Late Friday afternoon in Hollywood - 16 February - and a light rain falls, the first rain in more than six weeks. In the other room the television is glowering with the cable news shows, without sound. There's no point in turning off the mute. The news is all the same. The graphic on MSNBC Countdown is "The Week of the Gun." Well, it was more than that, but that's what all the talk is about, six days after the vice president shot a friend in the face in a hunting accident. Wednesday he explained himself on Fox News - he had only one beer and it was really his own fault and he feels bad. The president says he's satisfied with that and we call should be. There are niggling details - the twelve to fourteen hours that elapsed before the police spoke to him, the distances and wounds, the local police clearing anyone of anything without doing much of anything at all. But what does it matter? He may have been loopy drunk and done something stupid, but the victim recovered, even after a mild heart attack from a bit of birdshot lodged against his heart wall. Somehow a loopy, irresponsible drunk seems better than a self-righteous twit and second-rate bully who says he gave up Jack Daniels for Jesus and, cold sober, and because he says he's doing God's business, starts a war of choice for reasons that don't pan out and produce worldwide chaos - and then gives us childish platitudes that don't make sense and smirks. You want the simple-minded puritan who doesn't understand a whole lot of things and can't explain himself, but is dead sure of himself and expects our trust, or do you want the snarling, hyper-clever mean guy with the bad heart who says nothing, explains nothing, and pulls the strings of government from his "undisclosed location" with anger? That's the dynamic duo in charge. They "won" the first election and won the second. That's it. Deal with it.
But Friday, the shooting victim, Austin attorney Harry Whittington, released from the hospital in Corpus Christi (see CNN here) with one of the great ironic moments in recent American history - "My family and I are deeply sorry for all that Vice President Cheney and his family have had to go through this week." Josh Marshall here has a screen-capture of the CNN news page, with the big headline - "Shooting Victim Apologies to Vice President." One doubts CNN meant to be ironic, but Marshall says, "Let's put this headline in amber and pack it into the time capsule. Let folks know what it was like." Duncan Black here says this "will be the Rosetta stone for future historians to make sense of it all."
The dynamic duo and do no wrong. Perhaps the people of Iraq will apologize for our invasion and occupation. One never knows.
But Harry Whittington was gracious and gentlemanly. He even said some nice things about the press and joshed about the coverage a little. You have to like the guy. It was more a touch of classiness than a political thing, although the unintentional irony was thick in the air. It was one of the great "Say WHAT?" moments.
What happens with Cheney now? Friday he flew home to Wyoming where he started out in politics, as a congressman, a few years after he dropped out of Yale when his drinking got him in trouble (noted here). He addressed the state legislature on budget matters and mention it had been a long week.
It has been. Reagan speechwriter - and Republican Party "nurturing mother" - Peggy Noonan, in the Wall Street Journal had this - "Why Bush may be thinking about replacing Cheney." Seems she thinks he's become a "hate magnet" and hurts things more than helps. George doesn't need the training wheels any more? Maybe. Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean had, of course, already said Cheney should resign. Even Fox News ran some speculation on the idea.
Who'd get the job? Condoleezza Rice? Rick Santorum?
It's not going to happen. Some editorials here and there have called for it. No way. Spiro Agnew resigned because he was indicted for a few low-level felonies and pled no contest. We got clam, clumsy, well-intentioned Gerald Ford. There are no criminal charges here. It's not a parallel. The president's father was pressured to dump his vice president, Dan Quayle, but wouldn't, even after Quayle at a fundraiser for the United Negro College Fund commented on their motto "A mind is a terrible thing to waste..." with "What a waste it is to lose one's mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is."
He stays. And Matthew Yglesias here notes another reason - YOU COULD FIRE ME, BUT THEN I'D HAVE TO KILL YOU. "Bush would need to think this over, and then he'd need to realize that Cheney knows too much. Post-administration books by Paul O'Neal and Richard Clarke were bad enough; Bush couldn't possibly survive antagonizing Cheney or Don Rumsfeld and witnessing the publication of their 'insider' accounts."
Maybe, but in any event the story has run its course.
Other stories haven't - the Cartoon Wars rage on, heading into the fourth week.
