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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, 6 August 2006
Crises: Short Term, Long Term
Topic: For policy wonks...
Crises: Short Term, Long Term
So as of Sunday, August 6, we have a crease-fire proposal out there. The United States and France settled their differences and come up with a resolution the United Nations will consider in the next several days. Its not a cease-fire, but rather a proposal fro a cease-fire - a draft UN cease-fire resolution. The clock radio snapped on at six in the morning here in Hollywood, turned to the all-news station, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was speaking to the early risers in Los Angeles, and everyone in the world of course, from the president's ranch in Texas, the one he bought in 1999 to cement his image as a cowboy. She's there with National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, messing up his already shorted vacation - ten days, not the usual month. Poor guy.

The Associated Press account is here, of Rice saying this cease-fire resolution as "a first step to stop violence in the Middle East," but it cannot solve the problems in Lebanon. For that the Lebanese government must "extend its authority into the south" so Hezbollah does not have control there, and really, the "international community" must help Lebanese forces toss the bums out over the next several months.

He depressing message - "We're trying to deal with a problem that has been festering and brewing in Lebanon now for years and years and years, and so it's not going to be solved by one resolution in the Security Council. These things take awhile to wind down. It is certainly not the case that probably all violence is going to stop. ... I can't say that you should rule out that there could be skirmishes of some kind for some time to come."

While she was saying that, the Israeli Air Force was bombing the crap out of southern Beirut, again, and Hezbollah was barraging northern Israel down as far south as Haifa with waves of those fall-where-they-will rockets, killing twelve or thirteen Israeli civilians. The rate was up to eighty rockets an hour. (And at the same US troops were pouring in Baghdad to try to stop the chaos there, and a suicide bomber killed at least ten people and wounded about twenty more at a funeral up north in Tikrit - taking out a tent filled with mourners at the funeral of the father of a provincial councilor.) Things aren't going that well.

In any event, draft UN cease-fire resolution calls for Hezbollah to stop all military operations and for Israel to stop its offensive drive against Lebanon. The proposal would, of course, allow Israel to strike back if Hezbollah were to break any cease-fire that's worked out. You have to give them that option.

Hadley said the United States hoped the resolution would pass Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning, perhaps, but the Lebanese parliamentary speaker, a Shiite who has been negotiating on behalf of Hezbollah, flat-out rejected the plan because it did not include an immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of Israeli troops. The fighting does stop not until they Israeli troops are gone. Israel says it won't pull its troops out of the south until "a significant international military force" is deployed in the region. They're staying, and this does not look promising. Rice says there really will be "a significant international military force" one day - that's in a second proposal being drafted. But that one is harder. And we won't be part of that - it would look bad and we don't have the troops anyway. So really, nothing much will change.

A curious detail in the AP item is this - President Bush spoke on the phone to British Prime Minister Tony Blair for forty-seven minutes Sunday about their "strategy for the Middle East" but Hadley said Bush had not called the prime ministers of Lebanon or Israel. One assumes it's just not their show. What do they have to do with anything? That surprised people, but Hadley said Bush could call them, you never know - "If it will advance the diplomacy, the president will do it." As for now it seems they don't matter. They're just the children - the adults are working things out. So they've been put in their place, creepy little countries whining about their dead. But there's no surprise here. Or government likes to slap people down and exclude others - it shows we're the good guys, and certainly the important people.

A quick summary from Juan Cole, the Middle East expert at the University of Michigan here -
The resolution does not require Israeli forces to depart Lebanese soil, which Hezbollah says is a deal breaker with regard to any ceasefire.

That this language was agreed upon by John Bolton, among the most velociraptor-like warmongers to hold high office in American history, suggests one of two things: Either the Israeli political elite itself has concluded that it has accomplished all it can against Hezbollah, or the Europeans and US Arab allies, including Iraq, have prevailed on Bush to shorten the leash on Olmert. The war will go on for a while, even so, as the Israelis continue their ethnic cleansing of the Lebanese South.
The point is that Israel has agreed to something, after all, as unworkable as it is. Within the next few weeks or months something or other will happen and this will end, or not.

Bill Montgomery offers a comprehensive analysis of this first draft UN cease-fire resolution here and because it is long and complex he opens with an appropriate quote -
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all."
Of course that's from Lewis Carroll, Alice Through the Looking Glass. And it fits, as in -
It's difficult to know exactly what to make of the proposed UN Security Council resolution the Anglos and the French have finally managed to hammer out - in part because it's really two resolutions jammed together one.

It's a portmanteau, in other words, like one of Humpty Dumpty's nonsense words in Through the Looking Glass - "slithy," "toves," "mimsy," etc. - "Well, 'slithy' means 'lithe and slimy.' 'Lithe' is the same as 'active.' You see it's like a portmanteau - there are two meanings packed up into one word."

The first resolution - the lithe part of "slithy" --appears to be basically a ceasefire in place dressed up with some artful language to make it sound like the Israelis and Hezbollah are not being placed on an equal footing, even though they are. This part of the resolution calls for: A full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hizbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations.

An immediate ceasefire in place, without preconditions, is what the French and the rest of the world have been begging for since the war started, while Bush and his British butler have been holding out for a "comprehensive" or "lasting" ceasefire with many preconditions, including the disarming of Hezbollah and extension of Lebanese government authority and Lebanese army control to southern Lebanon.

