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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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Sunday, 4 June 2006
Topic: Couldn't be so...


It seems there will be no Just Above Sunset this weekend, as the fancy magazine-format weekly site with all the photographs will have to be put on hold until the main computer is repaired. Posting will be at this site, and at Just Above Sunset Photography, until the wizards in Westwood do their magic. So it will be working from the new laptop, or notebook, as they seem to be called now, purchased Friday night, and working without all the utility files and reference material locked on the old system, and without all the archives and photographs. Ah well.

The weekend was devoted to setting up the new laptop and loading software and testing, but now that all that is pretty much complete, Sunday night, June 4, seemed a good time to turn back to what's going on in the much larger world, and in the ongoing national dialog about what to make of it all, and perhaps, what to do about it all, although no one really has any new ideas, and the old ideas aren't exactly working.

The weekend concluded with the usual chaos in Iraq, with the big occurrence Sunday being this - gunmen dragging twenty passengers off a mini-bus or two an executing them on the spot, including a bunch of kids, students on their way to take their final exams. They had the wrong sort of names. You can tell the Sunni from the Shiite folks that way. Some places it's not wise to be named Omar. Other places it's just the thing. Getting around safely now takes several sets of documents, and knowing which documents to use at which checkpoint maintained by which quasi-governmental troops in uniform, or by which freelance militia in black with hoods.

Some might miss the brutal clarity of the days of Saddam Hussein, where if you weren't a Sunni, with the appropriate first name, you knew you were in trouble. The new ambiguity makes this all more than a bit dicey, but is what you get with an almost-formed unity government, one that some day, theoretically, will protect the rights of all. Now? Each and every side has its death squads. In the theoretical, the Iraqi army, led by the Minister of Defense, would be there to keep things clear - no sectarian civil war, please. And in the theoretical, the police, led by the Minister of the Interior, with twenty dead bodies showing up here and there each day, with signs of torture, or just the heads showing up, would put an end to the tit-for-tat revenge killings. Police are there to stop such nonsense.

Sunday was to have been the big day. The new prime minister had said he would announce just who would be the new Minister of Defense and the new Minister of the Interior, and these would be fair people, not Shiite guys answering to Iran next door, nor unyielding Sunnis like the Sunni Saddam and his sons and buddies. Cool.

But it wasn't to be, as noted late Sunday here -
The Iraqi parliament postponed its Sunday session after the main political blocs failed to agree on candidates for key security posts, the deputy speaker said, as violence surged in the country.

The decision came despite urgent last-minute efforts by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad to reach agreement from Iraq's fractious ethnic and sectarian groups on who will head the Defense and Interior ministries.

To break the deadlock, Al-Maliki had promised to present candidates Sunday and let the 275-member parliament decide, but Deputy Speaker Khalid al-Atiya said legislators needed more time. Al-Atiya, a Shiite, said that due to the large number of candidates and the inability to reach any agreement, the political parties decided "to give the prime minister another chance to have more negotiations."
Our new ambassador and the prime minister couldn't pull that off. Not good. Things won't get better for a bit longer, or maybe a lot longer. Now what?

So how did things come to such a pass? Responsibility point one - should those who argued long and hard that we should invade Iraq and remove the government there, and won the argument, be held responsible for the mess there now? Give them a pass on the weapons of mass destruction thing - everyone makes mistakes - and a pass on the ties between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, as that was what they really did think, even if that Osama fellow had spent many years denouncing Saddam Hussein as an enemy if true Islam. He might have been kidding, after all. You never know. But the war is in its fourth year, and there is more than a bit of chaos there even now, and, after three elections, no unity government. Could these difficulties have been anticipated?

Of course the plan was to have the Iraqi-American Chalabi run the joint - we'd be out in six months. But no one there liked him, and in all the voting there he never got enough votes for even one seat in the new parliament, much less enough votes to form a government. He had that PhD in math for the University of Chicago where he knew both Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, and we paid his band of exiles loads of money for intelligence about the situation on the ground there - the weapons programs and who was important and who not - and Dick Cheney said he was Iraq's true George Washington and all.

So that didn't work out. But there was no Plan B, as that would have been such a negative thing to develop - it would mean you might be wrong. Do we fault the architects of the war for being optimistic? We like that trait, don't we? No ones like a nay-saying defeatist always whining about this or that, of course.