Okay - you've got your right wing Dutch paper deciding to play agent-provocateur and stir the pot, to get the Muslim world to show how awful they are so the Orangemen Rush Limbaugh clones can say, "See, these folks are really awful and we're really not." True to some extent, perhaps, but the whole set-up leads to worldwide chaos, and to all sorts of free-speech types up in arms even as they too are being jerked around. Fun and games.
You've got more of the Abu Ghraib torture photographs and videos trickling out - full details here with a follow-up here - because the Cheney administration (not a typo) doesn't like releasing information unless forced to, and there are things - done in your name that you paid for with your tax dollars - you just shouldn't know. Hell, they could have released it all three years ago, taken the hit and moved on. But no, that would look bad. Keep it close to the vest. Remember it was Cheney, who, in 1974, when he was chief-of-staff to President Ford (not Agnew), persuaded Ford to veto the Freedom of Information Act. Congress overrode the veto and Crazy Dick has been pissed ever since. It doesn't take an Einstein to see how that played out this week in a micro version - like the Abu Ghraib "hold the really bad stuff back" stance, hold the details of shooting your hunting buddy back for four or five days until you have to say something. How does this seem to everyone?
These guys are nutty - they couldn't make things worse if they tried. This is a strategy that results in keeping the world outside the borders of America perpetually pissed off as details dribble out over the years, and the "true believers" inside our borders perpetually self-righteous and angry. That seems to be the idea.
You want the next piss-off-the-world thing, after the cartoons and the new release of old photos?
Try this from Thursday morning's Los Angeles Times (registration required, but free).
The short version -
In downtown Jerusalem the new Museum of Tolerance is going up on the edge of Independence Park - as the Times puts it, the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center's expansive new monument to "human dignity." They just discovered they're building this on a significant Muslim cemetery - not just the bones of the grandparents of the locals, but "associates of the prophet Muhammad" - the graves go back to the seventh century.
Issue - "Lawyers for two Muslim and human rights organizations Wednesday asked Israel's Supreme Court to block the project, which they said displays a disrespect at odds with the planned museum's mission to promote coexistence of ethnicities and religions."
The LA folks and the Israeli government are just boxing up the old bones and shoving the boxes in sheds. No big deal. No response.
A minor things of course, but it could blow up, in all sorts of ways.
Local connection - this "Center for Human Dignity, Museum of Tolerance" was designed by our own Frank Gehry (Disney Hall and the Guggenheim in Bilbao) - two museums, a library and education center, an international conference center and a performing arts theater - blue and silver titanium, steel, glass and "golden Jerusalem stone." Gehry is "the" LA architect these days, world-famous. And our governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, gave a ton of money to get this built, and was at the groundbreaking two years ago, saying the place would begin "a time when people can live together in peace and coexistence."
Anyway, some response would be nice. "We're looking into this and let's work something out." Nope. Move on. Box the bones and build the thing on schedule - we're talking tolerance here, and you're messing that up. Don't ask questions.
Get in, sit down, shut up - enjoy the ride.
On the other hand, there was some funny irony this week, as Matthew Yglesias notes here -
Yep, France said let's cut the bullshit - Iran is working on nuclear weapons, no matter what they say, and everyone knows it. What's up with that? Well, things with Iran just get more and more tense. And the French want to deal with reality. That can be seen as role reversal, with them sounding like Bush more than three years ago. Actually, it isn't. Then and now they prefer working with reality. Very odd.
I've seen plenty of links to this story
about Iranian bakeries ditching the "danish" in favor of "Roses of the Prophet Mohammed" complete with the obligatory reference to America's own "freedom fries" incident. What I'm not sure people realize is that, in the House of Representatives at least, those fried potato thingies are still
being called freedom fries. France, meanwhile, is pissed
about Iran's nuclear program, so perhaps it's time to cut them a break.
But the Vice President did shoot that guy.
In the meantime the world as we know it is ending. Sort of. At the end of the week there was this in the Washington Post, and all over - the glaciers in Greenland are "melting into the sea twice as fast as previously believed." Big deal? Well, lots of flooding, severe storms, low-lying countries underwater, a new ice age in Europe and all the rest. We thought we had many decades before anything really bad happened. Probably not. And it may be too late to do much of anything. See this, and this study - "the kind of study that should make people stay awake at night."
Remember James Hansen, the guy from NASA that the college dropout the administration appointed tried to silence - discussed last week in these pages, "Dateline NASA" here and "Keeping Us Safe" here?