The first part of the resolution contains none of these supposedly indispensable conditions. It appears to call quite clearly for an immediate cessation of hostilities on both sides - although with slightly different phrasing applied to each. It's not clear to me whether this word play is simply a fig leaf to try to obscure the fact that the resolution essentially treats Hezbollah as a legitimate combatant, or whether it's some sort of loophole designed to allow the IDF to continue its "offensive operations" while the Israelis and the Cheney administration pretend that they've been halted.
Who knows? Does it matter? Hezbollah is saying - "Israel is the aggressor. When the Israeli aggression stops, Hezbollah simply will cease fire on the condition that no Israeli soldier remains inside Lebanese land." This may not work at all.

And so it goes. But there are more pressing problem, long-term ones. Like the air conditioning crisis.


Yep - you could look into this from William Saletan about "the deluded world of air conditioning."

He's not kidding
Have you heard the news? Scientists have found a planet that can support life. Its atmosphere is too hot for year-round habitation, its gases impede breathing, and surface conditions are sometimes fatal. But by constructing a network of sealed facilities, tunnels, and vehicles, humans could survive on this planet for decades and perhaps even centuries.

The planet is called Earth.

If you've seen this planet lately, you know what's going on: temperature records shattering, scores of Americans dead. By summer's end, the toll will be in the hundreds. It's not as bad as 2003, when a heat wave killed 30,000 people in Europe. But according to global-warming forecasts, within 40 years, every other summer will be like that one.
That leads into a discussion of air conditioning and the current trend in from Washington to Los Angeles opening artificially cooled buildings to the public, and all the people lining up to buy window units (more places there are no more to be purchased).

We're told that according to the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (there is one), shipments of air conditioners and heat pumps have tripled over the last three decades and the percentage of single-family homes built with central air has gone from thirty-six to eighty-seven, and cars built with air conditioning from sixty-one to ninety-eight percent. Occupied mobile homes have jumped from forty-two percent to eighty-four.

So what's the problem? The problem is really simple - air conditioning takes indoor heat and pushes it outdoors, and to do this, it uses energy, "which increases production of greenhouse gases, which warm the atmosphere. From a cooling standpoint, the first transaction is a wash, and the second is a loss. We're cooking our planet to refrigerate the diminishing part that's still habitable."

This is serious, perhaps. Power consumption is breaking records, and air conditioning is the issue - we use about one-sixth of our electricity for it. Saletan notes that's more than the total electricity consumption of India, and they have more than a billion people there. And of course to get all this electricity, we burn oil and coal. And the air conditioners in cars drops urban fuel efficiency by up to four miles per gallon - so that's seven billion gallons of gasoline right there.

Then there's this -
More burning of oil and coal means more greenhouse gases. Based on government data, Stan Cox, a scientist at the Land Institute, calculates that air-conditioning the average U.S. home requires 3,400 pounds of carbon-dioxide production per year. The effects of this are particularly bad at night. Over the last five summers, very high minimum daily temperatures - those that score in the top 10 percent historically - have been far more widespread in this country than during any other five-year period. This is what's killing people. Outdoor air used to cool at night, allowing us to recover from the day's heat. Now it doesn't. To fuel our own air conditioning, we're destroying nature's.

The hotter it gets, the more energy we burn. In 1981, only one in three American households with central air used it all summer long. By 1997, more than half did. Countries once cooled by outdoor air now cool themselves. In Britain, 75 percent of new cars have air conditioning. In Canada, energy consumption for residential cooling has doubled in 10 years, and half the homes now have central or window units. Kuujjuaq, an Eskimo village 1,000 miles north of Montreal, just bought 10 air conditioners. According to the mayor, it's been getting hot lately.
You see where this is leading. Forget Israel and the Hezbollah - we're ruining the whole world real fast.

And the politicians cannot fix this, for the most ironic of reasons -
Policymakers aren't facing global warming, because they aren't feeling it. They gave themselves air conditioning in the 1920s and '30s, long before the public got it. White House meetings and congressional hearings on climate change are doomed hours beforehand, when the thermostats are set. One minute, you're watching video of people sweltering in New Orleans. The next minute, you're watching senators dispute the significance of greenhouse gases. Don't ask whether these people are living on the same planet. In effect, they aren't.

When outdoor heat leaks into the Washington bubble, like crime into a white neighborhood, officials treat it as a faux pas. Three weeks ago, House Majority Leader John Boehner told reporters in a Capitol press gallery, "It'd be nice if they could get you a little more air conditioning up here." This week, President Bush's spokesman, Tony Snow, assured White House correspondents that their briefing room would soon be renovated. "Gathering from the temperature in this room at this moment, I think everybody agrees that it's probably about time to have a new and updated air conditioning and heating system," he joked.
And course, as reported everywhere, Majority Leader Boehner has vowed, should the Republicans, but some miracle, retain control of the House, he will fight tooth and claw to expose the hoax of global warming and stop all these efforts by the sadly misinformed scientists and the chicken-little-sky-is-falling environmentalists, who hate capitalism and free enterprise and whatever else, from ruining America.

Ah well, choose your crisis. Things may settle down in the Middle East, and it may not matter.

Posted by Alan at 13:37 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 6 August 2006 13:39 PDT home

Saturday, 5 August 2006
Gone Fishing
Topic: Photos
Gone Fishing
No commentary today. Other matters have come up.

