and French citizens alike packed the city's main American haunts to watch results overnight and early Wednesday, with some standing to cheer or boo as vote tabulations came in. One Frenchman, 53-year-old teacher Jean-Pierre Charpemtrat, said it was about time U.S. voters figured out what much of the rest of the world already knew. "Americans are realizing that you can't found the politics of a country on patriotic passion and reflexes," he said. "You can't fool everybody all the time - and I think that's what Bush and his administration are learning today."

… In Copenhagen, Denmark, Jens Langfeldt, 35, said he didn't know much about the midterm elections but was opposed to Bush, referring to the president as "that cowboy."

In Sri Lanka, some said they hoped the rebuke would force Bush to abandon a unilateral approach to global issues. "The Americans have made it clear that current American policy should change in dealing with the world, from a confrontational approach, to a more consensus-based and bridge-building approach," said Jehan Perera, a political analyst. The Democratic win means "there will be more control and restraint" over U.S. foreign policy.

Passions were even higher in Pakistan, where Bush is deeply unpopular despite billions in aid and support for President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. One opposition lawmaker, Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, said he welcomed the election result, but was hoping for more. Bush "deserves to be removed, put on trial and given a Saddam-like death sentence," he said.

… in China, some feared the resurgence of the Democrats would increase tension over human rights and trade and labor issues. China's surging economy has a massive trade surplus with the United States. "The Democratic Party ... will protect the interests of small and medium American enterprises and labor and that could produce an impact on China-U.S. trade relations," Zhang Guoqing of the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said in a report on Sina.com, one of China's most popular Internet portals.

The prospect of a sudden change in American foreign policy could also be troubling to U.S. allies such as Britain, Japan and Australia, which have thrown their support behind the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Will there be a change in policy? Rumsfeld was cut loose while his old friend and best friend from their days together in the Nixon and Ford administrations, Vice President Cheney, was off on his first hunting trip since he shot another old friend in the face. One of Lloyd Bridges' lines in the movie "Airplane" was "I guess I picked the wrong day to quit sniffing glue." Cheney picked the wrong day to go hunting up by the Canadian border. Or he knew what was coming and decided it would be best to be out of town, shooting small animals.

The replacement is Bob Gates, and one way of looking at it is like this -
How twisted is this country? An Iran-Contra crook and ex-CIA chief is immediately greeted as a sane, grown-up yet "fresh" replacement for the delusional old Donald Rumsfeld.

Even more fun, Gates' nemesis Daniel Ortega was elected president of Nicaragua on Monday. You may remember Ortega as the Sandinista leader who fought off the Contras in a long bloody "civil war" in large part engineered by … Oliver North, William Casey and deputy CIA director Robert M. Gates, among others. North, a convicted felon and official fall guy for Iran-Contra, was in Nicaragua last week campaigning against Ortega.

History doesn't just repeat itself; it repeats itself with the same exact people.
A more conventional way of looking at it is this -
In turning to former CIA Director Robert M. Gates to take the reins at the Pentagon, President Bush has selected a low-key loyalist who is in many ways the opposite of outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Whereas Rumsfeld often seemed bent on running roughshod over the Pentagon brass, Gates is described by longtime associates as collegial and a consensus-builder.

If Rumsfeld had little regard for President George H.W. Bush and many of his pragmatic security advisers, including Brent Scowcroft, Gates was part of that inner circle. He remains close not only to Scowcroft but to other Rumsfeld rivals, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Rumsfeld placed little trust in intelligence agencies and pushed the military to encroach on their turf. In a turning of the tables, a 27-year veteran of the CIA and the National Security Council is poised to take charge of the military.

Democrats praised Gates' nomination, hoping for a less combative Pentagon chief. But Gates has proved controversial in the past. He was forced to withdraw from his first nomination as CIA director before winning a split-vote confirmation four years later.
So one of Daddy's friends is coming in to clean things up, a man who is already part of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group - charged with developing an array of alternatives to the current Iraq policies. Gates recently traveled to Iraq as part of that team and met with Iraqi leaders and our military commanders. The intervention has begun. The president's father is reported to have a long-standing problem with Rumsfeld - he would have nothing to do with him, and the son appointing Rumsfeld to Defense, or letting Cheney tell him he should, had been an in-your-face thing in the family. Things change.

And the big change may be this -
Rumsfeld "is a guy who is kind of burdened with his own certitude at times," said John Gannon, a former high-ranking CIA official who worked with Rumsfeld and Gates. "That is not Bob Gates. He came out of an analytic culture where listening to the ideas of others and questioning your own assumptions is part of the tradecraft."
Listening and questioning your own assumptions? Things really are changing at the White House.

Rumsfeld was a leading advocate for invading Iraq in the aftermath of 9/11 - deposing Saddam Hussein was unfinished business the wimp father had screwed up. Gates was one of those who cautioned the first President Bush not to press toward Baghdad after we fixed the Kuwait thing in 1992. To be fair, of course, Cheney was saying the same thing at the time.

And for the record, Gates was first nominated to be CIA director by Reagan in 1987, but he withdrew due to congressional opposition - he was too closely tied to the Iran-Contra scandal, and that had been engineered by CIA Director Casey while Gates was his deputy. He was not charged with anything, but people wondered. Instead Gates joined the National Security Council staff at the White House, where he made connections with Brent Scowcroft and Condoleezza Rice. When he finally got to run the CIA four years later one of his first initiatives as director was to deal with the accusations that that intelligence had been politicized within the agency. He appointed a task force on "analytic objectivity" and implemented all of its recommendations. So we're talking a major change here - he'd not tolerate visits from Cheney to anyone to badger them for the "right" results. He may run Defense the same way - let's deal with what we know for sure, the actually facts. Yipes! New thinking!

As for Rumsfeld, there was one last shot -
In brief remarks, Rumsfeld described the Iraq conflict as a "little understood, unfamiliar war" that is "complex for people to comprehend."
Ah! He got it, no one else did, and they we're not as smart as he is, and people are just so stupid.

An assessment of that from Andrew Sullivan -
He then compared himself to Churchill. Yep: still clinical. The truth is: it was Rumsfeld who little understood and was unfamiliar with the actual conflict he was tasked with managing. It was not too "complex for people to comprehend." It was relatively easy to comprehend. If you invade a post-totalitarian country and disband its military, you better have enough troops to keep order. We didn't. Rumsfeld refused to send enough. When this was made clear to him and to everyone, he still refused. His arrogant belief in a military that didn't need any actual soldiers was completely at odds with the actual task in Iraq. But he preferred to sit back as tens of thousands of Iraqis were murdered and thousands of U.S. troops died rather than to check his own ego.

So let me put this as simply as I can: Rumsfeld has blood on his hands - American and Iraqi blood. He also directly ordered and personally monitored the torture of military detainees. He secured legal impunity for his own war crimes, but that doesn't mean the Congress shouldn't investigate more fully what he authorized. He remains one of the most incompetent defense secretaries in history (McNamara looks good in comparison). But he is also a war criminal: a torturer who broke the laws of this country. The catastrophe in Iraq will stain him for ever. His record of torture has indelibly stained the United States.
But other than that he did a fine job. It should be an interesting next two years.

As for the election itself, Sullivan had a few choice words -
The obvious result of last night's returns is the complete historical and geographical inversion of what was once the Republican Party. Nixon's cynical Southern strategy has now been played out to the nth degree - and, after a good period of opportunistic success, it has failed. All the states Lincoln fought against are now the bastions of his own party. And most of the rest of the country - especially the sane, common sense conservatives of the Midwest whence Lincoln himself hailed - have been forced into the Democratic camp. Formerly solid, freedom-loving Republican states, like California, are now overwhelmingly Democratic.

The GOP is now very much the party of Dixie; and the consequence of this election is that the Congressional leadership is even more Southern than it was before. The irony is that it was the moderate Republicans who were disproportionately punished electorally by the extremists in their midst. And so the party that lost because of its extremists now sees itself more dominated by the extremists. Nixon's cynical ploy - played beyond the extreme by Rove - has, in other words, come back to haunt and defeat his party in the end. Because it over-reached.

