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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 6 March 2006
When the facts aren't enough...
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

When the facts aren't enough...


In early January in these pages, in We Ourselves Are Only Temporarily Modern, you would find a discussion of a short column by Eric Jager that appeared in the Los Angeles Times as the month began. Jager, who teaches medieval literature at UCLA, there argues we are not in the Information Age at all, or the Digital Age or the Connectivity Age, or whatever you choose. This is the New Middle Ages. And he thinks we ought to be honest about it - "With the resurgence of legalized torture, rampant religious fanaticism, widespread poverty and illiteracy, the threat of mysterious plagues, fascination with magic and the occult and suspicion of science, what else would you call it?"

Maybe so. There's this - a 1741 play by Voltaire, the French champion of that eighteenth-century Enlightenment thing, cannot be performed - too dangerous. You cannot even perform it in one of the more obscure corners of the world. From the Wall Street Journal via the Santa Barbara News-Press
SAINT-GENIS-POUILLY, France - Late last year, as an international crisis was brewing over Danish cartoons of Muhammad, Muslims raised a furor in this little alpine town over a much older provocateur: Voltaire, the French champion of the 18th-century Enlightenment.

A municipal cultural center here on France's border with Switzerland organized a reading of a 265-year-old play by Voltaire, whose writings helped lay the foundations of modern Europe's commitment to secularism. The play, ''Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet,'' uses the founder of Islam to lampoon all forms of religious frenzy and intolerance.

The production quickly stirred up passions that echoed the cartoon uproar. ''This play ... constitutes an insult to the entire Muslim community,'' said a letter to the mayor of Saint-Genis-Pouilly, signed by Said Akhrouf, a French-born cafe owner of Moroccan descent and three other Islamic activists representing Muslim associations. They demanded the performance be cancelled...
But the performance was not canceled. The socialist mayor of the town, Hubert Bertrand, arranged for extra police for a reading last December. And there was a small riot - a car torched and a few garbage cans too. Bertrand says this was ''the most excitement we've ever had down here." No doubt. (The news item gives background on the play itself, by the way - the theme is the use of religion to promote and mask political ambition, and it may have been a thinly-veiled attack on Christianity, using Islam for ironic effect, as the Paris Roman Catholic clergy denounced the thing when it was for performed 1741. Go figure - or go read this, a hyper-scholarly discussion of the play by David Hammerback also of UCLA, if you can keep your eyes open.)

Background? There's this
...Supporters of Europe's secular values have rushed to embrace Voltaire as their standard-bearer. France's national library last week opened an exhibition dedicated to the writer and other Enlightenment thinkers. It features a police file started in 1748 on Voltaire, highlighting efforts by authorities to muzzle him. ''Spirit of the Enlightenment, are you there?'' asked a headline Saturday in Le Figaro, a French daily newspaper.

A debate on Swiss television last month degenerated into a shouting match when the director of the Saint-Genis-Pouilly performance accused a prominent Muslim of campaigning to censor Voltaire in the past. The two men also have traded insults in the French media...
Well, everyone writing about the international furor, riots and deaths following the publication of those cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in an obscure right-wing Danish newspaper, sooner or later gets around to mentioning Voltaire and Enlightenment, one way or the other. The news item mentions a headline in France Soir as the demonstrations around the world escalated into riots with embassies being set ablaze here and there and all the rest - ''Help us Voltaire. They've gone mad.'' But he's dead, real dead. Gone. He may have said ''I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it," but that's so eighteenth-century. We've moved on.

That sort of tolerance is now seen as insulting, and irresponsible - now the "good people" stand, hands over their ears, eyes closed shut, for their specific values, and their "deeply held beliefs." That's how you tell just who are the good people - the "values coalition" that always votes Republican (even against their own economic interests) over here, and the "insult The Prophet and you DIE" follow-our-rules coalition over there.

Of course, generally, we have moved on from valuing that other Enlightenment stuff that actually underpins the tolerance - relying less on God and working more with reason and "human" understanding, and working with facts and reality, using the methods of science to figure out what's up (look at the evidence, and if you have a theory of how something works, test it, and, if it works, show that anyone can do the same thing). Good enough for Jefferson and the Founding Fathers - and modern science and all the resulting technology followed, and modern medicine and safe food and all the rest.

So basically you work with the facts, the observable facts. Everything else follows. That did some good over the long years.

But then, of course, you have to agree on the facts.


So what are the facts in what is the oddest thing this country has ever done - start an elective war on evidence that turned out to be wrong, invading and occupying a country where we are now pretty much resented, inflaming anti-Western anger and resentment around the world, making us less safe than ever before, exhausting the military an transforming to economy to keep it afloat on bonds we sell to foreign governments, a few of which, or maybe most of which, don't have our best interests in mind all the time?

Will Iraq be able to avoid what seems like a slide into civil war, with the Shiite and Sunni Muslims fighting in the streets endlessly as each jockeys for power, while up north the Kurds just get rich and become a de facto nation on their own? Since now two thousand three hundred of our troops have died in this business, and more than ten thousand have been maimed for life, it would be nice to know if things will, say, work out? It's not like none of our business. If Iraq is a shambles and the world hates us - or in the case of our allies, resents us and doesn't believe what we say and thinks we're going through a period of stunning block-headed foolishness - then it would be nice to know if this will all work out and we'll be vindicated. This is the government we elected. It represents what we seem to have wanted.

Just how are we doing? These guys in Washington work for us. Time for a report to the stockholders, or whatever.

Are things getting better?

Before the Oscar stuff on march 5th you could have watched the Sunday talk shows, where such "reports to the people" are generally made, but the second and third tier folks as the man the top explains things only infrequently, and then in no detail and without much "fact" (he sees his job as to motivate us, not to explain much of anything).

So that Sunday you could listen to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Peter Pace say things are "going very, very well" in Iraq, as in "I wouldn't put a great big smiley face on it, but I would say they're going very, very well from everything you look at."


He cited political progress - holding elections and writing a constitution - and military progress - training Iraqi security forces. What about the mosques blowing up and all the dead people? Well, that Shiite mosque thing two weeks ago did cause some "problems," but that had forced Iraqis to look into "that abyss" and realize "that's not where they want to go." He said, "I believe the Iraqi people have shown in the last week to ten days that they do not want civil war."

Is that a fact? There's more detail in the Associated Press account here, but the truth of this, or its truthiness (close enough for the rubes), is not exactly clear. Work with the facts, the observable facts. Of course, he's been there. All we have is what we see in the news. The news must be wrong. His facts are better than the reporters' facts?

No - he's offering a theory (look at the evidence, and if you have a theory of how something works, test it, and, if it works, show that anyone can see just the same thing). That was on NBC's Meet the Press.

Over on CBS' Face the Nation you could see that congressman from the Deer Hunter part of Western Pennsylvania, John Murtha, suggesting the theory wasn't supportable by observation - Iraq has sixty percent unemployment, oil production well below prewar levels, water service to only thirty percent of the population. And that's not good. And as for civil war, he said we're doing everything we can militarily but our forces "are caught in a civil war" - it's that ethnic-religious thing. "There's two participants fighting for survival and fighting for supremacy inside that country, and that's my definition of a civil war."

Oh. He was a Marine for thirty years and a congressman just about as long, and he's got lots of friends in the highest levels of the military. Are all these then facts? There does seem to be aa bit more detail, detail about the electricity and all that can be confirmed.

Who to believe?

