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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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Wednesday, 28 September 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Mid-Week Scandals: Handy Scorecard

One of my friends in Brussels sent an email Wednesday asking what's up over here with all these scandals. This was prompted by news there of the indictment of house Republican leader Tom Delay on conspiracy charges. The charge is that he was part of a conspiracy to take corporate contributions to his general organization, money for rent and mailings and other general and administrative costs, quite legal in Texas, send the surplus to the state and nation Republican committees for their general and administrative costs, and the arrange for those group to make contributions of the identical amounts to his friends running for Republican congressional seats. Thus the corporations, which cannot, under Texas law, make contributions to individual candidates, got their money to the specific individuals through the backdoor. The money was "laundered" so to speak. Fungible. Look it up.


DeLay Indicted in Texas Campaign Finance Probe (Newsday)
Texas Law Bans Corporate Cash in Campaigns (Washington Post)
US House leader DeLay resigns after indictment (CBC News, Canada)
Rep. DeLay Calls Indictment 'Baseless' (ABC News)

DeLay ranted about how political and silly the indictment was in a press statement Wednesday afternoon, followed by his appearing on Fox News then MSNBC saying the same thing - and one assumes he'll get around to every show he can. But then? See the Associated Press here: "The next step in the criminal proceedings against Republican leader Tom DeLay is a trip to Austin to be fingerprinted and photographed."

Now one assumes this fall-of-the-mighty was big breaking news in Western Europe as it confirms any number of things many over there think of our cowboy president - an incompetent who has surrounded himself with incompetents and corrupt, power-mad crooks, all of who tell him what he wants to hear and keep him insulated from the real world. Ha! The chickens are coming home to roost, or whatever they say in the version of French they speak in Belgium. I'll have to ask my friend about that. Les poulets viennent à la maison au perchoir? Probably not.

Over here this is naturally a big deal. It may the start of a big power shift, the end of the Bush Era, a meme that has been growing, as noted here and here. And of course that has implications worldwide, even in Brussels.

So much has been said what more can be added here? There is other news. Like this - Woman suicide bomber marks possible new insurgent tactic in Iraq. And then, of interest as my nephew is in the Green Zone in Baghdad, there is this in the Washington Post: "A car bomber penetrated the heavily fortified Green Zone in the center of the capital on Tuesday but was stopped by U.S. Marines at a checkpoint before he was able to detonate the vehicle, the military said." Yes, that's where our embassy is, and where the new Iraqi parliament meets. My nephew has mentioned incoming mortar shells now and then, and circulars warning one could get kidnapped if not careful. Now someone got a car bomb past the gates. Well, it didn't go off.

But the news mid-week was the DeLay indictment. It even got equal time with hurricane stories. If you think of the disintegration of the Bush administration and the years of Republican rule as a drama (and if you assume that is what is happening) - this was a big climax in the plot. Everything suddenly changes, or becomes clear to all - cue the dramatic music (with French horns way up in the high register). Think of the movie "Jaws" - the thump-thump theme (who knew cellos could be so scary?) has you on edge, then the giant shark suddenly leaps out of the water right in your face, and you drop your popcorn. Well, maybe it's not that dramatic.

Of the thousands of comments out there on what happened, putting this is perspective, this one from Digby at Hullabaloo is short and sweet - and I added references in brackets if it's too short for some -
So, we have a federal probe implicating the president's number one political advisor and the vice president's chief of staff in the violation of laws protecting CIA agents and possibly lying to federal investigators. [The Rove-Novak-Plame thing]

We have a multi-pronged investigation into a lobbyist who happens to be a very close associate of Tom DeLay, Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, Karl Rove and the entire Republican leadership going back to their youth as members of the College republicans. This lobbyist is now implicated in a mafia murder plot and has been arrested on charges affiliated with that crime. [See this in the Washington Post - Consultants Tied To DeLay Ally Jack Abramoff Charged With Murder]

A member of the Bush administration who is a good friend and associate of all of the above was arrested this week for lying to the Feds about his good friend the lobbyist. [David Hossein Safavian, head of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy resigned, then arrested and led away in handcuffs - noted here.]

The majority leader of the Senate is now officially under investigation by the SEC and federal prosecutors for insider trading involving potentially many millions of dollars. [See this: "The Securities and Exchange Commission, which is examining a stock sale by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, has upgraded its initial informal inquiry to a formal investigation."

The majority leader of the House was just indicted by a Texas Grand jury for violating laws prohibiting the use of corporate money in campaigns.

I am so relieved that the Republicans restored honor and integrity to Washington. There hasn't been even one blow job in that town since they took power.
And there's Tim Grieve over at SALON.COM with a more complete list:
Tom DeLay: The House majority leader was indicted today on a felony charge that he conspired to launder corporate campaign contributions through the national Republican Party in Washington and back to legislative candidates in Texas.

Bill Frist: The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission are both investigating the Senate majority leader's sale of shares in his family's healthcare business just before the stock's value plummeted in June.

Jack Abramoff: The Republican super-lobbyist, known to have bragged about his contacts with Karl Rove, was indicted in Florida last month along with his business partner on wire fraud and conspiracy fraud charges related to their purchase of a fleet of gambling boats. This week, three men were arrested - including two who received payments from Abramoff's business partner - in the Mafia-style killing of the man from whom Abramoff and his partner purchased the gambling boats.

David Safavian: The president's chief procurement officer stepped down two weeks ago and was arrested last week on charges of lying to investigators and obstructing a separate federal investigation into Abramoff's dealings in Washington. Some Republicans who received campaign contributions from Safavian are divesting themselves of his money now.

Timothy Flanigan: The president's nominee to serve as deputy attorney general has announced that he will have to recuse himself from the Abramoff investigation if he is confirmed because he hired Abramoff to help the company where he works - scandal-ridden Tyco International Ltd. - lobby DeLay and Rove on tax issues.

Michael Brown: The president's FEMA director resigned earlier this month amid complaints about his handling of Hurricane Katrina and charges that he and other FEMA officials got their jobs based on political connections and cronyism rather than competence or qualifications.

Bob Taft: The Republican governor of Ohio pleaded guilty last month to criminal charges based on his failure to report gifts as required by state law, among them golfing trips paid for by Tom Noe, a major Republican fundraiser who is the subject of his own scandal regarding the state's investment in $50 million in rare coins, some of which have mysteriously gone missing.

Randy "Duke" Cunningham: A federal grand jury in San Diego is investigating allegations that the veteran Republican congressman received financial favors from a defense contractor who allegedly bought Cunningham's house at an inflated price and let him live for free on the contractor's 42-foot yacht.

Ernie Fletcher: The Republican governor of Kentucky has refused to answer questions from a grand jury investigating whether his administration based hiring decisions on political considerations rather than merit. Fletcher has pardoned nine people in the probe - including the chairman of Kentucky's Republican party - and fired members of his staff.

George Ryan: Federal prosecutors made their opening statements this week in the criminal trial of the former Republican governor of Illinois. Ryan and a friend, Chicago insurance adjuster Lawrence Warner, are charged with racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud, tax fraud and lying to federal agents.

And then there's Karl Rove and Scooter Libby. The grand jury investigating the outing of Valerie Plame is scheduled to complete its work in late October. While neither Rove nor Libby is apparently a "target" of the investigation - and while the "corruption" in Plamegate is moral rather than financial - both men are known to have played a role in revealing or confirming Plame's identity in conversations with reporters, which may be a crime under federal law.
Go to any news site and you can find all the stories. The wheels really are falling off.

