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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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Saturday, 28 January 2006
Political Theory: Power Doesn't Corrupt, It Forces Pragmatic Dreariness
Topic: For policy wonks...

Political Theory: Power Doesn't Corrupt, It Forces Pragmatic Dreariness

The old saw is that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But put aside consideration of the Republican Party in firm control of the executive and legislative branches of the government, and about to pack the highest court with its newest "yes man," and the coincidental Abramoff lobby scandal, and the former leader of the House under indictment in Texas, and the current leader of the Senate under investigation by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Medicare Plan D mess with the pharmaceutical corporations and HMO's raking in the bucks while hundreds of thousands of the elderly and poor suddenly cannot get their medications and the states have to toss in millions so people don't die, and the half-hearted effort to fix New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and all the business with Halliburton and the other contractors in Iraq scamming the system left and right, and the president's supporters, and the president, claiming he can break any law he decides is keeping him from doing what he alone decides is best (eminent scholar and Federal Judge Richard Posner says that's fine here, and discussion here). And disregard the tax cuts that hit the middle class and let the rich get much richer, the budget that cuts services and rewards corporations who make donations to the ruling party, the soaring deficit and all the "pork" in the budget for each home district or state, and all that economic stuff. This isn't about that.

Imagine you're a struggling minority party, one most everyone reviles, and suddenly you're voted into power and have to run things. What do you do then? Does the sudden ascension to full power make you power mad - you can now do all the things you were screaming about - or do have to drop all the inflammatory rhetoric and settle down and do the nuts and bolts things all governments must do, that dreary stuff like making sure everything runs and someone pick up the garbage and the electricity and water keeps flowing?

That is what seems to be playing out in the Middle East. There were those elections Wednesday the 25th in Palestine and the Islamic fundamentalist group, Hamas, to the surprise of everyone, won 76 of the 132 seats on the Palestinian Legislative Council. They didn't expect that themselves. No one expected it. And now they have to run things.

So what will that mean? Of course, Hamas proudly claims responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of Israeli civilians - they have a militant arm" - and their core aim is to wipe out Israel. We designate them a "terrorist group" and so does Israel and the European Union. They are not good guys. But then they have long run their network of health-care and social programs for Palestinians, and ran on the platform that the Fatah Party was corrupt and not taking care of its own people - and was talking too much to Israel and the United States.

It seems voters there agreed the relatively moderate Fatah Party was a bunch of crooks and not taking care of things. They threw the bums out. And they got the alternative - the people who do some good, and are a bit more honest - even if they are wild-eyed terrorists willing to kill women and children and plan to wipe out Israel and are shunned in horror by most of the civilized world.

You cannot have everything.

You do get riots in the streets - anger at the old party that lost, the Fatah police and militias screaming this and that. Chaos.

As mentioned elsewhere - People Deciding What They're Not Supposed to Decide - the Bush drive to democratize the Middle East has backfired, big time. Democracies are peaceful, so we'll let folks vote and everything will be fine.

Israel told us this Palestinian election was a really, really bad idea. We told them elections were always good - and they were wrong, Hamas should be on the ballot. Others, in a more general way, suggested holding elections was only a small part of establishing a democracy, in Iraq and in Palestine and anywhere - you need a culture and institutions to make things work, and a shared sense of cooperation and all that. The administration preferred the cartoon version - people vote and things will be fine.

So now Hamas will set policy for the Palestinian Authority. And former Fatah leader Abbas remains president and commander of Palestine's official police force. Yipes.

This wasn't in the script.

How did this happen? Scott MacMillan offers an explanation here -
Critics say Bush himself deserves much of the blame by promoting what Daniel Pipes and others have pejoratively dubbed the "pothole theory" of democracy: the idea that if you allow radical Islamists into the political fold and get them competing for votes - and dealing with mundane civic issues like fixing potholes and collecting garbage - they will, by necessity, turn moderate and palatable. At the very least, so the theory goes, such inclusion will force a split between the "hard men" and those willing to pursue Islamist goals through peaceful means.
Well it's nifty theory.

But Hamas has no idea how to run a government. Hamas asked Fatah to enter into a coalition. Fatah refused, maybe, as MacMillan suggests, because they screwed things up so badly there's no money for anything and everything was so mismanaged there's no fixing it all - let them sink. There's this quote from Ziyad Abu Ein, a Fatah official - "Let Hamas alone bear its responsibilities, if it can."

This is not looking good.

But can the nifty "pothole theory" of democracy actually work, and Hamas turn, well, mundane and harmless? They do have a government to run, after all.

MacMillan says there's evidence it might, noting in London's Financial Times earlier this month, an anonymous senior official in the Bush administration cited two French scholars, Olivier Roy and Gilles Kepel, who have long noted that political Islam becomes less caustic the less it is repressed. But they're French.

But there is this -
In Egypt, the banned Muslim Brotherhood has donned democratic garb since President Hosni Mubarak began tolerating the group in the mid-1980s.

The movement now speaks of pluralism and civil liberties, although its supporters still hate Jews, call the Holocaust "a myth," and dismiss al-Qaida as "an illusion." A similar shift took place in Tunisia between 1975 and 1990, when the national Islamist movement adopted more liberal positions on women's rights and democratic reforms as the government temporarily relaxed its repression.
Well, will this work out in this case? MacMillan acknowledges the commentators who worry that Hamas will create a Taliban-like fundamentalist enclave - "Hamastan" - in the West Bank and Gaza - these folks who say Iran will step in to finance the Palestinian Authority as funding from the European Union, the United States, and Israel goes away. That's possible.

But as is clear, "the more immediate issue is how Hamas will adapt to the reality of the existence of Israel, whose citizens now play the role of lab rats in Bush's grand experiment with potholes and democracy."

Yep, whatever the Hamas rhetoric, Israel is not going to magically disappear without a trace - and one assumes the people of Israel are not happy about being lab rats in this experiment to see if Hamas, of necessity, turns boring and bureaucratically efficient.

We'll see what happens. It is a grand experiment. One suspects many will die as we see if it works, or not. But then again, they won't die here.

Posted by Alan at 16:20 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 28 January 2006 16:27 PST home

Friday, 27 January 2006
Friday Follies: A Media Tradition
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Friday Follies: A Media Tradition

As a rule, you manage the news by keeping the bad stuff under wraps until late Friday afternoon. The national broadcast news shows for Friday have by then been set in stone - timed and rehearsed for the twenty-two available minutes in the half-hour. The nifty graphics have all been worked out. And the cable news shows have all been booked and set up. And Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" doesn't air on Friday night. And too, no one much reads the newspapers Saturday morning, and even if a big story breaks, there's no broadcast echo chamber to keep it alive - the cable news folks know that people, if they are in on the weekends, watch sports if they watch anything at all, so they run "in-depth" backgrounders or light fare - stuff about celebrities or travel or health. Here in Los Angeles, the lefty progressive AM station has no "Air America" on the weekends, but does have long blocks of back-to-back half-hour commercials for this cure or that (elixirs and odd quasi-vitamins and other things that drive the few serious folks at the FDA to exasperation). "Saturday Night Live" might offer some satire, but it's material that has been rehearsed all week, and not that very topical.

So you release bad news late Friday, and hope that, by Monday, other matters will have come up and no one will notice.

