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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, 5 November 2006
The Big Event That Wasn't
Topic: Perspective
The Big Event That Wasn't
Here's a fine video of Miles Davis in 1958 playing his famous piece "So What?" from the seminal Kind of Blue album. That album, and this piece, defined cool back then. Click on the link and it will open in a separate window, so you can have it playing in the background for what follows.

The Sunday before the midterm elections in the United States - Sunday, November 5 - we got the news - "Saddam Hussein was convicted and sentenced Sunday to hang for crimes against humanity in the 1982 killings of 148 people in a single town, as the ousted leader, trembling and defiant, shouted 'God is great!'"

So he shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is great!) and "Long live the Muslim nation!" (Ashat al-ummah!) The Middle East scholar Juan Cole points out that as a secular Arab nationalist, Saddam at one point kept out of the Iraqi constitution any mention of Islam, but since the Gulf War "he has mugged for the camera with such slogans." They may have some resonances in Sunni Arab regions, though, as well as in the Muslim world more generally. And Saddam's defense team said that the court was constituted under an American military occupation and therefore could not be impartial, and that the verdict made a mockery of justice.

This may be trouble, but the White House says this is a great triumph. And it comes at just they right time, or so they think.

Tim Grieve, at the time, thought not -
A five-judge tribunal in Baghdad today declared Saddam Hussein guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to death by hanging.

Do you feel better about the war now? More confident about the president's "strategy for victory" in Iraq? Are you more likely to vote for a Republican on Tuesday?
One would guess not. Of course there will be those who feel now the man who caused the 9/11 attacks will finally be hanged, but they know he didn't. That may be a case of "close enough for government work." It "something," when we've been getting a who lot of nothing

The sentencing was supposed to have happened back on October 18, but the tribunal last month rescheduled it for the Sunday that fell just two days before the 2006 midterm elections in the United States. A spokesman for the Iraqi High Tribunal insists here that it's just a coincidence - the timing belonged "100 percent" to the tribunal, and that the judges who serve on it care "nothing about American midterm elections." Maybe so, and Karl Rove is just one lucky guy.

Of course Vice President Cheney has repeatedly said all the turmoil over there is for one reason only - the terrorists in Iraq are focused on November 7, as he says they want to make things look bad so his boss loses face and the nation turns away from the Republican Party. They're very clever - killing each other by the hundreds and knocking off our troops, all to help the Democrats. Has he ever been wrong?

Saddam's lawyers have accused the court and the Bush administration of conspiring to time the verdict and sentence to coincide with the elections, but those who weren't assassinated are probably just in a bad mood. Others have pointed out some odd things - curious events in Iraq that looked timed to political problems over here. Many have noticed such things - including an odd delay on insurgent strongholds in 2004 until right after the presidential election so that Americans wouldn't read of significant casualties before they voted. Or maybe things just fell out that way. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow keeps saying that the administration isn't doing that now, and never did such things.

One senses they're all exasperated with how suspicious and untrusting the American people have become. It doesn't seem to occur to them that finding no WMD and then all the confirmation that Saddam Hussein had no ties at all to al Qaeda made some think them somewhere between tragically gullible or nastily manipulative. That "Mission Accomplished" banner didn't help either, followed by all the turning points - we killed Saddam's two awful sons and displayed their mutilated and decomposing bodies for days, and invited the world press to take lots of pictures, and things didn't get better; we pulled Saddam from his hole in the ground and published photos of a medic inspecting his teeth and other slyly humiliating shots, and things didn't get better; we killed any number of "Number Two" bad guys in Iraq, and finally the Number One, and things didn't get better (the bad guys seem to have a deep bench). Saying this death sentence is a big deal and will change everything is fine. The administration can say what it likes. So can used car salesmen.

Is Miles Davis still playing in the background?

And there's an additional problem. The man just doesn't matter any more. As Tim Grieve notes, he's old news -
Sixty-four percent of Americans now say they "oppose" the war in Iraq. Fifty-six percent believe the United States "made a mistake" when it invaded Iraq in the first place. Saddam Hussein may loom large in the minds of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, but those poll numbers suggest to us that Americans aren't all that focused on him anymore. Americans know now - or at least they ought to - that Saddam wasn't much of a threat to them before the war; sentenced or not sentenced, he's certainly no threat to them now. This isn't a scary new tape from Osama bin Laden, let alone news that a terrorist leader has been captured or a deadly plot foiled. It's a mopping up of an old mess, one handled so badly that it has created a much bigger one in its wake.
But you have to let them crow about it, and shrug. Whether the man is hung or not is of some interest, in an historical way, but he's an old problem and doesn't matter much now. What's happened since needs attention, not this.

And the whole thing puts Iraq back on the front page - when the Republicans are talking up the economy and ranting about the evils of women being able to choose to have and abortion, and the pure evil of stem cell research, and how gay folks want to ruin everyone's marriage and destroy America, and how the Democrats want to raise the taxes of the extremely rich and ruin everything, and… and all the rest. In-your-face crowing about this triumph can get people refocused on the war - thinking about the almost twenty-nine hundred troops we've lost, and the half-trillion dollars we've spent, and how we've quite purposefully thrown away the respect of most of the world, and wonder whether this one guy choking on the end of a rope, eyes bulging until his neck breaks or he chokes to death, was worth it.

We're told he was worth it all.

On the other hand, Max Hastings in The Guardian (UK), the day after the sentencing, suggests Bush and Blair have forfeited the moral authority to hang Saddam -
There can be no doubt about the moral justice of yesterday's Baghdad tribunal judgment on Saddam Hussein. He was directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, chiefly Kurds and Shias, and arguably for many more killed in the Iran-Iraq war.

Yet it is quite another matter whether it is right or politically prudent to execute him, after the shambles of a trial that he has undergone. Washington was always determined that Saddam should die - but at the hands of his own people rather than those of Americans. George Bush's handling of this issue restores one's respect for Pontius Pilate. The president has achieved the almost impossible feat of generating some sympathy for Saddam, at least in Muslim societies.

The Iraqi judicial system is incapable of conducting a plausible hearing. Instead it staged a farce: judges changed, defense lawyers murdered, interminable rambling orations from prosecutors and defendants. Bush should have got some old Soviets to advise the locals about how to run a proper show trial.
So the verdict is just, but everything stinks about the process.

Actually, Hastings argues that the biggest American mistake was to capture Saddam in the first place -
In the House of Commons in 1944, the foreign secretary was asked what instructions had been given to British troops on what to do if they encountered Hitler. Amid laughter, Anthony Eden said: "I am quite satisfied to leave the decision to the British soldier concerned."

Among the allied leaders, only Stalin wanted Hitler alive, for the pleasure of hanging him. Everybody else was appalled by the prospective perils and complexities of trying and executing a head of state in partnership with the Russians. Hitler's suicide came as a relief.

Almost everyone involved in the Nuremberg trials of his subordinates felt uncomfortably conscious that they were administering victors' justice. The proceedings proved valuable, however, in placing on record for all time some of the monstrous crimes of the Nazis. Also, in 1946 the Nuremberg judges possessed a critical advantage. Even if the wartime allies did not represent absolute good - how could any such partnership that included the Soviets? - few people doubted their overwhelming moral superiority over the Nazis.

By contrast, the moral authority of the Iraq coalition led by the US has been blown to rags since 2003. President Bush's achievement has been to convert an almost impregnable American position in the world after 9/11 into a grievously damaged one today. It is believed that more Iraqis have died since the US invasion than were killed by Saddam Hussein. Most have fallen victim to fellow countrymen rather than to American fire. Yet this seems irrelevant, since Washington chose to assume responsibility for the country. The dead have perished on Bush's watch.
So we have no standing? That seems to be the idea.

But there are pragmatic arguments for executing the guy - the nut jobs who worked for him, some of whom are behind the Sunni insurgency, could be hoping one day their old leader will regain power and restore Sunni dominance over there. Offing him might help there.

But if our job is actually "to promote the restoration of order," then we might want to think this thing through carefully.

Sure, lots of folks there want him dead, and we're all about "empowering" the Iraqi people to do what they want. But it's not that simple -
Real power in Iraq today rests in the hands of the Americans or those of local factions on the ground. The so-called national government and its institutions are almost impotent, because they face such physical and political difficulties in exercising their functions.

The verdict on Saddam is just. Yet everything stinks about the process by which it has been reached. Sentence on the condemned tyrant will probably be carried out before the trial of his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majeed, known as Chemical Ali. It is widely expected that the execution will be rushed so that Saddam cannot give evidence at Majeed's trial about collusion between Washington and the former tyranny, which could grievously embarrass the US.

Once again it matters less whether this is true than that so many people around the world believe it to be so. It is dismaying to be obliged to acknowledge that Americans, British, Ba'athists, militiamen, national government representatives and insurgent suicide bombers in Iraq are all today perceived as coexisting on the same moral plane.

Rationally, we know that Bush and Blair want virtuous things for the country: democracy and personal freedom. Yet so incompetent has been the fulfillment of their policies on the ground that the leaders of Britain and the US now possess no more credible mandate than that of Iraq's local mass murderers.

To justify hanging Saddam, Bush and Blair needed moral ascendancy, which they have forfeited. His execution will appear to be merely another dirty deed in the endless succession that have taken place in Iraq since 2003, backed by our bayonets.
Yep, people will only remember the president's record in Texas, ordering far more executions than any governor in history, and laughing about it. He may get his jollies when Saddam swings, and that may have been the whole point of the war in his own world. But there is a wider world. And it's complicated.

As for the election, Paul Krugman the day before the voting says this -
President Bush isn't on the ballot tomorrow. But this election is, nonetheless, all about him. The question is whether voters will pry his fingers loose from at least some of the levers of power, thereby limiting the damage he can inflict in his two remaining years in office.

There are still some people urging Mr. Bush to change course. For example, a scathing editorial published today by The Military Times, which calls on Mr. Bush to fire Donald Rumsfeld, declares that "this is not about the midterm elections." But the editorial's authors surely know better than that. Mr. Bush won't fire Mr. Rumsfeld; he won't change strategy in Iraq; he won't change course at all, unless Congress forces him to.

At this point, nobody should have any illusions about Mr. Bush's character. To put it bluntly, he's an insecure bully who believes that owning up to a mistake, any mistake, would undermine his manhood - and who therefore lives in a dream world in which all of his policies are succeeding and all his officials are doing a heckuva job. Just last week he declared himself "pleased with the progress we're making" in Iraq.

