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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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Wednesday, 2 August 2006
Diversionary Moves
Topic: Perspective
Diversionary Moves
Looking back in time, not too far, to Wednesday, August 2, the day was, like the others before it, a bit dismal. The media was concentrating on the top war - "Hezbollah fired its biggest and deepest volley of rockets into Israel on Wednesday as Israel pursued the guerrillas with 8,000 soldiers on the ground and heavy bombing. With fighting in its fourth week and diplomatic efforts stalled, the region braced for a bitter and long war." Everyone wants an immediate cease-fire, except for Israel and the United States - who want a cease-fire only when Hezbollah is disarmed and being nice. You just don't stop the ever-escalating war, and have both sides stop fighting for a talk about what the problem is here, when the bad guys refuse to dissolve and become good citizens. So it goes on, and Israel resumes bombing Beirut, and so on. The prospects of sending in a "peacekeeping force" are not good - those who would send troops would like a peace to keep, so won't go in if there's not a cease-fire. We've set it up so that won't happen. Lebanon will be effectively gone soon. So it goes.

And the now "second string" war, the one in Iraq, continued - seventy dead in the streets Monday, twenty or so Tuesday, and fifty-three Wednesday, in the ongoing Sunni-Shiite war of the death squads. We lose one or two of our own a day. We are sending more troops - and more troops to Baghdad - so we'll be up to 135,000 or more any time now. The idea that there'd be a drawdown and a big boost for the administration, and thus the Republicans running in the November elections, seemed now as quaint as the provisions of the Geneva Conventions on how you have to treat those bad guys you've captured. This is not going well, and congress had some questions for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. They wanted to know what the heck is going on. They called a hearing, and he said he just wasn't going to show up - he was too busy to answer dumb questions from assholes trying to score political points - not his exact words, but that's the gist of this. He just thinks he owes no one an explanation of anything. And within two hours of that hitting the wires there was this -
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld late Wednesday reversed a decision to skip a public hearing on Capitol Hill and said he will testify at a session on the Iraq war.

The move came after hours of criticism and pressure from Senate Democrats who urged him to come before the Senate Armed Services Committee to answer questions about the administration's Iraq policies. Earlier Wednesday, Rumsfeld had said that his crowded calendar did not allow him to be present for the meeting Thursday morning, but he agreed to attend a private, classified briefing in the afternoon with the entire Senate.
That's odd. You want everyone to concentrate on how we're working with Israel to end Hezbollah and Hamas and maybe go after Syria and Iran, and, as they say in Vegas, double-down and run the table in this war on terror, and they want to return to the Iraq business. So they want to know in this Iraq war, now longer than World War Two, why it looks like we're trying to tamp down a civil war and supporting a pro-Iranian Shiite government we created, and one that doesn't think much of what Israel is doing nor of our alone-in-the world support of that, and are pouring in more troops. They want to know what the plan is here, and the policy objectives are. Rumsfeld's attempt to blow this off as old news no one cares about anymore didn't work. One senses he's very angry with these small minds, unable to move on to the new war. But then no one is talking about the "third string" war, the one in Afghanistan, nor is anyone any longer asking why the CIA disbanded its group dedicated to finding Osama bin Laden. Rumsfeld catches a break on that. Osama bin Laden caught his break long ago.

And then there's new stuff coming up that will take their minds off Baghdad disintegrating and Iraq failing. That would be this - "The White House and Congress, caught unaware by Fidel Castro's illness, prepared Wednesday for a possible showdown in Cuba as lawmakers drafted legislation that would give millions of dollars to dissidents who fight for democratic change."

Americans love a good showdown - it's that cowboy heritage. We'll send money and guns to anyone there who makes trouble for the new government. And perhaps we're going to fund anyone in Miami-Dade who, when Castro dies, as he will, wants to mount a force and go in and battle whatever successor socialist or communist second-stringers move up to run the joint. Everyone concedes that the successor government won't be much different, but as rookies they may have trouble if we send in the South Beach Irregulars, well-funded and of course well-armed. Hugo Chavez will no doubt send in the same from Venezuela. It'll be great fun. Baghdad will seem so last year.

And it will be a diversion from the coup under way, where the executive branch neuters the congress and the courts and what the president says at any given time becomes the law of the land - that cannot be questioned. Yeah, yeah - that's over the top. But he has claimed he has the right to declare anyone he chooses to be an "enemy combatant" - even US citizens - and that he doesn't have to explain to anyone why they are, and that he can then hold them, without charges, indefinitely, and not allow them representation, or even communication with anyone at all, and not tell them why they're being held, or offer them access to whatever evidence he has or does have that they are what he says they are. On another matter he says he knows that there are rules - explicit laws - that spell out the conditions under which his people can wiretap US citizens, but as he sees his job, for our own good he has the implicit authority to ignore those laws. So he broke them and will continue to do so. They don't apply. Yep, there's the new law saying torturing people is illegal - and he signed that, but added his signing statement that it was clear, to do his job, as his attorneys explained it to him, he can order torture when he wishes, and will. He's signed more than seven hundred fifty bills into law, adding his statements that he thinks it is clear that with each there always will be times when it is correct for him to ignore the law and just not do what it requires. The American Bar Association has called this a constitutional crisis, but not a coup. Perhaps, as many have suggested, it's more like a slow-motion coup. The wars keep it out of the headlines. It's a "filler" item in the news.

The latest twists came on Wednesday, August 2, amid all the war news. Since the Supreme Court ruled in the Hamdan case that the military tribunals planned at Guantánamo were illegal - and the two main arguments offered that the president could ignore the law were just bullshit (not their word, but close enough) - and the White House, knowing it would look bad to say the court's opinion was irrelevant (you need these nine on abortion and other issues), agreed to "revise" its legal procedures for holding detainees. So the president's lawyers have been "crafting a proposal" for congress that would become the administration's new policy. The idea is to get congress to pass a law to make things kosher, so the courts cannot make trouble.

The Associated Press lead was this - "The Bush administration wants a new system for trying terror suspects to let prosecutors withhold classified evidence from the accused, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Wednesday, holding to a hard line on detainee policy despite concerns by senators and military lawyers."

The Washington Post offers this -
A draft Bush administration plan for special military courts seeks to expand the reach and authority of such "commissions" to include trials, for the first time, of people who are not members of al-Qaeda or the Taliban and are not directly involved in acts of international terrorism, according to officials familiar with the proposal.

The plan, which would replace a military trial system ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in June, would also allow the secretary of defense to add crimes at will to those under the military court's jurisdiction. The two provisions would be likely to put more individuals than previously expected before military juries, officials and independent experts said.
Steve Benen explains -
Got that? The new-and-improved military commissions could consider charges against just about anyone, not for being a suspected terrorist, but for a list of offenses Donald Rumsfeld could write at his own discretion. The accused would not have the right to confront their accusers, or to exclude hearsay accusations, or to bar evidence obtained through torture. The right to a public trial, a speedy trial, and to choose your own military counsel would not apply. Indeed, the commission could try the accused without him or her even being there.

