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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Thursday, 3 November 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Warning Signs: The Word from the Banlieues

By Thursday November 3rd the news cycle had been drained - the administration, combating startling new polling over the previous weekend about how no one was buying their line on "honesty and integrity" and all that - it seem the Libby indictment soured people - countered with a new Supreme Court nominee Monday morning, one well-qualified but sure to enrage the Democrats, and to their left, the progressives, and to the left of them, the hard-core lefties. Who wants Machine Gun Sam or a fellow who sees all women as mindless, irresponsible little girls? Well, some do.

That should have changed the subject, and Tuesday morning the administration then announced a plan to deal with the threat of avian flu - a massive spending proposal. Forget the war and the CIA leak thing - we need to move on. And four hours later the senate Democrats, led by Senator Reid, shut down the whole place for a secret session to demand some action on a long-delayed report on how "intelligence" might have been manipulated to get us into the mess in Iraq. Someone was stonewalling, and all paths led back to Vice President Cheney. (See this - "When I asked Reid whether he meant to state so flatly that Cheney was personally and directly stalling the Intelligence Committee's work, he didn't pause a beat. In fact he almost stood from his chair. 'Yes. I say that without any qualification ... Circle it.'") And, wonders of wonders, they got some action. And they wiped out all the efforts by the administration to change the subject.

Wednesday we found out our government runs a worldwide chain of secret prisons where we "disappear" people and torture them, and that the Office of the Vice President is leading the charge to change the rules so we can kidnap and torture anyone we'd like, anywhere, and tell no one, not even people in our own government. We call kidnapping "extraordinary rendition" and torture "enhanced interrogation" of course - but Ford calls their new sedan, the Fusion, sporty. You can say anything you want. The Ford is still a brick on wheels. There was a whole lot of outrage about the prison and torture issue, of course. The new Ford is selling well, however.

Thursday? "Scooter" Libby was arraigned. They read the charges. He pled not guilty and was released on his own recognizance. Yawn. The Washington Post attempted a scoop - White House insiders (anonymous high-level staffers quoted extensively) were saying Karl Rove had to resign, but then the right-wing pro-Bush media buzzed with the obvious - this was all from Scott McClelland, the press secretary, who was ticked that Karl Rove had told him flat-out there was nothing going on and had him lie on national television for him. Yawn. An internal squabble of not much significance.

No big news on Thursday? More soldiers died. Wednesday night's national protest got little attention, even if people walked away from their jobs and some streets out here in Los Angeles were shut down. The World Can't Wait? Yes, it can.

Was this big news?
President Bush last week appointed nine campaign contributors, including three longtime fund-raisers, to his Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a 16-member panel of individuals from the private sector who advise the president on the quality and effectiveness of U.S. intelligence efforts. After watching the fate of Michael Brown as head of FEMA and Harriet Miers as Supreme Court nominee, you might think the president would be wary about the appearance of cronyism - especially with a critical national-security issue such as intelligence. Instead, Bush reappointed William DeWitt, an Ohio businessman who has raised more than $300,000 for the president's campaigns, for a third two-year term on the panel. Originally appointed in 2001, just a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, DeWitt, who was also a top fund-raiser for Bush's 2004 Inaugural committee, was a partner with Bush in the Texas Rangers baseball team.

Other appointees included former Commerce secretary Don Evans, a longtime Bush friend; Texas oilman Ray Hunt; Netscape founder Jim Barksdale, and former congressman and 9/11 Commission vice chairman Lee Hamilton. Like DeWitt, Evans and Hunt have also been longtime Bush fund-raisers, raising more than $100,000 apiece for the president's campaigns. Barksdale and five other appointees - incoming chairman Stephen Friedman, former Reagan adviser Arthur Culvahouse, retired admiral David Jeremiah, Martin Faga and John L. Morrison - were contributors to the president's 2004 re-election effort. …
No, that's business as usual. Who else would you want who to advise the president on the quality and effectiveness of our intelligence efforts? Experts? Friends, or at least those who hand out money, will do just fine.

Maybe the mid-week polling was big news - Bush's job approval falls to 35 percent. The only recent president lower at this point in his second term was Richard Nixon. Vice President Cheney is down nine more points since the last check, at nineteen percent.

Like it matters? These two are in for the next three years and there is not one thing anyone, anywhere, can do about it. Their supporters control both houses of congress, much of the judiciary, and got one believer in the unlimited power of the executive on the Supreme Court, soon to be followed by another. They could come as a tag team and slit your grandmother's throat, just for a giggle. What could you do about it?

Well, Thursday in the new issue of The Nation there was their cover story. They are proposing impeachment. The idea is the president has clearly violated "Title 18, United States Code, Section 371, which prohibits conspiracies to defraud the United States." The suggestion is that there was a "conspiracy" to convince Americans to support the war in Iraq by using a "PR blitz" that manipulated data to connect Iraq to 9/11 and to claim that Saddam Hussein had or had sought weapons of mass destruction. "As if picking peanuts out of a Cracker Jack box, they plucked favorable tidbits from reports previously rejected as unreliable, presented them as certainties and then used these 'facts' to make their case."

Yeah, so? If the folks in the White House even know of this article they're laughing their asses off. The people spoke in the 2004 elections. When you're holding four aces you know what a bluff looks like. And you don't really need your grandmother around, really, do you?

Ah well.

The real news was overseas.

Yes, in the UK one of Blair's main men had to resign and Blair was forced to back down his terrorism laws. He doesn't have Bush's mandate from the people, it would seem. Actually, he doesn't have the luxury of not facing consequences but once every four years. Our system is a bit less "interactive" of course.

In Germany, their new Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, lauded by the right in America, is barely in charge after quite a mess of a close election. But this will be worked out.

The hot news was from France.

To set the scene, from the Associated Press, October 28 - Do artists have to be miserable to produce great art? A new exhibition in France suggests that a little inner darkness helps -
"Melancholy - Genius and Insanity in the Western World," which has visitors lining up around the block at Paris' Grand Palais, is anything but depressing.

"Long Live Melancholy!" one highbrow French magazine raved in its review.

The dazzlingly extensive look at art from antiquity to the 21st century shows how troubled thoughts have inspired great painters, sculptors, philosophers and writers.

"Melancholy is not only negative," curator Gerard Regnier said in an interview. "On the contrary, it was a positive energy that gave strength and genius to great artists throughout Western civilization."

Among them: Picasso, Rodin, van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Edward Hopper, Goya, Delacroix, William Blake. Nearly 300 works are on display, including masterpieces on rare loan from dozens of museums and collectors. ...
Ah yes, the world is sometimes too much, and you can make great art from that. (Note - recent photos of the Grand Palais in these pages here and here, and the official site of Les Galeries nationales du Grand Palais should you wish to drop by. Also see this, an extensive discussion of the whole business of depression and "genius" centering on the new book on Abraham Lincoln's "melancholia" - probably clinical depression - and another book on our "persistent romanticizing of depression.")

Be that as it may, there was much to be depressed about in Paris this week, or more precisely in the northeast banlieues - the outlying districts tourists never visit.

As of late Thursday:

Paris rioting enters second week - BBC News
French government defiant against rioters - DeHavilland, UK
Paris-Area Riots Spread to 20 Towns - New York Newsday
Riots erupt again in Paris suburbs, 50 cars torched - Reuters
Deep roots of Paris riots - ABC News

Deep roots? See this from Patrice de Beer -
A week after the riots in the Lozells area of Birmingham, England, between people of African-Caribbean descent and those of Asian origin [see Mick McCahill in these pages here - AMP], the northeast Paris banlieues (suburbs) of Clichy-sous-Bois and Montfermeil exploded in violent confrontation between police and black and Beurs (north African) youths. There have been clashes for six nights in a row - extending on the night of 1-2 November to the suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois. They involve the stoning of police vans, the burning of dozens of cars, attacks on firemen, and the vandalising of a police station, a post office, and a city hall. The disturbances have gone as far as a bullet being fired at a police van and a tear-gas canister being thrown at a local mosque during evening prayers - in the midst of the Muslim fasting month, Ramadan.

As in Birmingham, rumour was at the heart of the unfolding events. On 27 October, two teenagers - Ziad Benna and Bouna Traore, sons of working-class African Muslim immigrants - were electrocuted while hiding in an electric substation. The circumstances of the incident are contested; it was quickly alleged - though by politicians rather than police, who strenuously deny the claim - that they had tried to escape a police check.