Fishing at Redondo Beach Pier, Sunday, July 30, 2006

Posted by Alan at 07:57 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 4 August 2006
The Center Moves - It Doesn't Matter
Topic: Perspective
The Center Moves - It Doesn't Matter
Friday, August 4, 2006, and the twenty-fourth day of the Israeli war with Hezbollah comes to an end - ten thousand troops now in southern Lebanon, small battles beyond, up to the Syrian border, Beirut being bombed, along with the Christian enclaves on the north side of the city now, Hezbollah rockets now hitting fifty miles into Israel with the expected civilian deaths, and Israel taking out bridges so all main roads in and out of Lebanon are impassible - thus no aid will be coming in. The United States still blocking the worldwide call for an immediate ceasefire, and Janes Defense Weekly reporting Iran will send surface-to-air missiles to Hezbollah so they can take out the Israeli jets. In the new Iraq we created one hundred thousand take to the streets of Baghdad in support of Hezbollah shouting Death to Israel and Death to the United States, and we lose two more of our troops in the western provinces, and the bombings go - twenty or more Iraqi police dead when a suicide bomber does his thing at a soccer game where these guys were playing the locals for the fun of it, and the usual death squad assassinations and kidnappings from Mosul to Basra, and the running gun battles with the militias. And the roadside and suicide bombings ramp up in Afghanistan of course. British Prime Minister Blair postpones his August vacation to work with the UN on some sort of cease-fire in Lebanon, followed by a peacekeeping force of yet-to-be-named troops to go in and either calm things, or just "take out" Hezbollah (there's some disagreement), while President Bush starts his Texas vacation, but only ten days this year, not the usual full month of clearing brush and riding his mountain bike. Those who advise him, or control him depending on your point of view, the neoconservatives working out of the vice president's office, are working up plans for war with Syria and Iran now too - so there will be four active fronts in the war on terror, or the war to bring peace and democracy to the Middle East through regime change.

To some it seems like the end of the world, to others like a wonderful opportunity, and then to others it looks like the Rapture is finally at hand, and the return of Jesus - the end of the world, but a good thing.

Setting aside the Rapture crowd, there are two ways to look at this - things are spinning out of control, or if you're a neoconservative theorist, going just they way they should. But the latter is, for now, a minority view. The administration is working overtime to make it the majority view.

The administration's effort to reframe the crises in the world as great opportunity is not going so well. The incredibly stupid chin-up cliché is that when the world hands you lemons, you make lemonade. Most everyone is wondering how we got into this mess and how we're going to lemonade out of these particular lemons (or make Leban-ade as some have cynically said).

Emma Brockes here says what happening is like that scene in Jurassic Park when Jeff Goldblum, finding himself being chased by a T-Rex, struggles momentarily to organize a response. "I'm fairly alarmed here," he says. And she says she herself is fairly alarmed here. It's only funny in the movie.

That item in the Guardian (UK), about how everyone was saying that the election of George Bush in 2004 that gave him another four years to do his insane things will be the end of everything, itself ends with this -
There is an argument to be made that the world is no more in crisis now than it has been at any other point in history, give or take a world war, and that the only reason we are freaking out is that the countries involved are western. No one reported much existential angst during Rwanda. When Israel bombed Beirut airport I was aware that part of the reason I got end-of-the-world shivers was that, unlike the airports in Baghdad or Mogadishu, I have been to Beirut's and it is just like Luton. When two countries with well-decorated departure halls and branches of Starbucks start fighting, you pay more attention than when Ethiopia marches into Somalia, as it did in July without anyone paying much attention. (The Ethiopian troops entered at the invitation of Somalia's secular interim government, to help fight the Islamic militia, who promptly threatened them with another jihad).

These are strange times and the fact that everyone claimed to see them coming in 2004 hasn't made them any easier to deal with. It occasionally feels as if magnetic flip is taking place, the process of polar reversal that happens every 300 millennia or so when north becomes south and south north, and birds fly into buildings and people with pacemakers keel over in the street. What can you do? For the past 10 years I have taken William L Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich on holiday and for the first time, last week, I actually thought about reading it. (I didn't, obviously.) As multiple wars on multiple fronts drag on, you try to initiate a cycle of response that reminds you there are things to be grateful for; the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo going off without violence, for example, and Mel Gibson self-detonating. You reassure yourself that, as in all cycles of history, this one will come to an end, too. Then you remember that the man in charge of writing the ending is George Bush, and you have to start again.

She is not hopeful.

But then, here, stateside, there seems to be something in the air. Conventional wisdom, whatever that is, seems to be shifting.

As mentioned in the pages in April, David Broder of the Washington Post is sometimes called the dean of Washington journalists (probably because he has a gift for the obvious and has no firm opinion until everyone else has agreed on one), and looking at what the retired generals were saying about the secretary of defense, he said Rumsfeld needed to resign - "Even in Vietnam we saw no such open defiance." That's here if you want the details - four months before Hillary Clinton decided the same thing. He goes with the flow, and she doesn't, until she just has to, and there's an advantage to it.

This week Broder decided it was time for another stroll through the obvious - here he says that "the logic of prolonging the agony" just doesn't add up and its time to withdraw our troops from Iraq. When you've lost Broder you've lost the mainstream, or more accurately, he's the canary in the coal mine. When the canary is dead in the bottom of the cage, it's time to get the hell out of the mine. You could die. The grand experiment to remake the Middle East was, it seems now, just dumb.

