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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 7 November 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Entropy: Trying to Hold it all Together and Facing Facts

Last weekend in these pages, in Prisons That Don't Exist for Those Who Don't Exist, after the long preamble setting the political context, you'd find a discussion of the Washington Post revealing that we seem to have a gulag of "black sites" - secret prisons where we have "disappeared" people and used "enhanced interrogation" to find out if they know anything. And in Our Richelieu you'd find a discussion of all the reports that our policies regarding 1.) "extraordinary rendition" (grabbing folks anywhere in the world and sending these suspects off to places where torture can be done by cooperating governments, a sort of outsourcing), 2.) hiding the fact we have any particular person at all from any agency like the International Red Cross, or any one else who's picky, and 3.) the nature of the "enhanced interrogation" that periodically causes the death of those we detain - all this seems to be decided in the office of the Vice President. In 2002 the president signed an order directing the military to abide by the Geneva Conventions against torture. The Vice President seems have directed everyone to do otherwise.

Ignore the kid from Texas in the expensive suit? Something like that.

See this for a discussion of the implications:

President Cheney
His office really does run national security.
Daniel Benjamin - Monday, Nov. 7, 2005 at 5:06 PM ET - SLATE.COM

Well, there is too much evidence this is so.

But here's where it gets interesting.

Returning the summit in Argentina by way of Brazil, the president in Panama said, Monday, November 7, "There's an enemy that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again. So you bet we will aggressively pursue them - but we will do so under the law. We do not torture."

So the kid from Texas in the expensive suit wants to clarify things? Uncle Dick must have let out a loud groan. (The president also proposed the Panama Canal be widened for bigger ships, and may have strayed from the script, given all the bad press from this secret prison and torture business.)

Other possibilities? There are these:
... we have a few possible interpretations in front of us. Either the president simply does not know what is being done in his name in his own military or he is lying through his teeth to the American people and the world. I guess there is also a third possibility: that he is simply unable to acknowledge the enormity of what he has done to the honor of the United States, the success of the war and the safety of American service members. And so he has gone into clinical denial. Or he is so ashamed he cannot bear to face the truth of what he has done. None of these options are, shall we say, encouraging.
That was Andrew Sullivan. He's not a happy camper. As in this:
If that's the case, why threaten to veto a law that would simply codify what Bush alleges is already the current policy? If "we do not torture," how to account for the hundreds and hundreds of cases of abuse and torture by U.S. troops, documented by the government itself? If "we do not torture," why the memos that expanded exponentially the leeway given to the military to abuse detainees in order to get intelligence? The president's only defense against being a liar is that he is defining "torture" in such a way that no other reasonable person on the planet, apart from Bush's own torture apologists (and they are now down to one who will say so publicly), would agree. The press must now ask the president: does he regard the repeated, forcible near-drowning of detainees to be torture? Does he believe that tying naked detainees up and leaving them outside all night to die of hypothermia is "torture"? Does he believe that beating the legs of a detainee until they are pulp and he dies is torture? Does he believe that beating detainees till they die is torture? Does he believe that using someone's religious faith against them in interrogations is "cruel, inhumane and degrading" treatment and thereby illegal? What is his definition of torture?
Well, don't expect an answer. That would require some subtle chopping of logic, and that dreaded "nuance" stuff the man doesn't do.

Of course you could just take him at his word. We don't do torture. And Kevin Drum suggests calling his bluff, here -
Fine. Then shut down the black sites, tell Dick Cheney to stop lobbying against the McCain amendment, and allow the Red Cross unfettered access to prisoners in our custody. After all, if the events of the past four years had happened in any other country in the world - the abuse, the memos, the photos, the relentless opposition to independent inspections - isn't that the least it would take for any of us to believe it when that country's head of state declared "We do not torture?"
That's not going to happen. You'll just have to trust the man's word. Has he ever misled you?

This topic should have gone away, but it didn't. It seems to have legs, as they say.

Jane Mayer has a new article in the New Yorker - A Deadly Interrogation - which in its subhead asks an interesting question. Can the CIA legally kill a prisoner?

Maybe so -
Mark Swanner, a forty-six-year-old C.I.A. officer who has performed interrogations and polygraph tests for the agency, which has employed him at least since the nineteen-nineties. (He is not a covert operative.) Two years ago, at Abu Ghraib prison, outside Baghdad, an Iraqi prisoner in Swanner's custody, Manadel al-Jamadi, died during an interrogation. His head had been covered with a plastic bag, and he was shackled in a crucifixion-like pose that inhibited his ability to breathe; according to forensic pathologists who have examined the case, he asphyxiated. In a subsequent internal investigation, United States government authorities classified Jamadi's death as a "homicide," meaning that it resulted from unnatural causes. Swanner has not been charged with a crime and continues to work for the agency.

