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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, 18 June 2006
Hot of the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements

Hot of the Virtual Press

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is parent to this daily web log, is now online. This is Volume 4, Number 25, for the week of June 18, 2006.Click here to go there...

This week, on a new computer, with most of the files from the old one recovered, a new issue - with six extended observations on current events, from Guantánamo to Karl Rove, to that trip to Baghdad to the foolishness in congress at the end of the week, to the political theory that underlies who will likely win the World Cup, and why.

At the International Desk, photo essays - Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, provides a real taste of Paris last Friday night, on the quays and in the crowds on the day of James Joyce, and Our Man in Tel-Aviv, Sylvain Ubersfeld, does the beach bum thing and lets us know they do have their own Malibu there, sort of.

Hollywood? This week the most famous of hotels (where Marilyn Monroe lived for a time, as did other legends of that world), some really curious tourist matters (the famous footprints), and the new and old murals these days.

Local photography covers, for our readers in London, Ontario, Canada, the fantastic old trains on display in an odd spot in Griffith Park, and for the botanically-minded, this year's jacaranda madness, and the expected extreme close-up shots suitable for framing, if that's your thing.

Our friend from Texas provides us with more of the weird, and the quotes pertain to deciding not to be ordinary.

Direct links to specific pages…

Extended Observations on Current Events ________________________

The Absurd: Kafkaesque, in a Good Way
Differentiations: Notes on the Transitory and the Big Stuff
Things Imploding
Resolved: They think we're all fools. We shall see.
Other Voices: Offered Without Comment
Sports: Harmless Theory

The International Desk ________________________

Our Man in Paris: Dining Out
Our Man in Tel-Aviv: Beach Bumming at Chinky's

Hollywood Matters ________________________

The Hollywood Tourist
The Movies: Hollywood Murals Old and New

Southern California Photography ________________________

Trains: Wheels Are Turning
Jacaranda Time: Close-Up Color


Quotes for the week of June 18, 2006 - Just Getting Along

Posted by Alan at 17:49 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 17 June 2006
Sports: Harmless Theory
Topic: Oddities

Sports: Harmless Theory

Let's go to the odd sources. Saturday, June 17, 2006, the National Post up in Canada reprints an item from The New Republic the previous day, which in turn was adapted from an item in the anthology The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup. This is Franklin Foer asking the question that has probably occurred to more than a few people after seventeen World Cup football (soccer) extravaganzas, one every four years - what kind of governments produce winning soccer teams? Freedom and football victory? Juntas produced winners? Let's see.

The Czechs this time just embarrassed the United States in the opening round, and then they managed to lose 0-2 to Angola, a major upset. The heartened Americans then went out to face the Italian team - maybe it wasn't all over - and managed a 1-1 tie, with two players ejected and what would have been the winning goal disallowed. What does this mean about the governments? Who knows?

From Kafka through "The Good Solider Svejk" to the deeply ironic Havel Václav Havel (good friends with Frank Zappa) to the recent vote for the "greatest Czech of All Time" - the whole fictitious and absurd Jára Cimrman - the Czechs have looked upon the whole idea of government itself with some skepticism. It's not football. It's sillier. Who knows how things are run in Angola, other than badly? And how many governments has Italy had since WWII, with the most recent being that of the clownish Silvio Berlusconi?

Still, Franklin Foer wants to make a connection, as he explains here -
There have been revolutions to create socialism, democracy, and authoritarian dictatorship. But humankind has yet to fight a revolution to guarantee one of the most vital elements - if not the most vital element - of the good life. That is, a winning soccer team. If we were to take up arms for this reason, what kind of government would we want to install?

Political theory, for all its talk about equality and virtue, has strangely evaded this question.
Probably for good reason.

But here's the rundown, and it starts with communism -
Communism, despite its gulags and show trials, produced great players and rock-solid teams. The Hungarian squad of the early '50s has gone down in history as one of the best to never win a championship. A few decades later, in 1982, the Poles finished third in the tournament, drawing with Paolo Rossi's Italy and beating Michel Platini's France en route. These triumphs are reflected in the overall record. In World Cup matches against non-communist countries, the red hordes bested their capitalist foes more often than not - by my count, 46 wins, 32 draws, 40 losses.

But the fact remains that a communist country has never won the World Cup. After watching the communists perform efficiently in preliminary rounds of the tournament, you could usually count on them to collapse in the quarterfinals.
Yep, just like the whole system itself - sounds good, and doesn't work.

Foer implies the problem really was embedded in the political nature of the communist system - they weren't like us, the risk talking entrepreneurial loose and happy risk-takers of American capitalism, or something like that -
Valeri Lobanovsky, the great Soviet and Ukrainian coach of the 1970s and '80s, believed that science could provide underlying truths about the game. He would send technicians to games to evaluate players based on the number of "actions" - tackles, passes, shots - that they performed. These evaluations perversely favored frenetic tackling over the creative construction of an attack. Lobanovsky's method captures the pernicious way in which the rigidity of Marxism permeated the mentality of the Eastern bloc. Such rigidity might produce a great runner or gymnast, but it doesn't produce champions in a sport that requires regular flashes of individuality and risk-taking.
Yeah, right. The interesting thing is these guys lost the big ones because they trusted "science." One thinks of George Bush.