This is not the first racial riot - and it certainly won't be the last - in the suburban ghettoes of France or other European countries. Youth violence, and more particularly violence in immigrant communities - legal or illegal, involving French citizens or not - has been here for a long time, and seems here to stay. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French interior minister and candidate to succeed president Jacques Chirac at the Elysée palace in 2007 - the two men hate each other despite belonging to the same UMP party - has adopted a repressive, law-and-order, zero-tolerance strategy towards the banlieues.

The rhetoric is as polarising as it is simple: it threatens evildoers ("them") with jail sentences if they dare threaten the law-abiding citizens ("us"). Until now, this hyper-mediatic policy has paid off, helping make "Sarko" - himself the son of an Hungarian immigrant - one of the most popular politicians in France.
Well, with going into the details of the Union pour un Movement Populaire (UMP) or the history of Nicolas Sarkozy, note this:
It seems more obvious than ever that violence attracts more violence, and that it becomes a vicious circle where violent police repression of local riots nurtures even more violence and in turn even more repression. It is true that, in the banlieues as in the more affluent inner cities, people fear petty crime, drug peddling, and carjacking by jobless youngsters. But nor do they like being fingered by police and politicians as potential criminals because of their appearance or creed. The only Beur member of government, Azouz Begag, "minister for social promotion and equality of opportunity", criticised Sarko for his provocative words: "You must not call youngsters 'scum', tell them that you're going to hit them hard. You must try to appease the situation," he said, adding "I use the verb 'clean up' for my shoes or my car, not for neighbourhoods".

Repression has shown its limits. Not that it is useless or harmful, as any government has to protect its citizens against crime. But a repressive policy cannot compensate for racial and social integration, nor offer an answer to discrimination, the housing problems of ghettoised suburbs and (above all) to the unemployment which hits the immigrant population even harder than the majority of job-seekers. Histrionic posturing to attract voters in pre-electoral times can cause more harm than good especially when the very social structure of France is at stake.
You have to love that turn of phrase - "histrionic posturing to attract voters in pre-electoral times." Hey! That's how we found ourselves in Iraq, with our kids dying. Nicolas Sarkozy. George Bush. Whatever.

As for "histrionic posturing" one might check out this -
Paris is reaping what it's sown, and if we don't heed the warnings (as if the murder of thousands and destruction of two buildings in New York City weren't enough), we can expect the same.

Lax immigration policies, prostration to the god of multiculturalism, and the refusal to fight fire with fire are three reasons why Muslim "youths" in Paris are rioting in the streets.

As I see it, the religion of Islam is inherently incompatible with the concept of individual liberty, a crucial component of western countries. It's no accident that a culture like the West and a nation like the United States were envisioned and created by people who were either Christians and/or biblically literate and/or respected the Christian tradition. In countries under Islamic law, there's no such idea as "individual liberty." You're either a Muslim or in danger of having your throat sliced open.

A growing problem in the West is not only our insane, suicidal embrace of "multiculturalism," but an inability to recognize that Islam is an enemy intent on destroying freedom wherever it exists. Those Muslim rioters in Paris, angry about being unemployed or whatever their excuse, need to be crushed.
Yeah, this particular commentator wants you to know these godless maniacs are coming to get all Christians, and we have to crush them.

What about someone who is there?

Just Above Sunset, the magazine-style site that is parent to this web log, each week carries at least one column from "Our Man in Paris," Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis.

He's there. He says this -
"This headline makes me sick: French youths riot for seventh night running. French youths? They make it sound so generic and ordinary, as if a bunch of rowdy, drunk teenagers decided to throw rocks at cars. These are radical Muslims, foreign invaders, destroying property and injuring people who graciously allowed them into their country in the first place!"

– These are kids.
– They were born in France; therefore they are French.
– Only two of them have been killed. Hiding from the police.
– No police have been killed.
– There have been dozens of arrests. Some kids are already in jail.
– Religious leaders are trying to stop it. Older brothers have been trying to stop it. Some question why political leaders don't seem to be trying too hard to stop it.
– Some of the kids, obviously, are Muslim. Others are Christians. Some are black.

"Lax immigration policies, prostration to the god of multiculturalism, and the refusal to fight fire with fire are three reasons why Muslim 'youths' in Paris are rioting in the streets.

– Nutbush ! There are NO riots in Paris.

Actually there aren't any riots. Sarkozy called the kids 'rabble' or 'riffraff' - and said he would 'cut out the gangrene.' This was at Argenteuil, Tuesday a week ago. Then two kids who thought they were being chased by the police - confirmed by witnesses - escaped by electrocuting themselves. Their friends became annoyed and fought with the CRS for a few nights. Then, since Sarkozy isn't saying he's sorry, other kids in other suburbs have decided to fry their neighbors' cars, plus buses, schools and police stations.

Usually there's a small wave of this at Halloween, and at New Years in Strasbourg. For some reason the government think things will quiet down if it plays hard. They have a transport strike in Marseille they can't get settled too. Some troops in Côte d'Ivoire bumped off a guy down there and it's causing another stink.
Okay. That's from the scene.

Who do you trust on this - the American conservative pundit about the wave of maniacs coming to crush us all, or do you trust someone on the scene?

I would guess "histrionic posturing" gets more play than observation of the facts in context.

In any event, what's playing out in France at the moment seems a variation on themes over here. And Sarkozy is showing is what we can expect as we follow the Bush-Cheney model for dealing with this sorry world. The conservative pundit, La Shawn Barber, has the warning backwards.



An interesting note from Canada -
Was reading about the continuing riots around Paris and came across this little oddity...

"Jean-Louis Borloo, minister for social cohesion, said officials need to react "firmly" to the unrest but that France also must acknowledge its failure to deal with decades of simmering anger in the impoverished suburbs of Paris."

So just what the heck is a "minister for social cohesion?"

The government has been spending untold billions on promoting this "multiculturalism" thing for decades here in Canada, but we don't have a "minister for social cohesion."

Sounds more like a euphemism for Minister of Propaganda or something. Or maybe just a guy dressed up in a fuzzy purple suit acting like all is hunky-dory and that we should all hug each other today?
Well, that called for some research.

Jean-Louis Borloo
Minister For Employment, Social Cohesion and Housing

See also Time Magazine, International Edition, Sunday, April 04, 2004 with this -
Jean-Louis Borloo has made a career of tackling lost causes. As a Parisian lawyer he rescued failing businesses. In 1988 he revived a bankrupt soccer team. And as mayor of Valenciennes from 1989 to 2002, he resurrected the moribund former steel town by revamping neighborhoods, attracting a Toyota factory, building a theater, and planning a regional tram whose first rail will be laid this week. Can this miracle worker save France's embattled conservative government after the party's rout in last month's regional elections?

It was evidently with that hope in mind that President Jacques Chirac plucked Jean-Louis Borloo, who turns 53 this week, from a junior minister post to head a new "superministry" for employment, labor and social cohesion in a revamped government. Chirac is hoping the wild-haired, straight-talking populist will serve as a bulwark against voter anger over Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin's belt tightening, and his failure to generate jobs or mend the social fracture between the country's affluent classes and its disgruntled masses. Voters put the opposition Socialists in charge of 20 of France's 21 mainland regions, up from 8 in 1998. "France has clearly expressed a demand for a more social approach," says Pascal Perrineau, director of the Center for the Study of French Political Life at Sciences Po in Paris. "Borloo is the response."

Raffarin dutifully resigned after the right's rout at the polls, but Chirac opted to renominate him and install Nicolas Sarkozy, the most ambitious figure on the French right, as Economics, Finance and Industry Minister. Except for Borloo, a politically unclassifiable figure with no standing in the ruling party, Chirac was largely content to reshuffle loyal followers. Dominique de Villepin moves to the Interior Ministry from foreign affairs, where he has been replaced by European Commissioner Michel Barnier.

