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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Saturday, 3 June 2006
Still off line...

Still off line...

There are new posts at the photography site (click on the appropriate block at the top left of the page), but setting up the new computer is taking some time, and that will be it for the day. The hard thing is recreating the critical files and bookmarks and whatnot that are on the computer in the shop. Tomorrow, then.

Posted by Alan at 21:45 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 2 June 2006
No Entry Today
Topic: Announcements

No Entry Today

The Just Above Sunset computer is still in the shop, and the editor a hundred miles south of Hollywood and Sunset Boulevard, working on a borrowed computer in Carlsbad, just up the coast from San Diego. Commentary was difficult under the circumstances. Today was a day for photography, some of which you can see here - odd stuff, and what you always thought Southern California was really like.

Late in the day a family member purchased a shiny new laptop computer to be the new Just Above Sunset system. So Saturday June 3 it's back to Hollywood to fire it up, load software and resume posting. The weekly and the two web logs will then return to their normal schedule. When the repairs on the original server are complete the Just Above Sunset sites will publish the backlog of new photographs stored there, along with new commentary. Additionally, the new laptop will then allow posting from the road, in particular, from Manhattan in early summer and, if possible, one day from Paris. Perhaps. It's been a few years since the last Paris trip.

Posted by Alan at 23:05 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Thursday, 1 June 2006
June Gloom: The National Dialog as the Month Begins
Topic: Couldn't be so...

June Gloom: The National Dialog as the Month Begins

As June begins, notes on a borrowed computer from exile in Carlsbad, California, on the Pacific just north of San Diego -

The national dialog? As far as you could tell from the buzz on the wires and on the net, June opened with a "so what" bombshell. The heads-up came in an email from Douglas Yates, sometime contributor to the pages, who blasted the news down from where he follows things up there in Alaska. The younger Kennedy, the environmentalist from out this way - Santa Monica at the moment - had the cover story for the new Rolling Stone, an exposé of sorts. The 2004 presidential election was stolen. Specifically, it was stolen in Ohio.

It had been said before. It had been dismissed before. But this was all the various suspicious stuff gathered in one place and examined in detail, and somewhat systematically. Names, dates and places were provided.

And it was in a national magazine, not in the mimeographed notes of some obscure West Virginia tin-foil hat group. And it was from a Kennedy, one whose grandfather Joe knew a few things about manipulating the outcome of elections - the elder Daley in Chicago was always helpful, but why cheat when you can buy what you want?

The buzz was good for maybe twelve hours, but this one didn't have legs. If it were true, it's a little late now to do anything about it. So what? What are you going to do, cancel the last three years and call for a do-over? The right denounced the whole as a smear job - more irrational Bush hating, and sour grapes from poor losers - instead of what would have been really refreshing, someone on the right saying that, yes, it was true, all of it, and proves Republicans have what it takes to get things done, as they are the manly men who know how to bypass the silly rules for the greater good. That may have been said somewhere, but it wasn't on the wires or any of the commentary site son the web. Rats. That would have been fun.

Comment on the left was sparse. What did it matter? The question is now something more important - what about the midterm elections and the 2008 presidential election? Outrage at this is a waste of time.

The item, if you are one of those who enjoys pointless outrage, is here, with this at its core -
Republicans derided anyone who expressed doubts about Bush's victory as nut cases in "tinfoil hats," while the national media, with few exceptions, did little to question the validity of the election. The Washington Post immediately dismissed allegations of fraud as "conspiracy theories," and The New York Times declared that "there is no evidence of vote theft or errors on a large scale."

But despite the media blackout, indications continued to emerge that something deeply troubling had taken place in 2004. Nearly half of the 6 million American voters living abroad never received their ballots - or received them too late to vote - after the Pentagon unaccountably shut down a state-of-the-art Web site used to file overseas registrations. A consulting firm called Sproul & Associates, which was hired by the Republican National Committee to register voters in six battleground states, was discovered shredding Democratic registrations. In New Mexico, which was decided by 5,988 votes, malfunctioning machines mysteriously failed to properly register a presidential vote on more than 20,000 ballots. Nationwide, according to the federal commission charged with implementing election reforms, as many as 1 million ballots were spoiled by faulty voting equipment - roughly one for every 100 cast.

The reports were especially disturbing in Ohio, the critical battleground state that clinched Bush's victory in the Electoral College. Officials there purged tens of thousands of eligible voters from the rolls, neglected to process registration cards generated by Democratic voter drives, shortchanged Democratic precincts when they allocated voting machines and illegally derailed a recount that could have given Kerry the presidency. A precinct in an evangelical church in Miami County recorded an impossibly high turnout of ninety-eight percent, while a polling place in inner city Cleveland recorded an equally impossible turnout of only seven percent. In Warren County, GOP election officials even invented a nonexistent terrorist threat to bar the media from monitoring the official vote count
And what follows is pretty convincing. We was had. There's good documentation. But we don't get our money back, as this is not a money thing. And there's no mechanism to get our country back, and the last three years. Move on.