Perhaps some young entrepreneurial sort will start selling scorecards so you can track this all. Out here at Oscar time the Los Angeles Times offers a handy checklist of all the nominees in all the categories - you pull it out of the entertainment section and mark your predictions of the winners, and when you have everyone over for the Oscar party everyone can pull out his or here checklist and match their guesses with what actually happens, and see who wins. Something like that might be useful here. (I came in second at one of those parties a few years ago.)

Ah well, we'll se what happens with all this. Who goes to jail, who survives it all, who get pardoned, who gets a medal, and where the poll numbers go - and who gets voted off the island. It's actually entertaining in a perverse sort of way.

But my friend in Brussels - actually I have two friends there - probably hasn't heard of the local scandal out here. This one is amazing.

Hospital Skipped Its Own Patients
St. Vincent bypassed nine of its own patients to transplant organ into a Saudi national. The state medical board begins a probe of two doctors.
Charles Ornstein and Rong-Gong Lin II - Los Angeles Times - September 28, 2005

Calling Michael Moore!
Surgeons at St. Vincent Medical Center bypassed nine of the hospital's own patients on a regional liver transplant waiting list before they inappropriately gave the organ to a Saudi national who ranked 52nd, hospital officials said Tuesday.

But hospital officials said they were at a loss to explain why St. Vincent staff allegedly violated basic rules governing organ transplants in the September 2003 procedure and then falsified documentation to cover up their actions.

"They have not provided us with a motivation," hospital President and Chief Executive Gus Valdespino said at a news conference, referring to the two physicians who ran the liver transplant program. The Los Angeles hospital has terminated the program's relationship with the doctors, he said, and has indefinitely suspended liver transplants.

What is clear is that the Saudi national received a liver that should have gone to a patient at UCLA Medical Center who was much higher on the transplant list. Moreover, the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia paid St. Vincent $339,000 for the Saudi patient's transplant and hospital care, plus undisclosed fees to the doctors, according to the hospital. That amount is about 25% to 30% higher than the hospital would have been paid by insurance companies and government programs.

The embassy routinely pays for medical care for Saudi residents in the United States, though fewer nationals have sought care in this country since Sept. 11, 2001, because of the difficulty in obtaining visas, embassy spokesman Nail Al-Jubeir said. He said the embassy would "absolutely not" try to move a patient up the waiting list.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Medical Board of California indicated that it had opened an investigation of Dr. Richard R. Lopez Jr., the St. Vincent program's former director, and Dr. Hector C. Ramos, the former assistant director. Both retain privileges at the hospital, although hospital officials said their status was being reviewed by the medical staff.

An attorney for Ramos said her client had done nothing wrong. ...
Right. Sometimes it's good to be a Saudi.

Yes, a few years ago I managed a department of systems analysts and programmers that maintained the financial systems for this and ten other hospitals that were then part of Catholic Heathcare West - accounts payable, general ledger, materiel, payroll and such things. I've been to many a meeting at Saint Vincent Medical Center. This is just odd. Glad I'm not there now, downloading financial records for the Medical Board of California, for any attorney with a subpoena, and for the feds. Yipes!

What a world. I understand that Osama fellow we haven't been able to find for years has a kidney problem and undergoes dialysis several time a week. If he need a new kidney, and could get to Los Angeles - well, one never knows.

Oh, and by the way, the New York Times reporter, Judy Miller, is still in jail for refusing to reveal her sources - this grand jury investigating the outing of Valerie Plame wants to know who told her what, or what she told them, or something. She may be part of the crime, setting it all up - or not. John Bolton, a man who hated Valerie Plame's husband, Joe Wilson, has visited her in jail, taking time from his duties as our new insult-everyone ambassador to the UN. And she's a martyr for press rights, it seems. It very, very confusing, and mysterious. And it may be a joke.

Here's the Hollywood take on it - Sunset Boulevard and Laurel Avenue, Wednesday, September 28, at the Laugh Factory of all places.

Posted by Alan at 20:26 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 28 September 2005 20:32 PDT home

Topic: Corrections Noted

Correction: Good Stuff, Actually For Sale

On one of the photo pages in Just Above Sunset - August 28, 2005, Very Far Above Sunset - you would find a shot of the only vineyard in Beverly Hills, sister city to Cannes, with the comment that this was not a commercial vineyard - the fellow keeps the wine to himself.

Ah, it's not true.

My information came word-of-mouth from someone who lived in the area, as we walked by the place on the street below.

I see in my local paper that the place is actually in Bel-Air, not Beverly Hills, which is a bit further east. Secondly, this place, Moraga Vineyards, is not only Los Angeles' lone commercial wine grape grower, the owner is now building an on-site winery, the first to be bonded in the City of Los Angeles since the start of prohibition. Thirdly, the house on the grounds - a 1939 "ranch-style" home - was built for the director Victor Fleming ("Gone With the Wind," "The Wizard of Oz") when Howard Hawkes was his only neighbor, and the stables on the grounds are where Clark Gable kept his horse. Ah, Hollywood history.

The vineyard:

All the facts are here:

Finally, a winery in Bel-Air
Corie Brown - Los Angeles Times - September 28, 2005

It seems the place is "home to one of California's most highly regarded Cabernets" and has been owned for years by Tom Jones. No, not the Welsh singer wildly popular in the early seventies, but the Tom Jones who for thirty years was the chief executive of Northrop Corporation - an aeronautical engineer by training. He retired in 1990, so he was nominally my boss when I landed my first job there after I moved to Los Angeles from upstate New York in 1980 - although I was a lowly fellow instructing supervisors on employee relations and never saw him. Little did I know he was a major conservationist - a trustee of the California Nature Conservancy for fifty years - and that in 1959 he bought this fifteen acres of unused land for a little under a half million dollars. My handy CPI Inflation Calculator says his 450,000 outlay is the equivalent of well over three million these days. For fifteen acres of chaparral?

Well, it worked out. The land was cleared and planted - they even got rid of the hippies growing marijuana on the hillsides in the sixties. They planted their first grapevines in 1978 and Jones and Scott Rich, his winemaker, now produce really good wine:
And at $125 a bottle for his Cabernet, which includes 20% Merlot, and $65 for his Sauvignon Blanc, Jones certainly makes a profit on Moraga wine. He sells out his annual production of 600 cases to a list of 500 loyal mail-order customers, a handful of Parisian restaurants including Alain Ducasse, and a number of the most expensive restaurants in New York City and Los Angeles. Hotel Bel-Air carries Moraga as its "neighborhood" wine. And the wine is usually on the shelf at the only two stores that Jones allows to stock it: Wally's in Westwood and the Beverly Hills Cheese Shop.

Is it good enough to be one of California's most expensive wines? British wine critic Jancis Robinson called it one of her favorites when she tasted through a flight of 1994 and 1995 California Cabernets in 1999. But she hasn't tasted it since, she says. American critic Robert Parker gave the 1993 Moraga Cabernet an 89 on his 100-point scale.
Not bad for a sort of mom-and-pop operation - Alain Ducasse serves it in Paris.

The Times has much more detail. Just Above Sunset stands corrected.

Posted by Alan at 09:55 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 28 September 2005 10:03 PDT home

Topic: World View

Organized Labor: Sailing Off with a Whole Ship

Over the last several years in these pages there have been a few discussions of organized labor – for one example see April 11, 2004, Last night I dreamed I saw Joe Hill, about a labor dispute out here. Back then I noted my conservative friend says what's wrong with America is we restrict businesses and the key to getting the economy going again is outlawing unions, and making it illegal for any employee, individually or collectively, to oppose or even to comment on how that employee is being treated. That is, if you don't like your job, or your pay, or your benefits, or you think you workplace is unsafe - just quit. Get another job if you're so damned unhappy. Well, that's one view. Class warfare was in the air. And still is.