Murtha was asked if he believed General Pace. He said, "No, why would I believe him?" Dead silence.

So to help out he listed the things that didn't turn out to be so - the WMD not there, no ties to al Qaeda and all the rest. And this. "The rhetoric is so frustrating - when they keep making statements which are very optimistic, and then it turns out to be the opposite."

But we believe Pace. The administration wouldn't lie. It's all in how you look at it.

Well, no. Over at Crooks and Liars (here) there are links to video files where you can see Murtha say this -
The public is way ahead of what's going on in Washington. They no longer believe it. The troops themselves, seventy percent of the troops said we want to come home within a year. The only solution to this is to redeploy. Let me tell you, the only people who want us in Iraq is Iran and al-Qaeda. I've talked to a top-level commander the other day, it was about two weeks ago, and he said China wants us there also. Why? Because we're depleting our resources, our troop resources and our fiscal resources.
Do people see that? Maybe so. It sounds true, not truthy - and rubes who believe "truthiness" sometime recover from their rubidity (a term used in medicine with another meaning, and in brewing, but used in a different sense here).

On the other hand, military families hate Murtha (personal experience in this case). One is reminded of the Roman Catholic clergy in Paris in 1741. "He's full of it - he doesn't know anything." Or, "He's dangerous, undermining our troops, and our faith in what we're doing." Or, "La, la, la, la - I can't hear you." (Yeah, that last one is a line in an Eddie Murphy movie.)

But then there are some odd events. You remember the AC-130 gunship things from the Vietnam War - fly low and slow and lay down a wall of 50 mm metal, circling an area for hours if necessary. Nothing lives down there. Very effective. Note here we just moved two to a base in Iraq. Things are getting better? (Note here that they're named Spectre and Spooky.)

And the day after Pace and Murtha had their say, this -
One of the highest-ranking generals in Iraq's new, U.S.-trained army was shot dead in Baghdad on Monday, the U.S. military and Iraqi police said.

Major General Mubdar Hatim al-Dulaimi, commander of all Iraqi army forces in the capital, was killed by a sniper, police sources said. he was shot as he drove through western Baghdad.
One comment here - "Reports that Bush shut his eyes, put his fingers in his ears, and began shouting "Purple Finger! Purple Finger! Purple Finger! Purple Finger!" at the top of his lungs when told of Gen. al-Dulaimi's death have not been confirmed."

Fallout? There's this -
Iraq's president failed in a bid Monday to order parliament into session by March 12, further delaying formation of a government and raising questions whether the political process can withstand the unrelenting violence or disintegrate into civil war.

The deadlock came as snipers assassinated Maj. Gen. Mibder Hatim al-Dulaimi, the Sunni Arab in charge of Iraqi forces protecting the capital. A torrent of bombings and shootings killed 25 more Iraqis on Monday, ending a relative lull in violence. Officials also found four bodies...
Looks like we won't have a government there soon. Our commander in Iraq, General George W. Casey, sent condolences to "his family, tribe, and the Iraqi Army during this tragic loss." His statement included, "This tragic incident will neither impede the 6th Iraqi Army Division from continuing its mission of securing Baghdad nor derail the formation of the government of Iraq."

But there'll be no parliament for the foreseeable future. The facts be damned - nothing is derailed.

''Help us Voltaire. They've gone mad.''

Getting the Facts

So where do you get the facts? The government supplies some. People you know supply some. Some you dig up yourself. You try to sift through what seem like facts until you're satisfied a few of the, actually are like facts. And you also consult the press - they hire people to find out the facts and write them down. You pay them, one way or another, to do that - and if you get what seem like facts, well, you keep paying them. It's hard enough to figure out what the heck is going on. You tap all your sources.

But you may lose one. As Pace and Murtha gave their different "facts" that Sunday morning, on the front page of the Washington Post you could read this -
The Bush administration, seeking to limit leaks of classified information, has launched initiatives targeting journalists and their possible government sources. The efforts include several FBI probes, a polygraph investigation inside the CIA and a warning from the Justice Department that reporters could be prosecuted under espionage laws.

In recent weeks, dozens of employees at the CIA, the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies have been interviewed by agents from the FBI's Washington field office, who are investigating possible leaks that led to reports about secret CIA prisons and the NSA's warrantless domestic surveillance program, according to law enforcement and intelligence officials familiar with the two cases...
And if your read on you'll see they're talking about going after journalists - James Risen at the New York Times for writing about the NSA warrantless spying on our own citizens, and Dana Priest at the Post for revealing our collection of secret foreign prison where there are no rules, and so much more. It's not just making them choose between revealing their sources or going to jail. Yes, that would make it possible to prosecute the whistle-blowers in the government. (They're also hinting at criminal action against the Times and the Post for violating the Espionage Act - revealing state secrets in wartime. Ten years in jail, minimum. Ah, but that's only a hint. Some leaks are useful. Some are treason.)

Up at Harvard, the man who has been a top-level advisor to four presidents, three Democrats and one Republican, David Gergen, had a few things to say that same Sunday morning on CNN, on Howard Kurtz's Reliable Sources (video and partial transcript here, emphases added) -
KURTZ: ... and that is the story on the front page of this morning's "Washington Post" about White House effort to stem leaks. And it talks about the administration, the Bush administration, having launched initiatives targeting journalists and their possible government sources. These involve federal employees being questioned on "The New York Times" story about the national security wiretaps, on the "Washington Post" story about secret CIA prisons, Valerie Plame, all of that.

Do you - you have been on both sides of this fence. Do you see this as an administration that really is going after journalists, or just legitimately trying to stem the flow of classified information leaking out to the press?

GERGEN: I am glad you brought that up. This administration has engaged in secrecy at a level we have not seen in over thirty years. Unfortunately, I have to bring up the name of Richard Nixon, because we haven't seen it since the days of Nixon. And now what they're doing - and they're using the war on terror to justify - is they're starting to target journalists who try to pierce the veil of secrecy and find things and put them in the newspapers.

Now, in the past what the government has always done is go after the people who leak, the inside people. That's the way they try to stop leaks. This is the first administration that I can remember, including Nixon's, that said - and Porter Goss said this to Congress - that we need to think about a law that would put journalists who print national security things to... bring them up in front of grand juries and put them in jail if they don't - in effect, if they don't reveal their sources.
Well, times change. But many on the web are point to this (emphases added) -
In early 1944, the New York Times asked Vice President Henry Wallace to, as Wallace noted, "write a piece answering the following questions: What is a fascist? How many fascists have we? How dangerous are they?" Wallace's answer to those questions was published in the Times on April 9, 1944, at the height of the war against the Axis powers of Germany and Japan. See how much you think his statements apply to our society today: "The really dangerous American fascist," Wallace wrote, ". . . is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way. The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power."

In his strongest indictment of the tide of fascism he saw rising in America, Wallace added, "They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection."
Well, Vice President Henry Wallace is not Vice President Richard "Dick" Cheney. And now, in 2006, we face a real threat, not as, in 1944, just a minor problem, that war against the Axis powers of Germany and Japan. Right.

Well, this could put a certain damper on the press. No one wants to go to jail.

And there's more.

As the widely read Glenn Reynolds says here, believe General Casey, specifically, and the administration generally. And these pesky facts the press keeps digging up about which laws we break and which treaties we violate and about all the torture stuff? A warning - "The press had better hope we win this war, because if we don't, a lot of people will blame the media."