The Navy's top uniformed lawyer from 1997 to 2000 said the rules would evidently allow the government to tell a prisoner: "We know you're guilty. We can't tell you why, but there's a guy, we can't tell you who, who told us something. We can't tell you what, but you're guilty."
In list form, the new rules would, 1). "include trials, for the first time, of people who are not members of al-Qaeda or the Taliban and are not directly involved in acts of international terrorism," 2.) "also allow the secretary of defense to add crimes at will to those under the military court's jurisdiction," 3.) "defendants would lack rights to confront accusers, exclude hearsay accusations, or bar evidence obtained through rough or coercive interrogations," and 4.) "they would not be guaranteed a public or speedy trial and would lack the right to choose their military counsel, who in turn would not be guaranteed equal access to evidence held by prosecutors."

Cute. One thinks of the Star Chamber and such. Congress is being asked to pass legislation that the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions do not apply, nore do what most see as the basis of western law - all that innocent until proven guilty stuff, the right to be present at you own trial, to know the charges against you - all that stuff. The federal government can now convict a defendant based on secret evidence. That's new.

And he's back -
John Yoo, a former Justice Department lawyer who helped draft the earlier plan, said Bush administration officials essentially "took DOD regulations" for the trials "and turned them into a statute for Congress to pass." He said the drafters were obviously "trying to return the law to where it was before Hamdan" by writing language into the draft that challenges key aspects of the court's decision.
Yoo has come up before, and here the idea is to overrule the Hamdan case. It's a matter of who has the final authority.

But you have to love the details -
The plan calls for commissions of five military officers appointed by the defense secretary to try defendants for any of 25 listed crimes. It gives the secretary the unilateral right to "specify other violations of the laws of war that may be tried by military commission." The secretary would be empowered to prescribe detailed procedures for carrying out the trials, including "modes of proof" and the use of hearsay evidence.

… Unlike the international war crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, the commissions could rely on hearsay as the basis for a conviction. Unlike routine military courts-martial, in which prosecutors must overcome several hurdles to use such evidence, the draft legislation would put the burden on the defense team to block its use

… Under the proposed procedures, defendants would lack rights to confront accusers, exclude hearsay accusations, or bar evidence obtained through rough or coercive interrogations. They would not be guaranteed a public or speedy trial and would lack the right to choose their military counsel, who in turn would not be guaranteed equal access to evidence held by prosecutors. … Detainees would also not be guaranteed the right to be present at their own trials, if their absence is deemed necessary to protect national security or individuals.

… To secure a death penalty under the draft legislation, at least five jurors must agree, two fewer than under the administration's earlier plan. Courts-martial and federal civilian trials require that 12 jurors agree.
That's about it. But there are improvements - Rumsfeld alone makes the rules of evidence, the class of detainees is expanded, and the number of crimes to be considered is increased.

How will congress deal with this? The House will love it - they're the president's men - and the Senate may go along. It's the midterm elections - the guess is that most who may find the time to vote, and more than half of registered voters never bother, want a strong authoritarian government - a brutal daddy (not articulate, not very smart, and you have to keep him away from the Jack Daniels, but mean) - to keep them safe. And that may be a good guess.

As for the vote on the new rules for the detainees, and where this is all going, The Onion offers this -
In a decisive 1–0 decision Monday, President Bush voted to grant the president the constitutional power to grant himself additional powers.

"As president, I strongly believe that my first duty as president is to support and serve the president," Bush said during a televised address from the East Room of the White House shortly after signing his executive order. "I promise the American people that I will not abuse this new power, unless it becomes necessary to grant myself the power to do so at a later time."

The Presidential Empowerment Act, which the president hand-drafted on his own Oval Office stationery and promptly signed into law, provides Bush with full authority to permit himself to authorize increased jurisdiction over the three branches of the federal government, provided that the president considers it in his best interest to do so.

"In a time of war, the president must have the power he needs to make the tough decisions, including, if need be, the decision to grant himself even more power," Bush said. "To do otherwise would be playing into the hands of our enemies."

Added Bush: "And it's all under due process of the law as I see it."

In addition, the president reserves the right to overturn any decision to allow himself to increase his power by using a line-item veto, which in turn may only be overruled by the president.

Senior administration officials lauded Bush's decision, saying that current presidential powers over presidential power were "far too limited."

"Previously, the president only had the power to petition Congress to allow him to grant himself the power to grant more power to himself," Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez said shortly after the ceremony. "Now, the president can grant himself the power to interpret new laws however he sees fit, then use that power to interpret a law in such a manner that in turn grants him increased power."

In addition, a proviso in the 12th provision of the new law permits Bush the authority to waive the need for any presidential authorization of power in a case concerning national security, although legal experts suggest it would be little exercised.

Despite the president's new powers, the role of Congress and the Supreme Court has not been overlooked. Under the new law, both enjoy the newly broadened ability to grant the president the authority to increase his presidential powers.

"This gives the president the tools he needs to ensure that the president has all the necessary tools to expedite what needs to be done, unfettered by presidential restrictions on himself," said Rep. John Cornyn (R-TX). "It's long overdue."

Though public response to the new law has been limited, there has been an unfavorable reaction among Democrats, who are calling for restrictions on Bush's power to allow himself to grant the president more powers that would restrict the powers of Congress.

"This is a clear case of President Bush having carte blanche to grant himself complete discretion to enact laws to increase his power," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said. "The only thing we can do now is withhold our ability to grant him more authority to grant himself more power."

"Unless he authorizes himself to strip us of that power," Reid added.

Despite criticism, Bush took his first official action under the new law Tuesday, signing an executive order ordering that the chief executive be able to order more executive orders.

In addition, Republicans fearful that the president's new power undermines their ability to grant him power have proposed a new law that would allow senators to permit him to grant himself power, with or without presidential approval.
That's about it. We're in trouble. But keep your eyes on the wars. It'll keep you busy.

Posted by Alan at 22:22 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 3 August 2006 06:55 PDT home

Tuesday, 1 August 2006
The Heart of Darkness
Topic: Couldn't be so...
The Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) was quite a novelist, born in Poland as Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, in Berdyczów (which is now Berdychiv and in Ukraine). Conrad's father was a writer and translator from French and English, and he was arrested by the Russian authorities in Warsaw for his activities in support of the 1863 insurrection against Tsarist Russia - and was exiled to Siberia. Conrad was an orphan by the time he was eleven, and ending up not much liking Russians. He then lived with an uncle who reluctantly allowed him to travel to Marseille and begin a career as a seaman, at seventeen - it seems he couldn't get Austro-Hungarian citizenship and that made him liable for a twenty-five year involuntary stint in the Russian army. No thanks. Off to Marseille and off to sea - and then a bit of gunrunning and political conspiracy, and the women that drove him crazy. In 1878, after a botched suicide attempt, he took a slot on his first British ship. With time on his hands learned English before he was twenty-one, and then in 1886 got his Master Mariner's certificate and British citizenship at the same time. In 1894, all of thirty-six years old, he left that sea stuff. He ended up living in London and then near Canterbury, down in Kent.

And he wrote - Nostromo, about a revolution in South America, and The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes - and those two deal with espionage and what we now call terrorism. There was Lord Jim and the others. But the novel everyone remembers these days is the short Heart of Darkness - a really scathing indictment of colonialism, and the nasty human exploitation and all too harrowing but predictable suffering that goes with it, and the despair on all sides in the end. The narrator sees lots of things while in command of a Congo steamer. Marlow meets Kurtz.

