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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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Friday, 19 August 2005

Topic: For policy wonks...

Wrap-Up: This is the way the world ends - not with a bang but a whimper -

This fizzled out at the end of the week. Reread Eliot The Hollow Men (1925). Cindy Sheehan left Crawford, Texas, Thursday, to deal with a family emergency - she and her sister flew into LAX and then traveled down the way to Hawaiian Gardens, inland, south of Los Angeles, to be with her seventy-four-year-old mother who suffered a stroke. The bare-bones from CNN:
Sheehan said she and her sister were going to Los Angeles "to assess the situation" but that her supporters will continue her protest outside Bush's Texas home.

"If I can, I'll be back. If I can't, I won't be back. But I will be back as soon as possible," Sheehan told reporters outside "Camp Casey," the protest site named for her son.
It somehow seems unlikely the momentum of the thing will continue.

Digby puts it succinctly:
Without her, the protest becomes something different, less compelling and less meaningful. What a shame.

But it was very worthwhile. The questions about Iraq have crystallized for a lot of people who up until now just felt vaguely uncomfortable. The press has been forced to see the anti-war sentiment that has clearly been showing up in the polls in human terms. And Democrats and others have been able to connect with one another in a personal and meaningful way for the first time in a long time. That is not something that we should ever underrate. People need to feel part of things; they need to be allowed to be human. Cindy Sheehan and her protest gave a vast, frustrated and near hopeless number of Americans something to believe in. Let's hope it changed the zeitgeist for good.
Did it?

James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal's "Opinion Journal: Best of the Web," Friday, August 19, says it's all over for the Most Hated Woman in America:
Our confidence in the evanescence of Sheehanoia looks to have been well founded. Cindy Crawford - sorry, Sheehan - left Crawford, Texas, yesterday …

We're guessing Sheehan won't come back, and even if she does, who cares? Cindy's here! Cindy's gone! Cindy's back! Fenton Communications, the left-wing PR firm that has been flogging the Sheehan story, put out a press release this morning titled "Cindy Sheehan Requests Privacy." Although this request reflects not a small amount of chutzpah, it's likely that the press will comply. Reporters can't possibly be both bored enough and creative enough to keep this story going.

Mrs. Sheehan has been through a lot in the past year and a half: the loss of her son, the collapse of her marriage, a two-week stint as the Most Hated Woman in America, and now her mother's serious illness. Any of these on its own would be highly stressful, but all four together have got to be brutal. That the second and third items on the list resulted from her own actions makes it clear that Mrs. Sheehan does not cope well with emotional difficulty. We hope she gets whatever help she needs to achieve some semblance of balance. …

What lasting effect will Sheehanoia have on American politics? Not much, it seems safe to say. A Rasmussen Reports poll suggests that she didn't change many minds…

The whole kerfuffle was, however, informative in some ways. For one, it reveals that very few people on the antiwar left have any compunction at all about making common cause with someone who espouses virulent anti-American and anti-Semitic views. For another, it showed something we've long suspected: that some on the left - and not just the America-hating fringe - want America to lose this war.
Is that what she wants? In that what those who question Bush want?

No, and a discussion of that whole concept filled the web logs at the end of the week.

Kevin Drum notes a whole lot of Democrats saying "failure is not an option" - but we have to do things differently - with this:
… if you do believe we can win in Iraq, let's hear what you mean by "win" and how you think we can do it, and let's hear it in clear and compelling declarative sentences. "Stay the course" isn't enough. What Bush is doing now obviously isn't working, so what would you do that's significantly different?

Conversely, if you don't believe we can win in Iraq, and you're only suggesting we stay there because you can't stand the thought of "looking weak," then your moral compass needs some serious adjustment."
And this:
The insurgency is not going to give up, the Army doesn't seem to have any kind of consistent commitment to using counterinsurgency techniques against it, we don't know for sure that they'd work anyway, and let's face it: the track record of major powers beating large-scale overseas insurgencies is close to zero in the past half century.
So, now what?

Digby here:
The neocons are convinced that everything from the rise of terrorism to male pattern baldness is the result of looking weak. They have been very explicit in their view that American presidents Reagan and Clinton both made terrible mistakes by withdrawing from Lebanon and Somalia. It is a fundamental part of their threat analysis.

Likewise, Bin Laden credits the mujahadeen running the Russians out of Afghanistan as precipitating the destruction of the Soviet super power. There are undoubtedly many of his followers who think that the insurgency running the US out of Iraq would accomplish the same thing, which is, of course, ridiculous. But providing bin Laden with the opportunity to declare "victory" is enough to give the neocons apoplexy.

I don't happen to think we should make decisions based upon what bin Laden thinks about anything. We have provided him with plenty of recruiting material by invading Iraq - there is little margin in worrying about whether withdrawal will result in bin Laden taking a victory lap. (How ironic it would be, too, considering that it was Bush who created a fictitious connection between al Qaeda and Iraq in the first place.) The neocons worry incessantly about this. It's almost as if they share the Japanese obsession with "face" and they will do almost anything to save it. They will fight withdrawal with every breath in their bodies.
Then, curiously, this:
There is no real way to win in Iraq with or without George Bush and his staff. But there are different ways of losing. He is not going to stand for a complete withdrawal, timed or otherwise. They aren't leaving. The military is forcing them to draw down, and they probably will for practical and domestic political reasons. But they will not just pick up and leave, which means that the perception of American occupation - and certainly the perception of American involvement in the government - will continue. And, of course, the civil war that is developing will also continue. I cannot realistically see another scenario developing.