In this Kennedy's Santa Monica, lefty Digby of Hullabaloo here reminds us of how things are done on country north, citing Robert Cringely on Canada's low-tech system -
Forget touch screens and electronic voting. In Canadian Federal elections, two barely-paid representatives of each party, known as "scrutineers," are present all day at the voting place. If there are more political parties, there are more scrutineers. To vote, you write an "X" with a pencil in a one centimeter circle beside the candidate's name, fold the ballot up and stuff it into a box. Later, the scrutineers AND ANY VOTER WHO WANTS TO WATCH all sit at a table for about half an hour and count every ballot, keeping a tally for each candidate. If the counts agree at the end of the process, the results are phoned-in and everyone goes home. If they don't, you do it again. Fairness is achieved by balanced self-interest, not by technology. The population of Canada is about the same as California, so the elections are of comparable scale. In the last Canadian Federal election the entire vote was counted in four hours. Why does it take us 30 days or more?

The 2002-2003 budget for Elections Canada is just over $57 million U.S. dollars, or $1.81 per Canadian citizen. It is extremely hard to get an equivalent per-citizen figure for U.S. elections, but trust me, it is a LOT higher. This week [December 11, 2003], San Francisco held a runoff mayoral election that cost $2.5 million, or $3.27 per citizen of the city. And this was for just one election, not a whole year of them.

We are spending $3.9 billion or $10 per citizen for new voting machines. Canada just prints ballots.

No voting system is perfect. Elections have been stolen and voters disenfranchised with paper ballots, too. But our approach of throwing technology at a problem with a result that election reliability is not improved, that it may well be compromised in new and even scarier ways, and that this all costs billions that could be put to better use makes no sense at all.
Paper? How quaint, much like the Geneva Conventions. And they have curling too. Our Canadian readers have, however, have pointed out it works just fine.

But even Canada can't always be quaint, as noted here -
A 2000 year-end report from Global Election Systems (now owned by US company Diebold and called Diebold Election Systems) states "Global reports add-on sales of 60 AccuVote systems to the City of Ottawa and 70 to the City of Hamilton as well as first-time sales of 60 AccuVote-TS systems to the City of Barrie".
Even boring Barrie? Say it's not so.

But it is.

The Kennedy item sank, but such things in a national magazine do raise awareness a bit. We may never go to a paper system, but deep skepticism and open eyes can be useful. Election reform may be impossible, and the use of electronic machines inevitable, but we will have more scrutineers, just to the official Canadian sort. So the item did some good.

The items that didn't sink was Haditha, the shootings of as many as two dozen civilians in the western Iraqi city of Haditha. It was all over. The story would not fade, but unrelated to the shootings of as many as two dozen civilians in the western Iraqi city of Haditha, there was this -
Military prosecutors plan to file murder, kidnapping and conspiracy charges against seven Marines and a Navy corpsman in the shooting death of an Iraqi civilian in April, a defense lawyer said Thursday.

The eight men are being held in the brig at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base north of San Diego, said Jeremiah Sullivan III, who represents one of the men.

... The highest-ranking serviceman is a staff sergeant.

Sullivan said he learned from Marine Corps attorneys that the charges have been drafted and official charging documents could be given to the men as early as Friday.
Camp Pendleton, by the way, is just north of Carlsbad. And this is not good. The same Marine unit.

In response to Haditha it seems all one hundred fifty thousand of our military in Iraq will now get ethics training (story here) - PowerPoint slides, role-playing exercises and all the rest. It seems a bit absurd, but the former Major General who commanded the famous 1st infantry there, Big Red, General Bastide, was on MSNBC's Countdown June 1 (no link available yet), saying that yes, they already knew the rules, but this is what you do, just like you make everyone sit through safety training one more time after a safety screw-up. No big deal, and actually a smart move. Then he went off on what the real problem was, and, as he was one of the generals calling for Rumsfeld to be replaced, he was suggesting this was a problem that wasn't really at the low level, it was the Secretary of Defense, trying to run a war on the cheap, listening to no one, not planning for what would logically follow the fall of the enemy, making the leaders on the ground manage scarcity and just shut up or lose their careers, and so on and so forth. He was basically saying this is what you get when your forces are stretched to the breaking point, guys are kept there under stop-loss orders and in their third or forth deployment and the word form the top is shut up and don't ask about the rules, because they're not that important these days (until you break them and someone took pictures). He was more than unhappy. His claim was this goes to the top. But then, he's not running things, is he?

While the general was unloading all that from Rochester, New York for the host in the MSNBC studios in Secaucus, and for whoever watches MSNBC and not Bill O'Reilly doing his show at the same time from across the river in Manhattan, there was other news hitting the wire. At our prison at the far end of Cuba, the number of prisoners on hunger strike jumped from seventy-five to eighty-nine (story here) - something to do with their being unhappy about being held without charges and without any way to contest their detention for four years now, and with the alleged abuse and torture, and all the rest. But since they were not fighting for a country, in uniform, the Geneva stuff doesn't apply, we say, and they don't have the rights they would have if they were held in our territory, as they are being held in Cuba, as we point out to our courts and all those groups who cite international law. They say they weren't even fighting. But they're just out of luck. And too, another news item here announced the fellow with the dogs at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, the one in the pictures who liked to torment the naked prisoners and have the dogs chomp at them, was convicted of abusing them, although all the more serious charges like conspiracy and intentionally torturing the prisoners were dropped. He got a serious slap on the wrist for poor judgment, but it wasn't planned or anything. That won't go down in the Arab world, but it was a long time ago. And the business got stopped at a low level.