And what of fascism? There's evidence their teams are crap too -
Fascist governments can masterfully manufacture a sense of national purpose and, more than that, national superiority. This ethos, while not so appealing from the perspective of those who worry about individual rights, cultivates the perfect climate for a World Cup. Not only can it produce a healthy confidence, but it can also generate a powerful fear of losing. Who wants to disappoint a nation swept up in this kind of fervor? Or, more to the point, who wants to disappoint a leader who might break your legs and imprison your grandmother? What's more, fascist governments subscribe to a cult of fitness and hygiene that leads them to siphon considerable national resources into sports programs.

The fascist record speaks for itself. During the '30s, Il Duce's Italy claimed two trophies; Germany took third in 1934, as did Brazil in 1938. Overall, fascism compiled a record of 14-3-3 in that decade.
Okay, and since then Francisco Franco's Spain and Juan Peron's Argentina got nowhere. And Antonio de Oliveira Salazar's Portugal appeared in only one tournament in the thrity-six years he ruled there. Jingoism and personal fear only go so far, or not very far at all. Someone tell Karl Rove. Bad for soccer, bad for the country. It's a losing strategy. Hyper-patriotism mixed with telling everyone they should be very, very afraid is only good for winning elections. What happens after you win matters too.

And then there is this odd "fact" -
No country has ever won a World Cup while committing genocide or gearing up to commit genocide. Germany and Yugoslavia both faltered on the eve of their mass murders. In 1938, Germany didn't win a single game. The greatest Yugoslavian team of all time lost in the quarterfinals of the 1990 tournament. Apparently, lusting after the blood of Jews and Muslims distracts vital energy from the more pressing task of scoring.
Yeah that can be distraction, or it's a coincidence here.

But old-fashioned military juntas do win -
The Brazilian and Argentine juntas presided over the most glorious victories in the tournament's history in the '70s and early '80s. It makes sense that juntas would excel at this. They are collective efforts, where even the strongmen are part of a broader apparatus. A good soccer team is, in a sense, a junta.
It is? But then they've won three of the seventeen times.

But the good conservative Foer says nothing beats good old cut-throat western competative capitalism for turning out real winners, where everyone talks about teamwork but no one believes in it -
... even the worst social democratic teams - Belgium, Finland - win more consistently than their authoritarian peers. To understand this success, one must understand the essence of the social democratic economy. Social democracies take root in heavily industrialized societies, and this is a great blessing.

No country has won the World Cup without having a substantial industrial base. This base supplies a vast urban proletariat, which in turn supplies players for a team. Industrial economies also produce great wealth, which funds competitive domestic leagues that improve social democratic players by subjecting them to day-to-day competition of the highest quality. And, while the junta mindset nicely transposes itself to the pitch, the social democratic ethos is a far neater match. Social democracy celebrates individualism, while relentlessly patting itself on the back for its sense of solidarity - a coherent team with room for stars.
So that's six of the World Cups for the world of individualism and cull-out-the-losers competition - over cooperation, forced or not, and over or the "science" of the sport.

Foer contends "the outcome of each match in the World Cup can be forecast by analyzing the political and economic conditions of the countries represented on the pitch." Just what we need, another sort of neoconservative theory of how the world really works.

You'd think, after Iraq, they'd learn. But maybe there is a correlation, and maybe the Iraq war was a fine idea. At least this theory is harmless.

Posted by Alan at 17:30 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 17 June 2006 17:59 PDT home

Friday, 16 June 2006
Offered Without Comment
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Offered Without Comment

"I now know that if you describe things as better as they are, you are considered to be romantic; if you describe things as worse than they are, you are called a realist; and if you describe things exactly as they are, you are called a satirist." - Quentin Crisp, The Naked Civil Servant


"It's true that you and I are not being grabbed on the streets and sent to a former secret police torture-training camp in Godforsakistan. Nor is the government eavesdropping on your international phone calls or mine. Probably. Because I like you, I'll forgo the usual ominous warning about how they came after him and then they came after her and then they came after you. I'll even skip the liberal sermonette about how even bad guys have rights.

"But your rights and mine are not supposed to be at the whim of the government, let alone the president. They are based in the Constitution and the willingness of those we put in power to obey it - even as interpreted by judges they may disagree with. The most distressing aspect of this story is the apparent attitude of our current rulers that the Constitution is an obstacle to be overcome - by conducting dirty business abroad or by wildly disingenuous interpretations of laws and the Constitution."

- Michael Kinsley in the Washington Post, Friday, June 16, 2006, here.


"For people in America who are a part of my political tradition, our great sin has often been ignoring religion or denying its power or refusing to engage it because it seemed hostile to us. For ... the so-called Christian right and its allies, their great sin has been believing they were in full possession of the truth."

- former president Bill Clinton, accepting an award from the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, noted here.


"I cannot support the war in Iraq. Not because I think Saddam was a good leader. Not because I think Iraqis don't deserve a chance. Not because I think this war we-shouldn't-have-started has not morphed into the war we-can't-afford-to-lose.

"I cannot support the war in Iraq because after all the lies, the mistakes, the hubris, the Constitution shredding, the cover-ups, the undercover outings and, most importantly, the torture, if we win this war during the Bush presidency, he and his like will take it as a vindication of their actions and they will be emboldened to further damage my country.

"This is not Bush bashing. This isn't hyperbole. I truly believe that President Bush is a danger to my country. And winning the Iraq war while he is in office would be the true end of the United States as we know it.
"Let's get Bush out of office. Let's put in place an administration that will wage this war within the bounds of the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions and has the will to do what it takes to win. Let's put in place an administration that asks the American public for the sacrifices of war time and deals openly and plainly with the public on the successes and failures at the front."