So now the battle for the soul of conservatism can begin in earnest. Either the Democrats will capture it; or the Republicans will recapture it.
The short version of that - the Republican Party is now the party of the Old South, racist, delusional, anti-science, xenophobic and evangelical. That's all they've got left. The real and principled conservatives have gone and hooked up with the progressives/liberals to deal with reality. (And that's where Barry Goldwater would be too.)

There is too a lot of comment out there on the Rove strategy floating around, and it hooks into that. Since before 2000 his "genius" was realizing you could win by removing the middle, the "swing voters" and moderates, as there really were no such people. You rile up your base against the godless liberals, and make them seem somewhere between evil and stupid, and by default you get just enough of the uninformed to augment your unwavering base, and you get 50.0001 percent of the vote and insist you have an overwhelming mandate that's so obvious that the media concedes that the nation has obviously changed course and become just like your base. And it worked for six years. Then it didn't. There actually seems to have been a middle after all.

Juan Cole, the University of Michigan Middle East scholar, puts it this way -
The fourth popular revolution of the twenty-first century (after the Ukraine, Lebanon and Kyrgyzstan) swept America on Tuesday, as voters engaged in the moral equivalent of storming the Bastille. The United States of America has roundly repudiated the Bush Administration and Republican Party dominance of all three branches of the Federal government and its dominance of many state offices, as well. Corruption and war drove this slap in the face to the Old Regime crafted by Newt Gingrich and Traitor Rove.

… In my view the real significance of the Democratic victory is four-fold.

First, it demonstrates once again that the American public simply will not put up with a return to the age of colonialism and does not want to occupy Asian countries militarily. Do you think that Abu Ghraib and American torture-pornography, the daily grind of violence, the stupid mistakes, have passed them by so that they didn't notice? They might swallow all this reluctantly but they want light at the end of the tunnel. There is not any in Iraq… They want it over with. It isn't.

Second, Bush is not going to be able to put any more Scalia types on the Federal benches or the Supreme Court.

Third, a Bush administration war on Iran now seems highly unlikely. A major initiative of that sort would need funding, and I don't think Congress will grant it. The Democrats don't want an Iran with a nuclear weapon any more than the Republicans do. But they are more likely to recognize that there is no good evidence that Iran even has a nuclear weapons program, and have been chastened by Iraq enough to distrust purely military solutions to such crises.

Fourth, there will now finally be accountability. It is obvious to me that the Bush administration has been engaged in large-scale crimes and corruption, and has gotten away with it because the Republican heads of the relevant committees have refused to investigate these crimes. Democratic committee heads with subpoena power will finally be able to force the Pentagon and other institutions to fork over the smoking gun documents, and then will be in a position to prosecute.

… The Democratic victory has enormous implications for US domestic politics. There will likely be an increase in the minimum wage, e.g. And the creeping tyranny of the evangelical far right has been slowed; even a lot of evangelicals seem uncomfortable with where that was going, and a lot of them deserted the Republicans in this election.

What are its implications for Iraq policy? Those are fewer, just because the executive makes foreign policy. Congress can only intervene decisively by cutting off money for foreign military adventures, which the Democrats have already pledged not to do. Moreover, the Iraq morass is a hopeless case and even if the legislature had more to say about policy there, it is not as if there are any good options.

… What we can say is that the electoral outcome is a bellwether for the future of American involvement in Iraq. It will now gradually come to an end, barring a dramatic disaster, such as a guerrilla push to deprive our troops of fuel and then to surround and besiege them. More likely, the steady grind of bad news and further senseless death will force Bush's successor, whoever it, is, to get out of that country. One cannot imagine us staying in Afghanistan for the long haul, either. Bush's question in 2003 was, can we go back to the early 20th century and have a sort of Philippines-like colony with a major military investment? The answer is, "no." Iraqis are too politically and socially mobilized to be easily dominated in the way the old empires dominated isolated, illiterate peasants. The outcome of the Israel-Hezbollah war this summer further signaled that the peasants now have sharper staves that even penetrate state of the art tanks. The US can still easily win any wars it needs to win. It cannot any longer win long military occupations. The man who knew this most surely in the Bush administration, Donald Rumsfeld, most egregiously gave in to the occupation route, and will end up the fall guy as the public mood turns increasingly ugly in both countries.
And that happened fast. And then the Democrats called for a summit on Iraq -
Eager to show "Democrats are ready to deliver", Senate Democrat leader Harry Reid called for a bipartisan summit "to find a new direction" on Iraq.

"The President must listen and work with Democrats to fix his failed (Iraq) policy," he said.
That might not be a bad idea, given this -
In the final days before Tuesday's midterm election, President Bush dispatched two top officials to Iraq in a bid to pressure al-Maliki to quickly disband Shiite militia groups and death squads that have killed thousands of Sunni Muslims.

National Intelligence Director John Negroponte was rebuffed by al-Maliki, however, when he demanded the Iraqi leader disband militias and wipe out death squads this year.

A top aide to al-Maliki, who refused to allow use of his name because of the sensitive nature of the information, told The Associated Press the prime minister flatly refused and said the task could not be taken up until next year.

Al-Maliki's refusal to act against the militias has caused deepening anger among Sunni politicians who took enormous risks in joining the political process.

Sunni lawmaker Salim Abdullah said the Iraqi Accordance Front bloc had sent messages to other political groups warning that if there is no balance and the militias are not dissolved "we will withdraw from the government."

"We are under political pressure, and if these demands are not met we will abandon politics," Abdullah said. "And this will leave us with only one alternative, which is carrying arms, and then it will be civil war. And we are against the civil war."
Yep, what we've been doing is just not working. It's time for a change. We got one.

__

Curious post-election quotes from Rush Limbaugh -
The way I feel is this: I feel liberated, and I'm going to tell you as plainly as I can why. I no longer am going to have to carry the water for people who I don't think deserve having their water carried. Now, you might say, "Well, why have you been doing it?" Because the stakes are high! Even though the Republican Party let us down, to me they represent a far better future for my beliefs and therefore the country's than the Democrat [sic] Party does and liberalism.

… I'm a radio guy! I understand what this program has become in America and I understand the leadership position it has. I was doing what I thought best, but at this point, people who don't deserve to have their water carried, or have themselves explained as they would like to say things but somehow aren't able to? I'm not under that kind of pressure.

… There hasn't been in the ideology in the Republican Party, any conservatism for at least two to maybe four years. You could argue Bush was more of an ideologue in the presidential campaign of '04, but in looking at what happened yesterday, it wasn't conservatism that lost. Conservatism won when it ran as a Democrat. It won in a number of places. Republicanism lost.
It's a new world.

Posted by Alan at 22:46 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 9 November 2006 09:30 PST home

Tuesday, 7 November 2006
Notes on Election Day
Topic: Election Notes
Notes on Election Day
Tuesday, November 7, in the evening in Hollywood, monitoring the news, it became clear there was not much other than the elections in the media. After two days of record heat - the highest November 6-7 temperatures since 1854 or some such thing - in the still evening it was watching the results trickle in. There wasn't much else on the air or on the net.

And the wave of Democratic wins raised questions. What was going on?

The election had clearly resolved itself into being a referendum on the war, on the corrupt Republicans in congress, and on so many things.

Molly Ivins, the plainspoken contrarian woman from Austin, has her list -
Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, unprecedented presidential powers, unmatched incompetence, unparalleled corruption, unwarranted eavesdropping, Katrina, Enron, Halliburton, global warming, Cheney's secret energy task force, record oil company profits, $3 gasoline, FEMA, the Supreme Court, Diebold, Florida in 2000, Ohio in 2004, Terri Schiavo, stem cell research, golden parachutes, shrunken pensions, unavailable and expensive health care, habeas corpus, no weapons of mass destruction, sacrificed soldiers and Iraqi civilians, wasted billions, Taliban resurgence, expiration of the assault weapons ban, North Korea, Iran, intelligent design, swift boat hit squads, and on and on.
That'll do. Exit interviews seemed to indicate folks had just had enough. Even large blocks of the evangelicals were voting the incumbents out. The Republican "get out the vote" system was working fine. They got their folks to the voting booths - but they voted their frustrations. They weren't supposed to do that.

But more than anything the election seemed to be a referendum on the president. That evening he was in the White House, staying up quite late (beyond nine) to monitor the results. The Republicans, unlike the Democrats, had scheduled no "watch the returns" party with cameras and the press. They knew better. And one can imagine things were grim at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

But what's the problem? If the elections were a referendum on the president, the head of a rather dysfunctional if not incompetent government, what was the case against him?