The other canary, so to speak, is Thomas Freidman of the New York Times - the moustache of patience, famous for arguing from the pages of "the newspaper of record" that the grand experiment to remake the Middle East was quite smart, and the right thing to do. Sure there were problems, and he explained them in detail drawing on his vast experience in that part of the world, but then said the next six months would be critical. It all might work out. Perhaps he got tired of six-month increment after six-month increment, because Friday, August 4, he gave up, with this, saying that it's "now obvious that we are not mid-wifing democracy in Iraq" but just "babysitting a civil war." He ran out of patience.

Is this important? Do these two guys really matter?

Steve Benen thinks so -

In the world of professional punditry, heavy-hitters like David Broder and Tom Friedman not only help reflect the conventional wisdom, they help shape it. The mainstream political world considers their opinions as the most serious and credible perspectives in the country, and in turn, their points of view become synonymous with sensibility.

And right now, both want out of Iraq. … Welcome to the new sensible, centrist position on Iraq. The political mainstream has finally caught up with the Democratic mainstream. It's about time.
Well, that's from the left, noting the mainstream has shifted, ah… to the middle? Which is slightly to the left? Something like that. The right had been saying that the position of the Bush administration was really what most people knew was the middle position - if you agreed with the president you were smack dab in the middle where you should be, with everyone else, with every sensible and patriotic American. The Democrats are "out of the mainstream" and just loony lefties, and cut-and-run cowards to boot. That doesn't seem to be working anymore. The middle moved on them when they we're looking.

For Freidman it was the August 3 senate hearings that did it -
When our top commander in Iraq, Gen. John Abizaid, tells a Senate Committee, as he did yesterday, that ''the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it,'' it means that three years of efforts to democratize Iraq are not working. That means ''staying the course'' is pointless, and it's time to start thinking about Plan B - how we might disengage with the least damage possible.

... The administration now has to admit what anyone - including myself - who believed in the importance of getting Iraq right has to admit: Whether for Bush reasons or Arab reasons, it is not happening, and we can't throw more good lives after good lives.

... Yes, the best way to contain Iran would have been to produce a real Shiite-led democracy in Iraq, exposing the phony one in Tehran. But second best is leaving Iraq. Because the worst option - the one Iran loves - is for us to stay in Iraq, bleeding, and in easy range to be hit by Iran if we strike its nukes.
Of course he cannot resist one more the-next-six-months-are-critical hail-Mary speculation - we could have a gigantic "last-ditch" peace conference - and that would be the United State, Russia, Europe, Japan, India, China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Syria and Jordan, all sitting down together to work things out. But he knows that's just not going to happen -
For such a conference to come about, though, US would probably need to declare its intention to leave. Iraqis, other Arabs, Europeans and Chinese will get serious about helping to salvage Iraq only if they believe we are leaving and it will damage their interests.

But the likelihood the Bush-Cheney administration would "declare its intention to leave" is nil, or actually less than zero. He doesn't like it, but he wants out. This is a major change.

Is it a big deal?

Over at the Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum is actually hopeful -

Maybe I'm just a wild optimist about these things, but I think Broder and Friedman are bellwethers. They're both cautious, centrist, establishment liberals who have long hoped for success in Iraq, and they've both given up. Put them together with guys like George Will and Chuck Hagel on the right, and there's just not much support left for staying in Iraq outside of the neocon crazies and the rabid partisans. The wind is definitely shifting.

And as long as I'm being a wild optimist: if we finally develop a consensus that invading random Arab countries doesn't work so well at putting an end to support for radical jihadism, maybe we can start seriously thinking about what would work. Considering how phenomenally difficult the problem is, the sooner we put Iraq behind us and get our brightest minds thinking seriously about nonmilitary solutions, the better off we'll be.
There are nonmilitary solutions? Invading random Arab countries doesn't work so well at putting an end to support for radical jihadism? Now that would require some really new thinking in Washington. We may be too far down the road for that. We have our way of dealing with things, and it's hard to admit that it doesn't work. Maybe it's not possible to admit. And after all, isn't Israel proving you can use massive force to eliminate terrorists, or at least make them seem powerless and humiliate them, so everyone rallies to your side and shuns them, or even laughs at them? No, wait. Bad example.

And anyway, nothing will change, as the war with Iran is on the way, and the Democrats will buy into that big time, as Bill Montgomery explains here -
I think we've run out of time. Events - from 9/11 on - have moved too fast and pushed us too far towards the clash of civilizations that most sane people dread but the neocons desperately want. The Dems are now just the cadet branch of the War Party. While the party nomenklatura is finally, after three bloody years, making dovish noises about the Iraq fiasco, I think their loyalty to Israel will almost certainly snap them back into line during the coming "debate" over war with Iran.
Or in detail -
It seems increasingly probable that that war will come soon - perhaps as early as November or December, although more likely next year. Israel's failure to knock out Hezbollah with a rapid first strike has left the neocons even deeper in the hole, enormously ratcheting up the pressure to try to recoup all losses by taking the war to Damascus and Tehran.