The very sameness in the Cabinet puts the incandescent Borloo center stage, but it could also hamper him. Sarkozy, burdened with a huge budget deficit, is unlikely to allow him the renewal projects that won him praise in Valenciennes. "Borloo is a good guy, and he knows his subject," says Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a former Socialist Finance Minister. "But he won't be setting the agenda like he did in Valenciennes." Even for a miracle worker, reviving the popularity of Chirac's government is a tall order.
And this from Ric Erickson in Paris -
Heard on radio France-Info this morning - Borloo saying something like, either twenty billion euros - to be spent, or has been spent - on housing in past 30 years, and 'what have we got for it?' Odd - no mention of this on tonight's TV-news. Remember France's number two most 'famous?' That was Abbé Pierre [See this - AMP], the now old dude who has been agitating for better housing since... 1947. He's still around, still agitating, but from a wheelchair because he's 92 or something.

Borloo is minister for public housing. There are riots in some public housing because 'social cohesion' has lost its glue. Borloo is from up north someplace, like Lille, and one would think he is a socialist instead of an UMP or UDF. Borloo is perhaps a technician, but he is fairly popular because he doesn't act too much like a politician, unlike another minister, who has 'persisted' with his less than useful comments.
Small world. Sounds much like the United States.

Posted by Alan at 19:34 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 4 November 2005 05:27 PST home

Wednesday, 2 November 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Next Issue, Please: Prisons That Don't Exist for Those Who Don't Exist

Okay, the weekend of October 29-30 was bad for the administration - people buzzing about the new polling that showed now more than half the country felt all this business about the Bush team restoring "honor and integrity" to the White House was a load of crap, and this was a failed presidency, and a calls for an apology about what had happened with Libby and for Karl Rove to be fired. Change of topic Monday - the nomination for the Supreme Court of the mild-mannered, well-educated, experienced judge from New Jersey, who seemed to support all the all of what the right wanted. Rev up the base and outrage the lefties. And then, Tuesday, announce a multi-billion dollar effort to head off a disaster for a change, rather than just react (which didn't go well with the hurricanes) - so we have a plan to deal with the dreaded by hypothetical Bird Flu. And four hours later the Democrats force the senate into a closed, secret session, demanding some action on what was promised, a report on how we got into the war. Were we being jerked around? And the senate Republicans were forced to form a bipartisan panel to get that back on track.

One could get whiplash trying to keep up with just what was the big issue of the day. You want to be on top of the news and know what's hot? Good luck.

Wednesday morning, November 2, we heard of four more service deaths in Iraq - a downed helicopter and the usual roadside bombs. So the day started at 2,032 dead.

Could the administration keep Supreme Court nomination hot, saying the guy was great and those who oppose him fools? The Gallup polling folks came out with this -
If it becomes clear Alito would vote to reverse Roe v. Wade, Americans would not want the Senate to confirm him, by 53% to 37%.

If most Senate Democrats oppose the nomination and decide to filibuster against Alito, 50% of Americans believe they would be justified, while 40% say they would not.

If the Republicans then decide to eliminate the filibuster on judicial nominations, to ensure an "up-or-down vote" on the nomination, Americans would be evenly divided as to whether that tactic was justified - 45% say it would be, 47% say it would not.
And someone in the White House probably mutters, "Oh CRAP!"

And the president stand by Karl Rove and key folks are walking away -
[Trent] Lott of Mississippi and William Niskanen of the libertarian Cato Institute both echoed Democratic calls for a White House shake-up.

"He (Rove) has been very successful, very effective in the political arena. The question is, should he be the deputy chief of staff for policy under the current circumstances?" Lott told MSNBC's "Hardball."

"Most presidents in recent years have a political adviser in the White House. The question is, should they be, you know, making policy decisions. That's the question you've got to evaluate," the former Senate Republican leader added.

Lott went further than he did on Sunday, when he urged Bush to be on the lookout for "new blood, new energy, qualified staff."

Niskanen, who served as a top economic adviser to former President Ronald Reagan, said, "Bush is going to have to sacrifice people who have worked with him to regain some initiative."

Niskanen said any White House shake-up should "start" with Rove because of his association with the leak case.
And someone in the White House probably mutters, "Oh CRAP!" - but louder.

Well, it's payback. Rove is widely thought to have arranged for Lott to be removed as senate majority leader in favor of Bill Frist - who now whines about all this lack of civility while the Justice Department and SEC investigate him for some stock trading that seems mighty fishy. Trent is smiling.

And Wednesday morning whoever tracks such things in the White House probably saw this item from Steve Clemons in the Washington Note regarding who was scheduled to say what on national television -
There will be a devastating critique of Vice President Cheney and his key staff regarding the Plame Affair and the decision to invade Iraq tonight on Chris Matthews' Hardball. TWN has learned that David Shuster has a hard-charging report tonight that will set the VP's office on edge and add a lot to our understanding of Cheney's role.
Well, the Shuster report just reviewed the facts established in the Libby indictment - what Cheney knew and when he knew it, how Cheney himself gave the Wilson woman's name to Libby, how there was a discussion of how to handle the press with Libby and Cheney a few hours before Libby gave her name to Miller of the New York Times, and all the rest. It was just laying all that out, and then saying Cheney would be forced to testify in court about all this - there was no way for him to get out of that. He sure seems neck-deep in this.

What to do? He could claim the facts are biased. It just looks bad, but the facts are biased. Well, perhaps. Perhaps he should buy the bumper sticker for his car.

But Wednesday, November 2nd gave us another new issue for consideration.

We all remember when the senator from Illinois, Richard Durbin, argued that what happened at Guantánamo Bay, and elsewhere, sounded too much like "Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime - Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings." We should be better.

That did not go well. (Discussion on the matter in these pages here from mid-June and what Durbin actually said on Flag Day here.) Durbin was raked over the coals and forced to apologize.

We're not like that. What an insult!

So Wednesday, November 2nd the Washington Post reveals we are - we're currently hiding and "interrogating" key al-Qaeda bad guys at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe. The Post found out where it is, but is withholding the actual location, at the request of government officials. It seems to be part of a "covert prison system set up by the CIA" after 9/11 - and they have all this from "current and former intelligence officials and diplomats." The Post says that specific information about these so-called "black sites" is known by only a "handful" of officials in the United States and in the host countries. What else? The CIA has "dissuaded" Congress from asking questions - "Virtually nothing is known about who is kept in the facilities, what interrogation methods are employed with them, or how decisions are made about whether they should be detained or for how long."

This of course, is grim news. What are we doing with our own gulag where people just disappear and torture is allowed?

But there's more. The same morning, also on the front page, the New York Times reports arguments in the White House, the question being whether a new set of Defense Department standards for the treatment of terror suspects should include language from the Geneva Conventions prohibiting "cruel," "humiliating" and "degrading" treatment. Should we get in line with international law and win back some allies, or do what we want?

Context. As you recall, Senator John McCain forced the issue in the senate and got a vote, ninety to eight, the affirms we follow the military rules we already have for how to treat prisoners (first discussed in these pages here), and Cheney lobbies against it. Cheney says the president will veto any bill to which this is attached. But this is veto-proof at 90-8, so he's now arguing the CIA should be exempt from the rules. And the Times now reports that David Addington - the fellow Cheney named to replace the indicted Libby - saw a draft of the idea for at least the military to follow the rules, particularly Geneva Conventions Article 3, and went ballistic. Addington "verbally assailed a Pentagon aide who was called to brief him and Mr. Libby on the draft" of the new Pentagon standards. The aide was left "bruised and bloody" after his confrontation with Addington, one Defense Department official said.

Well, tempers are short. Cheney doesn't want our hands tied, so to speak. (Yes, there's an irony in that.)

Add to the mix reports like these - the new head of the CIA, Porter Goss, is with Cheney on this, and the old-line employees, and some top career officials, are just quitting. They want no part of it. Those who stay are demoralized. They're traditionalists who like to build networks and get information quietly. Rounding up everyone you can, "disappearing" them, torturing them for information, they say, doesn't work very well. You don't get good information.

Well, "the realists" are in charge now. Or the "grown-ups" we were promised back in 1999 when we were asked to vote for who runs things.

This is a plan. Or is it?

The Post notes this:
"We never sat down, as far as I know, and came up with a grand strategy," said one former senior intelligence officer who is familiar with the program but not the location of the prisons. "Everything was very reactive. That's how you get to a situation where you pick people up, send them into a netherworld and don't say, 'What are we going to do with them afterwards?'"