The harsh treatment of Jamadi and other prisoners in C.I.A. custody, however, has inspired an emotional debate in Washington, raising questions about what limits should be placed on agency officials who interrogate foreign terrorist suspects outside U.S. territory.
We know the Cheney answer. Things have changed.

This is not November 21, 1943, when Winston Churchill said this in a speech - "The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist."

There are no limits now.

See Laura Rozen here:
If he had been supporting the very same policies he is now advocating while representing a regime like Serbia's, the big man would be in a Hague jail cell. The same support for torture. The same naked contempt for democratic processes. The same contempt for law. The same contempt for their people.
Yeah, she's ticked, but Fareed Zakaria over at Newsweek is just helpful - "I have a suggestion that might improve Bush's image abroad. ... It's simple: end the administration's disastrous experiment with officially sanctioned torture."

It's a thought.

And that leads to the hot political story of Monday, November 7, also from the Washington Post.

Dana Priest and Robin Wright report that Vice President Cheney is now starting to find himself isolated on this issue - government sponsored torture of prisoners - "Cheney's camp is a 'shrinking island,' said one State Department official who, like other administration officials quoted in this article, asked not to be identified because public dissent is strongly discouraged by the White House."

But the story got out. Dana Priest was responsible for the previous Post story about how we had that chain of secret prisons, and according to this, the president ordered an internal inquiry of how she found out about that stuff.

And now we have this. We learn Condoleezza Rice opposes torture, but not because its wrong. She thinks we ought to close the secret prisons and not work on new "exceptions to the law" to "get out of the detainee mess." She's a diplomat now. See sees a PR problem. Change the de facto policy allowing anything at all. And it seems there are "other administration officials, including Cabinet members, political appointees and Republican lawmakers who once stood firmly behind the administration on all matters concerning terrorism" who are not happy with Cheney's position.

Attorney General Gonzales and White House counsel Harriet Miers are sitting on the fence. Cheney's guys are working on them.

But the there is the problem of definitions -
Cheney's camp says the United States does not torture captives, but believes the president needs nearly unfettered power to deal with terrorists to protect Americans. To preserve the president's flexibility, any measure that might impose constraints should be resisted. That is why the administration has recoiled from embracing the language of treaties such as the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which Cheney's aides find vague and open-ended.
That's an interesting argument. We'd never do these evil things, but we should have the power to do these evil things. "The option to treat prisoners harshly must not be taken from interrogators."

And it's getting hot - Rice versus Cheney -
Cheney's staff is also engaged in resisting a policy change. Tactics included "trying to have meetings canceled ... to at least slow things down or gum up the works" or trying to conduct meetings on the subject without other key Cabinet members, one administration official said. The official said some internal memos and e-mail from the National Security Council staff to the national security adviser were automatically forwarded to the vice president's office -- in some cases without the knowledge of the authors.

For that reason, Rice "wanted to be in all meetings," said a senior State Department official.
Oh my, what next? Try this from Knight-Ridder -
The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a challenge to President Bush's war powers, taking on a case to decide whether Osama bin Laden's Yemeni driver should face a war crimes court at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In an unusual move, the justices agreed to review a federal appeals court decision by their new chief justice, John G. Roberts, who with two other federal judges had earlier upheld the president's Military Commissions in the case of Salim Hamdan v. Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense.

Roberts disqualified himself, and is expected to do the same when the court hears arguments in the case, probably in March.
The fun never stops. The new chief justice knows he cannot review his own decision. This could be a four-four tie, leaving the lower court ruling stand, or not.

Cheney's world is crumbling. Expect him to lash out.

But wait! There's more!

The Italians are on our case!

Fallujah. La strage nascosta (Fallujah, The Concealed Massacre) will be shown on RAI News, November 8th at 07:35 (via HOT BIRD satellite, Sky Channel 506 and RAI-3), and rebroadcast by HOT BIRD satellite and Sky Channel 506 at 17:00 [5 pm] and over the next two days.

What's that about?

See this, an English translation from the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Monday, November 7 (emphases added) -
In soldier slang they call it Willy Pete. The technical name is white phosphorus. In theory its purpose is to illumine enemy positions in the dark. In practice, it was used as a chemical weapon in the rebel stronghold of Fallujah. And it was used not only against enemy combatants and guerrillas, but again innocent civilians. The Americans are responsible for a massacre using unconventional weapons, the identical charge for which Saddam Hussein stands accused. An investigation by RAI News 24, the all-news Italian satellite television channel, has pulled the veil from one of the most carefully concealed mysteries from the front in the entire US military campaign in Iraq.