But no union over here would try to pull of what is reported below from "Our Man in Paris," Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis. These folks are serious.


Strikers Snatch Ship

PARIS - Tuesday, September 27 - Listening to radio France-Info news earlier today, I became concerned about the state of France. The radio reported that striking ferry sailors had seized one of the SNCM ships and were sailing it to Corsica. This was a very brief report, followed by an update from the Paris bourse, sports news and weather.

'Sort of casual,' I thought, 'for what is obviously a major escalation in the ongoing war that other countries would call labor relations.' Strikers in France, used to being ignored by management, are capable of inventing unusual and interesting tactics to get attention, but sailing off with a whole ship?

Technically it's like piracy. What is the prosecutor in Marseille doing? Where is the navy, or sea-going police? What will the Prefect of Corsica say about it? Instead of answers, I learned that the municipal council of Perpignan in Languedoc-Roussillon has rejected the notion of renaming the region 'Septimanie.'

It all goes back to the end of August or the beginning of September in 415, when Ataulf was assassinated in Barcelona. It was a time of decline for the Romans, in this area called Septimanie on account of the legion stationed there, or it relates to a union of seven bishops at the time of Visigothic kings. Skip ahead 1589 years to 2004 when Georges Frêche gets elected as the head of the region, and he wants to bring the old name back - but residents, many of whom are Catalan, are against the idea. They think the old name sounds like 'septicémie,' or a serious infection.

Meanwhile the strikers are sailing across the bright blue Mediterranean towards Corsica, where they are expected to arrive about 22:30 tonight. Police forces on the troubled island were guarding another ferry belonging to the private line, Corsica Ferries, after STC and CGT strikers had attempted to block loading.

As evening fell more details have emerged on the TV-news. The general secretary of the Corsica-based STC marine union, Alain Mosconi, told AFP at Ajaccio about noon that his members had 'gotten under way' with the mixed ferry, Pascal Paoli. TV-news reported that 30 unarmed but hooded men boarded the ferry that had a crew of about 60. There are no passengers aboard.

The ferry seizure comes after battles last night in the port of Marseille between the CRS units in full riot gear and using teargas against CGT strikers. The confrontation involved about 200 strikers and the police, and led to the arrest of two strikers.

This in turn set off a blockage of the entire ports of Marseille and Fos sur-Mer on Tuesday, closing down cargo, container, mineral and petroleum shipments. A small group of strikers arrived in Nice Tuesday morning but SNCM had already moved its high-speed ferry 'Liamone' offshore. At other ports a total of nine SNCM ferries are idle.

The events this week follow a series of strikes of the embattled ferry service that is owned by the state. The unions oppose a government plan to hand over control to a private investment group, Butler Capital Partners.

Tonight news agencies are announcing that the government has decided to go ahead this afternoon with its deal with the private investors, saying that their offer was the 'most acceptable.' The state is expected to continue as a minority shareholder. Butler Capital has indicated that it will lay off 350 to 400 sailors out of a total of 2400 who work for SNCM.

In the meantime, somewhere off the coast of Corsica, the hijackers have claimed that they have 'not stolen' the ferry and that they 'are not mutineers.' Union members and the police are waiting for their arrival in the port of Bastia, where CGT marine members have already occupied the SNCM offices.

In Marseille the court is saying that the hijacking is a 'flagrant crime' no different from hijacking an airliner. A judicial source told AFP that conviction could result in a 20-year prison term.
Maritime gendarmes are to investigate.

The two CGT delegates arrested Monday night have had their detention prolonged, but should appear in court on Wednesday. They risk a year in prison and a fine of 15,000 euros. This afternoon a CRS troop was protecting the commissariat where the two are being held. Union members expect to meet early Wednesday morning to decide whether the port strike will continue.


Commandos Seize Strikers

PARIS- Wednesday, September 28 - Five helicopters carrying government quick-reaction anti-terrorist GIGN forces swiftly converged on the hijacked ferry this morning off the port of Bastia and recaptured it from the strikers who offered no resistance.

The SNCM ferry, the Pascal Paoli, arrived near Bastia in Corsica last night but stayed offshore, controlled by the strikers, on account of CRS troops occupying the port. The GIGN commandos staged their raid to recapture the vessel in daylight, quickly seizing the striking hijackers and handcuffing them. Reports said no firearms were used.

After the action, which took only a few minutes, the ferry turned away from Corsica to return to the mainland, most likely to Toulon where the French navy has its major Mediterranean base.

Corsican protestors occupied Bastia's port and nationalist politicians of the Unione Naziunale de l'Assemblée de Corse denounced the government action, claiming that an agreement had been brokered on Tuesday evening that called for the hijackers to return the ferry to government control. In return they were guaranteed that there would be no police action and no arrests.

The port of Marseille was reported to be still blocked by striking port workers and SNCM ferry crews.

Posted by Alan at 08:35 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 28 September 2005 08:38 PDT home

Tuesday, 27 September 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

What Matters: Getting to the Core

Over at Just Above Sunset and here on the blog there's this lighthearted dispute with our columnist Bob Patterson. He seems to think the direction of both sites is wrong. They should cover the news, not do all the long-winded commentary on political theory and history and whatnot. He's in favor of brevity, and of what people really want to consider – things like Michael Jackson's guilt (or innocence), or at least his behavior, or, perhaps, the antics of the press covering such things.

To cite him:
Do you seriously mean to say that there can be an "intellectual analysis" of contemporary culture via mundane trivial "news" items such as the recent coverage of Madonna's horse riding accident? ("Are equestrian competitions racist?") Only a few dedicated (fanatical?) intellectuals want a constant diet of complex (hard to digest) issues that need extensive elaboration to be understood. It seems logical to assume the writer and publisher wants the material to reach the largest possible audience to achieve the maximum effect on the audience. There's an old maxim in advertising that advises it is better to shout your message from the treetop than to whisper it down the well.
Ah, but some things just are complex and "hard to digest," and one cannot avoid that. The intention here has been to examine the complexity, and try to unravel it when possible, or put it in some sort of perspective. Failing that, one can only marvel at it.

Thus the long items here can be seen as "aids to digestion," so to speak. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. But that's what we do - and Bob get is two columns each week over at Just Above Sunset to do what he does. (His two latest are here and here.) Yes, the most powerful man in the world, reelected by a clear majority of Americans, has made a career of denying complexity - "They hate us for our freedoms." - but somehow that leaves some of us - what Bob calls "a few dedicated (fanatical?) intellectuals" - thinking maybe there's something more going on.

Well, maybe there isn't and he's right. A few sentences will do for almost anything?

But how to explain all this, just a sample at the end of the day, Tuesday, September 27 ...

Are we winning in Iraq? You decide.

Al-Qaeda's No 2 in Iraq is shot dead after betrayal (Times Online)
US is logging gains against Al Qaeda in Iraq )Christian Science Monitor)
Zarqawi emerging as self-sustained force-US intel (Reuters)

How are things in Israel? You decide.

Israel shells Gaza for first time since pullout (ABC News)
Sharon's Likud Opponents Vow to Oust Him (San Francisco Chronicle)

The fellow who resigned as head of FEMA testifies before congress, and said what? And he still works for them? What one-liner do you use?