... [A]s the volume of leads pouring into the CTC from abroad increased, and the capacity of its paramilitary group to seize suspects grew, the CIA began apprehending more people whose intelligence value and links to terrorism were less certain, according to four current and former officials. The original standard for consigning suspects to the invisible universe was lowered or ignored, they said. "They've got many, many more who don't reach any threshold," one intelligence official said.
That's a plan?

And what goes on at these places? "Enhanced Interrogation" -
Host countries have signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as has the United States. Yet CIA interrogators in the overseas sites are permitted to use the CIA's approved "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques," some of which are prohibited by the U.N. convention and by U.S. military law. They include tactics such as "waterboarding," in which a prisoner is made to believe he or she is drowning... Most of the facilities were built and are maintained with congressionally appropriated funds, but the White House has refused to allow the CIA to brief anyone except the chairman and vice chairman of the House and Senate intelligence committees on the program's generalities.
Yep, you don't want to explain what's going on when you're making it up as you go along - a breaking signed treaties.

And there's more context here from Andrew Sullivan.

Sullivan notes two items in the Post story.

First this -
It is illegal for the government to hold prisoners in such isolation in secret prisons in the United States, which is why the CIA placed them overseas, according to several former and current intelligence officials and other U.S. government officials. Legal experts and intelligence officials said that the CIA's internment practices also would be considered illegal under the laws of several host countries, where detainees have rights to have a lawyer or to mount a defense against allegations of wrongdoing.
Then this - the whole matter was achieved by the president signing a "finding" on September 17, 2001 -
Under U.S. law, only the president can authorize a covert action, by signing a document called a presidential finding. Findings must not break U.S. law and are reviewed and approved by CIA, Justice Department and White House legal advisers.
Must not break US law? Sullivan: "The assumption is that the president has authority to set up prisons that would be illegal in the U.S. and illegal in foreign countries, but legal ... according to what?"

Good question. This idea is this is why Bush wants Roberts and Alito on the court.

Maybe so.

And the fallout from all this?

AFP reports all the "no comment" comments from our government.

The Post says our "black sites" - these prisons that don't exist for those who don't exist - are located in eight countries including Thailand, Afghanistan and "several democracies in Eastern Europe." AFP notes Thailand denied there was a prison there. And Czech Interior Minister Frantisek Bublan was quoted by the on-line news outlet as saying that the Czech Republic recently turned down a US request to set up a detention center on its territory. "The negotiations took place around a month ago," he was quoted as saying. The Americans "made an effort to install some of the sort here, but they did not succeed." Hungary's intelligence chief, Andras Toth, told AFP that Budapest had not been approached. "The mere suggestion of this is absurd," Toth said, adding "I know of no such request."

Mums the word.

CNN also reports that in Iraq a "top al Qaeda operative" escaped before he could testify to "abuse" by an American soldier. Now people might wonder where he might be.

Oh well. Sunday it was the polls, Monday the nomination to the Supreme Court, Tuesday the Bird Flu effort followed a few hours later by the Democrats shutting down the senate, Wednesday our string of secret torture prisons is revealed, Thursday Libby is arraigned.




Here is the text of Geneva's Common Article Three (mentioned above):
In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, at a minimum, the following provisions:

1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

(a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
(b) Taking of hostages;
(c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;
(d) The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.
Clear enough. We don't want to do this.

Bill Montgomery here -
Not long after 9/11 - a few days maybe - I was thinking about where the "war on terrorism" might take America and the world, and it seemed to me at the time that there were three broad paths it might follow.

One would have been the path of recognition, in which the American people woke up and started asking the hard questions about how we got into this mess, and demanding answers that didn't consist entirely of inane slogans about how the terrorists "hate our freedoms."

That path would have still led to the war in Afghanistan - it was inevitable - but we might at least have come to some glimmer of public understanding that the real war was a war of ideas and influence in which America would need all the allies it could get, both inside and outside the Islamic world. Who knows? Maybe the rest of the story would have developed very differently.

But I understood even then how unlikely that scenario was, given our history and our culture.

... It seems to me that the Cheney administration has been trapped - both by its ostentatious rejection of the "law enforcement" model of counterterrorism, and by its complete, willful failure to understand the limits of hard power and the steadily rising importance of soft power in a struggle that will last years, if not decades. Policies based on the adrenaline rush of war fever (circa 2002) were never likely to be sustainable. They also haven't brought us any closer to capturing Osama or prevented the transformation of Al Qaeda from an organization to a movement, one that is much more difficult to fight with dirty war tactics.

The rational conclusion, which I guess will be resisted until all else has failed, is that the first path I mentioned, the path of recognition, isn't optional. Until the American people understand (I'm not sure the elites will ever get it) that terrorism can't be fought, much less defeated, without a sea change in U.S. attitudes - not just towards the Middle East but towards the world - it looks like we're going to be stuck in the worst of both worlds: too brutal to be respected; not nearly brutal enough to be feared, in the way an empire based entirely on hard power must be feared.

That leaves the third path - the path of endless escalation. Given their druthers, I have no doubt that's the one the Dick Cheneys and the Donald Rumsfelds and the Doug Feiths and the John Yoos would prefer. But a pretty sizable majority of the American people appear to have tired of the clash of civilizations. If the neocons really are going to attack Syria and/or Iran, I think they'd better be prepared for something resembling a rebellion, both at the polls and in the ranks.

This is just another way of saying that we seem to have run out of paths, which in my strategic dictionary, at least, is the definition of a stalemate.
And that is from a writer who originally supported the war.

See also:

Superiority Complex
Why is the vice president deciding how the U.S. treats foreign detainees?
Tim Naftali - Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2005, at 7:03 PM ET - SLATE.COM

That's a good question.

Posted by Alan at 16:21 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 2 November 2005 20:17 PST home

Tuesday, 1 November 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Changing Subjects Back: Rule 21 from Outer Space

As noted in these pages, on the weekend of October 29-30 it was clear the White House really needed to change the subject - people buzzing about the new polling that showed now more than half the country felt all this business about the Bush team restoring "honor and integrity" to the White House was a load of crap, and this was a failed presidency, and a calls for an apology about what had happened with Libby and for Karl Rove to be fired. The administration was having a bad Sunday. And we were at the end of a bad month in Iraq, casualties rising with no end in site.

So the subject needed to shift to something more positive, and we got a new Supreme Court nominee Monday morning - a mild-mannered, well-educated, experienced judge, who seemed to support all the all of what the right wanted. What he has written and how he has ruled from the bench combine that love of deregulating business from all those pesky rules about treating people right, with an urge to regulate and control what people do personally with the sexual lives, the bodies, and their religion. And he supports unregulated sale of fully automatic machine guns. What more could you ask for? This was meat for the conservatives who wanted a fight for what they believe, and guaranteed outrage from the middle and left. That should get folks all riled up - and change the subject.

Why not more? Tuesday, November 1st, there was the "We're here to protect you" announcement - Bush Outlines $7.1B Flu-Fighting Strategy - which should have been great PR and caused a lot of responses from everyone saying that the administration wasn't so bad after all. They were doing the right thing. They weren't anti-science and all the rest. The response to Hurricane Katrina was probably an anomaly. They did plan for things. Good for them.

That second-shift of topic lasted about four hours until this: Democrats Shut Down Senate For Rare Closed-Door Session On Iraq Intelligence.

Cool. As Gil Kaufman reports at the link -
Not content to wait until Thursday's arraignment of former Vice Presidential Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby (on charges that he lied about the leaking of a covert CIA agent's name) to start getting answers on prewar intelligence on Iraq, Democrats stunned Republicans with a surprise political maneuver. Without warning his Republican counterparts, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid effectively shut down the Senate Tuesday afternoon by invoking the rarely used Rule 21, which calls for a secret session of the Senate in order to discuss intelligence issues.

Prior to calling for the closed session - which required all Senate staff, press and other officials not sworn to secrecy to leave the chambers - Reid said in light of the Libby indictment, the American people and soldiers need to know how and why the United States became engaged in the Iraq war. He also said that Senators deserve an answer as to why a second phase of investigation into prewar intelligence has not been completed.

"The Libby indictment provides a window into what this is really all about, how this administration manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to sell the war in Iraq and attempted to destroy those who dared to challenge its actions," Reid said. "I demand on behalf of the American people that we understand why these investigations aren't being conducted, and in accordance with Rule 21 I now move the Senate go into closed session."