We're not a nation of readers so the only way most know of this book is through a film inspired by it, Apocalypse Now, where the quietly and profoundly evil Kurtz at the heart of all the darkness in that case turns out to be Marlon Brando, of all people. Caught in traffic up on Mulholland Drive a few years ago when Brando died and the local news vans had clogged the street by his place hoping to interview someone or other, anyone who looked sad, it was easy to think of Brando as the heart of darkness still. But the film was just a shadow of the book, and really about more than a few other matters.

Conrad himself is long gone - in 1923 he declined the offer of a British knighthood, saying he already had a hereditary Polish one (implying he rather not have one from this British Empire that had subdued the lesser races and all that). He died the next year. But he had nailed the darkness, spot on, in that one book.

It was easy to think of him when, on Tuesday, August 1, there's this - Michael Steele, the real-life hero of the 1993 events in Somalia that were turned into the film Black Hawk Down, is now under investigation - he may have either directly ordered the men he commanded, or implicitly encouraged the men he commanded, to go on a bit of a killing spree, as in just go kill all military-age males you find. This happening, of course, just as the Army has started to make its case against his four soldiers charged with murdering three Iraqi civilians. They say he gave the order, and they don't think it's fair to wholly blame them - they acted in self-defense, and were, anyway, under orders to kill all military-age Iraqi men, whether or not they were armed. So they did. But they just were not acting "in cold blood."

As for Steele, you are responsible for those you command. Responsibility flows upward, save for the Pentagon and White House. So Steele is in trouble. The scoop in the item from ABC News the day before the soldiers' hearing gets going is that Steele has already been reprimanded for the incident.

And the item adds this detail -
During the current conflict, Steele has been heard boasting about his unit's record of killing insurgents. Last November he said, "We are absolutely giving the enemy the maximum opportunity to die for his country."

A source familiar with the investigation said Steele kept a "kill board" tallying the number of Iraqis killed by units under his command, and in some cases he gave out commemorative knives to soldiers who killed Iraqis believed to be insurgents.
Charming. But Steele is not the heart of darkness, just unclear of the concept that the Army is now trying to drive home - in this kind of asymmetrical, fourth-generation, guerilla war of insurgency, or whatever you wish to call it, the native population is the prize you're trying to win, not those who just get in the way and can be eliminated when you really don't know who is the real bad guy, who might be, and who's a normal or goofy nobody in the area and you don't have the time or resources to find that out.

Steele may have really hurt our efforts, buy one could go higher, as in this - Major General Geoffrey Miller, the former commander of Guantanamo, has resigned -
Miller chose to retire without seeking promotion and a third star, in large part because his legacy has been tarnished by allegations of abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, according to military officials and congressional sources. Miller had hoped to retire in February, but his departure was delayed because members of the Senate Armed Services Committee wanted to question him while he was still in uniform about his role in implementing harsh interrogation techniques at the two prisons.

Miller was allowed to retire only after he assured members of the Senate panel in writing that he would make himself available to testify if called. Congressional sources from both political parties said yesterday that they were not satisfied with several investigations into Miller's actions while he was commander at Guantanamo Bay and are still skeptical of his truthfulness in Senate testimony after the Abu Ghraib abuse surfaced in spring 2004.

… While the top officer at Guantanamo Bay in 2002 and 2003, Miller implemented and oversaw a number of harsh interrogation tactics that included the use of dogs to frighten Arab detainees, and stripping captives naked and shackling them in stress positions to force them to talk. Such tactics later were used in Iraq, shortly after Miller and a team of experts visited in 2003 to help obtain more information during interrogations.

Miller has said he did not authorize interrogation techniques in Iraq. But according to slides he presented to Pentagon officials upon his return, he used his Guantanamo Bay experience as a baseline for suggestions such as having military police who guarded the detainees set the conditions for more fruitful interrogations. Weeks later, military police soldiers at Abu Ghraib took pictures of themselves using harsh and demeaning tactics similar to those at Guantanamo Bay.
Is he Kurtz? Maybe, but he knows he's not going to rise, and he may be the fall guy, eventually, for all this. It's time to get out.

And there's this -
Miller's retirement was postponed until after the court-martial of US Army Sergeant Santos Cardona, who was convicted of abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib when he used unmuzzled dogs during interrogations. In testimony during Cardona's court-martial, Miller denied recommending the use of dogs during interrogations. Although Miller will not face disciplinary action for the allegations against him, he could be called back to active duty to face a court-martial, though military officials say the move will not likely happen. Pentagon officials last year refused to reprimand Miller as recommended by two generals investigating abuse at Guantanamo Bay.

There may not always be two generals who flat-out refuse to say you did anything at all wrong. Why chance that?

But then again there's this - the president has nominated General Bantz J. Craddock, to be the top military man at NATO.

Craddock currently commands the Southern Command, responsible for the Guantanamo prison, and is the guy, when the three prisoners there recently committed suicide, called the suicides an act of war on America. Whatever.

The Europeans get to nominate the top civilian at NATO, and we get to name the top military leaders - that's the deal. And this may be a Bush in-your-face thing at all the euro-weenies who bitch about Guantanamo and want us to shut it down, and don't like our secret prisons and don't like us grabbing people of the streets of Rome and sending them off for "enhanced interrogation" to places that don't exist, never to be heard from again. Maybe Miller should have stayed around. The senate, who must approve this nomination (the Europeans have no say), are a bit uncomfortable with this move, but the president's party still has the majority there. There are still enough angry no-one-can-criticize-us types that this will sail through, even if sailing through roughly. But it best be done before November. Things could change.

Given these items, one senses that there's a bit of an under the surface struggle going on here as Iraq disintegrates, the Hezbollah-Israel war widens and deepens, the Taliban retake parts of Afghanistan, and all the rest spins out of control. There are the "get tough" neoconservatives, echoing the words of Conrad's Kurtz - "Exterminate the brutes."

It's the Heart if Darkness, once again. Steele and Miller, and maybe Craddock and others - and Vice President Cheney in the shadows doing his Marlon Brando thing (think about it) - leading to things like this from the influential John Podhoretz -

What if the tactical mistake we made in Iraq was that we didn't kill enough Sunnis in the early going to intimidate them and make them so afraid of us they would go along with anything? Wasn't the survival of Sunni men between the ages of 15 and 35 the reason there was an insurgency and the basic cause of the sectarian violence now?
Had will just killed every one of them there'd be no problem. Well, yes, genocide can be efficient, and bring a long period of no troubles. The Turks pretty much got rid of the Armenians way back when (many of those who escaped seemed to have ended up out here in California). Hitler almost got rid of all the Jews (and Schoenberg and Thomas Mann and so many others got out quick and ended up here in Hollywood). Those who aren't dead have left for California. But you hope you get them all. So the neoconservatives float a new theory.

And Podhoretz adds this - "If you can't imagine George W. Bush issuing such an order, is there any American leader you could imagine doing so?"

Podhoretz is saying Bush is the man, and he should have done it, and he's disappointed in Bush for not giving the order. But you could apply the lesson elsewhere.

An anonymous writer who uses the name Tristero, a character in Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 - he's actually a composer whose works are performed by orchestras worldwide - says Podhoretz has concluded Conrad's Kurtz had the right idea - "Exterminate the brutes." That's here, with a collection of matching quotes from the Third Reich and other sources. It's not amusing.