A US veteran of the Iraq war told RAI New correspondent Sigfrido Ranucci this: "I received the order use caution because we had used white phosphorus on Fallujah. In military slag it is called 'Willy Pete'. Phosphorus burns the human body on contact - it even melts it right down to the bone."

RAI News 24's investigative story, Fallujah, The Concealed Massacre, will be broadcast tomorrow on RAI-3 and will contain not only eyewitness accounts by US military personnel but those from Fallujah residents. A rain of fire descended on the city. People who were exposed to those multicolored substance began to burn. We found people with bizarre wounds - their bodies burned but their clothes intact, relates Mohamad Tareq al-Deraji, a biologist and Fallujah resident.

"I gathered accounts of the use of phosphorus and napalm from a few Fallujah refugees whom I met before being kidnapped," says Manifesto reporter Giuliana Sgrena, who was kidnapped in Fallujah last February, in a recorded interview. I wanted to get the story out, but my kidnappers would not permit it.

RAI News 24 will broadcast video and photographs taken in the Iraqi city during and after the November 2004 bombardment which prove that the US military, contrary to statements in a December 9 communiqué from the US Department of State, did not use phosphorus to illuminate enemy positions (which would have been legitimate) but instead dropped white phosphorus indiscriminately and in massive quantities on the city's neighborhoods.

In the investigative story, produced by Maurizio Torrealta, dramatic footage is shown revealing the effects of the bombardment on civilians, women and children, some of whom were surprised in their sleep.

The investigation will also broadcast documentary proof of the use in Iraq of a new napalm formula called MK77. The use of the incendiary substance on civilians is forbidden by a 1980 UN treaty. The use of chemical weapons is forbidden by a treaty that the US signed in 1997.
Oh crap. And you remember this Giuliana Sgrena, the investigative reporter here, the woman who was kidnapped. After her release on March 4, 2005, she and the two Italian intelligence officers who had helped secure her release came under fire from our guys while on their way to Baghdad International Airport. Nicola Calipari, a Major General in the Italian military intelligence service was killed, and Sgrena and one other officer were wounded - and lots of folks were ticked off. We investigated and found our soldiers did nothing at all wrong.

Did they know about her notes, or is this all made-up stuff because she's still mad about us shooting her and killing her friend.

Who knows?

Bad news is coming out of the woodwork. The administration just cannot catch a break.

Well, the administration can say she's just an unhinged, angry Italian hothead who shouldn't be trusted. I'm not sure how they'll explain the stills from the show posted at the link above. Maybe Cheney will explain this is all a bunch of lies on Fox News or the Rush Limbaugh Show.

But wait! There's more!

And that would be the local angle on how to make people keep their mouths shut about what we do, even the Episcopalians in Pasadena.

Antiwar Sermon Brings IRS Warning
All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena risks losing its tax-exempt status because of a former rector's remarks in 2004.
Patricia Ward Biederman and Jason Felch - Los Angeles Times - November 7, 2005
The Internal Revenue Service has warned one of Southern California's largest and most liberal churches that it is at risk of losing its tax-exempt status because of an antiwar sermon two days before the 2004 presidential election.

Rector J. Edwin Bacon of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena told many congregants during morning services Sunday that a guest sermon by the church's former rector, the Rev. George F. Regas, on Oct. 31, 2004, had prompted a letter from the IRS.

In his sermon, Regas, who from the pulpit opposed both the Vietnam War and 1991's Gulf War, imagined Jesus participating in a political debate with then-candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry. Regas said that "good people of profound faith" could vote for either man, and did not tell parishioners whom to support.

But he criticized the war in Iraq, saying that Jesus would have told Bush, "Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine. Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster."

On June 9, the church received a letter from the IRS stating that "a reasonable belief exists that you may not be tax-exempt as a church ? " The federal tax code prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from intervening in political campaigns and elections.
Yeah, yeah, they never go after Falwell and Pat Robertson and all the rest, but you have to understand that Desmond Tutu was in the Pasadena pews that Sunday morning. We're talking subversion here, it seems.

The Times says its telephone calls to IRS officials in Washington and Los Angeles were not returned. Rector Bacon said the church had retained the services of a Washington law firm with expertise in tax-exempt organizations.

And this:
In an October letter to the IRS, Marcus Owens, the church's tax attorney and a former head of the IRS tax-exempt section, said, "It seems ludicrous to suggest that a pastor cannot preach about the value of promoting peace simply because the nation happens to be at war during an election season."

Owens said that an IRS audit team had recently offered the church a settlement during a face-to-face meeting.

"They said if there was a confession of wrongdoing, they would not proceed to the exam stage. They would be willing not to revoke tax-exempt status if the church admitted intervening in an election."