… What's become clear to me is that the Democratic Party (even it's allegedly anti-war wing) will not try to stop this insanity, and in fact will probably be led as meekly to the slaughter as it was during the run-up to the Iraq invasion. Watching the Dems line up to salute the Israeli war machine, hearing the uncomfortable and awkward silence descend on most of Left Blogistan once the bombs started falling in Lebanon, seeing how easily the same Orwellian propaganda tricks worked their magic on the pseudoliberals - all this doesn't leave too much room for doubt. As long as World War III can be sold as protecting the security and survival of the Jewish state, I suspect the overwhelming majority of Democrats, or at least the overwhelming majority of Democratic politicians, will support it.

And it is being sold, ferociously.

… I think the moment when I realized the Dems once again were going to be - would always be - dutiful spear carriers for the neocons was after Howard Dean and company treated the Iraqi prime minister's recent visit to Washington as an opportunity to do a little pro-Israel pandering of their own. To my eternal shame, I initially defended this ploy as a necessary bit of Machiavellian cynicism - a way for the Dems to protect their right flank from a president who not only thinks Israel is the 51st state but a red state to boot.

Cynical it certainly was. And in another situation I might have been justified in making allowances. It's a stinking, corrupt system, and to expect purity is to expect defeat. But the more I thought about it the more I realized that a party leadership that really cared about bringing the troops home probably wouldn't be so cavalier about trashing a guy who is actually a pretty crucial part of making that possible.

… The lesson learned from the Democratic reaction to Israel's war of choice is that the Dems are only likely to oppose war as long as the war in question can be framed as a fight against Iraqi insurgents and/or Shi'a death squads, rather than a fight for Israel. But the Iraq occupation isn't going to fit neatly into that frame much longer. In fact it's already slipped out of it. The Dems - always a little slow on the uptake - just haven't realized it yet.

… People tell me I shouldn't get hung up on this because, you know, if the Dems get in they'll make sure the seniors get their Social Security checks a little faster - or they'll keep the Supreme Court out of the hands of legal madmen or do something about global climate change or save the whales or whatever else it is that's supposed to make the Democratic Party infinitely preferable to the Republicans.

It's not that I discount these differences entirely - although they're easily oversold. But compared to the fate that awaits the republic, and the world, if the United States deliberately starts a war with Iran, those other considerations start to look pretty insignificant. I mean, we're talking about World War III here, fought by people who want to use tactical nuclear weapons. I'm supposed to put that out of my mind because the Dems might be a little bit more generous about funding the VA budget? I'm sorry, but that's fucking nuts.

The truth is that on the most important issue of our time - the cliff that drops into total darkness - the only real opposition left in this country is in the Pentagon, where, according to Sy Hersh, at least some of the generals are trying to stall the march to war. Plus whatever scattered resistance is left in the intelligence agencies following the purges of the past couple of years.

… I hope like hell I'm wrong about this, but I don't think I am. So I guess I'll just have to accept being labeled a traitor to the cause - or whatever the hardcore partisans are calling it. Sure, why not. They're certainly free to follow their party over the cliff (we're all going over it anyway) but I'd at least prefer to do it with my eyes open.
"I'm fairly alarmed here," he says. The conventional wisdom shifted. It doesn't matter.

Posted by Alan at 22:21 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 4 August 2006 22:44 PDT home

Thursday, 3 August 2006
Big Doings and Underlying Angry Trends
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Big Doings and Underlying Angry Trends
Thursday, August 3, was the day in the third week of the Israel-Hezbollah war being waged in most of Lebanon, but mainly at the southern border, that it got hotter - after a pause the Israeli Air Force was doing some serious bombing in Beirut again, and the man who runs Hezbollah appeared on television to say do any more of that and we'll use the missiles you know we have and go after Tel-Aviv. Fair is fair. Then he said if you stop bombing Beirut we'll stop sending hundred of rockets a day raining down on northern Israel. The day had been the deadliest so far for Israel - ten or more unlucky civilians dead from the rocket barrages and four soldiers dead, and an impressive big tank taken out by one of those anti-tank missiles. The Israeli prime minister said no dice, being in a defiant mood. It was a sort of "bring it on" moment, and he's not even from Texas. Things will escalate.

Half a world away, in Indonesia at a summit of Muslim nations, the dapper little nasty man who runs Iran said there was a simple solution to all this - get rid of Israel. It's not a legitimate nation, just something made up in 1948 or so. He's said such things before, so that wasn't exactly news. Even the French, who had been saying nice things about Iran, hoping Iran could help stabilize things, said this was beyond the pale. So this was just not helpful.

The news of the day was the two sides slamming each other and then getting into that schoolyard fight thing - "You want more of that, buddy? Huh? Huh? You want more of that?" The government of the United States was silent on the whole matter. We're working on a cease-fire somewhere far down the road, where some nations of the UN, but not us, provide troops to go in, beef up the useless Lebanese army, and march south to rid the world of Hezbollah once and for all. No one wants to sign up. Hezbollah, defending the Lebanese people from the massive Israeli attacks that have killed a whole lot of women and children and ruined the economy and infrastructure of Lebanon, and displaced a half a million folks, are looking like the relatively good guys to many, as this seems a bit much to force the return of two kidnapped Israeli soldiers.

