Just some end of the week notes from various places - Tennessee, Binghamton in south central New York, from a Brit correspondent in Washington, what the Miami Herald reports is planned at Guantanamo, and a reaction from Berlin citing what the attorneys from Seaton Hall in central New Jersey think about such things. Friday, November 17, 2006 - it's a small world after all (don't think of the song).
The Tennessee item is very odd. That would be Deep-Fried American Flags Ruled Bad Taste -
Of course you can click on the link and read on, if you wish. You'll find a description of the works and a few reactions.
CLARKSVILLE, Tennessee (AP) - A museum director in this military town removed an art exhibit that featured several deep-fried American flags.
Art student William Gentry said his piece, "The Fat Is in the Fire," was a commentary on obesity in America. "I deep-fried the flag because I'm concerned about America and about America's health," Gentry said.
Customs House Museum executive director Ned Crouch took down the artwork Wednesday, less than 18 hours after it went up in this community next to Fort Campbell.
"It's about what the community values," Crouch said. "I'm representing 99 percent of our membership - educators, doctors, lawyers, military families."
He also said the timing of the piece could cause "incendiary reactions."
The symbolism is delicious, so to speak. But it is too bad the items in question are only about obesity. In so many ways right now, regarding America, the fat really is in the fryer, what with Iraq in chaos, the Democrats about to take control of Congress and change everything, the president in Vietnam saying the war there decades ago has taught us all a valuable lesson regarding the war now in Iraq - you can't win if you quit (obviously he's unaware of the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions). The South Koreans then announced they'd not join us interdicting all shipping in and out of North Korea - they'd listened politely to what Bush had to say about really isolating and punishing their northern cousins, and decided he was on what they think is the wrong tract. They're more into diplomacy. So the Asian summit was not going well. Ah well, at least the food was great.
But they didn't serve deep-fried American flags. In the months before the midterm elections the Republican House and Senate had of course decided the war and the economy and immigration reform and what some call the healthcare crisis were really not the issues we should worry about. The summer brought us what they said the real threat to America, and proposed starting the process of changing the Constitution of the United States to ban gay marriage and ban flag burning - making that a carve-out to that freedom of speech business that pesky people like to claim. Both efforts failed, and the clumsy attempt to "change the subject" probably wasn't the best way to tee up for the November elections. Some someone thought it was worth a try. No one at the time even mentioned banning deep-frying the flag. It might have made the long speeches a bit more interesting, but it probably wouldn't have helped. And, wouldn't you know, someone actually did it. Amazing.
And then, by way of James Wolcott at Vanity Fair, we have some distressing observations from SUNY-Binghamton, actually from Immanuel Wallerstein at the Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems, and Civilizations at Binghamton University, State University of New York.
Gee, the last time I was in Binghamton was back in the late seventies. I was recording with an "alternative" band - a reggae version of the Stone's "I Can't Get No Satisfaction," the unchanged lyrics sung by a chubby lesbian. My job was to do the bass line on tenor saxophone - overdubbed three times so there was three of me. Actually, the thing worked well - Bob Marley meets an inside-out version of Mick Jagger. Maybe you had to be there. A tape is available upon request.
But serious things also happen there in Binghamton, it seems. Wallerstein, at the center with the long name, observed we're in for some trouble -
The midterm elections did all that? That's pretty grim. Everything has indeed changed.
On November 7, the Republican Party lost the midterm elections. As Bush himself said, in all the close races, the margin was very slight, but overall it was a "thumping." The degree of thumping is underlined by the fact that, after the elections, Bush's poll ratings went down still further.
This will box in Bush's options and range of movement, particularly abroad.
The one thing that is sure is that there will be no U.S. troops in Iraq as we approach the 2008 elections. The voters and the military made that clear in the 2006 election. Of course there will be a massive blame game - among Republicans as to who lost the 2006 elections, and between Democrats and Republicans as to who lost Iraq. But the word on everyone's mind is "lost."
We can also be sure that bombing either North Korea or Iran is off the real agenda (including for Israel). The U.S. armed forces and the U.S. electorate will not tolerate it (not to speak of the rest of the world). Where will this leave the United States as a world power? It will probably result in a big push towards drawing inward. Already, in the 2006 elections, many candidates won by opposing "free trade" and Iraq was a dirty word. The political temptation will be to go local in emphasis. One of the major side effects will be a notable reduction in U.S. support for Israeli foreign policy, which will be wrenching for Israel.
The Democrats are united on internal economic legislation - higher minimum wages, better and more affordable health care, financial aid to college students. They are also going to push ecology issues and medical advances (stem cell research, for example). If the Republicans hope to recuperate strength, they will have to move their economic program as well as their program on social issues somewhat in a centrist direction.
The result, as is already obvious, is to create major turmoil in the Republican Party, while reducing it in the Democratic Party - the exact opposite of what has been the case in the last decade. And in early 2009, George W. Bush will fade into the wilderness, remembered (if we bother) for being the front man for the mother of all defeats - in Iraq, in the world-system, and at home for the Republican Party.
And Wolcott is worried - "But will Bush recede into the night? Bush-in-a-box - contents under pressure - could become an explosive property if not properly handled."
And that leads to even more distressing news from Andrew Stephen, Washington correspondent for the New Statesman (UK, which explains the spelling). Maybe it's not really news, just hints at trouble ahead -
Damn. It's that Nixon thing, again. And we get Kissinger in the mix too. As is often said - History always repeats itself, and that's the trouble with history. Maybe it had to be this way. Bummer. Here we go again.