The Associated Press, Friday, January 27th, at 3:39 in the afternoon (Eastern), ran this -
The U.S. Army in Iraq has at least twice seized and jailed the wives of suspected insurgents in hopes of "leveraging" their husbands into surrender, U.S. military documents show.

In one case, a secretive task force locked up the young mother of a nursing baby, a U.S. intelligence officer reported. In the case of a second detainee, one American colonel suggested to another that they catch her husband by tacking a note to the family's door telling him "to come get his wife."
We're not supposed to do that sort of thing. It's against the rules, and not likely to win the hearts and minds of those who we want to consider us the good guys. And in addition to being illegal and impractical, some might thing it's just wrong. Some might feel it's pretty much kidnapping and blackmail - using the wife and kids to get someone who might be one of the bad guys to agree to anything to free them, or save them from captivity, or from torture, or from death.

One supposes a defense of this would be that this is war, and we lost three thousand of our people five years ago, so, as the aggrieved party, such things should be allowed. Secondary, a defense would be that we wouldn't really harm the wife and kids - we are not bad people - but it's useful of someone we suspect is a bad guy thinks we would do that. We get what we want without actually doing anything bad, like hurting innocent women and children. We just keep them off balance by having them think we're going to get their families - so it's clever and effective without our having to actually do what they might think we'd do. So we keep the moral high ground - we didn't do anything - while the bad guy feels like a fool.

Still, it seems mighty odd, but maybe you actually have to be "in theater" and frustrated and angry to understand why this is an informal policy now. It seems unlikely that the Rumsfeld Department of Defense will say it's official. The hypothetical defense above will come from Rush Limbaugh and the media on the right, and, one assumes, from Alan Dershowitz, the fellow who suggested legalizing torture with what he would call "torture warrants." (Maybe you have to be "in theater" at some Harvard faculty room to get with his thinking.)

Of course, you have to consider this in the context of the kidnapped American journalist Jill Carroll, on assignment in Iraq for the Christian Science Monitor, after the Wall Street Journal laid her off. Her kidnappers threatened to kill her unless all Iraqi women detainees are freed, and their deadline has long passed - and no one knows if Carroll is dead or alive. On Thursday we did free five of eleven women we say we are holding in Iraq (we hold over fourteen thousand prisoners). No news on Carroll yet.

The "free the women" thing seems to be a big issue. They don't see holding them indefinitely as clever and effective on our part. Yes, we're misunderstood.

The AP item cites two sides to this. Hind al-Salehi, an Iraqi human rights activist (they have those?) is saying that our "anti-insurgent units," coming up empty-handed in raids on suspects' houses, have detained the wives to pressure the men into turning themselves in. But Iraq's deputy justice minister, Busho Ibrahim Ali, dismisses these claims - taking hostages was a tactic used under Saddam Hussein and "we are not Saddam." Good to know. And a command spokesman in Baghdad, one Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, says we only hold really, really bad people in the long-term (never get out) facilities - Iraqis who pose an "imperative threat."

So who are you going to believe? But then we let five women go. Why? We suddenly discovered they were just not "imperative threats." What changed? It's all very odd.

In any event, the Friday afternoon release was two documents about incidents in 2004, the result of an American Civil Liberties Union request for information on detention practices. Yes, Bill O'Reilly has told America that the ACLU is itself a terrorist organization, and thus most Americans agree, but put that aside. They made a Freedom of Information Act request and actually got some documents, whether they had a right to them or not, and whether or not revealing how we wage this war is unpatriotic or not. The government did cough them up, so let O'erilly rant about the Pentagon aiding the terrorists. Let him rant about the evils of the Freedom of Information Act.

Tarmiya, northwest of Baghdad, on May 9, 2004 - a raid on a suspect's house - Task Force (TF) 6-26, a hush-hush military unit formed to handle high-profile targets. One of the senior officers, with fourteen years of experience - "During the pre-operation brief it was recommended by TF personnel that if the wife were present, she be detained and held in order to leverage the primary target's surrender." He objected. The team leader, a senior sergeant, seized her anyway.

Hey, who's in charge? The Army does promote itself with ads urging young guys to join up and become "an Army of one," but do you disregard your senior officers?

Detail from an intelligence officer later - "The 28-year-old woman had three young children at the house, one being as young as six months and still nursing." She was held for two days and was released after he protested the whole thing. (His name is blacked out. To protect him from the senior sergeant?)

What's going on here? The spokesman, Johnson, said he couldn't judge, months later, just what were the factors that led to this woman's incarceration. Who knows? Stuff happens?

Like most names in the released documents, the officer's signature is blacked out on this for-the-record memorandum about his complaint.

The second incident is from in June 2004 - email exchanges among six Army colonels, discussing female detainees held in northern Iraq by the Stryker Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division. A military police colonel advises staff officers of the Northern Command that Iraqi police just wouldn't take control of these jailed women without any charges being brought against them. A command staff officer asking an officer of the unit holding the women - "What are you guys doing to try to get the husband - have you tacked a note on the door and challenged him to come get his wife?" The brigade's deputy commander to his command - "As each day goes by, I get more input that these gals have some info and/or will result in getting the husband. These ladies fought back extremely hard during the original detention. They have shown indications of deceit and misinformation." The command staff colonel, referring to a commanding general - "CG wants the husband." No one knows what happened to the women. No one is saying if the husband (or husbands) gave themselves up. It's very mysterious.

The spokesman, Johnson - "It is clear the unit believed the females detained had substantial knowledge of insurgent activity and warranted being held."

It is?

Well, you could argue these savages have Jill Carroll, so we have the right to do the same. But we did it first, of course.

A bitter Andrew Sullivan here -
You may have heard of the tactic. As a way to leverage information or capture an enemy, terrorists sometimes kidnap innocent women and children in order to put pressure on their husbands or relatives. It's called kidnapping and blackmail. Except that in Rumsfeld's military, the United States now uses the tactic. Sure, it's against the Geneva Conventions. Sure, those Conventions are supposed to apply in Iraq. But this is the Bush administration. King George doesn't have to obey the law; and his military can do anything they want. The Pentagon has gotten used to denying hard evidence of abuse - and no one, of course, has been disciplined for following the instructions given ultimately in Washington. "It's very hard, obviously, from some of these documents to determine what, if anything, actually happened," says the Pentagon spokesman. No, it isn't. And so we slowly descend toward the level of the enemy. Because King George can.
We slowly descend toward the level of the enemy? No, we got there first in this case.

And then there's this. Of course, David P. Gushee doesn't have the moral weight of Pat Robertson, as he's only a professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, and author of a book or two. In Christianity Today he offers a detailed theological (and practical and moral) argument that torture is always wrong. He doesn't address kidnapping and blackmail. But he does address those who favor all these things, the administration and the evangelical (we must confront evil with might) right -
It is past time for evangelical Christians to remind our government and our society of perennial moral values, which also happen to be international and domestic laws. As Christians, we care about moral values, and we vote on the basis of such values. We care deeply about human-rights violations around the world. Now it is time to raise our voice and say an unequivocal no to torture, a practice that has no place in our society and violates our most cherished moral convictions.
Ah, but then the bad guys win, and no one is safe, and we all die.

So, shall we smite others for God? The argument now is that this is what real Christians do - like Sampson they take up the jawbone of the ass and kill them all, women and children included. (It's in the Bible - Judges 15:15). Gushee is, it seems, just weak, and not a real Christian.

None of it matters. The kidnap-the-wife-and-kids-for-the-greater-good story will be gone Monday. Other things will come up.

