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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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Thursday, 19 October 2006
Beyond Kafka
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Beyond Kafka
Well, on Thursday, October 19, it became clear the Baghdad thing didn't work out -
The U.S. military acknowledged Thursday that its two-month drive to crush insurgent and militia violence in the Iraqi capital had fallen short, calling the raging bloodshed disheartening and saying it was rethinking its strategy to rein in gunmen, torturers and bombers.

The admission by military spokesman Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell came as car bombs, mortar fire and shootings around the country killed at least 66 people and wounded 175. The dead included the Anbar province police commander, slain by gunmen who burst into his home in Ramadi.

The U.S. military also announced the deaths of three U.S. troops in fighting, raising the toll for American troops in October to 74. The month is on course to be the deadliest for U.S. forces in nearly two years.
But while there may be some "rethinking the strategy," the word from the very top, and that's not the president, was tinker all you want, but keep throwing those warm bodies into the meat grinder -
Vice President Dick Cheney said the United States was not looking for a way out of Iraq. "I know what the president thinks. I know what I think. And we're not looking for an exit strategy. We're looking for victory," Cheney said in an interview posted on Time magazine's Web site Thursday.
Cheney was doing damage control, dealing with some unfortunate remarks from what he might as well have called a lily-livered fool. He seems to think these military guys just don't understand warfare. They have the wrong experience and come to the wrong conclusions. It was a bit of that "we sent a boy to do a man's job" thing - it just wasn't professional. Perhaps he avoided military service back in the Vietnam War days because he knew the services were filled with people who knew nothing about war, and serving under them would drive him crazy.

Anyway, Caldwell told reporters the joint effort with the Iraqis to just crush all the violence in the capital (no little irony there) - the operation that started back on 7 August - had not delivered "the desired results," as attacks in Baghdad rose twenty-two percent in the first three weeks of the holy month of Ramadan. He apparently decided it wouldn't be wise to say everything was fine, no matter what Cheney wanted. He decided reality had to be acknowledged - "In Baghdad, Operation Together Forward has made a difference in the focus areas but has not met our overall expectations in sustaining a reduction in the level of violence." And he added - "The violence is indeed disheartening."

He just about said that this isn't working. The New York Times headline was General Urges New Strategy for Baghdad, but this implied much more. The efforts in the city imply the efforts in the country. It wasn't very subtle. This isn't working.

So, General Caldwell said that the new security plan for Baghdad hasn't reduced violence there at all. And this was a model for how to get things done. Of course"the American military was working closely with the government of Iraq to determine how to best refocus our efforts." It seems "as they stand up, we stand down" - the central administration answer to when we wrap up this thing and boogie on home - needs a whole lot of work. Caldwell also pointed out that American troops had to return last week to Dora, a nasty southern Baghdad neighborhood that had been our "showcase" - it was one of the first areas to be cleared of the bad guys. We fixed that, moved on and left things to the Iraqi forces, and the bad guys were back. The plan seems to be crap.

So did William B. Caldwell just ruin his career by offending Cheney? Well, he tried to do his own damage control there. There was a new special reason things had gotten to bad - "We also realize that there is a midterm election that's taking place in the United States and that the extremist elements understand the power of the media; that if they can in fact produce additional casualties, that in fact is recognized and discussed in the press because everybody would like not to see anybody get killed in these operations, but that does occur."

Sentence structure aside - West Point doesn't exactly have the best English Department in the northeast - he just said what's going on is an effort by the bad guys to get Democrats elected in November. One can imagine Cheney grinning at those words. It's Dick and Karl and the Republicans up against the Islamic terrorists and Iraqi insurgents and the allies in the Democratic Party. This general can be useful.

There is of course the report from the Iraq Study Group - James Baker, Lee Hamilton and those guys - that will come out after the election. The "wise old men" - Baker was secretary of state for the president's father and the lawyer who managed the recount suit in 2000 that convinced the Supreme Court to give the son the presidency, stopping all vote recounts and in spite of the son losing the popular vote (the swing vote being Justice Scalia, appointed by the father) - were going to fix this problem too. But there had to be a problem, and Cheney doesn't think there is one. How could there be?

These guys were apparently going to say victory was not possible and there were two basic alternatives here - give up on a unified Iraq, divide it into three parts and let what happens just happen - and slowly drawn down and hang around the neighbor to go back in now and then to solve problems as the arise. Or maybe both could be done. The leaks had been carefully staged, to prepare the nation for the inevitable.