One can Google a few hundred thousand answers to that question, but could it be what some, like Andrew Sullivan, call an increasingly unavoidable question - Is George W. Bush criminally insane? Is that what people are thinking?

Bill Gallagher, perhaps the Niagara Fall Reporter's only nationally read columnist, is sensing that -
Bush's fantasies are even disturbing his fans. In a sit-down with wire-service reporters, Bush assured them that Rumsfeld, the most incompetent man on earth, would keep his job for two more years. Maybe in the last days of the Republican-dominated Congress, Bush can get him declared Defense Secretary for Life, sort of an American Raul Castro.

Gushing over Rummy and Dick Cheney, the two principal thugs who lied to get us into Iraq and designed the disaster, Bush claimed they "are doing a fantastic job and I strongly support them."

The remark prompted conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan to raise the question of Bush's mental fitness. Sullivan told CNN Bush is so delusional, "this is not an election anymore, it's an intervention."

Sullivan, long a cheerleader for the war in Iraq, said Bush is "so in denial" he simply can't come to grips with his failure: "It's unhinged. It suggests this man has lost his mind. No one objectively could look at the way this war has been conducted, whether you were for it, as I was, or against it, and say that is has been done well. It's a disaster."

Sullivan added, "For him to say it's a fantastic job suggests the president has lost it. I'm sorry, there is no other way to say it."

The president's nanny corps - his mother, his wife, State Department hands Condoleezza Rice and Karen Hughes - know he's unhinged, but are too loyal to share that disturbing truth with the world.
Maybe they didn't have to. The elections were the intervention.

That's one way of looking at it, and certainly vivid, but it may be only a metaphor (one hopes). The noted Middle East scholar at the University of Michigan, Juan Cole, no fan of Bush at all, would like to keep thing a bit less hysterical and offers this -
Bush is not insane, he is just not very good at putting policy into effect. That is, he is a mediocre leader who has to cover up his horrible mistakes with optimistic slogans because his lack of leadership skills leaves him with no practical alternative. Give me an example of any positive and successful accomplishment of his presidency, unmarred by substantial failures. Afghanistan? Israel-Palestine? Lebanon? Iraq? Al-Qaeda? Domestically, he has, by cutting taxes on billionaires, run up the national debt by trillions, and boasts in that insane yet just mediocre way of his that the deficit is "coming down." He put the expense of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars off-budget, and somehow the business page journalists haven't managed to notice that the deficit is not actually less than $300 billion if you count the wars. Nor is adding even $290 billion a year to the national debt a positive accomplishment. We pay interest on that debt, folks.
See? There's no point in name calling - or more precisely, in offering diagnoses of pathological behavior, however apt. The simple managerial answer will do. He's not good at running things, and he overcompensates, acting out.

Either explanation will do fine. The intervention is underway - or the manager's performance review. Take your pick.

The news that got swallowed up under all this, on Election Day, may be of local interest, although it was discussed previously in these pages here and here in a forum with Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta and the professor of marketing at the upstate New York graduate management school - the pressure on news organizations to make money - higher and higher profit margins each year - that makes them abandon anything like responsible journalism. As ABC News' political director, Mark Halperin, recently told Bill O'Reilly, he wanted to make ABC News more like Fox News, with its giant conservative audience. As he explained to O'Reilly - This is about moving product, not producing good journalism.

And so it is, as out here the other shoe dropped - "Dean Baquet, the editor of The Los Angeles Times, who refused to go along with staff cutbacks ordered by the Tribune Company, was forced out of his job today, according to people at the newspaper."

They want to cut reporters, particularly the investigative kind who work so slowly. If you can reduce labor costs you can get a good jump in net profit. They had fired the publisher who protested. Baquet stayed on, hoping he could convince them a newspaper really needed good reporters. They prefer "good enough" - good enough to move product, in this case whatever sparkly items the readers find amusing and drives up circulation and makes for higher advertising revenue. All the Pulitzer Prizes are for chumps, it seems. They brought in the managing editor of the Chicago Tribune to run things - to cut staff and make the paper more like the profitable fourth-rate region rag in Chicago. Ah well.

The New York Times publishes a region edition of its daily and Sunday editions at a printing plant down in Torrance, as does the Wall Street Journal. Those will do - better than a bad imitation of the barely adequate Chicago paper. There's no other local alternative out here. Sigh.

And the sort of thing the new and profitable Times will cover? The most overlooked news stories on Election Day - Barbados Faces Invasion by Giant Snails and Duct Tape No Magical Cure for Warts, Study Finds. Fascinating.

The consequences of the election will not be covered. Only a limited few - news junkies and policy wonks - find such things fascinating.

Posted by Alan at 21:51 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 8 November 2006 07:04 PST home

Monday, 6 November 2006
Sort of a Surprise
Topic: Election Notes
Sort of a Surprise
It was clear on Monday, November 6, the day before Election Day, that there had been no October Surprise to shift everything around. And there had been no real November Surprise, unless it was the verdict and sentencing of Saddam Hussein. He will be hanged (or hung, if you prefer that usage).

In reaction to that, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, dropped a line -
If this was their October Surprise, then these guys have really lost their touch. With Iraq as an election issue having been totally overwhelmed with stuff that can only remind Americans of how the Republicans have screwed everything up over there, Karl Rove is lucky that this whole Saddam sentencing thing can safely be relegated to somewhere in the "back of the book," maybe even the "Where Are They Now" column.
And even the acerbic and pro-war Christopher Hitchens said Don't Hang Saddam -
Before the arrival of coalition forces in Iraq, one of Kurdistan's most respected leaders, Barham Salih, was the target of an assassination attempt by the Ansar al-Islam group. He was saved only by the momentary impulse to duck back through his doorway for a cell phone he had left behind, but several of his entourage were murdered. The killers were apprehended, tried, and sentenced to death. Salih is now the deputy prime minister, but he was then the man responsible for signing death warrants in northern Iraq. He declined to sign the warrants for those who had murdered his friends and nearly taken his own life. At the time, he told me that he hoped the new Iraq would abolish capital punishment "even when we capture Saddam Hussein." Like many leading Kurds, he had been influenced by discussions with Danielle Mitterrand, the widow of former French President François Mitterrand, who was a great friend of Kurdistan as well as a stern foe of capital punishment. The idea was that the new Iraq would begin life without the death penalty. I have had discussions with many Iraqi dissidents who take the same view. Almost every preceding change of regime in the country was marked by the execution of at least some of the previous leadership. Perhaps it might be desirable to break with this depressing tradition. Moreover, now that even the Turks have abolished capital punishment just next door, in order to conform with European Union stipulations, why should Iraq not signal its membership of the community of civilized nations in the same way?
There's much more of course, but that's the gist of it. Executing the previous leadership is just no way to do business - if the business in question is civilized governance. Tony Blair too came out against hanging him. We seem alone in our own concept of civilized governance, and in the concept we will impose in Iraq.

Hitchens does add this detail -
The case for carrying out the sentence of death, or for not protesting if it is carried out, is the following: Saddam Hussein has been tried under Iraqi law as it stood when he was dictator and has been sentenced according to that law. It is not for anyone else to tell Iraqi courts and judges what to do or to suggest retrospective changes in the system. He had the day in court that was denied to his victims, and the sentence should stand, even if the Iraqi parliament should later decide to abolish capital punishment. This might be technically correct, but then so until recently was the "sovereign immunity" defense, which said that those who were recognized heads of state could not be tried under the common law. Partly overturned by the British House of Lords in the case of Augusto Pinochet, and by the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, this doctrine is giving way to the idea of "universal jurisdiction," whereby crimes such as torture and genocide are akin to piracy and indictable and prosecutable in any place where the wanted person may be found. That being the case, the Iraqi courts should act according to a putatively universal standard. This standard might not include such features of the Saddam trial as the recent abrupt replacement of the presiding judge on the grounds that he seemed too soft on the defendant.
So the trail was a bit of a joke, and as a surprise that could change our elections, it passed with a shrug into obscurity without much impact.