Will the Haditha business stop at a low level, no matter what General Bastide thinks? Maybe, but earlier in the day the Washington Post had reported here that the inquiry into the whole business found a whole bunch of false reports on what happened from one and two levels up, and inaction at the top levels. Not good. But the president promised everything found would be disclosed. We'll see.

As for making sense of it all, the rationalizations are well underway, as you can see here -
Our enemy targets civilians and hides behind civilians, to frame things the Western way. He regularly uses children as killers, and their families love it. It is his way of war, in which the enemy uses Islamic theology to define away the concept of innocents and civilians. This is precisely what terrorism is about, after all, and why it is so common among our enemy wherever he fights. If you haven't noticed, life is cheap to the enemy.

... Under the fourth Geneva Convention, among other agreements, the US does not target civilians. However, there is a bit of selective memory at work in such assertions. For example, such sentiments did not stop the United States from reducing much of Germany to rubble, firebombing Dresden and Tokyo, and using atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Wars are meant to be fought and won, not managed. It is about time we remembered that.

The United States needs to get real about war or get out.

... Call us stone-hearted, but the only hearts and minds we care about are those of the American soldiers and their families. By the way, we think this makes strategic sense as well. America needs to be the strong horse, to use the term of a famous man. The US stands to gain nothing - but defeat - by trying to appear more sensitive and hair-splitting than an enemy that respects only brutality, ruthlessness and raw power.

... The objective of war must be total victory, not to change somebody's mind-set. That means wiping out the enemy - whoever and wherever he is - and his capacity to make war. There is plenty of time to woo hearts and minds after the enemy has been blasted to smithereens. What the US sees as "shock and awe," the enemy sees as shuck and jive. He does not respect such surgical warfare, nor should he, in our opinion. This enemy will not stop until he feels utterly defeated, and believes that the theological underpinnings of his mission are worthless. Needless to say, half-measures and self-flagellation won't get that job done.
Yep, nothing says you're utterly defeated, and the theological underpinnings of your mission are worthless, when you see your six-year-old daughter with the side of her skull blown away and her brains sliding down the wall. It's a lesson. You're a real loser.

Ron Beasley goes the other way here -
It is becoming obvious that America's finest are in a place where they should not be.

...Yes it's over. Americans will not stand for young Americans to be serving in a place where they are driven to savagery because a majority of the population hates them. I don't know if the new Iraqi "government" has any hope of success but in order to be seen as legitimate by the Iraqi people they must tell the Americans to leave. That includes both the military and the private contractors that are doing little but robbing them blind. The best that can be hoped for in Iraq near term is a number of semi-autonomous areas policed and controlled by tribal leaders and militias. A strong central government is not in the cards. America may have broke Iraq but they can't fix it, only continue to break it even more.
Who knows what lies between those two views.

But it only gets worse. Ishaqi, not Haditha. Late on the first day of June we got this - "The BBC has uncovered new video evidence that US forces may have been responsible for the deliberate killing of 11 innocent Iraqi civilians"

The core -
The video pictures obtained by the BBC appear to contradict the US account of the events in Ishaqi, about 100km (60 miles) north of Baghdad, on 15 March 2006.

The US authorities said they were involved in a firefight after a tip-off that an al-Qaeda supporter was visiting the house.

According to the Americans, the building collapsed under heavy fire killing four people - a suspect, two women and a child.

But a report filed by Iraqi police accused US troops of rounding up and deliberately shooting 11 people in the house, including five children and four women, before blowing up the building.

The videotape obtained by the BBC shows a number of dead adults and children at the site with what our world affairs editor John Simpson says were clearly gunshot wounds.

The pictures came from a hardline Sunni group opposed to coalition forces.

It has been cross-checked with other images taken at the time of events and is believed to be genuine, the BBC's Ian Pannell in Baghdad says.
Great. Of course Knight-Ridder has reported this at the time (here, and had quoted one of our guys, one Major Time Keefe, saying it was bullshit. "We're concerned to hear accusations like that, but it's also highly unlikely that they're true." Now there the video. Not good.

And at the same time the New York Times reports here that Iraq's new prime minister demanded that American officials turn over their files on the Haditha "massacre" so that Iraq can conduct its own investigation -
The move also came as the new Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, lashed out at the American military in the harshest terms anyone in his office has so far used to condemn what he characterized as habitual atrocities against Iraqi civilians.

The American-led forces "do not respect the Iraqi people; they crush them by vehicles and kill them by suspicion," Mr. Maliki said. "This is extremely unacceptable."
It's a mess.

