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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 24 April 2006
The Great Unraveling, or Something
Topic: In these times...

The Great Unraveling, or Something

Looking back on Monday, April 24, 2006, it might be possible to see the political system in place disintegrating. The administration has about a thousand more days in office, and no one knows quite how those days will play out. Maybe this happens in the middle of every second term. Decisions were made in the first six years and the implications of those decisions cannot be glossed over or spun as "not as bad as they seem" forever. The mood of the country is sour, and those who have run the joint for the last six years are increasing seen as somewhere between incompetent and bat-shit crazy by increasing numbers of people.

The clock ran out on any number of things, and long before the mid-term elections, when angry voters may change the House and Senate from majority Republican to majority Democratic, and with those bodies no longer controlled by the party of the administration things could get really ugly. There'll be some explaining to do, after six years of a free ride where the administration "got the benefit of the doubt" or just unquestioning approval born of loyalty, and the puzzled and alarmed were told they were the usual - that they were unhinged by irrational personal hatred of a great man they just didn't understand because of their elitist, intellectual way of looking at things, or that they wee unpatriotic, if not treasonous, for raising issues in dangerous times. The puzzled and alarmed could say, all they wanted, that, no, it wasn't "the man" really, it was the decisions, the policies and the responses to events that were dangerous. It didn't matter. Such talk was dismissed with a patronizing shrug, or attacked as something like treason, as any questioning of any of all that, even minor tax policy, was letting "the enemy" know we weren't united behind our leaders.

But you can only ride that pony so far. As the war in Iraq seemed to be worse than pointless as it entered its fourth year, and although the stock market was healthy, and corporations, for the most part, making fine profits, real income for most had declined for four years straight, costs had risen, particularly for healthcare and health insurance (now forty-five million don't have any at all), and then, with all the talk that maybe we should launch a preventive war with Iran, maybe using nuclear weapons, to keep them from developing their own nuclear weapons in eight or ten years, the price of crude oil jumped to record levels, and thus the price of gasoline, as that neared four dollars a gallon, the simmering resentment rose too.

There is some explaining to do. And if the Republicans lose the House or Senate, or both, then the current implicit administration position - "we don't have to explain anything to anyone, and you have no right to ask questions" - becomes impossible. Subpoena power is nasty. When confronted with the many calls from recently retired top generals for the Secretary of Defense to be replaced, the president simply said, "I'm the decider." Case closed. He stays. No real substance, no reasons he's the right man. Not open to discussion. Since the start of the administration six years ago, with Vice President Cheney formulating energy policy, and perhaps foreign policy too, with the heads of the oil industry in secret meetings, it's always been this way. Heck, the Supreme Court decided Americans had no right to know what went on in those meetings, in a decision where the key vote was that of Antonin Scalia, who went duck hunting with Cheney the weekend before the oral arguments. Now Scalia says "his proudest" moment on the court was refusing to recuse himself on that matter (you could look it up). Maybe those "we don't explain, we do" days will be gone.

November is, of course, a political lifetime away. Many things could happen to reverse the mood of the country. Would a war with Iran rally everyone behind the administration, if they make a convincing case we just had to drop some nukes on them, given what they might do sometime in the next decade? After Iraq and the weapons of mass destruction that weren't there? It's a long shot that that would work, but it may be the only thing to do to recover from the current mess. Nothing to lose, after all.

And things keep happening that shouldn't have happened before Election Day in November.

The political week started Sunday evening, not Monday morning, with the former head of covert CIA operations in Europe telling "60 Minutes" that the Bush administration had "politicized and cherry-picked" intelligence on Iraq (see CBS's excerpts here for details). Tyler Drumheller has turned Naji Sabri, Iraq's Foreign Minister, and got him working as a CIA asset. Drumheller informed George Tenet, the head of the CIA. Tenet told Bush, Cheney and Condoleezza Rice. They were thrilled. They wanted to know what this Sabri fellow had to say. But they were told Sabri said that Iraq did not, in fact, have any active WMD programs. None. Nothing there. But it was too late. The administration had already decided Saddam Hussein had to go, and, one assumes, decided that no one would ever find out that what they were saying was the reason we had to go was just not so, or wouldn't find out until it was too late. Well, three years later it is too late.

This is an historical footnote. It doesn't much matter now. They fooled us all but good, and there's something to say for that, although just what that is depends on your political leanings. As for the "benefit of the doubt" element, see Josh Marshall here - he interviews Tyler Drumheller after the "60 Minutes" show and asks about the big post-war effort to blame the whole thing on the intelligence community, the commissions and all. They interviewed Drumheller. He told them just what he told "60 Minutes" - more than three hours of testimony in front of them all. They seem to have decided this was not worth a mention, and one assumes the Republicans on the committee in question felt revealing this would embarrass their side, and the Democrats knew that harping on this would make them look unpatriotic or something or other. Interesting, but ancient history.