But it was a game try, and does seem like a ploy, given this, the verdict of death was read out Monday, but not precisely what he was convicted of or why -
The full verdict, a document of several hundred pages, explaining how and why today's judgment was reached was not released. U.S. officials said it should be ready by Thursday. So why issue the verdict today? U.S. court advisors told reporters today it was delayed mainly for technical reasons.
They put lots of caveats out there explaining how there's no proof the verdict was timed for political purposes, but they couldn't seem to actually get the full verdict ready for a "slam dunk" on the Sunday before the elections over here. So they announced the death sentence and they'll do their best to get the full verdict done by Thursday. Yeah, it smells a tad fishy. But then it didn't provide the necessary bounce, so it hardly matters.

So much for that surprise. And there was this -
If the president of the United States made a special trip for your campaign, you might come out to say hello.

But when President Bush turned up in Pensacola, Florida, today, Charlie Crist wasn't there.

Crist is the Republican hoping to be Florida's next governor. And the White House sent out schedules indicating Crist would be at a rally to introduce Bush.

Instead, Crist was 600 miles away in Delray Beach, at a restaurant called "Lox Around the Clock." And his absence from the Bush event upset some folks, including Karl Rove, the president's political strategist.
Oops. No one likes that kind of surprise. So the president spoke with his brother, the governor, at his side, and another fellow who wasn't running for anything, and the nutty Katharine Harris, who supervised the 2000 Florida elections that swung things Bush's way but has no chance at all of winning her election. It was a bit of a bust.

And the day before the election had few surprises, just symbolism like that. It was the birthday of John Phillips Sousa and at his grave the service bands played the marches, as they do every year - Stars and Strips Forever and so on. That was nice - something to get folks in the mood to do their patriotic duty and go vote.

Our friend the high-powered Wall Street attorney felt the symbolic event of the day before the election was this -
The USS Intrepid, the aircraft carrier that survived World War II bomb and kamikaze attacks, got stuck in the mud in the Hudson River on Monday as tugboats tried to pull it from its berth.

The ship - a huge floating military museum that draws hundreds of thousands of tourists a year - was supposed to be towed across the river to a dry dock in Bayonne, N.J., for a $60 million renovation.

Six tugs pulled with a combined 30,000 horsepower but moved the Intrepid only about 15 feet. Not even an unusually high tide could free the 27,000-ton, 872-foot-long ship from the ooze.

"We had the sun, the moon and the stars in alignment, and it was just a very disappointing day for us," said Bill White, president of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.
There you have it, the heroic ship of state jammed in the muck, unable to move, the propellers caught in the slime. That about summed everything up, or so our friend said on his cell phone as he drove west out of the Holland tunnel, past Bayonne, off to his home. As a symbol of how things are going, that'll do fine.

But there was a surprise at the last, something to turn everything around. That would be the "robocalls" - hundred of thousands of pre-recorded, automated phone calls in many key states containing anti-Democratic political messages. The calls initially sound like they're coming from the Democratic candidates since they mention the Democrat's name in the opening line. And the robot part is interesting - if you hang up the system will keep calling you back, again and again and again, until you listen to the whole thing, to the very end. Only then, as required by law, is the call identified having been made by the National Republican Congressional Committee. Actually, they are required by law to put that up front, but by the time anyone gets a complaint together and forces them to cease and desist, as it were, the election will be over. It's pretty clever.

The calls were timed to go out around six in the morning, waking people up and irritating them no end. The idea was that you hear the Democratic candidate's name and hang up and try to get another few minutes of sleep - but the call repeats and repeats and repeats. So you're ticked off, and you won't vote for that Democrat no matter what.

Keith Olbermann did a segment on it on his "Countdown" show on MSNBC that you can watch here. You'll be amused by what happened to Tammy Duckworth, the Iraq War veteran running for congress in Illinois, the woman who lost both her legs in combat. Her supporters have been calling her office, screaming mad, asking why she's doing this. Her people explain that they are NOT making the calls, and if you'd have listened to the end the call clearly says it was coming from the National Republican Congressional Committee. But it's kind of hopeless. Most people just don't call the candidate's office - they simply change their vote in anger. Karl Rove had his surprise after all, and he was no doubt giggling.

Philadelphia Daily News columnist Jill Porter here describes her personal experience with the calls. But she's hardly alone. The calls went out in at least fifty-three congressional districts. In New Hampshire, the state's deputy attorney general said the National Republican Congressional Committee agreed to stop targeting voters with the prerecorded calls as New Hampshire makes it illegal to target anyone on the federal Do-Not-Call registry with prerecorded political calls, but quotes a National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman saying they will continue to make the calls to voters. The idea is they will work out the legal issues later.

The media was late to the story - it was a surprise after all - but the Washington Post finally got around to covering it. That's here, with this sort of thing -
Whether "robo-calls" are positive or negative, mean-spirited or humorous, thousands of Americans are sick of them, according to campaign organizations that have been fielding complaints over the past two weeks.

An Ohio woman, who did not leave her name, called The Washington Post in tears yesterday, saying she could not keep her phone line open to hospice workers caring for her terminally ill mother because of nonstop political robo-calls.

Pamela Lorenz, a retired nurse in Roseville, Calif., called her own experience "harassment as far as I'm concerned" and said, "If I were voting right now, the opponent who's doing this, he'd be off my list for throwing that much trash."

... Many voters hang up as soon as a robo-call begins - without waiting for the criticisms or the NRCC sign-off at the end - so they think it was placed by the Democratic candidate named at the start, said Sarah Feinberg, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Our candidates are inundated with phone calls from furious Democrats and independents saying 'I'm outraged and I'm not going to vote for you anymore,' " she said.

Feinberg said some voters have received robo-calls late at night, despite federal rules barring such calls after 9 p.m. NRCC spokesman Carl Forti said his organization ends all calls by 9 nightly.

Democrats also cited Federal Communications Commission guidelines saying the originators of automated calls must identify themselves at the beginning of each call. Republican Party lawyers, however, said the requirement does not apply to political nonprofit organizations. They rebuffed a "cease and desist" letter sent yesterday by the DCCC.

In a conference call with reporters yesterday, the DCCC chairman, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), compared the widespread robo-calling to a 2002 Republican effort in New Hampshire to jam Democratic phone lines to prevent the Democrats' get-out-the-vote effort. The Republican National Committee has spent more than $2 million to defend its officials in the case, he said. "Make no mistake, this is a dirty trick, one they've done before, one they've gotten caught on and one they continue to do," Emanuel said.
What the Post adds to the mix is the legal detail - the calls don't come from the Republican candidate himself (or herself), so the rules about when you cannot call and having to identify anything upfront don't apply. The Democrats can take their "cease and desist" order and shove it.

This is the surprise. Senior Democrats late in the day before the election called for a federal investigation of the calls, but who controls the federal government? They come off as ineffectual wimps again.

But does the law apply in some way to another matter? In Virginia there's this -
Tim Daly from Clarendon got a call saying that if he votes Tuesday, he will be arrested. A recording of his voicemail can be found online at: www.webbforsenate.com/media/phone_message.wav

The transcript from his voicemail reads:

"This message is for Timothy Daly. This is the Virginia Elections Commission. We've determined you are registered in New York to vote. Therefore, you will not be allowed to cast your vote on Tuesday. If you do show up, you will be charged criminally."

Daly has been registered to vote in Virginia since 1998, and he has voted for the last several cycles with no problem. He has filed a criminal complaint with the Commonwealth's attorney in Arlington.
Oops, he recorded it (listen here). And he's filing a criminal complaint. Rove and his guys could be in trouble, ten months from now, when it hardly matters There are reports in many states that these automated "you'll be arrested" calls and the others have gone out in massive numbers (see this) .

The other calls? There's more?

Note this excerpt from an email from the Webb for Senate campaign in Virginia -
Widespread Calls, Allegedly from "Webb Volunteers," Telling Voters that their Polling Location has Changed.

A couple of examples:

Norman Cox has been registered to vote in the same location in Arlington since 1972. Someone from a 406 number (in Montana) called to tell him that his polling place has changed. [Note: The Webb Campaign is NOT making any such phone calls.] Cox said he believed that he was being mislead and the caller hung up.

Peter Baumann in Cape Charles, VA (North Hampton) got a similar call from a "Webb volunteer" saying his polling location had changed. He said: No, I'm a poll worker and I know where I vote. The girl--who was calling from California - hung up.