- a reader's letter to Andrew Sullivan at his Time site here, to which he adds - "I'm for making progress, period, whoever is the president. But I also agree that what Bush has done to the constitutional integrity of this country, the rule of law, and the international moral standing of the United States will take a generation to recover from.


Advice to Democrats from "tristero" here -
Issue #1 is Bush. Issue #2 is everything else. Until Bush no longer has a Republican majority in the House and the Senate to rubber stamp nearly everything he wants, your opinions and ideas mean squat. No. Less than squat.

Make reining in Bush the issue. Republicans in Congress will do whatever Bush wants, but the country is fed up with what Bush wants. They've seen how much damage he causes. Only Democratic majorities in Congress can prevent him from wreaking even worse havoc on the country. Bush is the issue. And hoo boy! has Bush made the your job incredibly easy:

Remember: Bush really is incompetent. And the American public sees it now.

Remember: Bush really has governed above the law. And the American public understands that now.

Remember: Bush has bogged this nation down in an insane war. And the American public understands that now.

Remember: Bush does not have a genuine plan to deal with Iraq, nor is he capable of creating and implementing one. People are dying because he doesn't know what he's doing. And the American public understands that now.

Remember: Bush's supreme callousness and negligence led to the hiring of the incompetents in charge of FEMA during Katrina. And the American public knows it.

Remember: This is one helluva unpopular president. The American public has very good reasons for disliking him and his policies so intensely. They are all but begging you to stand up and refuse to go along with his incompetent, extremist, and unlawful behavior.

Focus on Bush. Everything else is detail.
That was posted at Hullabaloo.


"Yesterday we had a moment of silence in the Senate because we thought it was a solemn occasion when our 2,500th soldier was killed in Iraq. We held a moment of silence. When the White House's press secretary was asked to step forward, the President's Press Secretary Tony Snow, they asked him about 2,500, he said "It's just a number." Just a number? I mean, that is outrageous. I went to Memorial Day services in Boulder City, our veterans' facility. I went and visited the grave of John Lukac with his mom and his dad. He'd been killed in Iraq. He was 19 years old. He's just a number? In Nevada we've lost 39. We've lost 2,500 nationwide, and we've had about 20,000 wounded, half of them permanently wounded. Just numbers? I don't think so." - Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, cited here.

"Minority Leader Reid, in various comments discussed at the dinner, 'is not a deep thinker, to put it gently.'" - Republican Senator Arlen Specter, cited here.


Associated Press items, late Friday, June 16, 2006, emphasis added -

Early evening -
U.S. special operations forces fed some Iraqi detainees only bread and water for up to 17 days, used unapproved interrogation practices such as sleep deprivation and loud music and stripped at least one prisoner, according to a Pentagon report on incidents dating to 2003 and 2004.

The report concludes that the detainees' treatment was wrong but not illegal and reflected inadequate resources and lack of oversight and proper guidance rather than deliberate abuse. No military personnel were punished as a result of the investigation.

The findings were included in more than 1,000 pages of documents the Pentagon released to the American Civil Liberties Union on Friday under a Freedom of Information request. They included two major reports - one by Army Brig. Gen. Richard Formica on specials operations forces in Iraq and one by Brig. Gen. Charles Jacoby on Afghanistan detainees.
Eight hours earlier -
New Orleans is still woefully unprepared for catastrophes 10 months after Hurricane Katrina, and the two cities attacked on 9/11 don't meet all guidelines for responding to major disasters, a federal security analysis concluded Friday.

Ten states were rated in a Homeland Security Department scorecard as having sufficient disaster response plans. But the analysis found the vast majority of America's states, cities and territories still are far from ready for terror attacks, huge natural disasters or other wide-reaching emergencies.

"Frankly, we just have not in this country put the premium on our level of catastrophe planning that is necessary to be ready for those wide-scale events," Homeland Security Undersecretary George Foresman told reporters.

City and state plans for emergencies like localized fires, floods and tornadoes "are good, they're robust," Foresman said. But plans for catastrophes "are not going to support us as they should."
Late afternoon, Eastern Time -
A soldier in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq was killed and two others were missing after an attack on a checkpoint southwest of Baghdad on Friday, the U.S. military said.

The attacked took place around 8 p.m. near the town of Yusufiyah, about 12 miles southwest of Baghdad.

"After hearing small arms fire and explosions in the vicinity of the checkpoint, a quick reaction force responded to the scene," a military statement said. "Coalition forces have initiated a search operation to locate and determine the status of the soldiers."

The statement didn't provide any other information.

A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Baghdad, asked whether the missing soldiers could have possibly been abducted, told The Associated Press by telephone that military didn't know.
Draw your own conclusions


As for the end of the week debate on the war, or whatever it was, covered in these pages here, note one other Republican house member had a problem with that, as noted here -
"I can't help but feel through eyes of a combat-wounded Marine in Vietnam, if someone was shot, you tried to save his life. ... While you were in combat, you had a sense of urgency to end the slaughter, and around here we don't have that sense of urgency," said Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest (Md.), a usually soft-spoken Republican who has urged his leaders to challenge the White House on Iraq. "To me, the administration does not act like there's a war going on. The Congress certainly doesn't act like there's a war going on. If you're raising money to keep the majority, if you're thinking about gay marriage, if you're doing all this other peripheral stuff, what does that say to the guy who's about ready to drive over a land mine?"

... But Gilchrest, who won the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his Marine service in Vietnam in the 1960s, believes political considerations have already played too large a role in the debate. In November, after Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) announced his support for a rapid withdrawal from Iraq, Republican leaders hastily pushed a resolution to the House floor calling for immediate pull-out. But the cursory two-hour debate was noteworthy less for serious policy discourse than for the suggestion by the House's newest member, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), that Murtha, a decorated war veteran, was a coward.