Got it? The press reveals how we get things done. That aids the enemy. If they win, you can only blame the press.

The First Amendment attorney, Glenn Greenwald here -
Those who insisted on this war, who started it, who prosecuted it, who controlled every single facet of its operation - they have no blame at all for the failure of this war. Nope. They were right all along about everything. It all would have worked had war critics just kept their mouths shut. The ones who are to blame are the ones who never believed in this war, who control no aspect of the government, who were unable to influence even a single aspect of the war, who were shunned, mocked and ridiculed, and who have been out of power since the war began. They are the ones to blame. They caused this war to fail.
Greenwald seems a bit bitter. But the talking point has been established. It's out there. Greenwald may mock it. It's gathering strength.

Who lost Iraq (if it's lost)? The press?

Funny, the chief neoconservative theorist and "preemptive war around the world for the good of the natives out there" cheerleader at both the Weekly Standard and from his perch as commentator at Fox News, William "Bill" Kristol, the same day as all the rest here, suggests, well, if Iraq is lost, maybe it's because Bush, Cheney and the rest, are, oddly, incompetent -
I think it's become in people's minds an emblem of the administration that just isn't as serious about the competent execution of the functions of government as it should be. And even - I'm struck talking to conservatives and Republicans - they agree with the president on basic political philosophy, the they agree with his basic policy agenda, but they are worried that they just don't seem to be able to execute as well as they should be.
He's allowed to say that on Fox News - Bush and his gang can't do what they say? Glenn Reynolds will get him.

But the poll Murtha refers to, showing seventy percent of our troops say it's time to pack it in, can't be right either. That can't be "a fact." Why? Well, here Josh Marshall points to an item in the Fort Collins Coloradoan - military officers in uniform has started standing on stage at political rallies for Republican congressmen. The poll must be wrong. The military backs the Republicans. A fact?

Well, there is a ban on that -
... The existence of this ban and the enforcement of it are hugely important both to good order and discipline within the military and to preserving our democratic republic. The military can't be made into an arm of one or the other political party. Nor can the executive be allowed to enlist members of the armed forces, either individually or en masse, willingly or not, as soldiers in his domestic political battles.
Times change. The military takes sides.

And they side with the man who doesn't keep up on things. Out here Ron Brownstein opens his Sunday column with this -
President Bush barreled straight ahead with old answers when ABC's Elizabeth Vargas asked him a new question about Iraq last week. And like any driver who missed a turn in the road, the president quickly found himself in a ditch.

Vargas sensibly asked Bush how the growing civil strife in Iraq between the majority Shiites and the Sunnis who dominated the country under Saddam Hussein might change the U.S. mission there. Bush, to his credit, acknowledged the importance of encouraging Iraqis to form a "unity government" in the dangerously prolonged political haggling that has followed December's election.

But the president gave no hint he'd considered how the widening gulf between Sunni and Shiite might alter America's strategy. Instead, he summoned old sound bites, as if cueing them on tape. "The troops are chasing down terrorists," he told Vargas. And: "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down."

Those arguments reflect the model that Bush, his aides and most Americans have used to understand the war in Iraq. In that framework, Iraq - like Vietnam - is a contest between a central government and an insurgency determined to overthrow it.

But many experts are asking whether that construct really explains the challenge in Iraq anymore - especially after the horrific sectarian violence that swept the country following the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra.
Never mind. Say the magic words. Things will be fine. Barrel straight ahead.

Facts? ''Help us Voltaire. They've gone mad.''

And there are the facts about the odd death of Pat Tillman, NFL hero turned war hero, except our guys shot him. The Inspector General of the Pentagon has asked the army to open a criminal investigation into Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan (story here). Go here for an analysis of the whole context of why it was important to cover up the "friendly fire" thing and lie to the family for so long. The news cycle didn't allow it. Some facts need to be timed. The fact, from family and friends and from his own letters and notes, that Tillman thought the Iraq war was stupid (Afghanistan made sense to him), and that Tillman liked reading Noam Chomsky (gasp!), is dealt with here - a clip of Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity, agreeing on Fox News that they just didn't believe it. "La, la, la, la - I can't hear you."

Yeah, but people pay attention (sometimes) to the evidence. And sometimes they apply logic, not faith, and come yup with things like this - If Saddam is found guilty of genocide, can Rumsfeld be innocent? Think about it - "The question to ponder is this: If Saddam Hussein is guilty of genocide for gassing Kurds in 1982 and the Reagan Administration via Rumsfeld's efforts concluded an agreement with him one year later that supplied weapons and important weapons technology, including the wherewithal to manufacture poison gas, then can Rumsfeld and other involved parties be anything other than complicit in genocide?"

Logic can be a bitch. No wonder these guys want to move well beyond Voltaire and the Enlightenment.


Time for a little William Blake (1757-1827) - faith always wins

Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau:
Mock on, mock on: 'tis all in vain!
You throw the sand against the wind,
And the wind blows it back again.

And every sand becomes a Gem,
Reflected in the beam divine;
Blown back they blind the mocking Eye,
But still in Israel's paths they shine.

The Atoms of Democritus
And the Newton's Particles of Light
Are sands upon the Red Sea shore,
Where Israel's tents do shine so bright.

Posted by Alan at 23:09 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 6 March 2006 23:10 PST home

Sunday, 5 March 2006
Thoughts and Images for Oscar Day in Hollywood
Topic: Announcements

Thoughts and Images for Oscar Day in Hollywood

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format parent of this web log, is now online. This is Volume 4, Number 10 for the week of March 5, 2006 - the view from Hollywood.

This week in Current Events, seven items - analysis of and commentary on the new stories of the past seven days, from the business with Dubai Ports World (sounds like a cheesy theme park) and our ports, to what looks like civil war brewing in Iraq and all the neoconservative thinkers changing their minds (and all the negative polls, even from our troops), to that trip to India and the odd deal about nuclear support, to the new Hurricane Katrina business with the revealing videotapes, to any number of juicy scandals, to minor details (the key password that lets you hack most electronic voting machines), to the conceptual issues for policy wonks, ending with a dialog where readers from all over discuss what can and cannot change.

Correspondents? A first-hand report, with photos, of that mountain lion in a suburban Los Angeles backyard, and from Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, March coming in like a lion in Paris.

Bob Patterson is back, with the World's Laziest Journalist's take on what he hears on talk radio about the Dubai deal, and with the Book Wrangler's take on a fine publishing house.

Photos this week? Hollywoodland. There actually is such a place. And some shots of "insider stuff" - below the line organizations headquartered here on Sunset Boulevard. And in the "art photo" mode, some odd walls with Hollywood history. And a very odd old movie poster. And a Hollywood dog named Sherlock. And the usual botanicals - six this week, including strawberries.

Quotes this week? We publish on the day the Oscars are handed out, so we gather all the quotes about Hollywood over the last three and half years.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ______________________

The Next Election Let's All Join In For The Results We Want
Close Enough: Close Enough For Some, Not For Others
Differentiations: There's News And Then There's News
Midweek Madness: Specific Chickens - Briefly Forgotten - Coming Home To Roost
Defining Success: Ups And Downs, But Mostly Down
Closing the Week: Getting the Details Wrong, and the Concept
Dialog: Changing Things

Elsewhere ______________________

Nature: A Mountain Lion in Los Angeles
Our Man in Paris: The News There

Bob Patterson ______________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of World's Laziest Journalist - Dubya and Dubai - Rx for Republican Disaster?
Book Wrangler: A German Publisher Finds An American Market

Local Photography ______________________

A Tour: Adventures in Hollywoodland
The Industry: Very Local Organizations
Odd Walls
Values: Hollywood has always been out of touch with Middle America...