On CNN here he tells Lou Dobbs all the scientists know things are really bad, the climate changing much faster than anyone imagined, but the administration is keeping them quiet at NASA, and it's even worse at NOAA and still worse at the EPA. Get in, sit down, shut up - enjoy the ride. And remember this - Karl Rove set up a secret science advisory session for the president with the novelist who wrote the potboiler about how global warming was a hoax cooked up by the liberals. You get your science where your get your science. The president prefers the guy who wrote Jurassic Park. The scientists who don't write bestselling fiction are so boring.
But the Vice President did shoot that guy.
And now we have big-gun neoconservatives turning on the administrations, as in this preview of a Sunday blockbuster -
Our failures in Iraq? Well, it has been difficult. But the idea was Leninist?
New York Times Magazine, February 19 -
Francis Fukuyama renounces neoconservatism in an essay on post-Iraq U.S. foreign policy and labels the contemporary core of the movement - William Kristol and Robert Kagan, et al. - as Leninist: "They believed" he writes, "that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will." Fukuyama worries that our failures in Iraq will lead to a new American isolationism and argues that in rethinking our relationship to the world, we need "ideas that retain the neoconservative belief in the universality of human rights, but without its illusions about the efficacy of American power and hegemony to bring these ends about." ...
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, adds this -
Yep, "liberal democracy" has its problems, as explained Friday, February 17th in this, what many call the "must read" item of the day. Shibley Telhami of the Brookings Institute tells us in the Washington Post that in a democratic Middle East, extreme Islamist parties are going to win power whether we like it or not, and nobody in the Middle East actually believes we're serious about democracy anyway, so Hamas wins in Palestine. We need to get used to that sort of thing happening and work with the bad guys winning -
You could see that Francis Fukuyama thing coming from way back - even before he came out as an opponent of the Iraqi war, but as far back as his "End of History" thing. You cannot, even ironically, find yourself singing the praises of "liberal democracy" over and over, as he did in that original article, and stay a conservative forever.
The idea is careful engagement. But we don't do that. We talk of cutting off all aid to the new government there - to piss them off more? That will make them recognize Israel and stop all the bombings? A long shot. And there was this - all our talking about how we were planning to work with Israel to undermine the new Hamas government and force new elections, until they elected folks we like and who like us. Then we had to deny were really planning that. Yep, "liberal democracy" has its problems.
Given this, skepticism about the real aims of these groups should be balanced by openness to the possibility that their aims once they are in power could differ from their aims as opposition groups. This requires partial engagement, patience, and a willingness to allow such new governments space and time to put their goals to the test of reality. Hamas, in fact, could provide a place for testing whether careful engagement leads to moderation.
If we are not willing to engage, there is only one alternative: to rethink the policy of accelerated electoral democracy and focus on a more incremental approach of institutional and economic reform of existing governments. There is no realistic third party that's likely to emerge anytime soon.
At the Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum adds this -
This is not a careful administration. The Vice President did shoot that guy. And the neoconservative crusade to being Jeffersonian democracy to the region, and unregulated free-market capitalism and Wal-Mart and whatnot, in one fell swoop, and by force if necessary, seems more and more like madness. Francis Fukuyama is not alone. Just what are we doing? Drum also points to this in these Palestinian Authority elections we openly supported Fatah not Hamas. That was the kiss of death. That endorsement lost them the election.
Saudi Arabia's theocracy is treated with kid gloves because they have lots of oil, and Pakistan's military dictatorship is left alone because they (sort of) help us out against al-Qaeda. Egypt holds a pretend election and gets nothing more than a mild verbal rebuke. The Kurds in Iraq would like nothing more than a chance at self-determination, but that's a little too much democracy for our taste.
All of this is excusable. The Middle East is not a place that lends itself to simplistic solutions. But "democracy is on the march" is not the only way to promote democracy, especially in a region where US support is almost a sure fire way to lose an election. Telhami's "careful engagement" may not be a very punchy slogan, but in the long run, it's more likely to work.
Bring democracy in one fell swoop? Fell: FIERCE, CRUEL, TERRIBLE or SINISTER, MALEVOLENT (a fell purpose) or very destructive, DEADLY (a fell disease).
Cheney and his shotgun...