"It was ludicrous," Gilchrest said. "It had nothing to do with saving lives. It had nothing to do with the war. It was one-upsmanship against the Democrats."

That sentiment spurred Gilchrest and four other Republicans to break with their leadership this spring and sign on to a Democratic petition pushing for debate. Boehner pledged to do so weeks ago.

... But Gilchrest acknowledged he has ambivalent feelings about the way forward to success in Iraq. Citing his own battlefield experiences, he said this uncertainty is all the more reason for a full debate. "How many members have in their life [experienced] putting the barrel of their gun on another man's chest and pulling the trigger?" he asked in an interview this week. "How many members have experienced the chaos of a 3 a.m. battle, pushing your bayonet through another man's body? How many members have wrapped themselves around a fellow soldier who just lost his legs in a land mine and you feel the last breath and he's dead, calling in airstrikes on a village and walking through, seeing dead babies and others who are still alive, being with someone who's been shot and you can't move, you can't do anything because you're under intense fire and he dies right next to you?"
So who is this guy? Officially that's here -
Member of U.S. House of Representatives since 1991. Member, Resources Committee, 1994- (national parks, recreation & public lands subcommittee, 2001-; chair, fisheries, conservation, wildlife & oceans subcommittee, 2001-); Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, 1994- (water resources subcommittee; chair, coast guard & maritime transportation subcommittee, 1997-). Co-Chair, Chesapeake Bay Watershed Task Force, 2004-. Member, Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, 1991-94; Public Works Committee, 1991-94.

Member, Bainbridge Re-Use Advisory Committee, 1996-97. Born in Rahway, New Jersey, April 15, 1946. Served in U.S. Marine Corps, 1964-67; Vietnam, 1966-67 (Purple Heart Medal, Bronze Star Medal, Navy Commendation Medal). Wesley College, A.A., 1971; Union College (Appalachian semester studying rural poverty); Delaware State College, B.A. (history), 1973; Loyola College. Teacher (American history, government, civics), 1973-90. Delegate, Republican Party National Convention, 1996, 2000. Member, Kent County Teachers' Association. Member, American Legion; Veterans of Foreign Wars; Military Order of the Purple Heart. Honorary Doctor of Public Service, Washington College, 2004. Member, Kennedyville United Methodist Church. Married; three children.
And there's more here, including this - "After graduating high school in 1964, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. His tour of duty saw action during the invasion of the Dominican Republic, and ultimately the Vietnam War. He earned the rank of Sergeant in Vietnam where, as a platoon leader, he was wounded in the chest. Wayne was decorated with the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Navy Commendation Medal."


Had enough? It's a simple question.

Posted by Alan at 21:31 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 16 June 2006 21:49 PDT home

Thursday, 15 June 2006
They think we're all fools. We shall see.
Topic: Couldn't be so...

They think we're all fools. We shall see.

Thursday, June 15, 2006, and it just can't be this ridiculous, but if the Associated Press says so, it must be so -
Congress plunged into divisive election-year debate on the Iraq war Thursday as the U.S. military death toll reached 2,500. The Senate soundly rejected a call to withdraw combat troops by year's end, and House Republicans laid the groundwork for their own vote.

In a move Democrats criticized as gamesmanship, Senate Republicans brought up the withdrawal measure and quickly dispatched it - for now - on a 93-6 vote.

The proposal would have allowed "only forces that are critical to completing the mission of standing up Iraqi security forces" to remain in Iraq in 2007.

Across Capitol Hill in a daylong House debate, Republicans defended the Iraq war as a key part of the global fight against terrorism while Democrats assailed President Bush's war policies and called for a new direction in the conflict.

"When our freedom is challenged, Americans do not run," House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said in remarks laden with references to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"This is a war that is a grotesque mistake," countered House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California. She called for a fresh strategy - "one that will make us safer, strengthen our military, and restore our reputation in the world."

House Republicans moved toward a vote on a nonbinding resolution Friday morning to reject any timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces.
What is this all about? What difference does any resolution make? And what about the other tidbit the AP mentions, and the Democrats point to - reports that the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, wants, as part of "a national reconciliation" plan, to pardon insurgents who had attacked our troops. Forgive them? The prime minister's aide who said that is now gone -
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office Thursday accepted the resignation of an aide who had told a reporter that Maliki was considering a limited amnesty that would likely include guerrillas who had attacked U.S. troops, the aide said.

The aide, Adnan Ali al-Kadhimi, stood by his account, reported in Thursday's issue of The Washington Post. Kadhimi said Maliki himself had indicated the same position less directly in public.

"The prime minister himself has said that he is ready to give amnesty to the so-called resistance, provided they have not been involved in killing Iraqis," Kadhimi said Thursday.
So it's okay if they killed our guys? We're fighting for what, exactly?

Nevertheless, for the Republicans in the House and Senate, the Pentagon distributed its seventy-four page "debate prep book" - what to say when people raise awkward questions. Say we cannot cut and run. It works for every question. It seem this is the first time the Pentagon has every prepared a coaching manual for congressmen and congresswomen, and distributed it to only one side. Curious, and somewhat third-world, where the military takes sides with the current strongman, or doesn't.

