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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, 30 November 2005

Topic: Photos

Our Man in Paris - Goodbye November
From Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis - an account of how the month ended in Paris. Here in Hollywood, seventy-three and no clouds, just a milky haze all day, and palm trees and all that.

Goodbye November

PARIS - Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Just because it's cold outside is no excuse for not covering Paris, but I put off going out as long as possible. A good thing too because it is damp and humid, with a breeze that slices, and the sky looks like torn nylons. It is almost dark in the afternoon, with the fallen leaves looking like pieces of eight, now worthless in our plastic age.

Outside the door, the Toyota veteran of the Dakar, for the days of January sun in the Sahara, racing to the beach of Senegal. There's more Africa on the Morris column up at Maine. Another animal movie for the kids on their Christmas holidays. The avenue itself is bitter with the wind blowing up from the Porte d'Orléans. I cross from the police station to the unemployment office and find a new poster on the bus stop. 'Le Tigre et la Neige' is another kids' film, by Roberto Benigni, wearing wings and white shorts.

There's so much Africa out here that I slip into the boulangerie where other people are taking refuge in the smells of bread, with the cakes filling in with their candy for the eyes. Then down Daguerre where the wind can't find itself and there's a crowd in the café, warming itself at the cold bar, not bothering with the oysters out front. In half an hour it has gone from dim to dark but the horse players care not at all. The Joe is standing outside the Poste, opening the door for tips, and I pass him a euro, thankful that I can walk home as fast as I want.

__

Outside the door, the Toyota veteran of the Dakar -

















... up at Maine (four in the afternoon) -

















... the cakes filling in with their candy for the eyes -


















... Daguerre where the wind can't find itself and there's a crowd in the café -


















Text and Photos, Copyright © 2005 Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis


Posted by Alan at 11:11 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 30 November 2005 11:26 PST home

Tuesday, 29 November 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Just Like Old Times - Leaving No Fingerprints

Last weekend in these pages, in Explaining the Inexplicable (and Iraq as El Salvador), it was clear something was bound to break.

Seymour Hersh, from last January with this in the New Yorker -
"Do you remember the right-wing execution squads in El Salvador?" the former high-level intelligence official asked me, referring to the military-led gangs that committed atrocities in the early nineteen-eighties. "We founded them and we financed them," he said. "The objective now is to recruit locals in any area we want. And we aren't going to tell Congress about it." A former military officer, who has knowledge of the Pentagon's commando capabilities, said, "We're going to be riding with the bad boys."
And Newsweek at the time was reporting this -
The Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration's battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. ... One military source involved in the Pentagon debate suggests that new offensive operations are needed that would create a fear of aiding the insurgency. "The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists," he said. "From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation."
And so we have. The death squads are back. We're riding with the bad boys.

The key guy in setting up and funding right-wing death squads in the area at the time - in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala - to do the wet work we could not be caught doing (taking out the key pro-democracy rebels and such), was John Negroponte. That would be John D. Negroponte - US ambassador to the United Nations from September of 2001 until June 2004 (sat next to Colin Powell at the famous war-now speech) and US ambassador to Iraq from June 2004 to April 2005 (our first after Saddam was gone), and now our Director of National Intelligence. He survived the blowback from the problems with those tactics in Central America (like the dead nuns), and came out smelling like a rose. The Clinton administration wouldn't touch him. The new Bush administration liked his "can do" attitude.

There was grumbling about him in his confirmation hearings for the UN gig, given his past, but he was confirmed. September of 2001 was an odd time - you didn't really argue with the president. It was not the time to do that. You'd look like a coward and a traitor.

When Negroponte was named our first ambassador to the new Iraq there were comments here and there joking that he'd take care of things just as he did in Central America - he'd somehow, on the side, fund and arm nasty locals to "take care of" troublemakers - death squads to do some kidnapping, some clever targeted assassinations and a little torture - but we'd be clean. That worked fine, mostly, back in the eighties - a lot of civilians (and those nuns) died, but things got taken care of.

Negroponte denied it all when the investigations came around. The administration denied it all. Reagan was clean. And the appropriate folks had turned up dead, or never turned up at all. The idea is to leave no fingerprints, as it were. And there were none - or they were sufficiently smudged.

The Newsweek item is all about how, in the middle of this guy's tenure as our first ambassador to Iraq, the Defense Department started talking about a "Salvador option" for Iraq. But the story disappeared.

Then on Tuesday, November 29, 2005, the whole thing suddenly made the headlines, here in the New York Times and here in the Los Angeles Times. They both report Iraq is now pretty much run by death squads. Knight-Ridder was on the story more than a month earlier here, but Knight-Ridder is the second-string, aren't they?

Kevin Drum here has some thoughts, and he is the one reminding everyone Knight Ridder's Tom Lasseter was first on this.

But basically he notes now everyone is reporting that Iraq's security forces have been heavily infiltrated by Shiite "death squads" that are carrying out hundreds of executions in predominantly Sunni neighborhoods, and Lasseter was reporting the same thing over a month ago - crack units within the Iraqi army have essentially become Shiite militias that take orders from local Shiite clerics.

From the Solomon Moore story in the Los Angeles Times out here -
An Aug. 18 police operations report addressed to Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, who has ties to the [Shiite] Badr militia, listed the names of 14 Sunni Arab men arrested during a predawn sweep in the Baghdad neighborhood of Iskaan.

Six weeks later, their bodies were discovered near the Iranian border, badly decomposed. All of the corpses showed signs of torture, and each still wore handcuffs and had been shot three times in the back of the head, Baghdad morgue officials said.

A Western diplomat in Baghdad who spoke on condition of anonymity said that "we hear repeated stories" of police raids on houses and indiscriminate arrests of Iraqi civilians - many of them Sunni Arab Muslims.