That's the real world we are living in until 2008. The Bush administration will watch Iraq turn into the ninth circle of hell before they will completely withdraw. So, Kevin's challenge to Democrats to come up with a better plan is actually a political challenge. They can try to put pressure on the government, but they will not make any headway on policy. Not with this group.

Everything is about positioning for the next two elections.

… I'm sorry to have to reduce this to politics. It is an absolutely horrible situation that should have been prevented and wasn't. That was our failure. But it has happened and it is what it is. The only thing we can do is ensure that Republicans are held accountable for this failure and prepare the ground for the future. If I thought we could convince the GOP to do anything different, I would put politics aside and say that we should all work together. But that is clearly impossible. They will not listen. They will not admit that they've made any mistakes. And worst of all, they will not do the one thing that might make a difference - take the US off the playing field in Iraq. They believe that doing that in past situations from Vietnam to Somalia is the reason terrorism is a threat today. More importantly, they would lose face and that they will not do.

All we are left with is politics.
Maybe so. And there are many others in on this discussion.

Now what? One basic problem is what Colin Powell called the Pottery Barn Rule - we broke it and now we own it, and the corollary seems to be that common decency demands we stay and try to make things better. Get the electricity working again, make sure there's running water, and that the sewers systems work - for a start. It's not a "noble cause" - but that would help.

Winning? That would come next, if possible.

Sheehan hasn't an answer to the issue of winning.

Note this:

What Cindy Sheehan Really Wants
Now imagine if she gets it.
Christopher Hitchens - Posted Friday, Aug. 19, 2005, at 1:44 PM PT - SLATE.COM

Much of this is Hitchens out to prove Sheehan really is anti-Semitic and unhinged. He said she is, she said she never said any of the thing he says she said, and he spends much of this item calling her a flat-out liar and dangerous fraud.

Be that as it may, he does say some things about what's next, and the idea of just leaving Iraq appalls him:
Some have perhaps been drawn to "Camp Casey" out of reverence for life. Their demand, however, is an immediate coalition withdrawal from Iraq. Have they seriously asked themselves how humane the consequences of that would be? The news of a pullout would put a wolfish grin on the faces of the "al-Qaida in Mesopotamia" brigade, as Mr. Zarqawi's force has named itself in order to resolve all doubt. Every effort would be made to detonate every available car-bomb and mine, so as to claim the withdrawal of coalition forces as a military victory for jihad. I can quite understand Ms. Sheehan's misery at the thought of her son being killed on some desolate road. But will she be on hand to console the parents whose sons are shot in the back while being ordered to surrender and withdraw?

I hope I don't insult the intelligent readers of this magazine if I point out what the consequences of such a capitulation would be for the people of Iraq. Paint your own mental picture of a country that was already almost beyond rescue in 2003, as it is handed back to an alliance of homicidal Baathists and Bin-Ladenists. Comfort yourself, if that's the way you think, with the idea that such people are only nasty because Bush made them so. Intone the Sheehan mantra - repeated this very week - that terrorism is no problem because after all Bush is the leading terrorist in the world. See if that cheers you up. Try it on your friends. Live with it, if you are ready to live with the consequences of what you desire.

This is an argument, about a real war, that deserves moral seriousness on all sides. Flippancy and light-mindedness have no place. Cindy Sheehan's cheerleader Michael Moore has compared the "insurgents" in Iraq to the American minutemen and Founding Fathers. Do I taunt him for not volunteering to fight himself in such a noble cause? Of course I do not. That would be a low and sly blow. Do I say that he is spouting fascistic nonsense? Of course I do. Is Cindy Sheehan exempt from any verdict on her wacko opinions because of her bereavement? I would say that she is not. Has she been led into a false position by eager cynics who have sacrificed nothing and who would happily surrender unconditionally to the worst enemy that currently faces civilization? That's for her to clarify. While she ponders, she should forgo prayer, stay in California, and end her protest.
Yes, the argument, about a real war, deserves moral seriousness on all sides.

Sheehan actually doesn't matter any longer. The question is what we now do. Hitchens sides with Bush - we should slog on. Cutting out now presents real problems. Is there a third alternative - or fourth or fifth?

Sheehan has done her job. Let her comfort her mother. The new issue is on the table.

Posted by Alan at 17:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 19 August 2005 17:50 PDT home

Topic: God and US

Religion and the Law: "Ha, ha - you can't TOUCH me!"

The pope asks a favor from George Bush? It would seem so.

This, August 17, from the Associated Press via the Chicago Sun-Times - Pope seeks immunity in Texas abuse case.

Say what?
VATICAN CITY - Lawyers for Pope Benedict XVI have asked President Bush to declare the pontiff immune from liability in a lawsuit that accuses him of conspiring to cover up the molestation of three boys by a seminarian in Texas, court records show.

The Vatican's embassy in Washington sent a diplomatic memo to the State Department on May 20 requesting the U.S. government grant the pope immunity because he is a head of state, according to a May 26 motion submitted by the pope's lawyers in U.S. District Court for the Southern Division of Texas in Houston.

Joseph Ratzinger is named as a defendant in the civil lawsuit. Now Benedict XVI, he's accused of conspiring with the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston to cover up the abuse during the mid-1990s.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Gerry Keener, said Tuesday that the pope is considered a head of state and automatically has diplomatic immunity.

Lawyers for abuse victims say the case is significant because previous attempts to implicate the Vatican, the pope or other church officials in U.S. sex abuse proceedings have failed - primarily because of immunity claims and the difficulty serving Vatican officials with U.S. lawsuits.
On the 18th Eric Alterman posts this comment from one of his friends -
This is the most interesting story of the week. It's always been fairly plain that the Vatican - by which we mean the upper-level bureaucratic structure of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, has been hip-deep in the manure of this particular international conspiracy to obstruct justice ever since it broke wide open a couple of years ago. Now, though, you have the former Cardinal Ratzinger attempting to cut a pre-emptive immunity deal on the grounds that he is the sovereign ruler of the Vatican city-state. I am reminded of Peter Sellers as royal gamekeeper Telly Bascomb, attempting to invade NYC on behalf of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.