And even in Lebanon itself you now get this -
In an event that would have been unthinkable a few months ago, in this country where politics is locked into religious lines, the Maronite Catholic patriarch - the spiritual leader of the most pro-Western populace - convened a meeting this week of religious leaders of other communities, Shiite and Sunni Muslims and several varieties of Christians … Their joint statement, condemning the Israeli "aggression," hailed "the resistance, mainly led by Hezbollah, which represents one of the sections of society."
As noted by Bill Montgomery here, the whole idea was that bombing the crap out of Lebanon would strengthen Lebanese democracy by uniting the country's various ethnic groups and political factions and turning them against Hezbollah -
I must admit I'm puzzled. I thought it was generally understood that bombing and terrorizing a country was the best way to make its people turn against an internal resistance movement.

I can't figure it out. Where did the Israelis go wrong?

He really is a bit sarcastic. But the neoconservatives who have shaped our new foreign policy do believe such things. That's the reported plan for when we take out Iran's uranium processing facilities with our small nuclear weapons - we'll be heroes to the Iranian people when the smoke clears and things stop glowing. They'll cheer and throw out their government for one that works with America. This trial run isn't going so well.

As for the other trial run, that's not going so well either. Thursday, August 3, was the day the top generals and the Secretary of Defense went before congress, actually a senate committee which wanted to know, since things seem to going badly in the older war, the one in Iraq, what the situation really is, as they see it, and what the plan is for getting things back on track.

That didn't go well, as the Associated Press reported here.

Army General John Abizaid, the head of US Central Command, and one smart guy who speaks the language and has his PhD and all, said "Sectarian violence probably is as bad as I've seen it, in Baghdad in particular. If not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war." Marine Corps General Peter Pace, the most senior US military officer, said there was a "possibility" of civil war in Iraq - after all, about a hundred folks a day are blown up or found dead in the streets or in the river, maimed from torture and such. Two of the Pentagon's most senior generals conceded this looks like a civil war in the making. This got a lot of press. The reason is obvious. That's not the official line.

Rumsfeld doesn't think there's anything like a civil war starting, as earlier, he had said this -

QUESTION: And the question, Mr. Secretary, after your most recent visit and this spike in violence, do you believe that Iraq is closer than ever to the brink of civil war?

RUMSFELD: "Closer than ever." Clearly, there's sectarian violence. People are being killed. Sunnis are killing Shia; Shia are killing Sunnis. Kurds seem not to be involved. It's unfortunate. And they need a reconciliation process. The prime minister is pushing for a reconciliation process. There are a couple of other things that are - oh, how would you characterize it? - things you wish weren't happening. There's some movement of Shi'a out of Sunni areas and Sunnis out of Shi'a areas, to some extent. There undoubtedly are some people who are leaving the country and going to safer places because of the violence. Does that constitute a civil war? I guess you can decide for yourself. And we can all go to the dictionary and decide what you want to call something. But it seems to me that it is not a classic civil war at this stage.

It certainly isn't like our Civil War. It isn't like the civil war in a number of other countries. Is it a high level of sectarian violence? Yes, it is. And are people being killed? Yes. And is it unfortunate? Yes. And is the government doing basically the right things? I think so.

We're now up to 275,000 Iraqi security forces, heading toward 325,000 by the end of the year. The president has announced a reconciliation process. He's working on it. He's a serious person. He's working with some of the neighboring countries to try to encourage the Sunnis to participate. He's worked with Sistani, the leading Shia cleric in the country, and had him support a reconciliation process, as well as support of the disarming of some of the militias.

So there are a number of good things happening. There are four provinces in the country where almost all the violence is occurring, and there are fourteen where there is relatively little violence.

And so, amidst all of this difficulty, the currency is fairly stable, the schools are open, the hospitals are open, the people are functioning.

You'd fly over it - you've been there - and you see people out in the fields doing things and people driving their cars and lining up for gasoline and going about their business.

So it's a mixed picture that's difficult but, despite all of the difficulties, there are also some good trend lines that are occurring, and I think the period ahead is an important period.

Does he ask himself the questions he thought he should have been asked and then answer them? Yes, that's how he thinks, working with himself as everyone else is unimportant.

Is it a bit schizophrenic, as if he's hearing voices in his head and talking back to those voices? Yes, there's a touch of that, but he's just trying to work out how this "a hundred dead a day" thing is no big deal.

If what's happening doesn't look like our Civil War with the Blue and Gray armies and battles like Gettysburg, should you not worry about what's happening? Maybe, but that would make you seem silly.

Should we worry that the secretary of defense works out what he thinks by talking to himself in public? Maybe, but there's nothing anyone can do about it, as he's staying.

Would medication help? Probably not.

Rumsfeld had planned to skip the Thursday senate committee hearing - he said he was too busy for such political tomfoolery - and instead hold a closed briefing with the full senate, until the junior senator from New York, Hillary Clinton, publicly called on him to testify in open forum, in front of the cameras and all that. She said that the senators and the American people "should hear directly from the top civilian leader at the Pentagon, the person most responsible for implementing the president's military policy in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Drat. Now what? You don't let any woman make you look like a coward, especially an aggressive (or assertive) one with presidential ambitions. You have to show that you have more balls than she has - two, at least. And he could put her in her place. But that didn't work out.

The junior senator from New York laid into him but good - watch the video (with transcript) here.