And simmering in the background, the NSA spying thing - can the president ignore the law the require warrants, based on a very loose definition probable cause, the FISA law passed by congress? Or can he ignore laws as he has this new interpretation his in-house attorneys have provided him of what the constitution really means? The House Intelligence Committee just agreed they'd better hold hearings (story here), and some of them say it's a "serious probe" and the chairman says, no, "the inquiry would be much more limited in scope, focusing on whether federal surveillance laws needed to be changed and not on the eavesdropping program itself." Which is it?
The Senate Intelligence Committee was going to hold hearings too, but that got stopped (story here) - the chairman there, Bush ally Pat Roberts of Kansas, bypassed the committee and reached a private agreement with the White House - they'd provide more information when they could. No committee vote, as in this -
Ah, a gentlemen's agreement, or as the New York Times put it - "Is there any aspect of President Bush's miserable record on intelligence that Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is not willing to excuse and help to cover up?" (Late Friday, Roberts seemed to change is mind a bit - the committee may ask some questions about all this. Maybe.)
After a two-hour closed-door session, Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said the committee adjourned without voting on whether to open an investigation. Instead, he and the White House confirmed that they had an agreement to give lawmakers more information on the nature of the program. The White House also has committed to make changes to the current law, according to Roberts and White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is already holding hearings, but the White House is working to slow them down. (Story here.) When Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified before the committee on the program, covered last week in The Attorney General Smiles, he said that he was willing to have former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former Deputy Attorney General James Comey testify before the committee as well. Now he's not so sure. They have raised questions. This may not be allowed.
Get in, sit down, shut up - enjoy the ride.
Really? There's the back story of a federal personnel action last week -
You kind fins a whole lot of "minor" stories about the old hand at the CIA retiring early and quitting. Sometimes the angle is the new head, Peter Goss, wants only Bush loyalists. Some of them quit, we're told, because they know torture doesn't work and secret prisons make the spy work harder - no one wants to cooperate. But you don't stay on and actually say the whole new way of doing business is wrong and counterproductive. You don't tell your boss that he and his superiors are going down the wrong path. Get in, sit down, shut up - enjoy the ride. Or get out.
CIA Chief Sacked For Opposing Torture
The CIA's top counter-terrorism official was fired last week because he opposed detaining Al-Qaeda suspects in secret prisons abroad, sending them to other countries for interrogation and using forms of torture such as "water boarding", intelligence sources have claimed. ...
Then, at the end of the week, there was the UN call to shut down Guantánamo. (Story here - "United Nations human rights investigators called on the United States today to shut down the Guantanamo Bay camp and give detainees quick trials or release them..."
Fat chance. Friday you could see Donald Rumsfeld ripping the UN in a press briefing - they hadn't been there, they knew nothing, these are really bad people we've got there, and it's not anybody else's business. Even the CNN commentator pointed out the UN didn't visit because we said they absolutely could not talk to any prisoners at all. You're allowed to say the Secretary of Defense is being a tad "disingenuous" on air? Odd. Well, it's CNN not Fox.
The full report is here (PDF format) and has a bit to say about the force-feeding of these folk on hunger strikes, calling it a violation of human rights and of medical ethics, and "the use of interrogation techniques that go beyond what international law permits" as in The confusion with regard to authorized and unauthorized interrogation techniques is particularly alarming." Picky, picky...
At least the Brits and the Blair government will stand against us against this UN slander. Nope. Check out this - "America's idea of what is torture is not the same as ours and does not appear to coincide with that of most civilized nations." Oops. That's British High Court Judge, Justice Collins. The British High Court is highest legal authority in America's closest ally.
We're becoming a rogue nation?
So what's the problem? As the UN sees it -
Otherwise we're quite civilized and great defenders of human rights.
- the inability of suspects to challenge their captivity before a judicial body that meets international standards, which "amounts to arbitrary detention."
- a hearing system in which the executive branch of the United States government acts as judge, prosecutor and defense counsel for detainees, which constitutes "serious violations of the right to a fair trial."
- Attempts by the United States administration to redefine torture to allow interrogation techniques "that would not be permitted under the internationally accepted definition of torture."
- Authorized interrogation techniques, particularly if used together, that "amount to degrading treatment" in violation of an international treaty banning torture.
- "The general conditions of detention, in particular the uncertainty about the length of detention and prolonged solitary confinement, amount to inhuman treatment."
- "The excessive violence used in many cases during transportation," and "force-feeding of detainees on hunger strike must be assessed as amounting to torture."