The church declined the offer.
The Times gives details of what was in the sermon. No one was told how to vote, or even to vote. It seems to be a sermon full of stuff about love and not killing people and not overreacting. The church would rather not confess that was any kind of wrongdoing. It seems they're "the other kind of Christians" - no big American flags in the sanctuary, or giant portraits of Bush and Cheney, thus the trouble. These are the kind of Christians who don't like useless wars.

Ah well, on this side of town, All Saints Episcopal, just off Rodeo Drive, seems to have no position on much of anything. When I was married there in 1984 I remember smiling because in that 1979 Blake Edwards movie 10, Bo Derek was married right where I was standing. Hollywood. Should have driving out to Pasadena.

In any event, on Monday the week opened with tales of "the masters of war" trying to hold it all together. That's getting harder every day.

Posted by Alan at 19:22 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 7 November 2005 19:30 PST home

Sunday, 6 November 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Anticipation: The National Conversation Is Now Open

Does the week begin on Sunday, as the calendar on your desk shows, or does it begin on Monday when everyone gets back to work, or at least those who still have jobs and are not at home wondering how his or her replacement in Bangalore is faring with the systems code? Here in Hollywood, three in the afternoon on Sunday is when Monday begins in Paris. It's always the next day somewhere.

It doesn't matter. The issues for the coming week were being set up on Sunday, November 6th - one could see what will be discussed in the following days.

One: Look to France - What is Happening There Justifies the Iraq War and Conservative Policies

Sunday the riots that started in the Paris suburbs were in their tenth day, or eleventh, depending on the time zone you find yourself in. As distressing as these are in France, and for France, they are fodder for the American right, proof that we have some sort of worldwide war with Islam on out hands, and, as the right likes to claim, that the French are always wrong.

In France? Le Monde here: "A country which prides itself as the fatherland of the humans right and the sanctuary of a generous social model shows, in the eyes of all, that it is incapable of ensuring dignified living conditions for young French people." Well, that seems to be what they say. It's in French. And despair from the English-language Euronews - "Nothing has deterred the gangs from running rampage. Not calls for calm, not marches for peace. Not even thousands of extra police." As for Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy, Socialist Party leader François Hollande tells Libération she had "zero tolerance" for Sarkozy and his "simplistic polemics." This and more in a Washington Post's survey of such comments, including links Le Monde saying to nothing much is working - the continuing burning of cars and sacking of public buildings is proof that the conservative government's "zero-tolerance" policies have failed just as much as the liberal policies of the previous left-wing government. They say the state is "impotent." The Post's own view on this? The rioting "underscores the chasm between the fastest growing segment of France's population and the staid political hierarchy that has been inept at responding to societal shifts. The youths rampaging through France's poorest neighborhoods are the French-born children of African and Arab immigrants, the most neglected of the country's citizens."

Here in the United States?

Mark Steyn in the Chicago Sun Times had the American conservative right buzzing with Wake Up, Europe, You've a War on Your Hands, generating many commentators riffing on his ideas, as in 'It's like Baghdad here! It's the Apocalypse!' - "After how many days does rioting become civil war? At what point do the French people say 'enough is enough' and either demand action from the government in the form of reactive violence, or simply take to the streets themselves in search of justice?" And too you find things like this - "The current intifada in France has stripped the American Left of its second Utopia in a generation. The Left lost its earlier worldly utopia when the Soviet Union fell apart."

Yeah, yeah, this all proves this global war, and its subset in Iraq, is a wonderful thing - they're all out get us - and that the French are wimps and fools, socialism doesn't work, universal healthcare is evil, and the French should pasteurize their cheese like normal people. Whatever. Use the beta version of the new Google "blog search" and chuck in "France Riots" and you'll get about two thousand of such things to scan, if you wish. But you get the general idea.

What is happening in France may be a bit more complex than what is said on the right - yes, my conservative friends get really angry at those words, "more complex" - but if you look at the complied accounts of the events and all the background and maps here, you see there's much that has to do with the history of France and North Africa, with immigration and socialization policies, with the usual odd and theory personalities of various leaders, and with some cultural issues.

But the talking point now is that "the French model" for anything at all just doesn't work, and they should be more like us, vengeful and severe and willing to go to war anywhere at any time - and every Monoprix should be a Wal-Mart (there's not that much difference), and they need free-market healthcare not that socialized stuff. And they talk funny.

Two: We Was Had

The current New York Times is demonstrating what it does when does when Judy Miller is not in charge, shilling for the administration with her single-source insider stories of what Chalabi and Cheney say are grave threats that will kill us all and justify wars here and there. There are rumors she will return to the newsroom any day now and resume telling editor Bill Keller and publisher Arthur Sulzberger what they should and should not print each day, but until then, others are doing the reporting.