And this big day of debates was the same day the president signed the new legislation giving him an extra out-of-budget sixty-six billion to continue military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan - another "supplemental" that was in no planning anywhere, but is necessary to do things right. What are you going to do? No one could have anticipated... And it was the same day the death toll for this adventure reached a nice round twenty-five hundred of our people. In the daily press briefing the new White House Press Secretary, Tony Snow, late of Fox News, said it was just a number, but the president "feels very deeply the pain that the families feel." But it's just a number.

And the talking ran on and on in the House and Senate. Why? Because Republicans in both the Senate and House really to put everyone of both parties on record - for the November elections.

And it was a farce. In the Senate, John Kerry, had a proposal to work with the Iraqi government on a transition plan. Republican Mitch McConnell introduced legislation he said was what Kerry was really proposing, that we get out right now, and that was voted down. Kerry was not amused. Senate Majority Leader Frist got to say that if the United States withdrew too soon, "I am absolutely convinced the terrorists would see this as vindication." And terrorism would spread around the world, and would eventually reach the United States itself. And that was what Kerry really wanted. Kerry said the vote was "fictitious" - but it didn't matter. The item was defeated. So there.

But the real action was in the House -
Rep. Charles Norwood, R-Ga., attacked war critics as defeatists who do not deserve re-election. "Is it al-Qaida or is it America? Let the voters take note of this debate," he said.

In turn, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., said: "Democrats will never put American service members in harm's way without a plan, and without support. For that, you need the sit-and-watch complacency of a Republican Congress."

"In this fight for the future of peace, freedom and democracy in the Middle East and around the globe, winning should be our only option," Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., said, sticking to the GOP script.

"Stay and we'll pay," countered Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who criticized "the failed policy of this administration" and lamented the lives lost, billions of dollars spent and the bruised U.S. image since the war started. "It's time to redeploy," he said.
It was nasty, and the Republicans arranged for it all to come to a head with a resolution saying our troops are great, and the Iraq war was really and honestly part of the bigger global war on terrorism, and setting an "arbitrary date for the withdrawal or redeployment" of troops is not in the national interest. The Democrats said the whole thing was a sham - they'd been promised an open discussion but got a ten-hour limit, and no one was allowed to offer any amendments or changes to the resolution. And the rules were changed so no one was allowed to offer any alternative resolutions of any kind. Vote for it or don't.

We pay these guys for this?

Note that Michael Scherer visits with the guy who invented "freedom fries" and asks for his opinion in Resolved: America great! Bin Laden evil! Go Bush!, and finds even that guy is disgusted with it all -
Rep. Walter Jones, the North Carolina Republican who invented the phrase "freedom fries," invited me into his Capitol Hill office Thursday morning, a cluttered space festooned from floor to ceiling with military memorabilia, Pentagon plaques and photographs of soldiers. Then he pulled out an e-mail he had recently received from an Army captain who served in Iraq.

The e-mail quoted another American soldier serving in Iraq, a voice that Jones wanted people to hear. "Tell all those assholes in D.C. to get us the f--- out of here. This is bullshit," Jones said, reading from the e-mail, but choosing not to pronounce the f-word in full. "Either that or tell them to tell Bush to send over the twins. They can bunk with me. That would be useful."
And Jones sits on the Armed Services Committee and represents the district that includes Camp Lejeune. He's ticked off? It seems so. Well, he has been campaigning for a "full and honest" debate on the Iraq thing, and has written letters to Majority Leader John Boehner, asking just a chance for a public vote on a pullout date.

That didn't work -
Of course, none of that has happened. In April, Boehner told his colleagues that he would schedule a floor debate on Iraq, apparently bowing to pressure from Democrats and Republicans such as Jones. But this week, when the debate finally kicked off, Boehner and the Republican leadership pulled a bait and switch. Instead of an Iraq debate, they scheduled a debate on a resolution "declaring that the United States will prevail in the Global War on Terror." And then, in an election-year trick that is almost as old as the Congress itself, the GOP leadership barred any amendments on the resolution, effectively forcing Democrats to vote on whether or not they want Osama bin Laden to win.

Jones now says he feels duped by his own party's leadership. "Maybe I should have been less trusting, but I felt it would be a debate that would allow us to talk about policy," Jones told me. "I don't see how we would have gotten hurt if we had allowed members of both parties to go down to the floor to offer an amendment." To express his frustration, he appeared Wednesday at a press conference with Rep. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat from Hawaii, who bound his own hands in yellow twine to dramatize the bonds under which members of Congress toil.
Cute, but pointless. Other things were afoot -
It was a move that set a potentially dangerous trap for Democrats less than five months away from the midterm elections. If they vote against the resolution, Democrats will be on record opposing victory in the war on terror. If they vote for the resolution, they will be on record endorsing the president's prosecution of the war on terror. As policy, the resolution is virtually irrelevant - it changes nothing. As politics, however, it's a powder keg, a spectacle ready-made for televised attack ads during this fall's campaign season. "When our freedom is challenged, Americans do not run," thundered House Speaker Dennis Hastert, openly baiting his Democratic colleagues. "Stand up for freedom, adopt this resolution."'
Yeah, whatever.

Scherer's account of what happened -
This sort of tit-for-tat, at a level that would embarrass most high school debating teams, continued throughout the day. Both sides deftly demeaned each other, stopping just short of hurling spitballs, epithets or wagging their tongues. Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha took the lead in providing an unending stream of depressing facts and statistics about the war in Iraq. Electricity and oil production are down, he said, while the number of daily attacks, the monthly price tag and the estimated size of the insurgency were all growing. "This is rhetoric," he announced, after one Republican had given his statement. "Things are not getting better."