Anyway, Benedict XV would not have kicked over this hornets' nest unless he was pretty damned sure that the plaintiffs had good reason to drag him into their lawsuit. I'd like to see Tim Russert deal with this bit of CYA cowardice from the gentleman he called "our" pope. I'd like to see a response from George Weigel and all the rest of the big media incense-huffers who were so transported by the transparently engineered ascendancy of a career apparatchik into the Chair Of Peter. And I'd like to see the White House meeting on whether or not to grant the papal request. Turns out that all those Baptist ministers were right back in 1960 about American presidents taking orders from Papist Rome. We just had to elect a born-again Methodist for it to happen.
This is the most interesting story of the week? Well, the former archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law, was in the running too. You recall a few years ago it did look like he would have to face trial for his apparent collusion regarding the child-rape allegations in his diocese - it seemed he may have withheld evidence and made himself an accomplice, before and after the fact. That would have made this story interesting. As it is, Law didn't get to be Pope. Ratzinger did. So Law keeps his new post-Boston job, a sinecure at the Vatican. His job is to "supervise priestly discipline," of all things. And he really ought not return to Boston for a visit.

What is the new pope up to? He's under no such cloud. Avoiding embarrassment? Protecting his guys?

Actually, this would present an interesting scene in court. Does he swear on the Bible to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? By tradition, he is infallible. What would be the point? And what does it matter? He doesn't have to testify. He's a head of state and has diplomatic immunity. It's a moot point. Secondarily, the court with few exceptions shields priests and such from revealing what was said to them in confession - so if one of these Texan seminarians had said to him, "Gee, Father, you wouldn't believe what I did to those three young boys," he need not reveal that. He's bulletproof.

Why make the request of our government for clarification, and let that request become public? That is the puzzling thing here. It smacks of PR - getting our government to acknowledge, officially and on the record, that the Holy See has more raw power than any government, even the sole superpower on earth, with all its laws and such things. Bush bows before the pope? Something like that.

As for being reminded of Peter Sellers as royal gamekeeper Telly Bascomb, attempting to invade New York on behalf of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, you might want to watch the 1959 movie The Mouse That Roared, although perhaps not. It's quite dated. And it hardly applies.

But Alterman's friend dreams on -
And, more than anything else, I'd like to see the man in the witness chair, if only because the reflexive response of the Vatican and its stateside enablers has been to blame this country's "culture" for the unspeakable crimes of the Church's hired hands. We had that idiot archbishop comparing the American media coverage to the persecutions of Diocletian. (Would 'twere that it were. I know the first person I'd feed to the lions.) We have Rick Santorum blaming Boston, or Harvard, or both because the people to whom he genuflects cared more about their own jobs than about abused children. Enough of that. The scandal flourished because of the centralized control of the Catholic episcopate established by the late John Paul II, currently being fast-tracked to sainthood by the likes of Mary Magdalene Noonan. The former Cardinal Ratzinger was an important part of that effort. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, boys. And render the pope to a Texas courtroom.
That's not going to happen. And he's rubbing our face in it.

As for blaming this country's "culture" for the "unspeakable crimes of the Church's hired hands," Senator Santorum did that. Bernard Law wasn't the problem, nor were the priests who reported to him. It was that they were in Boston, and the evil nature of that city made them do it.

Perhaps you noted this item in the news in July:
Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, refused yesterday to back off on his earlier statements connecting Boston's "liberalism" with the Roman Catholic Church pedophile scandal, saying that the city's "sexual license" and "sexual freedom" nurtured an environment where sexual abuse would occur.

"The basic liberal attitude in that area ... has an impact on people's behavior," Santorum said in an interview yesterday at the Capitol.

"If you have a world view that I'm describing [about Boston] ... that affirms alternative views of sexuality, that can lead to a lot of people taking it the wrong way," Santorum said.
A group that calls itself the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests shot back -
Abusive clergy and complicit bishops are liberal and conservative. The crimes they commit have nothing to do with political philosophy. It is reckless and dangerous to misdiagnose the causes of this horrific crisis by trying to blame any group of individuals, especially using false assumptions and self-serving ideological blinders. This is a deeply-rooted, long-standing, cultural and structural problem within the church and affects Catholics across the globe. To suggest anything less is deceptive or ignorant.

It is very hurtful when a politician tries to minimize the extent of the clergy sex abuse scandal. It is also very hurtful when a politician implies that some vague, larger societal defects somehow caused priests, nuns and bishops to assault innocent children and vulnerable adults, and then to work hard at keeping the crimes hidden.
Senator Kennedy from Massachusetts added this:
Rick Santorum owes an immediate apology to the tragic, long-suffering victims of sexual abuse and their families in Boston, in Massachusetts, in Pennsylvania and around this country. His outrageous and offensive comments - which he had the indecency to repeat yesterday - blamed the people of Boston for the depraved behavior of sick individuals who stole the innocence of children in the most horrible way imaginable.

Senator Santorum has shown a deep and callous insensitivity to the victims and their suffering in an apparent attempt to score political points with some of the most extreme members of the fringe right wing of his Party. Boston bashing might be in vogue with some Republicans, but Rick Santorum's statements are beyond the pale.
One doubts Santorum will say similar things about Texas. THAT would be a little too dangerous. Even the new pope isn't saying that.