One of them is Douglas Jehl, and Sunday, November 6 he gets his column-inches to give us this, a story about one Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda prisoner we captured just after the 9/11 business. Jehl reports that according to a newly declassified memo, not only did this al-Libi provide us with false information suggesting that Iraq had trained al-Qaeda to use al kinds of very nasty weapons of mass destruction of all sorts, but a whole lot of our intelligence agencies pretty much knew the information was bogus as early as 2002 - and Colin Powell presented this crap to the UN in February 2003 anyway, as "credible evidence of Iraqi WMD programs" - just before we told the rest of the world to buzz off and invaded Iraq. We knew the threat. Yep.

The summary from Editor and Publisher -
A newly declassified memo... shows that an al-Qaeda official in American custody was identified as a likely fabricator months before the Bush administration began to use his statements as the foundation for its claims that Iraq trained al-Qaeda members to use biological and chemical weapons, according to this Defense Intelligence Agency document from February 2002.

... "The document provides the earliest and strongest indication of doubts voiced by American intelligence agencies about Mr. Libi's credibility," Jehl writes. "Without mentioning him by name, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state, and other administration officials repeatedly cited Mr. Libi's information as 'credible' evidence that Iraq was training Al Qaeda members in the use of explosives and illicit weapons."
The Times was given the report by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the leading Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and from the article itself:
At the time of Mr. Powell's speech, an unclassified statement by the CIA described the reporting, now known to have been from Mr. Libi, as "credible." But Mr. Levin said he had learned that a classified CIA assessment at the time went on to state that "the source was not in a position to know if any training had taken place."
Yep, another Democrat making trouble. And now we learn the CIA appears to have pretty much believed that Saddam Hussein maybe was pursuing those evil WMD programs before the war started, but that there were also real substantial doubts and dissents about a lot of the actual evidence - from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Department of Energy, from Air Force intelligence, and from various parts of the CIA itself.

What's the phrase? Close enough for government work?

Oh heck, Judy Miller got the Times to publish that stuff about those nasty aluminum tubes for the production of nuclear bombs from a single source, and the scoop on the guy who was actually working on "the Iraq atom bomb" just a few months before the war. Did she have to check secondary sources? People are so picky. The old Times said it was so. What's the problem?

Well, neither was true. The new Times has this radical idea that you verify what you're told. And the new Times has this new item on what happens when you don't.

When Judy returns Doug Jehl will be shown the door. It'll be back to business as usual - print the insider scoop from the administration, and don't ask questions.

Be that as it may, just how did Colin Powell end up at the UN explaining some things we heard from pretty much one guy, who had been tagged as a lying loser, as reasons to defy the world and overthrow another government?

Ah, there's a "back story," as we say out here in Hollywood.

Duncan Black here points to a year-old Newsweek article here. Say what? It seems this al-Libi dude was one of the first "test cases" for our new campaign to introduce torture as a standard interrogation technique overseas. The old FBI methods were just too time-consuming, with all that stuff about "winning trust" and clever thinking.

From Newsweek -
Al-Libi's capture, some sources say, was an early turning point in the government's internal debates over interrogation methods... "They duct-taped his mouth, cinched him up and sent him to Cairo" for more-fearsome Egyptian interrogations, says the ex-FBI official. "At the airport the CIA case officer goes up to him and says, 'You're going to Cairo, you know. Before you get there I'm going to find your mother and I'm going to f--- her.' So we lost that fight."

Kevin Drum here: "No wonder DIA was skeptical of al-Libi's information. Not only did the details of his testimony seem inconsistent with known facts, but DIA knew perfectly well he had given up this information only under torture and was probably just saying anything that came to mind in order to get it to stop."

And Drum links to others:
As Mark Kleiman points out, this is the pragmatic case against torture: not only is it wrong, but it doesn't even provide reliable information anyway - and it makes Cheney's relentless moral cretinism on the subject all the worse. Larry Wilkerson, who investigated this back when he was Colin Powell's chief of staff, confirms that "there was a visible audit trail from the vice president's office" that authorized the practices that led to the abuse of detainees, and Cheney continues to vigorously support the use of torture to this day, pressuring Congress behind closed doors not to pass John McCain's anti-torture legislation.
So there is something very odd here, generating a lot of discussion.

Cheney wants this amendment to forbid torture dropped, even though the senate voted 90-8 to add it to the next spending bill. Cheney argues that the CIA at the very least should be exempt and be allowed to torture anyone they'd like. He says the administration will use its first veto in all these years to stop it, not matter what bill to which this amendment is attached. Senator McCain, who was tortured by the North Vietnamese, says fine - he'll attach it to every bill the senate passes. Hey, Dick, you want to veto them all?