This late-week story will be gone too, a detail of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

As reported in the New York Times here, the chief of the Justice Department's public integrity division, Noel Hillman, who has been leading the Abramoff lobbying investigation for two years, is suddenly gone. President Bush has nominated him for a federal judgeship and he has resigned -
Colleagues at the Justice Department say Mr. Hillman has been involved in day-to-day management of the Abramoff investigation since it began almost two year ago. The inquiry, which initially focused on accusations that Mr. Abramoff defrauded Indian tribes out of tens of millions of dollars in lobbying fees, is being described within the department as the most important federal corruption investigation in a generation.
Bye, Noel.

That's convenient, and will throw the investigation into disarray, as they say. It was getting too close to the White House.

Of course, the appointment had been suggested by two Democrats from New Jersey - more than a year ago.

Funny thing it should happen now. The Times quotes a White House spokesman saying it had nothing to do with the Abramoff investigation. Just a coincidence.

Right. And this was timed badly as the nomination was listed late Wednesday night. That gave Democrat senators Chuck Schumer and Ken Salazar - and two Congressman - time to call for the appointment of a special prosecutor, and time to write Attorney General Alberto Gonzales a letter, and time to hit the media -
The timing of Mr. Hillman's nomination "jaundices this whole process," Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said in an interview. "They have to appoint a special counsel. I think there will be broad support for one."
Maybe. Maybe not. The Republicans control congress. They'd love this to go away. And the damage is already done, so what would be the point?

This did hit the media - MSNBC late Friday on "Countdown" - but as fishy as it seems, that was too late to cause real damage. The weekend was all but already underway. The timing was good enough.

Other items that were well timed?

Canada elected a new government - conservative in the American style - and that was going swimmingly. Bush called the new Canadian leader, Stephen Harper, and they chatted for fifteen minutes. There was much crowing in the conservative media south of the border that now Canada would dump it socialized medicine program and go the American way - expensive, barely regulated private health insurance only for those who could afford it - and repeal gay marriage and stop being so lenient with pot smokers and close those swingers clubs, and send troops to Iraq and allow us to build our anti-missile defense units all over the uppers reaches of that cold place. Harper agrees with some of that, but doesn't have enough votes for any of it. But then, late in the week, things turned sour, as you can read in the AP story here and the Independent (UK) story here.

Things came to a head at the University of Western Ontario, in London, Ontario, late in the week, where Harper and our ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins, appeared together for a bit of a chat. (Disclaimer: this writer lived and worked in this particular London, halfway between Toronto and Detroit, for two years, and found the city wonderful, and the people even more wonderful.)

Wilkins casually commented that now all the artic waters - the North-west Passage - were "neutral waters" and would be open to everyone (global warming has freed up a lot of possible new shipping lanes) and having Harper in command was way cool (not his words, but that was the idea). Harper reminded Wilkins that those waters were Canadian territorial waters, no matter what Bush and Wilkins now thought - "The United States defends its sovereignty, the Canadian government will defend our sovereignty. It is the Canadian government we get our mandate from, not the ambassador of the United States."


What did Bush and Wilkins expect? Harper is not Tony Blair. The Canadians are not fools.

From the Independent -
The assumption here is that Canada's new leader was sending a message that he would be no pushover for Washington.

With global warming steadily melting the passage, the period during which it is navigable is growing year by year, offering access to untapped fish stocks, and a shipping route that shortens the journey between Europe and Asia by almost 2,500 miles.

But climate change also provides new opportunities for smugglers and traffickers. For that reason, Canada's new leadership says, it must assert its sovereignty over the remote area.

Control of the Arctic sea lanes has long been a contentious issue, with the US in particular sending submarines through waters claimed by Canada. During the Cold War - and perhaps even now - British, Russian and French submarines also traveled under the ice. But without the resources to enforce its sovereignty, Ottawa generally turned a blind eye.

That attitude may now be changing. During the campaign, Mr Harper said he would send three armed Canadian Navy icebreakers to the North-west Passage, and build a $1.7bn (#995m) deep-water port in Iqaluit in south-east Baffin Island. The new government also plans a network of underwater "listening posts" to monitor sea traffic.
Harper hasn't yet said whether he would order military action if these ships or this new port detected an unauthorized submarine in Arctic waters.

Well, President Bush may be King George south of the border, and if he told the Brits they had stop playing cricket and play baseball, and had to drive on the correct side of the road (top right), they would, and apologize for having had it wrong all this time.

The Canadians know an arrogant fool when they see one. And they know hereditary royalty is pleasant, but insignificant.

Of course, the story that was getting play at the end of the week was something that is just not going to happen, the filibuster to stop the appointment of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. That is being led by John Kerry (he explains himself here). Ted Kennedy is with him, but the numbers don't work out and the rest of the Democrats would rather not raise a stink. The guy will mostly likely do his best to overturn Roe v. Wade, and has long held the president is not required to follow any law he sees as cumbersome (at least if the president was Reagan or would be Bush). He generally thinks the police can do no wrong, and folks who sue for discrimination are without standing, and so on. But it comes down to the rest of the Democratic Party not wanting to look like "negative people" no matter what principles are involved - and, yes, the votes aren't there.

On the other side, they're itching for another opening. Ann Coulter Thursday night said she thought that that liberal Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens should be poisoned, to free up another seat for a real conservative (details here). But she said she was joking. But she said with Alito at least now there'd be a "fair vote" on abortion. Charming woman. But not negative? Nope. Just kidding around.

The president's poll numbers are lousy on all issues (late week Gallup results here), but there's no alternative. The Democrats cannot agree with each other, and John Paul Stevens might want to be careful about his desserts. Coulter may be joking. Many take her seriously.

And John Kerry just cannot catch a break.

There's the problem with Iran building nuclear weapons. There seems no good way to stop this, but the president latched onto the Russians' suggestion - let Russia make the nuclear fuel and process the waste, but Iran runs the reactors for power, just as they claim was the idea in the first place. Call their bluff. Bush loves it.

But as noted here, that was exactly what John Kerry proposed when he ran for president. Back then Bush said it was "ignorant" and "dangerously wrong." It rewarded Iran for bad behavior.

Is that so?

The Bush supporters are all upset (see this) but Bush says - "I think that is a good plan. The Russians came up with the idea and I support it," he added.

He has a short memory. His supporters do not.

So the weekend will be John Kerry, drinking heavily. And these stories will all be eclipsed by what comes next.

Posted by Alan at 22:43 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 27 January 2006 22:55 PST home

Thursday, 26 January 2006
Voting: People Deciding What They're Not Supposed to Decide
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Voting: People Deciding What They're Not Supposed to Decide

Thursday, January 26th was a day of one momentous story, but the others wouldn't go away. Out here on the far side of the continent we woke to the news about the Palestinian Authority elections. The Hamas Party, which has called for the annihilation of Israel - that's what they do - overwhelmed the ruling Fatah Party. They won the election in a landslide, and the Fatah government resigned. Maybe the Fatah Party has been stringing Israel along for the last few years, talking nice and doing little, but they made the right sounds.

Of course, both the United States and Israel designate Hamas a terrorist group - and both have now pledged not to negotiate with the party if it does not change its platform. And that seems unlikely. The CNN account is here, the Washington Post account here, and the Israeli view ("we won't deal with the folks"), in the Jerusalem Post is here.