I was asked on BBC radio a couple of days ago whether Democratic victories would temper Bush's recklessness. I replied that I could answer that only if I could peer into the strange mind of a 60-year-old recovering alcoholic named George W Bush
Rumours persist here (and I have heard them repeated at a very senior level in the UK, too) that Bush has actually resumed drinking; I throw this into the mix not to sensationalise, but because I have now heard the rumour repeated at a sufficiently high level that I believe we must face the possibility that it might be true.
Bush was huddled inside the White House eating beef and ice cream on election night with Rove, my friend Josh Bolten, and four other trusted aides who will stick with him to the end. He was not drinking on this occasion, I'm assured - but, more than ever, my depiction of an unstable man living out his final days in office inside his bunker seem no longer to be fanciful. Hemmed in by Democratic foes wherever he looks, determined to be remembered in history as an unwaveringly strong leader, and increasingly detached from reality: now that suddenly becomes a very frightening vision indeed.
As for things elsewhere, like Cuba, the end of the week news brought this -
It's a Halliburton contract of course, or will be - plans for this compound are provided in a "presolicitation notice," dated November 3 and posted on the Internet for potential government contractors. You might want to bid, if you're handy at building things around the house. This whole business was first reported by the Miami Herald, but only widely reported later.
The U.S. military on Friday said it plans to build a $125 million compound at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base where it hopes to hold war-crimes trials for terror suspects by the middle of next year.
The compound, designed to accommodate as many as 1,200 people, would include dining areas, work spaces and sleeping accommodations for administrative personnel, lawyers, journalists and others involved in trials at the isolated detention center in southeast Cuba.
It would create a total of three courtrooms on the base to allow for simultaneous trials, and a separate high-security area to house the detainees on trial.
"We need to build more courtrooms, and we want to do multiple trials," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler, a Pentagon spokesman. He said the government hopes to begin construction as soon as possible to be ready for trials no later than July 1.
It may not be built. Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents several hundred of Guantanamo detainees quotes as saying this - "This is a huge waste of taxpayer money. They've been trying to try people for five years, and until they try somebody according to the Constitution, nothing's going to happen there."
Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA, says this compound proposed by the Pentagon is basically "a permanent homage to its failed experiment in second class justice."
We'll see. If you do bid, know that the contractor will be required to complete work by next July - including "a secure perimeter," a garage for one hundred government vehicles and a closed-circuit video transmission center. And know that the government is drafting new rules for the trials under the Military Commissions Act, which the president signed last month. The Supreme Court had declared that previous efforts to try Guantanamo detainees were unconstitutional, and might do so with whatever the administration comes up with now. It's all a bit iffy.
And that takes us to Berlin, to the November 17 meeting of the Club de Madrid, Berlin, Germany. That's where Scott Horton has a few things to say about the work of the faculty and students at Seton Hall Law School, who have examined what is happening at Guantanamo and issued that report.
Horton has this to say -
Okay then, you have your American attorney in Berlin, citing the work done in a top tier New Jersey law school, referencing the work of a dead Czech Jew, regarding what we're up to in Cuba. It is a small world - and do you really want to bid on that contract?
Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to read your newspaper today very carefully. In it you will find another - now the third - report prepared by faculty and students at Seton Hall Law School examining the Combat Status Review Tribunal, a board composed to confirm the status of detainees in Guantanamo. Based on its determinations, detainees may be held for indefinite periods - potentially forever. Yet, as this study reveals, most proceedings occupy only a few hours, involve no witnesses and generally little meaningful evidence of any sort. The detainees are not confronted with the accusations or evidence against them, given an opportunity to ask questions or conduct a case. Once more, the model that is adhered to is not the rich criminal or military justice system of the United States, but the model of Franz Kafka's Penal Colony. What attitude towards justice does this reveal?
I am not here to argue for release or freedom for those detained in the campaign against terror. I am arguing for justice. That is something quite different. It may well be that Majid Khan is a serious criminal responsible for crimes against humanity. It may well be that he used or promoted the use of terror as a device. If that is so, he should be charged and given a fair chance to defend himself. This trial, fairly run, will vindicate my nation's counterterrorism efforts. It will show those who are held for heinous criminals, if they are heinous criminals. It would promote the view in the world that my nation has and pursues a just cause, and treats those in its power with justice, though the justice be severe.
In the end justice is a glorious thing and the evasion of justice is shameful. But we must remember, as both Robert H. Jackson and Hannah Arendt have taught us, that this process is not simply about justice. It is also about the appearance of justice. Failing that, we run a severe risk. The penal colony may now be an island. But soon it may become the world.
Not up on your Kafka? Never read the Penal Colony? Horton's summary -
Well, we're all in that position, What do Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Baghram and the Salt Pit, for instance, mean to us, after all?
In the Penal Colony, a visitor - on a voyage of exploration, he says - arrives on a tropical island which serves as a penal colony. Shortly he receives an invitation from the island's military commander to witness an execution. In a drawn-out discussion, the visitor learns from an officer sent to greet him that the prisoner who is to be executed has no idea that he has been accused or charged of anything; nor of the penalty that awaits him. The penalty, in fact, is horrific - before he is executed, the prisoner is to be mutilated by a great machine designed to carve his offense in florid letters into his body. The process is a simple one, says the officer: he handles every stage of it, and there is no need for a defense - after all, says the officer, who is accuser and judge, he always starts from the premise that the accused is guilty. Indeed, are we not all guilty?
This presents a moral dilemma to the visitor. He recognizes the injustice and inhumanity of what is about to transpire. But he is after all just a visitor; moreover, a foreigner. What does all of this mean to him? Isn't it easier for him just to hold his peace and get off this island hell as quickly as he can?
But we cannot get off the island, even if more than half of us have had more than enough of this particular "military commander" and his crew and elected folks to rein things in, even if they probably cannot.
And now we cannot even deep-fry a flag in protest. What a world.