Brown: 'I know what I am doing' (CNN)
Brown puts blame on Louisiana officials (CNN)
Brown serving as consultant to FEMA (CNN)

Over in Northern Ireland? What's to say?

No power-share, says Paisley as he disputes IRA weapons move (Times Online, UK)
Protestants Not Buying IRA Disarmament (ABC News)
Doors open again for Sinn Fein in US (Belfast Telegraph, United Kingdom)

That girl was convicted of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib and she's really, really sorry. Case closed?

Lynndie England apologizes for abuse photos (ABC News)

The second day of the trial was underway regarding "intelligent design" near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, not far from the Three Mile Island reactors, and the New York Times leads with this - "Intelligent design is not science, has no support from any major American scientific organization and does not belong in a public school science classroom, a prominent biologist testified on the opening day of the nation's first legal battle over whether it is permissible to teach the fledgling 'design' theory as an alternative to evolution." Curiously the Times of London (UK) gives is this: Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side' - an item that opens with this - "Religious belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today." Really. See also God versus science debate continues in court (ABC News) and School defends its decision to teach 'intelligent design' (Independent - UK) and Claims of scientific support for 'intelligent design' disputed (Knight-Ridder Washington Bureau). Enough has been said in these pages on that topic. Anything more will bore everyone.

You can't cover everything.

As de facto editor and publisher you cover what interests you. You hope some "intellectual fanatic" will hang on for the ride. If not, then so be it.

And what interests this de facto editor and publisher is what underlies what is said and done - trying to figure out how people think and how they think the world should be.

Boring? Perhaps, but here's the ride.

Tony Blankley has a new book.

Who is he?

Well, he speaks for the right. He's the man in charge of the op-ed page of the Washington Times, Reverend Moon's conservative alternative to the Washington Post, what Fox News is to CNN, if you will. He's a regular panelist on that weekend shout-fest on PBS, The McLaughlin Group, you see him on the MSNBC Chris Matthews Show now and then, quite often opining on Fox News, and he's the "right" on the nationally syndicated NPR commentary show Left, Right and Center recorded out here at KCRW in Santa Monica. He's a big gun on the right.

So how does he think, and what's this new book? It's The West's Last Chance, published by Regnery, the publisher of Michelle Malkin (previously discussed here and quoted often). The Blankley book was published September 12 - 256 pages, ISBN: 0895260158 - and it's a hoot.

Over at Richard Mellon Scaife's TOWNHALL one Rebecca Hagelin says it's important -
"It is increasingly likely that such a threat cannot be defeated while the West continues to adhere to its deeply held values - as it currently understands them - of tolerance, the right to privacy, the right even to advocate sedition and the right to equal protection under the law," Blankley writes. "The day is upon us when the West will have to decide which it values more: granting these rights and tolerance to those who wish to destroy us, or the survival of Western civilization."

If those strike you as harsh words, it shows how poorly understood the current threat really is. Blankley invites us to consider the way America and Britain faced Germany and Japan in the 1940s. In times of imminent peril - when the choice, like it or not, was kill or be killed - our leaders made some hard decisions that, frankly, saved us. For President Franklin Roosevelt, that meant, among other things, censoring radio broadcasts, investigating subversive activities and, yes, interning Japanese-Americans.
Yep, that's the thesis. Unless we forget about "tolerance, the right to privacy, the right even to advocate sedition and the right to equal protection under the law" we'll all die. Just as we put those Japanese families - men, women and children - in those camps in the desert, because they were merely Japanese, so we may have to do the same thing now. Michelle Malkin wrote a book arguing that - In Defense of Internment: The Case for 'Racial Profiling' in World War II and the War on Terror.

But Tony Blankley is beyond that - to survive we'd better accept something like a police state with no rights.

First steps? Hagelin explains:
So what do we need to do? First, Blankley says, declare war. No, not today's "Global War on Terror," which is far too elastic, but a formal declaration of war against those we are actually at war with - Islamic jihadists. We could then expand our war effort to include the full network of radical Islam, from mosques and schools to Web sites dedicated to our destruction. Second, use ethnic/religious profiling. To do otherwise, Blankley says, "puts political correctness before common sense." Third, secure our borders. Fourth, adopt national ID cards. We also need to strengthen our alliance with Europe, which is crucial to winning this war.
Comment from Jesse Taylor here -
So, we declare formal war against an idea. What's its home country - the ImagiNation?

Now, if you're looking for radical Islamic terrorists, it makes sense to look in places where radical Islamic terrorists might congregate. However, the dragnet that Blankley is advocating runs into the same issue that Japanese internment did - treating 120,000 people as suspects for no particular reason wastes a lot of time and pisses a lot of people off. Again, the goal of fighting terrorism seems to be fucking up American society before the terrorists can do it. Secure our borders? What a great idea! ...

National ID cards? I'm actually in favor of them. That, of course, means that they must be burned at the stake for the heresy of being accepted by a librul.

It would probably help to strengthen our alliance [with Europe] if the party in charge hadn't run against their favored American candidate by referring to him alternately as "French" or "European," if the party in charge didn't refer to everything they hated about liberalism as European socialism, or if the author in question didn't believe that Europe was fundamentally drifting away from America, and that new alliances with them involve capitulation to a new world order.

But, honestly, if the worst you can say about Blankley's book is that he wants a party that is ideologically incapable of carrying out his plan to fight a threat that doesn't exist with an ally that he believes is intractably removed from our concerns, then you can say some pretty bad shit about it.
But that is what he wants. Underlying it all he seems to want to end this crap about having a country where people can say what they think and folks do their best to tolerate each other. We can't afford it? To survive we must run our country with iron discipline, much as the mullahs run Iran or some such thing. Sometimes concentration camps are necessary. We have to preserve our way of life, after all.

What way of life? It seems you can say some pretty bad shit about this book on what we must become. To save the America we know and love we must become a fascist state, with all the trimmings,

This would be a minor thing if Blankley were a bit player. But, as noted above, he's a big gun, with considerable influence. Amazon sells his new book here - to the paranoid. The book service at TOWNHALL sells it here with these blurbs:
"A great book. To win the War on Terror, you have to include Tony Blankley's The West's Last Chance and its antidote to the blame-America-first liberals and their suicidal complacency. Buy it, read it, and use it." - Rush Limbaugh, host of The Rush Limbaugh Show

"Tony Blankley treats the Islamist threat with the gravity and urgency it deserves. Not enough of our leaders do. The West's Last Chance is an incisive and invaluable book." - Michelle Malkin, author of In Defense of Internment

"Tony Blankley gets it! The enemy is much more than al Qaeda and the stakes are much higher than most people realize. A timely, thoughtful, and provocative read." - Governor Tom Ridge, former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security

"Tony Blankley's breadth of vision and understanding are breathtaking: Few others have the courage or insight needed to tell you just how deep a fix the Western world is in, or to offer practical and useful solutions for its salvation. Blankley does all this and more with admirable eloquence, erudition, and wit." - Robert Spencer, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)
Ah, the salvation of the western world is at stake. Cool. But this book is not about its salvation. It's pretty obvious it's about getting rid of those things that define it - to save it.

That raises an interesting question one might pose to Blankley, or Robert Spencer, or to Michelle Malkin. If you take away these things - "tolerance, the right to privacy, the right even to advocate sedition and the right to equal protection under the law" - then you must be operating under the assumption that they do not, really, define what you call "the western world." Just how are you defining it then? Please explain. After all the takeaways, what's left? Who are we and what do we stand for, and how should we live our lives?