But we should stop talking about it, to avoid a civil war over here, as Peter Ingemi seems to say here -
There is one aspect about Haditha that seems to be ignored by everybody.

Our press and the anti-American left both in this country and outside of it has been reporting "Hadithas" over and over again over the last three years.

Time and time again our friends have accused us of every possible atrocity that there is to the point that internationally people are already able to believe this or the 9/11 stuff or all the rest.

Because of this, internationally it is totally irrelevant if the Marines actually violated the rules of war. Our foes are going to say that we've done things if we do them or not, so the only people that it really matters to will be; the people killed (and family) and the people in our own country who support the military.

The real danger is that we who support the war will reach the point that we say "we might as well be taken as wolves then as sheep". At that point the left can celebrate that they have made our military and those who support it the people they claim we are. Once that happens however any compunction about respecting them will be gone, and remember one side is armed and one is not.

That is a fate that I don't wish on any of us.
Now there's warning. Don't piss off the pro-war folks by talking about this. They have guns. You don't.


But the misspelled Iraq, Iran, was also in the news, and there was some progress there - "Six world powers agreed Thursday to offer Iran a new choice of rewards if it gives up suspect nuclear activities or punishment if it refuses, a gambit that could either defuse a global confrontation with the Islamic regime or hasten one."

That's progress? Roll the dice and see if they cave, or dare all six nations to do what they will, and then at best oil spikes and economies crash, and we invade, with or without anyone's help. Or we bomb them back to the 1920's with a nuke or two.

Well, at least the US is part of the talks now, which is a big switch. We will agree to talk with them if the stop all nuclear research and anything like it, and then we'll talk about with them about how they should stop all nuclear research and anything like it. Hell of a way to negotiate. Concede your main position and then we'll talk with you about it - otherwise we won't talk, and you'll be very, very sorry. Huh?

Who thought up that? David Sanger explains here -
Few of his aides expect that Iran's leaders will meet Mr. Bush's main condition: that Iran first re-suspend all of its nuclear activities, including shutting down every centrifuge that could add to its small stockpile of enriched uranium... And while the Europeans and the Japanese said they were elated by Mr. Bush's turnaround, some participants in the drawn-out nuclear drama questioned whether this was an offer intended to fail, devised to show the extent of Iran's intransigence.

... "Cheney was dead set against it," said one former official. But three officials who were involved in the most recent iteration of that debate said Mr. Cheney and others stepped aside - perhaps because they read Mr. Bush's body language, or perhaps because they believed Iran would scuttle the effort.

... In the end, said one former official who has kept close tabs on the debate, "it came down to convincing Cheney and others that if we are going to confront Iran, we first have to check off the box" of trying talks.
It's bullshit, or a little meaningless dance. We're bombing, and we may go in a take over the place. And the tune is the same old tune. But the theatrics are impressive.

How'd we get to this place?

Andrew Sullivan is perplexed here -
It has been there from the start and it still, frankly, confounds me. We were told by the president that the Iraq war was the critical battle in the war on terror, an effort of enormous stakes that we couldn't possibly lose. And then he went to war with half the troops necessary to win, with no plan for the aftermath, and refused to budge even when this became obvious to anyone with eyes and a brain. He says there is no greater friend or supporter of the troops, yet he sent them to do an impossible task, with insufficient numbers or support or even armor to accomplish the job. He said we face the equivalent of the Third World War and yet he has done nothing to increase the size of the military to meet the task. He said the invasion was to advance the principles of freedom and democracy, and yet he immediately abandoned those principles in our detention policy and has done more damage to the moral standing of the United States than anyone since the Vietnam War. He says he wants to build democracy, and yet he has gutted reconstruction funds, and withdrawn support for building democratic institutions. He said he will keep troops there until the job is done, and yet sustains a policy to draw down the troops as soon as possible.

There has always been a military solution to Iraq. There still is, as Fred Kagan recently showed in a long article in the Weekly Standard. It just required resources to achieve it, to pacify a post-totalitarian society, provide order and the context in which politics can happen. The American public would have approved the resources necessary, and made sacrifices if asked. And yet Bush has deliberately and by conscious choice allowed anarchy and terror to decimate Iraqi civil society. None of this helps the war; and none of it helps him. There are many times when I am simply baffled by the whole farce. Is he this stupid? Is he this blind? Or was this never a serious venture? Did Cheney and Rumsfeld never want to build a democracy in Iraq, just reduce it to rubble and chaos, while ensuring that Saddam could get no WMDs? Even now, I have no idea. But something here doesn't add up. Incompetence doesn't quite capture the enormity of the failure or the incoherence of the project. And so we stagger on, desperate for hope, but forced to confront the worst-managed war since Vietnam. Except the stakes are far, far higher than Vietnam. And the consequences of failure close to existential. I know that in part because Bush keeps telling us. Is he lying? Or is he just drowning in a job that he is simply unable to do?
One of his readers responds here -
Just to join the thousands who have tried to psychoanalyze this president:

I think what you have is a man of fundamentally weak character. I mean, we're talking about someone who is essentially afraid of the Washington press corps. Ponder that for a moment and imagine how Al Qaeda must make him feel.