This is quite a mess. The whole neoconservative "reverse domino theory" seems to have gone down in flames.

As you recall, the idea was that we would toss out Saddam Hussein and our guy, Ahmed Chalabi, with his band of exiles who had been living here in the United States, would then rule Iraq, turning it into some sort of Jeffersonian free-market secular democracy. Chalabi even promised the new Iraq would recognize Israel - full diplomatic relations and all that. This would go so well everyone in the area would see what a fine thing Jeffersonian free-market secular democracy really was, and it would spread like wildfire in the region. There'd be elections and the people would do the right thing. The Palestinians would then realize they were on the wrong side of history, and agree to some sort of two-nation arrangement with Israel, and the lion would lie down with the lamb, and so forth and so on.

As theories go, this one was pretty nifty. The president is fond of saying it's our job to spread democracy, because democratic nations are peaceful and if everyone gets to vote, no one will fight, and everything will work out just fine. And all the voting in Iraq resulted, in the end, in a theocratic Shiite-Kurd government, aligned with Iran, with an Interior Ministry staffed by thugs who go out and kill Sunnis and their families, with subsidiary militias bullying anyone they feel like bullying. The Brits, trying to keep the lid on things in Basra, have been arresting police officials there, as this is way out of hand. There are reports (the Los Angeles Times has been on the story), that we're trying to convince the ruling Shiite guys to put a token Sunni or neutral person in some of the new ministries, but that's not going well.

The theory bumped up against the reality - give people the vote and they may not vote for what you want. They tend to vote for what they want. You have to account for that. You don't just hope for the best, or assume what you want to happen will happen. Heck, Ahmed Chalabi didn't get a whole lot of representation in the new Iraq government; in fact, he didn't get enough votes to get a seat even for himself. This is not what was supposed to happen. What's wrong with these people?

Well, the neoconservatives are asking that of the Iraqis, and the rest of us are asking the same thing about the neoconservatives.

Now we have the Palestinians just not doing what they were supposed to do. They're messing up the theory.

Andrew Sullivan puts it well here -
Here's the nightmare we foreign policy neocons haven't fully come to grips with. What if a country democratically elects a terror-sponsoring leadership? We already know that democracies, like Britain or Holland or France, spawn Islamofascists among their citizenry. Now, in the Palestinian territories, we have an aggressively terrorist democratically-elected regime. And the margin is a landslide. We can hope that eventually citizens demand accountability from their leaders and will nudge them toward the civilizing aspects of democratic government: building roads, running schools, delivering services. But what if even this is all done within a theocratic-terrorist paradigm? Democracy is not itself a panacea. It never was. What happened yesterday represents one critical pillar beneath the Bush foreign policy crumbling into dust.
And the president called a surprise news conference shortly after the result of the vote was clear, because, one assumes, his folks told him it was time for some damage control - the whole theory of "let them vote and only good things will happen" was looking silly.

The White House transcript of the press conference is here, but the words on the page don't begin to convey how bizarre the thing seemed. This was major league tap-dancing. Of course he praised the democratic process - people sometimes voted out those they felt had not done a good job. Voting is good. (Maybe after everything from the missing WMD to the business with Hurricane Katrina to the business with the Medicare drug plan making everyone - young, old, left and right - furious, he shouldn't have said that.) But then he said he hoped the Fatah leaders who resigned would reconsider and keep running the government over there. Huh? What about the election? They lost, George. That's how these things work. They will have a new government. And then he said we wouldn't work with this new government at all, unless they stopped standing for everything they've always stood for, even if they were definitively elected.

Well, he was in a tough spot. And he wanted to reassure us all. Don't worry about this too much. Should we trust him on that?

Well, this is what we signed up for. He's told us that. He had his "accountability moment" with the 2004 election, and whatever he does is what we obviously want. No one has any right to complain. You can have your say when you vote in late 2007 for whoever follows him.

There was, of course, a lot of whistling in the dark over all this Palestinian election from other quarters. You have to make the best of what you've got.

There was this in the International Herald Tribune - Uri Dromi, director of international outreach at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem, calling the results of the election a "blessing is disguise" as all the cards are on the table now -
Come to think of it, I am glad that Hamas won the elections. Things might now become much clearer. There will be no whitewashing, no Arafat-style double-talk, or endless Abbas impotence. It's better to deal with a pure enemy: Fight him ruthlessly while he is your enemy, and sit down and talk to him when he is genuinely willing to cut a deal. History has seen such things happen.
Well, that's one was to look at it.

And there's Emanuele Ottolenghi, who teaches Israel studies at Oxford University, writing in the National Review with this -
Contrary to initial responses, Hamas's projected victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections is a positive development. Not, as its apologists claim, because the proximity of power will favor a process of cooptation into parliamentary politics, and therefore strengthen the pragmatic wing of Hamas. There is no pragmatic wing in Hamas, and all differences within the movement - the armed wing and the political wing, Palestine Hamas and Hamas in Syria - are arguably tactical differences. No, the reason is, as Vladimir Ilich Lenin would put it, "worse is better."
It is? Maybe so.

The president was probably relieved when the topic turned to other matters, like the NSA warrantless "search all the email mail and telephone conservations" thing.

Our friend, Ric Erickson, the editor of MetropoleParis, fired off an email to Hollywood, about those other matters.

He notes the New York Times, reporting on Bush's press conference, has this -
Asked if he would support efforts in Congress to spell out his authority to continue the eavesdropping program, Bush cited what he said was the extreme delicacy of the operation.

''But it's important for people to understand that this program is so sensitive and so important that if information gets out to how we run it or how we operate it, it'll help the enemy,'' he said. ''Why tell the enemy what we're doing?''

''We'll listen to ideas. If the attempt to write law is likely to expose the nature of the program, I'll resist it,'' the president said.
Ric's comment -
Has anybody suggested that the NSA explain to American taxpayers how it works?

I'll expose the 'nature of program.' The NSA is reading everybody's mail, listening to their conversations. Americans know it, foreigners know it, good guys know it and bad guys know it. Bad guys are taking counter-measures without waiting for Bush to tell them anything. The rest of us are cringing.

Is there any particular reason that GW Bush did not say anything about the legality of the warrantless searches? Does he think some new law must be written to make them legal? Or is he happier with things as they are?

Has he decided that he's not going to tell us that he's ignoring the law? Who was it that said, 'ignorance is not a valid defense?'

Just as not talking about something is not a valid defense.
Ric signs that "Curious in Paris." But of course, it's easy to see things clearly from Paris. You're not bombarded with US entertainment-based news shows about it all. You have the luxury of many sources of information, and can be logical and everything. (See the former CNN guy Aaron Brown, the same day, with this - "The truth no longer matters in cable news.")

For Ric I found a run-down of the what's going on, from Tim Grieve, here -
George W. Bush took another shot at defending his warrantless spying program this morning, saying once again that Congress gave him the authority to initiate the secret program when it passed its use-of-force authorization in 2001. That authorization gave the administration "the power to conduct this war using the incidents of war," Bush said. "Congress says, 'Go ahead and conduct the war, we're not going to tell you how to do it.'"

That may be how the White House interprets the use-of-force authorization now, but it wasn't how it viewed it back in 2001.