That is a real question. Some of us - the intellectuals Bob finds so boring - want to know. Their vision of "what's left" is not here. What is it? What are the core values? There's nothing given.

What remains?

The news stories up top are about transitory events. These issues are what lie underneath.

Posted by Alan at 21:39 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 27 September 2005 21:56 PDT home

Monday, 26 September 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

A Hard Look at the Psychopathic Side of the American Spirit

Well, there were those demonstrations over the weekend, against the war, and for the war - September 24th for the former and September 25th for the latter. The numbers? Here's the contrast:
Support for U.S. troops fighting abroad mixed with anger toward anti-war demonstrators at home as hundreds of people, far fewer than organizers had expected, rallied Sunday on the National Mall one day after tens of thousands protested the war in Iraq.

"No matter what your ideals are, our sons and daughters are fighting for our freedom," said Marilyn Faatz, who drove from New Jersey to attend the rally. "We are making a mockery out of this. And we need to stand united, but we are not."

About 400 people gathered near a stage, a large patchwork American flag serving as a backdrop. Amid banners and signs proclaiming support for U.S. troops, several speakers hailed the effort to bring democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan and denounced those who protest it.
So that's tens of thousands for the one and four hundred for the other (or two hundred according to this report. Marilyn from New Jersey was rightly frustrated, and this should be noted Reuters: "More than 100,000 protesters flooded Washington on Saturday ..."

The exact numbers are unclear, but the contrast isn't. (And none of this counts the numbers protesting Saturday in London - estimated at 10,000 - and the few dozen in Rome with their banners and peace flags outside the US Embassy, and crowds of various sizes in a few other cities no patriotic American cares about.)

The argument Monday morning from the right was the mainstream media hyped the anti-war numbers and Saturday was a big failure of the progressive anti-war left. Hardly anyone showed up. The photographs are deceptive. Don't believe your eyes - maybe the angle was deceptive or something. Whatever.

All the major folks in the Democratic Party took a pass - which was just as well. It was a big "hurrah for our side" thing Saturday. It was a much smaller "hurrah for our side" thing Sunday from the other side. Mass demonstrations don't change anything. Each side gets to feel self-righteous and point at the other side and call them names.

And Monday, September 26, Cindy Sheehan gets herself arrested protesting outside the White House - apparently you can walk back and forth with a sign and say what you want, you're just not permitted to stop and sit down. The police picked her up and carted her off. The progressive anti-war left gets a "free speech" martyr? Over on the right, James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board in his daily web review calls Sheehan a hate-harpy, while Matt Drudge runs a photo over her being lifted up by the police, a big grin on her face, and a policeman's hand way, way up her skirt - and Drudge explains that big grin with the headline "Cindy Sheehan Arrested at White House in Cunning Stunt" - implying she's a sexual exhibitionist who has a thing for being masturbated by hunky policemen in public while thousands watch, or this is the only sex this kind of woman will ever get, or whatever. (That's here, and if Matt takes if down, here.)

It's all very odd, and not to the point. Things are in a bad way in Iraq. No one marching in the streets back here, for this or against that, is doing anything that will change those things.

How bad has it become? Putting it in a few words, Robert Dreyfuss says this: ""Just when it didn't seem like Iraq could get any worse - it gets worse."

Think of the Hatfield and McCoy feud. It's the Iraq version:
This time, it's the simmering battle between two Shiite paramilitary armies: the forces of the Badr Brigade, the 20,000-strong force controlled by the Iranian-supported Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and the Mahdi Army, the thousands-strong force that worships the fanatical Muqtada Al Sadr. The battle, which might flare into a Shiite-Shiite civil war in advance of the October 15 referendum on Iraq's divisive, rigged constitution, could put the final nail in the coffin of the Bush administration's Iraq policy.
So it's not just the Sunni folks being excluded and angry - the guys we are trusting to create this "New Iraq" are fighting each other? Seems so.

And as for that business with the Brits having problems in the south, in Basra, mentioned previously (see last weekend's Just Above Sunset here, about halfway down the page, and by Mike McCahill in his London column), well that's just more of the same mess:
What it all means is that the relative stability that has been present in Basra and others towns in southern Iraq may be coming to an end. For the first time, there are insurgent attacks reported in Basra. And the British, who had responsibility for Basra, suddenly find themselves sitting atop a powder keg.

Since 2003, the Bush administration's one hope has been that it can contain the Sunni-led resistance by betting on the Kurdish-Shiite alliance. But if the Shiites shatter, it's curtains for the Anglo-American occupation. That is the other exit strategy: not the one in which U.S. forces declare victory and withdraw in orderly fashion, but the one in which we get our butts kicked out of Iraq forthwith.
James Walcott pointed to Dreyfuss in his column Systems Failure and there provides a link to something by the military historian Martin van Creveld titled Why Iraq Will End as Vietnam Did. Wolcott is not nice, as the military historian says this:
He who fights against the weak - and the rag-tag Iraqi militias are very weak indeed - and loses, loses. He who fights against the weak and wins also loses. To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel; to let that opponent kill you is unnecessary and therefore foolish. As Vietnam and countless other cases prove, no armed force however rich, however powerful, however, advanced, and however well motivated is immune to this dilemma. The end result is always disintegration and defeat; if US troops in Iraq have not yet started fragging their officers, the suicide rate among them is already exceptionally high. That is why the present adventure will almost certainly end as the previous one did. Namely, with the last US troops fleeing the country while hanging on to their helicopters' skids.
But wait! There's more!

Wolcott points to William S. Lind - the big man on Fourth Generation Warfare (is that what this is?) - and clicking over to Lind you'll find this:
Fourth Generation war is asymmetrical, but it is asymmetrical on a much broader scale than simply the pitting of a conventional army against guerrillas. The larger asymmetry is political. Fourth Generation war pits a state, or alliance of states, against a shifting mass of opponents of wildly varying motives and goals. Among the problems that presents is that the state has no one to talk to about making peace. Who does Mr. Kissinger sit down with in Paris this time?

Nor does Fourth Generation war have as its objective the mind of the leader on the other side. Rather, what it does is pull its enemy apart on the moral level, fracturing his society.
Has anyone mentioned the nation seems more divided than it ever has been before? Has anyone mentioned no Democrat has dared to call Bush on all the crap, except for Howard Dean, and the media assures us he is quite mad? There is no opposition party, just Democrats afraid of offending the folks in the "red states" and being silent? Only large blocks of ordinary people are saying this war is madness and the folks in charge clueless. What up with that?

That is just what Fourth Generation opponents strive for, a systemic breakdown in their state adversary. The danger sign in America is not a hot national debate over the war in Iraq and its course, but precisely the absence of such a debate - which, as former Senator Gary Hart has pointed out, is largely due to a lack of courage on the part of the Democrats. Far from ensuring a united nation, what such a lack of debate and absence of alternatives makes probable is a bitter fracturing of the American body politic once the loss of the war becomes evident to the public. The public will feel itself betrayed, not merely by one political party, but by the whole political system.

The primum mobile of Fourth Generation war is a crisis of legitimacy of the state. If the absence of a loyal opposition and alternative courses of action further delegitimizes the American state in the eye of the public, the forces of the Fourth Generation will have won a victory of far greater proportions than anything that could happen on the ground in Iraq. The Soviet Union's defeat in Afghanistan played a central role in the collapse of the Soviet state. Could the American defeat in Iraq have similar consequences here? The chance is far greater than Washington elites can imagine.
Well, what with the war going badly, sold to us for one reason and the resold for this reason then that one, and with the destruction of New Orleans and the Gulf there with no plan in place before the storms and not much plan for recovery after the storms, and with the current scandals and resignations, and with poverty generally rising for four years, health insurance disappearing for more and more folks, the deficit ballooning - make your own list - who sees this government as legitimate? They're faking it, and making their friends and contributors rich, of course.