In other words, he's the sort of man who should never have been put in a position of authority, let alone been given the kind of unquestioned power, free from normal checks and balances, that he was granted after 9/11. But he was, alas, given that power, as well as a prolonged free ride from much of the news media.
Yeah, well, maybe so - but don't you want to make him happy? Saddam will swing, and the president will grin, even if to the rest of us it's a big "so what?" We already gave him the lives of nearly three thousand of our sons and daughters, and let him spend our money like a drunken sailor, and let him nearly destroy the military and our reputation as a fair and just nation, and gave him the right to lock up anyone he'd like and throw away key - no charges, no trial, no nothing. Why not let him swoon in orgasmic delight at the hanging of a guy he's always hated? What difference does it make now?

You know nothing is going to change. See the White House transcript of Vice President Cheney's interview with ABC's "This Week" - the election is quite irrelevant -
George Stephanopoulos: So will the vote on Tuesday have any effect on the president's Iraq policy?
Cheney: I think it will have some effect, perhaps, in the Congress, but the president has made clear what his objective is, it's victory in Iraq. And full speed ahead on that basis, and that's exactly what we're going to do.

Stephanopoulos: So even those Republican candidates calling for a change of course are not going to get that on Wednesday?

Cheney: No, you can't make ... national security policy on the basis of that. These are people running for Congress. They're entitled to their own views, on both sides of the aisle. But I think there's no question but what when we get into the global war on terror, when we get into the measures that are needed to go on offense and take the fight to the enemy, if you will, that the support that we've had and continue to have is primarily on the Republican side, and I think the Democrats have come up weak on it.
So that's that. Nothing will change.

The Monday, November 6, joint editorial in the Army Times, the Air Force Times, and the Navy Times is here -
Time for Rumsfeld to go

"So long as our government requires the backing of an aroused and informed public opinion ... it is necessary to tell the hard bruising truth."

That statement was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent Marguerite Higgins more than a half-century ago during the Korean War.

But until recently, the "hard bruising" truth about the Iraq war has been difficult to come by from leaders in Washington. One rosy reassurance after another has been handed down by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: "mission accomplished," the insurgency is "in its last throes," and "back off," we know what we're doing, are a few choice examples.

Military leaders generally toed the line, although a few retired generals eventually spoke out from the safety of the sidelines, inciting criticism equally from anti-war types, who thought they should have spoken out while still in uniform, and pro-war foes, who thought the generals should have kept their critiques behind closed doors.

Now, however, a new chorus of criticism is beginning to resonate. Active-duty military leaders are starting to voice misgivings about the war's planning, execution and dimming prospects for success.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, told a Senate Armed Services Committee in September: "I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it ... and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war."

Last week, someone leaked to The New York Times a Central Command briefing slide showing an assessment that the civil conflict in Iraq now borders on "critical" and has been sliding toward "chaos" for most of the past year. The strategy in Iraq has been to train an Iraqi army and police force that could gradually take over for U.S. troops in providing for the security of their new government and their nation.

But despite the best efforts of American trainers, the problem of molding a viciously sectarian population into anything resembling a force for national unity has become a losing proposition.

For two years, American sergeants, captains and majors training the Iraqis have told their bosses that Iraqi troops have no sense of national identity, are only in it for the money, don't show up for duty and cannot sustain themselves.

Meanwhile, colonels and generals have asked their bosses for more troops. Service chiefs have asked for more money.

And all along, Rumsfeld has assured us that things are well in hand.

Now, the president says he'll stick with Rumsfeld for the balance of his term in the White House.

This is a mistake.

It is one thing for the majority of Americans to think Rumsfeld has failed. But when the nation's current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads.

These officers have been loyal public promoters of a war policy many privately feared would fail. They have kept their counsel private, adhering to more than two centuries of American tradition of subordination of the military to civilian authority.

And although that tradition, and the officers' deep sense of honor, prevent them from saying this publicly, more and more of them believe it.

Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt.

This is not about the midterm elections. Regardless of which party wins Nov. 7, the time has come, Mr. President, to face the hard bruising truth: Donald Rumsfeld must go.
And it doesn't matter. So what? He stays, and Saddam will hang. And we'd better like it all, because there's nothing else.

And was Rumsfeld's war plan so wrong, really. Maybe it was -
A series of secret U.S. war games in 1999 showed that an invasion and post-war administration of Iraq would require 400,000 troops, nearly three times the number there now.

And even then, the games showed, the country still had a chance of dissolving into chaos.

In the simulation, called Desert Crossing, 70 military, diplomatic and intelligence participants concluded the high troop levels would be needed to keep order, seal borders and take care of other security needs.

The documents came to light Saturday through a Freedom of Information Act request by George Washington University's National Security Archive, an independent research institute and library.

"The conventional wisdom is the U.S. mistake in Iraq was not enough troops," said Thomas Blanton, the archive's director. "But the Desert Crossing war game in 1999 suggests we would have ended up with a failed state even with 400,000 troops on the ground."
So General Shinseiki didn't pull that "300,000" number out of his ass that congressional hearing - he was lowballing the actual figures, as he must have known from this study. And Rumsfeld and the rest forced him into early retirement. They were pissed off. At least Shinseiki didn't tell congress the other part - that there was no way to win this thing. The joke's on us. But Saddam will hang.

And it least Afghanistan was a success. No one argued about that war.

And now this - Ronald E. Neuman, our ambassador in Kabul is saying we are facing "stark choices." Averting failure there will take "multiple years" and "multiple billions."

Failure? But we did that one right, didn't we? That's why it's called the "forgotten war" - bitterly by our troops there and with relief by news editors.

But it seems President Hamid Karzai - who is called the "mayor of Kabul" for a reason - continues to have little if any authority or control beyond the capital. And the CIA says increasing numbers of Afghans view his government as corrupt, failing to deliver promised reconstruction and too weak to protect the country from rising Taliban attacks.

So it's not just Iraq that has become a "cause célèbre for jihadists" - Afghanistan is contributing to the mess. You've got you're sharp increase in suicide attacks and roadside bombings over the last few years, and over the last few months you have your tactics that have "migrated from Iraq." Until now "there's not been a tradition of suicide bombers" in Afghanistan, one official says, and suggests that such tactics arrived by way of the Internet and people traveling between the countries. "Psychologically," the official says, "this has had a major impact."

Great. The one thing we might have done right, and the one thing where we had the world's support, has been lost because of the other thing we did.

But Saddam will hang. The president has says the verdict and his death sentence is a milestone. But milestones are becoming tiresome. What do they really mark? Or as Miles Davis would have it - so what?

Posted by Alan at 22:42 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 6 November 2006 07:36 PST home

Friday, 3 November 2006
Where's the Surprise?
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Where's the Surprise?
In positioning for the November 7th midterm elections there was no October surprise. Karl Rove didn't come up with anything at all. Luckily John Kerry had, with his gaffe, provided something at which to point an say, see, the other guys hate the troops, so vote for us. But that was only good for a few news cycles - everyone realized John Kerry wasn't running for anything himself, and wasn't that well-respected among the Democrats anyway, and he apologized, and finally even the White House seemed to realize to making him out to be "the evil Republicans had to defeat" was making them look a little silly. Saying "you certainly don't want John Kerry as your president" has its problems - no one on either side wants him to run again, and he's not running now. It seemed a bit over the top.

But, for the Republicans, an October surprise, even in November, would have been nice - something to change the dynamics. But the end of the week flurry of news items wasn't changing a thing. Friday, November 3, 2006, Congressman Ney of Ohio, one of those caught up in the Abramoff scandal, resigned. He had denied it all, then pled guilty and was sentenced, but was hanging on to "clean up some staff matters" at his office before reporting into whatever low-security high-comfort prison was his next stop. He was supposed to resign after the elections, after voters had cast their ballots, so this wouldn't be another "example" folks could trot out about corruption and all. But the guy resigned late in the afternoon the Friday before the voting. Maybe he didn't get the memo. Well, he has a lot on his mind.

And there was this - "US officials rejected allegations that a US agency which has exposed numerous instances of corruption and mismanagement of American reconstruction efforts in Iraq was being shut down ahead of schedule."

The New York Times had reported that Republicans in Congress had quietly slipped a minor provision into a gigantic military spending bill that will close the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) in October 2007. Our own Duncan Hunter had engineered that - the session to reconcile the House and Senate versions was held behind closed doors with just a few guys and they didn't tell anyone they'd slipped that in the fine print. They didn't tell anyone. The reconciled bill was passed, and signed by the president. And now people notice. It's too late.

This special inspector general, Stuart Bowen, had come up with all sorts of embarrassing revelations that sent a few US occupation officials to jail on bribery and conspiracy charges and exposed absurd mismanagement of projects by Halliburton and the like. Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the idea was to get us off a war footing - we didn't need anyone "special" anymore - State and Defense could investigate this or that if they felt like it.

That didn't play well. See CNN's "everyman," Jack Cafferty explode over this. He seems to have a problem with the "get off a war footing" gambit. Too many of our kids are still dying over there.

Worst of all, the end of the week brought key neoconservatives turning on the president -
A leading conservative proponent of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq now says dysfunction within the Bush administration has turned U.S. policy there into a disaster.

Richard Perle, who chaired a committee of Pentagon policy advisers early in the Bush administration, said had he seen at the start of the war in 2003 where it would go, he probably would not have advocated an invasion to depose Saddam Hussein. Perle was an assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan.

"I probably would have said, 'Let's consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists,'" he told Vanity Fair magazine in its upcoming January issue.
Just after the Iraq war started Perle had lectured the Brits - yep, the war was almost certainly illegal under any interpretation of international law, but the United States was above that law (previously discussed here). And now this.

The White House reaction was predictable - spokesman Gordon Johndroe said, "We appreciate the Monday-morning quarterbacking, but the president has a plan to succeed in Iraq and we are going forward with it." Maybe he should tell someone what the plan is.

And in the same item Kenneth Adelman, who served on the independent Defense Policy Board that advised Bush, said he was "crushed" by the performance of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Perle added that "you have to hold the president responsible" because he didn't recognize "disloyalty" by some in the administration. He's all over the National Security Council, then run by Condoleezza Rice - she and her crew didn't serve Bush properly. As for Adelman, he was one of those who the whole enterprise would be a "cakewalk." Now he's he knows he was mistaken - "They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the postwar era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional."