He managed, in the wake of 9/11, to muster just enough fortitude to mount some kind of a response, but, in retrospect, there was never any indication even at the very beginning that he had anything like the stomach that would be required to see it through.

That process would have required literally hundreds of gut-wrenching decisions made under the most extreme pressure. And the clear majority of them would have needed to be wise. Although many of us fervently wished otherwise, it is now abundantly clear that this president has never possessed any of the qualities required to beat this enemy - a fact the enemy surely has not missed.

Thus we are caught in the worst of all possible quandaries. We're governed by a man who had just enough will to start a war but has nothing like the brains or guts required to wage it successfully. And the "opposition" - whether in his own party or the other one - doesn't want to wage it at all.
Another says this -
If you look at every single aspect of his presidency, Bush has never been serious, never asked for sacrifice (only demanded sacrifice from those unable to say no or even complain - our military). Massive tax cuts with no way whatsoever to pay for them. National security with virtually open borders and minimal port security. Disaster preparation run by a crony whose chief qualification had been managing a horse association.

So you're surprised that he launches a military campaign that ignores the best advice of his top generals? Why?
Sullivan - "Maybe I should drop the attempt to psychoanalyze the guy and accept that he's simply reckless by nature, and has never had to face the true consequences of his own actions in his entire life. Why would he start now?"

Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly here -
... it's not just the Iraq war and it's not just Bush. It's the entire Republican leadership. For example, they claim to be worried about nuclear terrorism, but they pay virtually no serious attention to counterproliferation issues and have routinely opposed proposals for tighter port security.

They claim to be concerned about the future financial impact of Social Security deficits, but for short-term electoral reasons they have blithely passed tax cuts and a Medicare prescription bill that do far more damage to our future finances than Social Security ever will.

They claim that democracy promotion is the cornerstone of their foreign policy, but they've budgeted only a pittance for programs that might genuinely encourage democracy, and have applied serious public pressure only to regimes that are already administration bête-noirs for other reasons.

I could go on, but I'll spare you. The obvious conclusion is that they didn't think Iraq was the central front on the war on terror back in 2002. They don't think nuclear terrorism is really that big a deal. They aren't worried about long term finances. And they don't really care very much about democracy promotion. They just say these things because they're convenient.

It's this simple: these guys say a lot of stuff they don't believe. Their words are largely meaningless. There's no paradox, and there's really not much point in trying to make it more complicated.
It seems Ohio mattered.

Posted by Alan at 23:26 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 1 June 2006 23:27 PDT home

Wednesday, 31 May 2006
System Failure
Topic: Announcements

Offline: System Failure

Mid-afternoon on Wednesday, May 31, 2006, the computer used to create the weekly, Just Above Sunset, and this daily web log, and the daily photography site, failed. The system is now in the shop of the people who built the whole thing, over in Westwood. If all goes well they should have everything all straightened out by June 5 or so, and the more than three years of archives and the massive collection of web photographs and master photos will still be there.

While the system is being repaired, operations have been moved from Hollywood to Carlsbad, California, on the Pacific just north of San Diego. Postings to the web logs will resume soon, but the weekly site may not publish this Sunday. It's a matter of installing some special software and that sort of thing.

Visit again in twelve hours. Some new material should be here by then.

Posted by Alan at 21:37 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Tuesday, 30 May 2006
Looking at Things Logically on a Slow News Day
Topic: In these times...

Looking at Things Logically on a Slow News Day

A note on Tuesday, May 30, 2006 - the day after Memorial Day.

The day before brought us the usual carnage in Baghdad, forty killed, one more soldier, and with a twist, two CBS journalists and a key CBS reporter near death. The next day she the was off to Germany for treatment there, the shrapnel in her head carefully removed but major problems with her lower extremities - critical condition, but stable. Tuesday brought much more death in Baghdad, but this time just the locals, with fifty-seven blown up dead, not Monday's forty. Curiously, it was the one year anniversary of the Vice President saying the insurgency was in its "last throes" (short discussion here, if it matters). There were the Monday riots in Kabul too, as the latent anti-American resentment finally burst open. The capital city of our key regional ally, Afghanistan, was still locked down Tuesday. The new details Monday about reports that Marines killed two dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, last November in Haditha, were still in the news Tuesday, but there was no new news - the evidence mounts that it did happen, and now we have two investigations, one of the incident and one of a possible official cover-up, and congress wants their own investigation. Maybe the new news was that now the brand new president of Iraq isn't too pleased - "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki broke his public silence Tuesday on the alleged killing of about 24 civilians by U.S. Marines, saying such deaths were never justified, even in the fight against terrorists." They want to investigate? Not good.