He just wants us to publicly admit there nothing we can make him do about any of this.

Posted by Alan at 15:35 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 19 August 2005 15:42 PDT home

Thursday, 18 August 2005

Topic: Dissent

Momentum: From Brighton, New York to Paris, France

And so it goes on: Vigils Calling for End to Iraq War Begin (Angela K. Brown, Associated Press, Thursday, August 18, 2005) -
As the sun dipped behind the pastures around the campsite near President Bush's ranch, more than 200 people clutched candles and gathered silently around a flag-draped coffin.

The vigil calling for an end to the war in Iraq was among hundreds nationwide Wednesday, part of an effort spurred by Cindy Sheehan's anti-war protest in memory of her son Casey, killed in Iraq last year.
The organizers were, TrueMajority and Democracy for America - 1,600 "vigils" from coast to coast. And the AP notes one was also held in France at Paris' Peace Wall, that glass monument near the Eiffel Tower that says "peace" in 32 languages.

That would explain an email received here in Hollywood early Tuesday from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis -
One of my club members sent this:

Tomorrow, Wednesday August 17, we want to join thousands of Americans who are holding demonstrations in the USA in support of Cindy Sheehan and her fight to end the war in Iraq. Please contact us if you wish to join us. We propose to appear in front of the US Embassy in Paris at 1200 noon on Wednesday the 17th.

Thank you.
It's a bit of a walk from the embassy, just north of the Place de la Concorde, over to the Peace Wall by the big iron tower, but manageable.

Back here?

AP notes Oklahoma City and one Marie Evans: "There was no question in my mind that we needed to make a statement in Oklahoma, which is a very conservative state," she said, holding a sign that read, "Every day President Bush plays in Crawford our young men die." Demonstrators in Nashville had candles, flags and banners, like the one that read: "Thank you for your courage Cindy." Charlottesville, Virginia? Joan Schatzman: "I'm a mother who has a 20-year-old son. I did not spend 20 years of my life raising someone to be squandered in a war." Minneapolis - Saint Paul? Sue Ann Martinson: "There were no weapons of mass destruction and the Iraqis didn't have anything to do with 9-11."

And so on. The New York Times covers it here (Elisabeth Bumiller, dated August 17) with this on Sheehan: "She's like a herald, waking everybody up," said Tom Matzzie, the Washington director for The Times also notes vigils in Rockefeller Center and Clover Park out here in Santa Monica. At Union Square in New York? About three hundred people, including "one protester dressed like a hooded prisoner in the infamous photos from the Abu Ghraib prison." Also noted: Somerville, Massachusetts, north of Boston, one hundred fifty people, a similar crowd in White Plains, and two hundred in a field next to the expressway west of downtown Chicago. Also in New York - 106th Street and Broadway, and in Riverside Park.

Something is up, even in smug Brighton, New York, on the east side of Rochester. (Disclaimer: this writer spent much of the seventies teaching at an exclusive prep school on Clover Street in Brighton.) An account of that vigil with many photos is here.

Something a bit different in the UK with this:

Families of dead troops hope to see Blair in court
Legal fight begins for inquiry into lawfulness of Iraq conflict
Audrey Gillan, The Guardian (UK), Thursday August 18, 2005
Tony Blair could be forced to give evidence under oath after families of 17 soldiers killed in Iraq began a legal bid yesterday to secure an independent inquiry into the lawfulness of the 2003 conflict.

A lawyer representing the families lodged papers at the high court in London, seeking a judicial review of the government's decision this May not to order an investigation into the legality of the war in Iraq.

They hope the inquiry will be held within six months.

The first three defendants named on the papers are the prime minister, the defence secretary at the time, Geoff Hoon, and the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith.

The families have demanded that judges investigate to see whether the government misled the public about the war.
Now that's curious.

Gillan focuses on one Reg Keys, the father of Corporal Tom Keys, twenty, who was one of six royal military police troops killed in Majar al-Kabir. Keys says these sorts of things:
"We strongly feel that our sons were sent into a conflict not backed by international law or the United Nations. Our boys were fully prepared to lay their lives down to defend their country. They were sent to war on a falsehood, against a background of propaganda of WMD. Look at the state of Iraq, it's a crucible of terror.

"We feel we have to pursue this case to make our prime minister accountable for his misdemeanours. He misled parliament and it is well-known now that it was a done deal in 2002 that he was going to go to war [alongside] George Bush."
The families are contending that, under human rights laws, if the British state is involved in the use of lethal force there must be an independent inquiry. "Why were these soldiers sent out to Iraq when it appears from everything in the public domain that the Iraq war was illegal and that therefore the sons and daughters of these families died for no good reason?"

The difference between us and the Brits is that we do the emotional outpouring thing - dramatic but perhaps useless, if not counterproductive with those now in power - whilst restraint and decorum there mean taking legal action. Adam McKay notes: "George W Bush may be the first president ever who you can honestly describe as petulant." The demonstrations mean little. Would a lawsuit mean more?

Well, the Brits of a certain class are more thoughtful than their American cousins. Horace may have said "Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori" - but Wilfred Owen gave the definitive comment on that here. We're not so scholarly. Over here no one reads Horace or Owen.

We read Pat Buchanan, our traditional and quite xenophobic voice on the right. But he says this on August 17 -
... Cindy Sheehan may be the catalyst of crisis for the Bush presidency.

As a Gold Star mother of a soldier son slain in Iraq, Sheehan has authenticity and moral authority. Wedded to the passion of her protest, these make her a magnet for a bored White House press corps camped in Crawford for August. Cindy and the president are the only stories in town. And as a source of daily derogatory commentary on the president, Sheehan is using the media, and the media are using her, for the same end: to bedevil George W. Bush.