"And they disappear, but the bodies show up maybe two or three governorates away," the diplomat said.
But that wasn't us doing these bad things, right? We play by the rules. We don't take these shortcuts.

Still, things may be getting a little out of hand -
U.S. officials have long been concerned about extrajudicial killings in Iraq, but until recently they have refrained from calling violent elements within the police force "death squads" - a loaded term that conjures up the U.S.-backed paramilitaries that killed thousands of civilians during the Latin American civil wars of the 1970s and 1980s.

But U.S. military advisors in Iraq say the term is apt, and the Interior Ministry's inspector general concurs that extrajudicial killings are being carried out by ministry forces ...

This month, U.S. forces raided a secret Interior Ministry detention facility in southern Baghdad operated by police intelligence officials linked to the Badr Brigade, a Shiite militia that has long-standing ties to Iran and to Iraq's leading Shiite political party. Inmates compiled a handwritten list of 18 detainees at the bunker who were allegedly tortured to death while in custody. The list was authenticated by a U.S. official and given to Justice Ministry authorities for investigation. It was later provided to The Times.

The U.S. military is investigating whether police officers who worked at the secret prison were trained by American interrogation experts.
What did the president say this month?

"Our military is helping to train Iraqi security forces so they can defend their people and take the fight to the enemy. And we're making steady progress."

We need to define "progress" here.

Is this progress?
A Western diplomat in Baghdad who spoke on condition of anonymity said that "we hear repeated stories" of police raids on houses and indiscriminate arrests of Iraqi civilians - many of them Sunni Arab Muslims.

... The Al Mahdi army has a heavy presence in the regular police force, U.S. and Iraqi authorities said. One high-ranking U.S. military officer estimated that up to 90% of the 35,000 police officers working in northeast Baghdad were affiliated with Al Mahdi.

The U.S. officer said that "half of them are in a unit called 'the Punishment Committee,'" suspected of committing abuses against civilians believed to be flouting Islamic laws or the militia's authority. The officer said that Sunni Arab Muslims were frequently targeted by the committee.

... U.S. military sources said Badr militia members in the [Interior] ministry's Maghawir (Fearless Warrior) special commando brigades were carrying out illegal raids and extrajudicial killings.

... U.S. and Iraqi officials believe that both militias have been responsible for scores of execution-style slayings this year.

"The Mahdi army's got the Iraqi police and Badr's got the commandos," the high-ranking U.S. military officer said. "Everybody's got their own death squads."
Everybody's got their own death squads? How democratic (small "d").

The problem is, of course, that you want some unity and focus. Negroponte left Iraq in April for his new job as Director of National Intelligence back here in Washington. Yeah, you want to scare the heck out of the Sunnis who don't like being out of power - and kidnapping, torture and random or selected murder do the job - either they'll stop sabotaging the new Shiite government out of fear, or blow up more marketplaces and hotels out of anger. There's no law or anything like it that will protect you, and you know it.

Of course you want to make sure no one can possibly think the Americans are doing this. We don't so such things. We're the "rule of law" folks.

But you really do want to send one message - give up or you and your family will die horrible deaths - not several messages regarding proper religious practices or this or that.

But Negroponte has gone home. There are lots of groups freelancing.

Things are bad? Everybody's got their own death squads?

No, things are good. Joe Lieberman says so. Everybody's got their own cell phone.

Tuesday, November 29th, Joe, there on the ground, explains in the Wall Street Journal -
There are many more cars on the streets, satellite television dishes on the roofs, and literally millions more cell phones in Iraqi hands than before.

... It is a war between 27 million and 10,000; 27 million Iraqis who want to live lives of freedom, opportunity and prosperity and roughly 10,000 terrorists who are either Saddam revanchists, Iraqi Islamic extremists or al Qaeda foreign fighters who know their wretched causes will be set back if Iraq becomes free and modern. The terrorists are intent on stopping this by instigating a civil war to produce the chaos that will allow Iraq to replace Afghanistan as the base for their fanatical war-making.
Here's a note on what happened as Sunny Joe was drafting his WSJ piece -
Monday in Iraq was characterized by the usual mayhem, much of it with a dark sectarian character. Two prominent members of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party and a third politician from the Association of Muslim Scholars (hard line Sunni) were assassinated in Baghdad. South of the capital, two Britons of South Asian heritage who had gone on pilgrimage to the Shiite holy city of Karbala were killed in an ambush. Northern Iraq - 6 Iranian pilgrims were kidnapped.

In Baqubah four US troops were wounded by a suicide bombing. In Baiji, US troops opened fire when a bomb went off, and they killed a leader of the Shamar tribe, among the larger and more powerful in Iraq. Vice President Ghazi al-Yawir is from the Shamar. So too was one of the suicide bombers who blew up the Radisson SAS in Amman recently. Killing the Shamar shaikh = not good.
Some see the glass half-full, and some see it half-empty.

And some notice things like this - our new a US ambassador in Baghdad, now that Negroponte has been bumped up many notches, Zalmay Khalilzad, is going to start direct talks with the Iranians. What?

Juan Cole speculates -
It is the return of Realism in Washington foreign policy. You need the Iranians, as I maintain, for a soft landing in Iraq? So you do business with the Iranians. This opening may help explain why Ahmad Chalabi went to Tehran before he went to Washington, and why he was given such a high-level (if unphotographed) reception in Washington.
Maybe so. The death squad thing just wasn't working. Ask one of the charter members of the Axis of Evil for a little help here.

This is all very odd.