As for exterminating the brutes, it may be too late now to kill all the Sunni males of a certain age, but now be the time to for mass slaughter of the Hezbollah crowd - men, women and children - but they're doing for us, or something, or so says Rush Limbaugh -here (emphases added) -
We've got the Hezbos, who have in interesting fashion, and I think the same thing is being attempted in Iraq, and it poses the same kind of trouble, or the same kind of challenge. The Hezbos have pretty much made - and we've heard the puff piece stories. Oh, they're wonderful humanitarians, the Hezbos, why, the social services they provide the general population, why, they're doing such wonderful things, they care about people, they passed out health care and whatever the hell it is. Well, what they're doing is making the general population of these countries dependent on them, and as such, that is how they secure - it's either through blackmail or genuine support, but it's how they get the support of the general population centers. You also have the Israeli factor in that. These are Arabs absolutely, so there are a number of factors in it.

But the one thing that has really changed in warfare, from World War II forward - and I know that tactics change, but strategy doesn't. The Art of War by Sun Tzu is still something that's regarded as timely, even though it's thousands of years old. The one thing that you just don't do these days is kill civilians. It used to be the name of the game in war. And it was done on purpose. Now, it was done to end wars, and it was done to achieve decisive victory, and it was done to save the lives of your own troops in the field. All of those things were factors.

So we had this episode at Qana. You know who really killed those people are the Hezbos. Hezbollah killed those people. Hezbollah put those people in that building and brought the rocket launchers in close by, knowing full well that the launcher would be targeted. That building didn't fall for eight hours after it was hit. What do you bet that the Hezbos finished the job that the Israeli bomb did not actually complete? What do you bet they killed their own people for the PR aspect? These people cannot compete militarily with any industrialized nation, so they have to fight the PR and the spin war. And it is amazing to me to see how easily the duped US and world media is.

… Every bit of it is staged and the still photographers know it. Yet they send these pictures out without saying all of this is being staged for us. They send these pictures out as though they are in a timeline of an exact sequence, which they are not, which you will see when you read it. So the point is, Israel is probably not even killing all these civilians. I asked the other day, when you have the Hezbos who don't wear uniforms, how do you know what civilian deaths are versus Hezbo deaths, how do you know who's who there? You don't.

… Until civilians - frankly, I'm not sure how many of them are actually just innocent little civilians running around versus active Hezbo types, particularly the men, but until those civilians start paying a price for propping up these kinds of regimes, it's not going to end, folks. What do you mean, civilians start paying a price? I just ask you to consult history for the answer to that. It's not their fault, Rush, it's not their fault! No. Not saying that it is.

But as long as you're going to allow these people to hide behind baby carriages and women and children and mosques and so-called apartment buildings, and if you're going to launch military strikes at military targets, which Hezbollah is not doing - 120 rockets into Israel yesterday. Nobody has a care in the world, nobody has one word of condemnation for that. We don't know what targets were hit, we don't know how many people died. The Israelis are not parading their victims around on TV for propaganda purposes. As long as we are going to pussyfoot and patty-cake around, we're not going to get anywhere, we're not going to make any real progress.

We may delay the inevitable, we may get ceasefire after ceasefire after ceasefire, but we're not going to deal with the root cause of the problem. And as such, your kids and grandkids are going to be saddled with that at some point when they assume responsibility for the fate and future of the country.
So they all need to be exterminated. Or so says Kurtz.

Digby sees the underlying idea here -
So, the pictures of the dead are all phony, staged propaganda but the civilians need to be killed anyway in order to get to the root causes of the problem - which I understand to be too many living Arabs. If we don't kill them now, our kids and grandkids will have to kill their kids and grandkids later.

This blatant genocidal bloodlust has become de rigeur on the right now. It's on talk radio, TV and in the columns of respectable newspapers. They don't even pretend to be civilized anymore. Maybe it's just the SOS, but I've got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I don't ever remember this kind of stuff being openly bandied about like it's normal. And those who did, like Curtis LeMay, didn't have audiences of 25 million listeners to spew their bilge to.

But hey, what do we expect? Once you explode the taboo against torture, can genocide be far behind?
Yep, there's something going around, in the top circles of those who advise or support the White House now. It's that "kill them all and let God sort them out" thing. The ball is rolling.

Of course there are ironies. We just don't do genocide - going after whole races of people - men, women and children. We're the good guys - and just don't say anything about the Long Trail of the Cherokee as they were forced to walk from North Carolina to Oklahoma, and then we took most of that away. That was a long time ago. So were the internment camps for the Japanese in the forties. It's not the same. We don't do such things.

But there is a rising tide here - Ann Coulter saying we should force their leaders to convert to Christianity, or kill them, the calls for getting tough and "taking the gloves off," Steele, Miller, the rules going away so people die in "enhanced interrogation" and others just disappear, the administration's documented plan to use nuclear weapons on Iran if they keep experimenting with that nuclear stuff, and so on, with Limbaugh saying "but until those civilians start paying a price for propping up these kinds of regimes, it's not going to end, folks."

Bill Montgomery here compares that to Osama bin Laden in March of 1997 is his Fatwa Against America -
We declared jihad against the US government, because the US government is unjust, criminal and tyrannical. It has committed acts that are extremely unjust, hideous and criminal.

… As for what you asked regarding the American people, they are not exonerated from responsibility, because they chose this government and voted for it despite their knowledge of its crimes in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and in other places.
Same thing. The gloves are off. (And see this the two quotes side by side on national television, and Keith Olbermann of MSNBC ruefully laughing at Limbaugh.

But that's where we are.


Waking Up

One pro-administration fellow (Bill Ardolino) takes his own side to task here -
There's a common idea, almost exclusively promoted among right-wing pundits, that more force is necessarily more effective force.

... But the global war on terror is a wildly asymmetrical conflict that's only going to grow more frustrating and complex. ... As a result, much of the bluster about ditching Queensbury rules and going "Dubya Dubya Too" on our "enemies" as an evident solution to the conflict is simply that: bluster. … "Nuking Mecca" won't do a whit of good, and in fact [will] accomplish the opposite of any cowing intent.

... I think that it's time for some right-wing pundits to either move beyond the lazy general concept of "more force" is necessarily "better force," or at least present a practical, detailed plan for an aggressive subjugation of "the enemy" that goes beyond "we need to get serious! If only those ******s in Washington would take the gloves off!"
That's a start.

And then out here on Tuesday, August 1, Prime Minister Blair gave an odd speech. The night before it had been a pleasant night at the Getty Center with the mayor and the big guns. Tuesday was World Affairs Council in Los Angeles, at the Westin Bonaventure hotel (the glass cylinders one in all the movies and in the most recent Buck Rodgers series).

This was an odd speech. Billed as a major foreign policy address he called for a "complete renaissance" of the global approach to tackling extremism, with as much emphasis on "soft" power as military might -
We will not win the battle against this global extremism unless we win it at the level of value as much as force, unless we show we are even-handed, fair and just in our application of those values to the world.

In reality we are at present far away from persuading those we need to persuade that this [is] true.

Unless we reappraise our strategy, unless we revitalize the broader global agenda on poverty, climate change, trade and in respect of the Middle East, bend every sinew of our will to making peace between Israel and Palestine, we will not win, and this is a battle we must win

You cannot win by bombing everything in sight, then rounding up everyone you can and torturing them to find out from the random sample who knows what?

No kidding, Tony. Dick Cheney may never let you talk to George again.

But this too is a start. On the other hand he's in trouble back in the UK and had to show he's really not George's prison bitch, and this would do. And he couldn't say this in Washington, only way out here where everyone is crazy anyway.