... Put bluntly, the bottom is falling out of support for the commander in chief.

... If President Bush cannot describe "victory" in terms convincing enough to Americans willing to spend blood indefinitely, he will have to persuade them to stay the course by describing what a disaster defeat will mean for Iraq and for America's position in the world.

But to do that would raise a question: Why, then, in heaven's name, did America take such a risk, when Iraq was never a threat?

September could see the coalescing of an anti-war movement that both bedevils the White House and divides a Democratic Party that seeks to benefit from a losing war, without having to offer a plan to win it or end it, without being held accountable for having supported it, or responsible for undercutting it.

Our politics appear likely to become even more poisoned when the president returns from his troubled vacation.

Marc Cooper writing in the LA Weekly (Issue of August 19-25) notes the poison:
- Has there recently been a more vile moment in our already debased body politic than that staged this past weekend when Fox News contributor and radio talk-show host Mike Gallagher convened his ?army? contra Sheehan and, wielding a bullhorn, led a chant of ?We Don?t Care??

- Indeed, the administration has so relentlessly painted itself into a corner, it has so twisted the facts to justify an ill-conceived and mismanaged war, that the president?s handlers consider a pro forma meeting with Sheehan to be a sign of unacceptable waffling and weakness. Steely-souled Dubya ain?t about to give in either to terrorists or to that crazy lady from California.
So just what are we doing and why - and does anyone really have to explain it?

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, comments on the item in the pages, A Vacuum Where the Noble Cause Should Be, and particularly on what Maureen Dowd said in the Times: "Pressed about how he could ride his bike while refusing to see a grieving mom of a dead soldier who's camped outside his ranch, he added: 'So I'm mindful of what goes on around me. On the other hand, I'm also mindful that I've got a life to live and will do so.'"

Cindy Sheehan's son has no life anymore. Why shouldn't she ask why not? Didn't he deserve his life? How is it that Bush thinks he 'deserves' his life more? The guy is a hapless goon. All the parents deserve an answer.

And as long as you are asking, 'why continue?' - think about how long, and what it's expected to achieve. If all that's on the menu is Bush Senior's prediction, the thing should have been stopped yesterday.

Those last days in Vietnam were messy but they got it over with. The Vietnamese won Vietnam. They got their country back.

The way Bush junior has arranged it, bungled it, it looks unlikely that the Iraqis will get Iraq back. You, we, are going to get a pile of fundamental Islam, from Baghdad to Islamabad, thanks to GW Bush. The neo-cons get their wish granted - a new 'evil' empire.

As long as we need their gas there will be a new 'cold' war. Like, forever. Which is the same amount of time that some folks are going to make piles of money out of it.

In the blizzard of lies and ill-informed opinion it's often overlooked that the purpose of democracy is to make money, the more of it the better. A long 'cold' war will do the trick. It did last time.

How long will it take those bozos to start telling us we're in another 'cold' war? It's an answer for Cindy Sheehan after all.
So that's the answer? It very may well be.

"I've got a life to live and will do so." Sorry about your son. He doesn't. "Let's fight terrorism - now watch this swing." (Ah, you had to see the movie.)

Posted by Alan at 10:02 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 18 August 2005 10:06 PDT home

Wednesday, 17 August 2005

Topic: Dissent

A Vacuum Where the "Noble Cause" Should Be

Nature abhors a vacuum - that sixth-grade science idea that empty or unfilled spaces are somehow unnatural as they go against the laws of nature and physics or some such thing - seems to be playing itself out in the world of politics. Cindy Sheehan created a vacuum - she wants to know why her son had to die in Iraq a year ago. Bush's statement that these soldiers died in a "noble cause" didn't sound right, and she decided to go to Texas and ask to see the president so that he could explain to her for what "noble cause" her son died.

Is this a grandstanding PR thing - or a real question? Whichever it is there seems to be a vacuum where the "noble cause" should be. That can be lost in how complicated it has all become, with various parts of the anti-war left lining up behind the woman who lost her son - each with its own agenda - and all flavors of the pro-war right lining up against her - there too with a variety of motives. Her husband has filed for divorce, and her in-laws think she's wrong, and she wasn't always this way and all the rest - but she asked a question.

The original "noble cause" - we were preemptively protecting our country from an Iraqi attack with weapons of mass destruction when no one else would do anything - didn't work out. We said the weapons of mass destruction were there, the inspectors said it didn't seem so, we said we knew just where they were and the inspectors were fools, Saddam Hussein was slowly allowing more and more access, we said that wasn't good enough - and so on. We were wrong. The parallel try at a "noble cause" was claiming this was simply bringing to justice a man who led a regime in cahoots with the worst of the worst, al Qaeda. That initially seemed a little odd, since that Osama fellow running al Qaeda had often ragged on Saddam Hussein as a corrupt secularist who had no religious mission and was, therefore, an enemy of the movement, or whatever you wish to call it. Evidence that this was not the case and somehow Hussein was involved in all the bad stuff never panned out. We were wrong. The third try at a "noble cause" was that we would bring some sort of secular Jeffersonian democracy, and a free-market capitalist system to the Middle East, and all the nations in the regions would say, "What a good idea - let's do that too!" But on Monday, August 15, 2005 - the deadline for the draft of the new Iraqi constitution - nothing happened, and when it does we won't get a secular Jeffersonian democracy - they cannot even decide on the kind of Islamic republic they want to have. As reported in the Washington Post last Sunday -
"We set out to establish a democracy, but we're slowly realizing we will have some form of Islamic republic," said another U.S. official familiar with policymaking from the beginning, who like some others interviewed would speak candidly only on the condition of anonymity. "That process is being repeated all over."
So now the question hangs in the air - just what is the "noble cause" now?