But when we are told not to worry, that "things will be just fine" and to see the wonderful possibilities, and then the result is a mess, do we say, optimism aside (it's a fine thing, generally), that those in charge of what our government does may have incredibly poor judgment? That's not to say those who lead should not be optimistic. It's only to say they should look at all the facts and think things through, and maybe have a contingency plan or two up their sleeves. "But it might have worked" is historically interesting, a curious argument that can be discussed in the hypothetical. The people dying now, every day, and our more than twenty-five hundred dead and tens of thousands maimed, aren't historically interesting - that's a problem now. We removed a brutal dictator, a truly awful man, and in his place said "try democracy" - but assume it would be relatively easy to get going and we could leave as heroes. Shouldn't someone have thought about a few "what if" scenarios, considering the history of the place and who there really knew and liked the University of Chicago PhD fellow? It would have been the responsible thing to do. But then, there is this tension between being responsible and being optimistic. Some can do both - call it tempered optimism - but these guys like to keep it simple. And the president is not a curious fellow.

That lack of curiosity is dangerous. Terry Gross interviews that loser, Al Gore, on NPR's Fresh Air here -
GROSS: You got to see George W. Bush close-up when he was your opponent for the presidency. What surprises you most about how the Bush presidency has turned out?

GORE: I guess what surprises me most is his incuriosity. That's a real mystery to me because he's clearly a smart man. He has a different kind of intelligence, as everybody does. There are so many varieties of intelligence. He's clearly a smart man, but it is a puzzle that he would ask no questions about important matters. When his first secretary of the Treasury came in for their first meeting and spoke for an hour about economic policies of the new administration, he asked not a single question. When he received the briefing in August of 2001 that Osama bin Laden was planning a major attack soon, you know, on the United States, he did not ask a single question. When he was briefed several days before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the weather service people were saying it may mark a return to medieval conditions, he asked not a single question. And that same incuriosity seems to be a factor when he just accepts hook, line and sinker the ExxonMobil view that global warming is not a problem, in no way related to the massive volumes of pollution we're putting into the Earth's atmosphere every hour of every day.

When they tell him that the scientific community is wrong and that they're just lying because they're greedy for more research dollars, he doesn't apparently look under the rug. He doesn't ask questions. And in the American system, the president of the United States is the only person who is charged with representing all of the people in every state in every district and looking after the welfare of the people as a whole. And if the special interest has one view, at least you should ask questions about how the public interest is affected, and I really do not know why he is so incurious.
No one knows, and it may not matter much; that is, the "why" may not matter much. But it here's an idea - it is the leader's responsibility to be curious. Gore seems to think so. But he lost.

Ah well, we'll get right with Iran, making them give up their nuclear weapons program - through threats that won impress them (our forces are stretched a bit thin) and "incentives" they find insulting. Now they threaten a "disruption" to world's oil supply (see this), our fashionable secretary of state, the Rice woman, says it's nothing, they need the oil revenue and they won't do anything - and as the weekend ends the spot price of oil jumps way up (see this). The markets don't function on best-case optimism. Traders look at what's likely and have a Plan B, and Plans C through Z of course. But that's so negative, and ticks off the administration. Being realistic and planning for all the possibilities, not just the "best-case, seem wrong to them. To the rest of us? One supposes we're really supposed to wonder about our unpatriotic realism. Or something.

Responsibility point two? Not our fault, as in this -
Isa Khalaf doesn't want cash from the U.S. troops he says massacred his relatives in a March raid. He wants an explanation he may never get now that a U.S. probe has cleared them of any wrongdoing.

Standing in the rubble that remains of his brother's house that was pulverized in the small town of Ishaqi, Khalaf recalled the young children that were lost as the sound of gunfire and helicopters rattled the village.
"I don't want compensation. I want answers," he said.

The U.S. investigation that cleared soldiers of any misconduct in Ishaqi may have allowed the soldiers to move on with their lives. But the farming town will be haunted by memories of the bloodshed.

The U.S. military said on Friday that soldiers chasing insurgents took direct fire in Ishaqi and up to nine collateral deaths, a military term for civilian casualties, resulted from an engagement.

It denied as "absolutely false" allegations that troops executed a family living in a safe house for "terrorists," and then hid the alleged crimes by directing an air strike.

... Police had different accounts of what happened during the March raid. They said five children, four women and two men were shot dead by troops in a house that was then blown up.
All the victims were shot in the head and the bodies, with hands bound, were dumped in one room before the house was destroyed, police added.

... The Ishaqi findings come amid an investigation into allegations U.S. Marines massacred up to two dozen unarmed civilians in the town of Haditha in November. Several other killings are also under investigation.
New Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has promised Iraqis justice and criticized the American actions.