Posted by Alan at 23:40 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 3 August 2006 06:18 PDT home

Monday, 31 July 2006
There May Be No One at the Wheel
Topic: Couldn't be so...
There May Be No One at the Wheel
The state of things late Monday, July 31, indicated to some that there may be no one at the wheel. Of course, maybe there never was anyone at the wheel, and no one at all has much influence on what happens in the world.

In the Cold War half the world seemed to turn to Moscow for leadership, and the other half to Washington. Now, although we say, as the only remaining superpower in the world, that we are remaking the world the way God intended it to be - free and democratic and free-market capitalist - the project seems more than stalled. It seems to be falling apart, and no one much is turning to us for leadership. They know they won't get it. They'll get "let things play out" and "through war and death and chaos things will be remade into something better," as stability and calm have, really, been the problem. You could look it up.

Of course those we have named as the bad guys - the terrorists of all sorts all over the world, except for that odd fellow with the bad hair in North Korea who isn't a terrorist at all but shouldn't have the bomb - have the exact same project, remaking the world the way they say God intended it to be, and that is devout and severely narrowed to a whole different set of rules. The guy with the bad hair in North Korea doesn't talk of what God wants - he's a godless communist. He's just dangerous. But it's all evil, and we are here to rid the world of that. There shouldn't be evil in the world, anywhere. We'll put and end to it.

As these words read, this should be a Monty Python skit - that crew was, in their day, forever sending up the logic people used in this world by taking it to its "logical" conclusion. Who can forget Every Sperm is Sacred from The Meaning of Life? You just go with the argument, running it out, and it turns silly. But this isn't a Monty Python skit. It just seems like one. There's a lot in the press about whether our tactics and strategies were right or wrong - from asking whether we sent enough troops to do the job, to what we have had them do, to, way back when, whether the Iraq War was necessary or there were other alternatives. The commentary on what we should have done, are doing and should do to achieve our aim is endless. But maybe it was the basic concept. All the rest is just detail.

The news of the preceding weekend had been of the death of all those women and children in the small village of Qana in south Lebanon. The world was outraged that an American-made precision bomb dropped by the Israeli Air Force killed thirty-seven small children, the rest of the fifty-four dead being women and the elderly. There were riots in Beirut and Gaza, the Lebanese government told our Secretary of State to just go home as there was nothing to talk about, and every nation called for a cease-fire. The government of Israel said it was regrettable, and the Untied States alone said there should be no cease-fire. Condoleezza Rice had been saying that in the Israeli-Hezbollah war we were seeing the "birth pangs" of a new Middle East - and sure it would be painful, but it was worth it - and the president used his Saturday morning radio address to say what was happening was really a great opportunity, if you looked at it the right way. But neither of them had been in the line of fire.

Sunday we announced that Israel had agreed to forty-eight hour halt to all the bombing. They didn't announce it - we did, for them. We cannot appear too heartless. That lasted six hours or so. It was just one of those things you throw out there and hope people remember later, no matter what really happens next. Call it positioning.

What happened next was this -
Israel's prime minister declared Monday that there would be no cease-fire with Hezbollah guerrillas, apologizing for the deaths of Lebanese civilians but saying "we will not give up on our goal to live a life free of terror." His Security Cabinet approved widening the ground offensive.
They had just called up thirty thousand reservists. They called up another fifteen thousand. So the president of Syria told his army to raise readiness, as something seemed to be up. Well, the Jerusalem Post had reported that the White House had been pressing Israel attack Syria. Forget birth pangs. We're talking induced labor. And in Iraq the vice president of our new government there, Shiite by default, was saying Israel was carrying out massacres, and former moderate clerics were on our case. But Israel bombed on, and we stood with them, alone.

And there was the inevitable - the Israel Defense Forces indicated that it might not have been responsible for the deaths at all (here) - the building they bombed didn't fall in until seven hours later and they have no explanation for that, but think something is up. And your can see here that the Israeli Insider is claiming the whole thing was staged - these people killed their own folks to make Israel, and by extension the Americans, the bad guys. You can find a lot of that on the web, and on Fox News Oliver North floated the idea - it may have been a set-up to make "us" look bad. Cognitive dissonance is a wonderful thing.

But things - as we talk about childbirth and opportunity and say dead children are just something you have to accept - are looking bad, as Daniel Froomkin notes here -
In the best of circumstances, Bush would be running the risk of being considered callous. But in the current circumstances, he runs the risk of being considered both callous and delusional.

… You don't get much more Washington Establishment than Richard N. Haass, who was Bush's first-term State Department policy planning director and now leads the Council on Foreign Relations. And he apparently finds Bush's position laughable. Literally.

Peter Baker writes in the Washington Post that Haass "laughed at the president's public optimism. 'An opportunity?' Haass said with an incredulous tone. 'Lord, spare me. I don't laugh a lot. That's the funniest thing I've heard in a long time. If this is an opportunity, what's Iraq? A once-in-a-lifetime chance?'"
People are catching on. Well, actually, the rest of the world had caught on a long time ago, years ago. They've been trying to tell us, but they're foreigners so they don't count, of course. But then polling shows the American public is slowly catching on, late to the game but sensing there's something delusional going on at the top. Some things you have to figure out yourself. The third of the country that says the president is doing just fine and his ideas are sound may find themselves getting more and more defensive - when people laugh at you when everyone is sitting around shooting the breeze you may get upset, not that you'd change your mind. (For a curious discussion of "the apparently literal impossibility of explaining the fundamentally counterproductive nature of the United State's invasion of Iraq, or of what's currently going on in Lebanon, to those who disagree" see William Gibson here - it all goes back to Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" and the blindness that "changing paradigms" induces, really - and it is quite convincing.)

And even the most carefully calculating group of people, who know their very careers and just about everything they are depends on not offending anyone about anything on any topic, the Democratic congressional leadership, sent the president a letter on that Monday, about the Iraq part of the delusion. And it included this -
The open-ended commitment in Iraq that you have embraced cannot and should not be sustained. Rather, we continue to believe that it is time for Iraqis to step forward and take the lead for securing and governing their own country... We believe that a phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq should begin before the end of 2006. U.S. forces in Iraq should transition to a more limited mission focused on counterterrorism, training and logistical support of Iraqi security forces, and force protection of U.S. personnel... Mr. President, simply staying the course in Iraq is not working. We need to take a new direction.
They even stopped squabbling among themselves. Everyone signed on - Murtha, Biden, and the whole gang. This is very odd. But then, when the whole world was there years ago, and two-thirds of the nation is slapping their foreheads and feeling had, maybe it's safe to send a letter now.

On another issue, the same day out here down in Long Beach, Tony Blair was meeting with Arnold Schwarzenegger, our odd governor, and the two of them announced an agreement to bypass the Bush administration and work together to explore ways to fight global warming (details here). Just bypass the White House - everyone knows they're a rather useless bunch. Heck, the administration still claims there is a lively debate on whether global warming is caused by man or just stuff that happens now and then, although they find it hard to come up with folks on the latter side of the argument, save for one guy at Yale and the fellow who wrote Jurassic Park. Why even bother trying to get them to do anything? So California and the UK will work something out together. George cannot be happy with Tony. And states really shouldn't be entering into what looks like treaty agreements with foreign countries - that's against the rules. But you've got to do what you've got to do. We're funding embryonic stem cell research out here too. Why even bother to argue with the administration?