Oh great. The weekend before the election this is not helpful.

And there were other nuggets -
"The decisions did not get made that should have been. They didn't get made in a timely fashion, and the differences were argued out endlessly," Mr Perle told Vanity Fair, according to early excerpts of the article. "At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible."

Asked if he would still have pushed for war knowing what he knows now, Mr Perle, a leading hawk in the Reagan administration, said: "I think if I had been delphic, and had seen where we are today, and people had said, 'Should we go into Iraq?', I think now I probably would have said, 'No, let's consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists'."

… [Adelman] too takes back his public urging for military action, in light of the administration's performance. "I guess that's what I would have said: that Bush's arguments are absolutely right, but you know what, you just have to put them in the drawer marked 'can't do'. And that's very different from 'let's go'."

… Mr Adelman said the guiding principle behind neoconservatism, "the idea of using our power for moral good in the world", had been killed off for a generation at least. After Iraq, he told Vanity Fair, "it's not going to sell".
And there's David Frum, the speechwriter who gave us the Axis of Evil concept, with this -
I always believed as a speechwriter that if you could persuade the president to commit himself to certain words, he would feel himself committed to the ideas that underlay those words. And the big shock to me has been that although the president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas. And that is the root of, maybe, everything.
Try Kevin Drum's shorter version -
I used to think Bush was such an empty vessel that if I could just get him to parrot the words I wrote, they'd bounce around in his skull and become actual ideas for lack of any competition. Later, though, I finally realized why his skull was empty of serious ideas in the first place.
None of this was very helpful in the final days before the election that seems to be a referendum on the war and on the president.

Nor was this -
The Rev. Ted Haggard said Friday he bought methamphetamine and received a massage from a male prostitute. But the influential Christian evangelist insisted he threw the drugs away and never had sex with the man.

Haggard, who as president of the National Association of Evangelicals wielded influence on Capitol Hill and condemned both gay marriage and homosexuality, resigned on Thursday after a Denver man named Mike Jones claimed that he had many drug-fueled trysts with Haggard.

On Friday, Haggard said that he received a massage from Jones after being referred to him by a Denver hotel, and that he bought meth for himself from the man.

But Haggard said he never had sex with Jones. And as for the drugs, "I was tempted, but I never used it," the 50-year-old Haggard told reporters from his vehicle while leaving his home with his wife and three of his five children.

Jones, 49, denied selling meth to Haggard. "Never," he told MSNBC. Haggard "met someone else that I had hooked him up with to buy it."

Jones also scoffed at the idea that a hotel would have sent Haggard to him.

"No concierge in Denver would have referred me," he said. He said he had advertised himself as an escort only in gay publications or on gay Web sites.

Jones did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press on Friday.
Ted Haggard sounds like Bill Clinton - "I did not inhale." No more Monday morning political strategy calls with the president. How do the evangelicals vote now? Do they vote at all?

There has to be some recovery from this. It's time for a surprise. And the end of the week flurry of news offered something, sort of - the right side of the media was buzzing with the news that Saddam Hussein really did have nuclear weapons, sort of, so we did go to war for a really good reason. It's all it how you look at it.

Of course some conservatives always believed there is evidence out there, somewhere, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and actively collaborated with al Qaeda before the our invasion - we just didn't look hard enough. And earlier this year they persuaded Congress to take a vast trove of documents relating to Iraq and post them online. Given enough eyeballs, the argument went, we could find those WMD. The effort was call the Army of David - all the right wing bloggers and Bush fans would go over this all with a fine tooth comb, even if everything was in Arabic. They find the proof and all those who t=hought we'd blown it would hang their heads in shame and slink away, and so on and so forth.

Nothing much came of it - and it wasn't the Arabic problems. There was much there. There was a document that happened to be about al Qaeda, but on a closer look, it no connection to Iraq, and a lot of the Army of David was embarrassed (but not that much).

Then on Friday, November 3, just before the elections, the New York Times reported there was something there - "detailed accounts of Iraq's secret nuclear research before the 1991 Persian Gulf war." Experts say these documents could prove extremely helpful to anyone out there trying to figure out how to make a homemade bomb - not to guys on the street of course, but to most governments.

This is not good. The entire file has now been pulled from the site. Much was no doubt copied to hard drive in labs around the world - but what's done is done.

Scott Rosenberg at SALON is unhappy -
So the right's efforts to score political points have resulted in dangerously detailed nuke-building information being broadcast over the entire Internet. Instead of feeling chagrined, the conservative blogosphere is instead dancing a bizarre victory jig this morning: The presence of bomb recipes, the cry goes, proves that Saddam had dangerous nuclear information after all!

But no one ever argued that Saddam didn't have dangerous information about how to build nuclear weapons. The whole point of the U.S.-backed and U.N.-operated anti-proliferation regime was to prevent him from using that information to build bombs. We now know that that program successfully hobbled Saddam's WMD ambitions - until the Bush administration decided to dismantle it in favor of a regime-changing invasion.

The documents in question date back before the 1991 Gulf War, at a time when liberals and conservatives alike agree that Saddam had nuclear ambitions. Recognizing that they are dangerous and should not be public proves nothing about the threat Saddam did or didn't pose to the U.S. in the post-9/11 era. Nor, despite what Glenn Reynolds says, does taking these documents seriously prove anything about the importance or authenticity of any of the other documents in the file.

The straw man being held aloft by the National Review's Jim Geraghty and others is that antiwar liberals never took the threat Saddam posed seriously, yet now we know he had a nuclear cookbook. But the real story here is that conservatives now believe that attempting to prove they were right about Saddam should take priority over keeping nuclear know-how out of terrorist hands.

House Intelligence Committee chairman Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., who led the release-the-documents move, blames the director of national intelligence for failing to censor the sensitive nuclear information. But Hoekstra says he's "pleased that the document release program continues to stimulate public discussion of these issues." I'm sure that bomb makers with Internet connections are equally pleased.
As for Hoekstra, the whole sad history of this business can be found here - Hoekstra and Rick Santorum, with Pat Roberts in the Senate, push for all these tens of thousands of documents to be posted to the net - for everyone to see. The CIA and all the other intelligence agencies are appalled - they say this is madness. The new head of all national intelligence, John Negroponte, tell these three to forget it, as it's dumb and dangerous. They whine publicly and visit the president. He overrules Negroponte and the agencies, and the stuff goes up.

Now we have a problem. Arms control experts around the world are aghast - the world has suddenly become far more dangerous. The Army of David on the right is saying that may be so, but this information - on triggering devices, with production notes, with notes on workarounds for this technical puzzle or that - prove the president was right, is right, and always will be right. Yeah, the documents are all from 1991 or earlier, and Saddam Hussein may have been forced to give up the effort late in 1991 - but, the argument goes, this proves there was an immediate threat justifying preventative war. You just have to play around with that word "immediate." The mistake of posting the sensitive stuff was worth the now much more likely prospect of six or ten or twenty penny-ante countries getting their own thermonuclear bombs. We made the end of the world much more likely - but we proved the president right. Heck, the posted documents may help Iran and North Korea tremendously, or have already. But the president was right.

So this is the overdue October surprise? Will votes now shift and the Republicans win every seat everywhere in a landslide?

A mainstream reaction that might be instructive is that of the careful Andrea Mitchell at NBC in this video -
Mitchell: Peter Hoekstra in fact said, Quote: "Let's unleash the power of the Internet on these documents to see if there was a smoking gun on WMD's" - the intelligence experts were reluctant to release these documents. Skeptics at the time said that all this was being done by conservative bloggers and others on the Intelligence committees to try and bolster their argument that the war was in fact justified in the first place. These specific dozen documents - they did have a blueprint for making bombs and those technical documents could have been helpful to terrorists… The net affect would likely be that it would hurt the administration because it shows that they - once again - were the gang that couldn't shoot straight! - they forced the Intelligence community to do something that the experts didn't want to do and the President himself overruled John Negroponte on.
She, of all people, calls them the gang that couldn't shoot straight? Oh my. This will hurt the administration? That could be.

Bur perhaps no one now is changing his or her mind, or potential vote. There will be no other overdue October surprise. Or maybe there will be. The odd thing is that if there is, no surprise will matter. We've reached the limits of spin. No one buys it either way. And when Portugal announces they have the bomb, then Upper Volta, we're in real trouble, even if the president was right three years ago, sort of, depending on how you look at it.

Posted by Alan at 22:48 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 3 November 2006 22:51 PST home

Thursday, 2 November 2006
Other Matters - Not Directly Pertaining to the Midterm Elections
Topic: Perspective
Other Matters - Not Directly Pertaining to the Midterm Elections
The Thursday before the elections in the United States one would be hard pressed to find a whole lot of news that wasn't about the upcoming elections. Tuesday, November 7, might be a landmark day, changing a whole lot about how the country is run, or it might turn out to be a confirmation of more of the same. No one knows and everyone was talking - cheap buzz to fill the empty hours on cable news.

But there were some other things that a few had on their minds. Of course much of it looped back to the elections one way or another. Still, a shift in the national dialog was nice - or maybe it was a pause.

Out here in the Los Angeles Times, Timothy Garton Ash once again made the argument the words matter - calling what we're up to the War on Terror was a mistake - "Apart from anything else, to use this language dignified the terrorists with the status of belligerents when they should have been treated as criminals. In a backhanded way, the coinage was itself a kind of glorification of terrorism."

So we carelessly glorified them when we just should have called them thugs, done some clever international police work with our allies, found the remaining nasty guys, tried them and locked them up forever or executed them. They weren't worth a war, and everyone would know that. But then the ongoing situation is a bit too momentous to say this is just a criminal matter - that we're going after mass murderers and this isn't war. But then the word "war" is a problem -
Political words have consequences - especially big ones like this, when used by the most powerful state on earth - and one could plausibly suggest that much blood has flowed as a result of that choice of words. You might retort that the blood would have flowed anyway, even if the Bush administration had chosen a different guiding metaphor, and that claim can never be disproved. But it's clearly the case that when, after September 11 2001, the Bush administration said "war," they meant war in the familiar sense of trained, armed persons being commanded to go and kill other persons, overtly or covertly. In 2002 I asked a very senior administration official how this war on terror might end. He replied: "With the elimination of the terrorists." Yes, from the outset they did acknowledge that this was no longer war in the classic sense of two uniformed armies of rival states meeting on a field of battle. Yet the decision to make Iraq a central theatre of the war on terror was, among other things, a kind of desperate reaching back to a more conventional kind of warfare that the mightiest army in the history of the world could clearly and swiftly win. Or so they thought.
Well, it didn't work out. Call Interpol? Find another word? Ash asks for suggestions. He can't think of the right word.