But judging by the mood in Ishaqi, Iraqis have learned not to expect too much from their new U.S.-backed democracy.
But we say our guys did nothing wrong. They were chasing bad guys, and one ran into the house, so calling in the C-130 gunship that laid down a wall of fifty millimeter high-velocity hot metal for a few hours was a logical decision. Sorry about the dead kids. And your other evidence doesn't matter. It was, unfortunately, necessary.

Of what's necessary, and responsibility, see Andrew Sullivan here -
From the moment George W. Bush exempted U.S. military forces from the Geneva Conventions if "military necessity" demanded it, he sent a message. From the moment George W. Bush refused to accept Donald Rumsfeld's repeated offers to resign after Abu Ghraib, he sent a message. From the moment, George W. Bush appended a signing statement to the McCain Amendment, arguing that as commander-in-chief, he was not subject to the ban on torture and abuse of military prisoners, the president sent a message.

Those messages - in a tense and dangerous war, where bad things will always happen - made a difficult situation one where abuse and war crimes were almost bound to take place. And command responsibility in the military goes upward. The president cannot fill the role of being commander-in-chief in order to declare "Mission Accomplished" and then choose not to fill the role when his troops commit war-crimes and torture and atrocities. In what George W. Bush himself calls a "responsibility society," he has ultimate responsibility for the forces he commands. And there is a direct and obvious line between his decisions to break decades' long adherence to the Geneva Conventions and the pandemic of torture, and now incidents of war crimes, that have plagued this war and stained the honor of this country.

To say this is not to be, as Glenn Reynolds argues, "pathetic and poisonous." It is to face the fact that this president has formally lowered the moral standards for American warfare - in writing, and by his actions. He was given a chance to stop this with the McCain Amendment, and he dodged it. He is now reaping the whirlwind. We all are - not the least the vast majority of great and honorable soldiers whose profession has been stained by a derelict defense secretary and a torture-condoning president. The troops deserve so much better. So does America.
Yeah, well, maybe. He's just not a detail guy. And he likes to keep this positive.

Leave the detail to the Brits, like this long item in the Sunday Observer, containing this -
Some have tried to defend the killings by pointing to the stress that US soldiers - many of whom are on their second or third tour of duty - are under. But it is clear that there are other, deeper problems within the US military that point to a widespread failure of command.

At the heart of the issue is a culture of violence against Iraqi civilians that has been present in large measure since the moment US forces crossed the border into Iraq - an inability and unwillingness to distinguish between civilians and combatants that as three years have passed has been transformed, for some, into something more deliberate.
The point - "It is a lack of discipline that has been commented on with horror by British officers - representing an army that itself has seen its own soldiers seriously mistreat Iraqi civilians." And so since the Haditha thing, witnesses to other civilian killings that haven't come to the surface yet are contacting this British paper, offering information, including witnesses to the killings at the wedding party near the Syrian border, where we just scoffed when such reports first surfaced. The newspaper? "After Haditha, it seems such denials can no longer be taken at face value."

But it's just detail. And people make mistakes. And there are always "bad apples."

And the was the Sunday, June 4, 2006, New York Times lead editorial with this -
The apparent cold-blooded killing last November of 24 Iraqi civilians by United States marines at Haditha will be hard to dispose of with another Washington damage control operation. The Iraqi government has made clear that it will not sit still for one, and neither should the American people. This affair cannot simply be dismissed as the spontaneous cruelty of a few bad men.

This is the nightmare that everyone worried about when the Iraq invasion took place. Critics of the war predicted that American troops would become an occupying force, unable to distinguish between innocent civilians and murderous insurgents, propelled down the same path that led the British to disaster in Northern Ireland and American troops to grief in Vietnam. The Bush administration understood the dangers too, but dismissed them out of its deep, unwarranted confidence that friendly Iraqis would quickly be able to take control of their own government and impose order on their own people.

Now that we have reached the one place we most wanted to avoid, it will not do to focus blame narrowly on the Marine unit suspected of carrying out these killings and ignore the administration officials, from President Bush on down, who made the chances of this sort of disaster so much greater by deliberately blurring the rules governing the conduct of American soldiers in the field. The inquiry also needs to critically examine the behavior of top commanders responsible for ensuring lawful and professional conduct and of midlevel officers who apparently covered up the Haditha incident for months until journalists' inquiries forced a more honest review.

So far, nothing in President Bush's repeated statements on the issue offers any real assurance that the White House and the Pentagon will not once again try to protect the most senior military and political ranks from proper accountability. This is the pattern that this administration has repeatedly followed in the past - in the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib, in the beating deaths of prisoners at Bagram air base in Afghanistan and in the serial abuses of justice and constitutional principle at Guantánamo Bay.