Posted by Alan at 20:11 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 29 November 2005 20:18 PST home

Monday, 28 November 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Done Deal - We're Out of There

Elsewhere (see Lining Up the Week: What's Hot News, What's Not) there was mention of Seymour Hersh's Sunday, November 27th appearance on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" where he was discussing his latest New Yorker article, Up In The Air - Where is the Iraq war headed next? - a chat providing a little more detail on the Bush administration's withdrawal proposal. This came the same day as this from the Associated Press - White House Lays Foundation for US Troop Withdrawal (Sunday, November 27) - and the White House was saying that the plan is "remarkably similar" to a plan by Democratic senator Joe Biden, but they thought of it first, and this is not "cut and run" or anything like it.

One sees that of the news stories that were forming over the previous weekend this is the one that had legs. Of course, to make the case that we should start withdrawing troops (or redeploying them, which sound much better), the administration had better be able to show that things are going so well in getting the new Iraqi government up and running that we've sort of, kind of won, or something. And that renders all that anger that recent Friday night in the House of Representatives, with the witch-lady from Cincinnati calling the decorated Marine a coward and that forced vote to "stay the course" and all the rest, somewhat moot.

Note here all the right wing commentators savagely attacking that cowardly quitter Biden for what he said in the Washington Post about withdrawal, or redeployment, just a few hours before the White House said Biden was right on target, but the Bush team had thought of it first. Well, sometimes it's hard to be a loyal supporter of the flawless president. Sometimes you get blindsided by the guy. No one distributed the new talking points in time.

Fred Kaplan, over at SLATE.COM, tells us it's going to get even more upside down -
Brace yourself for a mind-bog of sheer cynicism. The discombobulation begins Wednesday, when President George W. Bush is expected to proclaim, in a major speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, that the Iraqi security forces - which only a few months ago were said to have just one battalion capable of fighting on its own - have suddenly made uncanny progress in combat readiness. Expect soon after (if not during the speech itself) the thing that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have, just this month, denounced as near-treason - a timetable for withdrawal of American troops.
Kaplan says that, assuming the forecasts about the speech are true, the White House "is as cynical about this war as its cynical critics have charged it with being."

Yes, it has been obvious that once there was an Iraqi constitution, and then an elected government, we could say we did the job and begin to get out, no matter what we said about "staying the course" until every last "insurgent" was either dead or rendered pleasant and democratic (the non-capitalized version, of course). This does, as Kaplan notes, explain what all the rush was about. We pushed the schedule - no deviation from that - so we can get out, or mostly out, before the 2006 mid-term elections here, where those who carried the water for Bush in the house and senate face voters with doubts and questions and a bit of anger. The idea is to take away the war as an issue in the elections. That's pretty obvious. Yeah, the new Iraqi constitution is still a work in progress, and perhaps it is so "deeply flawed" it is "more likely to fracture the country than to unite it." Kaplan's argument is that this doesn't matter as much to the guys who run things for us all in Washington as their staying in power.

Cynical? Perhaps.

But note this:
The political beauty of this scenario is that, even if Iraq remains mired in chaos or seems to be hurtling toward civil war, nobody in Congress is going to call for a halt, much less a reversal, of the withdrawal. The Republicans will fall in line; many of them have been nervous that the war's perpetuation, with its rising toll and dim horizons, might cost them their seats. And who among the Democrats will choose to outflank Bush on his right wing and advocate - as some were doing not so long ago - keeping the troops in Iraq for another five or 10 years or even boosting their numbers. (The question is so rhetorical, it doesn't warrant a question mark.)

In short, Bush could pull a win-win-win out of this shift. He could pre-empt the Democrats' main line of attack against his administration, stave off the prospect of (from the GOP's perspective) disastrous elections in 2006 and '08, and, as a result, bolster his presidency's otherwise dwindling authority within his own party and among the general population.
Yep, that will work - except with those who still have working bullshit detectors and see we just spent a half-trillion dollars, three years, over 2,100 good lives, have over ten-thousand wounded and maimed, for what? A key country, with the third largest oil reserves known to exist, in chaos and civil war?

Well, you say, at least Saddam Hussein no longer runs the place.

True. Fine. But is this what we wanted?

Maybe not, but that's where we are - a substantial withdrawal is at hand. Read Kaplan. Top military officers have been privately, and not so privately, warning that current troop levels in Iraq cannot be sustained for another year or two. The Army and the National Guard and Reserves are near some sort of breaking point. What Representative Murtha proposed on the 17th that angered so many people - his call for an immediate redeployment - wasn't just personal anguish and geopolitical clear thinking. Kaplan comments that was, "quite explicitly, a public assertion of the military's institutional interests - and an acknowledgment of Congress' electoral interests." Although Kaplan doesn't say it flat-out, Murtha, a friend of the top brass at the Pentagon for decades, could be just laying it out for them, as their voice in the congress. Consider it a rebellion of the generals, where they use Murtha as their voice to get things changed. They've seen the light. As Kaplan puts it - "Murtha wasn't merely advocating redeployment; he was practically announcing it."

The White House lost the generals? You could see it that way. And note Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on November 22nd said "I suspect that American forces are not going to be needed in the numbers that they are now that much longer." She said it on CNN, and then she said it on Fox News. Was she addressing the generals? Maybe so.

And it does make political sense for anyone who wants to be reelected.

Is this the right thing to do, draw down the forces? Who knows?

Will there be total disorder and possibly a civil war with casualties ten times greater than we have now? A regional war with Iran lining up with the Shiites in Iraq and the other Arab states in the region lining up with the Sunnis in Iraq? Who will line up with the Kurds, who aren't "Arabs" ethnically but are Sunni Muslims, and a century-long worry for Turkey? This could get messy.

Questions, since President Bush is going to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq.
How does he plan to do it? Which troops will come out first? How quickly? Where will they go? Under what circumstances will they be put back in? Which troops will remain, and what will they do? How will they keep a profile low enough to make the Iraqi government seem genuinely autonomous yet high enough to help deter or stave off internal threats? Who will keep the borders secure, a task for which the Iraqi army doesn't even pretend to have the slightest capability? What kinds of diplomatic arrangements will he make with Iraq's neighbors - who have their own conflicting interests in the country's future - to assure an international peace?