As for the big demonstration last Saturday, click on Wolcott and read his detailed day-after analysis: "I don't know what the answer is to the lack of adversarial energy against this accursed war, but what I do know is that yesterday's flea circus wasn't it."

But of course the administration line is that on October 15th they'll probably vote in this new constitution in Iraq - and we will have achieved our objective. That would be the new objective, not getting rid of the Iraqi nuclear weapons and other WMD, not punishing Saddam for the events of 9/11 - not any of the previous ones. It's the latest one - they get democracy and all the joys of free market capitalism and freedom of religion and rights for women, sort of.

Sunday the 25th, sounding kind of like an opposition party should, if we had one, the Washington Post ran an editorial saying this too was bullshit, although they didn't use the word. Saying what no one anywhere in the Democratic Party would EVER say, we get this:
As Iraq moves toward a referendum on its new constitution just three weeks from now, many of its senior politicians readily concede that the charter is seriously flawed, and that its approval may worsen rather than alleviate the relentless violence. Leaders of neighboring Arab states and some Bush administration officials seem to share this view. Yet none of these officials or leaders has been willing or able to stop the political process from going forward.

... Faced with sinking domestic support, the Bush administration seems driven by an unwise zeal to produce visible results in Iraq - such as a ratified constitution - however problematic they may be. ... Yet, judging from what even supportive Iraqis are saying, the risk is very great that the constitutional process will either tip Iraq decisively toward civil war or produce a state far from the goal of a tolerant democracy for which nearly 2,000 Americans have given their lives.
But no one is "willing or able" do stop the juggernaut? No one has the balls to say the obvious - WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?

Note the reasoning in the Post:
The real problem is the absence of an agreement about Iraq's future between the majority Shiite and Kurd communities and the minority Sunnis, who ruled the country from the time of its establishment until the fall of Saddam Hussein. That disconnect is expressed in the overwhelming rejection by Sunni leaders of the constitutional draft.

... Though the details of implementation were postponed, the current draft would allow the Shiites, who already control the national government, to create their own ministate in southern Iraq, which very likely would be ruled by clerics and Islamic law and would closely ally itself with neighboring Iran. It would have its own armed forces and control Iraq's biggest oil fields. The Kurds would have their own ministate in northern Iraq and would probably take over the city of Kirkuk and its oil production. This radical form of "federalism" not only would be ruinous to the Sunni community, as well as the mixed population of Baghdad: It would be threatening and even destabilizing for all of Iraq's neighbors except Iran. It would produce an Iraq that the United States would have no interest in defending.

The only way for Iraq to avoid catastrophe is a political accord among Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis, one that can be based only on the preservation of Iraq as a federal but unified state in which resources and political power are fairly shared and human rights protected. The Bush administration, and Iraqi leaders themselves, ought to be focused on striking that national compromise rather than on prematurely enshrining pieces of paper or adhering to deadlines that were set arbitrarily 18 months ago.
Yeah, well, we get some of the parties to meet the deadline, and thus get an independent state in the south aligned with Iran and ruled by the fundamentalist clergy, and an independent state in the north sure to worry Turkey (them Kurds!). And a bunch of ticked off Sunni Arabs blowing things up here and there.

A newspaper can point out this is madness. No politician can - because Karl Rove will come "get you" - and your family, and your dog Toto too.


So should we get out of Iraq, or what? In the discussion of the hypothetical "Worst of All Time" contest last weekend (here) that didn't exactly come up, but what did come up was Bill Montgomery's discussion of this story - about the vastly popular website where folks trade amateur, homemade hard pornography for photos sent by our guys in Iraq of the maimed and tortured and dead bodies of the locals over there. That was mentioned in passing, but it's why Montgomery thinks it's time to leave Iraq, as he explains in Heart of Darkness.

Note this:
I didn't go to the big anti-war demo in Washington today - and not just because I have the normal responsibilities of a middle-aged parent with a house, a mortgage, a dog and a backyard that badly needs mowing. I could have evaded all of those things. I decided not to go because up I've been deeply conflicted about the morality of supporting a rapid U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq.

That is, up until now.

I opposed the invasion of Iraq - from the moment, in the summer of 2002, when it became obvious Bush had made up his mind to overthrow Saddam's regime. It didn't take a degree in Middle Eastern studies to understand what a Pandora's box of sectarian conflict and strategic instability Shrub was about to open, and you didn't need to be a pacifist to see that the moral and legal case for war was deficient to the point of criminality.

It's also been clear - since about, oh, four days after the fall of Baghdad - that the Cheney administration didn't have (still doesn't have) any coherent strategy for stabilizing, pacifying or reconstructing Iraq, other than to pour money down Halliburton's gullet. And while the campaign to export "democracy" to Iraq was sincere (at least on the part of many of those who participated) it was always doomed, as much by the deficiencies of democracy here in America as by the cultural and historical tragedies of Iraq.

So I'm not, by any stretch of the imagination, an apologist for the war, much less for the administration or - for that matter - the American people, who followed their leaders into an aggressive war with barely a peep of protest. I'm also not some born-again hawk, who's suddenly discovered that the war was a noble cause after all, now that it's opened the floodgates of Iraq to the kind of fanatical terrorists the ever clueless American public thought we were going to fight in the first place.

The truth is, I don't give a tinker's damn about the war on terrorism any more - not when it's set next to the agony the war in Iraq is inflicting on the people of Iraq. The American people chose this war, and whether it was out of ignorance, fear, or a blind, hysterical patriotism is really beside the point. In a democracy (even one as puerile and corrupt as ours) people get the kind of government they deserve. And so the American people deserve the consequences of failure in Iraq - whether it's another 2,000 dead soldiers, or $10 a gallon gas, or the transformation of the Sunni Triangle into the world's biggest terrorist training camp. We've earned them all, the hard way.

So if the only risk was that withdrawal would make America less secure - say by exposing the precious U.S. homeland to blowback from an Al Qaeda revival in Iraq or the collapse of the House of Saud - I guess I'd be down in Washington yelling bring the troops home now, and to hell with the consequences. America has no right to use Iraq as the bait in Field Marshal von Rumsfeld's "flypaper" strategy.

(There is, of course, a cold-blooded strategic argument to be made for a rapid withdrawal from Iraq, in which case the military justification for continuing the war is as questionable as the moral one. In that sense, I'm actually giving the hawks the benefit of the doubt.)

For me, the overriding moral question for me is this: Would a U.S. withdrawal make things better or worse for the Iraqi people? My personal opinion is that having started the war, and uncorked the bottle of religious fanaticism and communal savagery, America is morally obliged to do whatever it can to minimize the suffering and death its actions have caused - and will continue to cause for years to come.

To do otherwise would be ? treating the Iraqis like a small boy who mixes a bunch of red ants and blacks together to watch them fight, then gets bored with the whole thing and flushes them all down the toilet.
This is followed by a discussion of who is saying what about the details of what we can do as we stay, all the arguments for finding "a path out of the swamp" to make things at least a little better. But then we get this:
As for me, I've largely kept silent on the issue - in part because I've been so conflicted about it, and in part because (I'm trying to be honest here) I've been reluctant to buck the overwhelming anti-war, pro-withdrawal sentiment on my side of the political fence, or give even the slightest aid and comfort to the war hawks on the other side.