As the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has explained, the White House initially proposed a use-of-force authorization that was much broader than the one Congress ultimately approved. In the original White House version, the president would have been given authority to use "all necessary and appropriate force" to "deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States." As CRS has said, that language would have "seemingly authorized the president, without durational limitation, at his sole discretion" to take military action against anyone anywhere in the name of preventing terrorism. Congress balked at such a broad grant of authority, rewriting the White House draft in such a way that made it clear that the president could use such force only against those who attacked the United States on 9/11 or were materially involved in helping or harboring them.

As that draft was about to go to the Senate floor for a vote, the White House tried one more time to broaden the scope of the resolution. As then Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has explained, the White House came to him on the eve of the vote on the resolution to ask for additional language that would have authorized the president to use force "in the United States" as well as outside of it. Daschle refused. "This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas -- where we all understood he wanted authority to act - but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens," Daschle explained last month. "I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused."

In light of this legislative history, it's clear that Congress didn't write Bush a blank check for conducting the war however he saw fit - and that the White House didn't think that the president was getting that kind of authority at the time Congress was acting.

But the president doesn't seem much concerned with history of any sort. He said today that prior presidents have also believed that they had the power to do what's necessary to keep the country safe; it was apparently a reference to the White House's discredited "Clinton did it, too" argument. And Bush stressed that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act - in which Congress set forth clear standards the White House has ignored - was passed way back in 1978. "We're having a discussion in 2006," the president said. "It's a different world."

Maybe that's right. A lot has changed since the late 1970s, but acts of Congress don't expire just because time passes or the world changes. The White House failed in its attempts to get broader authority from Congress in 2001, and it rejected an effort to ease the FISA rules in 2002. Having done so, it's in no position now to argue that the president was free to ignore the law because it was out-of-date or obsolete.
Maybe so, but that is what he is arguing, and no one in the mainstream media want to tell him he's full of crap.

Some are worried, and see what Ric sees from Paris, like Jacob Weisberg here - "Is Bush turning America into an elective dictatorship? - It's tempting to dismiss the debate about the National Security Agency spying on Americans as a technical conflict about procedural rights. President Bush believes he has the legal authority ..." And he runs down all the details.

Weisberg ends by saying all these theories of unfettered executive authority "as the lawyers say, prove too much" -
The Article II plus AUMF justification for warrant-less spying is essentially the same one the administration has advanced to excuse torture; ignore the Geneva Conventions; and indefinitely hold even U.S. citizens without a hearing, charges, or trial. Torture and detention without due process are bad enough. But why does this all-purpose rationale not also extend to press censorship or arresting political opponents, were the president to deem such measures vital to the nation's security?

I don't suggest that Bush intends anything of the kind - or that even a Congress as supine as the current one would remain passive if he went so far. But the president's latest assertion that he alone can safeguard our civil liberties isn't just disturbing and wrong. It's downright un-American.
That may be clear from Paris, but even here some are wondering.

And there's spill-over. The man nominated to the Supreme Court, Samuel Alito, who subscribes to these theories, is facing some opposition. The New York Times has called for a filibuster of the nomination, and Senator Kerry is trying to organize one. It won't happen, but there's something in he air. One poll shows fifty-two percent of Americans would like to see Bush impeached if he has broken the law that was supposed to keep the government from snooping in all our lives.

We live in interesting times. And maybe here, not just in Palestine and Iraq, folks will vote for what they want. Of course there are these new voting machines. Oh well.

Posted by Alan at 23:27 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 27 January 2006 06:22 PST home

Wednesday, 25 January 2006
Perspectives: Those Who Tell Us What It All Really Means
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Perspectives: Those Who Tell Us What It All Really Means

Wednesday, January 25th, was a day for mulling things over - everyone was trying to put things in perspective. The news was thin.

Perspectives? Yeah, Gore Vidal lives up the hill here. He sold the villa on the Amalfi coast. So he's stuck here in the Hollywood Hills, and his latest "perspective" piece is here - text and audio. He's rather devastating.

He quotes from the British historian Charles Freeman - The Closing of the Western Mind - and Morris Berman, a professor of sociology at the Catholic University of America in Washington - Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire. Vidal comments - "Mr. Bush, God knows, is no Augustine; but Freeman points to the latter as the epitome of a more general process that was underway in the fourth century: namely, 'the gradual subjection of reason to faith and authority. This is what we are seeing today, and it is a process that no society can undergo and still remain free. Yet it is a process of which administration officials, along with much of the American population, are aggressively proud.'"

Vidal adds that "close observers of this odd presidency note that Bush, like his evangelical base, believes he is on a mission from God and that faith trumps empirical evidence."

Berman of course quotes a senior White House adviser who disdains what he calls the "reality-based" community (see this in these pages for details). Berman - "If a nation is unable to perceive reality correctly, and persists in operating on the basis of faith-based delusions, its ability to hold its own in the world is pretty much foreclosed."

Yeah, yeah - we know all this. We're in a cultural death valley, and it's not just all the fights over not teaching evolution. As Freeman says -
Add to this the pervasive hostility toward science on the part of the current administration (e.g. stem-cell research) and we get a clear picture of the Enlightenment being steadily rolled back. Religion is used to explain terror attacks as part of a cosmic conflict between Good and Evil rather than in terms of political processes.... Manichaeanism rules across the United States. According to a poll taken by Time magazine fifty-nine percent of Americans believe that John's apocalyptic prophecies in the Book of Revelation will be fulfilled, and nearly all of these believe that the faithful will be taken up into heaven in the "Rapture."

Finally, we shouldn't be surprised at the antipathy toward democracy displayed by the Bush administration.... As already noted, fundamentalism and democracy are completely antithetical. The opposite of the Enlightenment, of course, is tribalism, groupthink; and more and more, this is the direction in which the United States is going.... Anthony Lewis who worked as a columnist for the New York Times for thirty-two years, observes that what has happened in the wake of 9/11 is not just the threatening of the rights of a few detainees, but the undermining of the very foundation of democracy. Detention without trial, denial of access to attorneys, years of interrogation in isolation - these are now standard American practice, and most Americans don't care. Nor did they care about the revelation in July 2004 (reported in Newsweek), that for several months the White House and the Department of Justice had been discussing the feasibility of canceling the upcoming presidential election in the event of a possible terrorist attack.
The times are bad indeed, and Vidal adds this -
We are assured daily by advertisers and/or politicians that we are the richest, most envied people on Earth and, apparently, that is why so many awful, ill-groomed people want to blow us up. We live in an impermeable bubble without the sort of information that people living in real countries have access to when it comes to their own reality. But we are not actually people in the eyes of the national ownership: we are simply unreliable consumers comprising an overworked, underpaid labor force not in the best of health. The World Health Organization rates our healthcare system (sic - or sick?) as 37th-best in the world, far behind even Saudi Arabia, role model for the Texans. Our infant mortality rate is satisfyingly high, precluding a First World educational system. Also, it has not gone unremarked even in our usually information-free media that despite the boost to the profits of such companies as Halliburton, Bush's wars of aggression against small countries of no danger to us have left us well and truly broke. Our annual trade deficit is a half-trillion dollars, which means that we don't produce much of anything the world wants except those wan reports on how popular our Entertainment is overseas. Unfortunately the foreign gross of "King Kong," the Edsel of that assembly line, is not yet known. It is rumored that Bollywood - the Indian film business - may soon surpass us! Berman writes, "We have lost our edge in science to Europe...The US economy is being kept afloat by huge foreign loans ($4 billion a day during 2003). What do you think will happen when America's creditors decide to pull the plug, or when OPEC members begin selling oil in euros instead of dollars?... An International Monetary Fund report of 2004 concluded that the United States was 'careening toward insolvency.' " Meanwhile, China, our favorite big-time future enemy, is the number one for worldwide foreign investments, with France, the bete noire of our apish neocons, in second place.