Quotes for the week of March 5, 2006 - Hollywood and the Movies

Commentary here will resume this evening. And something new will be posted later on the sister blog, Just Above Sunset Photography.

Posted by Alan at 12:02 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 4 March 2006
Dialog: Changing Things
Topic: NOW WHAT?

Dialog: Changing Things

The Just Above Sunset email "salon" (a virtual discussion group, not a gathering of folks in powdered wigs in an early eighteenth-century Paris drawing room), has some things to say.

This bit of satire started them off -
In other news, the United States has formally announced that it has absolutely no idea what to do when the leader of the country is both condescending and incurious.

John Rathskellar, spokesperson for "The Country Formerly Known As the Good Guys", said in a semi-official announcement (while standing in line for a Venti at Starbucks): "No legal remedy exists to remove from power a person (or persons) who is a failure on as many levels as the current President appears to be. Had he received oral pleasure from one of his interns we would run his ass through the ringer, but as it is he's free to destroy the nation as he sees fit to do so. We explained this to him on several occasions but he seemed to be baffled by our carefully chosen words, and we let him go back to his magazine reading."

Mr. Rathskellar further added, "He may indeed destroy everything we cherish in a pluralistic society, but he could do it without really understanding how he was doing it. Stumbling in the dark, really. Just fucking our lives up on the fly. An ad hoc Armageddonist if ever there was one."
Our man in Montreal, Quebec, Canada -
It's not the act that will get a leader removed, but the organization of the opposition.

Republicans were ready for any provocation, and Monica Lewinski was enough. They wanted Clinton out, and they succeeded. Who can say anything against that?

Democrats, and/or anyone not Republican are incapable and ineffectual, in the face of gross transgressions on the American way of life by the Dubya administration.

Ahead of any more 'evidence' against republicans, the real question in America is what is wrong with the non-republicans and their ability to balance power?
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
"... the real question in America is what is wrong with the non-republicans and their ability to balance power?"

And the answer is, a system of government in which any one party that holds the White House and both houses of congress is essentially untouchable.

This is especially true of Republicans, for whom the phrase "it matters not whether you win or lose but only how you play the game" is not so much a guiding principle as is "winning is not the most important thing, it's the only thing!"
Our Man in Rochester, New York -
That the Republicans hold all the cards did not just happen. They didn't just decide it on their own. The ineffectiveness of Democrats (and whomever else) gave them a blank check. They are untouchable because we have let them be untouchable.
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
"... they are untouchable because we have let them be untouchable."

Yeah, that, too.

But my point was that our system should not be such that the minority party gets totally frozen out of the process. I must admit, I'm not crazy about a parliamentary system, but at least there you have the possibility of building coalitions and having votes of confidence, both things our pretty-strictly-two-party, winner-take-all system lack.

There ought to be a provision for at least looking into impeachment, to be voted up or down, possibly with some sort of super-majority needed to shoot it down. This would allow American voters a chance to hold the ruling party's metaphorical feet to the flames, but without allowing frivolous minority attacks to gain solid footing.

But yeah, not even the Democrats -- even as they watch all this from total loser status -- would take to this idea, afraid of blow-back when or if they themselves ever get back in power. It's just possible that if Democratic leaders were to adopt a policy of first considering doing "the right thing" before "the politic thing," they might win the confidence of Americans again, and maybe regain power.

But we've let the Republicans be untouchable by, what, not voting hard enough for Democrats? Are you going to vote for Democrats this year? Me, too. Just like last time. Well, lotta good it did us! But still, you can't blame you and me, so it must be those damn Republicans, especially the ones who keep voting Republican!

That's not it? So maybe it's because the Democrats haven't yet learned to (a) "speak openly about their faith" in public, (b) stop pandering to the gay agenda of wanting gays to be treated like "normal" Americans, or maybe (c) stop talking about abortion all the time? Yeah, our troubles all started when the Democrats told all those Southerners they shouldn't run around lynching black people. And that's when the South walked out on us and never looked back.

Do you suppose if only we could turn back the clock, maybe we could make ourselves winners again? I don't think either one of us wants to do that, even if we could.
Our columnist, Bob Patterson (alias, The World's Laziest Journalist) -
Maybe the Democrats have found the Republicans' "Achilles Heel?" My friends who have been very pro-Bush, seem quite upset with the Dubai thing. Karl Rove has decreed that the 2006 election will be decided on "security."

Well, then, there, Karl, be careful what you wish for.

If the entire roll of the dice will be on security and if Bush insists on the Dubai deal. The Democrats could get a majority in both the House and Senate faster than you can say "Poof! Be gone!"

The Democrats will have to play by "bare knuckles" rules. Let the Republicans drag out all the dirty secrets and let the Democrats respond in kind and then insist that the election be based upon security and point out Bush's secret squirrel aspect to the Dubai deal.

If it takes a bar-room brawl style election, then the Democrats had best prepare to lose a few teeth and get a bloody nose, but win the fight.

Otherwise... Bush Wins Again! (and again, and again and again...)
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
I think I don't agree.

Harking back to what I said earlier, "It's just possible that if Democratic leaders were to adopt a policy of first considering doing 'the right thing' before 'the politic thing,' they might win the confidence of Americans again, and maybe regain power," I'd feel more comfortable finding out what the right thing is in this case before chasing the blood in the water.

I personally don't have enough information yet to form an opinion on this Dubai Ports thing, but so far, I find myself mostly agreeing with Bush!
The Hollywood host -
I was bitter about this in yesterday's blog post in the India section -

"Well, there is not a thing that can be done about this in this country, as his party controls the congress and his judges sit on the bench at all levels. And too, the club members can do nothing about this deal with India. What are the going to do, hold the breath until they turn blue, or issue "statements" or a reprimand? So what?

"It's a Texas thing. We elected him because he's a cowboy who slaps around wimps and does what he wants. The electorate seems to have felt that's what we need in this awful world full off swarthy people with odd religions who want to kill us all..."

As you know, I do a lot of reading of opinion and theory and all that wonk stuff. Rick is right about the turmoil with the Democrats now - what do we do to get back in power - get religion, preach war, drop the pro-life stuff, say the poor are poor because they choose to be, sponsor a team in NASCAR with a cool paint job and fancy logos? Friday, in particular, a number of the big-time middle-left blogs are in the middle of a discussion of standing for only one thing in 2008, universal healthcare - good for business, good for the country, and eminently decent. A good way to spend tax dollars. But Hillary Clinton tried that and people remember how she was excoriated for that - no government folks gonna ration my healthcare and limit me, and all the rest.

Of course there's a structural problem, and what Rick suggests makes sense. And yes, it'll never happen. This is the structure we've got.

The problem, aside from the structural issue, is that Rick and the rest of us hold positions and have values that are in the minority. Face the truth. Although the days of lynching black folks are gone, the majority wants gays to just go away, women to stay in their place and be modest, Bush to sneer at the world for us, and the rich to get the goodies, because that's just how it is.

We're out of step. We propose things that "make sense" for the country. The other side appeals to what people "feel" deep down - resentment and fear, and anger that others want something that's "wrong." We may get the majority to agree we're right on so many things, as it's a logical and common sense position we offer on this and that. But the other side always wins because they target what's underneath all the logical stuff - the thousand-times-more-powerful feelings of alienation and anger.