It's not that anyone should give a shit about what I think, but I've had enough experience with being selectively misquoted by right-wing bloggers to know how even a carefully worded argument against immediate withdrawal might be played - i.e. "lefty blogger admits Bush was right all along."

Still, I haven't felt right about avoiding the issue. So I've been promising myself for a while now that I would break cover and at least admit that I'm not sure withdrawing from Iraq is the morally right thing to do, and have deep doubts about the arguments in favor of it.

But something happened on my way to a confession: I came across the Nation article on, which meant I had to take a good, hard look at the psychopathic side of the American spirit, and consider its implications not just for the war on terrorism and the occupation of Iraq, but its role in the emergence of an authentically fascist movement in American politics, one which feeds on violence and the glorification of violence, and which has found an audience not just in the U.S. military (where I think - or at least hope - it's still a relatively small fringe) but in the culture as a whole.

... Suffice it to say that my visit to was a reminder of the genocidal skeletons hanging in the American closet. It left me with the conviction - or at least an intuitive premonition - that an open-ended war in Iraq (or in the broader Islamic world) will bring nothing but misery and death to them, and creeping (or galloping) authoritarianism to us.

We have to get out - not because withdrawal will head off civil war in Iraq or keep the country from falling under Iran's control (it won't) but because the only way we can stop those things from happening is by killing people on a massive scale, probably even more massive than the tragedy we supposedly would be trying to prevent.

... There was a time when I would have argued that the American people couldn't stomach that kind of butchery - not for long anyway - even if their political leaders were willing to inflict it. But now I'm not so sure. As a nation, we may be so desensitized to violence, and so inured to mechanized carnage on a grand scale, that we're psychologically capable of tolerating genocidal warfare against any one who can successfully be labeled as a "terrorist." Or at least, a sizable enough fraction of the American public may be willing to tolerate it, or applaud it, to make the costs politically bearable.

I don't know this for a fact, but after a stroll through, or reading the genocidal lunacy routinely on display at Little Green Footballs or - or your average redneck watering hole for that matter - I can't rule it out.

Which means I should have gone to Washington today after all. Because we really do need to get the troops out of Iraq - before hell is the consequence.
We get out because of what we're turning into?

Digby over at Hullabaloo adds more:
... I have seen no evidence that the military hierarchy has instituted a policy of posting gory pictures on sex sites of Iraqis whom we've liberated from their lives. It's possible, I suppose, but this looks to be a matter of individuals entertaining themselves. As I wrote before, I know that taking pictures of battlefield dead has been around since Matthew Brady - and it has served the purpose of documenting the horrors of war for all to see. But this melding of sexual porn and bloody war gore is the sign of something sadistic and perverted (and yes, fascistic.)

There is one stomach-churning picture that shows a horrible mangled stump where a foot should be, presumably blown up in a land mine or something like it - and the naked crotch of the woman whose stump is being displayed. It's called "Nice puss/Bad foot." It's possible that the picture is photo-shopped, but regardless of the veracity of the picture itself, it's obvious that any man who gets an erection from that pic is a man who should not be carrying a gun.

These guys are allowing their ids to run wild and I don't think there is any excuse for it. They know the difference between right and wrong. They are not under orders to post these pictures nor can there be any thought that it helps the war effort by scaring the "Hajis" or giving these soldiers a forum in which to "release" their "steam." It's pure titillation - "warporn" in the most literal sense and it speaks to something seriously wrong with the military culture that says on the one hand that we are there to liberate the Iraqi people and on the other that these people's dead and mangled bodies are strangely sexually stimulating.

Note that there is no discussion as to whether these Iraqis are "Baathists" "bitter-enders," "terrorists," "insurgents" - or the "good" Iraqis who we liberated from the sick, depraved Saddam. One of the pictures is simply entitled "Die Haji Die." It is assumed that any dead Iraqi is a terrorist - and that, as we know, is impossible.

None of this is to say that the systematic sexual torture regime we've seen in both Iraq and Guantanamo is just the result of a barrel of bad apples. Clearly, the military have taken the simple-minded lessons of "The Arab Mind" to heart and believe that if they sexually humiliate the "Hajis" they'll crumple. (Big strong American men, meanwhile, wouldn't be affected whatsoever by being forced to simulate anal sex with other men or being jeered at while wearing ladies underwear.) I think it's pretty clear that the highest reaches of the government signed off on a whole lot of questionable kinky stuff in the mistaken idea that Arabs are different from you and me. And it would appear that some of the soldiers have predictably taken this to heart.

And even if you are to set aside the kinky sexual nature of the War On Terror, I can't actually understand how anyone would think that even the total abdication of the Geneva Conventions allows for a cook to break a prisoner's leg with a baseball bat because he needed to relieve some stress. ...
So how did this happen?
The fact that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney said, "we're taking the gloves off" certainly created an environment in which the rule of law seemed to have been completely tossed aside. This country went temporarily insane after 9/11. I guess the military hierarchy lost its bearings too, which I find surprising since the highest levels of the officer corps are steeped in the lessons of Vietnam and presumably understood that this was likely the road to perdition.

The lies and misdirection conflating Al Qaeda with Saddam probably contributed more than anything to the horrors that many Iraqis faced at our hands during the first year or so of the occupation. Many soldiers surely internalized the idea that they were wreaking revenge for 9/11. In this, the buck goes all the way to the top and comes to a screeching halt on the desk of the heroic Commander Codpiece. Bush and his boys should have to answer for that, but I suppose it will be left to history to sort it out.
Digby doesn't but the "few bad apples" argument, it would seem. Well, it has become less and less plausible, hasn't it?

What about the counter argument from Rush Limbaugh here: "I think the reaction to the stupid torture is an example of the feminization of this country. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of need to blow some steam off?"

What about the argument that we "didn't start this shit. These Arab people killed three thousand of our people. Fair is fair - the argument of the conservative apologists, the columnists and bloggers.

Only we did start this shit, didn't we?

This is why the warmongers who type themselves into a frenzy supporting this war should have the balls to go over and fight it. Jonah Goldberg and Peter Beinert and Paul Ghouley should have to stand there and ask themselves these questions - confront the nightmares that are going to curse these soldiers for the rest of their lives as they try to reconcile what they saw and did.

It's a nice, pretty abstract concept - fighting tyranny and terrorism for the red, white and blue. But in reality it's standing in a doorway watching a psychopathic cook break a prisoners leg with a baseball bat because he's is feeling stressed. It's hearing innocent people screaming because they have had chemicals dripped into their eyes and on their skin so they'll "glow in the dark" and amuse the soldiers. It's having your humanity and your decency challenged every single day and not knowing if you will meet all the tests of bravery, conscience and loyalty that are required in a war that is being fought for vague and inscrutable reasons.

Jonah believes that we are liberating the Iraqi people from a totalitarian dictator. Does he then agree that it's part of the mission to ogle an Iraqi woman's privates while he gloats that her foot was blown off? Does he know what he would do if confronted with sadists who believe that the only good Iraqi is a dead Iraqi? That "they started this shit?"

The chickenhawks can claim that it is perfectly acceptable to support a war that they have no intention of fighting. But they cannot claim that it is just fine to support a war in which our troops have behaved in an immoral and indecent fashion, which the military has covered up and which was implicitly condoned by the highest reaches of our government. If they supported this they should have to share in the trials of conscience that afflict these poor bastards from the 82nd Airborne who came forward (and the ones who did not.) They should have to share in the visions of blood and gore that we see on that sick porn site and they should have to live with what has been done in their name.