These "wise old men," like the general, are just stupid. Why does no one but Rove, Cheney and Rumsfeld know anything at all about war? The sound of the vice president grinding his teeth could be heard throughout the land, or more precisely this -
Awaiting the recommendations of a commission exploring U.S. options in Iraq, the White House on Wednesday emphatically ruled out some proposals to end the long and unpopular war.

Presidential spokesman Tony Snow said a suggestion to divide Iraq into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions, each with high degrees of autonomy, was a "nonstarter." Similarly, he said a phased withdrawal of American troops - perhaps by 5 percent every two months - also was a "nonstarter."

"You withdraw when you win," Snow said. "Phased withdrawal is a way of saying, 'Regardless of what the conditions are on the ground, we're going to get out of Dodge.'"
So that's that. The "plan" isn't working because the bad guys are just trying to mess up our election and get their friends, the Democrats, elected, and anyone who is suggesting alternative will be shut down - they're fools and cowards, and they know nothing.

So nothing will change. If he Democrats regain control of congress, if the "wise old men" do recommend these things, they all can just go pound sand. It's called resolve - being steadfast. Or you can call it other things. Many words come to mind.

But, bottom line, as they say, is that no one tells Dick Cheney what to do, unless someone does -
A federal judge has ordered the Bush administration to release information about who visited Vice President Dick Cheney's office and personal residence, an order that could spark a late election-season debate over lobbyists' White House access.

While researching the access lobbyists and others had on the White House, The Washington Post asked in June for two years of White House visitor logs. The Secret Service refused to process the request, which government attorneys called "a fishing expedition into the most sensitive details of the vice presidency."

U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina said Wednesday that, by the end of next week, the Secret Service must produce the records or at least identity them and justify why they are being withheld.
Cheney will also tell the court to go pound sand. The "unified executive" argument will save him - the courts and congress cannot tell the executive branch what to do. That's been the operating principle for the last six years. The courts may have told Nixon to turn over those Watergate tapes, but this administration has established that he was foolish to comply - there was no need. This should be interesting.

So nothing will change, and we will keep sending troops into the meat grinder, all but a few -
Thousands of U.S. troops are being barred from overseas duty because they are so deep in debt they are considered security risks, according to an Associated Press review of military records.

The number of troops held back has climbed dramatically in the past few years. And while they appear to represent a very small percentage of all U.S. military personnel, the increase is occurring at a time when the armed forces are stretched thin by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We cut their benefits and combat pay to teach them responsibility, and some couldn't handle it, it seems. As Cheney is no doubt thinking - "What's wrong with these people?"

Odd - it's all like some sort of bad novel about a banana republic run by characters lifted from a Woody Allen or Marx Brothers movie. It cannot be Kafka - it's too comically absurd for something that middle-European Czech sourpuss to crank out in his Prague garret.

But then the day, Thursday, October 19, wasn't all bad news, as there was this -
Gina Lollobrigida, once dubbed "the most beautiful woman in the world" after the title of one of her movies, is getting married to a man 34 years her junior.

"We wanted for this to happen sooner, but it just wasn't possible," Lollobrigida, 79, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Thursday, without elaborating.

Lollobrigida said she met her husband to be, Javier Rigau y Rafols of Barcelona, Spain, at a party in Monte Carlo and the two have been dating for 22 years.
Even Kafka couldn't come up with something that strange. That's well beyond the tale of the poor fellow who woke up to discover he was a cockroach. Javier Rigau y Rafols will wake up in a far stranger world.

Where we all are these days is in a world far beyond Kafka. Or maybe not.

There's Kafka's short novel The Trial - Josef K. wakes up one morning and, for reasons never revealed at all, is arrested and subjected to all the rigors of a very unsettling judicial process for an unspecified crime. He never finds out what his crime is. This thing has been filmed by Orson Welles, and there's a more recent remake, with the screenplay from Harold Pinter, no less. But as we say out here in Hollywood, who need movies when you have the real thing? (No one out here ever says that, of course)

But it does come down to this -
Once President Bush signed the new law on military tribunals, administration officials and Republican leaders in Congress wasted no time giving Americans a taste of the new order created by this unconstitutional act.

Within hours, Justice Department lawyers notified the federal courts that they no longer had the authority to hear pending lawsuits filed by attorneys on behalf of inmates of the penal camp at Guantánamo Bay. They cited passages in the bill that suspend the fundamental principle of habeas corpus, making Mr. Bush the first president since the Civil War to take that undemocratic step.

Not satisfied with having won the vote, Dennis Hastert, the speaker of the House, quickly issued a statement accusing Democrats who opposed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 of putting "their liberal agenda ahead of the security of America." He said the Democrats "would gingerly pamper the terrorists who plan to destroy innocent Americans' lives" and create "new rights for terrorists."