Well, we still have Kraft cheese and, of course, the death penalty.
Perhaps Vidal reads too much. But you might want to check out his central conceit - just how did Jonah end up in that whale? What happened after they tossed him overboard? Didn't the storm stop and the warms become calm? That's the thought here, Bush as Jonah.

It's not going happen. As one reader in Rochester (New York state, top left edge) said - "he is preaching to the choir, and he is too articulate for the people who should listen."

Well, it is long, with references like "the integration of religion, the state, and the apparatus of torture - a troika that was for Voltaire the central horror of the pre-Enlightenment world" and a bit about the Roman emperor Tiberius. Altogether too erudite. Our friend in Rochester suggests Vidal is now the William F. Buckley of the left.

Still, it pulls a lot together, and, for those with a taste for history and scholarly matters, it works.

Other perspectives?

People are still mulling over that audio tape from Osama bin Laden last week. Christopher Hitchens offered Al-Qaida Is Losing: There's desperation in Osama's voice. Maybe, but why does Hitchens continue to hold that bin Laden did the western world a "big favor" by attacking New York and Washington? Well, yes, this brought things to a head and started the war Hitchens thinks we should fight from now to forever. See also Al-Qaida: Weaker Or Stronger? - a review of those who disagree with Hitchens' assessment of what the tape means about just who is winning or losing, and strength or weakness, or agree, or just don't know. Hitchens is alone, of course, in being grateful to Osama bin Laden. If nothing else, the tape keeps columnists busy.

Other perspectives?

People are still trying the get their heads around this -
A US officer who faced up to three years in jail for killing a captured Iraqi general has been punished with a reprimand and a $6,000 fine.

Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jr was convicted last week of the negligent homicide of Maj Gen Abed Hamed Mowhoush in 2003.

Prosecutors said Gen Mowhoush was tied, placed headfirst in a sleeping bag and died with an officer sitting on him.

Welshofer has thanked his military "family" for supporting his defense.
Everyone in the courtroom cheered when the verdict was read. The fellow was ordered to be confined to his base and "place of worship" for sixty days. He had said he was sorry.

Marc Cooper's perspective, after reviewing all the details, is this -
Let's make sure we get this story right. You take the captured, uniformed general of an enemy army - and in blatant violation of all notions of human decency and of the Geneva Conventions - you beat him with rubber hoses, pour water down his nose, then stuff him into a sleeping bag, tie him with electrical cord, and then sit your ass down on his chest until he suffocates and you are convicted of what? "Negligent homicide?"

... Remember that the victim in this case, Iraqi General Abed Hamel Mowhoush was a top, uniformed officer of a recognized state-sponsored enemy army and not some "illegal combatant." Worse, when Mowhoush was suffocated in November 2003, it was after he had voluntarily turned himself in to U.S. military authorities. At least, sort of voluntarily. Fact is, the General surrendered to American troops because they were holding his sons hostage - yet another stark violation of international law.
Well, that's one way of looking at it, but Welshofer said he was sorry.

In the local paper out here we get this - "The day after the general's death, prosecutors said, Welshofer asked for another sleeping bag so he could continue using the technique on others."


And in the Washington Monthly Kevin Drum tries to get some perspective on the defense used by Welshofer, asking this - "if the jury bought Welshofer's argument that he was just following orders, whose orders was he following?

Are you supposed to be asking those questions? And why do people refuse to see us as the good guys in all this?

Other perspectives?

Someone has it wrong. You just have to decide who.

You see, the Associated Press got its hands on a study the Pentagon commissioned - Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer wrote it under a Pentagon contract, and it concluded that the Army cannot sustain the pace of troop deployments to Iraq long enough to "break the back" of the insurgency. The AP story is here - "Stretched by frequent troop rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, has become a 'thin green line' that could snap unless relief comes soon." Part of the evidence is the Army's 2005 recruiting slump - they missed the recruiting goal for the first time since 1999 - and the decision to offer much bigger enlistment bonuses and other incentives. And yes, they raised the enlistment age (from 35 to 42) and lowered the standards regarding education and literacy.

Then congressional Democrats released a report Wednesday - same sort of thing, from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Perry. Our ground forces are under "enormous strain" - and "This strain, if not soon relieved, will have highly corrosive and potentially long-term effects on the force." (But Madeleine Albright was born in what used to be Czechoslovakia and she dresses funny - and both these folks worked for Bill Clinton.)

Our current Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, took umbrage with all this. He has plans to reduce forces and buy more high-tech gizmos, all part of his "transformation" of the military.

His views here - "the force is not broken" - such an implication was "almost backward."

- "This armed force is enormously capable. In addition, it's battle hardened. It's not a peacetime force that has been in barracks or garrisons."

- Any report that the military is close to the breaking point "is just not consistent with the facts."

- "It's clear that those comments do not reflect the current situation. They are either out of date or just misdirected."

And then he blamed Clinton for leaving a mess for him to clean up. (And you can be sure he's going to come down hard on whoever leaked the Krepinevich study to the Associated Press.)

Lou Dobbs opened his CNN show on the 25th with this story, and his first words were "somebody's lying."

You just have to decide who.

Berman - "If a nation is unable to perceive reality correctly, and persists in operating on the basis of faith-based delusions, its ability to hold its own in the world is pretty much foreclosed."

Other perspectives?

Cathy Young here noticed that the International Lesbian and Gay Association recently applied to join the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

Yawn. This is a "niche" news story (here).

The giggle is this...

These countries voted to at least consider the application: Chile, France, Germany, Peru and Romania.

These countries voted to dismiss the application without allowing a hearing: Cameroon, China, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Senegal, Sudan and Zimbabwe - and the United States.

Cathy Young doesn't like the company we keep.

As before, from as Markos Moulitsas Zúniga (aka "Kos," of the most widely-read site on the left), this -
Let's not forget that ultimately, Osama's vision for the Arab world is far more akin to the Right's vision of America. ... On homosexuality, on militarism, on women's rights, on religion in school, on capital punishment, on free speech, on curtailment of civil liberties, and on a million different other issues Islamic fundamentalists don't share many disagreements with the ideologues running our country. The reason we hate Islamic fundamentalists is pretty much the same reason we're fighting to take back this country from the Republicans. They are two peas from the same pod, and diametrically opposed to everything we liberals stand for.
We just voted with Iran.

Vidal was onto something.

Posted by Alan at 20:34 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 26 January 2006 06:47 PST home

Tuesday, 24 January 2006
Maybe honesty is actually the best policy...
Topic: In these times...

Maybe honesty is actually the best policy...

You'd think on a day when no major news breaks - Tuesday, January 24th - things would calm down. Here at the edge of the Hollywood Hills, just about when Laurel Canyon meets the Sunset Strip at the Laugh Factory and the big Virgin store (they sell music and video, not big virgins), things did calm down - after two days of howling Santa Ana winds blasting down the canyon and rolling trash cans down the streets, that all stopped. Calm, hard sunshine, and near eighty - and the pool guys are everywhere scooping the debris out of the pale chorine water all over the neighborhood. Back to normal.