Friday, November 4, Cheney met privately with Republican senators to press the matter.

Andrew Sullivan on that -
A man who avoided service in Vietnam is lecturing John McCain on the legitimacy of torturing military detainees. But notice he won't even make his argument before Senate aides, let alone the public. Why not? If he really believes that the U.S. has not condoned torture but wants to reserve it for exceptional cases, why not make his argument in the full light of day? You know: where democratically elected politicians operate.
Yeah. Good question.

And maybe this will be a topic this week.

Three: Be Careful Out There

See this - a discussion of the Sunday, November 6 item from the Washington Post reporting that the FBI has been obtaining and reviewing records of ordinary Americans in the name of the war on terror through the use of national security letters that gag the recipients.
The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms. The letters - one of which can be used to sweep up the records of many people - are extending the bureau's reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans.
No more should be said here.

Note this from the Post:

Have a nice day - too bad you read this post.

Posted by Alan at 18:30 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 6 November 2005 18:35 PST home

Topic: Announcements

Redirection: The Mother Ship Has Landed

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly parent site to this daily web log, is now online. This is Volume 3, Number 45 for the week of Sunday, November 6, 2005 - with much you will not find here.

In this issue, reviewing events last week, the challenge was the battle for control of what the "big story" actually was. In "Chasing the Zeitgeist" you'll find five items - extended versions of what first appeared here - where one side says "this is important" and the other side counters with "no, this is more important" - and the bombshells dropped are in order, starting with lousy poll results followed by a big nomination, the avian flu plan, the shutdown of the senate, the revelation of our chain of secret prisons where bad things happen, more polls, and ending with a the "secret plot" claim and the sad business of our president in Argentina. It was quite a week.

Elsewhere, France is in its second week of riots, and we cover that, and Ric Erickson sends two "on the scene" columns (and pictures), while Mike McCahill sends word from London. There one of Blair's key players was forced to resign after a scandal. There's something going around? Read "Our Man in London."

But then there's all the photography. Bob Patterson gives us one last Halloween item - photos from last weekend's "World's Longest Hearse Procession." Really. And Don Smith sends one simple, stunning shot from Paris. Locally? An array of new sculpture in Beverly Hills - something between whimsy and satire - along with five new botanicals, as readers have requested more of those.

Bob Patterson's regular columns are unusual too. The WLJ item tries out the "platonic dialog" format, to argue for a change in what these sites are all about, and the Book Wrangler look into some odd coincidences.

This week's quotes? We return to Cynics Corner. It seemed appropriate.

Direct links to specific pages -

Chasing the Zeitgeist ________________________

Long Ago: A Shift in the Wind, Maybe
Changing the Subject: The 'Wise Guy' from Trenton - Sam 'Scalito' Gets Nominated
Changing Subjects Back: Rule 21 from Outer Space
Next Issue, Please: Prisons That Don't Exist for Those Who Don't Exist
Our Richelieu: Who's Minding the Store While the Boss is in Argentina?

Troubles Elsewhere ________________________

Warning Signs: The Word from the Banlieues
Our Man in Paris: Riots Continue - Politicians Wrangle While Suburbs Burn
Paris Follow-Up: All Quiet in Paris
Our Man in London: The Blind and the Drunk

Bob Patterson ________________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - A War That Was Started For No Reason Can't Have An Ending
Book Wrangler: Playing the Name Game with Authors

Guest Photography ________________________

On the Scene: The World's Longest Hearse Procession
Our Eye on Paris: One Simple Shot

Local Photography ________________________

Sculpture: Gentle Joking with the Rich - Otterness in Beverly Hills
Botanicals: November Blooms

Quotes for the week of November 6, 2005 - Return to Cynics Corner

Note: If you attempted to logon to Just Above Sunset early Sunday morning, Pacific Time, the site was unavailable. Sorry. The hosting service, Earthlink, was having problems. A call to their Atlanta control center resulted in an apology for the outage, and assurances that they had a crack team of technical wizards working on the problem. Things seem to be fine now. So I pass along their apology.

Posted by Alan at 08:46 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 5 November 2005

Topic: Announcements

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The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly parent site to this daily web log, will be posted shortly. Putting it together took most of the day, so what happened in the world?

You will find much fresh material in the new issue of the weekly, including new columns from London, extended columns from Paris, and columns from Bob Patterson as usual - and pages and pages of snazzy photos like this one. Click on the link and check it out, sometime after midnight, Pacific Time.

Posted by Alan at 21:16 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 4 November 2005
Who's Minding the Store While the Boss is in Argentina?
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Our Richelieu: Who's Minding the Store While the Boss is in Argentina?