But it does leave the general public feeling a bit like the rube at the carnival tricked in front of everybody, bitter and embarrassed for getting suckered. And unfortunately Tyler Drumheller didn't have the decency, or feel it was his patriotic duty, to keep quiet until November - or alternatively, CBS didn't sit on this story until after the November election because they have it out for Bush and the Republicans. There they go, those lefties, subtly trying to influence the upcoming election with such things.

But it's history. What's done is done.

But it must be irritating for the White House. And making things worse was Osama bin Laden. Yeah, we were going to get him "dead or alive." We didn't. So what? So much else is going on everyday that at one point the president even said he didn't matter - "I really don't think about him much." We weren't supposed to think about him much, either. But the week opened with a new tape from him - he doesn't much like our "Zionist-crusader war on Islam" and is urging militants to fight in Sudan, and calls for attacks on civilians in the west, as they elected those waging war on Islam. Odd, it hardly seems that the Islamic government in Sudan needs much help in driving out the whole population of Darfur from the western edge of Sudan and starving the hundreds of thousands they haven't yet killed (see this).

But these calls for new attacks? There was a general shrug - there he goes again. Then there was this -
Three nearly simultaneous bombings hit an Egyptian beach resort popular with foreigners Monday, killing at least 23 people on streets filled with vacationers and Egyptians marking the beginning of spring.

The bombers struck the Sinai seaside city of Dahab in the early evening along a crowded promenade of shops, restaurants and bars. Interior Minister Habib el-Adly said those killed included 20 Egyptians and three foreigners. Sixty-two people were wounded.

The explosions came a day after Osama bin Laden issued a call to arms to Muslims to support al-Qaida in fighting what he calls a war against Islam.
Osama bin Laden couldn't wait until November?

This is not helpful, politically. And the same day another retired general says Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, has to go (see who here). That makes eight. And he says it on Fox News, of all places.

That was the day after the first major newspaper in America calls for the president to dump Vice President Cheney. That would be the Los Angeles Times here, as they see it is one way to save things, after dumping Rumsfeld, "not because he has been criticized by a group of retired generals but because he embodies the smugness and inability to acknowledge error that has characterized both the Iraq war and the wider war on terrorism."

Yeah, that. But they say it's time to be even more "bold" and "audacious" - and of course "throwing Cheney overboard would be an implicit repudiation of the excessively hawkish foreign policy with which the vice president, even more than Rumsfeld, has been associated."

The president knows he should -
The truth is that the president, however grudgingly, has recognized that he and the administration made mistakes in the run-up to the war in Iraq and in its aftermath. He has not confessed that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, but he has acknowledged with increasing explicitness that he was wrong to believe that Saddam Hussein harbored weapons of mass destruction.

No longer proclaiming "mission accomplished," Bush has been pursuing a sadder-but-wiser policy in Iraq that many Democrats also endorse. It involves ramping up the training of Iraqi troops to take over from U.S. forces while leaning on Iraq's feuding sects to join, however unenthusiastically, in a government of national unity.

Having changed his tune, the president should also think about changing the company he keeps - big time, as Dick Cheney would say.
Of course, Cheney will never allow the president to do this, but it is odd to have a major paper call for the resignation or dismissal of a duly elected official. You don't see that very often. And irritating for the White House.

But it seems we're going to have a government in Iraq, and that should shut up some of the critics, except the new man finally selected to lead Iraq seems to think would be a good idea to take all the roaming militias and death squads and incorporate them into the armed forces (see this) - as if we'd fix the gang problems out here in Los Angeles by having all the Bloods and Crips and such join the Los Angeles Police Department.

As for how the war is going otherwise, along with the daily deaths of our guys, two or three a day, and the usual Baghdad bombings and thirty or so locals dead each day from those, or just showing up shot in the head and dumped in an alley, there was this - joint US-Iraqi inspections of detention centers continue to reveal "signs of torture," particularly at the Ministry of Interior. It seems the Shiites now in power, or in the majority in government for the first time in many decades, tend to get a little carried away in their political discourse. And that's not a good sign. On the other hand, this is - our top commander in Iraq changes the rules governing privatized military support operations after confirming cases of "human trafficking." Subcontracting services can be such a bother, and kidnapping to build a workforce and keeping them in what amounts to slavery reflects badly upon your skills in vendor management.