The Ash item had originally appeared the The Guardian (UK), and why the Times picked it up - other than they're cutting full-time staff left and right and buying a single gracefully written column is cheaper than hiring a first-rate staff writer - may have something to do with an effort to help readers step back look at larger issues. It's not all careless and tin-eared John Kerry all the time, or shouldn't be.

The question is of interest too. Everyone wants to rethink what we're up to - save for the president and Dick Cheney, and Barney the Scottish terrier (see Woodward on that). Maybe the central metaphor for the whole business was wrong.

Robert Farley thinks so -
Referring to anti-terror operations as "war" fulfilled some emotional needs (and laid the framework for the Bush administration's accumulation of executive power) but it hamstrung the actual fight against terrorism. The elimination of terrorism is simply not a plausible foreign policy goal. It's not logically impossible (thinking of terrorism as a social institution somewhat akin to dueling or slavery is helpful in this regard) but it's practically impossible, meaning that any war fought to defeat terrorism will invariably fail to achieve its end. There will be no final moment in which terrorism surrenders upon the deck of a Zumwalt class destroyer, for example.

The legal framing doesn't suffer from such problems. Although the "war" metaphor may occasionally be deployed in reference to street and organized crime, there is no expectation that crime will ever be defeated, just that it will be controlled and limited to tolerable levels. Perhaps most importantly, mafia bosses rarely make "peace" with the government in the sense that most wars end in some form of treaty. Still, Ash observes that the legal framework doesn't really get at everything we're trying to do, since some operations against terror will lie outside a conventional legal formulation. Ash proposes "struggle" which is a word that I've been trying to avoid while writing this post, mostly because it seems imprecise. But I think Ash is right that both progressives in general and the successors of the Bush regime need to think about an alternative rhetorical framework to the "War on Terror."
And if the elections sweep the opposition into real power, they'd better think fast -
America is now seen as a threat to world peace by its closest neighbours and allies, according to an international survey of public opinion published today that reveals just how far the country's reputation has fallen among former supporters since the invasion of Iraq.

Carried out as US voters prepare to go to the polls next week in an election dominated by the war, the research also shows that British voters see George Bush as a greater danger to world peace than either the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, or the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Both countries were once cited by the US president as part of an "axis of evil" but it is Mr Bush who now alarms voters in countries with traditionally strong links to the US.

The survey has been carried out by the Guardian in Britain and leading newspapers in Israel (Haaretz), Canada (La Presse and Toronto Star) and Mexico (Reforma), using professional local opinion polling in each country.

It exposes high levels of distrust. In Britain, 69% of those questioned say they believe US policy has made the world less safe since 2001, with only 7% thinking action in Iraq and Afghanistan has increased global security.

The finding is mirrored in America's immediate northern and southern neighbours, Canada and Mexico, with 62% of Canadians and 57% of Mexicans saying the world has become more dangerous because of US policy.
It may be far too late for an alternative rhetorical framework. We've had more than three years of an actual war, an calling it something else so we can do something else - maybe something that actually works to make us and the world safer - and if we called it the Petunia of Peace or Colombo, Kojak and Sam Spade Save the Day, no one trusts us to make things better.

And as Time Magazine notes, we sometimes do things to prove them right -
As if the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal weren't bad enough for America's image in the Middle East, now it may appear to much of the world that one of the men implicated in the scandal is returning to the scene of the crime.

The U.S. military tells TIME that one of the soldiers convicted for his role in Abu Ghraib, having served his sentence, has just been sent back to serve in Iraq.

Sgt. Santos Cardona, 32, a military policeman from Fullerton, Calif., served in 2003 and 2004 at Abu Ghraib as a military dog handler. After pictures of Cardona using the animal to threaten Iraqis were made public, he was convicted in May of dereliction of duty and aggravated assault, the equivalent of a felony in the U.S. civilian justice system. The prosecution demanded prison time, but a military judge instead imposed a fine and reduction in rank. Though Cardona was not put behind bars, he was also required to serve 90 days of hard labor at Ft. Bragg, N.C.

… According to a close friend with whom Cardona spoke just before his departure, the soldier is fearful that he remains a marked man, forever linked to the horrors of Abu Ghraib - he appears in at least one al-Qaeda propaganda video depicting the abuse - and that he and comrades serving with him in Iraq could become targets for terrorists. To make matters worse, his 23rd MP Company has been selected to train Iraqi police, which have been the target of frequent assassination attempts and, according to US intelligence are heavily infiltrated by insurgents.

But Cardona's physical well-being is not the only issue of concern connected to his transfer. According to former senior U.S. military officers and others interviewed by TIME, sending a convicted abuser back to Iraq to train local police sends the wrong signal at a time when the U.S. is trying to bolster the beleaguered government in Baghdad, where the horrors of Abu Ghraib are far from forgotten. "If news of this deployment is accurate, it represents appallingly bad judgment," says retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who commanded a division in the first Gulf War. "The symbolic message perceived in Iraq will likely be that the U.S. is simply insensitive to the abuse of their prisoners."

Retired Major General John Batiste was likewise surprised at the decision to send a soldier convicted of abuse at Abu Ghraib back to Iraq. His only comment: "You just have to wonder how far up the chain of command this decision was made."
Well, we could be sending a message. It doesn't seem to be a nice one. We know this guy, and the message tells the Iraqis what to expect in their future. Or maybe, with resources thin, someone just wasn't thinking. Either alternative is depressing.

Along with telling the world that they should shut up and George Bush alone will decide just what torture is and isn't, not the international rules, this too show our steely resolve and manly refusal to care what anyone thinks, or something like that. Luckily with the election and all - at the president railing at John Kerry and pounding this podium or that denouncing gay marriage - this small item got buried. But then someone outside the United States, who doesn't much care if Lars and Spanky down on Elm Street tie the knot, may come this in Time. Time Magazine will be accused of making us look bad. And what about second chances for felons and all that? Ah, maybe no one will notice.

There are lots of things folks don't notice with all the shouting and sneering before the election. They might not notice this - the Bureau of Labor Statistics is saying that productivity growth in the last quarter was zero. Nothing, nada, a goose egg - whatever you like.

Does this matter? Ezra Klein notes, the central economic mystery of the last decade or so is how the economy's robust productivity growth has not translated into commensurately large wage increases, and now "the inexplicably bad good times" may be ending. As he delicately puts it - "This country is so screwed."

The he links to the Princeton economist Paul Krugman carefully explaining all the quite logical reasons why we're about to topple into a massive recession.

And Klein adds this - "I was at that conference and, later on, there was a panel asking how we can prevent the next recession. The four economists on the stage displayed a comforting unanimity in their responses: We can't."

Kevin Drum here -
Now, this is not the first time productivity has leveled out for a quarter. … But two things make this slowdown noteworthy. First, it follows weak Q2 productivity growth, which means we've had six straight months of poor performance. Second, remember my wonky post yesterday about possible mismeasurement of the increase in auto production? If that turns out to be a genuine error, it means this quarter's productivity growth is overstated. We might have actually seen a drop in productivity.

I dunno. It looks to me like the housing market is collapsing, and that's the bubble that's been keeping the economy alive ever since the tech bubble burst. Is there another bubble to take over from housing? I sure don't see one on the horizon. At the same time, middle-class incomes - the engine of economic growth - have fallen over the past few years, and there's a limit to how much families can make up for that by piling on ever more debt. I suspect we've just about hit that limit - and since the one constant of the financial industry is that it overreacts to both good news and bad, it's likely that they'll add to the economic misery by reining in credit even more than the fundamentals justify.

But at least they have a shiny new bankruptcy bill to help them through the hard times. I hope everyone who voted for that legislation is proud of themselves this time next year.
This is wonky stuff, of course. And it sure looks like hard times are coming. So it's out of the news cycle.

First, it's not about nasty election ploys and clever gotcha moments, and second, it's hard to follow because you have to think about it all and not just react viscerally, and third, of course, is that the economic collapse hasn't happen yet, no matter how certain it is. All news programmers know the American audience has the attention span of a gnat, and if you're going to hold onto you demographic, and sell those advertising spots at a good rate, a story about losing your job and you house next March will have folks clicking over to reruns of "Bonanza." The item isn't immediate. Just as all of us don't do "deferred gratification," we certainly don't do deferred crises. Maybe after the election it will get a little play - if there are heart-wrenching stories of folks losing everything that make for good video. CNN will send in the emotionally sensitive and quite dashing Anderson Cooper to do a few of his "I'm outraged" stories. As for now, forget this item.

And after all it's not about sex.

The big story, other than election coverage, of Thursday, November 2, was.

Denver Post: Haggard Steps Down Amid Gay Affair Inquiry - "Ted Haggard, one of the most prominent evangelical pastors in the nation, resigned today as president of the National Association of Evangelicals amid allegations that he carried on a three-year sexual relationship with a male prostitute."

KUSA-TV (Denver): Man Claims 3-Year Sexual Relationship With Pastor - "A gay man and admitted male escort claims he has had an ongoing sexual relationship with a well-known Evangelical pastor from Colorado Springs." (Additional video here.)

It goes national with the AP here -
The leader of the influential National Association of Evangelicals, a vocal opponent of the drive for same-sex marriage, resigned Thursday after being accused of paying for sex with a man.

The Rev. Ted Haggard also stepped aside as head of his 14,000-member New Life Church while a church panel investigates, saying he could "not continue to minister under the cloud created by the accusations."
He we go again. He's now seeking "spiritual guidance."

So this basics - Reverend Ted Haggard, pastor of the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, is the target of accusations by Mike Jones, a male "escort," that the pastor has been a sexual client of Jones's for the last three years. And this - "Haggard belongs to the elite group of right-wing religious leaders party to regular Monday-morning conference calls with President Bush, according to reporter Jeff Sharlet, writing last year in Harper's. As a supporter of the ballot measure for a gay marriage ban, which Colorado voters will decide next week, Haggard's travails have a political taint."