Sheehan lost her son for that cause, and she thinks she deserves an answer. You can say "but her husband is divorcing her" or "she's a tool of Michael Moore" or "her son would not have wanted her to do this thing" - but forget her. Really. She was useful in raising the question in the most dramatic of ways - she lost her son - but the question is more important than she is.

She just started something. Digby over at Hullabaloo comments:
Political theatre works. If people could be politically persuaded by civilized debate, the Lehrer News Hour would be the highest rated news show on television. Most people need drama, excitement, pathos, catharsis - on some level their emotions have to connect with their minds in order to understand.

Up to now, the story of Iraq has been told through the prism of American might and glory. It was a stirring tale. Unfortunately, the story of Iraq isn't really a story of might and glory; it's a story of arrogance, incompetence and human suffering. That's the story that Cindy embodies as she stands out there in the hot sun, surrounded by supporters, asking the president to answer the question for which he has no answer.

The spectacles of 9/11 and Iraq are over. Even the war supporters are singing a different tune now - the swashbuckling "I-raq 'n Roll" has given way to the mournful "Arlington." Cindy Sheehan's story is the story of that shift in the zeitgeist. We do not need to be afraid of this; it's good for the country.
Is it?

Should we ask why did we do this - and why do we continue?

Monday from "Our Man in Baghdad," my nephew Major Cook offered this: "If we pull out now, the almost 2000 of my brothers and sisters that have sacrificed will have done it for no reason. Relentless resolve will get us through and the results will benefit many."

But that's the whole point, and why so many are angry. The idea is someone betrayed those almost two thousand good people - and they are dead. And they are dead for no good reason. That is, in some minds, criminal - unless there is a clear explanation of why their deaths were necessary. "The results will benefit many." How? Many Americans don't get it.

The three main explanations of the "noble cause" crumbled - reality can be brutal. Is there something underlying them all that makes this all noble?

The families of those who die, or who are crippled in one way or another, may deserve an answer. The counterargument that these people do not merit or even want an answer - you trust your commander-in-chief and assume he knows more than we all do and is honorable and right - may apply to a good portion of the nation. Some have faith and proud, unquestioning allegiance. They call it patriotism. That may not be good enough for others. Some have questions - they want to know why this and why that, and see themselves as participants in our government. They ask questions, especially when they lose a family member. And they call that patriotism. It has to do with the notion we have a participatory democracy and that sort of thing.

On one side? Unquestioning loyalty. On the other? Questions and ideas and a need for understanding the whys and all that.

Each side believes the other is dead wrong, and unpatriotic.

What follows is for the questioners.

Mid-week this was going around - "Why We Didn't Remove Saddam" George Bush [Sr.] and Brent Scowcroft, Time (2 March 1998). Why did the current president's father say in 1988?
While we hoped that popular revolt or coup would topple Saddam, neither the U.S. nor the countries of the region wished to see the breakup of the Iraqi state. We were concerned about the long-term balance of power at the head of the Gulf. Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in "mission creep," and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible. We had been unable to find Noriega in Panama, which we knew intimately. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well.

Under those circumstances, furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-cold war world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the U.N.'s mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the U.S. could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different - and perhaps barren - outcome.
One of those commenting on it was Digby over at Hullabaloo with Shoulda Listened To His Daddy:
That's a snarky title, but it's quite true anyway. There are going to be many different ways to evaluate this period in our history, but the prism of the father-son relationship is perhaps the most compelling - and maybe the most important. That combination of the second rate son with the manipulating neocon advisors is the stuff of Shakespeare.

Look at what Scowcroft and Bush Sr were saying and look at the state of Iraq today. It is breathtaking, isn't it? It can really only be explained by magical thinking on the part of the neocons and the long frustrated desire on their part to conquer something. And Georgie just wanted to do what his father didn't do - take out Saddam and win a second term. By that standard he's been a rousing success. One wonders if he feels satisfied. He doesn't look it.

In our endless search for explanations as to why they really did this inexplicable thing, Junior's relationship with his father and the neocon psyche are probably the places where the answers truly lie.

I wonder what would happen if a reporter were to ask Junior how he felt about the fact that his father's predictions of failure in Iraq had all come true? I'd really like to see that.
One suspect no one will ask the question. And is the stuff of Shakespeare? Is the reason for the dead so personal?

Wednesday in the New York Times Maureen Dowd carries that forward:
How could President Bush be cavorting around on a long vacation with American troops struggling with a spiraling crisis in Iraq?

Wasn't he worried that his vacation activities might send a frivolous signal at a time when he had put so many young Americans in harm's way?

"I'm determined that life goes on," Mr. Bush said stubbornly.

That wasn't the son, believe it or not. It was the father - 15 years ago. I was in Kennebunkport then to cover the first President Bush's frenetic attempts to relax while reporters were pressing him about how he could be taking a month to play around when he had started sending American troops to the Persian Gulf only three days before.

On Saturday, the current President Bush was pressed about how he could be taking five weeks to ride bikes and nap and fish and clear brush even though his occupation of Iraq had become a fiasco. "I think it's also important for me to go on with my life," W. said, "to keep a balanced life."

Pressed about how he could ride his bike while refusing to see a grieving mom of a dead soldier who's camped outside his ranch, he added: "So I'm mindful of what goes on around me. On the other hand, I'm also mindful that I've got a life to live and will do so."
Like father, like son - very Shakespearean.