But do people really care what's happening in Iraq? Yes and no. There was that Gallup poll the week before showing that Americans' biggest concerns are Iraq, immigration and the price of gas. So if things are going to get better for the administration, and there will be this wonderful "reenergizing" of the Bush presidency and the American people will come around, there will be a serious rethinking of the war, and real leadership on immigration and on the gas prices.

Maybe. Maybe not. There's not much more the administration can with Iraq, as events on the ground are "not in the control" of the White House, and all the levers have been pulled. And gasoline prices cannot be controlled by much of anything the administration does, although blustering about bombing Iran if they continue being pesky does tend to drive prices up, and that could be toned down, even if it's politically useful not to tone it down. The best that can be done is this - "President George W. Bush, alarmed by a spike in gas prices at the pump, has asked the Departments of Energy and Justice to look into possible cheating or manipulation of gasoline markets, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said on Monday." The Democrats had been urging this, so the Senate and House majority leaders, Frist and Hastert, said it was their idea and sent a letter to the White House, and the president says it was his idea. Whatever. Nothing will come of it. But it's a nice gesture.

As for immigration, the president was out here Monday the 24th, speaking down in Irvine (see this) - pleasing no one. His party in the House wants to build a big wall at the Mexican border and make being here without papers an aggravated felony. His party in the Senate wants to allow those without papers to pay a fine and jump though some hoops to "earn" citizenship. No one is compromising and he's stuck, and favoring the latter, but his "base" is furious.

The result, a major poll released after he spoke, from polling the previous week, ending Friday - "President Bush's approval ratings have sunk to a personal low, with only a third of Americans saying they approve of the way he is handling his job, a national poll released Monday said." Thirty-two percent approval, sixty percent disapproval - the worst ever. And that was before gas hit four dollars a gallon at some places out here. We're talking trouble.

But he has a new chief of staff, Josh Bolten, replacing Andrew Card, shaking things up, and according to Time Magazine, Bolten has a recovery plan.

The best summary of that is from Tim Grieve here -
The plan: Seek more money for immigration enforcement, then pose for lots of pictures with new agents in uniforms. Put smiles on the faces of Wall Street pundits by pushing through extensions of tax cuts for stock dividends and capital gains. Talk more about the Medicare prescription drug benefit, the stock market and the economy generally. Talk more with the press. Talk tough with Iran.

If you didn't see anything about Iraq or the price of gas in there, well, you didn't. The administration apparently hopes that happy talk from happy talking heads who are happy about tax cuts will make Americans forget that they're paying three bucks a gallon at the pump. As for Iraq? It's there only by implication. In a sign that the bubble may be a whole lot thicker than we thought, Time says Bush's advisors think Bush can recapture the national security credibility he lost in Iraq by turning up the pressure on Iran.

Out here in the reality-based world, we think that the opposite is true: Every time we hear the Bush administration warn about the threat Iran poses, we remember the similar threats the Bush administration made about Iraq. But the Bolten plan isn't about us; it's about the base, the third of the country that still approves of the way the president is handling Iraq, the people who still believe - every new revelation notwithstanding - that Bush told the truth then and can be trusted to tell it again now.
And there's another good summary here, but it's all the same - change next to nothing, but talk more about how you're right about everything. It's not the product, it's the PR. Right. Maybe they'll send out Karen Hughes to visit gas stations to tell folks, as the pump up, that things are fine. Or she could bring cookie to people reading the eviction notice or waiting, uninsured in the emergency room, or visit the families of dead soldiers and say pleasant things about the weather.

Bah. This really is unraveling.


Bonus items:


"What are the fed smoking?" asks a Scientific American blog post about the FDA's statement reaffirming its opposition to medical marijuana, which reportedly "directly contradicts" a 1999 review by the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine.

These guys don't do science. They remember Reefer Madness.

Last week, Tommy Chong at a convention in San Francisco, with this -
"I know Dick Cheney's Secret Service guys smoke pot," Chong said. "The reason I know that is I sold them bongs."
Ha. The whole speech is here (an audio mp3 file). It's amusing.

Also this -

That woman who was fired by the CIA because she leaked classified information to a reporter about our secret overseas prisons and our rendition practices? That was discussed in these pages here - Dana Priest of the Washington Post wins a Pulitzer for investigative reporting, digging in and letting the American public know what is secretly being done in our name with our tax dollars, disappearing people forever in a chain of secret foreign prisons - no charges or chance to dispute the reason for removing them from life for life, with "enhanced interrogation" or whatever you choose to call waterboarding, beatings and carefully planned humiliation - and often people we find out did nothing and know nothing and were grabbed by mistake or misplaced enthusiasm, like the useless German fellow we later dumped in the woods in the Balkans who wants to sue us. It seems some think it was good reporting to uncover this, as it violates any number of treaties we recognize and thus have the force of law, and contradicts what the administrations has said publicly. Some think it was not good reporting, but rather something like treason. And the leaker got fired.