And the trusty Los Angeles Times landed with a thump at the door, on time - so feed the cat, pour some coffee, see what's up. Well, what was up was the usual doom and gloom, some local, some national, some international, but one just knew what was going to raise some eyebrows was that appeared at the bottom of the opinion page, this from Joel Stein -
I don't support our troops. This is a particularly difficult opinion to have, especially if you are the kind of person who likes to put bumper stickers on his car. Supporting the troops is a position that even Calvin is unwilling to urinate on.

I'm sure I'd like the troops. They seem gutsy, young and up for anything. If you're wandering into a recruiter's office and signing up for eight years of unknown danger, I want to hang with you in Vegas.

And I've got no problem with other people - the ones who were for the Iraq war - supporting the troops. If you think invading Iraq was a good idea, then by all means, support away. Load up on those patriotic magnets and bracelets and other trinkets the Chinese are making money off of.
This is going to be trouble. Bill O'Reilly already hates the paper, and the Times did get rid of Michael Kinsey as opinion editor, and dump the lefty columnist Robert Sheerer - and they run Jonah Goldberg's columns all the time now, saying the left is foolish when it isn't stupidly alarmist and everything is fine now. And then they run this Stein thing.

Well, Stein argues he's just not for this war, and says that "being against the war and saying you support the troops is one of the wussiest positions the pacifists have ever taken - and they're wussy by definition." He wants none of that - because "blindly" lending support to our soldiers will keep them overseas longer "by giving soft acquiescence to the hawks who sent them there - and who might one day want to send them somewhere else."

Well, he's consistent, even if the tone is badly managed - the thing full of some sort of snide humor -
... those little yellow ribbons aren't really for the troops. They need body armor, shorter stays and a USO show by the cast of "Laguna Beach."

The real purpose of those ribbons is to ease some of the guilt we feel for voting to send them to war and then making absolutely no sacrifices other than enduring two Wolf Blitzer shows a day. Though there should be a ribbon for that.

I understand the guilt. We know we're sending recruits to do our dirty work, and we want to seem grateful.

After we've decided that we made a mistake, we don't want to blame the soldiers who were ordered to fight. Or even our representatives, who were deceived by false intelligence. And certainly not ourselves, who failed to object to a war we barely understood.
All true, but the tone is all wrong, and tone here is defined as the writer's attitude toward his subject matter. And that's not working for him, as in this -
But blaming the president is a little too easy. The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they're following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying. An army of people ignoring their morality, by the way, is also Jack Abramoff's pet name for the House of Representatives.
Why that last line? It's Hollywood thing, and this is a bad Bill Maher. Stein undercuts his argument with junk wit. As he says, he's not advocating that we spit on returning veterans like they did after the Vietnam War, "but we shouldn't be celebrating people for doing something we don't think was a good idea." He suggests instead of parades for veterans we give them what they need actually need - hospitals, pensions, mental health "and a safe, immediate return."

It's just too bad about the jokes, as he does make some sense.

Of course on the same day Senator Rick Santorum said this at a political rally -
And yet we have brave men and women who are willing to step forward because they know what's at stake. They're willing to sacrifice their lives for this great country. What I'm asking all of you tonight is not to put on a uniform. Put on a bumper sticker. Is it that much to ask? Is it that much to ask to step up and serve your country?
Huh? That's serving your country? "The real purpose of those ribbons is to ease some of the guilt we feel for voting to send them to war and then making absolutely no sacrifices..."

Stein is onto something.

Reaction? Over at Red State - Hating the Troops: One Lefty Says What Most Others Probably Really Think.

Did Stein say he hates the troops? Well, he said he rather they were not doing what they're doing, and suggests we owe them some stuff that will cost real money - hospitals, pensions and all that. He'd love to hang out with these guys in Vegas. Hate? It's not that simple, but you can find hundreds of items like the one at Red State.

The Fox News crew will fume. The Times will say something about printing all side of the issues of the day. And those on the left should try to get past the jokes here - you cannot have it both ways. The troops are not victims. They signed up knowing what they were going to be doing. If you do not approve what they are doing - implementing our new unique form of foreign policy - prophylactic war where we wish to make us safe and respected - then it seems odd to laud those who signed up to implement that policy. Let's be logical.

These military guys are good at what they do - and brave and honorable and wicked smart (the ones I know) and all the rest. But you can disagree with them. (In these pages see Disagreeing Sensibly on that matter.) That's still allowed, for now.

Well, Joel Stein stirred up a hornet's nest, but no more that the Washington Times did in its magazine, "Insight." The Washington Times is, of course, owned by Reverend Moon of the Unification Church, and is considered by many to be the voice of the Republicans now in power (the editorial page is managed by Tony Blankley), so what's with this?

Impeachment Hearings: The White House Prepares For The Worst -
The Bush administration is bracing for impeachment hearings in Congress.

"A coalition in Congress is being formed to support impeachment," an administration source said.

Sources said a prelude to the impeachment process could begin with hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee in February. They said the hearings would focus on the secret electronic surveillance program and whether Mr. Bush violated the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Administration sources said the charges are expected to include false reports to Congress as well as Mr. Bush's authorization of the National Security Agency to engage in electronic surveillance inside the United States without a court warrant. This included the monitoring of overseas telephone calls and e-mail traffic to and from people living in the United States without requisite permission from a secret court...
What? This is very odd, but you prepare for all contingencies (save post-war occupation of foreign lands and hurricanes).

The items ends with "unnamed administration sources" saying the White House will defend itself relying on the image of a hero who saves his people, and must sometimes do so by doing what he shouldn't, for the greater good, or some such thing. Folks will understand this.

Well, this is the kind of a story that livens up a slow news day, but it seems too contrived (as in completely untrue). It smacks of an attempt to float some ideas and see how folks react - run that last idea (the noble hero reluctantly doing what he must) up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes. No one saluted, one way or the other. But it was a nice try. The story was probably cooked up in the office of Karl Rove, to see how folks would react. They didn't.

They didn't because what was going on in the real world with the NSA spying thing was getting downright Byzantine, or Baroque, or whatever word you'd like - complex, convoluted?

There's a little summary here (Kevin Drum, Washington Monthly) but it comes down to this.

First the administration does really acknowledge that the NSA program violates the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), even as it was amended it 1995 to make things looser. But the first argument is that this isn't really breaking the law - the Attorney General says that the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed just after the 9/11 business gave the president the authority to disregard that law. Congress says no, it didn't. The administration says, yes, it did. Then, Monday, General Michael Hayden of the NSA said that the reason they had to bypass FISA was because it required a showing of "probable cause" that the target of a wiretap request was a foreign power - and that standard was just too tricky to meet. Then Tuesday there was this - in 2002, Republican congressman Mike DeWine introduced an amendment to FISA that would have retained probable cause as the standard for US citizens, but allowed "reasonable suspicion" to be used as a standard for anyone else - and the White House argued that wasn't really necessary and the congress could pass it anyway. That died in committee.

Drum has all the links if you want to look it all up, but adds this -
Congress refused to pass DeWine's amendment. This makes it plain that Congress did not intend for AUMF to loosen the restrictions of FISA.

So this leaves only the argument that the president's inherent constitutional powers give him the authority to order wiretaps of U.S. citizens even when Congress has passed laws forbidding it. There is, as near as I can tell, no case law that supports this view.