Hastert, meanwhile, opted for more R-rated fare in an effort to prove that, in fact, things had improved in Iraq. Under Saddam Hussein, Hastert said, "School girls were raped. Iraqi patriots were thrown alive into meat grinders."

For his part, Walter Jones chose to avoid the whole ordeal. "I don't want to give any credibility to what I think is a charade. My two minutes, maybe three, is not going to change anything," he told me in the morning. When called for a vote, he said he planned to vote "present." "It is not an honest debate," he explained. "If it was an honest debate I would vote one way or the other."

Before leaving his office, I asked him what it would take for the House to have a real debate about policy in Iraq. He paused a moment, and then appeared embarrassed by the answer. "I don't want to say this because I'm a Republican," he began. "But if things change, then obviously that could change the rule in the debate."
He's had enough of his own party? So it would seem.

Those in charge do think this will help them with the voters. They think we're all fools. We shall see.

"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay

Knight-Ridder collects some madness in key quotes here -
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.: "We are making progress toward our goal, but the battle is not over. It is a battle we must endure and one in which we can and will be victorious. The alternative would be to cut and run and wait for them to regroup and bring the terror back to our shores."

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa.: "What is the definition of sectarian violence? A civil war. All of us want to end this thing; all of us want to find a way to prevail in Iraq. But this is a civil war, and we're caught in a civil war. There's less than 1,000 al-Qaida in Iraq. They've diminished al-Qaida. We're caught in a civil war between 100,000 Shias and 20,000 Sunnis fighting each other."

Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill: "Which, then, is the greatest risk in the face of decades of evidence: to act or not to act. To trust Saddam? Who in this body is willing to assert that it's ever wise, that it's ever moral to risk the destruction of the American people. That is the context in which the decision to intervene in Iraq was taken."

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.: "This is a blunder of historic proportions by this president. And it's very important that we understand that we are paying a huge price for these mistakes by this administration."

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate's assistant Republican leader: "It is not an accident we haven't been attacked again since 9-11. By going on offense ... we have succeeded dramatically in the principal reason for advancing the war on terrorism - and that was to protect us here at home. We've got them on the run in Iraq. Why would any want to suggest that we ought to run, when we've got them on the run?"

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., speaking to the Republican Congress: "You have adopted an approach of hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, with abandon. ... The debate today is about whether the American people want to stay the course ... or pursue a real strategy for success in the war on terror."
All of this is truly and deeply irrelevant. The president will do what he will do. This was all to put the Democrats on the defensive for the fall elections, and the time was right, just after the president's Iraq visit and the targeted assassination of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, bring him to "justice," Texas-style. No capture and trial like with Saddam Hussein. None of that sissy stuff.

Of course, at "In the Pink Texas" Eileen Smith notes this is all symbolic hooey, or some such thing - "If the Democrats vote against the resolution, they look like spineless eunuchs. If the Democrats vote for the resolution, they just look dumb. Capitalizing on Bush's Iraqi photo-op, the Republicans feel that it's time to strike. Not to support our troops, but to boost their re-election efforts. Classy."

This fellow here adds - "Here's to hoping the partisan, dishonest, despicable, disingenuous, disrespectful Iraq debate backfires on the GOP." Well see.

And there's this - "What moron came up with the brilliant idea of debating Iraq as a way of helping Republicans in the fall elections? Yeah, Republicans get to stand up before the country and profess their undying admiration for Bush as commander in chief and for how 'great' they think the war is going. Brilliant strategy. If you want a Democratically-controlled House come the fall."

Those in charge do think this will help them with the voters. They think we're all fools. We shall see.

And then there are the sons of Ronald Reagan, Ron the liberal-progressive one, and Michael, who went the other way and says this -
I've been wondering why there is something familiar about the behavior of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, and suddenly it dawned on me that we have our own similar insurgency right here at home - it is called the Democrat Party.

Think about it. Both are operating under the same motivation - an unrequited lust for lost power. And both will do just about anything to retrieve it.

Remember, under Saddam Hussein's long rule, his fellow Sunnis - a distinct minority in a nation with a vast Shiite majority - were the kings of the hill --and incredibly cruel monarchs to boot.

Saddam may have ordered the atrocities, but it was the Sunnis who carried them out, torturing, beheading and otherwise brutalizing the Shia and the Kurds and looting the nation's treasure.

They were very well compensated for their services - and since being ousted by the U.S. invasion and the deposing of their benefactor they have been unable to accept their current powerlessness. They are, as the liberals like to say, "in denial." They just can't live with their loss of authority and act as if they can somehow regain what they lost by mounting an insurgency against the new Iraqi government.

... What it all comes down to is a willingness to tear down their own house if they can't assert absolute ownership of the premises. It's what is known as a "rule or ruin" strategy.

Here in America we have a similar situation - a political party that for years dominated Capitol Hill. They ruled the roost for so long that they began to believe they had some divine right to control the House and Senate.

... Like the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, the Democrats cannot accept their minority status, even though when the GOP took over Newt Gingrich refused to impose the kind of absolute, anti-minority rule his party suffered under the Democrats. They were treated as colleagues, not serfs whose presence was to be barely tolerated. Since then, the Democrats have shown not one whit of gratitude.

Like the Sunni insurgency, the national Democrat Party and its congressional contingent has demonstrated time and again that they will willingly sacrifice the welfare and security of the American people to get their way.

... In the end, all that matters to them is regaining the power the American people took from them in 1994, and, thank God, have kept it out of their hands ever since.
Such is the level of discourse these days. It's a wonder anything gets done. The president's approval ratings may be at record lows, but the approval ratings of congress are even lower. It's not hard to see why. Both houses seem to be run by posturing clowns, engaged in theater of the absurd. And they want our votes?