Oops. Maybe it's not about sex entirely, or religion, but about how the two meet in the political world. It's a Colorado thing - there are two gay-rights measures on the state's November ballot, one that would grant same-sex couples the right to a civil union, and another that would write a ban on gay marriage into the state constitution. And there are the Monday phone calls with the White House. Amazing.

But who is this fellow? Tim Grieve at SALON asks about that -
We asked for an explanation from Salon's Lauren Sandler, the author of "Righteous: Dispatches From the Evangelical Youth Movement." Here's what she tells us: "Ted Haggard may not just be the most important evangelical you've never heard of, but the most important evangelical, period.

"Joel Osteen may have the largest church in the nation. His Lakewood congregation packs the 60,000-seat Astrodome to bask in his blinding smile and equally blinding promise of the great financial wealth that only faith in Jesus can deliver. But his minions are a paltry bunch compared with the 30 million members of Haggard's National Association of Evangelicals.

"Rick Warren may be the bestselling evangelical scribe since the Bible's original autographs. His 'Purpose-Driven Life' has sold more copies than any other nonfiction book in history, that is, if you don't consider the Bible nonfiction. But he's hardly got the ear of the president, with whom he doesn't always see eye to eye (or tooth for tooth).

"And even James Dobson, long heralded as the most influential evangelical in the world, lacks the pull with the evangelical movement he once did. Dobson never takes off his suit jacket, even at his desk, while Haggard can't stand the feel of anything but denim against his skin. Dobson has been seen by many evangelicals as stepping too far into the 'corrupt' dark side of Washington since he launched his PAC, while Haggard manages his influence carefully without the tarnish of politics ever marring his flawless gleam. It's Haggard who is the bionic hero of the young cadets and airmen he ministers to in his own megachurch, just down the road from Dobson's Focus on the Family. In Colorado Springs - known alternately as the Vatican and the Washington of the evangelical world - it is Haggard who is king, the crony and the conscience of his youthful parishioners as well as his president.

"Which is why it matters so that Haggard seems to have fallen. The Mark Foley scandal inspired plenty of people to question their devotion to the Republican Party. But Foley is a politician; most evangelicals would already suspect him of thinly cloaking his identity in a three-piece, pinstriped superego. Haggard, on the other hand, has always represented the real deal. He's the one John Wayne would have tapped for his posse. He's the one who represents most how deeply political this evangelical population can be, while always disdaining the notion of politics, always cleaving toward the ranch rather than the Hill.

"If that makes it sound like Haggard and Bush are peas in a pod, well, they are. Haggard participates - or at least he did - in weekly White House conference calls, and he and the president like to joke that the only thing they disagree on is what truck to drive.

"Haggard has been preaching against homosexuality with his typical charismatic fire-and-brimstone fervor ever since he founded New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Probably even before then. And if he's right that there is a special place in hell for gay fornicators and drug abusers - not to mention for liars and charlatans - I guess he knows where he's headed."
Okay, the man who preaches the Gospel of Wealth - get with Jesus and you get really rich - and who meets with the president weekly, and the two of them joke about how they think alike - has resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and from his church, until all this is straightened out. It's most curious.

This was a break from the election news - offering sex and the fallen preacher. It's classic. But we're additionally talking gay sex - which drives Republicans crazy. And then it tied back to the political directly - the Colorado proposals, the connection to the president, and this rising star no one knew was out there. The story has everything. And before the elections the accuser goes on the radio sow where this all started and will take a lie-detector test - to prove the paying him for nasty sex for three years, and doing meth now and then.

Ah, maybe none of it is true. One must wait to see how this pans out. Maybe we'll find out that the accuser was paid by the Democrats to drop this bomb after the Kerry story wouldn't go away. But it's too indirect an attack for that, and no one believes the Democrats are that organized anyway.

But it did bury this story - "A Republican congressman accused of abusing his ex-mistress agreed to pay her about $500,000 in a settlement last year that contained a powerful incentive for her to keep quiet until after Election Day, a person familiar with the terms of the deal told The Associated Press." That's only half as interesting. There the congressman is running on a curious platform - "Yes, I cheated in my wife, but I didn't choke and beat my young mistress." The president had flown to Pennsylvania to campaign for the guy - something about values and character and admitting one's mistakes and learning from them. The irony was thick and deep that day, or something was. But the Colorado story was juicier. You got the president of the National Association of Evangelicals resigning and all that.

Perhaps the Republicans made a bad bargain when they decided the evangelicals were necessary to them. They're nothing but trouble.

Even some arch-conservatives are making the break. Over at the National Review, one of them, John Derbyshire, and ex-pat Brit, comes out of the closet (in a different way), and says he's not going to play along. He's tired of the readers sending him messages - that he's not religious enough, that he needs to find Jesus again as he seems to have missed him the first time, and how can he support the president and the administration if he has no religious fervor of Jesus, and so on.

He simply simply confesses -
Kierkegaard said something like: "Life can only be understood backwards, but it has to be lived forwards." Well, I disagree on the first. I understand less about life now (I am 61) than I did, or thought I did, 30 years ago. I can remember being profoundly shocked, around age 25, reading James Boswell's London Diaries, the bit where Bozzy encounters a very old aristocrat and asks him whether, looking back on life, he can discern any pattern or purpose to it. No, says the old boy, it has all been "a chaos of nothing." I'm not quite ready to agree with that, but it doesn't shock me any more, not at all. Perhaps the old nobleman was right.

... It's counterintuitive, but often the case, that you get less religious as you get older. Well, perhaps it's not really counterintuitive: Other passions fade, why shouldn't religious feeling? Anyway, once the end of the show is in sight on the horizon, you get resigned to a lot of things you struggled against before, especially things to do with your own personality. You stop giving a damn about lots of things you used to care about. ("At 20," goes the old quip, "I was obsessed with what people were thinking about me. At 40, I'd stopped being obsessed with what people were thinking about me. At 60, I finally realized that nobody had ever been thinking about me at all!") You also just have more time to think; and religion, like sex, works best if not thought about too much.
And there's a bit of question and answer -
Q. Do you think religion is a good thing, or a bad thing, for a society?

A. ... My actual answer is that the question doesn't make much sense, as a question. Religious feeling just is, there in human nature, unremovably and inescapably. That's the point of Chesterton's famous, and true, remark, or quasi-remark. It's there, and decent societies have to incorporate it somehow, to the general advantage. That's all. You might as well ask: Is sex a good thing, socially speaking? Depends whether society is good at accommodating it. Pretty much all societies are — we've had lots of practice with that. Really formally organized religion is less than 3,000 years old, though. There wasn't any need for it until really big human settlements — civilizations — came up. We haven't all got it right yet.

Religion is first and foremost a social phenomenon. That religious module in our brains is a sub-module of the social one, or is very closely allied to it. To deny it expression is just as foolish, just as counter-productive, as to deny expression to any other fundamental social feature of human nature — sexuality, or aggression, or the power urge, or cheating.

The trick, if you want a reasonably happy and stable society, is to corral human nature into useful, non-socially-destructive styles of expression: sexuality into marriage, or at least some kind of formal and constrained bonding; aggression into sport or military training; the power urge into consensual politics; cheating into conjuring, drama, and games like poker. (I don't mean you should cheat at poker, only that you need some powers of deception to play poker well.) Any aspect of human nature can get out of hand, as we see with these Muslim fanatics that are making such nuisances of themselves nowadays. That doesn't mean the aspect is bad, just that some society has done a bad job of corralling it.

So I guess my answer is something like: If a society accommodates the people's religious impulses well, it's a good thing, and if not, not.

Q. Do you think an individual human life has any purpose?

A. From a cold biological point of view, every living creature has the purpose of bringing forth a new generation, and of living long enough to do so. However, this question is usually asked by religious people with some such subtext as: Do you believe you are here to please (or obey, or glorify) God? Or to make yourself worthy of Christ's sacrifice? Or the equivalent things in other religions - to help bring all of humanity into the House of Islam, to escape from the Wheel of Reincarnation, to live in harmony with the Tao, and so on? I guess it is obvious from my previous answers that, no, I don't believe any of those things.
That's just a sample. We'll see what he says about Colorado. The divorce over there on the right side of things has begun.

And what this all comes down to is that there's lots more going on than the elections. They'll be over soon enough, one way or the other. There is other news.

Posted by Alan at 22:47 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 2 November 2006 22:49 PST home

Wednesday, 1 November 2006
Things Won't Change
Topic: Election Notes
Things Won't Change
Assume the polling regarding the midterm elections is right. That maybe be a foolish assumption but grant it for a moment - Americans across the country on 7 November trot off to their polling places (here in this part of Hollywood the Iranian-American synagogue just south of the Sunset Strip) and cast votes to throw the bums out, as the term goes. The Democrats win control of the House and perhaps the Senate - and then it becomes permissible for the legislative branch of the government to ask questions and suggest alternatives. No more "rubber stamp" from both houses of everything Dick Cheney and Karl Rove whispers in George Bush's ear. All the committees that approve and fund government operations are chaired by the other guys - the ones who can now, on the record, ask questions and say no to this and that. The president is left with the veto and the power to commandeer an hour of prime time television now and then. The last two years of this administration would not be like the first six, not at all.

But things may not change.

Evidence for that comes from Beaumont Texas, where early voting is well underway. There's this (with video), from KFDM there -
KFDM continues to get complaints from Jefferson County voters who say the electronic voting machines are not registering their votes correctly.

Friday night, KFDM reported about people who had cast straight Democratic ticket ballots, but the touch-screen machines indicated they had voted a straight Republican ticket.

Some of those voters including Lamar University professor, Dr. Bruce Drury, believe the problem is a programming error.

Saturday, KFDM spoke to another voter who says it's not just happening with straight ticket voting, he says it's happening on individual races as well, Jerry Stopher told us when he voted for a Democrat, the Republican's name was highlighted.

Stopher said, "There's something in these machines, in this equipment, that's showing Republican votes when you vote for Democrats, and I know Ms. Guidry's a nice lady, and she's working hard, but her theory that my fingernail was somehow over the Republican button is just unrealistic, my fingernail was not. The equipment is not working properly as far as I can tell."

Jefferson county clerk Carolyn Guidry says her office has checked the calibration of the machines and found no problems.

She says the electronic system is very sensitive.

She told KFDM that's a concern she has expressed since county commissioners chose the machines.