More to the point, does the president have a plan for all this? (The point is far from facetious; it's tragically clear, after all, that he didn't have a plan for how to fight the war if it extended beyond the collapse of Saddam.) Has he entertained these questions, much less devised some shrewd answers?
Well, the man does not do nuance, and doesn't like detail. He likes to make things real, real simple. He hates people telling him things are complicated or this or that might not work. He doesn't like experts - or advice, which he sees as disloyalty. He likes to go with his gut instinct. He's that kind of guy. You either trust him or you don't - and if you don't, he doesn't want to deal with you.

But what the American people in the past have loved him for - these manly traits - may no longer be useful, given the issues now. But that's too bad. He's in charge.

We're in for a bumpy ride.

Note this email from a reader at Andrew Sullivan's conservative, pro-war but unhappy-with-Bush site -
This is a President that refuses to acknowledge that there is such a thing as "the American people" and that he is accountable to them. And he shows no signs of this changing. Every significant speech is made to cherry-picked crowds at military academies. Scott McClellan's briefings have become unintentional comedy sketches. And his surrogates just buzz and strafe Sunday morning talk shows every so often to parrot the same useless talking points. Imagine how much public opinion could be shaped and how much criticism could be defused if he simply addresses the American people to tell us what 'the course' that we must supposedly 'stay' is. What IS the mission? How many Iraqi battalions being independent and battle-ready will it take before we can at least begin to draw down? When can we expect this to occur? What is he doing to draw the Sunnis more into the political process and away from the insurgents? What is he doing with neighboring nations like Iran to stop their meddling and to seek their help in securing the borders? There are countless other questions - the answers of which could be used to explain in detail our progress, our plan, and a clear direction for America in the Middle East.

But when he is silent and hiding away from his critics, it's only reasonable for people to begin to assume that he has no progress to report, no plan, and no direction. It would be sad if the hard work of people like Gen. Casey and Zalmay is all for naught because their boss was too much of a fool to explain the rather significant benefits of what they're now doing in Iraq.
Yes, that would be sad. But it's maybe not that the guy is "too much of a fool" to explain the rather significant benefits of what we're now doing in Iraq. Maybe he's just not that interested in that, and never has been and never will be - or at least not in detail. He's explained as much as he's going to explain it, as much as he understands it. One suspects he's puzzled, and a bit angry, that people want something more. It's not that there's no progress to report, no plan, and no direction. The man has said, "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." You can sense his frustration - Why won't that do? - Why do people want more?

Sullivan himself -
There are times when I wonder if the president is capable of such an address. And the reason I say that is that any candid, credible discussion of where we are now would require an acknowledgment of a series of previous misjudgments and errors. I don't think Bush is psychologically capable of this. It requires nuance, self-criticism, an abandonment of Manichean rhetoric, and a political decision to unite the country rather than dividing it. All these things he has so far refused to so. Alas, I see no evidence that he has changed, or is even capable of change. And so we stagger on.
Sullivan of course seems to think a decision to change is possible, that some change of heart could have the man decide to attend to detail and all the rest.

A refusal to do this? No. The capacity is not there.

Whether the problem is intellectual - he just cannot think that carefully (lacks the horsepower for it, so to speak) - or a personality-based thing - really doesn't matter. Sullivan casually tosses in the idea of the man is, perhaps, not capable of change and this may not be a refusal at all. We elected a man a very limited ability and no curiosity - because we thought that was what was needed in these times.

Wrong. Maybe we'll do better in 2008 - if we all live that long.

James Wolcott being colorful -
The thing I'm most struck by over the last few weeks is President Bush's shrinkage in stature. He cut an insignificant figure in China even before he went into his doofus shtick, and seems to be diminishing as the dark cloud of Cheney solidifies and casts Bush in shadow. It's hard to believe he was once the chalice of Peggy Noonan's hopes; Winston Churchill in a leather jockstrap, in the humid imaginations of warbloggers. You get the impression that underneath the show of resolve and irritable resentment, he feels sorry for himself, pouty about not being appreciated. Which may explain why Laura Bush seems to have hardened into a carapace at his side, reverting to the Pat Nixon role to withstand the buffeting winds swirling around her husband and his own stormy moods.
So we have three more years of this.

Oh, and as for the doofus shtick, see the now famous photo and text here - Bush the bumbling but lovable goofball. The photo is the new icon of the whole problem.

__

Additional note:

The Formerly Great Writ
Goodbye, habeas corpus. Hello, executive detention.
Emily Bazelon - Monday, Nov. 28, 2005, at 4:27 PM ET - SLATE.COM

This is a discussion of a provision in the renewal of the Patriot Act that makes it much, much harder for American prisoners to challenge their convictions in federal court.

As you know, and as you are reminded, "Habeas Corpus, the Great Writ, dates from 1305 and the reign of King Edward I in England. It allows detainees to ask a court to order their warden to explain the basis for their detention. (The Latin, translated as "you have the body," refers to the warden's powers.) Detainees can petition for habeas review if they are held without trial, or if they're convicted and claim that their constitutional rights were violated at trial. Habeas is the means by which state prisoners, on rare occasion, can be heard in federal court."

The whole thing is full of the legal precedents and disputes involved, but you might note the issue now is far more than the president having the authority to decide, with no review by anyone, that any American citizen can be locked up with no rights for as long as he chooses, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. That's a given now.

As for run-of-the-mill criminal defendants, the proposed revision to the Patriot Act would take Habeas Corpus from the federal courts and give the attorney general the authority to decide such things. We'd all be subject to the unilateral power of executive detention.