What gets done seems to get done in the courts, as in this - Thursday, June 15, 2006, the US Supreme Court rules there really is no constitutional requirement for the police to knock and announce their presence before breaking down doors to serve search warrants. Maybe. Previous rulings were wrong. The vote was 5-4 and one of the new guys, Justice Alito, was the one who broke the tie.

It's a little more complicated. The Court ruled that suppression of the results of the no-warning bust-down-the-door search - that's what usually happens when evidence is obtained in violation of the Constitution - is just too extreme when police fail to knock-and-announce. So the police still shouldn't just bust down doors. That's unconstitutional - illegal search and seizure - rules are rules. But if they do bust in with no announcement, whatever evidence they find can't be tossed out. They had a warrant after all. But this gives them little incentive to follow the rules.

Breyer for the minority - "The court destroys the strongest legal incentive to comply with the Constitution's knock-and-announce requirement."

So? They're the police. It's kind of East German, but there you have it.

One defense attorney says this -
Knocking and waiting for a short time for a response avoids needless property damage and saves occupants from the trauma of a sudden and unexpected invasion by armed officers. More importantly, it can save lives. In this case, the police entered the wrong residence, and a frightened occupant, mistaking officers for intruders, killed an officer. If the police had knocked and waited for the occupant to answer, they would have realized their mistake, and that tragic death would have been prevented. Officers were shot under similar circumstances in this case. And in this case, a less aggressive approach may have prevented the shooting of an occupant.
Yeah, well, too bad.

Cato Institute policy analyst Radley Balko notes here - "If you establish that a rule is grounded in the Fourth Amendment, then eleven years later remove the only real way to enforce that rule, you have rendered the rule meaningless."

But to be practical, Princeton law professor Orin Kerr notes this - "As every practicing criminal lawyer knows, when the police have a warrant the evidence is probably coming in even if the defense can find some technical violation along the way." No big deal.

It's not like we're creeping toward a police state or anything. Right? And all while congress does its self-righteous posturing and plays games.

The opinion is here in PDF format if you're interested. It probably matters more than anything that happened on Capitol Hill the same day.

Posted by Alan at 22:42 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 16 June 2006 06:36 PDT home

Wednesday, 14 June 2006
Things Imploding
Topic: NOW WHAT?

Things Imploding

Just a few brief notes, as the day was given over to systems work. Setting up the old stuff on the new computer is getting increasingly Byzantine, or baroque, or whatever adjective you'd like. Tuesday was the eight critical new patches Microsoft released for Windows, and exploring what actually was recovered from the old hard drive and dumped on the new - everything but five years of archived email, and all the addresses and mailing lists. Drat. And today it was setting up the email system again, and a bit of reconstruction - and who knew POP3 and SMTP configurations could be some complex? And that patch to get Outlook to read the old address book in Hotmail was no fun at all. And new hardware arrived, a docking station with all sorts of gizmos - including a wireless keyboard and wireless mouse. It just seems wrong they're not connected to anything, and still work. No wires? That can't be right. But the docking station has good speakers, and the FM jazz station streaming live from Paris, TSF, sounds good - even the newscasts and weather reports where they talk so fast, and the silly commercials for this and that. The time differential is a little disconcerting - nine hours - and their midnight set, of Miles Davis and Toots Thielemans and French guys no one here knows, starts at three in the afternoon Hollywood time. Whatever.

The break today was running a few errands and taking a few photos up on Hollywood Boulevard. Those came out nicely, and are very odd - see five of them here.

But the day had its news, of sorts. The president, back from his five hour Baghdad visit, held a press conference and was crowing about it all, proud as punch, as they say. The narrative in the press was that everything was all better, the White House no longer on the defensive, and the left put in its place, and every Democrat holding his or her head in shame at their foolishness in doubting him. And on Rumsfeld's direct orders the press was tossed out of Guantánamo. No one will report from there now.

That last item generated a great deal of comment all over. But that's the world we live in.

Editor & Publisher broke the story here (Wednesday, June 14, 2006) -
In the aftermath of the three suicides at the notorious Guantanamo prison facility in Cuba last Saturday, reporters with the Los Angeles Times and the Miami Herald were ordered by the office of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to leave the island today ... The Pentagon spokesman told E&P that Rumsfeld's office was overruling any of the permissions from military at the base.
See Donald Rumsfeld, July 18, 2005, here -
I have no doubt that free and well-informed people can and will sift through the increasing volumes of information and over time develop a balanced view of our government, our Armed Forces, and our values and principles.
Bill Montgomery, looking at the two, says this - "That must be what he's afraid of."

Enough said.

On the other matter Montgomery adds this -
We can only guess whether Shrub's secret repeat visit to Iraq was dreamed up before the Abu Zarqawi Hour went off the air, as the White House claims, or whether the trip was actually thrown together on the fly in an effort to milk a little more free publicity from the final episode. Either way, the stunt revealed as much about the depleted state of the Cheney administration's bag of propaganda tricks as it did about the gang's determination to keep pouring blood and treasure into the world's largest hole in the desert.

Sending America's titular head of state to Baghdad the first time, to celebrate Thanksgiving with the troops in 2003, was a clever stroke - just the thing to distract the media from the rapidly deteriorating security situation, which only a few weeks before had sent generals and diplomats (including the current president of the World Bank) scurrying for cover in their underwear.