The Secretary of the State Board of Elections Jean Jensen has logged dozens of similar calls, finding heavy trends in Accomack County (middle peninsula) and Essex County (outer peninsula) [as reported by the counties' registrars].

Fliers in Buckingham County Say "SKIP THIS ELECTION" (paid for by the RNC) have caused many in the African American community to call the Board of Elections to see if the election is still on. The full tag line says: "SKIP THIS ELECTION... (and then in smaller print): Don't Let the Tax and Spend Liberals Win."

Voter Machine Problems:

a. On many ballots in heavily Democratic neighborhoods, Jim's name is cut off. The ballots say: "James H. (Jim)" with no Webb. b. New reports that ballots in Essex County have Jim's name split on 2 pages. The "James H (Jim)" on one page, "Webb" on the next. c. Reports of voting machines in Isle of White that do not provide a clear image of the ballot, making voting a challenge.

Voting issues need to be a foremost priority in the next Congress. This is unconscionable.
Yeah, but it all works. Surprise!

And it's not big deal, maybe. Note this from New York's Nineteenth District, where the former pop singer John Hall (Hall and Oates), a Demomcrat, was, Monday, trying to win the Republican seat from Susan Kelly -
I was handing out leaflets for John Hall yesterday at a grocery store. There were two tables, a democratic one and a Republican one.

When I was handing out palm cards, several people said to me something like, "I WAS going to vote for John Hall, until I got all those phone calls. I got seven or eight, right at dinner time."

The guy from the Republican table, who was a local district leader - friendly and chatty - actually came over to me and said, "You know, most of those are coming from Sue's office, but don't tell anybody."

I don't know how high his connections are to the Kelly campaign, but that's the information he volunteered.
It's all fun and games.

Or you can look at it this way -
I think it's useful to take a step back and examine, in the simplest terms, what the Republicans are doing here: they are attempting to sabotage the American democratic process because it's inconvenient for their candidates.

Of course these robo-calls are only one manifestation of a consistent theme, but when I approach the calls without the cynicism of a political news junkie, I find them breathtakingly despicable. The people behind this aren't schoolyard bullies, or even college kids. These are adults with years of political experience and a comprehensive understanding of what exactly their acts amount to. The NRCC simply does not believe that Americans should be able to make informed choices about their representatives in the voting booth. They are perfectly willing to dismantle the democratic process, which cannot function properly when voters are harassed (or even worse, harassed under false pretenses). I think it's fair to say that their behavior in this instance is "profoundly immoral and malevolent," which is how the Oxford English Dictionary describes "evil." Despite our desensitization to these types of transgressions, we cannot afford to take them lightly.
But we do. It's all about winning.

You do what you can as in Pennsylvania, as reported by Keystone Politics -
Santorum Poll Released by Indicted Republican Operative

Early this morning, Keystone Politics editors received and released a poll by McCulloch Research and Polling showing that Rick Santorum was within 4 points of retaining his Senate seat. Further research into McCulloch Research and Polling shows that Rod McCulloch, principal at the firm, has been indicted in voter fraud and forgery in Illinois.
No one was supposed to notice.

Well, it's all about winning. It certainly isn't about civilized governance, or governance of any kind. Not much that they've tried has worked out, and no one is visiting New Orleans much this days. Or as Bill Montgomery puts it - "To me, this is practically the definition of a political train wreck: A party (or, in this case, an organized crime family posing a political party) that is remarkably good at grabbing and holding on to power, but incredibly bad at actually running the complex machinery of a modern post-industrial state."

Maybe that second part doesn't matter. Maybe it does matter.

In any event, we've had our surprise.

Posted by Alan at 22:05 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 7 November 2006 06:08 PST home

Sunday, 5 November 2006
The Big Event That Wasn't
Topic: Perspective
The Big Event That Wasn't
Here's a fine video of Miles Davis in 1958 playing his famous piece "So What?" from the seminal Kind of Blue album. That album, and this piece, defined cool back then. Click on the link and it will open in a separate window, so you can have it playing in the background for what follows.

The Sunday before the midterm elections in the United States - Sunday, November 5 - we got the news - "Saddam Hussein was convicted and sentenced Sunday to hang for crimes against humanity in the 1982 killings of 148 people in a single town, as the ousted leader, trembling and defiant, shouted 'God is great!'"

So he shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is great!) and "Long live the Muslim nation!" (Ashat al-ummah!) The Middle East scholar Juan Cole points out that as a secular Arab nationalist, Saddam at one point kept out of the Iraqi constitution any mention of Islam, but since the Gulf War "he has mugged for the camera with such slogans." They may have some resonances in Sunni Arab regions, though, as well as in the Muslim world more generally. And Saddam's defense team said that the court was constituted under an American military occupation and therefore could not be impartial, and that the verdict made a mockery of justice.

This may be trouble, but the White House says this is a great triumph. And it comes at just they right time, or so they think.

Tim Grieve, at the time, thought not -
A five-judge tribunal in Baghdad today declared Saddam Hussein guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to death by hanging.

Do you feel better about the war now? More confident about the president's "strategy for victory" in Iraq? Are you more likely to vote for a Republican on Tuesday?
One would guess not. Of course there will be those who feel now the man who caused the 9/11 attacks will finally be hanged, but they know he didn't. That may be a case of "close enough for government work." It "something," when we've been getting a who lot of nothing

The sentencing was supposed to have happened back on October 18, but the tribunal last month rescheduled it for the Sunday that fell just two days before the 2006 midterm elections in the United States. A spokesman for the Iraqi High Tribunal insists here that it's just a coincidence - the timing belonged "100 percent" to the tribunal, and that the judges who serve on it care "nothing about American midterm elections." Maybe so, and Karl Rove is just one lucky guy.

Of course Vice President Cheney has repeatedly said all the turmoil over there is for one reason only - the terrorists in Iraq are focused on November 7, as he says they want to make things look bad so his boss loses face and the nation turns away from the Republican Party. They're very clever - killing each other by the hundreds and knocking off our troops, all to help the Democrats. Has he ever been wrong?

Saddam's lawyers have accused the court and the Bush administration of conspiring to time the verdict and sentence to coincide with the elections, but those who weren't assassinated are probably just in a bad mood. Others have pointed out some odd things - curious events in Iraq that looked timed to political problems over here. Many have noticed such things - including an odd delay on insurgent strongholds in 2004 until right after the presidential election so that Americans wouldn't read of significant casualties before they voted. Or maybe things just fell out that way. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow keeps saying that the administration isn't doing that now, and never did such things.

One senses they're all exasperated with how suspicious and untrusting the American people have become. It doesn't seem to occur to them that finding no WMD and then all the confirmation that Saddam Hussein had no ties at all to al Qaeda made some think them somewhere between tragically gullible or nastily manipulative. That "Mission Accomplished" banner didn't help either, followed by all the turning points - we killed Saddam's two awful sons and displayed their mutilated and decomposing bodies for days, and invited the world press to take lots of pictures, and things didn't get better; we pulled Saddam from his hole in the ground and published photos of a medic inspecting his teeth and other slyly humiliating shots, and things didn't get better; we killed any number of "Number Two" bad guys in Iraq, and finally the Number One, and things didn't get better (the bad guys seem to have a deep bench). Saying this death sentence is a big deal and will change everything is fine. The administration can say what it likes. So can used car salesmen.

Is Miles Davis still playing in the background?

And there's an additional problem. The man just doesn't matter any more. As Tim Grieve notes, he's old news -
Sixty-four percent of Americans now say they "oppose" the war in Iraq. Fifty-six percent believe the United States "made a mistake" when it invaded Iraq in the first place. Saddam Hussein may loom large in the minds of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, but those poll numbers suggest to us that Americans aren't all that focused on him anymore. Americans know now - or at least they ought to - that Saddam wasn't much of a threat to them before the war; sentenced or not sentenced, he's certainly no threat to them now. This isn't a scary new tape from Osama bin Laden, let alone news that a terrorist leader has been captured or a deadly plot foiled. It's a mopping up of an old mess, one handled so badly that it has created a much bigger one in its wake.
But you have to let them crow about it, and shrug. Whether the man is hung or not is of some interest, in an historical way, but he's an old problem and doesn't matter much now. What's happened since needs attention, not this.