Shortly thereafter, fellow Democrat Dick Durbin seconded the call, the public was ordered out of the chambers, all 100 Senators were ordered in and the lights were dimmed...

Endlessly repeated on the television news, Senate Majority Leader Frist - "Not with the previous Democratic leader or the current Democratic leader have I been slapped in the face with such an affront to the leadership of this grand institution. Every other time there has been at least consideration for the other side of the aisle before a stunt, and this is a pure stunt, by Senator Reid."

He looked real unhappy. He was shocked, just shocked (see Claude Raines in Casablanca). What about dignity and decorum, and at least telling him this was coming? Reid said telling him this was the plan would allow Frist to pull some counter-move and stop him, so why tell him?

So much for Sam from New Jersey and Bird Flu vaccine development. Back to the original topic - is it possible your side lied to get us into this war - or at least planted scary stories in the press, based on forgeries and exaggerations, and this Libby fellow delayed the Fitzgerald probe for a year with all his cons so none of this would come out until after the last presidential election?

Hey, inquiring minds want to know. It's kind of important. (Heck, those of us with close relatives serving in Iraq want to know about this, although the composition of the Supreme Court is important, and no one wants to die of Bird Flu.)

Actually this all came down to Republican Senator Pat Roberts, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The committee never got around to working much on the second report they were supposed to produce. The first report, issued long ago, was clear - all the pre-war intelligence was flat-out wrong. Don't you hate when that happens. The second report was supposed to be an investigation into whether the administration manipulated prewar intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. It's a year late.

Well, what with the indictment of Libby last week, and the surrounding facts shown, someone, and it seems many, were messing with us.

In March it seems Roberts said the investigation into whether the administration manipulated "prewar intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction" was over. Hey - the earlier panel had found that the intelligence was flawed. What more do you need to know? But there is a draft of the plan for the second phase of the investigation. The Democrats just want to know why they're not allowed to see it. They've been asking for this "Phase Two" stuff for a year now. Last week's events - and all those ancillary facts in the five-count Libby indictment - kind of get you thinking.

Here's a summary of what Reid was thinking -
- The most important decision a President makes is to put American lives at risk and go to war.
- Many of us supported the decision to invade Iraq based on the national intelligence presented at the time.
- Over the past few months, and vividly last Friday, we've learned that we were given bad information. Americans were intentionally deceived.
- White House indictments confirm Republicans tried to silence critics and cover up the real intelligence.
- America deserves answers. National security is at stake.
- If mistakes were made, we need to know. Otherwise, we are doomed to repeat them.
- Republicans committed to investigate how national intelligence was used to set the stage for war.
- Now, they are refusing to keep that commitment. What are they afraid of America learning?
- Republicans must come clean. It is our shared responsibility to be straight with the American people.
- Stakes could not be higher. That is why we are demanding answers through an unprecedented closed Senate session.
- We will not let up until America gets answers.
- Together, America Can Do Better
That's what the Republicans are calling a meaningless political stunt, and mean-spirited, divisive, and lacking in all courtesy and decorum. The Democrats just want to change the topic.

Well, it is political stunt, of the first order, but it is hardly meaningless.

Divisive? Yeah, of course it is. And it wasn't very nice.

But the idea is that maybe the American people are putting two and two together, and want some answers, and maybe the Democrats in the senate can do something for all of us who wonder just what happened, and what was going on with those forged documents and the VP's office and Judy Miller of the New York Times and all the rest.

The Republicans are forced into the odd position of maintaining that the American people don't want to know such things - they just trust the president and Vice President Cheney, and it doesn't matter now. The American people just want to see Sam from New Jersey on the Supreme Court and abortions stopped and gays not seen anywhere, and what people do in their bedrooms monitored - and big business unfettered - and they want their Bird Flu vaccine.

But that's not how the polls read. Which side is more in touch with the mood of the country right now?

Of course many have commented that this is just the Democrats positioning themselves for the 2006 congressional elections. Many Democrats in 2002 voted for the resolution that gave Bush the authority to use "whatever force necessary" to deal with the Iraq threat. They don't want to seem like they were too dumb to see through the bullshit, or of they did see something was fishy, too cowardly to object to this war - because it was a year after we lost the three-thousand and people would think them unpatriotic (with a little help from the Karl Rove spin machine.) Better to show there was a careful and possibly illegal, and maybe even treasonous plan to fool them, and all of us. It's cover for Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.

Maybe it is that, partly. But for some of us it doesn't matter.

Some people resent being tricked, and sending sons and daughters off to face death based clever manipulations. Some folks don't like clever ploys played on them, even if they are told much further on that what was done will do some good of some kind, one day, in a general, geopolitical way - just not the "good thing" originally proposed. (Of course, some do admire a clever trickster, even when they themselves have been bamboozled - thus the enduring popularity of magicians and illusionists, and thus the thirty-eight percent who admire Bush, Rove and Cheney.)

The Democrats are counting the resentment is real. And the odd thing is this "stunt" actually worked. The topic got changed back of course, but in the closed session the Republicans caved in - each side appointed three senators to deal with Roberts and his year-late report. By mid-November there will be some answers.

We seem to have an opposition party.


For a sense of the mood of the country you might check out CNN's "Situation Room" - a really irritating, over-produced multi-hour daily news show - for Jack Cafferty reading viewers' email, the only part of the show that doesn't jump all over the place from graphics to commentary to interruptions of "breaking" trivia to Wolf Blitzer's half-shouting delivery of banalities.

Cafferty on emails he received on this senate matter, Tuesday, November 1 -
You know, I get a lot of mail, and depending on what read, they say you're a conservative, you're a liberal, you're a Republican. This isn't about any of that stuff, I don't think. It's about what is right and what's wrong.

There's a perception in this country that we were lied to about the run-up to the war in Iraq. Maybe we were and maybe we weren't, but there are a lot of people who think we were. And a half a trillion dollars and 2,000 of our kids later, we're still there. We're mired in a thing that has no visible end.

If it was necessary and if the threats were real, fine and dandy. But if they lied to us, if there was some kind of intent to deceive, then they ought to find out who did it and tear their fingernails out and then get rid of them.

And it's not about being on, you know, one side of the political spectrum or the other. It's about what's right and what's wrong and what people who are entrusted to govern this country do with the power we give them. If it's being abused, we damn well have a right to know, and something should be done about it
If you have a high-speed connection you can watch him say this here. It's incredibly forceful.

If Cafferty is an "average Joe" - the CNN "everyman" - a little conservative and full of gruff skepticism and intolerant of nonsense (that's how they seem to market him) - then the administration and the Republicans are in deep, deep trouble.

Posted by Alan at 18:48 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 1 November 2005 19:00 PST home

Monday, 31 October 2005

Topic: The Law

Changing the Subject: The 'Wise guy' from Trenton - Sam 'Scalito' Gets Nominated

On Sunday, October 30 it was clear the White House really needed to change the subject. As noted in these pages, the two Sunday topics that had people buzzing were the new polling that showed now more than half the country felt all this business about the Bush team restoring "honor and integrity" to the White House was a load of crap, and this was a failed presidency, and a second item on the calls for an apology about what had happened with Libby and for Karl Rove to be fired. The administration was having a bad Sunday.

Add to that, CNN reported, first thing Monday, that the new count of our military losses in Iraq had jumped to 2,023 - "The six deaths [Monday] bring the number of U.S. soldiers to have died in Iraq this month to 90, the highest number of American deaths there since January when 107 Americans were killed." By the end of the day it was seven killed.

This is not good news for the administration - things are not getting better - and Sharon Jumper here, with details of the new and improved "improvised explosive devices," explains how now even our best and most heavily armored vehicles in theater can be easily penetrated. The IED is not just an exploding Coke can any longer. The enemy is adapting quickly to whatever we roll out.

So what to do?

Change the subject.

Bush Nominates Alito for Supreme Court
Ron Fournier, Associated Press, Monday, October 31, 2005
President Bush nominated veteran judge Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court Monday, seeking to shift the judiciary to the right and mollify conservatives who derailed his previous pick. Ready-to-rumble Democrats said Alito may curb abortion rights and be "too radical for the American people."