And now?
As W.'s neighbors get in scraps with the antiwar forces coalescing around the ranch; as the Pentagon tries to rustle up updated armor for our soldiers, who are still sitting ducks in the third year of the war; as the Iraqi police we train keep getting blown up by terrorists, who come right back every time U.S. troops beat them up; as Shiites working on the Iraqi constitution conspire with Iran about turning Iraq into an Islamic state that represses women; and as Iraq hurtles toward a possible civil war, W. seems far more oblivious than his father was with his Persian Gulf crisis.

This president is in a truly scary place in Iraq. Americans can't get out, or they risk turning the country into a terrorist haven that will make the old Afghanistan look like Cipriani's. Yet his war, which has not accomplished any of its purposes, swallows ever more American lives and inflames ever more Muslim hearts as W. reads a book about the history of salt and looks forward to his biking date with Lance Armstrong on Saturday.

The son wanted to go into Iraq to best his daddy in the history books, by finishing what Bush senior started. He swept aside the warnings of Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell and didn't bother to ask his father's advice. Now he is caught in the very trap his father said he feared: that America would get bogged down as "an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land," facing a possibly "barren" outcome.
And this sort of thing indicates it's not getting better here on the home front:
The day after burying their son, parents of a fallen Marine urged President Bush to either send more reinforcements to Iraq or withdraw U.S. troops altogether.

"We feel you either have to fight this war right or get out," Rosemary Palmer, mother of Lance Cpl. Edward Schroeder II, said Tuesday.

Schroeder, 23, died two weeks ago in a roadside explosion, one of 16 Ohio-based Marines killed recently in Iraq.

The soldier's father said his son and other Marines were being misused as a stabilizing force in Iraq.

"Our comments are not just those of grieving parents," Paul Schroeder said in front of the couple's home. "They are based on anger, Mr. President, not grief. Anger is an honest emotion when someone's family has been violated."

Palmer accused the president of refusing to make changes in a war gone bad. "Whether he leads them out by putting more troops on the ground or pulling them out ? he can't just let it continue," she said.

... The Ohio couple have long opposed the war and tried to dissuade their son from joining the Marines, but have made their views public only since his death. On Tuesday they urged Americans to voice their opposition to the war.

"We want to point out that 30 people have died since our son. Are people listening?" Palmer asked.
It seems Sheehan is not the only one who wants answers.

And this won't do (from Cox News, what Dowd was talking about):
President Bush, noting that lots of people want to talk to the president and "it's also important for me to go on with my life," on Saturday defended his decision not to meet with the grieving mom of a soldier killed in Iraq.

Bush said he is aware of the anti-war sentiments of Cindy Sheehan and others who have joined her protest near the Bush ranch.

"But whether it be here or in Washington or anywhere else, there's somebody who has got something to say to the president, that's part of the job," Bush said on the ranch. "And I think it's important for me to be thoughtful and sensitive to those who have got something to say. But, I think it's also important for me to go on with my life, to keep a balanced life."

The comments came prior to a bike ride on the ranch with journalists and aides. It also came as the crowd of protesters grew in support of Sheehan, the mother who came here Aug. 6 demanding to talk to Bush about the death of her son.
To the loyalists, that is strength. To the questioners? Choose your adjective.

There is an alternative theory to the father-son Shakespearean model, something else to fill the "noble cause" vacuum - the madness theory.

From the quite unreliable Capitol Hill Blue we get Is Bush Out of Control? - from Doug Thompson.
Buy beleaguered, overworked White House aides enough drinks and they tell a sordid tale of an administration under siege, beset by bitter staff infighting and led by a man whose mood swings suggest paranoia bordering on schizophrenia.

They describe a President whose public persona masks an angry, obscenity-spouting man who berates staff, unleashes tirades against those who disagree with him and ends meetings in the Oval Office with "get out of here!"

In fact, George W. Bush's mood swings have become so drastic that White House emails often contain "weather reports" to warn of the President's demeanor. "Calm seas" means Bush is calm while "tornado alert" is a warning that he is pissed at the world.

Decreasing job approval ratings and increased criticism within his own party drives the President's paranoia even higher. Bush, in a meeting with senior advisors, called Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist a "god-damned traitor" for opposing him on stem-cell research.

"There's real concern in the West Wing that the President is losing it," a high-level aide told me recently.

A year ago, this web site discovered the White House physician prescribed anti-depressants for Bush. The news came after revelations that the President's wide mood swings led some administration staffers to doubt his sanity.
That's followed by a recap of what's in Justin Frank's book, Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President. See our friend Douglas Yates on that in these pages last summer.

Doug Thompson now? "The President of the United States is out of control. How long can the ship of state continue to sail with a madman at the helm?"

It's a theory to fill the vacuum.

Whatever theory you like, there's the political problem.

James Wolcott calls up Immanuel Wallerstein - Senior Research Scholar at Yale, former President of the International Sociological Association, and the author of, among other works, the three-volume The Modern World-System - with this:
... for the Bush regime, the worst picture of all is on the home front. Approval rating of Bush for the conduct of the Iraqi war has gone down to 36 percent. The figures have been going steadily down for some time and should continue to do so. For poor George Bush is now faced with the vigil of Cindy Sheehan.

... Of course, George W. Bush hasn't had the courage to see her. He sent out emissaries. She said this wasn't enough, that she wanted to see Bush personally. She has now said that she will maintain a vigil outside Bush's home until either he sees her or she is arrested.

Bush won't see her because he knows there is nothing that he can say to her. Seeing her is a losing proposition. But so is not seeing her. The pressure to withdraw from Iraq is now becoming mainstream. It is not because the U.S. public shares the view that the U.S. is an imperialist power in Iraq. It is because there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel... They want out. Bush is caught in an insoluble dilemma. The war is lost.
As for the loyalists?