She went over, point by point, each "error in judgment" on matters in Iraq and Afghanistan, and quoted him on things he said that just weren't true - his "rosy pictures" of how things would certainly work out, and that stuff about the Taliban being completely eliminated - and it was devastating. She asked him what he had to say about all that, and what the policy was now.

He looked stunned. His first words were "My Goodness!" The generals don't talk to him like this. The voices in his head certainly don't.

There's video of Rumsfeld here then saying he had "never painted a rosy picture" about Iraq - he had been "very measured" and told "you would have a dickens of a time trying to find instances where I have been overly optimistic." He said he had always maintained "this is tough stuff."

That's followed by this list with hyperlinks to the source -

Dec. 18, 2002 [Larry King Live on CNN]: KING: What's the current situation in Afghanistan? RUMSFELD: It is encouraging. They have elected a government through the Loya Jirga process. The Taliban are gone. The al Qaeda are gone.

Feb. 7, 2003: "It is unknowable how long that conflict [the war in Iraq] will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."

Feb. 20 2003: "'Do you expect the invasion, if it comes, to be welcomed by the majority of the civilian population of Iraq?' Jim Lehrer asked the defense secretary on PBS' The News Hour. 'There is no question but that they would be welcomed,' Rumsfeld replied, referring to American forces."

Mar. 30, 2003: "It happens not to be the area where weapons of mass destruction were dispersed. We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."

The records weren't erased. It sure was easier back in the Nixon days when he work in the White House - no internet, and paper shredders did the job.

Then there's this video and transcript, set up by head of NATO's Afghan security force, one Lieutenant General David Richards, saying Afghanistan was "close to anarchy."

So he was asked about that. How's it going, really? Was Richards full of crap?

Well, he has to admit Taliban fighters were "occupying safe havens" in Pakistan and other places, and admitted that violence has increased recently. But this was not a big deal. It was the weather -

Does the violence tend to be up during the summer, in the spring, summer and fall months? Yes it does. And it tends to decline during the winter period. Does that represent failed policy? I don't know. I would say not.
The voices in his head told him so.

And then there's this, where he seems to get confused about those voices in his head -
Afghanistan - um, I don't know who said what about if the Taliban are gone but, in fact, the Taliban that were running Afghanistan and ruling Afghanistan were replaced. And they were replaced by an election that took place in that country, and in terms of a government or a governing entity, they were gone, and that's a fact.
Are there still Taliban around? You bet. Are they occupying safe havens in Afghanistan and other places - correction, in Pakistan and other places? Certainly they are. Is the violence up? Yes. Does the violence tend to be up during the summer, in the spring, summer and fall months? Yes it does. And it tends to decline during the winter period. Does that represent failed policy? I don't know. I would say not.
After the hearing ended Clinton called on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign, accusing him of "presiding over a failed policy in Iraq." She was kind enough to not mention the voices. Other Democrats had called for Rumsfeld's resignation - until now she had stopped short of that. But this was just too surreal.

But we live in a surreal world. Thomas Hargrove is a reporter for Scripps Howard News Service, and Guido H. Stempel III is the director of the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University. And the day of the hearings they offer this -
More than a third of the American public suspects that federal officials assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East, according to a new Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll.

The national survey of 1,010 adults also found that anger against the federal government is at record levels, with 54 percent saying they "personally are more angry" at the government than they used to be.

Widespread resentment and alienation toward the national government appear to be fueling a growing acceptance of conspiracy theories about the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Suspicions that the 9/11 attacks were "an inside job" - the common phrase used by conspiracy theorists on the Internet - quickly have become nearly as popular as decades-old conspiracy theories that the federal government was responsible for President John F. Kennedy's assassination and that it has covered up proof of space aliens.

Seventy percent of people who give credence to these theories also say they've become angrier with the federal government than they used to be.

Thirty-six percent of respondents overall said it is "very likely" or "somewhat likely" that federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or took no action to stop them "because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East."
No one is hearing voices. They're just imagining things for which there is no evidence, because they're angry. They've been fed so much bullshit they're trying to figure out what's really going on.

Lee Hamilton, who was vice chairman of that National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission), says the investigation concluded that federal officials bungled their attempts to prevent the attacks, but did not participate in them. But he gets it - "One out of three sounds high, but that may very well be right. Many say the government planned the whole thing. Of course, we don't think the evidence leads that way at all." But he understands.

As for the details of the poll, sixteen percent of Americans hypothesize that secretly planted explosives, not the airplanes and the burning fuel, were the real reason the World Trade Center collapsed. Twelve percent suspect the Pentagon was struck by a military cruise missile rather than by an airliner captured by nasty terrorists.

Why is this coming alive now? The item quotes University of Florida law professor Mark Fenster, the author of the book "Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture" - the findings "reflect public anger at the unpopular Iraq war, realization that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction and growing doubts of the veracity of the Bush administration."

So you get fed stuff you're told is so, then you're told its not so, and you try to work it out yourself. That makes sense. And there's this -
The Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University has tracked the level of resentment people feel toward the federal government since 1995, starting shortly after Timothy McVeigh bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City. Forty-seven percent then said they, personally, feel "more angry at the federal government" than they used to. That percentage dropped to 42 percent in 1997, 34 percent in 1998 and only 12 percent shortly after 9/11 during the groundswell of patriotism and support for the government after the attacks.