And why even deal with people, who, as Scott Rosenberg notes here, here are pretty much saying we have to destroy Lebanon in order to save it. Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt. But as Rosenberg says -
Chalk up another Vietnam parallel: Just as, in that conflict, military officers explained that in order to save a village we had to destroy it, so, today, President Bush explains that the destruction of Lebanon - one of the Middle East's very few functioning democracies -- is all in the service of spreading democracy.

Addressing the Coast Guard in Miami, Bush declared, "When democracy spreads in the Middle East, the people of that troubled region will have a better future, the terrorists will lose their safe havens and their recruits, and the United States of America will be more secure."

Never mind that Hezbollah, the Shiite group that provoked Israel's attack and continues to fire missiles across the border, was actually a part of the coalition that ruled democratic Lebanon. I suppose that if, say, elections in Saudi Arabia replaced its authoritarian monarchy with an Islamist democracy, we would hear something similar from our government: Democracy, yes - but it has to be a democracy that elects just the right people! In taking on the grand mission of bringing democracy to the Middle East, it seems, the U.S. is also committing itself to intervention (or support of others' intervention) any time that democracy produces governments we don't like.

Oh, Bush also took the opportunity to explain how the war between Israel and Hezbollah is actually all a part of the Manichean struggle that commenced on 9/11: "'For decades, the status quo in the Middle East permitted tyranny and terror to thrive,' the president said. 'And as we saw on Sept. 11, the status quo in the Middle East led to death and destruction in the United States, and it had to change.'"
Yep, it's the same thing. And Republican Senator Hegel, was blunt on the floor of the senate - this is "an absolute replay of Vietnam." He says we need to call for an immediate cease-fire - no more civilians in Lebanon get killed and no more rockets drop into northern Israel. Then everyone can talk. Of course he's ex-military. He fought in Vietnam. The administration scoffs at such folk - think Max Cleland, and of course that coward who knows nothing of these matters, John Kerry with all his medals. Amateurs. Monty Python couldn't top all that.

Rosenberg also offers this -
First we have the Bush administration's basic position, which, it's fair to say, has all along been: It's time to clean house in Lebanon. Let Israel do whatever it wants. Cease-fires are for wimps (unless they're real, manly cease-fires that are agreed to only after you have pulverized your enemy and achieved your goals). Then we have a succession of escalating awful events on the ground culminating in the Qana carnage - events that not only feature civilian bloodshed but that also immediately and directly harm the administration's "war on terror" by discrediting the U.S. among the Muslim populations whose hearts and minds we are supposed to be winning over. Finally, we have the U.S. engineering a slight slowdown in the Israeli onslaught - trumpeted on front pages as a "concession." This "concession" is so limited it has to be announced by American spokespeople rather than Israel itself, and before long it turns out to be so limited as to be nearly meaningless.
And he wonders what the administration is up to, offering these four possibilities -
1) They really mean it when they say that they only want a cease-fire if it can be a lasting cease-fire. Probably they do "mean it" in the sense that this accurately represents the wishful thinking of the president and vice president. As that wishful thinking collides with reality, however, the stance becomes increasingly irrelevant.

2) They think victory for Israel is just over the next ridge - the way it is for the U.S. in Iraq. Therefore holding Israel back from delivering a coup de grâce against the Hezbollah terrorists would hurt the "global war on terror" - civilian casualties are regrettable but it's more important to let Israel get the job done. The assumption here is that, given enough time, the Israeli military machine will get the job done. Unfortunately for Bush (and the Israelis), at the moment the Lebanon campaign looks no more effective at establishing the invader's invincibility than the Iraq invasion was at demonstrating American power.

3) It's a throw-the-gameboard over move. Things in the Middle East are so bad for the U.S. right now that Bush's team wants to go for broke. We have hints that Washington is egging Israel on to take on Syria. With Iraq spiraling the drain and Iran ascendant, Bush sees Israel's Lebanon campaign as the only way to create a new "opportunity" (to use Rice's term) in the Middle East. This scenario would be easier to credit if the neocon gang (Wolfowitz, Feith, et al.) that took us into Iraq were still manning the fort. Today we can only hope and pray that the reality quotient in policymaking circles is a little higher.

4) There is no one at the wheel. "Let it play out" might be a calculated stance, but it could also be the pure deer-in-the-headlights paralysis of a White House that is so far out of its depth it cannot muster any sort of coherent response to a crisis. In other words, there might not be method to this madness; in the immortal words of Martin Sheen's Willard in "Apocalypse Now," "I don't see any method at all."
He has the sinking feeling it's number four. And maybe it is.

There may be no one at the wheel. Is there a better explanation?

Well, maybe there is. It's the "human nature" explanation. Everyone tells you what you believe is wrong, and it's unanimous, and basic logic tells you you're wrong, and everyone is pointing to the logic. So you get defensive. You insist you're right, and everyone else just doesn't get it, all of them, every one of them. And you offer an alternative logic. When they laugh you act all noble - you play the misunderstood visionary. No one understands you, and it's so sad. Watch Humphrey Bogart in The Cain Mutiny - he got that thing down cold, maybe his best performance. Of course he was playing a madman, but he nailed the character. It's just in this case we don't get the ball bearings and this isn't about strawberry ice cream. And there will never be a court martial of anyone.

He doesn't like taking crap from anyone. Think of this from Ron Suskind's new book, The One Percent Doctrine -
He's a graduate student at one of America's most prestigious business schools.

He is the leader of his class basketball team.

Without provocation, he hits the leader of the opposing team in the jaw to stop him from making a shot. A few minutes later, he blocks another shot by the same man by smashing his legs on a jump shot.

Years later after both had become successful businessmen, the fellow who'd been struck twice was still wondering what the hell all that had been about. One day he happened to run into the man's brother, now the governor of a state. Could he explain it?

Well, yes. You see, in Texas there are people who get satisfaction from being hard. This was an example of Texas hardness.
That too might explain things. The whole crew is like that - the "shock and awe" crowd. We get two an half more years of this.


Thinking Differently

Here's a little thought experiment from the novelist Jane Smiley. She won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992 for A Thousand Acres and her Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel (Knopf) is pretty good literary criticism. She writes articles for all the major magazines and she's a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has a way with words, and ideas, and on current matters she offers this -
One of the things that is astonishing about conservatives is that they seem not to understand the simplest facts of logistics, such as how expensive and fragile extended supply lines are. I imagine it this way: France sends 150,000 troops to subdue California. California has 36 million people, most of them armed with something - if not guns, then kitchen knives. France divides up its forces between LA, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose, and Bakersfield, leaving, say a thousand troops to pacify the Monterey Peninsula, from south of Big Sur to north of Santa Cruz and east to the 101, about 4800 square miles of mountainous and inhospitable terrain. How exactly are they going to do it if we Californians refuse to cooperate? They will certainly make examples of some of us, destroy lots of our houses, wreck as much of our infrastructure as possible, and imprison some of us who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it's a long way from France to Monterey, it's hard to ship lots of supplies all that way, and so unless the French Army takes what we have, thereby alienating us, they are going to be hard put to subdue us, and the longer it takes them, the less likely it is that they will accomplish what they set out to do. Anyway, as soon as the French army leaves my neighborhood, I'm going to do what I want. Just about the only way that the French army is going to succeed here in Monterey is genocide - same in LA, same in San Fran, same in Sacramento.