What happened Monday was Tuesday's news. But then Tuesday we did get a new Treasury Secretary, the former CEO of Goldman-Sachs, an environmentalist who likes the Kyoto Treaty. What? Daniel Gross covers that well here - either it's big news, or the cabinet officers have been so neutered that it's kind of an honorary thing with no real power of any sort - you get a nice office and great stationary. The latter seems likely - quick, name the current Secretary of Commerce and what dynamic thing he (or she) has done or said Yawn.

But the war stories grind on. And no one was happy.

In the Financial Times of London (UK), there was Neo-Cons Question Bush's Democratization Strategy, where we get this -
President George W. Bush has likened the "war on terrorism" to the cold war against communism.

Addressing military cadets graduating from West Point, Mr Bush reaffirmed at the weekend that the US "will not rest until the promise of liberty reaches every people in every nation".

But as the US struggles to assert itself on the international stage, the president's most radical supporters now dismiss this as mere rhetoric, and traditional conservatives are questioning the wisdom of a democratisation [sic] strategy that has brought unpleasant consequences in the Middle East.

Administration officials speak privately of a sense of fatigue over the worsening crisis in Iraq that has drained energy from other important policy issues. Senior officials are leaving - not so unusual in a second term, but still giving the sense of a sinking ship run in some quarters by relatively inexperienced crew.

Neo-conservative commentators at the American Enterprise Institute wrote last week what amounted to an obituary of the Bush freedom doctrine.
And it goes on to explain. This is not working. And it was their idea.

Christy Hardin Smith is not so kind here -
Only George Bush could take a country run by a violent dictator, where the people were oppressed and murdered and terrorized by secret police and tortured for disagreeing with the government... and turn it into an even less stable country where people are murdered and tortured and kidnapped and killed in cold blood and worse, inflaming sectarian and tribal rivalries and raising the bar on the fight to control Iraq's valuable oil reserves, as armed militias for each faction fight amongst themselves and US troops for control.

It's the Katrina piss poor response writ large in the Middle East, and we are spiraling toward a civil war of our own making in Iraq with no end in sight for our troops if we keep going the way things are.

All because this President chose to fight a preemptive war of his own making, based on ginned up false reasons that were sold to the public with the threat of a looming mushroom cloud hanging in the air - a threat that the President either knew or should have known was altogether false, had he bothered to listen to someone outside his circle of crony yes men.
Smith then links to the New York Times item here, just a little note that General Casey is taking the troops currently staged in Kuwait, one brigade, and moving them into Iraq's Anbar province in the west - it's just gotten too hot and hostile there. As Smith says - "You know, because the Iraqi government is so stable and the Iraqi troops are standing up so much so that we can stand down and... oh, hell...."

The Times -
One senior American commander said recently that military officials still remain hopeful that they can reduce the troop presence in Iraq by 25 percent by the end of the year, but he admitted that there was no timetable and much of that hope rests on the performance of the fledgling Iraqi government in coming months.

How much the decision to deploy the entire reserve brigade from Kuwait will increase the total number of American troops in Iraq and for how long was unclear. Nor is it clear how the additional troops will be employed as commanders seek to quell the violence in Anbar in coming months.

One official said the additional troops would be deployed to "fill in the gaps" that now exist and that will get worse when the Pennsylvania Guard unit pulls out.

The top commander in the province, Gen. Richard Zilmer of the Marines, said in an interview last month that a large-scale assault on insurgents in Ramadi, similar to block-by-block fighting by the Marines in nearby Falluja in 2004, was not under consideration. Instead, he said, the Marines expect more targeted actions against insurgents in the city.
No one is coming home soon. The Washington Post covers it is slightly different detail here. What did Cheney say a year ago?

Smith adds this -
The US launched a previous offensive in March of 2006 to clear out the insurgents in the region - but clearly we were only playing whack-a-mole with too few troops to ever do much more than chase them out of one town and into another. We don't have the force levels to hold any area once we've cleared it of insurgents, let alone be able to cover the borders, and our troops end up fighting the same battles over and over like some nightmare version of Groundhog Day where they risk life and limb in a failed policy of war on the cheap.

And the Iraqis themselves are staring into a long abyss of civil war at the moment, with a government which still has not filled some essential positions, where factional infighting has been the norm even in the "halls of power," and has been greeted with skepticism among the rest of the Arab world.
Groundhog Day? That's this movie, but this isn't Punxsutawney.

Congressman Murtha is from just southwest of Punxsutawney, and last November he said this -
The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. The American public is way ahead of us. The United States and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq, but it is time for a change in direction. Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk.
We cannot continue on the present course. It is evident that continued military action is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf Region.

General Casey said in a September 2005 hearing, 'the perception of occupation in Iraq is a major driving force behind the insurgency.' General Abizaid said on the same date, "Reducing the size and visibility of the coalition forces in Iraq is part of our counterinsurgency strategy."

For two and a half years, I have been concerned about the U.S. policy and the plan in Iraq. I have addressed my concerns with the Administration and the Pentagon and have spoken out in public about my concerns. The main reason for going to war has been discredited. A few days before the start of the war I was in Kuwait - the military drew a red line around Baghdad and said when U.S. forces cross that line they will be attacked by the Iraqis with Weapons of Mass Destruction - but the US forces said they were prepared. They had well trained forces with the appropriate protective gear.