Of course, simply waving a shiny metal object in front of the White House press corps probably would have been just as effective, not to mention a whole lot cheaper for the taxpayers, but you still can't argue with the results: saturation coverage of the world's biggest Thanksgiving turkey - serving dinner to a bunch of grinning GIs.

But that was then and this is now, and while distracting the media is still child's play (literally) the voters have grown quite a bit more jaded after nearly three years of watching flag-wrapped coffins shipped home COD. At this point, sending Bush to do the grip-and-grin with the new Iraqi prime minister and his cabinet isn't exactly must-see TV.
No, it isn't. Montgomery goes on to discuss how the trip was just a holding action, to stop the hemorrhaging on the war front, while the battle to convince everyone the economy is great will be the main Rove strategy for winning everyone's vote in November, even if those who are doing well are the top two percent of the heap. That'll be tricky, with a lot of pointing to averages in the data, not mean values. But most people think that average and mean values are the same thing. Thank goodness Americans do so badly in math, with our students ranked twenty-eighth in the industrialized world, tied with Latvia. Average wages are rising while eighty percent of all workers have seen their actual earnings decrease a few percentage points each year for the last six years. Point to the former. Hope folks don't pay attention to the latter. It might work. Convince people they're just confused, or among the rare and unusual unlucky chumps, and everyone one else is doing just fine.

But there's no more to do about Iraq, as Montgomery explains -
... politically, it comes down to this: Ever since the war began to go south - say, in the late summer or early fall of 2003 - the Cheneyites have relied on a never-ending string of bogus "turning points" to deflect criticism and create the illusion that victory in Iraq (whatever that means) is creeping closer, despite the mounting chaos and death. But with Zarqawi's elimination, the never-ending string has, for all intents and purposes, ended.

There are no more name-brand dictators or terrorists left to catch or kill: Zarqawi's successor is so obscure nobody seems to know who he is or where he came from - it's not even written into the script yet. The elections are over, so there'll be no more purple fingers to wave in front of the cameras. The "permanent" government has been formed; all of its ministers finally named.

The turning points, in other words, have all been turned, and Iraq is still a killing field. Now that the last few macabre headlines have been squeezed out of Zarqwari's autopsy report, democracy boy and his handlers literally have nothing to look forward to - except a long, hot summer of IEDs, ethnic cleansing and more of those flag-wrapped caskets being Federal Expressed to cemeteries around the country.
So that was it? Could be.

The other issue clouding things is, of course, is the four hundred sixty folks we hold at Guantánamo Bay. We hold them there because that is not in America, so their rights are what we say they are, not what any citizen, visa holder or visitor to, say, Cleveland, could claim. So they don't fall under our laws. And we say they don't fall under the Geneva Conventions, as they are not at all prisoners of war, but somehow a new sort of fighter - "enemy combatants." So they're not criminals - you can't try them, exactly, as there's no crime involved - and they're not prisoners of war, so you don't have to treat them as such, allowing communication with the outside world and monitoring by a neutral third party like International Red Cross. You don't even have to list them, and some outside Cuba are off the books, the famous "ghost detainees."

But it's an embarrassment. The UN and even our allies are calling for us to shut down the Cuba prison. Saying there just are no rules will not do. Most American have had no problem with the "there are no rules anymore" concept, but that's shifting. The three suicides didn't help, and may be where there's been a shift in public opinion in this country. A major spokeswoman in the new Karen Hughes "public diplomacy" department did say, on the BBC World Service, that the suicides were just a publicity stunt and good PR (discussed here), the man in charge of the Guantánamo facility said the suicides were an act of war against us - but the administration is backing away from all that. They know better. People are laughing, bitterly, but laughing just the same. That's very bad politically. It's worse than being wrong. When people just laugh you lose by a massive landslide. It's the kiss of death.

How to deal with that? In the Wednesday, June 14, press conference, the president said, again, that he'd really like to shut down Guantánamo. He seems to know the jig is up. But note how he explains why the facility should be closed - because reports of torture and suicide just give people an "excuse" to criticize the United States.

A reaction here -
We don't need an excuse to criticize your administration, Mr. President. You and your helpers provide fresh cause for alarm every week. Banning the press won't shield you or your administration from warranted criticism. Guantanamo has severely damaged the credibility of the United States, and our elected representatives need to hear us object to misdeeds that tarnish our country's reputation.

As much as he'd like to, the president can't close Guantanamo, he says, because he "needs a plan for trying terror suspects if the U.S. Supreme Court rejects his military tribunals." Is the president worried that judicial activists on the Supreme Court might disagree with his assertion that "enemy combatants" have no right to judicial review of their indefinite detentions? He should worry.

You want a plan, Mr. President? You insist the detainees aren't prisoners of war, so the plan is simple: charge them with crimes and give them a criminal trial, or let them go.
Trapped. Hoist by his own petard, as here -
(pi-TAHRD) To be caught in one's own trap: "The swindler cheated himself out of most of his money, and his victims were satisfied to see him hoist by his own petard." A "petard" was an explosive device used in medieval warfare. To be hoisted, or lifted, by a petard literally means to be blown up.
It blew up. Even if the suicides were, as originally claimed, not desperation at all, as we were treating everyone there just fine, but a very clever way to make George Bush look bad and influence the November election and make the House and Senate go Democratic and make Bill Frist and all the others lose their power to influence legislation on tax cuts and such, the damage had been done. It's over.

There are many things to fix in order that the president not spend his last two years dealing with a hostile congress that might actually want some answers. This should be interesting.

Now back to the systems work.

Posted by Alan at 22:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 15 June 2006 06:27 PDT home

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