You want to be safe, don't you?

Just consider the nature of the man to whom congress and our courts have given this new power.

Posted by Alan at 22:13 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 28 November 2005 22:31 PST home


Topic: God and US

Religion: The Devil in the Details

Last weekend in the pages, in part of a review of the kind of stories that appear in the Sunday papers (see The Sunday Funnies Featuring Curveball) there was something mentioned in passing, really a minor thing. That's a curious lawsuit out here - a group of students from Christian academies are suing UCLA, actually the whole University of California system. The problem is bias, in particular anti-Christian bias. It's a problem with admissions criteria. The University of California schools won't give them credit for high school science courses that say science is wrong - God did it all - so they cannot get in. And they haven't read "ungodly" books so they seem to be a bit short in history and literature. One assumes they're fine in mathematics.

I mentioned this in conversation with my friend, the high-powered Wall Street attorney who studied constitutional law under the man who chaired the committee on the potential impeachment of Richard Nixon. (Nixon resigned before that could happen.) I told him the argument being offered seemed to be that these are pubic universities, and that such public institutions cannot use a religious test to bar applicants for admission - it's a violation of the first amendment regarding the state not taking sides in religious matters. These kids, so the claim goes, were facing discrimination because of their religion.

My Wall Street attorney friend said this suit would never fly, that universities have some sort of "academic freedom" to set standards as they see fit. The university system has the right to set its own standards? Maybe so, but we shall see on December 12th when the Federal District Court in Los Angeles will hear this lawsuit. Can you deny admission to a taxpayer-funded public institution based on religious belief, or are these students truly unprepared for college work? They claim they are not unprepared at all, just devout and godly - and being persecuted for being so.

By the way, there is a matching lawsuit - Evolution Fight Flares at UC-Berkeley (UPI - Monday, November 28, 2005) - "A civil lawsuit has been filed against operators of a University of California-Berkeley website that's designed to help instructors teach evolution."

The argument there is that the Darwinian set of ideas about evolution is, in essence, a form of religion and the state has no business at all spending citizens' tax dollars to support one religion over another - it says so right in the constitution and all that. So shut down that website - don't provide religious training to teachers for them to teach a specific religion in public schools. That one is on shakier grounds, of course.

As for the first lawsuit - brought by the Association of Christian Schools International, representing more than eight hundred of such schools in California, and specifically the Calvary Chapel Christian School of Murrieta (out in Riverside County between Lake Elsinore and Temecula) - there is more detail from Thomas Vinciguerra in the New York Times, Sunday, November 27th in Here's the Problem With Emily Dickinson.

Vinciguerra notes some of the courses in question, those for which the University of California will not allow credit, do not concern Darwin at all, as in "Christianity's Influence in American History" and "Christianity and American Literature." And most of the courses draw on textbooks published by Bob Jones University, down in Greenville, South Carolina. You know, the school that says it has stood for "the absolute authority of the Bible since 1927." Ashcroft has spoken there, so has Bush, so has McCain. No music, no dancing, and until some recent lawsuits, no mixing of "others" with the white race. (Previous comments in these pages here and here.) No one watches SpongeBob SquarePants cartoons there.

What Vinciguerra found in the source texts is interesting.

Thomas Jefferson is kind of the antichrist, according to United States History for Christian Schools - Timothy Keesee and Mark Sidwell (Bob Jones University, 2001) -
American believers can appreciate Jefferson's rich contribution to the development of their nation, but they must beware of his view of Christ as a good teacher but not the incarnate son of God. As the Apostle John said, "Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son" (I John 2:22).
And slavery had nothing to do with economics and wasn't really a political question. The problem was sin.
The sin in this case was greed - greed on the part of African tribal leaders, on the part of slave traders and on the part of slave owners, all of whom allowed their love for profit to outweigh their love for their fellow man. The consequences of such greed and racism extended across society and far into the future. It resulted in untold suffering-most obviously for the black race but for the white race as well. ... The Lord has never exaggerated in warning us of sin's devastating consequences - for us and for our descendants (Exodus 34:7).
As for Teddy Roosevelt and all the progressives through FDR, their problem was they thought folks could be better people -
On the whole, they believed that man is basically good and that human nature might be improved. ... Such a belief, of course, ignored the biblical teaching that man is sinful by nature (Ephesians 2:1-3). Progressives therefore also ignored the fact that the fallible men who built the corrupt institutions that they attacked were the same in nature as those who filled the political offices and staffed the regulatory agencies that were supposed to control the corruption.
Ah yes. Some things cannot be fixed.

As for literature, there's that bad guy Mark Twain - as seen in Elements of Literature for Christian Schools - Ronald Horton, Donalynn Hess and Steven Skeggs (Bob Jones University, 2001) - as Twain called God "an irascible, vindictive, fierce and ever fickle and changeful master." -
Twain's outlook was both self-centered and ultimately hopeless. Denying that he was created in the image of God, Twain was able to rid himself of feeling any responsibility to his Creator. At the same time, however, he defiantly cut himself off from God's love. Twain's skepticism was clearly not the honest questioning of a seeker of truth but the deliberate defiance of a confessed rebel.
Oh yeah, and Emily Dickinson, although she did view the Bible as a source of poetic inspiration, "she never accepted it as an inerrant guide to life." Christina Rossetti, gets a pass.

As for science courses, see Physics for Christian Schools - R. Terrance Egolf and Linda Shumate (Bob Jones University, 2004), and the section "What is Christian about physics?" -
Some people have developed the idea that higher mathematics and science have little to do with the Bible or Christian life. They think that because physics deals with scientific facts, or because it is not pervaded with evolutionary ideas, there is no need to study it from a Christian perspective. This kind of thinking ignores a number of important facts to the Christian: First, all secular science is pervaded by mechanistic, naturalistic and evolutionistic philosophy. Learning that the laws of mechanics as they pertain to a baseball in flight are just the natural consequences of the way matter came together denies the wisdom and power of our Creator God. ... Second, physics as taught in the schools of the world contradicts the processes that shaped the world we see today. Trying to believe both secular physics and the Bible leaves you in a state of confusion that will weaken your faith in God's Word.
Studying the motion of objects, using math and stuff like that, will weaken your faith?