The logical mind versus the emotional id.

We're playing chess while they're playing football.

We don't even know what the game is.
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
Hollywood -
Do I get a prize?
Ah well, feel free to join in by dropping a line to - or you could ask to join the group.

Posted by Alan at 13:09 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 4 March 2006 13:15 PST home

Friday, 3 March 2006
Getting the Details Wrong, and the Concept
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Getting the Details Wrong, and the Concept

The week of the turmoil of the Dubai ports deal, the president in India cutting a deal to give them the means to produce fifty more nuclear weapons and keep a third of their reactors free from any inspection by anyone, the new Hurricane Katrina tapes showing the administration was told what would happen and pretty much shrugged (the said no one told them), finally closed with a flourish of secondary stories that didn't get that much coverage.

Friday, March 3rd -

Ah, the stories of religion and morality. Missouri is considering a bill making Christianity the state's official religion (discussed here) - but they really way to make it the official "majority religion," so it's not that bad. Following South Dakota's lead, Mississippi is about to ban all abortions (CBS item here) - no exceptions for rape, incest or the health of the woman. It's a trend. Over in the UK The Independent reports on what Prime Minister Blair is now saying (here) that God led him to invade Iraq, as it was the Christian thing to do and those are his values. And back here, in Kentucky, state legislators are asked to go on record as to whether they have, personally, "accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior." That story is here - a political action group wants each of them on record.

On the other hand, there this - Pat Robertson loses his bid for re-election to the National Religious Broadcasters' board of directors. Yep, the founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network said our government should assassinate Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and said Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon had that stroke because God was punishing him for the Gaza pullout. National Religious Broadcasters' board of directors bowed to pressure form the members. Too far is too far.

Ah, the stories of government corruption - San Diego Republican congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham pled guilty to accepting a bit under two and a half million for directly steering contracts to those with cash or antiques or a Rolls or cool yacht for him, and he asked the judge for leniency in his sentencing, as he was really sorry, and eventually confessed to it all, and he's an old guy, and he's ruined anyway, and they took all the goodies away anyway. Friday afternoon he got a record sentence, eight and a half years. On the other hand, the maximum sentence was ten years, so contrition and puppy dog eyes bought him eighteen months off for being really, really sorry.

But the story has a bit of filigree. The CIA Inspector General (here) was forced to reveal that the number three dude at the CIA, one Kyle "Dusty" Foggo (great name), is now under investigation in the matter. One of Cunningham's co-conspirators is tied to the guy. The inquiry is serious enough that Congress was notified of it in writing. So it's a big deal. Foggo (not Frodo) was appointed to his new gig by CIA Director Porter Goss - at present Foggo serves as the Executive Director of the CIA. Before that he was just a lower-level procurement dude in Germany, directing contracting.

What? Well, Porter Goss was a minor congressman from Florida when he was named to fix the CIA - a loyal Republican fundraiser but a bit of a dork. He jumped "Dusty" up to the top of the organization and everyone was quite puzzled. Not subtle.

This smells a bit. Newsweek has more detail here. Something is up.

George "Slam Dunk" Tenet may have been burnt-out and making foolish decisions in his last years running the CIA, but he wasn't involved in taking big bucks to approve fifth-rate work by contractors no one ever heard of. Well, maybe he did that too, but he didn't get caught using the CIA to make his friends rich and his retirement comfortable.

As crooks go, these guys have no class. You're supposed to be sly and sneaky. Amateurs.

And Amateur Hour, or one of the old shows, continued playing out Friday afternoon. As the Washington Post here runs down how the Hurricane Katrina video matter won't die. AP digs up a videotape of Bush, Chertoff and Brown being briefed before the hurricane hit, being told New Orleans was probably going under. Bush and Chertoff look bored, and Brown looks worried. Bush asks no questions, passive and fidgeting. Everyone knows Bush later said he never was told this could happen - "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." Oops. The White issues a point by point defense to all the outrage expressed in the press. More footage shows the former FEMA head, Michael Brown, who had to go, actually raising the alarm. It seems he knew this was a big deal, and he had few resources in the new Homeland Security organization, and he's raising holy hell.

Oops. New storyline. Brown tells CNN he made mistakes and rates his performance as a five on a ten point scale, but he rates the performance of his boss, Chertoff, as a two. (Chertoff was previously a federal prosecutor and had no experience at all running a large organization, so you have to forgive him of course, and he was after all, better than Bush's first choice to run Homeland Security, the high school dropout with mafia ties.) Those of us who also watched Michael Brown on MSNBC's Hardball on Friday saw a vary curious thing - the man was clear, and so was the video and email evidence, and he may have been overwhelmed, but he did his job. He repeated his ratings of his performance and how his boss did. The show's host, Chris Matthews, flat-out apologized to him for how Matthews and the rest of the press mocked him.

Brown was the scapegoat here. And note here, apologies from the most widely-read legal website where they had been on his case, with links to the other sites logs apologizing for what they said about the man, and offering to go back and change all their previous commentary.

And the usual Friday afternoon after-the-presses-have-closed bombshell? That would be this - "In the aftermath of the public revelation of the presidential 'teleconference' and mounting criticism of the performance of Michael Chertoff, Administration sources told HUMAN EVENTS today that the secretary of Homeland Security has 'only a few days left' in the Bush Cabinet."

Human Events may be being jerked around by someone doing selective leaks, of course. But this story is hurting the administration as much as the Dubai ports thing and incipient civil war in Iraq. Mission accomplished, indeed.

But if you're going to release news late Friday afternoon, so no one discusses it in the press, as the networks and cable news shift to sports and, this weekend, the Oscars, then late Friday is when you announce the latest from Guantánamo Bay, which would be this, faced with a court order the United States, after years of refusing, finally released the names of hundreds of detainees held down at Guantánamo -
Human rights activists say this new information should make it easier to piece together the personal histories of the detainees - and for the first time to build a big picture of who is held at the camps, and why they are there.

What the documents do not do is shed light on speculation that there are other prisoners, known as "ghost" detainees, at the camp. If a prisoner at the camp has not had a CSRT [combatant status review tribunal] they will not feature in the transcripts.
Well, if we don't list them, they're not there.

Well, too late in the afternoon, and too late in the week, for the press to cover this, but not too late for the conservative Professor Bainbridge over at UCLA Law. For someone who teaches law at one of the top programs in the nation, he's on the case.

First he links to the Seton Hall analysis of just who we're holding down Guantánamo way (previously discussed in these pages here -
1.) Fifty-five percent (55%) of the detainees are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies.

2.) Only 8% of the detainees were characterized as al Qaeda fighters. Of the remaining detainees, 40% have no definitive connection with al Qaeda at all and 18% are have no definitive affiliation with either al Qaeda or the Taliban.

3.) The Government has detained numerous persons based on mere affiliations with a large number of groups that in fact, are not on the Department of Homeland Security terrorist watchlist. Moreover, the nexus between such a detainee and such organizations varies considerably. Eight percent are detained because they are deemed "fighters for;" 30% considered "members of;" a large majority - 60% - are detained merely because they are "associated with" a group or groups the Government asserts are terrorist organizations. For 2% of the prisoners, a nexus to any terrorist group is not identified by the Government.