And the whole thing puts Iraq back on the front page - when the Republicans are talking up the economy and ranting about the evils of women being able to choose to have and abortion, and the pure evil of stem cell research, and how gay folks want to ruin everyone's marriage and destroy America, and how the Democrats want to raise the taxes of the extremely rich and ruin everything, and… and all the rest. In-your-face crowing about this triumph can get people refocused on the war - thinking about the almost twenty-nine hundred troops we've lost, and the half-trillion dollars we've spent, and how we've quite purposefully thrown away the respect of most of the world, and wonder whether this one guy choking on the end of a rope, eyes bulging until his neck breaks or he chokes to death, was worth it.

We're told he was worth it all.

On the other hand, Max Hastings in The Guardian (UK), the day after the sentencing, suggests Bush and Blair have forfeited the moral authority to hang Saddam -
There can be no doubt about the moral justice of yesterday's Baghdad tribunal judgment on Saddam Hussein. He was directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, chiefly Kurds and Shias, and arguably for many more killed in the Iran-Iraq war.

Yet it is quite another matter whether it is right or politically prudent to execute him, after the shambles of a trial that he has undergone. Washington was always determined that Saddam should die - but at the hands of his own people rather than those of Americans. George Bush's handling of this issue restores one's respect for Pontius Pilate. The president has achieved the almost impossible feat of generating some sympathy for Saddam, at least in Muslim societies.

The Iraqi judicial system is incapable of conducting a plausible hearing. Instead it staged a farce: judges changed, defense lawyers murdered, interminable rambling orations from prosecutors and defendants. Bush should have got some old Soviets to advise the locals about how to run a proper show trial.
So the verdict is just, but everything stinks about the process.

Actually, Hastings argues that the biggest American mistake was to capture Saddam in the first place -
In the House of Commons in 1944, the foreign secretary was asked what instructions had been given to British troops on what to do if they encountered Hitler. Amid laughter, Anthony Eden said: "I am quite satisfied to leave the decision to the British soldier concerned."

Among the allied leaders, only Stalin wanted Hitler alive, for the pleasure of hanging him. Everybody else was appalled by the prospective perils and complexities of trying and executing a head of state in partnership with the Russians. Hitler's suicide came as a relief.

Almost everyone involved in the Nuremberg trials of his subordinates felt uncomfortably conscious that they were administering victors' justice. The proceedings proved valuable, however, in placing on record for all time some of the monstrous crimes of the Nazis. Also, in 1946 the Nuremberg judges possessed a critical advantage. Even if the wartime allies did not represent absolute good - how could any such partnership that included the Soviets? - few people doubted their overwhelming moral superiority over the Nazis.

By contrast, the moral authority of the Iraq coalition led by the US has been blown to rags since 2003. President Bush's achievement has been to convert an almost impregnable American position in the world after 9/11 into a grievously damaged one today. It is believed that more Iraqis have died since the US invasion than were killed by Saddam Hussein. Most have fallen victim to fellow countrymen rather than to American fire. Yet this seems irrelevant, since Washington chose to assume responsibility for the country. The dead have perished on Bush's watch.
So we have no standing? That seems to be the idea.

But there are pragmatic arguments for executing the guy - the nut jobs who worked for him, some of whom are behind the Sunni insurgency, could be hoping one day their old leader will regain power and restore Sunni dominance over there. Offing him might help there.

But if our job is actually "to promote the restoration of order," then we might want to think this thing through carefully.

Sure, lots of folks there want him dead, and we're all about "empowering" the Iraqi people to do what they want. But it's not that simple -
Real power in Iraq today rests in the hands of the Americans or those of local factions on the ground. The so-called national government and its institutions are almost impotent, because they face such physical and political difficulties in exercising their functions.

The verdict on Saddam is just. Yet everything stinks about the process by which it has been reached. Sentence on the condemned tyrant will probably be carried out before the trial of his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majeed, known as Chemical Ali. It is widely expected that the execution will be rushed so that Saddam cannot give evidence at Majeed's trial about collusion between Washington and the former tyranny, which could grievously embarrass the US.

Once again it matters less whether this is true than that so many people around the world believe it to be so. It is dismaying to be obliged to acknowledge that Americans, British, Ba'athists, militiamen, national government representatives and insurgent suicide bombers in Iraq are all today perceived as coexisting on the same moral plane.

Rationally, we know that Bush and Blair want virtuous things for the country: democracy and personal freedom. Yet so incompetent has been the fulfillment of their policies on the ground that the leaders of Britain and the US now possess no more credible mandate than that of Iraq's local mass murderers.

To justify hanging Saddam, Bush and Blair needed moral ascendancy, which they have forfeited. His execution will appear to be merely another dirty deed in the endless succession that have taken place in Iraq since 2003, backed by our bayonets.
Yep, people will only remember the president's record in Texas, ordering far more executions than any governor in history, and laughing about it. He may get his jollies when Saddam swings, and that may have been the whole point of the war in his own world. But there is a wider world. And it's complicated.

As for the election, Paul Krugman the day before the voting says this -
President Bush isn't on the ballot tomorrow. But this election is, nonetheless, all about him. The question is whether voters will pry his fingers loose from at least some of the levers of power, thereby limiting the damage he can inflict in his two remaining years in office.

There are still some people urging Mr. Bush to change course. For example, a scathing editorial published today by The Military Times, which calls on Mr. Bush to fire Donald Rumsfeld, declares that "this is not about the midterm elections." But the editorial's authors surely know better than that. Mr. Bush won't fire Mr. Rumsfeld; he won't change strategy in Iraq; he won't change course at all, unless Congress forces him to.

At this point, nobody should have any illusions about Mr. Bush's character. To put it bluntly, he's an insecure bully who believes that owning up to a mistake, any mistake, would undermine his manhood - and who therefore lives in a dream world in which all of his policies are succeeding and all his officials are doing a heckuva job. Just last week he declared himself "pleased with the progress we're making" in Iraq.

In other words, he's the sort of man who should never have been put in a position of authority, let alone been given the kind of unquestioned power, free from normal checks and balances, that he was granted after 9/11. But he was, alas, given that power, as well as a prolonged free ride from much of the news media.
Yeah, well, maybe so - but don't you want to make him happy? Saddam will swing, and the president will grin, even if to the rest of us it's a big "so what?" We already gave him the lives of nearly three thousand of our sons and daughters, and let him spend our money like a drunken sailor, and let him nearly destroy the military and our reputation as a fair and just nation, and gave him the right to lock up anyone he'd like and throw away key - no charges, no trial, no nothing. Why not let him swoon in orgasmic delight at the hanging of a guy he's always hated? What difference does it make now?

You know nothing is going to change. See the White House transcript of Vice President Cheney's interview with ABC's "This Week" - the election is quite irrelevant -
George Stephanopoulos: So will the vote on Tuesday have any effect on the president's Iraq policy?
Cheney: I think it will have some effect, perhaps, in the Congress, but the president has made clear what his objective is, it's victory in Iraq. And full speed ahead on that basis, and that's exactly what we're going to do.

Stephanopoulos: So even those Republican candidates calling for a change of course are not going to get that on Wednesday?

Cheney: No, you can't make ... national security policy on the basis of that. These are people running for Congress. They're entitled to their own views, on both sides of the aisle. But I think there's no question but what when we get into the global war on terror, when we get into the measures that are needed to go on offense and take the fight to the enemy, if you will, that the support that we've had and continue to have is primarily on the Republican side, and I think the Democrats have come up weak on it.
So that's that. Nothing will change.

The Monday, November 6, joint editorial in the Army Times, the Air Force Times, and the Navy Times is here -
Time for Rumsfeld to go

"So long as our government requires the backing of an aroused and informed public opinion ... it is necessary to tell the hard bruising truth."

That statement was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent Marguerite Higgins more than a half-century ago during the Korean War.

But until recently, the "hard bruising" truth about the Iraq war has been difficult to come by from leaders in Washington. One rosy reassurance after another has been handed down by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: "mission accomplished," the insurgency is "in its last throes," and "back off," we know what we're doing, are a few choice examples.

Military leaders generally toed the line, although a few retired generals eventually spoke out from the safety of the sidelines, inciting criticism equally from anti-war types, who thought they should have spoken out while still in uniform, and pro-war foes, who thought the generals should have kept their critiques behind closed doors.