If you follow national politics - who is doing what with policies, actions, appointments and all that sort of thing that eventually, and sometime immediately, changes our lives in some rather dramatic ways - the week just past was a series of tussles over who controlled the "big story."

Last weekend it was terrible polling numbers for the administration, and calls for apologies and resignations (Karl Rove would do). Monday the counter was to nominate a well-qualified by controversial fellow to the Supreme Court, followed Tuesday by a proposal to spend more than seven billion dollars we don't actually have at the moment to protect us all from the avian flu that may be coming to kill us all but may not get here any time soon. That was countered Tuesday afternoon by the Democrats in the senate shutting down the place, demanding some action on a promise to look into who was messing with us all with all that talk of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, hyping forged documents and ignoring the actually facts at the time, to get us into a war that might not have been necessary. And then Wednesday we learned our government runs a series of secret prisons where some people just disappear without a trace, there no record of anything, and where we practice "enhanced interrogation" - and we seem to be using the old soviet prisons to make the story even more bizarre. Add that the Office of the Vice President is working hard to make sure we don't have to follow any of that Geneva Conventions stuff.

Thursday the new polling was worse than ever, and that Libby fellow, former Chief of Staff to the Vice President, was arraigned on assorted felonies.

How bad is the new polling?

Washington Post (with ABC): Sixty percent disapprove of the president's performance, and fifty-five percent think the administration deliberately mislead country over Iraq. CBS: Fifty-seven percent disapprove of the president's performance, thirty-five percent approve (lowest ever), and only thirty-two percent think the administration is telling what they knew about the WMD facts. AP-Ipsos: Fifty-nine percent disapprove of the president's performance.

Read all about it here, here and here - or don't.

You get the idea.

What's a guy to do with all this bad news?

Leave town, fly down to Argentina for a summit to chat with other leaders. Yeah, Fidel Castro will be there, and Hugo Chavez from Venezuela, but you can look like a world leader. Castro is old and Chavez is nutty. This will play great on Fox News. Don't think about Nixon in Caracas in 1960 and his car getting stoned. This will look presidential.

Well, that didn't work out, as in Bush faces Latin fury as popularity sinks at home (Independent, UK) - your typical "you cannot run away from your problems" story - and as in Far from home, Bush can't escape political headaches (USA Today) - five questions from the press, and only one on the summit - and as in Summit protests turn violent in Argentina (AP) - pretty serious riots in the streets.

Scanning the media one sees this anti-Americanism in our own hemisphere (our "backyard" as James Monroe and his doctrine would have it) is seen with some pride on the right ("ungrateful wretches"), and some dismay on left ("we've made everyone hate us"), and general depression in the middle ("this is a mess"). One can find comment all over. Go to Technorati or Memeoradum and stomp around. You'll see.

Okay, things are not going well. And it only gets worse.

Remember Lawrence Wilkerson, the fellow who, on Wednesday, October 19, addressed the New America Foundation and said there was a cabal that was running this country - Cheney, Rumsfeld and so on - and implied the president was just out of the loop and generally clueless? (This was discussed last weekend in these pages here.) Okay, he is the former Chief of Staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, so he's grumpy. His "faction" in the first term lost out to the war-now plans-are-for-sissies idealists. He has an axe to grind. And he's grinding it, making it real sharp.

He's at it again. Thursday, November 3rd he was at it again. And Friday people were realizing just what it was he had said the day before - he said he had uncovered a "visible audit trail" tracing the practice of prisoner abuse by US soldiers directly back to Vice President Cheney's office - you know, actual documents.

He said this in an interview on NPR with Steve Inskeep (the audio is here) and since there is no transcript yet, this has been hard to quote. No one sits and tapes news shows on National Public Radio and then carefully transcribes what was said - but someone at the Washington Post seems to be paid to do that. And Dan Froomkin offers some of what was said in Another Thunderbolt from Wilkerson, posted just after noon, Eastern Time, on Friday, November 4 -
INSKEEP: While in the government, he says he was assigned to gather documents. He traced just how Americans came to be accused of abusing prisoners. In 2002, a presidential memo had ordered that detainees be treated in a manner consistent with the Geneva Conventions that forbid torture. Wilkerson says the vice president's office pushed for a more expansive policy.

Mr. WILKERSON: What happened was that the secretary of Defense, under the cover of the vice president's office, began to create an environment -- and this started from the very beginning when David Addington, the vice president's lawyer, was a staunch advocate of allowing the president in his capacity as commander in chief to deviate from the Geneva Conventions. Regardless of the president having put out this memo, they began to authorize procedures within the armed forces that led to, in my view, what we've seen.