The French Army is in big trouble because they have mistaken their fantasies for reality, but as they begin to win over the Hispanic population of California, they find themselves looking the other way when some ethnic cleansing takes place. The French Minister of Defense goes on the record saying that "Democracy is messy" a few days after some of my neighbors are ethnically cleansed by their gardeners. All around the world, after this incident, there is muttering about how maybe my neighbors deserved what happened to them (although isn't it too bad about the children?), but I can't help think that before the French army came along we seemed to be getting along well enough here in California. It's just that now, with the infrastructure largely destroyed by the French bombing and survival more difficult, it is inevitable that everything will be messy. Unfortunately, Jacques Chirac, when he planned this war on California, didn't bother to factor in the inevitable social breakdown that has been a documented part of every war since time began. I mean, unfortunately for us. Chirac doesn't care how California has been destroyed because he's distracted by his poll numbers, which are low, and in order to revive them, he is talking about attacking Mexico. This time, though, since the French Army is pinned down in California, he is just going to bomb the Mexican populace into submission. It's going to be a genocide. That seems to be his only strategic alternative, and the defense of France requires it.

Modern air war is always genocide. It has to be, because that's what bombs are for - they are for burning and blasting out civilians. That is the use they were put to the Second World War, and that is the use they have been put to since, and no one has ever proven that genocide-through-bombing was effective in persuading civilian populations to switch loyalties from one side to another. In fact, Jorg Friedrich, historian of the Allied bombing of Germany maintains that thousands and thousands of bombs toward the end of the war only stiffened German civilian resistance. Conservatives live by the principle that force always works in the end - and it does, if genocide is the goal (I mean real genocide, where a majority of a given population are killed), but what have you got when the killing is over? A devastated landscape, the reputation for war crimes, and a big humanitarian mess. The psychology on the face of it is just wrong. They're trying to kill me so I will start honoring and obeying them? Only a conservative would expect something like that, and only from the other side. He himself would never expect to be bombed into submission. So let's quit playing word games.

But let's give the conservatives the benefit of the doubt and say that they know enough to know, even though they don't say so, that bombing and genocide are not actually any more persuasive to an indigenous population somewhere else in the world than they would be to folks at home. But if that is true, why are they so enamored of bombing, attacking, sending in the troops?
Good question, that. But there's more -
Why did they come here, so far from France, in the first place? Oh, right. It was "French interests abroad" that they were trying to defend. You know, I was suspicious when they bought up the water rights in my neighborhood. I thought at the time "Why would the Loire Valley Water Authority buy the rights to the Carmel River?" And then when they put in the sausage facility and started sending groups of hunters out to harvest the wild pigs that infest our area, I was actually happy. But now I understand that for them the cost of doing business in California was just too high. We wanted them to pay pretty steep taxes and we began charging much stiffer permit fees for hunting licenses when we heard that those sausages were selling for about the same price as Kobe beef, while we were getting nothing at our end, the "buy low" end. The water owners and the sausage-makers back in France got incensed at how uppity we Californians were. They decided it was easier and far more cost effective (for them), to send in the French army to permanently secure the supply of water and sausage than it was to actually make a deal with us. But now the river is polluted and the sausage facility has been blown up by insurgents from Santa Cruz, so the French capitalists are thinking of investing in China (and I say French, but really, the money behind them is not only French - it's Saudi, American, British, Chinese, Brazilian. Capitalists are always proud of globalization. Money, as they say, doesn't care who owns it). What Capitalism requires, as I understand it, is the ruthless externalization of costs so that shareholders will keep investing. The job of the executives is always to reduce costs and maximize profits, so getting others to pay and keeping the profits for oneself is always the point and the goal. I am going to repeat that again, because so many average persons think that the corporation is their friend and capitalism is the lifeblood of democracy. The goal of capitalists is to make me, the average citizen, pay as much of the cost of doing business as possible, and to keep for themselves as many of the profits as possible.
And on it goes. It's just a different way of looking at things. Enjoy it while you are still allowed to look at things differently.

Posted by Alan at 23:26 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 1 August 2006 07:13 PDT home

Sunday, 30 July 2006
Hot Off the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements
Hot Off 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 31, for the week of July 30, 2006.Click here to go there...

This week, in four separate commentaries, notes on the national dialog about the implications of the third war that is underway in the Middle East, trying to make sense of it all - not just what is happening, but what people are saying about why it is happening and where this is all leading, and discussion, in a not too policy wonk way, about how we as a nation are now defining ourselves. And there is a discussion of the national mood of isolationism - or maybe it's complete pessimism, the idea that no one can fix anything. But on a cheerier note, there's that new survey on who are the happiest people on earth (they're not at Disneyland).

At the International Desk, Our Man in Tel-Aviv, Sylvain Ubersfeld, explains that although you may not think things are kosher right now in Israel, they really are, and he supplements that with four photographs. Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, finds an oasis in the midst of some strange doings. Like most Parisians - he is one now - he is about to leave for the month of August. And it seems his leaving is coming none too soon, as it is becoming very odd there.

The Hollywood page this week brings you the odd characters hanging around as the crew prepare the red carpet and floodlight for the premier of a major motion picture. That still happens out here. There's guest photography this week, from Phillip Raines, who work has appeared often in these pages. This time, Georgia porches.

The Southern California photography covers some surreal local architectural details, and there are some snazzy color studies, and better than ever botanicals, and some classic California palm tree shots, then a return visit to the lotus pool in Beverly Hills.

Our friend from Texas brings us another week of the weird, bizarre and unusual, and this week's quotes are some odd ones about war and peace, of course.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________________

The Big Idea: We Want Change, Not Peace, and No One Is Helping
Root Causes
Isolated: When you're the strongest, the richest, and basically just the biggest, does it matter if no one at all agrees with you?
Getting Surreal
Drawing Inward: Some Notes on Isolationism
Odd Data: If You're Looking for Happiness, Move To Denmark

The International Desk ______________________________

Our Man in Tel-Aviv: KAF, SHIN and RESH, ARE YOU KOSHER?
Our Man in Paris: Oasis - the Last Sortie

Hollywood Matters ______________________________

Characters: Hollywood This Week

Guest Photography: Georgia Porches

Southern California Photography ______________________________

Architectural Details
Colors: On the Boulevard and at the Beach
Botanicals: Morning Mist
Palms: So California
Lotus Land

Quotes for the week of July 30, 2006 - War and Peace

Posted by Alan at 20:19 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 29 July 2006
Drawing Inward: Some Notes in Isolationism
Topic: In these times...
Drawing Inward: Some Notes on Isolationism
With the new war in southern Lebanon - we're only three weeks or so into this one - and the rockets raining down on northern Israel and the bombs falling from Beirut to the Syrian border, some items in the news got short shrift. One would be the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. Yeah, yeah - bad news for the Republicans as people are unhappy with how things are going in the world. The party in power in the most powerful and influential nation in the world seem to have a mess on their hands. They cannot blame the Democrats for screwing things up, and everyone knows that. The Democrats aren't running anything they may never run anything ever again - and there's only some much lipstick you can put on this particular pig, as they say.