4.) Only 5% of the detainees were captured by United States forces. 86% of the detainees were arrested by either Pakistan or the Northern Alliance and turned over to United States custody. This 86% of the detainees captured by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance were handed over to the United States at a time in which the United States offered large bounties for capture of suspected enemies.

5.) Finally, the population of persons deemed not to be enemy combatants - mostly Uighers - are in fact accused of more serious allegations than a great many persons still deemed to be enemy combatants.
That's the claim.

Professor Bainbridge has questions -
Indefinite internment with limited legal rights is sufficiently foreign to the US' ideals that this report should deservedly add pressure on the Bush administration to justify the Guantánamo detentions. I'm prepared to accept that the GWOT requires indefinite detention of people who pose a real existential threat to the United States, but I'm yet to be convinced that the executive branch should have unreviewable fiat in deciding who is to be indefinitely incarcerated.
Yeah, but he's a lawyer. Most people "feel" these are the worst of the worst. It's a Nancy Grace thing - they wouldn't be locked up forever with no charges and no right to a trial if they weren't guilty.

And as for time the news right so folks don't get prime time to talk about it, the nuclear deal with India at the end of the week, was getting closer attention -
In addition to all the predictable reactions (pro and con) to the landmark nuclear agreement reached in India yesterday, a powerful and unexpected new concern has emerged based on a last-minute concession by President Bush.

It appears that, to close the deal during his visit, Bush directed his negotiators to give in to India's demands that it be allowed to produce unlimited quantities of fissile material and amass as many nuclear weapons as it wants.

The agreement, which requires congressional approval, would be an important step toward Bush's long-held goal of closer relations with India. It would reflect India's status as a global power. And, not least of all, it would more firmly establish India as a military ally and bulwark against China.

Critics have long denounced such an agreement, saying it would reward India for its rogue nuclear-weapons program and could encourage other nations to do likewise.

But now the criticisms may focus on this question: By enabling India to build an unlimited stockpile of nuclear weapons, would this agreement set off a new Asian arms race?

And here's another question: Were Bush and his aides so eager for some good headlines - for a change - that they gave away the store?
That's Dan Froomkin in the Washington Post, and he surveys who is saying what, in detail. This will go sour over the weekend. People will have time to think about what just happened.

And then there are the pesky "big thinkers" - as the week ended, Michael Kinsley at SLATE.COM with The Pursuit Of Democracy, What Bush Gets Wrong About Nation-Building, with nuggets like these -
The case for democracy is "self-evident," as someone once put it. The case for the world's most powerful democracy to take as its mission the spreading of democracy around the world is pretty self-evident, too: What's good for us is good for others. Those others will be grateful. A world full of democracies created or protected with our help ought to be more peaceful and prosperous and favorably disposed toward us. That world will be a better neighborhood for us than a world of snarling dictatorships.

... But the case against spreading democracy - especially through military force - as a mission of the U.S. government is also pretty self-evident, and lately it's been getting more so. Government, even democratic government, exists for the benefit of its own citizens, not that of foreigners. American blood and treasure should not be spent on democracy for other people. Or, short of that absolute, there are limits to the blood and treasure that the United States should be expected to spend on democracy elsewhere, and the very nature of war makes that cost hard to predict and hard to limit.

Furthermore, the encouraging discovery that free elections are possible in unexpected places has a discouraging corollary: If tolerance and pluralism and suchlike Western values are not essential preconditions for democratic elections, they are not the necessary result of elections either. By definition, democracy produces a government that the people - or some plurality of the people - want, at least at that moment. But it may not produce the kind of government that we wish they would want, or - more to the point - that we want.
Yep, Hamas wins in Palestine, the Muslim Brotherhood get big votes in Egypt, our new Shiite theocracy in Iraq with its Kurdish appendage and so on. Kinsley quotes the more realist Henry Kissinger on why we had to get rid of Allende in Chile - "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people."

And he gives us this -
Democracy now stands as the only remaining official rationale for the Gulf War (which the administration insists is a battlefield in the larger war against terrorism). This is grimly amusing, given that George W. Bush's Gulf War is really a continuation of his father's, which was in defense of two feudal monarchies and had nothing to do with democracy.
Grimly amusing, indeed.

The same day, in the Paris-based International Herald Tribune, Stephen Biddle offers No, it's not Vietnam. This one's a civil war.


Well, this article is based on an essay in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs, as the International Herald Tribune isn't much like USA Today. They print wonk stuff you can discuss down the street at the Flore.

His key points?
U.S. military strategy for Iraq now centers on "Iraqization," the program to equip and train Iraqi security forces to replace American troops. For a Maoist people's war, this would make sense: it would undermine the nationalist component of insurgent resistance, improve intelligence and provide the troops needed for real security.

But in a civil war, Iraqization only throws gasoline on the fire. Sunnis perceive the national security forces as a Shiite-Kurd militia on steroids. They have a point: In an intercommunal conflict, the most effective units are the ones that are communally homogeneous. And if we want an effective Iraqi force anytime soon, it's going to be mostly Shiite and Kurdish.

The bigger and stronger we make national security forces, the more threatened the Sunnis feel, and the harder they are likely to fight back in a struggle that is ultimately about communal self-preservation.

The solution to inter-communal conflicts like this is a constitutional deal wherein each party agrees to ironclad guarantees of shared power that deny any the ability to oppress the others. But a large, powerful, U.S.-armed, U.S.-trained, Shiite-Kurd security force makes any such constitutional deal a fiction.
What to do?
First, we must slow, not accelerate, the growth of Iraqi security forces. Even an Iraqi force with Sunni enlistees is a problem if it precedes, not follows, a constitutional deal. Combat motivation is bound to suffer if mixed Shiite-Sunni units are asked to fight Sunni enemies. And the force we can get in the near term may have few Sunnis despite efforts to recruit them. Either possibility aggravates the real conflict.

Second, we must treat the military future of Iraq as a tool for brokering constitutional compromise, not as a quick ticket home for American troops. That is, we must threaten to throw American military power behind either side in today's civil war as needed to compel the other to compromise.

If the Sunnis refuse to compromise, they must be threatened with full U.S. support for a homogeneous Shiite-Kurd army. If the Sunnis do agree to a compromise, they must be promised U.S. protection from communal rivals until a stable power-sharing deal can ensure their security without us.

Conversely, if the Shiite-Kurd alliance refuses to compromise, they must be threatened with abandonment or even U.S. assistance to their Sunni rivals. If they do compromise, they, too, must be promised sustained American protection until a power-sharing constitution is fully implemented.
But we're doing the opposite. We're still trying to fight the Vietnam War the right way. Our guys are good at what they do, but someone didn't get the difference between Vietnam and Iraq. It's not just that there's a whole lot of sand this time.

So that's how the week ended. Things are fine, except we don't get the details right - church and state, what hurricanes do, what you can't do when someone offers you money to cheat the government, who we lock up forever and "disappear," and all the rest - and in regard to the oddest war we ever fought, and the first elective one, we don't get the concept right.

Posted by Alan at 22:27 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 3 March 2006 22:41 PST home

Thursday, 2 March 2006
Ups And Downs, But Mostly Down
Topic: NOW WHAT?