… While the Republicans pretend that this bill will make America safer, let's be clear about its real dangers. It sets up a separate system of justice for any foreigner whom Mr. Bush chooses to designate as an "illegal enemy combatant." It raises insurmountable obstacles for prisoners to challenge their detentions. It does not require the government to release prisoners who are not being charged, or a prisoner who is exonerated by the tribunals.

The law does not apply to American citizens, but it does apply to other legal United States residents. And it chips away at the foundations of the judicial system in ways that all Americans should find threatening. It further damages the nation's reputation and, by repudiating key protections of the Geneva Conventions, it needlessly increases the danger to any American soldier captured in battle.

In the short run, voters should see through the fog created by the Republican campaign machine. It will be up to the courts to repair the harm this law has done to the Constitution.
That's from the New York Times lead editorial for Thursday, October 19 - but they have it wrong in one detail. Most constitutional law experts read it more carefully - the president now has been given the option to declare any American citizen he decided is an "unlawful enemy combatant" and deny them any opportunity to prove they are not. That may not be a minor detail. Anyone so designated has no right to challenge this status, no right to one of these tribunals to figure out what's up - convening such is only an option if the president so chooses - and can be tried and convicted on evidence they may not be allowed to know, evidence obtained by "coercive techniques" that the rest of the world says is torture but we say isn't quite torture (the president has been given the option to decide on a case by case basis what is and what is not torture). This is Kafka territory.

But it's a little too abstract for most folks. The president is supposed to keep us safe so let him do his job - so the thinking goes. What does it matter?

There are a few voices in the wilderness screaming that this is madness. In the low-ratings wilderness of MSNBC cable news - those hapless souls far behind CNN and way, way behind Fox News - there is the astonishing Keith Olbermann, on fire about such things. But General Electric (GE), the corporation that owns NBC-Universal (and Universal Studios and Telemundo out here), which in turn owns MSNBC, is about to perform a mercy killing and disassemble MSNBC - they aren't making enough money.

But before GE - "We Bring Good Things to Life" - pulls the plug on this particular appliance, Olbermann is make the most of the last days. His midweek commentary (transcript here and video here or here) turned so heads.

Some of what he said -
We have lived as if in a trance.

We have lived as people in fear.

And now - our rights and our freedoms in peril - we slowly awaken to learn that we have been afraid of the wrong thing.

Therefore, tonight have we truly become the inheritors of our American legacy.

For, on this first full day that the Military Commissions Act is in force, we now face what our ancestors faced, at other times of exaggerated crisis and melodramatic fear-mongering:

A government more dangerous to our liberty, than is the enemy it claims to protect us from.

We have been here before - and we have been here before, led here by men better and wiser and nobler than George W. Bush.

We have been here when President John Adams insisted that the Alien and Sedition Acts were necessary to save American lives, only to watch him use those acts to jail newspaper editors.

American newspaper editors, in American jails, for things they wrote about America.

We have been here when President Woodrow Wilson insisted that the Espionage Act was necessary to save American lives, only to watch him use that Act to prosecute 2,000 Americans, especially those he disparaged as "Hyphenated Americans," most of whom were guilty only of advocating peace in a time of war.

American public speakers, in American jails, for things they said about America.

And we have been here when President Franklin D. Roosevelt insisted that Executive Order 9066 was necessary to save American lives, only to watch him use that order to imprison and pauperize 110,000 Americans while his man in charge, General DeWitt, told Congress: "It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen - he is still a Japanese."

American citizens, in American camps, for something they neither wrote nor said nor did, but for the choices they or their ancestors had made about coming to America.

Each of these actions was undertaken for the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.

… In times of fright, we have been only human.

We have let Roosevelt's "fear of fear itself" overtake us.

We have listened to the little voice inside that has said, "The wolf is at the door; this will be temporary; this will be precise; this too shall pass."

We have accepted that the only way to stop the terrorists is to let the government become just a little bit like the terrorists.

… We have a long and painful history of ignoring the prophecy attributed to Benjamin Franklin that "those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

But even within this history we have not before codified the poisoning of habeas corpus, that wellspring of protection from which all essential liberties flow.

You, sir, have now befouled that spring.

You, sir, have now given us chaos and called it order.

You, sir, have now imposed subjugation and called it freedom.

For the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.

And - again, Mr. Bush - all of them, wrong.

We have handed a blank check drawn against our freedom to a man who has said it is unacceptable to compare anything this country has ever done to anything the terrorists have ever done.