INSKEEP: We have to get more detail about that because the military will say, the Pentagon will say they've investigated this repeatedly and that all the investigations have found that the abuses were committed by a relatively small number of people at relatively low levels. What hard evidence takes those abuses up the chain of command and lands them in the vice president's office, which is where you're placing it?

Mr. WILKERSON: I'm privy to the paperwork, both classified and unclassified, that the secretary of State asked me to assemble on how this all got started, what the audit trail was, and when I began to assemble this paperwork, which I no longer have access to, it was clear to me that there was a visible audit trail from the vice president's office through the secretary of Defense down to the commanders in the field that in carefully couched terms - I'll give you that - that to a soldier in the field meant two things: We're not getting enough good intelligence and you need to get that evidence, and, oh, by the way, here's some ways you probably can get it. And even some of the ways that they detailed were not in accordance with the spirit of the Geneva Conventions and the law of war.

You just - if you're a military man, you know that you just don't do these sorts of things because once you give just the slightest bit of leeway, there are those in the armed forces who will take advantage of that. There are those in the leadership who will feel so pressured that they have to produce intelligence that it doesn't matter whether it's actionable or not as long as they can get the volume in. They have to do what they have to do to get it, and so you've just given in essence, though you may not know it, carte blanche for a lot of problems to occur.
Is this a big deal? The Secretary of Defense under cover of the Vice President's office, "regardless of the President having put out this memo," began to authorize procedures that were undoubtedly illegal and created a mess for us around the world, one it will take generations to clean up, if it can be cleaned up. These directives flat-out contradicted the 2002 order from the president for the military to abide by the Geneva Conventions against torture. Or so the man says.

Who is running the country?

So far only AFP (l'Agence France-Presse has run with the story (here). The Post item was in a general media round up, not a feature.

AFP adds this detail:
Wilkerson also called David Addington, the vice president's lawyer, "a staunch advocate of allowing the president in his capacity as commander-in-chief to deviate from the Geneva Conventions."

On Monday, Cheney promoted Addington to his chief of staff to replace I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, who has been indicted over the unmasking of a CIA agent.

Wilkerson also told National Public Radio that Cheney's office ran an "alternate national security staff" that spied on and undermined the president's formal National Security Council.

He said National Security Council staff stopped sending emails when they found out Cheney's staffers were reading their messages.

He said he believed that Cheney's staff prevented Bush from seeing a National Security Council memo arguing strongly that the US needed far more troops for the March 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Yes, the amusing parts are in bold.

It seems Uncle Dick has taken things into his own hands, sensing the president doesn't have the brains or the balls, or the experience, or even much interest in running the country.

Someone has to get things done.

Did he suggest the trip to Argentina to give the hopeless kid something to do, so the frat-boy could feel important, or pretend to be?

This is serious stuff. The word "coup" comes to mind. The former Chief of Staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell first says the war was devised and executed by a select group bypassing this rather worthless president, and now he has documents that the same group promulgated an illegal torture policy contradicting what the president said should be done, then implemented that policy behind his back. And there's a paper trail?

Holy cow!

Many on the left aren't surprised. They never saw the president as the sharpest knife in the drawer. And they've said this sort of thing all the time - the fellow was never up to the job and something else is going on here.

But now a former State Department bigwig says this, not Michael Moore?

And Friday night, November 4, the PBS "News Hour" broadcast is quoting the guy? And there's a panel discussion? The Bush defender is saying this is no big deal - saying everyone was frustrated with the State Department and CIA and all they rest, so they set up their own equivalents, to just work around the overly cautious, negative-thinking dinosaurs that didn't think boldly about what the nation had to do, these dreadful pessimists who wanted details and worried about things that might go wrong. The fellow is not addressing whether they also had to work around the inattentive and slow-on-the-uptake president.

Well, Richelieu ran France well enough. So why not? As mentioned in these pages April 11, 2004, in Richelieu in the White House, Sidney Blumenthal was already seeing this clearly -
The story of the Middle East debacle, like that of the pre-9/11 terrorism fiasco, reveals the inner workings of Bush's White House: the president -aggressive and manipulated, ignorant of his own policies and their consequences, negligent; the secretary of state - proud, instinctively subordinate, constantly in retreat; the vice-president - as Richelieu, conniving, at the head of a neoconservative cabal, the power behind the throne; the national security adviser - seemingly open, even vulnerable, posing as the honest broker, but deceitful and derelict, an underhanded lightweight.
Ah, this then is not news, really. This is not the first time the word "cabal" has been used.

This is just when the perception moves from the world of left-side-loonies into the general conversation - not a tin-foil hat thing any longer, but something plausible, that may even have documentation.

It's not exactly "the great awakening" - but it will do.

Posted by Alan at 20:03 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 4 November 2005 20:07 PST home

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