You might recall Donald Rumsfeld sent Major General Geoffrey Miller to Abu Ghraib to run that place like her ran Guantánamo - to make Abu Ghraib more efficient and effective. As Miller said - "You have to treat the prisoners like dogs. If you treat them, or if they believe that they're any different than dogs, you have effectively lost control of your interrogation from the very start. So they have to earn everything they get. And it works."
There are laws that protect dogs. Do this stuff to dogs and you get arrested.
As mentioned elsewhere in these pages too, most of these folks at Guantánamo seem to not be the bad guys we're told. There's more here at the Washington Monthy - the Seton Hall study and others, with pie chart - only eleven percent of those held were capture on the battlefield, and two-thirds of them were rounded up in Pakistan and turned over to the United States, possibly in response to flyers like this distributed by the United States -
Great. But we can't back down now. That would look like we're fools. We're trapped.
Get wealth and power beyond your dreams....You can receive millions of dollars helping the anti-Taliban forces catch al-Qaida and Taliban murders. This is enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life. Pay for livestock and doctors and school books and housing for all your people.
Actually, if we said we were wrong and fixed this we might look pretty good. Admit we made mistakes and fix them. (Stop laughing.)
And Dahlia Lithwick, the legal writer, here runs down the issues of the legal status of these folks we're holding. They're not citizens (well, maybe a few) and we say they are not prisoners of war but "enemy combatants" (there's a difference?) and the place is not in America, or in a foreign country either -
Guantánamo is a not-place. It's neither America nor Cuba. It is peopled by people without names who face no charges. Non-people facing non-trials to defend non-charges are not a story. They are a headache. No wonder the prisoners went on hunger strikes. Not-eating, ironically enough, is the only way they could try to become real to us.
Andrew Sullivan reprints this letter from a veteran -
That would be January 2000.
When I saw the pictures from Abu Ghraib (and Gitmo?) my eyes filled up and I began to weep slowly. For my country. Americans don't do things like this! (Yes, I remember My Lai but when it was revealed, the country was shocked and outraged.) I was born in the presidency of FDR and my uncles and cousins fought in the European and Pacific theaters. Enemy soldiers, when they surrendered, wanted to surrender to the Americans because Americans didn't mistreat prisoners. The Japanese were particularly hated because of their well-known ill-treatment of prisoners.
I grew to manhood during the height of the Cold War and the doctrine of MAD. I never saw combat (too young for Korea, too old for Vietnam) but I did serve for 3 years as an Intelligence officer in a strategic airborne unit. America was widely respected, with all our faults and stumbling steps, as "a shining city on a hill". When we betray our national ideals for the stated purpose of defending them, we lose the moral high ground.
I remember when Bill Buckley started National Review and when Barry Goldwater, an intelligent, thoughtful man, ran for the Presidency. Ronald Reagan, (whom, I confess, I consider a so-so President) was a decent, honorable man who understood that bullets and bombs are not enough to "win" a war.
Question for you, Andrew: when did intellectual conservatism morph into an apologia for trickery, torture, and theocracy?
Try this -
Ah, another bitter liberal. Bush won the election, at least the second one.
So here's how the world works. The US media keeps the country in the dark about things everybody else in the world knows, then Americans, in their ignorance, vote for people who promise to do things that make no sense whatever, except in the context of their own (understandably) confused notions about what might make sense. Take for instance, this invasion of Iraq, which to be fair, was never really that popular, but was always far more popular than it should have been. Because people were deliberately misinformed on its relative level of popularity by the Bush administration and by Fox News (See the survey
by the Program on Policy Attitudes if you doubt this.), they have a hard time understanding why in the world everybody hates us, and think it's because of "our freedoms" rather than because, say, we pretend to liberate people but we actually torture them.
What about deeply conservative George F. Will in the Washington Post, not on the UN issue but herecalling out the administration for saying the FISA law doesn't apply to them, nor any law they think cramps their style when fighting the war on terror. He pretty much says this is nonsense. He likes the constitution. And the Friday commentary on the right says he's not really a conservative. So much for his thirty-year career. It's beyond irony.
As they say, get in, sit down, shut up - enjoy the ride. Or get out.
The opposition party, the Democrats, will do next to nothing. The economics are against a third party, and things have been redistricted anyway, and there are those "no paper trail" voting machines made by just two companies run by Bush fundraisers.
Now what? Just words.