There's more in the Times item. This should be an interesting case.

And God may be sending signs.

Piece of Supreme Court building falls
Chunk of marble falls onto where tourists normally enter; no one hurt
Associated Press - 10:51 am ET Monday, November 28, 2005
A basketball-sized piece of marble moulding fell from the facade over the entrance to the Supreme Court, landing on the steps near visitors waiting to enter the building.

No one was injured when the stone fell.

The marble was part of the dentil moulding that serves as a frame for the frieze of statues atop the court's main entrance.

A group of visitors had just entered the building and had passed under the frieze when the stone fell at 9:30 a.m.

Jonathan Fink, a government attorney waiting in line to attend arguments, said, "All of a sudden, these blocks started falling. It was like a thud, thud."
The sound of God's displeasure? The AP item quotes a local saying folks were picking up pieces of the stone and to expect them for sale on eBay tomorrow.

And as mentioned here in Lining Up the Week: What's Hot News, What's Not, Seymour Hersh has a new article in the New Yorker on Bush, and it touches on religion. It just became available online - UP IN THE AIR - Where is the Iraq war headed next? - and it contains this passage:
"The President is more determined than ever to stay the course," the former defense official said. "He doesn't feel any pain. Bush is a believer in the adage 'People may suffer and die, but the Church advances.'" He said that the President had become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice-President Cheney. "They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway," the former defense official said. Bush's public appearances, for example, are generally scheduled in front of friendly audiences, most often at military bases. Four decades ago, President Lyndon Johnson, who was also confronted with an increasingly unpopular war, was limited to similar public forums. "Johnson knew he was a prisoner in the White House," the former official said, "but Bush has no idea."
And so it goes.

Posted by Alan at 11:13 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 28 November 2005 19:13 PST home

Sunday, 27 November 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Lining Up the Week: What's Hot News, What's Not

First a follow-up… In these pages a month ago - October 23, 2005, Doing Good, Doing It Right - you'd find an extensive discussion of the Australian television footage of our soldiers burning the corpses of two dead Taliban fighters with their bodies laid out facing Mecca, and using the images in a propaganda campaign in southern Afghanistan. At the time our guys said they burned the bodies for hygienic reasons - but then a psychological operations unit broadcast a propaganda message on loudspeakers to the Taliban guys, taunting them to retrieve their dead and fight, as in this -
Attention Taliban you are cowardly dogs," read the first soldier, identified as psyops specialist Sgt. Jim Baker.

"You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burned. You are too scared to retrieve their bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be."
Something was lost in translation there. He probably said "girly men."

We said it never happened. Now? Reuters - Saturday, November 26, 11:47 AM ET - US military admits it burned bodies. Well, we're still claiming the "hygienic reasons" thing, but four psyops guys are facing charges. As before, for immediate tactical advantage you sometimes screw up your larger strategic aim, which in this case might be to appear to be the good guys who bring civility and democracy and the rule of fair and dispassionate law to a land of chaos. Will the reprimand of four soldiers give us a mulligan here? Sorry about that. Our bad. Let's move on.

Case closed, maybe.

Of course, now the Brits have a bit of the same sort of problem, as reported in the Sunday Telegraph (UK) on November 27th - 'Trophy' video exposes private security contractors shooting up Iraqi drivers: "A 'trophy' video appearing to show security guards in Baghdad randomly shooting Iraqi civilians has sparked two investigations after it was posted on the internet, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal."

You see, the private contractors who help out in the war, for a lot of money, don't fall under anyone's jurisdiction actually. The video shows these guys randomly shooting civilians, just folks passing by, for giggles. The video uses an Elvis Presley thing for a soundtrack - Mystery Train. The company involved here is Aegis Defence Services, set up in 2002 by one Lieutenant Colonel Tim Spicer, a former Scots Guards officer, and we learn these folks were recently awarded a £220 million security contract in Iraq by the United States. Aegis helped with the collection of ballot papers in the country's recent referendum. Good guys? Aegis said this really wasn't their people - they have no idea who was randomly picking off civilians in the video. But then this Spicer fellow had a problem back in 1998 when his private military company, Sandlines International, was accused of breaking United Nations sanctions by selling arms to Sierra Leone. One wonders about them, and what they do for dun.

Well, someone was blowing off steam, and showing the video for laughs. The locals are rather angry. The British Foreign Office? - "Aegis have assured us that there is nothing on the video to suggest that it has anything to do with their company. This is now a matter for the American authorities because Aegis is under contract to the United States."

Will we do something, or pass this back to the Brits? Or will we say the new Iraqi government should bring charges? It's their country now. Aegis says it looks like them but it isn't their guys, the Brits say it's our problem. We will probably say it's the Iraqis' problem - our troops were not involved and, if a crime has been committed, let the new local legal system deal with it.

The video is here (Windows Media) or here (QuickTime) - via the media resource site Crooks and Liars.

Minor note. Aegis - the goatskin shield or breastplate of Zeus or Athena. Athena's shield carried at its center the head of Medusa. Athena was the goddess of wisdom, of course. Yeah, right.

Sunday, November 27th also brought us the tale of Colonel Ted Westhusing, in the Los Angeles Times, here, which they ran on the front page, upper left. This fellow was a West Point guy, very bright, one of the leading scholars in military ethics. Like all West Point guys he was big on honor and duty. The question posed is where he killed himself or was murdered when he uncovered a load of corruption and "human rights violations" (random killing again and torture and that sort of thing) by private contractors we have working for us in Iraq.