Guidry advises voters to carefully review their choices, and make any changes before pressing the vote button.
Yep, it's tricky down there in Texas. And it's also tricky in Florida -
Debra A. Reed voted with her boss on Wednesday at African-American Research Library and Cultural Center near Fort Lauderdale. Her vote went smoothly, but boss Gary Rudolf called her over to look at what was happening on his machine. He touched the screen for gubernatorial candidate Jim Davis, a Democrat, but the review screen repeatedly registered the Republican, Charlie Crist.

That's exactly the kind of problem that sends conspiracy theorists into high gear -- especially in South Florida, where a history of problems at the polls have made voters particularly skittish.

A poll worker then helped Rudolf, but it took three tries to get it right, Reed said.

''I'm shocked because I really want … to trust that the issues with irregularities with voting machines have been resolved,'' said Reed, a paralegal. "It worries me because the races are so close.''

Broward Supervisor of Elections spokeswoman Mary Cooney said it's not uncommon for screens on heavily used machines to slip out of sync, making votes register incorrectly. Poll workers are trained to recalibrate them on the spot - essentially, to realign the video screen with the electronics inside. The 15-step process is outlined in the poll-workers manual.

''It is resolved right there at the early-voting site,'' Cooney said.

Broward poll workers keep a log of all maintenance done on machines at each site. But the Supervisor of Elections office doesn't see that log until the early voting period ends. And a machine isn't taken out of service unless the poll clerk decides it's a chronic poor performer that can't be fixed.

Cooney said no machines have been removed during early voting, and she is not aware of any serious problems.

In Miami-Dade, two machines have been taken out of service during early voting. No votes were lost, Sola said.

Joan Marek, 60, a Democrat from Hollywood, was also stunned to see Charlie Crist on her ballot review page after voting on Thursday. ''Am I on the voting screen again?'' she wondered. "Well, this is too weird.'' Marek corrected her ballot and alerted poll workers at the Hollywood satellite courthouse, who she said told her they'd had previous problems with the same machine.

Poll workers did some work on her machine when she finished voting, Marek said. But no report was made to the Supervisor of Elections office and the machine was not removed, Cooney said. Workers at the Hollywood poll said there had been no voting problems on Friday.

Mauricio Raponi wanted to vote for Democrats across the board at the Lemon City Library in Miami on Thursday. But each time he hit the button next to the candidate, the Republican choice showed up. Raponi, 53, persevered until the machine worked. Then he alerted a poll worker.
These incidents may be anomalies of course. Only a conspiracy nut would think that something shady is going on, since (1) the two providers of voting machines nationwide are companies run by major contributors to the Bush campaigns, and since (2) none of the machines in use anywhere offer a paper trail or any way to audit the vote - recounts are meaningless as they just recount what's been written to the master files - and (3) since systems experts from Johns Hopkins to Stanford have noted the machines and their networks could be easily hacked and results changed on the fly in two minutes by anyone with even a little savvy, and no one would be able to detect that. You just have to trust that a few errors are just that - minor errors that can be fixed on the spot. And every voter is, of course, extremely careful and will try again and again and again and again if the machine shows the vote for the person they really don't want. And you have to assume what is finally locked on the screen and is finally confirmed is what is written to the master files - the tally. Why would you think otherwise?

Yep, the joke is on us. But you have to admire what they've pulled off here. It's a bit like Robert Redford and Paul Newman in that old movie "The Sting" - you finally admire the master scammers for their smarts. They know how to get what the want.

But suppose that the vote overwhelms the scam - there a just too many votes to change. What then?

Well, nothing much changes, as the Associated Press reports here on Wednesday, November 1 - "President Bush said Wednesday he wants Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney to remain in his administration until the end of his presidency, extending a job guarantee to two of the most-criticized members of his team."

He says each is doing a fantastic job. The announcement is a pre-election jab at "the other guys" - pretty much saying, yeah, maybe, just maybe, you'll win, but you can't make me dump these two guys. People may hate them, and some say they've screwed up badly, and they lie - and it may all be true, but no one can make me do anything I don't want to do. It's an in-your-face power thing, and something to fire up the base before the election.

Andrew Sullivan offers this -
Let me put this kindly: anyone who believes that Donald Rumsfeld has done a "fantastic job" in Iraq is out of his mind. The fact that such a person is president of the United States is beyond disturbing. But then this is the man who told Michael Brown he was doing a "heckuva job." And, yes, our Iraq policy begins to look uncannily like the Katrina response.

The president, in other words, has just proved that he is utterly unhinged from reality, in a state of denial truly dangerous for the world. He needs an intervention. Think of this election as an intervention against a government in complete denial and capable of driving the West off a cliff. You can't merely abstain now. Bush just raised the stakes. And he must be stopped.
And as for all the Rumsfeld-Cheney errors, see Sullivan's new book, The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It; How To Get It Back -
Some of the errors can be attributed to the fog of war, to the inevitable mismatch between theory and practice, between war-plans and an actual conflict, taking place in a deeply divided country sealed off for years from most outside contact, and exhibiting what can only be called post-totalitarian syndrome. No one should expect perfection.

But what we witnessed was something far more disturbing: a refusal to account for reality, to acknowledge error, to prepare for all contingencies. In searching for an explanation for that, we have to return, I think, to the kind of conservatism George W. Bush had internalized.

In that world-view, what mattered was the ideological analysis: good versus evil. What mattered was the assertion of the United States' right to act alone if necessary to defend its own security. What mattered was the zero-sum analysis that we had to choose between war against Saddam and a potential mushroom cloud in an American city. It was this rigid and abstract analysis that essentially abolished the idea that the war was subject to rational debate.

… The fundamentalist makes his mind up instantly, makes the fundamental decision, and cannot, by necessity, stop short at a later date and ask himself if he's right. Such second-guessing undermines his entire worldview. It threatens his inner psychological core.

And this narrative - amazingly - continued throughout the post-invasion anarchy ... In the wake of growing chaos, murder and political drift, the Bush presidency merely insisted that nothing was wrong.

… Part of this brittleness can be understood as public relations. War-leaders do not want to be seen second-guessing strategy in public. Much of the opposition in America would have jumped on any concession to reality by the president and used it against him. But again, this doesn't fully explain the rigidity of the Bush White House, its imperviousness to empirical criticism, its insistence on the inerrancy of its leader, and its ruthlessness toward critics. What does help explain it is the fundamentalist mindset. A strong inerrant leader is typical of such religious groupings; deference is regarded as the natural response to such a hierarchy; criticism is immediately conflated with sin or weakness or treachery. Loyalty, however, is always valued - even when it appears ludicrous.
And Sullivan adds this -
We are surely in the ludicrous phase now.

From Michael "Heckuva Job" Brown to Donald "Fantastic Job" Rumsfeld, we see the same psychological profile. Woodward is right about this president. This is not conservatism. This is simply denial of reality. In these perilous times, it is beyond disturbing.
Even the pop novelist Stephen King is worried - "If I know anything, I know scary, and giving this president and this out-of-control Congress two more years to screw up our future is downright terrifying."

But if the main issue is Iraq, and how things are going badly, maybe the president is right. It really isn't Rumsfeld. Congressman John Boehner floated that idea on Wednesday, November 1, on CNN's Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. Bush is fine, and Rumsfeld has made no mistakes, then there is only one obvious conclusion - it's the generals -
GOP HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER JOHN BOEHNER: Let's not blame what's happening in Iraq on Rumsfeld.

WOLF BLITZER: But he's in charge of the military.

BOEHNER: But the fact is, the generals on the ground are in charge, and he works closely with them and the president.
Okay, the number two Republican in the House says you have to work down to the truth. The problem cannot be the president, obviously, and the president says the problem is not Rumsfeld. "When you've eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth" - or something like that. Hey, it worked for Sherlock Holmes. So it's the generals who have screwed up.

If the generals use the same principle, they can push it down the chain of command. In the end some grunt private will look around and, seeing there's no one left, blame the Iraqis for screwing up our war.

But it seems the Iraqi generals are already on top of the issue, cutting to the chase -
The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., predicted last week that Iraqi security forces would be able to take control of the country in 12 to 18 months. But several days spent with American units training the Iraqi police illustrated why those soldiers on the ground believe it may take decades longer than Casey's assessment.

Seventy percent of the Iraqi police force has been infiltrated by militias, primarily the Mahdi Army, according to Shaw and other military police trainers. Police officers are too terrified to patrol enormous swaths of the capital. And while there are some good cops, many have been assassinated or are considering quitting the force.

"None of the Iraqi police are working to make their country better," said Brig. Gen. Salah al-Ani, chief of police for the western half of Baghdad. "They're working for the militias or to put money in their pocket."
Interesting - this will take "a few decades" to fix. So things won't change, in a really big way. But it's not Rumsfeld's fault.

And our military agrees -
Iraqi soldiers being trained by American military advisers go on rampages, flee from dangerous situations and waste ammunition in undisciplined bursts of fire at any provocation, according to an account in a U.S. Army journal.

In contrast to the iron discipline imposed during Saddam Hussein's regime, "the new army serves the cause of freedom, and officers and soldiers alike are a bit confused about what this means," Lt. Col. Carl D. Grunow wrote in the July-August issue of Military Review.

Iraqi soldiers frequently use excessive force, going on retaliatory rampages after colleagues are killed by insurgents, Grunow wrote in the journal, a publication of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

"The 'burst reaction' may be attributed to Iraqis experiencing denial, anger and grief all at the same time," he wrote.

Grunow, who spent a year with an Iraqi armored brigade north of Baghdad, also said that Iraqis often fail to report for training, and that sometimes up to 40 percent of some units flee from dangerous situations without fear of punishment.

"As of this writing, the only power holding them is the promise of a paycheck (not always delivered) and a sense of duty. Good soldiers leave after receiving terrorist threats against their families," Grunow wrote.

The old Iraqi army "executed deserters unhesitatingly," he said.

Another problem, Grunow wrote, is the Iraqi "death blossom," in which an attack by even a single sniper "provokes the average Iraqi soldier to empty his 30-round magazine and fire whatever belt of ammunition happens to be in his machine gun." That is both dangerous and wasteful, he said.
But it's not Rumsfeld's fault. You can read the source material here, and it doesn't mention Rumsfeld or any policy makers.

You want this to change? Think boldly. That's what Ralph Peters does at the New York Post. He suggests we simply have to engineer a military coup and let a carefully selected strongman take over -
American advisers risk their lives in the struggle to build Iraqi police units committed to doing their duty. We've equipped them, trained them and led from the front.