We spend more money on Intelligence that all the countries in the world together, and more on Intelligence than most countries GDP. But the intelligence concerning Iraq was wrong. It is not a world intelligence failure. It is a U.S. intelligence failure and the way that intelligence was misused.

I have been visiting our wounded troops at Bethesda and Walter Reed hospitals almost every week since the beginning of the War. And what demoralizes them is going to war with not enough troops and equipment to make the transition to peace; the devastation caused by IEDs; being deployed to Iraq when their homes have been ravaged by hurricanes; being on their second or third deployment and leaving their families behind without a network of support.

The threat posed by terrorism is real, but we have other threats that cannot be ignored. We must be prepared to face all threats. The future of our military is at risk. Our military and their families are stretched thin. Many say that the Army is broken. Some of our troops are on their third deployment. Recruitment is down, even as our military has lowered its standards. Defense budgets are being cut. Personnel costs are skyrocketing, particularly in health care. Choices will have to be made. We cannot allow promises we have made to our military families in terms of service benefits, in terms of their health care, to be negotiated away. Procurement programs that ensure our military dominance cannot be negotiated away. We must be prepared. The war in Iraq has caused huge shortfalls at our bases in the U.S.

Much of our ground transportation is worn out and in need of either serous overhaul or replacement. George Washington said, "To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace." We must rebuild our Army. Our deficit is growing out of control. The Director of the Congressional Budget Office recently admitted to being "terrified" about the budget deficit in the coming decades. This is the first prolonged war we have fought with three years of tax cuts, without full mobilization of American industry and without a draft. The burden of this war has not been shared equally; the military and their families are shouldering this burden.

Our military has been fighting a war in Iraq for over two and a half years. Our military has accomplished its mission and done its duty. Our military captured Saddam Hussein, and captured or killed his closest associates. But the war continues to intensify. Deaths and injuries are growing, with over 2,079 confirmed American deaths. Over 15,500 have been seriously injured and it is estimated that over 50,000 will suffer from battle fatigue. There have been reports of at least 30,000 Iraqi civilian deaths.

I just recently visited Anbar Province Iraq in order to assess the condition on the ground. Last May 2005, as part of the Emergency Supplemental Spending Bill, the House included to Moran Amendment, which was accepted in Conference, and which required the Secretary of Defense to submit quarterly reports to Congress in order to more accurately measure stability and security in Iraq. We have not received two reports. I am disturbed by the findings in key indicator areas. Oil production and energy production are below pre-war levels. Our reconstruction efforts have been crippled by security situation. Only $9 billion of the $18 billion appropriated for reconstruction has been spent. Unemployment remains at about 60 percent. Clean water is scarce. Only $500 million of the $2.2 billion appropriated for water projects have been spent. And most importantly, insurgent incidents have increased from about 150 per week to over 700 in the last year. Instead of attacks going down over time and with the addition of more troops, attacks have grown dramatically. Since the revelations at Abu Ghraib, American causalities have doubled. An annual State Department report in 2004 indicated a sharp increase in global terrorism.

I said over a year ago, and now the military and the Administration agrees, Iraq can not be won 'militarily.' I said two years ago, the key to progress in Iraq is to Iraqitize, Internationalize and Energize. I believe the same today. But I have concluded that the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is impeding this progress.

Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. They are untied against U.S. forces and we have become a catalyst for violence. U.S. troops are the common enemy of the Sunnis, Saddamists and foreign jihadists. I believe with a U.S. troop redeployment, the Iraq security forces will be incentivized to take control. A poll recently conducted shows that over 80% of Iraqis are strongly opposed to the presence of coalition troops, about 45% of the Iraqi population believe attacks against American troops are justified. I believe we need to turn Iraq over to the Iraqis. I believe before the Iraqi elections, scheduled for mid December, the Iraqi people and the emerging government must be put on notice that the United States will immediately redeploy. All of Iraq must know that Iraq is free. Free from United Stated occupation. I believe this will send a signal to the Sunnis to join the political process for the good of a "free" Iraq.
Anbar. Same thing. Groundhog Day. But that woman from Cincinnati said Murtha was a coward.

Ah well. Another Memorial Day. We fight on. There's the global war on terror, of course. GWOT.

How about some logic on that from Digby at Hullabaloo, who offers this -
But then it isn't really fair to deride it as a "war on terror," is it? That's just the shortcut phrase. The real term is "war on terrorism" which makes just as little sense but in a different way. Terrorism is a method of warfare - a specific type of cheap and dirty violence which is not eradicatable, certainly not eradicatable by force. It is special only in the sense that it makes no distinctions between civilians and warriors. (And if you could eliminate a particularly harsh and inhumane method of warfare, it would certainly make no sense at all to try to do it by throwing aside all civilized norms and engaging in even more odious taboos like torture.)