We have handed a blank check drawn against our freedom to a man who has insisted again that "the United States does not torture. It's against our laws and it's against our values" and who has said it with a straight face while the pictures from Abu Ghraib Prison and the stories of Waterboarding figuratively fade in and out, around him.

We have handed a blank check drawn against our freedom to a man who may now, if he so decides, declare not merely any non-American citizens "unlawful enemy combatants" and ship them somewhere -anywhere - but may now, if he so decides, declare you an "unlawful enemy combatant" and ship you somewhere - anywhere.

And if you think this hyperbole or hysteria, ask the newspaper editors when John Adams was president or the pacifists when Woodrow Wilson was president or the Japanese at Manzanar when Franklin Roosevelt was president.

And if you somehow think habeas corpus has not been suspended for American citizens but only for everybody else, ask yourself this: If you are pulled off the street tomorrow, and they call you an alien or an undocumented immigrant or an "unlawful enemy combatant" - exactly how are you going to convince them to give you a court hearing to prove you are not? Do you think this attorney general is going to help you?

This President now has his blank check.

He lied to get it.

He lied as he received it.

Is there any reason to even hope he has not lied about how he intends to use it nor who he intends to use it against?

"These military commissions will provide a fair trial," you told us yesterday, Mr. Bush, "in which the accused are presumed innocent, have access to an attorney and can hear all the evidence against them."

"Presumed innocent," Mr. Bush?

The very piece of paper you signed as you said that, allows for the detainees to be abused up to the point just before they sustain "serious mental and physical trauma" in the hope of getting them to incriminate themselves, and may no longer even invoke The Geneva Conventions in their own defense.

"Access to an attorney," Mr. Bush?

Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift said on this program, Sir, and to the Supreme Court, that he was only granted access to his detainee defendant on the promise that the detainee would plead guilty.

"Hearing all the evidence," Mr. Bush?

The Military Commissions Act specifically permits the introduction of classified evidence not made available to the defense.

Your words are lies, Sir.

… Habeas corpus? Gone.

The Geneva Conventions? Optional.

The moral force we shined outwards to the world as an eternal beacon, and inwards at ourselves as an eternal protection? Snuffed out.

These things you have done, Mr. Bush, they would be "the beginning of the end of America."

And did it even occur to you once, sir - somewhere in amidst those eight separate, gruesome, intentional, terroristic invocations of the horrors of 9/11 - that with only a little further shift in this world we now know -just a touch more repudiation of all of that for which our patriots died - did it ever occur to you once that in just 27 months and two days from now when you leave office, some irresponsible future president and a "competent tribunal" of lackeys would be entitled, by the actions of your own hand, to declare the status of "unlawful enemy combatant" for - and convene a Military Commission to try - not John Walker Lindh, but George Walker Bush?

For the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.

And doubtless, Sir, all of them - as always -wrong.
You can click on the links and read it all, the elided detail, but you get the idea. The style may be over the top, but what he's getting at isn't.

Readers react - the high-powered Wall Street Attorney whose photos sometimes appear in these pages, and who studied constitutional law under Peter Rodino of Watergate fame -
This doesn't seem over the top to me, nor would it seem over the top to Peter Rodino.

Because there are so few in the media speaking out against Bush, those who do so must do so loudly.
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
Actually, I don't think Olbermann is really over the top, not in general and not in this piece. I not only totally agree with what he says but also share his anger and apparent frustration that not enough attention is being paid to what this man is doing to the country. (Still, I do wish he'd stop punctuating his sentences with the word "Sir" - it reminds me too much of a state trooper asking to see my license and registration.)

In regards to the frustration mentioned above, it knocked me backwards the other day when I heard on NPR a soundbite from a woman in Missouri who, explaining why she plans on voting Republican this year, said she didn't want to see any terrorist having the same freedoms she has, on account of he wants to kill her just because she's a Christian! It's been paraphrased before but needs to be paraphrased again, that our problem is not just in our leaders, it is mostly in ourselves.

Yeah, I know the problems with this, but every now and then I toy with the idea that some sort of standardized historical literacy test - covering the kind of material found in a course on the founding of the United States and the adoption of its constitution - needs to be passed before a person is allowed to register to vote - and of course, also to run for public office.
Nope, literacy tests and such are illegal. They can be abused, however useful they might be. But it is a thought. And we really did bring this on ourselves.

From Wall Street - "Regarding the use of the word 'Sir' - I hear it differently. I think implied are the two words missing prior to 'Sir' which would be F- You."

From Atlanta - "No, no, that's the way I hear it, too! Although in my mind's eye, it's coming through the window of my car.