In gratitude, Iraq's police have ambushed our troops, fielded death squads less restrained than those under Saddam, stolen everything they could steal in preparation for a future civil war - and, apparently, funneled U.S.-provided arms to militias, insurgents and terrorists.

Our efforts to develop good cops have failed (garbage in, garbage out). We need to stop wasting our efforts. Shielded by government ministers and parliamentarians, the police are so out of control that there's no longer any hope of weeding out the bad guys. Instead, the bad guys are weeding out the good guys: Honest cops get killed. By other cops.

The situation's desperate. We need to revamp our strategy (to the extent that we have one). For all its shortcomings, the Iraqi army has been a far greater success than the police - whether we're speaking of cops on the beat or paramilitary commandos.

It's time to abandon the cops. Let the anti-American elements in the Maliki government have them. Don't continue to strengthen our enemies. Concentrate on developing and expanding the army.

Why? Here's where the truth gets still uglier. As dearly as we believe in democracy, Iraq's Arabs are proving that they're incapable of the political, social and moral maturity necessary to run an elected government. Casting ballots alone doesn't make a democracy. The government has to function. And to protect all of its citizens.

In the coming months, we may find that the only hope of restoring order is a military government. It sounds repellent, but a U.S.-backed coup may be the only alternative to endless anarchy.

Arabs still can't govern themselves democratically. That's the appalling lesson of our Iraqi experiment. A military regime might be capable of establishing order and protecting the common people.

… This really isn't our failure. The failure is on the part of the Iraqis. They had this one great chance - bought with American and allied blood - to build a rule-of-law democracy in the Arab world. They appear determined to throw that chance away, preferring to wallow in old hatreds, vengeance, corruption and the tyranny of fear.

It's ironic that, having gone to Iraq to jump-start democracy in the region, we may end up backing a military coup to save the battered country. We're not there yet (and the thought is anathema in Washington - reality usually is). But we'd better hedge our bets. The only, faint chance we have to protect the average Iraqi is to expand the Iraqi army and promote a national ethos within its ranks.
Well, if you see them as sub-human morons, that's one way to change things. Unfortunately Saddam Hussein is not currently available.

But if you want things to change, backing a military coup in Iraq would do the trick. It sure beats voting for Democrats, or something.

What might have set Peters off - spurring such thoughts - was the secondary news story on Halloween Day, 2006. The primary news story was the John Kerry comments, where he botched a line and, meaning to say the president had done some really stupid things, seemed to say our troops were too stupid to avoid service. That sucked the air out of the news cycles and none of the media had time for this -
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki demanded the removal of American checkpoints from the streets of Baghdad on Tuesday, in what appeared to be his latest and boldest gambit in an increasingly tense struggle for more independence from his American protectors.

... The language of the declaration, which implied that Mr. Maliki had the power to command American forces, seemed to overstep his authority and to be aimed at placating his Shiite constituency.

The withdrawal was greeted with jubilation in the streets of Sadr City, the densely populated Shiite enclave where the Americans have focused their manhunt and where anti-American sentiment runs high.
John Kerry could not have screwed up at any more propitious time. This was hardly covered at all.

Try this analysis from Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly -
So: an American soldier is abducted and held in Sadr City, the Army sets up a cordon in an effort to force the soldier's release, but then meekly gives in when Maliki orders them to. This whole situation seems tailor-made for Democrats in an election year: Why have we abandoned an American soldier? Why are we letting Maliki give orders to U.S. generals? Who's in charge over there?

So far, though, Democrats have restrained themselves. Is this because they know in their hearts that letting Maliki call the shots in this case was the right thing to do, and they've decided they don't want to politicize the situation? Maybe, but I wouldn't bet the farm on it. The Dubai port deal was almost certainly the right thing to do too, but that didn't stop Dems from mounting a two-week frenzy over the whole thing. There's probably some other calculation going on. Or maybe they just need a day or two to get their act together.
But then, this may be a good thing -
I mention this mainly because bowing to pressure from Maliki probably was the right thing to do, for at least a couple of reasons. First, it's impossible for Maliki to control the political situation in Iraq, as we want him to do, unless the various Iraqi factions believe he has genuine influence over the U.S. military. If we had swatted him down in a high-profile case like this, it would have been tantamount to a death sentence.

Second, Maliki might very well have saved us from ourselves. After all, our cordon had already been in place for eight days without result, and there was no indication that it ever would have worked. (Hezbollah endured a thousand deaths and two months of destruction in Lebanon and still wouldn't release the abducted Israeli soldiers that started that war.) My guess is that the militants who held the U.S. soldier would never have released him, and that they even viewed the growing chaos in Sadr City as a positive benefit. Keeps the locals riled up against the American occupation, you know.

So Maliki probably did us a favor by giving us an excuse to back down yesterday. In a broader sense, though, the story of the Sadr City cordon is the story of Iraq in a microcosm: tactics unsuited to the fight, no exit strategy when those tactics turn out not to work, and eventually a clear demonstration of the limits of American power. The military set up the cordon because they didn't want to simply do nothing, but then had to stick with it forever because anything less would show a "lack of resolve." In a way, Maliki rescued us from our own folly on Tuesday.
And so maybe we don't have to elect Democrats anyway. The world may be self-correcting.

No, probably not. And things won't change.



Also on Wednesday, November 1, the president appeared on the Rush Limbaugh radio show, showing support for Limbaugh mocking Michael J. Fox and Fox's "so-called" disease. About the same time John Kerry apologized for his remarks - he meant something else entirely and he was sorry people got another impression. And just as Bush had demanded that Kerry apologize to the troops for implying they were all stupid when he only meant to say that George Bush himself was stupid, Rush and George demanded that Michael J. Fox apologize to the American people for pretending he had Parkinson's disease and his demanding that we fund killing babies to find a cure for the disease he was faking.

No, the last part of that wasn't true. That didn't happen. But this did -
Give me a second here, Rush, because I want to share something with you. I am deeply concerned about a country, the United States, leaving the Middle East. I am worried that rival forms of extremists will battle for power, obviously creating incredible damage if they do so; that they will topple modern governments, that they will be in a position to use oil as a tool to blackmail the West. People say, "What do you mean by that?" I say, "If they control oil resources, then they pull oil off the market in order to run the price up, and they will do so unless we abandon Israel, for example, or unless we abandon allies."
Rush called this "extremely visionary." He didn't ask how we go into this particular jam - and who was responsible for making it so we just had to stay. And he didn't ask if that wasn't saying our real call to arms - the reason our guys will have to continue to die - is now that we have to keep oil prices low and the flow steady because they've got us by the short hairs.

Rush was just in awe. He wasn't thinking. Or he was.

And the end of that same long day, from the New York Times, new polling data -
The poll found that just 29 percent of Americans approve of the way President Bush is managing the war in Iraq, matching the lowest mark of his presidency. Nearly 70 percent of Americans said Mr. Bush did not have a plan to end the war, and an overwhelming 80 percent said Mr. Bush's latest effort to rally public support for the conflict amounted to a change in language but not policy.
Add that in the generic congressional poll, Democrats now have a nineteen percent lead, a record. And for those who do over-under math, George Bush's approval/disapproval rating for handling the war is a minus thirty-five percent , and for the broader war on terrorism it's minus four percent. More people think the economy is getting worse than think it's getting better by a margin of twenty-two percent. People think taxes will go up no matter who wins control of Congress, and fifty-seven percent are in favor of allowing either marriage or civil unions for gay couples.

Things could change, if people triple-check their votes and hope the hackers mess up.

Posted by Alan at 22:17 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 2 November 2006 07:11 PST home

Tuesday, 31 October 2006
Levels of Seriousness - Political Halloween
Topic: Perspective
Levels of Seriousness - Political Halloween
Okay, Tuesday, October 31, was Halloween, and here above Sunset we were all hiding. Down the hill they had the annual Halloween parade and party - most of West Hollywood closed, the streets blocked, and the crazies were out. West Hollywood is famous for such things, but dropping in once is enough. And streets are closed out here all the time. Coming up it's the Twentieth Century Fox folks with the new Bruce Willis film, "Live Free or Die Hard." That will be a pain, "shooting on the 105 Freeway and surrounding areas for three weekends in November. The movie involves explosions and pyrotechnics. The eastbound 105 will be completely closed on the first three weekends in November. Imperial Highway will be shut down most days, November 2-19." The first one of those shut down a lot of Century City on many a Sunday.

You get used to a certain level of craziness out here, and sometimes it spills out into the wider world - and sometimes it has very little to do with the movies. Out in Pasadena, home of the Rose Bowl and Cal Tech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratories (lots of intense and brilliant people working on the latest close-up photos just in from the surface of Mars), you'll find Pasadena City College - a rather fine commuter school with its left-wing radio station (KPCC) and a great student jazz band and whatnot. That's where the national crazy Halloween story started, the day before Halloween. John Kerry, the man who got the most votes for president in the 2004 election, was visiting. He was campaigning with California gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides - another Democrat who can't win for losing (no one can touch Arnold Schwarzenegger as he's one heroic movie star) - and messed up big time. He told the student crowd at Pasadena City College - "You know, education - if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

What? As Tim Grieve notes here, this blew open on Halloween with the White House saying Kerry insulted the troops and John Kerry insisting, "No, I insulted Bush."

It's all how you read the words. Kerry spokesman David Wade insisted the senator was referring to George W. Bush - "a president not exactly known for his intellectual curiosity or academic successes" - but no one on the right was buying that. The Republican National Committee said that Kerry, who volunteered for Vietnam after graduating from Yale, was belittling our troops now serving in Iraq. John McCain said Kerry's comments were "insensitive" and "ill-considered." White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said on Halloween that Kerry "not only owes an apology to those who are serving, but also to the families of those who have given their lives in this." And Snow said that Democratic candidates like Jim Webb and Tammy Duckworth should be asked whether they're in accord with Kerry's "absolute insult."

It seems Kerry was trying to say if Bush had actually been any kind of student and made a minimal effort at being smart, instead of mocking those who try either, we wouldn't be in the Iraq mess. But the man has a tin ear and just can't tell a joke - he messed up - bad timing, bad delivery. That's death out here. He'll never make it in Hollywood, especially if he cannot get it working in Pasadena. This town is unforgiving

And the Republicans needed an issue. Blaming the North Korea nuclear test and the 9/11 attacks - and the sluggish economy and most everything else - on Bill Clinton was getting thin. Flogging a president who has been out of office for six years for what's happening now was starting to look silly. Best to switch to the fellow who lost six years ago and has been fighting obscurity ever since. Normally he'd be ignored. But this was just a gift. That he's not running for anything and shunned by his own party didn't really matter. When you need a new scapegoat sometime you just get lucky. This would do.