It's worth noting, by the way, that the administration has been adamant that calls are only monitored if one end of the call is outside the United States. But why not also monitor calls within the United States? Last month General Hayden said simply that "that's where we've decided to draw that balance between security and liberty" - in this case "we" meaning the president and the NSA.

This rather strongly implies that George Bush believes there's nothing stopping him from ordering 100% domestic wiretapping if he feels like it, and nothing Congress can do about it if he does.

So much for Article I Section 8.
Too complicated? It's power thing.

The current crew at 1600 Pennsylvania is saying we've had the constitution wrong all this time - if the president says he must do something the law says he shouldn't, he can, as it's his job, as we're at war, to use his own judgment as to what's best, no matter what the law says.

No president ever claimed this in the first two hundred thirty years, but either they were not so bold and decisive, or everything changed after 9/11 and this is far more serious than what Lincoln faced, or FDR with the Nazis, or all the presidents who had to deal with the Soviets having all those nuclear missiles aimed at out cities for more than fifty years, ready to drop in. These new guys hijack airplanes and blow up subways! This is serious now!

Juan Cole, the Middle East expert at the University of Michigan, of course, has his doubts, as in his list Top Ten Mistakes of the Bush Administration in Reacting to Al-Qaeda -
Al-Qaeda is a small terrorist network that has spawned a few copy-cats and wannabes. Its breakthrough was to recruit some high-powered engineers in Hamburg, which it immediately used up. Most al-Qaeda recruits are marginal people, people like Zacarias Moussawi and Richard Reid, who would be mere cranks if they hadn't been manipulated into trying something dangerous. Muhammad al-Amir (a.k.a Atta) and Ziad Jarrah were highly competent scientists, who could figure the kinetic energy of a jet plane loaded with fuel. There don't seem to be significant numbers of such people in the organization. They are left mostly with cranks, petty thieves, drug smugglers, bored bank tellers, shopkeepers, and so forth, persons who could pull off a bombing of trains in Madrid or London, but who could not for the life of them do a really big operation.

The Bush administration and the American Right generally has refused to acknowledge what we now know. Al-Qaeda is dangerous. All small terrorist groups can do damage. But it is not an epochal threat to the United States or its allies of the sort the Soviet Union was (and that threat was consistently exaggerated, as well).
Oh. Well, we were misinformed. Is it really a Muslim version of the radical seventies groups like the Baader Meinhoff gang or the Japanese Red Army, and only a few hundred really committed members? Where there only a few thousand close sympathizers, "who had passed through the Afghanistan training camps or otherwise been inducted into the world view." But, but...

Well, we did what we did -
... the United States invaded a major Muslim country, occupied it militarily, tortured its citizens, killed tens of thousands, tinkered with the economy - did all those things that Muslim nationalists had feared and warned against, and there hasn't even been much of a reaction from the Muslim world. Only a few thousand volunteers went to fight. Most people just seem worried that the US will destabilize their region and leave a lot of trouble behind them. People are used to seeing Great Powers do as they will. A Syrian official before the war told a journalist friend of mine that people in the Middle East had been seeing these sorts of invasions since Napoleon took Egypt in 1798. "Well," he shrugged, "usually they leave behind a few good things when they finally leave."
They may think we're crazy.

And as for the ten mistakes, they're obvious, and you can read them all.

Note eight through ten -
8. Counterterrorism requires friendly allies and close cooperation. The Bush administration alienated France, Germany and Spain, along with many Middle Eastern nations that had long waged struggles of their own against terrorist groups. Bush is widely despised and has left America isolated in the world. Virtually all the publics of all major nations hate US policy. One poll showed that in secular Turkey where Muslim extremism is widely reviled and Bin Laden is generally disliked, the public preferred Bin Laden to Bush. Bush is widely seen as more dangerous than al-Qaeda. This image is bad for US counterterrorism efforts.

9. Bush transported detainees to torture sites in Eastern Europe. Under European Union laws, both torture and involvement in torture are illegal, and European officials can be tried for these crimes. How many European counterterrorism officials will want to work closely with the Americans if, for all they know, this association could end in jail time? Indeed, in Washington it is said that a lot of our best CIA officers are leaving, afraid that they are being ordered to do things that are illegal, and for which they could be tried once another administration comes to power in Washington.

10. Bush's failure to capture Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri allows them to continue to grandstand, to continue to frighten the public, to continue to affect financial markets, and to continue to plot. Al-Zawahiri almost certainly plotted the 7/7 London subway bombings himself, and gloated about it when he issued Muhammad Siddique Khan's suicide statement. Misplaced Bush priorities are getting our allies hit. The CIA is reduced to firing predators at villages because our counterterrorism efforts have been starved for funds by the Iraq quagmire. If al-Qaeda does pull off another American operation, it may well give Bush and Cheney an opportunity to destroy the US constitution altogether, finally giving Bin Laden his long-sought revenge on Americans for the way he believes they have forced Palestinians and other Muslims to live under lawless foreign domination or local tyranny.
Other than that, this went surprisingly well.

A reaction from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis (an email to Hollywood) -
What's the verdict?

The current US administration is the most incompetent, cruel, corrupt, bungling, lying, deceitful group ever assembled to manage the affairs of the United States of America.

The Swiss investigator Marty, on contract with the Council of Europe, suspects that the United States may have kidnapped a hundred terror suspects and freighted them around Europe before delivering them to CIA-controlled secret contract prisons, for interrogation and torture. What's wrong with this is that kidnapping, torture and secret imprisonment are... illegal. If it has happened, is happening, it is illegal. Nobody in Europe needs to get the opinion of the US Attorney General about this. GW Bush's opinion does not count.

Of the terrorism suspects locked up in Europe awaiting trials, to be found innocent or guilty, possibly more have been convicted than those in similar situations in the United States. For all his noise and swagger, GW Bush is not giving Americans any value for their money, fair or otherwise.
Well, some would disagree.

But no agreement will be reached, and there's a reason why - see Benedict Carey in the New York Times with this - A Shocker: Partisan Thought Is Unconscious.

People don't think things through - "Using MRI scanners, neuroscientists have now tracked what happens in the politically partisan brain when it tries to digest damning facts about favored candidates or criticisms of them. The process is almost entirely emotional and unconscious, the researchers report, and there are flares of activity in the brain's pleasure centers when unwelcome information is being rejected."

Drew Westen, a psychologist at Emory is lead author of the study, and he'll present it next Saturday at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology meeting out in Palm Springs. His comment? "It is possible to override these biases, but you have to engage in ruthless self reflection, to say, 'All right, I know what I want to believe, but I have to be honest.' It speaks to the character of the discourse that this quality is rarely talked about in politics."

Oh. No need to drive three hours out to Palm Springs to learn more. Got it.

What about Markos Moulitsas Zúniga (aka "Kos," of the most widely-read site on the left)? Is this honest? -
Let's not forget that ultimately, Osama's vision for the Arab world is far more akin to the Right's vision of America. ... On homosexuality, on militarism, on women's rights, on religion in school, on capital punishment, on free speech, on curtailment of civil liberties, and on a million different other issues Islamic fundamentalists don't share many disagreements with the ideologues running our country. The reason we hate Islamic fundamentalists is pretty much the same reason we're fighting to take back this country from the Republicans. They are two peas from the same pod, and diametrically opposed to everything we liberals stand for.
Well, it's a start.

Posted by Alan at 21:33 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 24 January 2006 21:40 PST home

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