Ups And Downs, But Mostly Down

Thursday, March 2nd, the president got his diplomatic coup - Bush Ushers India Into Nuclear Club (AP). Yep, we give them advanced technology and they pretend they'll play by the rules of the nonproliferation treaty they never signed. As mentioned elsewhere, Fred Kaplan here discusses what this is all about, and how hard it will be to close this one. Congress has to approve, and transfer of our key technology to other countries these days is a hot issue. The Dubai Ports World deal has out people a bit on edge. And then too, the "club" - the key nations who have signed the nonproliferation treaty - may not be too happy about the United States cutting deals on the side without consulting them. and will oppose this without some discussion.

But like the business with Dubai Ports World, this is a done deal. The administration acted there unilaterally and ignored domestic law regarding review of such matters, and showed congress, even the members of the president's own party, they were political eunuchs - powerless and pathetic. They can look into it if they have time on their hands, but he's not budging. It's approved. He just told the major world powers the same thing regarding their silly nonproliferation treaty - he decides who's in and who's out of the club, and on what terms with what agreements. Yep, it's hard to get used to the Texan in the room.

But that's the way it is. There's no way to stop anything he chooses to do. The Attorney General and his crew of constitutional thinkers say their interpretation of "unitary executive power" makes his decisions plenary - that's what the constitution really says. Courts have no authority to stop anything he does (although their opinions are always pleasant to read in the john), and congress can pass any law they like, but when the president signs them he appends his "signing statements" say that, sure, he'll follow them, but he has the "unitary executive power" not to when he chooses.

Well, there is not a thing that can be done about this in this country, as his party controls the congress and his judges sit on the bench at all levels. And too, the club members can do nothing about this deal with India. What are the going to do, hold the breath until they turn blue, or issue "statements" or a reprimand? So what?

It's a Texas thing. We elected him because he's a cowboy who slaps around wimps and does what he wants. The electorate seems to have felt that's what we need in this awful world full off swarthy people with odd religions who want to kill us all.

And he plays to the frightened crowd. Two days before he visits Pakistan on this trip, one of our diplomats there is blown to smithereens when a car bomb tosses his armored Caddy into the next block, and blows out ten floors of windows at the hotel next door.

Our John Wayne? Bush To Proceed To Pakistan, Shrugs Off Deadly Bomb Blasts, just like the strong silent hero in the John Ford westerns. It's classic.

Of course, those who don't live inside the old movies have different views, like this -
I know a few people working in the Foreign Service, but I've lost track of postings for a couple of them in the last year. No names have yet been released, but I'm certain that family and friends of those posted in Pakistan are on pins and needles at the moment awaiting news. Thoughts and prayers for all of you - family, friends and coworkers - as you wait for the phone to ring.

Working for the United States in a posting as dangerous as Pakistan is a very tough job. Most of our personnel in difficult postings cannot bring their families with them, but they do a tough job - trying to sell this Administration's abysmal foreign policy pronouncements to an increasingly skeptical world, while still maintaining some semblance of long-term strategic diplomacy with the nation in question, all the while worrying about safety concerns and potential terrorist threats and kidnappings and other assorted threats - because the nation's interest requires it.

Ever since Valerie Plame Wilson was outed by her own government in an act of political vengeance and intel exposure, recruiting for these tough posts has been difficult indeed. Who wants to trust an Administration who outs its own personnel? The embassies are staffed not just with diplomatic personnel, but also security experts, analysts and others - and recruiting has suffered over the last few years under the Bush Administration, I am told by several sources in the diplomatic community despite an initial upsurge in applicants after 9/11. The brave men and women who work tirelessly for this nation in positions this dangerous are heroes, plain and simple - that we have lost at least one today is a tragedy.
The president shrugs. As his mirror Rumsfeld said, when Baghdad was being looted just after we tore down the Saddam statue and Chalabi's shills we flew in cheered, and there was murder and mayhem in the streets there, "Stuff Happens." It's still happening.

John Wayne types shrug and do what they must. No point in getting all upset and acting like a bunch of women. (Many a fifth-rate western has that very line in the dialog somewhere.)

Ah, maybe those "signing statements" - saying real men don't follow the law when they're being all manly - are just Texas bluster. It's a male-ego thing, just posturing.

Maybe not.

US Cites Exception in Torture Ban
McCain Law May Not Apply to Cuba Prison
Josh White and Carol D. Leonnig - Washington Post - Friday, March 3, 2006 - Page A04
Bush administration lawyers, fighting a claim of torture by a Guantanamo Bay detainee, yesterday argued that the new law that bans cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees in U.S. custody does not apply to people held at the military prison.

In federal court yesterday and in legal filings, Justice Department lawyers contended that a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, cannot use legislation drafted by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to challenge treatment that the detainee's lawyers described as "systematic torture."

Government lawyers have argued that another portion of that same law, the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, removes general access to U.S. courts for all Guantanamo Bay captives. Therefore, they said, Mohammed Bawazir, a Yemeni national held since May 2002, cannot claim protection under the anti-torture provisions...
The commander-in-chief is in charge of the military. Look at the signing statement. The objections of McCain and the lower-level FBI folks and all the veterans of every war since WWII, and all the rest of the women folk, as they used to say in the old westerns, don't mean squat. There's this manly "unitary executive power" that is inherent in the position of the commander-in-chief.

We torture people, and say so, and, unlike every other country in the world, we allow what is screamed out in the torture sessions to be admitted as evidence (read the article).

What are you going to do about it, weep? Boo, hoo. Women. You want to be safe, or what?

So how is this going down? Are people grinning and getting all excited - men getting hard and women creaming their panties - when they read such news, or watch it on Fox?

In other items here there was mention of the week's CBS poll - the thirty-four percent approval rating for the president and the twenty-nine percent "favorability" rating, a sort of character thing.

We've moved on from westerns? There were hundreds of web item and more than a few appearances by supporters of the president on the talk shows, and of course Rush Limbaugh on talk radio, all saying CBS's methodology was "clearly flawed."

Maybe so.

But then, Thursday, March 2nd Fox News released their poll -
- 39 percent of Americans approve of the job Bush is doing, only the second time Bush has fallen below 40 percent in Fox polling

- 81 percent believe Iraq is likely to end up in a civil war

- 69 percent oppose allowing Dubai Ports World to manage our ports
And then CNN - USA Today - Gallup had their results the same day -
- 38 percent approve of the job Bush is doing, a rating "mired near its record low" of 37 percent (Katrina time)

- 47 percent approve how he is handling terrorism, "down 7 points since early February and a record low"

- 64 percent disapprove of Bush's handling of Iraq, a record high

- 52 percent do not find Bush "honest and trustworthy," tying November's worst-ever mark.
There's a lot of women folk out there.

Or something else is up.

Over at FireDogLake (here) there's a link to this, the subscription-only insider Stratfor Report - current conservative thinking. But you cannot get there. Of course, as usual on the web, we get an excerpt of what conservatives think of these numbers. Something there is that doesn't like a wall and all that. The conservatives are worried.

And just to tweak the conservative insiders, here's the full excerpt (with added emphases) -
The point here is not to argue the merits of the Dubai ports deal, but rather to place the business deal in the context of the U.S. grand strategy. That strategy is, again, to split the Islamic world into its component parts, induce divisions by manipulating differences, and to create coalitions based on particular needs. This is, currently, about the only strategy the United States has going for it - and if it can't use commercial relations as an inducement in the Muslim world, that is quite a weapon to lose.

The problem has become political, and stunningly so. One of the most recent opinion polls, by CBS, has placed Bush's approval rating at 34 percent - a fairly shocking decline, and clearly attributable to the port issue. As we have noted in the past, each party has a core constituency of about 35-37 percent. When support falls significantly below this level, a president loses his ability to govern.