Anti-war protestors supporting Cindy Sheehan erected white crosses bearing the names of fallen soldiers at her Crawford campsite. An anti-Sheehan protestor drove his pickup truck through the crosses (here) - at about the time a prayer service was to begin at Sheehan's camp Monday, a sheep farmer fired a shotgun into the air. "This is still redneck country," he said (here - and they pile on. As Media Matters reports.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr., Washington Times columnist - Sheehan's statements "emboldened" America's enemies. He also called her "the poster child for surrender." As mentioned previously, Bill O'Reilly called her treasonous. Jimmy W. Hall in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Cindy Sheehan evidently thinks little of her deceased son, his sacrifice or of those left to do the noble work in his absence." And this: "The lady is on the wrong team. She's disgraceful." And this: "Is the proper answer to her bitterness really to belittle and undermine public support for the efforts of those still serving?" And this: "My suggestion to her ... is that she think about the lives of those still in Iraq. Undermining public support for our efforts in Iraq helps the enemy, her son's murderers. They love people like her, but hate those like her heroic son."

The best is David Horowitz here:
Cindy Sheehan is the most prominent symbol and chief mouthpiece of a psychological warfare campaign against her own country in time of war that can only benefit its enemies on the field of battle. It is one thing to criticize a war policy. It is quite another to accuse your own country of creating the monster it went to war to remove and fabricating intelligence information to send American youth into battle to die for a lie - which is what she has done. She has made herself a willing tool of anti-American forces in this country that want America to lose the war in Iraq and the war on terror generally. She is promoting a cause - immediate withdrawal from Iraq - that would lead to a bloodbath in the region and in the United States. She has joined forces with an Unholy Alliance on the other side in the epic battle for freedom in the Middle East and has shown that she will do and say anything to discredit the United States and its commander-chief -- acts which serve the enemy and endanger American lives. She is a disgrace to her brave son who gave his life for the freedom of ordinary Iraqis and the security of his countrymen. She has betrayed his sacrifice and embraced his enemies.
That's what happens when you ask questions. One thinks of the bumper sticker you see here and there - "Get In, Sit Down, Shut Up, And Hold On."

Some folks resent that. And they wonder about things like these items at the news aggregator Cursor. From Wednesday, August 17, 2005:
Car bombs killed at least 43, and U.S. forces reportedly opened fire on a crowd of workers in central Baghdad, where the city's morgue received the bodies of 1100 civilians during the month of July, in "the most psychologically damaged place in the world."

"Americans should not imagine " that Iraq will not be "dependent on significant levels of U.S. military support for years to come," says military historian Frederick Kagan, who argued in 2003 that "the American military today may be in the best position of any military in history."
And that's just the start of the page.

What are we doing and why? Some sense a vacuum here. The first two of the three main rationales for all this turned to dust. The third - to bring some sort of secular Jeffersonian democracy, and a free-market capitalist system, to the Middle East - doesn't look likely now. Why are we doing all this? Should we ask ? or "Get In, Sit Down, Shut Up, And Hold On?" Or should we trust there a fine reason, and although we won't be told it, it's noble and has nothing to do with intensely personal and unresolved father-son issues, nor with any form of madness.

I can hear my conservative friends saying to me - "Don't ask all these questions. Trust the guy. It's none of your business."

Yes it is. That's my nephew over there, someone I admire and trust and love.


Enough on the war. It doesn't matter, given this:

Flu pandemic could trigger second Great Depression, brokerage warns clients
Helen Branswell, CBC News, Wednesday, August 17, 2005, 06:36 PM EDT
TORONTO (CP) - A major Canadian brokerage firm has added its voice to those warning of the potential global impact of an influenza pandemic, suggesting it could trigger a crisis similar to that of the Great Depression.

Real estate values would be slashed, bankruptcies would soar and the insurance industry would be decimated, a newly released investor guide on avian influenza warns clients of BMO Nesbitt Burns.

"It's quite analogous to the Great Depression in many ways, although obviously caused by very different reasons," co-author Sherry Cooper, chief economist of the firm and executive vice-president of the BMO Financial Group, said in an interview Tuesday.

"We won't have 30-per-cent unemployment because frankly, many people will die. And there will be excess demand for labour and yet, at the same time, it will absolutely crunch the economy worldwide." ...

Posted by Alan at 20:57 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 17 August 2005 21:21 PDT home

Tuesday, 16 August 2005

Topic: Photos

Union Station, Los Angeles

No politics today - a photo shoot late this morning, downtown.

Union Station, built in 1939 for the Union Pacific, the Southern Pacific, and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe - considered to be "The last of America's great rail stations." Designed by the father and son team of John Parkinson and Donald B. Parkinson. Spanish Colonial, Mission Revival, Streamline Modern, mixed - add some Moorish and Aztec details, and travertine marble. You've seen it in many movies. Photos, Tuesday, August 16, 2005.

Four high-resolution shots here. A photo album of twenty-eight shots here, including shots of one of the many locomotives here built by my friends in London, Ontario. Almost all the Los Angeles Metrolink locomotives were built there.

Not here or in the album? In the adjoining courtyard, a union rally - the AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), Local 1902/1001. These folks run the water system here, and they want a new contract. Be that as it may, for this rally they hired a mariachi band - the best I've ever heard. The photos of the band and the rally will appear in this coming Sunday's Just Above Sunset as a special feature.


Enter and buy your tickets...

The old restaurant - architect Mary Colter

One of those Canadian locomotives...

The front door, so to speak...

Posted by Alan at 20:51 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 16 August 2005 20:57 PDT home

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