So this was not news, until you look at the poll more closely. That's what Jim Rutenberg and Megan C. Thee did in the New York Times on Thursday, July 27, here, saying that once you get past thinking about what the results mean in terms of the upcoming midterm elections, there's something else going on. Americans are showing a new but quite definite isolationist streak. It seems we, collectively, don't want to be the most powerful and influential nation in the world, spreading freedom and democracy willy-nilly where we're not wanted. It just causes more problems. The administration and the neoconservative idealists who direct it, with their massive project to remake the world - the famous Project for the New American Century - have hit a wall. The question seems to have come down to asking why we are doing all this, and what good had come of it, or is likely to come of it. Pinky and the Brain was a funny cartoon series, but this is real life.

Quick aside - Pinky and the Brain centered on a genetically engineered mouse (who sounded a whole lot like Orson Welles) and his quite amusingly insane mouse cohort making nightly attempts to take over the world. This was a co-production of Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment and Warner Brothers that ran from 1995 to 1998. There were sixty-five episodes, and it wasn't really for kids - the dialog was far too witty and subtle, and there were all those references to classic films like "The Third Man" and "Bride of Frankenstein" and such. It was about power and insanity. Pinky: "Gee, Brain. What are we going to do tonight?" The Brain: "The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world." They couldn't run it these days. The Brain, as drawn, looks too much like Dick Cheney and Pinky shares traits with George Bush. Bill O'Reilly would be incensed.

In any event, the Times item on the poll opens with this -
Americans are overwhelmingly pessimistic about the state of affairs in the Middle East, with majorities doubtful there will ever be peace between Israel and its neighbors, or that American troops will be able to leave Iraq anytime soon, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

A majority said the war between Israel and Hezbollah will lead to a wider war. And while almost half of those polled approved of President Bush's handling of the crisis, a majority said they preferred the United States leave it to others to resolve.

Over all, the poll found a strong isolationist streak in a nation clearly rattled by more than four years of war, underscoring the challenge for Mr. Bush as he tries to maintain public support for his effort to stabilize Iraq and spread democracy through the Middle East.
Election implications aside, the data are startling. Fifty-six percent of us support a timetable for a reduction our forces in Iraq, and more than half of that group says they support a withdrawal even if it meant Iraq "would fall into the hands of insurgents." Screw it. It's going to happen anyway. This turns on its head the notion that Democrats should stay away from those ideas completely, lest the Republicans point out they're cowards and out of touch with the mainstream. The mainstream has moved on. This isn't a cartoon. Folks aren't amused.

In fact, by a pretty wide margin, the poll found that Americans did not believe the United States should take the lead in solving international conflicts in general - as in fifty-nine percent saying that was something we shouldn't be doing, and only thirty-one percent siding with the administration. That's less than a third. Back in September 2002 it was fifty-fifty. Enough is enough. And in more broad terms, only thirty-five percent of respondents said they approved of the president's handling of foreign policy "in general." On the other hand that was a bounce, up eight points since May. But a clear "expressed doubt about whether the president had the respect of foreign leaders." No kidding. The thrill is gone.

The poll was based on telephone interviews conducted July 21 through July 25, and world events have spiraled down each day since then. This won't get better. More than twice as many people in this poll believe the country is heading in the wrong direction than believe it is heading in the right direction. That may be hard to turn around.

And there's this -
Support for the president's staunch backing of Israel goes only so far: 39 percent indicated they approved of it, but 40 percent said the United States should avoid saying anything at all about the conflict (Only 7 percent said the United States should criticize Israel, though many respondents cast blame for the conflict on both sides).
We don't need to get involved? Maybe it's more like we shouldn't take side do dramatically. There's a bit of that - asking why we're opposing most everyone in the world, saying there should be no immediate cease-fire, and encouraging Israel to continue to disassemble Lebanon and traumatize its people -
In a common refrain among respondents regarding the Israel-Hezbollah war, Sharon Schierloh, 62, a retired factory worker from Ottawa, Ohio, said: "Let the Israelis take care of the problems in their area. We need to stay out of that because our troops are spread too thin." She spoke in a follow-up interview after participating in the poll.
Basically there was agreement, 63 to 30, the Iraq war "had not been worth the American lives and dollars lost." Only a quarter of respondents said they thought "the American presence in Iraq had been a stabilizing force in the region" - over forty percent said the whole thing "had made the Middle East less stable." It was fifty-fifty on whether the invasion was the right thing to do in the first place. People are discouraged.

Actually, diving beneath the political business - the implications for the upcoming midterm elections - the Times writers seem awfully worried about this new isolationist mood - we don't want to be engaged in the world, or want to be less engaged. But there is something more basic going on here, and a bit more worrying. It's that pessimism. The idea that the Democrats could fix any of this is shown here as a halfhearted wish that no one believes is more than a delusion. Congress generally polls much lower than the president stuck under forty percent approval. There is not one opposition leader with any plan and lots of uplifting hope to hand out all around. There are no heroes on the horizon, no sense that anyone can fix all this.

The isolationism is not the problem. It's only a symptom of a larger problem, a kind of existential despair. Think Camus and Sisyphus and that rock. What's the point?

That's not to say Omaha will turn into the Left Bank in Paris in the fifties, with beefy ex-salesmen sitting around drinking bad coffee, smoking endless cigarettes in shady sidewalk cafés, dissecting angst and the absence of meaning in life. It just means the defining conservative position that Ronald Reagan summed up in one key concept - "Government doesn't solve problems. Government is the problem" - has finally taken hold. Everything the government does in the world is crap, and just makes things worse, and next hurricane or major earthquake, you're own your own, as the government cannot be trusted to help anyone much. You're on your own. Why even vote? What's the point? Many see we now live in this new "you're on your own" world. They call it the new YOYO world. Acronyms are fun.


Other Voices:

Bill Montgomery here -
Most Americans like and support Israel, and dislike or hate Arabs and Muslims, but they don't want to actually go to war for the Jewish state. They also don't like it when their president openly abandons the traditional U.S. role of cease fire maker (I know, it's mostly for show, but in this case appearances matter) and actually urges the Israelis to go on bombing the shit out of Beirut.

This wouldn't be a problem if Israel were winning, but it's not. So now it needs even MORE support from Uncle Sam, at a time when the political and diplomatic costs of the war are getting astronomical.

… At the end of the day, there is a fundamental difference of interests between the Israelis and the Americans, as much as the neocons would like to deny it. The war with Iran and its allies and proxies is an existential issue for Israel - or at least, so the neocons seem to see it. It is NOT an existential issue for the USA - or at least, so American public opinion seems to see it. And more and more garden-variety conservatives are beginning to see it that way too.

September 11 and the war hysteria over Iraq's mythical WMD allowed the neocons to elide that difference for a time. But only for a time. Now it's reappearing, despite the increasingly frantic propaganda spinning.

… But the fundamental difference of interest (existential versus optional) remains, and the isolationist tide continues to build. This wouldn't be a problem if the allies were winning, but the losses are mounting up. As in any marriage, adversity doesn't decrease the chances of divorce, it increases them.

So if the gang really wants World War III/IV, and expects the USA to be there in the trenches next to Israel, they'd better get a move on.
It may be too late for that.

Will this help? - Presidential adviser Karl Rove said Saturday that journalists often criticize political professionals because they want to draw attention away from the "corrosive role" their own coverage plays in politics and government.

Oh. People don't think government can do anything right because journalists report on what's happening. Hey, maybe so.

Posted by Alan at 19:21 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 30 July 2006 10:19 PDT home

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