Since then, someone who worked for her, Larry Johnson thinks the firing of his former boss Mary McCarthy "smells a little fishy."

Then it gets real odd. The woman "categorically" denies she was the source of the leak about the secret CIA detention and torture camps in Eastern Europe. She says she passed the lie detector test for that part. They fired her for having social contact with the press, or because she was a Democrat, and the new head of the CIA, Porter Goss, is a former Republican congressman and he's been purging the CIA of anyone who isn't a conservative Bush supporter, no matter what their skills or accomplishments.

See Newsday, November 2004, with this -
The White House has ordered the new CIA director, Porter Goss, to purge the agency of officers believed to have been disloyal to President George W. Bush or of leaking damaging information to the media about the conduct of the Iraq war and the hunt for Osama bin Laden, according to knowledgeable sources. "The agency is being purged on instructions from the White House," said a former senior CIA official who maintains close ties to both the agency and to the White House. "Goss was given instructions ... to get rid of those soft leakers and liberal Democrats. The CIA is looked on by the White House as a hotbed of liberals and people who have been obstructing the president's agenda."
Just following orders.

Newsweek breaks the currnet story, and adds -
A counter-terrorism official acknowledged to NEWSWEEK today that in firing McCarthy, the CIA was not necessarily accusing her of being the principal, original, or sole leaker of any particular story. Intelligence officials privately acknowledge that key news stories about secret agency prison and "rendition" operations have been based, at least in part, upon information available from unclassified sources.
Oh. And CNN adds this - "A U.S. official told CNN on Monday that the CIA officer fired for leaking classified information was accused of a 'pattern of behavior,' including multiple contacts with more than one reporter."

The woman had tendered her resignation and was fired one week before her final day. This is very odd.

Of course it's not as odd as what one UCLA professor, for the fun of it, collects here - all the right-wing blogs and radio shows saying there were no secret prisons, none at all. It was just a ruse to trap CIA folks who like to leak information to make Bush and his administration look bad. They made it all up to trap people like this woman.


Not this from conservative Andrew Sullivan -
It is against the law for CIA officials to be leaking extremely classified information - especially information as sensitive as secret detention facilities. But all these comments seem to me to have ignored the critical and unmissable context. Yes, leaking is against the law. But what if the leaker is exposing something as grave as illegal torture? Isn't that when a leak becomes the blowing of a whistle? Wouldn't you want law-abiding officials within the CIA to do something if their own government is breaking American law, violating treaty obligations, breaking the law of other countries - and using the secrecy of the executive branch to conceal it?

Recall the story McCarthy is accused of leaking. ... It just won the Pulitzer Prize, and it richly deserved to. What Dana Priest reported was that the Bush administration had taken over former Soviet camps in Eastern Europe and adapted them to abuse and torture terror suspects. The detainees' innocence or guilt was never verified by anything approaching due process. For me, it represented the quintessence of Bush's betrayal of Reagan. Ronald Reagan helped liberate Eastern Europe from Communist tyranny. He wielded the moral authority of freedom and tore down the walls of Communism, a system where people could be detained without trial, "disappeared", and tortured. In an inversion as hideous as at Abu Ghraib, Bush's CIA was twisted into a reflection of our former enemy.

Many, many people in the military and CIA are in close-to-open revolt against these policies; many, many more have been placed in morally excruciating positions: they have been forced to choose between loyalty to their country and their conscience. They hate what this president has made them do: every fiber of their being as Americans and as moral individuals rebels against it. This doesn't necessarily excuse McCarthy legally. If she is guilty as charged, she probably should have quit first, disclosed all she knew and faced the legal consequences. But when the government itself breaks the law, when it violates ancient moral standards that Americans have fought and died for, sometimes people within the government have to stand up and be counted.

McCarthy may well be one of those people. And, if that's true, I have a feeling that history will be much kinder to her than to her hyper-ventilating critics.
Of these many, many people in the military and CIA are in close-to-open revolt against these policies, and the generals, much is going around. The change may not come in November in the elections. There may be a revolt, a revolution led by the decent, sensible people. Who needs a left-leaning opposition bloc when you have people of common sense? Thomas Paine was onto something.

Posted by Alan at 23:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 25 April 2006 14:13 PDT home

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