Drawing an unspoken contrast to failed nominee Harriet Miers, Bush declared that the appeals court judge "has more prior judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in more than 70 years."

… So consistently conservative, Alito has been dubbed "Scalito" or "Scalia-lite" by some lawyers because his judicial philosophy invites comparisons to conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. But while Scalia is outspoken and is known to badger lawyers, Alito is polite, reserved and even-tempered.
"Scalito." Well, that will change the subject.

Fournier quotes Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, one of those oddball Republicans who actually supports abortion rights, saying this abortion thing "will be among one of the first items Judge Alito and I will discuss."

No kidding.

But AP tracks down Rose Alito, the nominee's ninety-year-old mother. "Of course, he's against abortion." He's a good Catholic boy. From Jersey. Trenton.

Of course this will bring up jokes about The Sopranos and maybe Sinatra and the Mafia and all that.

Well, that is underway, and here's the immediate push back:
Mon Oct 31 2005 15:56:42 ET
National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) Statement:

The NIAF is distressed by the attempts of some senators and the media (CNN, CBS) to marginalize Judge Samuel Alito's outstanding record, by frequent reference to his Italian heritage and by the use of the nickname, "Scalito."

Appropriately, no one mentioned that Justice Breyer was Jewish or suggested that he was lock-step ideologically with the other Jewish Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it would have been outrageous to do so. We still do not know Justice Robert's ethnicity. ...
Say, wouldn't this make the Supreme Court five Catholics and two Jews - a Catholic majority as noted here? What does that portend? Forget the Mafia. Is this an Opus Dei plot? What is that sneaky new German pope up to?

Insert your own conspiracy theory here:

See also Why Catholics? - The political advantages of Catholic justices by William Saletan in SLATE.COM - Tuesday, November 1, for more thoughts on the matter.

Well, this all should be interesting. The Democrats would have to filibuster to block this confirmation - the Republicans do have those fifty-five seats in the senate, and no one on that side is upset at this nomination. Harriet Miers is now old history. The old "in your face" Bush is back.

The AP also reports that the president called for confirmation of the fellow by year's end, but Senate leaders said the vote may wait until next year.

One suspects it is in the White House's interest that this is dragged out. No need to hurry. Keep the conflict and controversy hot, and extend it as long as possible. This is not governing by division and conflict, really - it's a subset of that. This is laying down a good thick smokescreen. And this is relying on the evidence so far that the general population can only attend to one big news story at a time. There was an earthquake in Pakistan and far more than one hundred thousand died? Really? New Orleans isn't rebuilt yet? You get the idea.

Well, the announcement on television was dull, at least on the replay here in Hollywood. No one seemed excited, or inspired. That was curious, and the Times of London (UK) captured the flavor here -
Having won two presidential elections and fought two unending wars, President Bush has run out of energy. Instead of the bouncing enthusiasm of happier days, his subdued manner indicates a loss of interest in the presidency itself, a desire to go home and rest.
Really? The Times post explains all this in detail, but one doubts their conclusion about the man wanting to go home. How can he go home now? What would that look like?

Judge Samuel Alito

So who is this guy? There's a complete, but negative, biography from the American Constitution Society here. He was born in 1950, did his undergraduate degree at Princeton and his law degree from Yale. Bush's father nominated him to sit on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in New Jersey. Before that he was clerk to Third Circuit Judge Leonard I. Garth, then Assistant to the Solicitor General as Deputy Assistant Attorney General, and was at one time Attorney for the District of New Jersey, a prosecutor.

In fact, that last part is what troubles defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt here:
Before becoming a judge, after a short stint as a law clerk for a federal judge, Alito's entire career - from 1977 to 1990 - was as a prosecutor or attorney for the Government.

Again, my prediction: A disaster appointment for those who care about the constitutional rights of the accused. I don't want a career prosecutor like Alito on the Supreme Court. I fear he will be a major proponent of the war on drugs, the death penalty and the war against immigrants, while he will rule to restrict habeas rights and Miranda.
Or he won't. Click on the link to see the supporting case evidence.

But this appointment was announced on Halloween, and another lawyer-writer, Dahlia Lithwick, picks up on that in Trick and Treat: Sammy Alito is the whole bag of goodies.

And she opens with the key ruling that seems to bother everyone -
So rededicated is President Bush to keeping his promise to elevate a Clarence Thomas or an Antonin Scalia to the high court, that he picked the guy in the Scalia costume. Alito offers no surprises to anyone. If explicit promises to reverse Roe v. Wade are in fact the only qualification now needed to be confirmed to the Supreme Court, Alito has offered that pledge in spades: In Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey - which later became the case that reaffirmed Roe, Alito dissented when his 3rd Circuit colleagues struck down Pennsylvania's most restrictive abortion regulations. Alito felt that none of the provisions proved an undue burden, including a requirement that women notify their spouses of their intent to have an abortion, absent narrow exceptions. Alito wrote: "The Pennsylvania legislature could have rationally believed that some married women are initially inclined to obtain an abortion without their husbands' knowledge because of perceived problems - such as economic constraints, future plans, or the husbands' previously expressed opposition - that may be obviated by discussion prior to the abortion."

Sandra Day O'Connor rejected that analysis, and Casey reaffirmed the central holding of Roe. Then Chief Justice Rehnquist quoted Alito's dissent in his own.
So Roe stood. He got slapped down. Rehnquist got outvoted.

And there's a lot of talk around this whole issue. Who owns the woman's womb and gets a say in any abortion decision? Is it fifty-fifty once you're married, and before that - if the woman is under eighteen - is the womb the property of the girl's parents and they get to decide? On the other side, if you make the assumption a fetus at any stage of development is really "a child," can a woman unilaterally kill a child without consulting the father? And so on. Alito may be on the side of those who say this should not ever be the woman's decision alone, or he may be just on the side of saying the Pennsylvania law is what it is and there's no issue here - and what's the big deal since there is "no burden" in multiple approvals or vetoes of what the woman decides? We'll see. (For a detailed discussion of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey see Emily Bazelon here.)

Lithwick does point out some other decisions that may be a problematic from some lefty-types - "his vote to limit Congress' power to ban even machine-gun possession, and his ruling that broadened police search powers to include the right to strip-search a drug dealer's wife and 10-year-old daughter - although they were not mentioned in the search warrant."

He upheld a Christmas display against an Establishment Clause challenge. His prior rulings show that he would raise the barriers for victims of sex discrimination to seek redress in the courts. He would change the standard for analyzing race discrimination claims to such an extent that his colleagues on the court of appeals fretted that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, would be "eviscerated" under his view of the law. He sought to narrow the Family and Medical Leave Act such that states would be immune from suit - a position the Supreme Court later rejected. In an antitrust case involving the Scotch tape giant 3M, he took a position described by a colleague as likely to weaken a provision of the Sherman Antitrust Act to "the point of impotence."
If you read that all slowly you get the idea. He would not legislate from the bench to change laws to his whims. He'd just rule in ways that would make those laws about how to treat others - on matters of racial discrimination and sex and privacy, and keeping machine guns off the streets - meaningless. And he'd protect giant corporate monopolies. Congress has had too much power in this law-making business, after all.

What? What about all this blather about those evil, activist judges? Bruce Reed explains here -
What happened to Bush's old mantra? First, while we may not know Alito's shoe size, we know that shoe doesn't fit. Nobody who tried to overturn the Family and Medical Leave Act can claim that his philosophy is judge-modestly-and-carry-a-blank-slate.

The other reason Bush threw his judicial activism talking points out the window is that he doesn't need them anymore. On the contrary, he wants the right wing - and the left - to know that this nominee is the conservative judicial activist they've been waiting for all along. Bush's new message: Bring it on.

Forget all that mumbo-jumbo about umpires and judicial restraint, Bush seems to be saying. The fans don't come out to watch everybody sit on the bench - they want to see a brawl that clears it.
And they'll get it, and everyone will forget Joe Wilson and his wife and which White House official goes to jail next.

See John Dickerson here -
Finally, the battle everyone has been waiting for. Since summer, Washington has been preparing for a Supreme Court brawl, a chest-beating showdown filled with sweeping displays of pettiness, small-minded political bickering, and explosive camera-luring rhetoric. John Roberts turned out to be too qualified for that. Harriet Miers wasn't qualified enough. Now, with the nomination of Samuel Alito, both parties can revert to type.