Now, however, a new chorus of criticism is beginning to resonate. Active-duty military leaders are starting to voice misgivings about the war's planning, execution and dimming prospects for success.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, told a Senate Armed Services Committee in September: "I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it ... and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war."

Last week, someone leaked to The New York Times a Central Command briefing slide showing an assessment that the civil conflict in Iraq now borders on "critical" and has been sliding toward "chaos" for most of the past year. The strategy in Iraq has been to train an Iraqi army and police force that could gradually take over for U.S. troops in providing for the security of their new government and their nation.

But despite the best efforts of American trainers, the problem of molding a viciously sectarian population into anything resembling a force for national unity has become a losing proposition.

For two years, American sergeants, captains and majors training the Iraqis have told their bosses that Iraqi troops have no sense of national identity, are only in it for the money, don't show up for duty and cannot sustain themselves.

Meanwhile, colonels and generals have asked their bosses for more troops. Service chiefs have asked for more money.

And all along, Rumsfeld has assured us that things are well in hand.

Now, the president says he'll stick with Rumsfeld for the balance of his term in the White House.

This is a mistake.

It is one thing for the majority of Americans to think Rumsfeld has failed. But when the nation's current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads.

These officers have been loyal public promoters of a war policy many privately feared would fail. They have kept their counsel private, adhering to more than two centuries of American tradition of subordination of the military to civilian authority.

And although that tradition, and the officers' deep sense of honor, prevent them from saying this publicly, more and more of them believe it.

Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt.

This is not about the midterm elections. Regardless of which party wins Nov. 7, the time has come, Mr. President, to face the hard bruising truth: Donald Rumsfeld must go.
And it doesn't matter. So what? He stays, and Saddam will hang. And we'd better like it all, because there's nothing else.

And was Rumsfeld's war plan so wrong, really. Maybe it was -
A series of secret U.S. war games in 1999 showed that an invasion and post-war administration of Iraq would require 400,000 troops, nearly three times the number there now.

And even then, the games showed, the country still had a chance of dissolving into chaos.

In the simulation, called Desert Crossing, 70 military, diplomatic and intelligence participants concluded the high troop levels would be needed to keep order, seal borders and take care of other security needs.

The documents came to light Saturday through a Freedom of Information Act request by George Washington University's National Security Archive, an independent research institute and library.

"The conventional wisdom is the U.S. mistake in Iraq was not enough troops," said Thomas Blanton, the archive's director. "But the Desert Crossing war game in 1999 suggests we would have ended up with a failed state even with 400,000 troops on the ground."
So General Shinseiki didn't pull that "300,000" number out of his ass that congressional hearing - he was lowballing the actual figures, as he must have known from this study. And Rumsfeld and the rest forced him into early retirement. They were pissed off. At least Shinseiki didn't tell congress the other part - that there was no way to win this thing. The joke's on us. But Saddam will hang.

And it least Afghanistan was a success. No one argued about that war.

And now this - Ronald E. Neuman, our ambassador in Kabul is saying we are facing "stark choices." Averting failure there will take "multiple years" and "multiple billions."

Failure? But we did that one right, didn't we? That's why it's called the "forgotten war" - bitterly by our troops there and with relief by news editors.

But it seems President Hamid Karzai - who is called the "mayor of Kabul" for a reason - continues to have little if any authority or control beyond the capital. And the CIA says increasing numbers of Afghans view his government as corrupt, failing to deliver promised reconstruction and too weak to protect the country from rising Taliban attacks.

So it's not just Iraq that has become a "cause célèbre for jihadists" - Afghanistan is contributing to the mess. You've got you're sharp increase in suicide attacks and roadside bombings over the last few years, and over the last few months you have your tactics that have "migrated from Iraq." Until now "there's not been a tradition of suicide bombers" in Afghanistan, one official says, and suggests that such tactics arrived by way of the Internet and people traveling between the countries. "Psychologically," the official says, "this has had a major impact."

Great. The one thing we might have done right, and the one thing where we had the world's support, has been lost because of the other thing we did.

But Saddam will hang. The president has says the verdict and his death sentence is a milestone. But milestones are becoming tiresome. What do they really mark? Or as Miles Davis would have it - so what?

Posted by Alan at 22:42 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 6 November 2006 07:36 PST home

Friday, 3 November 2006
Where's the Surprise?
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Where's the Surprise?
In positioning for the November 7th midterm elections there was no October surprise. Karl Rove didn't come up with anything at all. Luckily John Kerry had, with his gaffe, provided something at which to point an say, see, the other guys hate the troops, so vote for us. But that was only good for a few news cycles - everyone realized John Kerry wasn't running for anything himself, and wasn't that well-respected among the Democrats anyway, and he apologized, and finally even the White House seemed to realize to making him out to be "the evil Republicans had to defeat" was making them look a little silly. Saying "you certainly don't want John Kerry as your president" has its problems - no one on either side wants him to run again, and he's not running now. It seemed a bit over the top.

But, for the Republicans, an October surprise, even in November, would have been nice - something to change the dynamics. But the end of the week flurry of news items wasn't changing a thing. Friday, November 3, 2006, Congressman Ney of Ohio, one of those caught up in the Abramoff scandal, resigned. He had denied it all, then pled guilty and was sentenced, but was hanging on to "clean up some staff matters" at his office before reporting into whatever low-security high-comfort prison was his next stop. He was supposed to resign after the elections, after voters had cast their ballots, so this wouldn't be another "example" folks could trot out about corruption and all. But the guy resigned late in the afternoon the Friday before the voting. Maybe he didn't get the memo. Well, he has a lot on his mind.

And there was this - "US officials rejected allegations that a US agency which has exposed numerous instances of corruption and mismanagement of American reconstruction efforts in Iraq was being shut down ahead of schedule."

The New York Times had reported that Republicans in Congress had quietly slipped a minor provision into a gigantic military spending bill that will close the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) in October 2007. Our own Duncan Hunter had engineered that - the session to reconcile the House and Senate versions was held behind closed doors with just a few guys and they didn't tell anyone they'd slipped that in the fine print. They didn't tell anyone. The reconciled bill was passed, and signed by the president. And now people notice. It's too late.

This special inspector general, Stuart Bowen, had come up with all sorts of embarrassing revelations that sent a few US occupation officials to jail on bribery and conspiracy charges and exposed absurd mismanagement of projects by Halliburton and the like. Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the idea was to get us off a war footing - we didn't need anyone "special" anymore - State and Defense could investigate this or that if they felt like it.

That didn't play well. See CNN's "everyman," Jack Cafferty explode over this. He seems to have a problem with the "get off a war footing" gambit. Too many of our kids are still dying over there.

Worst of all, the end of the week brought key neoconservatives turning on the president -
A leading conservative proponent of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq now says dysfunction within the Bush administration has turned U.S. policy there into a disaster.

Richard Perle, who chaired a committee of Pentagon policy advisers early in the Bush administration, said had he seen at the start of the war in 2003 where it would go, he probably would not have advocated an invasion to depose Saddam Hussein. Perle was an assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan.

"I probably would have said, 'Let's consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists,'" he told Vanity Fair magazine in its upcoming January issue.
Just after the Iraq war started Perle had lectured the Brits - yep, the war was almost certainly illegal under any interpretation of international law, but the United States was above that law (previously discussed here). And now this.

The White House reaction was predictable - spokesman Gordon Johndroe said, "We appreciate the Monday-morning quarterbacking, but the president has a plan to succeed in Iraq and we are going forward with it." Maybe he should tell someone what the plan is.

And in the same item Kenneth Adelman, who served on the independent Defense Policy Board that advised Bush, said he was "crushed" by the performance of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Perle added that "you have to hold the president responsible" because he didn't recognize "disloyalty" by some in the administration. He's all over the National Security Council, then run by Condoleezza Rice - she and her crew didn't serve Bush properly. As for Adelman, he was one of those who the whole enterprise would be a "cakewalk." Now he's he knows he was mistaken - "They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the postwar era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional."

Oh great. The weekend before the election this is not helpful.

And there were other nuggets -
"The decisions did not get made that should have been. They didn't get made in a timely fashion, and the differences were argued out endlessly," Mr Perle told Vanity Fair, according to early excerpts of the article. "At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible."