The Republican coalition consists of three parts: social conservatives, economic conservatives and business interests, and national security conservatives. The port deal has apparently hit the national security conservatives in Bush's coalition hard. They were already shaky over the administration's personnel policies in the military and the question of whether he had a clear strategy in Iraq, even as they supported the invasion.

Another part of the national security faction consists of those who believe that the Muslim world as a whole is, in the end, united against the United States, and that it poses a clear and present danger. Bush used to own this faction, but the debate over the ports has generated serious doubts among this faction about Bush's general policy. In their eyes, he appears inconsistent and potentially hypocritical. Economic conservatives might love the ports deal, and so might conservatives of the "realpolitik" variety, but those who buy into the view that there is a general danger of terrorism emanating from all Muslim countries are appalled - and it is showing in the polls.

If Bush sinks much lower, he will breaks into territory from which it would be impossible for a presidency to recover. He is approaching this territory with three years left in his presidency. It is the second time that he has probed this region: The first was immediately after Hurricane Katrina. He is now down deeper in the polls, and it is cutting into his core constituency.

In effect, Bush's strategy and his domestic politics have intersected with potential fratricidal force. The fact is that the U.S. strategy of dividing the Muslim world and playing one part off against the other is a defensible and sophisticated strategy - even if does not, in the end, turn out to be successful (and who can tell about that?) This is not the strategy the United States started with; the strategy emerged out of the failures in Iraq in 2003. But whatever its origins, it is the strategy that is being used, and it is not a foolish strategy.

The problem is that the political coalition has eroded to the point that Bush needs all of his factions, and this policy - particularly because of the visceral nature of the ports issue - is cutting into the heart of his coalition. The general problem is this: The administration has provided no framework for understanding the connection between a destroyed mosque dome in As-Samarra, an attack against a crucial oil facility in Saudi Arabia, and the UAE buyout of a British ports-management firm. Rather than being discussed in the light of a single, integrated strategy, these appear to be random, disparate and uncoordinated events. The reality of the administration's strategy and the reality of its politics are colliding. Bush will backtrack on the ports issue, and the UAE will probably drop the matter. But what is not clear is whether the damage done to the strategy and the politics can be undone. The numbers are just getting very low.
Well, that happens when you don't explain things, and John Wayne types don't explain. Live with it.

Of course Jane at FireDogLake has her own explanation of the numbers, the AP release of the videotapes showing the administration really was warned about New Orleans going under even if they said they had no idea such a thing would happen, but much more -
Why are the Bush Administration poll numbers tanking? Well, in my opinion, it's all the lying. The American public can forgive mistakes, so long as they are not done with some malignant intent. Apparently they can also overlook some incompetence, so long as they believe the President is working hard at his job.

But when the public begins to think they have been lied to - repeatedly - that love goes sour. Very sour. And lately, for the Bush Administration, it's been all about the lying.

... Yesterday, Jack Cafferty was reading viewer e-mails on the subject on CNN's Situation Room. Someone wrote into the show with a quote that is particularly apt: "Only the Bush Administration could take a disaster of Biblical proportions, and make it worse."

If you are going to lie about not knowing how bad a disaster will be - then you should be certain that no video of you being told it will be a disaster exists. In this case, there have been so many preceding lies, the hope this Administration can hold onto at this point is that the American public will just chalk it up to the way things work in Washington.

Except, at the moment, the Republican party controls Congress and the White House. And when you add in all the Abramoff investigations and guilty pleas thus far and the entire GOP K Street operation, the Duck Cunningham bribery pleas and continuing investigations, the Tom DeLay indictment and investigations and all the rest of the mess, you get a very ugly picture of what the current party leadership of the Republican party has been doing. And it sure as hell doesn't look like the public's business from here, now does it?

It's all about the lying. No accountability, no taking responsibility, none. This President comes off as an irresponsible frat boy who is more than willing to blame anyone else to get his own ass out of trouble. That may work when you are 19 (although it wouldn't have worked with my parents, I can tell you that), but one would think that the President of the United States would hold himself to a higher ethical standard on this. Especially given a situation where people lost their lives...
Well, maybe the AP videotapes will be the last of the problems. This cannot go on and on.

But it goes on. Thursday, March 2nd, Murray Wass, in the National Review, with this - the White House had multiple reports from multiple intelligence agencies that Saddam Hussein posed no threat to the US unless we attacked him first. And before anything was said to the public, or leaked to Judy Miller at the New York Times for Rice and Cheney to chat about on television, there were the same sort of reports about those damned aluminum tubes - they had nothing to do with building nuclear weapons.

So the "honest mistake" - See, we went with the best intelligence we had, but unfortunately, it was wrong... - gets a tad more ambiguous. Like AP with the videotapes of the pre-hurricane briefings, here Wass, doing that reporter thing, digs up the actual documents, just to get things straight.

So, did the administration lie to us and to the UN and, privately, to leaders of nations around the world (and plant a false story in the Times with the willing and eager Judy Miller)? Or did the administration prefer to think all these documents shoved in front of them just had to be wrong because they'd heard different from Chalabi and the exiles, and, after all, they'd paid good money for that? Did they just assume the CIA and DIA and State and AEC were full of enemies trying to stop the noble cause? Or were they just not doing their jobs - they didn't feel like reading all this detailed and dense verbiage as it was boring or something? None of the explanations is very comforting. Your choice.

Well, we have what we have in Iraq.

Even the big-time conservatives are fed up - as mentioned, William F. Buckley here, and then, late in the week, George Will here -
After Iraqis voted in December for sectarian politics, an observer said Iraq had conducted not an election but a census. Now America's heroic ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, one of two indispensable men in Iraq, has warned the Iraqi political class that unless the defense and interior ministries are nonsectarian, meaning not run as instruments of the Shiites, the U.S. will have to reconsider its support for Iraq's military and police. But that threat is not credible: U.S. strategy in Iraq by now involves little more than making the Iraqi military and police competent.

... Almost three years after the invasion, it is still not certain whether, or in what sense, Iraq is a nation. And after two elections and a referendum on the constitution, Iraq barely has a government. A defining attribute of a government is that it has a monopoly on the legitimate exercise of violence. That attribute is incompatible with the existence of private militias of the sort that maraud in Iraq.

Today, with all three components of the "axis of evil'' - Iraq, Iran, North Korea - more dangerous than they were when that phrase was coined in 2002, the country would welcome, and Iraq's political class needs to hear, as a glimpse into the abyss, presidential words as realistic as those Britain heard on June 4, 1940.
What Britain heard from Winston Churchill that day as every small boat in England had finally heroically managed to get the troops out Dunkirk and back to England? "We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.''

Buckley says we've lost, and now Will says if we get the troops home one day and leave what we've created there, a moderately well-policed theocratic mess, that's not victory. And then, over at the National Review, John Derbyshire piles on - "Well, I'm with Bill Buckley and George Will. This pig's ear is never going to be made into a silk purse, not by any methods or expenditures the American people are willing to countenance. The only questions worth asking about Iraq at this point are: How does GWB get out of this with the least damage to US interests, and to his party's future prospects? I wish I had some answers."

We all wish we had some answers.

But then, we did reach that deal with India. It may not fly. It may offend everyone. But doesn't that count for something? Surely it balances out some things here.

Posted by Alan at 23:10 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 3 March 2006 08:55 PST home

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