Key passage -
So it was only natural that Westhusing acted when he learned of possible corruption by U.S. contractors in Iraq. A few weeks before he died, Westhusing received an anonymous complaint that a private security company he oversaw had cheated the U.S. government and committed human rights violations. Westhusing confronted the contractor and reported the concerns to superiors, who launched an investigation.

Westhusing seemed especially upset by one conclusion he had reached: that traditional military values such as duty, honor and country had been replaced by profit motives in Iraq, where the U.S. had come to rely heavily on contractors for jobs once done by the military.
That's a curious conflict. Free enterprise and lack of regulation is supposed to be a good thing.

His suicide note?
"I cannot support a msn [mission] that leads to corruption, human rights abuse and liars. I am sullied. I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored.

Death before being dishonored any more.
Friends and family say this is crap. The guy was too bull-headed and single-minded in making things right to ever be suicidal. They go with the evidence the contractor bumped him off.

The Times reports the position of the military. Suicide. It comes down to the guy being too inflexible. They quote an Army psychologist explaining -
Westhusing had placed too much pressure on himself to succeed and that he was unusually rigid in his thinking. Westhusing struggled with the idea that monetary values could outweigh moral ones in war. This, she said, was a flaw.
Yep, you read that right. We take the position that the guy just didn't understand that sometimes profit matters more than doing the right thing. He should have lightened up.

Will our military contractors, our mercenaries for whom we accept no responsibility, be the topic of the week? Probably not.

Will this?

Ayad Allawi, formerly prime minister in the interim government of Iraq (his fifteen minutes of fame as the US-backed good guy, with a visit or two to the White House), drops this bomb in the British press -
In a damning and wide-ranging indictment of Iraq's escalating human rights catastrophe, Allawi accused fellow Shias in the government of being responsible for death squads and secret torture centres. The brutality of elements in the new security forces rivals that of Saddam's secret police, he said.

... 'We are hearing about secret police, secret bunkers where people are being interrogated,' he added. 'A lot of Iraqis are being tortured or killed in the course of interrogations. We are even witnessing Sharia courts based on Islamic law that are trying people and executing them.'

He said that immediate action was needed to dismantle militias that continue to operate with impunity. If nothing is done, 'the disease infecting [the Ministry of the Interior] will become contagious and spread to all ministries and structures of Iraq's government', he said.
Didn't Donald Rumsfeld say democracy was messy? Well, lots of lefty-loonies say we have made things worse - bringing back the terror of the Saddam regime (with different players this time) combined with little running water and no electricity in the major cities for large parts of each day, a strangled oil industry producing little funds for running things, roaming militias in army uniforms, or in the army, doing nasty things to old enemies, and so on. Now our guy, the former prime minister, is saying this? Drat. Time for Karl Rove to go after him.

On the other hand, as reported the Washington Post, you have Abdul Aziz Hakim, who heads the Shiite Muslim religious party that leads the current government, and who oversees the party's rather scary Badr Brigade ("death squads and secret torture centers" the specialty there), saying this is not so. He says we, the squeamish Americans, are keeping him from important work -
The leader of Iraq's most powerful political party has called on the United States to let Iraqi fighters take a more aggressive role against insurgents, saying his country will only be able to defeat the insurgency when the United States lets Iraqis get tough.

... Hakim gave few details of what getting tough would entail, other than making clear it would require more weapons, with more firepower, than the United States is currently supplying.

... In Iraq, "there are plans to confront terrorists, approved by security agencies, but the Americans reject that," Hakim said. "Because of that mistaken policy, we have lost a lot. One of the victims was my brother Mohammad Bakir, because of American policies."

"For instance, the ministries of Interior and Defense want to carry out some operations to clean out some areas" in Baghdad and around the country, including volatile Anbar province, in the west, he said.
Sounds like a Shiite civil or tribal war (they'll get around to "cleansing" the Sunnis later), and we're being asked to choose sides.

Which way will we go? Which Shiite faction will we support in eliminating the other? Decisions, decisions?

Then there's this, a rundown on investigative reporter Seymour Hersh's Sunday, November 27th appearance on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" discussing his latest New Yorker article "Up in the Air" - a chat providing a little more detail on the Bush administration's withdrawal proposal.

Yeah, you heard that right - White House Lays Foundation for US Troop Withdrawal, Sunday, November 27 - and they're saying that the plan is "remarkably similar" to a plan by Democratic senator Joe Biden, but they thought of it first, but this is not "cut and run." You see, things are going so well in getting the new Iraqi government up and running we've sort of, kind of won, or something.

So what was all that anger about that late Friday night with the witch-lady from Cincinnati calling the decorated Marine a coward and that forced vote to "stay the course" and all the rest? We're getting out anyway? This very odd.

But during the CNN interview Hersh said that although the Bush administration will probably withdraw US troops from the ground next year, that won't mean that will be the beginning of the end of the war. Not at all. Hersh has great sources in the military (in those Vietnam years he broke the story of the My Lai massacre) and says we will shift to an air war. We'll just let the guys in power there, whoever they are, tell us where to drop the bombs and let the chips fall where they may.

Of course the problem is obvious. We don't know why we're bombing this and that.
HERSH: It's the concern of a lot of people in the Pentagon. They'll tell you no, that they're going to be joint units. The Pentagon will officially say there's going to be joint units, Iraqi and Americans together. But eventually we know it will evolve into Iraqis calling in targets.

And it's not just spotting. We use a lot of sophisticated laser guided weapons and you have to have somebody on the ground to actually do a strike or illuminate a target with a laser beam for the plane to come in. And as I've had people in the Air Force say to me, what are we going to be bombing? Barracks? Hospitals? You know, who knows who's going to be telling us what to do?