Asked if he would still have pushed for war knowing what he knows now, Mr Perle, a leading hawk in the Reagan administration, said: "I think if I had been delphic, and had seen where we are today, and people had said, 'Should we go into Iraq?', I think now I probably would have said, 'No, let's consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists'."

… [Adelman] too takes back his public urging for military action, in light of the administration's performance. "I guess that's what I would have said: that Bush's arguments are absolutely right, but you know what, you just have to put them in the drawer marked 'can't do'. And that's very different from 'let's go'."

… Mr Adelman said the guiding principle behind neoconservatism, "the idea of using our power for moral good in the world", had been killed off for a generation at least. After Iraq, he told Vanity Fair, "it's not going to sell".
And there's David Frum, the speechwriter who gave us the Axis of Evil concept, with this -
I always believed as a speechwriter that if you could persuade the president to commit himself to certain words, he would feel himself committed to the ideas that underlay those words. And the big shock to me has been that although the president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas. And that is the root of, maybe, everything.
Try Kevin Drum's shorter version -
I used to think Bush was such an empty vessel that if I could just get him to parrot the words I wrote, they'd bounce around in his skull and become actual ideas for lack of any competition. Later, though, I finally realized why his skull was empty of serious ideas in the first place.
None of this was very helpful in the final days before the election that seems to be a referendum on the war and on the president.

Nor was this -
The Rev. Ted Haggard said Friday he bought methamphetamine and received a massage from a male prostitute. But the influential Christian evangelist insisted he threw the drugs away and never had sex with the man.

Haggard, who as president of the National Association of Evangelicals wielded influence on Capitol Hill and condemned both gay marriage and homosexuality, resigned on Thursday after a Denver man named Mike Jones claimed that he had many drug-fueled trysts with Haggard.

On Friday, Haggard said that he received a massage from Jones after being referred to him by a Denver hotel, and that he bought meth for himself from the man.

But Haggard said he never had sex with Jones. And as for the drugs, "I was tempted, but I never used it," the 50-year-old Haggard told reporters from his vehicle while leaving his home with his wife and three of his five children.

Jones, 49, denied selling meth to Haggard. "Never," he told MSNBC. Haggard "met someone else that I had hooked him up with to buy it."

Jones also scoffed at the idea that a hotel would have sent Haggard to him.

"No concierge in Denver would have referred me," he said. He said he had advertised himself as an escort only in gay publications or on gay Web sites.

Jones did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press on Friday.
Ted Haggard sounds like Bill Clinton - "I did not inhale." No more Monday morning political strategy calls with the president. How do the evangelicals vote now? Do they vote at all?

There has to be some recovery from this. It's time for a surprise. And the end of the week flurry of news offered something, sort of - the right side of the media was buzzing with the news that Saddam Hussein really did have nuclear weapons, sort of, so we did go to war for a really good reason. It's all it how you look at it.

Of course some conservatives always believed there is evidence out there, somewhere, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and actively collaborated with al Qaeda before the our invasion - we just didn't look hard enough. And earlier this year they persuaded Congress to take a vast trove of documents relating to Iraq and post them online. Given enough eyeballs, the argument went, we could find those WMD. The effort was call the Army of David - all the right wing bloggers and Bush fans would go over this all with a fine tooth comb, even if everything was in Arabic. They find the proof and all those who t=hought we'd blown it would hang their heads in shame and slink away, and so on and so forth.

Nothing much came of it - and it wasn't the Arabic problems. There was much there. There was a document that happened to be about al Qaeda, but on a closer look, it no connection to Iraq, and a lot of the Army of David was embarrassed (but not that much).

Then on Friday, November 3, just before the elections, the New York Times reported there was something there - "detailed accounts of Iraq's secret nuclear research before the 1991 Persian Gulf war." Experts say these documents could prove extremely helpful to anyone out there trying to figure out how to make a homemade bomb - not to guys on the street of course, but to most governments.

This is not good. The entire file has now been pulled from the site. Much was no doubt copied to hard drive in labs around the world - but what's done is done.

Scott Rosenberg at SALON is unhappy -
So the right's efforts to score political points have resulted in dangerously detailed nuke-building information being broadcast over the entire Internet. Instead of feeling chagrined, the conservative blogosphere is instead dancing a bizarre victory jig this morning: The presence of bomb recipes, the cry goes, proves that Saddam had dangerous nuclear information after all!

But no one ever argued that Saddam didn't have dangerous information about how to build nuclear weapons. The whole point of the U.S.-backed and U.N.-operated anti-proliferation regime was to prevent him from using that information to build bombs. We now know that that program successfully hobbled Saddam's WMD ambitions - until the Bush administration decided to dismantle it in favor of a regime-changing invasion.

The documents in question date back before the 1991 Gulf War, at a time when liberals and conservatives alike agree that Saddam had nuclear ambitions. Recognizing that they are dangerous and should not be public proves nothing about the threat Saddam did or didn't pose to the U.S. in the post-9/11 era. Nor, despite what Glenn Reynolds says, does taking these documents seriously prove anything about the importance or authenticity of any of the other documents in the file.

The straw man being held aloft by the National Review's Jim Geraghty and others is that antiwar liberals never took the threat Saddam posed seriously, yet now we know he had a nuclear cookbook. But the real story here is that conservatives now believe that attempting to prove they were right about Saddam should take priority over keeping nuclear know-how out of terrorist hands.

House Intelligence Committee chairman Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., who led the release-the-documents move, blames the director of national intelligence for failing to censor the sensitive nuclear information. But Hoekstra says he's "pleased that the document release program continues to stimulate public discussion of these issues." I'm sure that bomb makers with Internet connections are equally pleased.
As for Hoekstra, the whole sad history of this business can be found here - Hoekstra and Rick Santorum, with Pat Roberts in the Senate, push for all these tens of thousands of documents to be posted to the net - for everyone to see. The CIA and all the other intelligence agencies are appalled - they say this is madness. The new head of all national intelligence, John Negroponte, tell these three to forget it, as it's dumb and dangerous. They whine publicly and visit the president. He overrules Negroponte and the agencies, and the stuff goes up.

Now we have a problem. Arms control experts around the world are aghast - the world has suddenly become far more dangerous. The Army of David on the right is saying that may be so, but this information - on triggering devices, with production notes, with notes on workarounds for this technical puzzle or that - prove the president was right, is right, and always will be right. Yeah, the documents are all from 1991 or earlier, and Saddam Hussein may have been forced to give up the effort late in 1991 - but, the argument goes, this proves there was an immediate threat justifying preventative war. You just have to play around with that word "immediate." The mistake of posting the sensitive stuff was worth the now much more likely prospect of six or ten or twenty penny-ante countries getting their own thermonuclear bombs. We made the end of the world much more likely - but we proved the president right. Heck, the posted documents may help Iran and North Korea tremendously, or have already. But the president was right.

So this is the overdue October surprise? Will votes now shift and the Republicans win every seat everywhere in a landslide?

A mainstream reaction that might be instructive is that of the careful Andrea Mitchell at NBC in this video -
Mitchell: Peter Hoekstra in fact said, Quote: "Let's unleash the power of the Internet on these documents to see if there was a smoking gun on WMD's" - the intelligence experts were reluctant to release these documents. Skeptics at the time said that all this was being done by conservative bloggers and others on the Intelligence committees to try and bolster their argument that the war was in fact justified in the first place. These specific dozen documents - they did have a blueprint for making bombs and those technical documents could have been helpful to terrorists… The net affect would likely be that it would hurt the administration because it shows that they - once again - were the gang that couldn't shoot straight! - they forced the Intelligence community to do something that the experts didn't want to do and the President himself overruled John Negroponte on.
She, of all people, calls them the gang that couldn't shoot straight? Oh my. This will hurt the administration? That could be.

Bur perhaps no one now is changing his or her mind, or potential vote. There will be no other overdue October surprise. Or maybe there will be. The odd thing is that if there is, no surprise will matter. We've reached the limits of spin. No one buys it either way. And when Portugal announces they have the bomb, then Upper Volta, we're in real trouble, even if the president was right three years ago, sort of, depending on how you look at it.

Posted by Alan at 22:48 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 3 November 2006 22:51 PST home

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