When you think about it, a "war on terrorism" is actually a "war on warfare" which kind of brings the whole damned thing home, doesn't it? All warfare is terrifying. Metaphorically, a war on warfare is a nice concept. I can picture some lovely bumper stickers and t-shirts along the lines of "War is not healthy for children and other living things." "Let's declare war on warfare" expresses a rather basic premise that war is a bad thing. (Somehow, I don't think that's what the architects of the GWOT had in mind.)

A war on warfare is entirely absurd, however, in a literal sense. Using war to eradicate terror or terrorism is an oxymoron. And yet the nation has been drunkenly behaving as if it is a real war, spending the money, deploying the troops, inflicting the violence.

Setting Iraq aside, which was a simple imperialist invasion with no ties to this threat of terrorism, we are dealing with a "war" against certain stateless people who are loosely affiliated with Muslim extremism but could just as easily be nationalists or Christian fanatics or even environmentalists, as our justice department has recently decreed. Make no mistake: the GWOT is not a simple shorthand for fighting the "islamofascists." Islamic extremism is an ideology centered in a religion and it has no "place" - it is not a nation or even a people. Warfare as it has been understood for millennia will not "beat" it. The GWOT masterminds knew this which is why the phrase War on Terrorism was coined: it represents a permanent state of war, which is something else entirely.

This is the problem. This elastic war, this war against warfare, this war with no specific enemy against no specific country is never going to end. It cannot end because there is no end. If the threat of "islamofascim" disappears tomorrow there will be someone else who hates us and who is willing to use individual acts of violence to get what they want. There always have been and there always will be. Which means that we will always be at war with Oceania.

I am not sanguine that we can put this genie back in the bottle. The right will go crazy at the prospect that someone might question whether we are really "at war." They are so emotionally invested in the idea that they cannot give it up. Indeed, the right is defined by its relationship to the boogeyman, whether communism or terrorism or some other kind of ism (negroism? immigrantism?) they will fight very, very hard to keep this construct going in the most literal sense. And they will probably win in the short term.

But it is long past time for people to start the public counter argument, which has the benefit of appealing to common sense. Many Americans are emerging from the relentless hail of propaganda that overtook the nation after the traumatic events of 9/11. Iraq confused people for a while, but that confusion is leaving in its wake a rather startling clarity: the "war" as the government defines it is bullshit. It will take a while for this common sense to become conventional wisdom, but it certainly won't happen if nobody is willing to say it out loud.

... But there is no war on terrorism. The nation is less secure because of this false construct. We are spending money we need not spend, making enemies we need not make and wasting lives we need not waste in the name of something that doesn't exist. That is as politically incorrect a statement as can be made in America today. But it's true.
The logic is clear. And it hurts. Drat that common sense.

And as for Memorial Day and all it's about, and if you've actually been to Punxsutawney (some of us have) see Garrison Keillor here -
Memorial Day is a fading holiday, destined to go the way of the Glorious Fourth and Labor Day, which once had ceremonial functions and now are simply bonus Saturdays. It was a small-town institution and a matter of community pride to honor our dead. The citizenry hiked up to the cemetery on Monday morning behind the VFW honor guard and listened to a speech and sang "America the Beautiful" and stood for a rifle salute and "Taps," and then walked quietly home. It's easier to organize this sort of thing in a town of 2,000 than in a city of a million, so it has faded, a victim of urbanization. And also because the speeches were not so good. And because we are young restless people, not old weepy people.

Americans aren't good at memorials. In the wake of President Kennedy's death, his name was attached to many things, including Idlewild Airport in New York and Cape Canaveral in Florida, but naming things isn't the same as remembering. The memorial airport - Kennedy, LaGuardia, Reagan, George Bush, John Wayne, Gen. Edward Logan, Gen. Billy Mitchell - is an odd notion. Airports are beehives. You get your ticket, go through security, get coffee, go to the gate, wait, board, and at what point do you stop to consider the World War II heroism of Navy flier Butch O'Hare?

Likewise, the memorial freeway. A freeway is a strip of pockmarked concrete on which the uglier aspects of human nature are played out every day. You would not want the name of anyone you care for put on such a place.

A memorial is where the memory of a person is made manifest, such as Emily Dickinson's quiet house and garden in Amherst, or the restored Lincoln neighborhood in Springfield, or Hyde Park. Or the Civil War battlefields, which are faithfully maintained and staffed with knowledgeable guides. A three-hour visit can transport you back to 1863. The National Bohemian Historic Sites of Greenwich Village and San Francisco are there to be seen, the ghosts of e. e. cummings and Edna St. Vincent Millay and Allen Ginsberg and Jerry Garcia. William Faulkner's house in Oxford, Miss. The list goes on.

But why the enormous lump that is Grant's Tomb? And Mount Rushmore? After you've driven the length of South Dakota, four faces carved from rock is not the thrill it ought to be. Add Ronald Reagan's face to it, grinning and winking, and liven up the place.
We've lost perspective, and common sense. We are young restless people, not old weepy people, but we're not dumb, or at least no so dumb now. Time to fix things, not rename them, and not call each other names.

Posted by Alan at 22:31 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 31 May 2006 08:05 PDT home

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