If you support this country's loss of honor you should have to get down in the mud and grovel with all those who've lost their struggle to maintain their humanity while fighting a war that has no end, that doesn't know who it's fighting, that sees sex and violence intertwined in a sick and twisted way - and that celebrates random, wanton killing of the people we are allegedly fighting for. The chickenhawks in this war, of all wars, are the ones who should have to suffer alongside those who lost their souls killing and beating and torturing for a cause that didn't exist.
Yeah, I worry about my nephew in Baghdad, for many reasons.

Back in late August, here, you'd find a detail discussion of a item from Juan Cole, The University of Michigan professor of Middle East studies, explaining how we could put the fat out the fie, so to speak. That's here - a ten part plan for staying a bit longer in Iraq and fixing things.

Sunday the 25th he changed his mind. See Why We Have to Get the Troops Out of Iraq.The issue is not the rights and wrongs of the war. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There was no nuclear program, and the mushroom clouds with which Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice menaced us were figments of their fevered imaginations, no more substantial than the hateful internal voices that afflict schizophrenics.

But that is not a reason to get the ground troops out now.

The issue is not the lack of operational cooperation between the secular, socialist, Arab nationalist Baath Party of Iraq and the religious fanatics of al-Qaeda. There was no such operational involvement. Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and Abu Zubaydah were captured before the Iraq War, and told their American interrogators that al-Qaeda had refused to cooperate with Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration deliberately hid this crucial information from the American people, and puzzled US intelligence officials who knew about it were astounded to see Cheney and others continually go on television and assert that Saddam and Bin Laden were in cahoots in the build-up to the war.

But that is not a reason to get the ground troops out now.

That US soldiers are dying in Iraq, with the number approaching 2,000, is a tragedy. But it is not in and of itself a reason to get the troops out of Iraq. We lost some 1700 at Guam alone in World War II. The question is whether a war is worth fighting, not its human toll, since a much worse human toll may result from giving up the fight (if the US could have launched D-Day in 1940, the Holocaust might never have happened).

So that is not a reason to get the ground troops out now.
So go read his reasons.

The first is we need to get the ground troops out now is that they are being fatally brutalized by their own treatment of Iraqi prisoners, and he runs down the evidence.

The second is we are not accomplishing the mission given them, and are making things worse rather than better, and he runs down the evidence, tons of it.

He ends with this:
Let's get them out, now, before they destroy any more cities, create any more hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons, provoke any more ethnic hatreds by installing Shiite police in Fallujah or Kurdish troops in Turkmen Tal Afar. They are sowing a vast whirlwind, a desert sandstorm of Martian proportions, which future generations of Americans and Iraqis will reap.

The ground troops must come out. Now. For the good of Iraq. For the good of America.
That's what's going around now. It has come down to a question of who we are and who we want to be.

Maybe we need two countries - one for Bush and Rush and those who love them, and one for the "feminized" folks.


Other comment of note:

Regarding Time Magazine, Friday evening, September 23 the long article with this -
The U.S. Army has launched a criminal investigation into new allegations of serious prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan made by a decorated former Captain in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, an Army spokesman has confirmed to TIME. The claims of the Captain, who has not been named, are in part corroborated by statements of two sergeants who served with him in the 82nd Airborne; the allegations form the basis of a report from Human Rights Watch obtained by TIME and due to be released in the next few days (Since this story first went online, the organization has decided to put out its report; it can be found here). Senate sources tell TIME that the Captain has also reported his charges to three senior Republican senators: Majority Leader Bill Frist, Armed Services Committee chairman John Warner and John McCain, a former torture victim in Vietnam. A Senate Republican staffer familiar with both the Captain and his allegations told TIME he appeared "extremely credible."
This seems systematic, and approved. Someone approved it, or at the least, allowed it. It might be time to see who did, and at what level. The president's abandonment of the legal ban on inhumane treatment of military detainees is the problem?

Andrew Sullivan here:
It's still unclear what impact the war on terror is having in the Middle East, with some positive signs and still worrying possibilities in Iraq and elsewhere. But the impact on America - and on the U.S. military - is already clear. The United States has become a country that practices and condones torture and abuse of war detainees - even in a conventional conflict, such as Iraq. The legal memos allowing this are clear; the responsibility is clear - from President Bush down. And the consequences are clear: hundreds and hundreds of cases that prove systematic, approved torture and abuse of prisoners in every field of conflict, in camps and bases across Afghanistan and Iraq. The latest news about Camp Mercury is sickening, horrifying, but, at this point, utterly predictable. And when you read the Human Rights Watch report, and hear what the courageous and heroic soldiers say about what they witnessed, the conclusion is unavoidable.
Scott Horton here:
Soldiers state they fully appreciated that the abuse to which the detainees were subjected was sanctioned up the chain of command. A decision apparently had been made not to apply the Geneva Conventions in the War on Terror, and unambiguous instructions had come down the line of command to "take the gloves off" with the detainees. But one officer saw Donald Rumsfeld testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2004 saying that the Geneva Conventions were being respected in Iraq. "Something was wrong," he said. The officer went up the chain of command and to the JAGs in theater trying to get clarification of how the Geneva Conventions could possibly permit what was happening. He got nowhere. Moreover, he found he was subjected to implied and direct threats. Asking questions or reporting on what he saw would affect "the honor of the unit" and would damage his career.

The officer attempted to report these matters to several Republican senators. When his intention to do this became clear, officers in his chain of command denied him leave and took other steps to block his actions.
I think it's pretty clear that the military knows they have a lot to hide and that Rumsfeld knew he was lying when he assured Senators that the war in Iraq was being conducted in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. The cover-up of abuse that was the norm went all the way up the military command to Rumsfeld himself. Someone had told these officers that torture was now okay. That someone told the Senate another version.

The Bush administration - especially vice-president Dick Cheney and Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld - have fiercely resisted releasing critical documents that could nail this down without any doubt. They threatened to veto any bill that would bar the CIA from inflicting torture, and they oppose any Congressional attempts to insist that the U.S. military be legally forbidden from "cruel, inhumane or degrading" treatment of detainees. We need to see the rest of the Abu Ghraib photos that have been withheld, but we also need some critical documents, in order to categorically disprove propaganda like that recently published by National Review.
Horton again:
Until the Yoo March 14, 2003 memo is released to congressional oversight - and to the public - it is impossible for any serious analyst to accept the Harvey and Schoomaker claims about the role of doctrine. To the contrary, the unjustified withholding of this document - along with the military's own Church Report, and the numerous primary documents collected during that investigation - invites a strong inference that their claims are false. Moreover, at this point the text of the March 14, 2003 memo in and of itself is not enough. We need to see exactly how it affected military doctrine in the form of advice given by the DOD General Counsel's office, the JAG Corps, and the Military Intelligence branch, among other things. Some e-mail traffic I have seen among MI officers in Iraq suggests that this memo shaped actions on the ground in the War on Terror within a matter of weeks, if not days.
Horton reminds us of an important fact. In the military, responsibility goes up the chain of command. Punishing the grunts, while excusing those who devised these policies is not only unjust, it violates basic principles of military accountability. Read this analysis from someone who actually cares about the military's reputation. The president has already repeatedly declared his own view of his own responsibility for what goes on in his administration: others are always to blame. Only with Katrina did he manage to spit out his own responsibility. But destroying centuries of honor in the U.S. armed services is a graver crime than slovenly hurricane response.
That's an interesting little exchange.

Posted by Alan at 20:57 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 26 September 2005 21:31 PDT home

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