... Conservatives like political expediency when it's their interests that are being tended to. They may be needy these days, but they already seem to have forgiven Bush for wandering into the Miers cul-de-sac. The blast of e-mails supporting Alito as a strict constructionist was filling my inbox before breakfast. When Miers was nominated, approving testimonials started as a trickle and then stopped altogether. This time the e-mails have lots of chewy talking points, such as Alito's unanimous approval for the U.S. Court of Appeals by a Democrat-controlled judiciary committee and Senate in 1990.

The left is jumping on the case just as quickly. People for the American Way is boasting that it "will mobilize its 750,000 members and activists to wage a massive national effort to defeat Alito's nomination." It will "work closely with its coalition partners to educate Americans about the threats posed by this nomination." Those war rooms everybody readied during the summer look like they'll get some use after all.
Markos Moulitsas Zúniga over at The Daily Kos says this about what he's seen:
This is the tip of the iceberg - merely his court rulings. As the usual vetting process gets underway and people research his background, his writings, his speeches, and the testimony of colleagues, we'll get an even more complete picture of the man. But it's already obvious that the nuts got exactly what they wanted - a nut. Scalito is everything they hoped for and more.

But this is the best possible scenario for Democrats as well. We now have a vehicle upon which to showcase the differences between us and Republicans, between liberalism and conservatism. This is a golden opportunity, and one wisely denied by Bush and Rove with the Roberts and Miers nominations.

This is a gift to Democrats. Katrina, massive budget deficits, and continued economic hardship have proven that Republicans can't govern. Iraq, Plame, and Osama Bin Laden have proven that Republicans can't run an effective foreign policy or protect our nation. Now Scalito, along with Bush's social security debacle, will prove to the American people that conservative ideology doesn't have their best interests at heart.

Let the debate begin.
And so it has with this, with links to the case law, over at Think Progress -
ALITO WOULD OVERTURN ROE V. WADE: In his dissenting opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Alito concurred with the majority in supporting the restrictive abortion-related measures passed by the Pennsylvania legislature in the late 1980's. Alito went further, however, saying the majority was wrong to strike down a requirement that women notify their spouses before having an abortion. The Supreme Court later rejected Alito's view, voting to reaffirm Roe v. Wade. [Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 1991]

ALITO WOULD ALLOW RACE-BASED DISCRIMINATION: Alito dissented from a decision in favor of a Marriott Hotel manager who said she had been discriminated against on the basis of race. The majority explained that Alito would have protected racist employers by "immuniz[ing] an employer from the reach of Title VII if the employer's belief that it had selected the 'best' candidate was the result of conscious racial bias." [Bray v. Marriott Hotels, 1997]

ALITO WOULD ALLOW DISABILITY-BASED DISCRIMINATION: In Nathanson v. Medical College of Pennsylvania, the majority said the standard for proving disability-based discrimination articulated in Alito's dissent was so restrictive that "few if any?cases would survive summary judgment." [Nathanson v. Medical College of Pennsylvania, 1991]

ALITO WOULD STRIKE DOWN THE FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE ACT: The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) "guarantees most workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a loved one." The 2003 Supreme Court ruling upholding FMLA [Nevada v. Hibbs, 2003] essentially reversed a 2000 decision by Alito which found that Congress exceeded its power in passing the law. [Chittister v. Department of Community and Economic Development, 2000]

ALITO SUPPORTS UNAUTHORIZED STRIP SEARCHES: In Doe v. Groody, Alito agued that police officers had not violated constitutional rights when they strip searched a mother and her ten-year-old daughter while carrying out a search warrant that authorized only the search of a man and his home. [Doe v. Groody, 2004]

ALITO HOSTILE TOWARD IMMIGRANTS: In two cases involving the deportation of immigrants, the majority twice noted Alito's disregard of settled law. In Dia v. Ashcroft, the majority opinion states that Alito's dissent "guts the statutory standard" and "ignores our precedent." In Ki Se Lee v. Ashcroft, the majority stated Alito's opinion contradicted "well-recognized rules of statutory construction." [Dia v. Ashcroft, 2003; Ki Se Lee v. Ashcroft, 2004]
So you could go to this thing and drill down and read the decisions. Be an informed, and strange citizen. Or see this -
The poor man is being cruelly maligned and slandered by his unscrupulous feminist opponents.

Why, just last week Alito issued a decision in which he denied asylum to a Chinese woman who fled China because she had undergone a forced abortion and been ordered to report to a medical clinic for mandatory sterilization. Chen v. Gonzales, Slip Copy 2005 WL 2652051 (3rd Cir., October 18, 2005).

So take that, liberals! He's not anti-abortion at all! He's just against women having the right to choose abortion for themselves.
This will stay hot, for a day or two.

Blog notes, Monday, October 31, compiled by Reuters here:
"Judge Samuel Alito is everything that Harriet Miers is not. He brings extensive judicial experience - the most of any Supreme Court nominee in nearly 70 years - to the table. He has a clearly developed sense and theory of jurisprudence and Constitutional interpretation."
Pejman Yousefzadeh, Red State (

"Let's be clear what has happened here - George W. Bush was simply not allowed by the Extreme Radical Right Wing of his Party to choose the person he wanted for the Supreme Court. It is that simple."
Armando, Daily Kos (

"I'm very pleased. This was a smart pick by Bush. It will take a few weeks for Senate Democrats to get comfortable with Alito, I think; given the "Scalito" nickname often used to describe him, many initially will fear that Bush has nominated some kind of Scalia clone. In time, though, I think we'll see that Alito is more like John Roberts than Antonin Scalia."
Orin Kerr, Volokh Conspiracy (

"Every profile emphasizes his mild manner. So he's got the temperament of Roberts with the judicial philosophy of Scalia. From the point of view of the right: about as good as it gets."
Andrew Sullivan (

"Since Alito ruled against abortion rights in one of the most famous cases of all time, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, he ought to be practically a god to the social conservative right. No stealth candidate this time. The movement conservatives wanted a war, and this time they've probably gotten one. I guess Bush was itching for revenge after Scooter Libby got indicted."
Kevin Drum, Political Animal (

"This is a winning political move. Alito is at least as qualified as Roberts, and his Casey opinion will not sustain a convincing filibuster. The Democrats seem trapped here. Reid has warned the president not to nominate Alito. And despite the narrow and non-substantive character of Alito's dissent in Casey, the Dems will be forced by their groups to make abortion the issue. So if there is no filibuster, this is going to come off as a huge victory for the president."
Stanley Kurtz, The Corner (

"With the nomination of "Scalito", the political forces are arrayed for an Armageddon type court battle. After a brief diversion, the President has returned to the home base. The right is swooning and the left will be in a rage. The end-of-times battle has probably arrived."
"The Moose" (
But there is the real war, and the Fitzgerald investigation still not done, and Tom DeLay is still in court, and Bill Frist is still under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. And Silvio Berlusconi made a Halloween visit to Washington, just after he said on Italian television that people had him all wrong. He only seemed to support the Bush war - actually had secretly and often tried to talk him out of it. No candy corn for Silvio. And the story of those forged Italian documents about Saddam buying uranium in Niger is getting more and more press.

It doesn't seem like there's enough controversy in this nomination - as much as there actually is - to keep the other news suppressed, especially if no hearings will come until late in the year and no vote until early next year. Maybe if the guy from New Jersey torn apart a live puppy on national television?

Well, it did make for a more interesting Halloween.


Footnote to Liberals:

Read this from Robert Gordon: Alito or Scalito? If you're a liberal, you'd prefer Scalia - "In the great Alito-Scalito debate, everyone makes one mistake: They seem to assume that if Samuel Alito is as conservative as Antonin Scalia, that's about as conservative as a judge can be. Not so. In important ways, Samuel Alito could prove more conservative than Antonin Scalia. And the record suggests he will."

Posted by Alan at 17:57 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 1 November 2005 16:26 PST home

Sunday, 30 October 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

A Shift in the Wind, Maybe

According to sites that track what is being discussed in the new agora, the net - Technorati and Memeoradum are two of them - the Washington Post was stirring up the most trouble on Sunday, October 30, unless, of course, the algorithms these sites use to crunch raw RSS feed data are wrong. (And what exactly is RSS? See this.)