But the new survey found that 77 percent say their friends and acquaintances have become angrier with the government recently and 54 percent say they, themselves, have become angrier - both record levels.
And of course Rumsfeld answering the voices in his head, not the voices in the room, isn't going to help any of this at all.

Is driving the American public into deep resentment and anger at you wise politic strategy? No, it doesn't seem to be. When a good chunk of those angry people start believing you set them up and secretly murdered three thousand of your fellow countrymen to get them to support a useless war that's falling to pieces, should you worry? "Does that represent failed policy? I don't know. I would say not."

Yeah, right.

And then things just keep coming up, like this from Sidney Blumenthal -
The National Security Agency is providing signal intelligence to Israel to monitor whether Syria and Iran are supplying new armaments to Hezbollah as it fires hundreds of missiles into northern Israel, according to a national security official with direct knowledge of the operation. President Bush has approved the secret program.

Inside the administration, neoconservatives on Vice President Dick Cheney's national security staff and Elliott Abrams, the neoconservative senior director for the Near East on the National Security Council, are prime movers behind sharing NSA intelligence with Israel, and they have discussed Syrian and Iranian supply activities as a potential pretext for Israeli bombing of both countries, the source privy to conversations about the program says. (Intelligence, including that gathered by the NSA, has been provided to Israel in the past for various purposes.) The neoconservatives are described as enthusiastic about the possibility of using NSA intelligence as a lever to widen the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah and Israel and Hamas into a four-front war.
Four fronts? Are we being had again?

And this is cute -
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is said to have been "briefed" and to be "on board," but she is not a central actor in pushing the covert neoconservative scenario. Her "briefing" appears to be an aspect of an internal struggle to intimidate and marginalize her. Recently she has come under fire from prominent neoconservatives who oppose her support for diplomatic negotiations with Iran to prevent its development of nuclear weaponry.

Rice's diplomacy in the Middle East has erratically veered from initially calling on Israel for "restraint," to categorically opposing a cease-fire, to proposing terms for a cease-fire guaranteed to conflict with the European proposal, and thus to thwarting diplomacy, prolonging the time available for the Israeli offensive to achieve its stated aim of driving Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon. But the neocon scenario extends far beyond that objective to pushing Israel into a "cleansing war" with Syria and Iran, says the national security official, which somehow will redeem Bush's beleaguered policy in the entire region.
It's double or nothing time, and the word is that senior national security professionals have begun circulating among themselves a 1996 document - "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm." This was written by, among others, Richard Perle, the first-term chairman of the Defense Policy Board; Douglas Feith, the former undersecretary of defense, and David Wurmser, Cheney's chief Middle East aide. It was written at the request of Likud Party Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to provide "a new set of ideas" for dumping the policies of the assassinated Yitzhak Rabin.

Instead of trading "land for peace," the neocons advocated tossing aside the Oslo agreements that established negotiations and demanding unconditional Palestinian acceptance of Likud's terms, "peace for peace." Rather than negotiations with Syria, they proposed "weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria." They also advanced a wild scenario to "redefine Iraq." Then King Hussein of Jordan would somehow become its ruler; and somehow this Sunni monarch would gain "control" of the Iraqi Shiites, and through them "wean the south Lebanese Shia away from Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria." Dump the Oslo agreements, and all agreements - just use force. President Clinton put a stop it, but he's long gone.

Note this -
At his first National Security Council meeting, President George W. Bush stunned his first secretary of state, Colin Powell, by rejecting any effort to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. When Powell warned that "the consequences of that could be dire, especially for the Palestinians," Bush snapped, "Sometimes a show for force by one side can really clarify things." He was making a "clean break" not only with his immediate predecessor but also with the policies of his father.

In the current Middle East crisis, once again, the elder Bush's wise men have stepped forward to offer unsolicited and unheeded advice. (In private they are scathing.)
That's all documented. The man has problems with his father. Yipes.

The bottom line -
Having failed in the Middle East, the administration is attempting to salvage its credibility by equating Israel's predicament with the U.S. quagmire in Iraq. Neoconservatives, for their part, see the latest risk to Israel's national security as a chance to scuttle U.S. negotiations with Iran, perhaps the last opportunity to realize the fantasies of "A Clean Break."

By using NSA intelligence to set an invisible tripwire, the Bush administration is laying the condition for regional conflagration with untold consequences - from Pakistan to Afghanistan, from Iraq to Israel. Secretly devising a scheme that might thrust Israel into a ring of fire cannot be construed as a blunder. It is a deliberate, calculated and methodical plot.
Are Sidney Blumenthal's sources feeding him disinformation, setting him up to look like a foolish conspiracy nut? That could be, but recent history argues against that. And there is the document.

Was the plan all along a four-front war, with our forces deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Iran, working to replace the government in each (two down, two to go)? Maybe so, but no one has said this is the plan.

If this is the plan, should the citizens who must pay for it, and send their sons and daughters off to do this all, have been told this is the plan. Maybe so, but they might object.

Should you feel left out as the last two of the four wars start and you weren't told? That would depend on whether you think the government has the obligation to explain anything to its citizens.

Is there a plan for a fifth and sixth front - regime change in Venezuela and Cuba - and a seventh front, regime change in North Korea? Don't be silly. But don't be surprised.

Who in their right mind talks like this? The answer is obvious.

Posted by Alan at 23:03 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 4 August 2006 07:07 PDT home

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

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