These damage control operations have done a great job of shielding the reputations of top military commanders and high-ranking Pentagon officials. But it has been at the expense of things that are far more precious: America's international reputation and the honor of the United States military. The overwhelming majority of American troops in Iraq are dedicated military professionals, doing their best to behave correctly under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Their good name requires a serious inquiry, not another deflection of blame to the lowest-ranking troops on the scene.
And so on, and it ends with this -
It should not surprise anyone that this war - launched on the basis of false intelligence analysis, managed by a Pentagon exempted from normal standards of command responsibility and still far from achieving minimally acceptable results - is increasingly unpopular with the American people. At the very least, the public is now entitled to straight answers on what went wrong at Haditha and who, besides those at the bottom of the chain of command, will be required to take responsibility for it.
Yeah, right. No one above Staff Sergeant, of course.

In defense of the president there was this -
He knew that Iraq would be rough but in a post 9/11 world it would have been criminal to have allowed Saddam to stay. He had defied the UN 17 times, had not allowed inspectors in which was ordered after he signed the cease fire in 1991, had used WMD's on his own people, had attempted to assassinate Bush Sr, had shot at our planes over the no-fly zones, and most importantly... had ties to Al-Qaeda. Bush had said he supported terrorism and now the Saddam documents bear this fact out. While not involved in 9/11 he sure did support and enable Al-Qaeda to continue on their quest.
Right. Whatever. And there was Mark Steyn in the Chicago Sun-Times, with Events At Haditha Don't Change Need For Victory - "A superpower that wallows in paranoia and glorifies self-loathing cannot endure and doesn't deserve to."

And check out the video of William "Bill" Kristol on Fox News Sunday here discussing recent comments made by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khameni - then, in mid-comment, stopping himself and saying "Maybe we should have Supreme Leader Bush. I kind of like the sound of that." Of course it was Kristol's Project for the New American Century that developed the whole plan in the Middle East.

Well, there are different views on responsibility, it seems.

On a minor note, this is the time of year when at college graduations across the nation various famous people give graduation speeches, on that very topic, responsibility. And you can see here that the speaker at Knox College in Galesburg Illinois was the satirist Stephen Colbert. The college was founded by abolitionists so Colbert did say he was coming out against slavery - "I just hope the mainstream media gives me credit for the stand I've taken today."

His persona on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" is that of an arrogant rightwing Bill O'Reilly type, so that fit, but he did add this, out of character - "I don't know if they've told you what's been happening in the world while you've been matriculating. The world is waiting for you people with a club... They are playing for KEEPS out there, folks."

Of course he opened with an explanation - "My name is Stephen Colbert, but I actually play someone on television named Stephen Colbert, who looks like me, and talks like me, but who says things with a straight face he doesn't mean."

Keep them guessing. As in this - "It's time for illegal immigrants to go - right after they finish (building) those walls." People keep saying immigrants built America, "but here's the thing, it's built now. I think it was finished in the '70s sometime. From this point it's only a touch-up and repair job." And as for the border he suggested not just a wall, but "moats, fiery moats and fiery moats with fire-proof crocodiles." And he backed English as the official language of the United States - "God wrote (the Bible) in English for a reason: So it could be taught in our public schools."

But the core -
He closed his speech on an apparently semi-serious note, urging the grads to learn how to say "yes." He noted that saying yes will sometimes get them in trouble or make them look like a fool. But he added: "Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don't learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blinder, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us.

"Cynics always say no. But saying yes begins things. Saying yes is how things grow. Saying yes leads to knowledge. Yes is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say yes.

"And that's The Word."
Amusing. And his advice isn't bad. And whoever walked into the Oval Office and said to the president, "Boss, this war thing might need some work, because there are a few things that could get us in trouble," might have heard the words, "Yes? Tell me more."

Ah, but that's in an alternative universe. In this universe there are all sorts of rightwing politicians quoting Colbert, no realizing he's making fun of them. You could look it up. Satire is hard these days. And true believers - see Kristol above - just don't deal well with irony. They don't get it

And in the non-alternative universe, see this, the top ten signs of the impending US police state, as compiled by one Allan Uthman.

Here are the headings:

1. The Internet Clampdown
2. "The Long War"
4. Prison Camps
5. Touchscreen Voting Machines
6. Signing Statements
7. Warrantless Wiretapping
8. Free Speech Zones
9. High-ranking Whistleblowers
10. The CIA Shakeup

The details are there. But satire is better.

Posted by Alan at 22:56 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 4 June 2006 22:59 PDT home

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

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