The two Post items that provided source material for a flood of discussion are these:

White House Ethics, Honesty Questioned
55% in Survey Say Libby Case Signals Broader Problems
Richard Morin and Claudia Deane - Sunday, October 30, 2005; Page A14

Democrats Demand Rove's Firing
Further Details Sought on Cheney's Involvement in Plame Leak
Dana Milbank and Carol D. Leonnig - Monday, October 31, 2005; Page A04 (yes, posted early, in advance of the actual newspaper)

Why these? The first opens with this:
A majority of Americans say the indictment of senior White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby signals broader ethical problems in the Bush administration, and nearly half say the overall level of honesty and ethics in the federal government has fallen since President Bush took office, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News survey.

The poll, conducted Friday night and yesterday, found that 55 percent of the public believes the Libby case indicates wider problems "with ethical wrongdoing" in the White House, while 41 percent believes it was an "isolated incident." And by a 3 to 1 ratio, 46 percent to 15 percent, Americans say the level of honesty and ethics in the government has declined rather than risen under Bush.
Well, that generated hundreds and hundreds of comments, all pointing out President Bush, when he assumed office back in 2000, promised to restore "honor and integrity" to the White House. He said it a lot. He held up his right hand and everything - it was very impressive, no more sex with chubby twenty-something female interns. He wasn't like that low-life Clinton fellow. And that, among other things, got him almost elected, or close enough so that he could be appointed.

Now the polling shows that most people, not just a cynical few, realize that was all a load of crap. There's not much "honor and integrity" on display in the White House these days. But there's not much sex, of course, unless you believe the rumors about Jeff Gannon.

The irony is obvious. Why add to it? A web search will give you many clever and not so clever comments. They're all variations on the same theme.

But the "national perception" has shifted. That should be noted.

The second item opens with this:
Democrats demanded yesterday that President Bush fire Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and that the White House fully account for Vice President Cheney's role in the unmasking of CIA operative Valerie Plame, as Republicans acted to limit the political damage from Friday's indictment of Cheney's chief of staff.

Using the forum of the Sunday television talk shows, Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and other Democrats sought to portray the indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby on Friday as part of a broader pattern of unethical - if not illegal - conduct by the administration. Republicans, while not defending Libby, asserted that the lack of other indictments indicated there was no conspiracy in the White House to punish an administration critic by identifying his wife as a CIA operative.

Reid, speaking on ABC's "This Week," called for apologies from Bush and Cheney, and sought Rove's resignation because of Bush's vow to dismiss anybody involved in the leak. Later, on CNN's "Late Edition," Reid repeated his call for Rove's dismissal four times.

"The president said anyone involved would be gone," Reid said. "And we now know that Official A is Karl Rove. He's still around. He should be let go." Reid added that if Bush "is a man of his word, Rove should be history."
And there was lots of comment on that - yes, make him keep his word, make him fire Rove, make him apologize.

Scanning all the reactions supporting this, or on the right, laughing at the idea (Rove has not been charged with anything), the best reaction somewhere was some lefty saying Bush would do this "when monkeys fly out my ass." That was pretty funny in that movie - but, yes, neither is likely. No apologies and firings, and no monkeys.

But Harry Reid, usually mild-manner and moderate - he looks like a worried banker from Akron - gets credit for what Bill Clinton himself suggests -
Democrats can't be afraid to talk about hot-button issues ... and should fight back against personal attacks from conservatives if they want to regain power in Washington, former President Bill Clinton said Saturday.

"You can't say 'Please don't be mean to me. Please let me win sometimes.' Give me a break here," Clinton said. "If you don't want to fight for the future and you can't figure out how to beat these people then find something else to do."
Yep, there's decorum - you don't call names and go after the other guy's family - but then there's the current Democratic ploy, playing the whipped puppy-dog for sympathy, or remaining silent while you hope the other side self-destructs and you don't actually have to do or say anything. (And if the other side doesn't self-destruct and somehow recovers - then what?)

Reid's "attack" crosses no line. Short form? "You said this. Are you going to do what you said?"

That'll do. It's about time.

One assumes the other Democrats don't want to kick the president when he's down. Being nice? Fear of retribution from the Rove smear machine? Who knows?

But this is just "tough love" - something the right understands, and extols. It's how you treat irresponsible children who lie to you.

Curiously, Paul Begala, a former Clinton aide, and a Texan of all things, had some things to say on the 28th about this whole business with Rove and Libby and the whole crew in the White House, saying here this all gives him no schadenfreude - no sensible person likes seeing the presidency "besmirched" - and besides "the ultimate result of the alleged criminal conduct was to march 2,000 young heroes off to die in an unjust, unwise, unprovoked and unwarranted war."

This is no game, and it's no fun.

But he points out some facts it is well to remember. In the seven years of investigations during the Clinton administration, no senior Clinton White House official was ever even charged with wrongdoing. No one. No one was indicted. No was convicted of anything.
In fact, the highest-ranking Clinton official to be convicted of wrongdoing in connection with his public duties was the chief of staff to the Agriculture Secretary. Betcha five bucks you can't even name the Clinton Agriculture Secretary in question, much less his chief of staff. Unlike Nixon (whose Watergate crimes were manifest), unlike Reagan (whose White House was corrupted by the Iran-Contra crimes), unlike Bush 41 (who pardoned White House aides and Cabinet officers before they could testify against him), Bill Clinton presided over the most ethical White House staff in decades.
Well, the staff was clean. Clinton admitted he lied, under oath, about something that wasn't illegal, but rather dumb.

But remember this?
... George W. Bush campaigned on a pledge to "restore honor and decency to the Oval Office." He spoke of moms and dads on the campaign trail who showed him photos of their children and asked him to give them a president their kids could be proud of.

We all knew what he meant. With a wink and a nod he told us he wouldn't cheat on Laura. And after he took office Mr. Bush and his henchmen smeared the Clintonistas, falsely accusing them of vandalism and theft. They told the press that in this Oval Office the gentlemen would wear suits, the ladies, skirts. And no more paper coffee cups. Nothing but the finest bone china. The Bushies even claimed moral superiority because of their punctuality. Everything was designed and marketed to stress the virtue of the Bushies and the vice of the Clintonians. And it worked. In the first year of George W. Bush's presidency, one major media figure told my wife and me to our faces that the difference between the Clinton crowd and the Bush team was that, "They're just better people than you are. They're more loyal to their President, more patriotic, less self-interested and ambitious. They're just better people."
I wonder if Begala made up that last anecdote. It's perhaps too apt to be true - but it sounds true. It captures what seemed to be what the message was. And it wasn't subtle.

Now the VP's main man has been indicted and has resigned. More may or may not come of all this. Begala reminds us of the Clinton investigations - Whitewater, Filegate, Hillary's old Arkansas billing records, Vince Foster's suicide, the cattle futures thing with Hillary, the Buddhist temple thing with Gore, and all the rest.
Just to list the trumped-up Clinton "scandals" is to recall how trivial - and yet how destructive - they were. Innocent people were impoverished, reputations were damaged, careers derailed. But at least history can give the Clinton team a clean bill of ethical health. No White House was more thoroughly investigated - and more thoroughly exonerated.
And these guys get nailed right out of the gate? Most curious.

Okay, no one lied about extramarital sex. They smeared the Wilson family, exposed an undercover agent, and generally conned us all on the evidence Iraq was a threat, and one of them lied about what he was trying to do - connect a war critic who said the evidence of a nuclear threat was crap to the hated CIA - the CIA that was not as good as the special alternative intelligence agency they set up - Douglas Feith's Office of Special Plans, that had all those cool (but forged) documents from Italy that carried so much weight. They perhaps misled themselves, and certainly misled us, into this war. But no one lied about extramarital sex.

Does the poll noted in the Post mean the disposition of the masses has shifted, and the cat is out of the bag, so to speak? Will the majority view, that something is really wrong here, persist?

That's hard to say. With the president's approval rating in the high thirties in all the polling it is wise to consider that more than a third of us see no problem at all. That's pretty formidable.

As for Reid's "tough love" thing - will that have any reverberations across the country? That's also hard to say. But at least Reid actually stood up for something.

It's a start.

Posted by Alan at 19:06 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 30 October 2005 19:22 PDT home

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