BLITZER: So what you're hearing is that the U.S. air power, the U.S. Air Force, they're getting jittery even thinking about the fact that they may be called in to launch air strikes based on what they're getting from Iraqis on the ground.

HERSH: It is good to know there is a lot of ethics in the Air Force. There's a lot of guys that are, that drop the, they know the force of the weapons they have, and they don't want to be responsible for bombing the wrong targets. They don't want non-Americans telling them what to do. This is a real doctrinal issue that's being fought right now in the Pentagon.
But our guys will not be on the ground any longer. So what if we're asked to bomb some dude's cousin's wedding with a five hundred pound laser-guided thing because some uncle pissed him off?

Yeah, we get out and provide muscle for the Iraqi equivalent of the mob. We went to war for that? We lost over 2,100 of our guys to end up doing the bidding of folks with this grudge or that?

Great solution.

But it's not a "news" story. It's in the realm of "later" - where we might be soon.

In the realm of "now" there are other stories that might be good this week. There's that Abramoff scandal that might take down more than half of the Republican congressional leadership. That's cool. The links has all the names. Over in the UK the opposition party may do what Senator Pat Roberts' intelligence committee can't seem to get around to doing on this side of the pond - there, a full investigation of Blair's responsibility for manipulating questionable intelligence to con the Brit politicians into supporting this war. Here? More farting around. The other odd story - either a blip or something more - may be this from the Telegraph (UK), Bolton loses British backing for UN tactics. It seems Bolton suggested stopping all UN spending of any kind until there was real reform, shutting the place down, and even our best and truest ally decided that was madness. When you lose the Brits?

But will this week have more on Walter Pincus' Washington Post troubling scoop, Sunday, November 27, on the Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA?
The Defense Department has expanded its programs aimed at gathering and analyzing intelligence within the United States, creating new agencies, adding personnel and seeking additional legal authority for domestic security activities in the post-9/11 world.

The moves have taken place on several fronts. The White House is considering expanding the power of a little-known Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, which was created three years ago. The proposal, made by a presidential commission, would transform CIFA from an office that coordinates Pentagon security efforts - including protecting military facilities from attack - to one that also has authority to investigate crimes within the United States such as treason, foreign or terrorist sabotage or even economic espionage.

The Pentagon has pushed legislation on Capitol Hill that would create an intelligence exception to the Privacy Act, allowing the FBI and others to share information gathered about U.S. citizens with the Pentagon, CIA and other intelligence agencies, as long as the data is deemed to be related to foreign intelligence. Backers say the measure is needed to strengthen investigations into terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.
Why does that sound a little scary? Read a little into this and you'll see Harris Technical Services Corporation (HTSC) provides services to CIFA, as does Unisys, ISX and Sytex. All the branches of the armed services are involved too. The military hired the geeks to watch out for "treason, foreign or terrorist sabotage or even economic espionage."

Is the military supposed to do this? What about laws like laws like that Posse Comitatus business?
Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, said the data-sharing amendment would still give the Pentagon much greater access to the FBI's massive collection of data, including information on citizens not connected to terrorism or espionage.

The measure, she said, "removes one of the few existing privacy protections against the creation of secret dossiers on Americans by government intelligence agencies." She said the Pentagon's "intelligence agencies are quietly expanding their domestic presence without any public debate."
Who needs public debate? You have to trust the military, right?

You'll find a ton of supporting documentation here if you want to know more.

I see also CIFA has been reading at least two blogs - Jesus's General and Uncommon Thoughts. They report finding CIFA logons in the site statistics. Neither says nice things about the Bush administration, and they're pretty sarcastic. Treason? You never know. Time to check out the Just Above Sunset and As Seen from Just Above Sunset site meters. There are a lot of .MIL logons each week. May have to tone it down. Who would take care of Harriet-the-Cat if the editor has been "disappeared" as an enemy combatant? But the number of site visits each week is far too low for this to be a real worry.

Still, this is where we are these days. One should watch what one says.

And one might worry when that Hersh fellow adds this in his Sunday chat with Wolf Blitzer -
You know, Wolf, there is people I've been talking to - I've been a critic of the war very early in the New Yorker, and there were people talking to me in the last few months that have talked to me for four years that are suddenly saying something much more alarming.

They're beginning to talk about some of the things the president said to him about his feelings about manifest destiny, about a higher calling that he was talking about three, four years ago.

I don't want to sound like I'm off the wall here. But the issue is, is this president going to be capable of responding to reality? Is he going to be able - is he going to be capable if he going to get a bad assessment, is he going to accept it as a bad assessment or is he simply going to see it as something else that is just a little bit in the way as he marches on in his crusade that may not be judged for 10 or 20 years.

He talks about being judged in 20 years to his friends. And so it's a little alarming because that means that my and my colleagues in the press corps, we can't get to him maybe with our views. You and you can't get to him maybe with your interviews.

How do you get to a guy to convince him that perhaps he's not going the right way?

Jack Murtha certainly didn't do it. As I wrote, they were enraged at Murtha in the White House.

And so we have an election coming up - Yes. I've had people talk to me about maybe Congress is going to have to cut off the budget for this war if it gets to that point. I don't think they're ready to do it now.

But I'm talking about sort of a crisis of management. That you have a management that's seen by some of the people closely involved as not being able to function in terms of getting information it doesn't want to receive.
Blind at the top? On a mission from God and listening to no one?

Senator Urges Bush To Explain Iraq War, Sunday, November 27 - and that would be super Republican Warner of Virginia suggesting a series of FDR-style "fireside chats." Maybe Warner needs to rethink that.

We'll see what happens.

Posted by Alan at 21:53 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 27 November 2005 21:59 PST home

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