From our musician-mason-photographer Phillip Raines -
"Sir" could have been code for simply-idiotic-Republican, but I think it was recognizing the respect of the office. As far as theater goes it was a punctuation device, but Olbermann still rates as a B+ speaker in my humble opinion even though I agree with what he says. The vapors of testosterone hang heavy with this rant, but Bush and his "knuck when you buck" posturing toward the press is more pervasive and low brow. I'll be interested in how Keith is silenced. Maybe by a dirty bomb at a football game.
Nope, it'll be the budget cuts and reorganization that does him in.

And perhaps Olbermann knew his rant would be seen as a bit much. He is a former sportscaster and a bit of an oddball. On the same show he tried to counter that with someone who isn't either - Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University, and that interview added the substance behind the angry words - 
OLBERMANN: I want to start by asking you about a specific part of this act that lists one of the definitions of an unlawful enemy combatant as, quote, "a person who, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a combatant status review tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the president or the secretary of defense." Does that not basically mean that if Mr. Bush or Mr. Rumsfeld say so, anybody in this country, citizen or not, innocent or not, can end up being an unlawful enemy combatant?

TURLEY: It certainly does. In fact, later on, it says that if you even give material support to an organization that the president deems connected to one of these groups, you too can be an enemy combatant. And the fact that he appoints this tribunal is meaningless. You know, standing behind him at the signing ceremony was his attorney general, who signed a memo that said that you could torture people, that you could do harm to them to the point of organ failure or death. So if he appoints someone like that to be attorney general, you can imagine who he's going be putting on this board.

OLBERMANN: Does this mean that under this law, ultimately the only thing keeping you, I, or the viewer out of Gitmo is the sanity and honesty of the president of the United States?

TURLEY: It does. And it's a huge sea change for our democracy. The framers created a system where we did not have to rely on the good graces or good mood of the president. In fact, Madison said that he created a system essentially to be run by devils, where they could not do harm, because we didn't rely on their good motivations. Now we must. And people have no idea how significant this is. What, really, a time of shame this is for the American system. What the Congress did and what the president signed today essentially revokes over 200 years of American principles and values. It couldn't be more significant. And the strange thing is, we've become sort of constitutional couch potatoes. I mean, the Congress just gave the president despotic powers, and you could hear the yawn across the country as people turned to, you know, "Dancing with the Stars." I mean, it's otherworldly.

OLBERMANN: Is there one defense against this, the legal challenges against particularly the suspension or elimination of habeas corpus from the equation? And where do they stand, and how likely are they to overturn this action today?

TURLEY: Well, you know what? I think people are fooling themselves if they believe that the courts will once again stop this president from taking over - taking almost absolute power. It basically comes down to a single vote on the Supreme Court, Justice Kennedy. And he indicated that if Congress gave the president these types of powers, that he might go along. And so we may have, in this country, some type of über-president, some absolute ruler, and it'll be up to him who gets put away as an enemy combatant, held without trial. It's something that no one thought - certainly I didn't think - was possible in the United States. And I am not too sure how we got to this point. But people clearly don't realize what a fundamental change it is about who we are as a country. What happened today changed us. And I'm not too sure we're going to change back anytime soon.

OLBERMANN: The president reiterated today the United States does not torture. Does this law actually guarantee anything like that?

TURLEY: That's actually when I turned off my TV set, because I couldn't believe it. You know, the United States has engaged in torture. And the whole world community has denounced the views of this administration, its early views that the president could order torture, could cause injury up to organ failure or death. The administration has already established that it has engaged in things like waterboarding, which is not just torture. We prosecuted people after World War II for waterboarding prisoners. We treated it as a war crime. And my God, what a change of fate, where we are now embracing the very thing that we once prosecuted people for. Who are we now? I know who we were then. But when the president said that we don't torture, that was, frankly, when I had to turn off my TV set.

TURLEY: Well, this is going to go down in history as one of our greatest self-inflicted wounds. And I think you can feel the judgment of history. It won't be kind to President Bush. But frankly, I don't think that it will be kind to the rest of us. I think that history will ask, where were you? What did you do when this thing was signed into law? There were people that protested the Japanese concentration camps, there were people that protested these other acts. But we are strangely silent in this national yawn as our rights evaporate.
Turley and Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, seem to agree. We did it to ourselves.

Now what?

Kafka never finished The Trial - it was never meant to be published (the manuscript was rescued after his death by his friend Max Brod and published in 1925). But we have to finish this one. What will it be? What sort of ending will we choose?

This does not appear to be a movie. It's quite real.

Posted by Alan at 23:06 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 19 October 2006 23:25 PDT home

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