There was damage control - a statement followed by a press conference -
If anyone thinks a veteran would criticize the more than 140,000 heroes serving in Iraq and not the president who got us stuck there, they're crazy. This is the classic G.O.P. playbook. I'm sick and tired of these despicable Republican attacks that always seem to come from those who never can be found to serve in war, but love to attack those who did.

I'm not going to be lectured by a stuffed suit White House mouthpiece standing behind a podium, or doughy Rush Limbaugh, who no doubt today will take a break from belittling Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's disease to start lying about me just as they have lied about Iraq . It disgusts me that these Republican hacks, who have never worn the uniform of our country lie and distort so blatantly and carelessly about those who have.

The people who owe our troops an apology are George W. Bush and Dick Cheney who misled America into war and have given us a Katrina foreign policy that has betrayed our ideals, killed and maimed our soldiers, and widened the terrorist threat instead of defeating it. These Republicans are afraid to debate veterans who live and breathe the concerns of our troops, not the empty slogans of an Administration that sent our brave troops to war without body armor.

Bottom line, these Republicans want to debate straw men because they're afraid to debate real men. And this time it won't work because we're going to stay in their face with the truth and deny them even a sliver of light for their distortions. No Democrat will be bullied by an administration that has a cut and run policy in Afghanistan and a stand still and lose strategy in Iraq.
That's all beside the point. The man tried to make a pointed joke and screwed it up. Unforgivable. You don't give a fifth-rate performance to a rough audience.

The most widely-read fellow on the left, Kos, has this to say -
Man, there are times when this stuff is more ridiculous than anything a fiction writer or satirist could ever dream up.

So John Kerry mangles a sentence in a public appearance, and the right-wing smear machine and its traditional media enablers are apoplectic. I mean, John Kerry is a, um, junior senator not running for reelection! And he's, um, a war hero who hates the troops! And um, we hate him because he's John Kerry!

Trust me, I haven't been shy to pile on Kerry when warranted, but what a load of bullshit this is. And showing that he has learned from his Swiftboating days, Kerry hit back hard…

Kerry has nothing to apologize for. The people who have turned their backs on the troops do. And even though this ridiculousness will lead the evening news, fact is, we should embrace the opportunity to remind Americans how Republicans rally to the "troops" defense only when it suits their own cynical political ends.
Too late - the damage is done. Now everyone will accept that the war is going well, we're winning decisively, and no mistakes were made about anything at all.

Maybe that'll happen. One commenter at the Kos site notes on MSNBC's Hardball show, host Chris Matthews said flat out that reading the full transcript of the Pasadena thing it's clear that Kerry was insulting the president, not the troops. A big time Republican, Dick Armey, was on at the time and essentially agreed and they both laughed about how funny it was that the White House and the whole Republican party was feigning mock outrage. As the Brit kids say in the Harry Potter books - brilliant.

Kos -
If Republicans want to debate who supports the troops more, let's have that debate. I'd love to talk about nothing else than Iraq for the next week.

And for the rest of you who think this is the end of the world - stop being afraid of your own shadow. Just stop it. Fight or get out of the kitchen. It will get hotter than even this.
Of course it will get hotter. And Halloween day it got hotter -
A Democratic activist who verbally confronted U.S. Sen. George Allen at a campaign rally in Charlottesville yesterday was shoved, put into a headlock and thrown against a window by three men wearing Allen stickers, according to a widely disseminated video of the incident.
The CNN video of that is here, another here, and a series of stills here.

The fellow is a political writer - and an ex-Marine. He wasn't heckling. He waited until after the speech and asked nasty questions. As you see he wasn't violent or even raising his voice. Allen's goons took him down. He was disrespectful. Senator Allen said such things happen - no big deal.

This may have been staged, or pre-planned. It does send a message to voters - George Bush may be too much of a wimp when it comes to the press, so elect me and Helen Thomas and David Gregory will get bounced around real good if they ask uppity questions. It kind of reaches out to the authoritarian-minded Americans who are sick of people complaining and making trouble. It's a bit of a message.

Mike Stark, the fellow who was roughed up, doesn't get it -
My name is Mike Stark. I am a law student at the University of Virginia, a marine, and a citizen journalist. Earlier today at a public event, I was attempting to ask Senator Allen a question about his sealed divorce record and his arrest in the 1970s, both of which are in the public domain. His people assaulted me, put me in a headlock, and wrestled me to the ground. Video footage is available here, from an NBC affiliate.

I demand that Senator Allen fire the staffers who beat up a constituent attempting to use his constitutional right to petition his government. I also want to know why Senator Allen would want his staffers to assault someone asking questions about matters of public record in the heat of a political campaign. Why are his divorce records sealed? Why was he arrested in the 1970s? And why did his campaign batter me when I asked him about these questions.

George Allen defends his support of the Iraq war by saying that our troops are defending the ideals America stands for. Indeed, he says our troops are defending our very freedom. What kind of country is it when a Senator's constituent is assaulted for asking difficult and uncomfortable questions? What freedoms do we have left? Maybe we need to bring the troops home so that they can fight for freedom at George Allen's campaign events. Demanding accountability should not be an offense worthy of assault.

I will be pressing charges against George Allen and his surrogates later today. George Allen, at any time, could have stopped the fray. All he had to do was say, "This is not how my campaign is run. Take your hands off that man." He could have ignored my questions. Instead he and his thugs chose violence. I spent four years in the Marine Corps. I'll be damned if I'll let my country be taken from me by thugs that are afraid of taking responsibility for themselves.

It just isn't the America I know and love. Somebody needs to take a stand against those that would bully and intimidate their fellow citizens. That stand begins right here, right now.
Yeah, yeah - well, times are changing. The price you pay for asking questions is going up. Anyone in Austria in 1938 would know that. This fellow doesn't get it.

Here and there a few people will be outraged by this incident, and a bit more widely some others may feel somehow uncomfortable about it. The political calculation seems to be that most of America is pretty fed up with politics and the election news from all over, and this will appeal to them. People should just shut up and not make trouble. George Allen's stock just rose.

But there is calm, reasoned questioning. It's just useless -
Sen. Hillary Clinton delivered what they call a "major policy address" at the Council on Foreign Relations this afternoon, and it proved that, against an administration of misplaced conviction and shallow ideology, clichés are wisdom and conventional thinking can be profound.

Few of Sen. Clinton's pronouncements would stun a classroom of freshman poli-sci majors. That U.S. foreign policy needs "bipartisan consensus" and "nonpartisan competence"; that, in an "increasingly interdependent world," we must remain "internationalists" and "realists"; that "patient diplomacy, backed up by American strength, informed by American values," is just the ticket. Who could dispute such truisms?

The stunning thing is that the president of the United States and his top advisers do dispute them in their rhetoric and their policies. Hence their blithe disregard of expertise (military, economic, and otherwise), their harrumphing unilateralism, their exaggerated assumptions about American power, their dismissal of negotiations as a game for weaklings (and negotiations with bad guys as appeasement).
But she said it so nicely no one wanted to beat her up.

That's from Fred Kaplan who spends some time pointing out banal truisms now seem radical, but then, "when President Bush reduces the sectarian complexities of Iraq to a struggle between the forces of terror and the ordinary people who just want a decent life, he seems utterly incurious about the composition of those people or what they might consider a decent life - and genuinely unaware of the connection between their society's upheaval and the war that he brought on."

So in that context what Clinton proposes makes the administration very, very, angry. She's suggesting what seems kind of obvious -
1) Press the Iraqi government to get serious about internal reconciliation, and present real consequences for their failure to do so. One possible approach, she said, might be to establish an oil trust, the revenue of which would be equitably shared by all Iraqis, thus placating Sunni discontent and demonstrating that America has no ambitions for their oil. 2) Convene an international conference of all parties in the region, including Iran and Syria. 3) Begin a "phased re-deployment" of U.S. troops, leaving behind only enough for support and training Iraq's own military.
And that makes her one of the "cut and run" people who want the terrorists to win, of course. At least it's a policy. It would be nice to have one.

What else? More troops in Afghanistan, and direct talks with Tehran, if just to find out who's really running things over there. As Kaplan notes on the latter - "President Bush declines, leaving such things to the British, French, and Germans, saying that the Iranians know what we want if they want to strike up a conversation." On North Korea, said she was real happy that that the North Koreans agreed on Halloween morning, after extensive diplomatic pressure from China, to return to the six-party talks in Beijing. But she complained that the Bush administration "has spent six years dangling neither sticks nor carrots in its dealings with the admittedly horrid Kim Jong-il."

Kaplan says of all this (and there are a few other items) -
In certain Democratic circles, the cry has gone out for presidential candidates and party honchos to articulate grand ideas, especially in foreign policy - bright new strategies for the 21st century and the post-post-Cold War world. But if there's one lesson of the George W. Bush era (and it is an era - has any six-year span ever seemed longer?), it's that grand ideas are the ones that most often get you in trouble. There are plenty of good ideas - sound ideas out there in the realms of history, shrewd analysis, and common sense. It might be enough simply to call for candidates who are smart, skeptical, and rooted in reality.
So forget John Kerry's screw up, and George Allen's demonstration of how things should really work in America. These are all minor matters. We need some big, obvious fixes, even if banal and a tad boring.

Why? Consider what Lieutenant General William E. Odom (retired) - a senior fellow at the wildly conservative Hudson Institute and a professor at Yale University - had to say on Halloween -
Our leaders do not act because their reputations are at stake. The public does not force them to act because it is blinded by the president's conjured set of illusions: that we are reducing terrorism by fighting in Iraq; creating democracy there; preventing the spread of nuclear weapons; making Israel more secure; not allowing our fallen soldiers to have died in vain; and others.

But reality can no longer be avoided. It is beyond U.S. power to prevent bloody sectarian violence in Iraq, the growing influence of Iran throughout the region, the probable spread of Sunni-Shiite strife to neighboring Arab states, the eventual rise to power of the anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr or some other anti-American leader in Baghdad, and the spread of instability beyond Iraq. All of these things and more became unavoidable the day that U.S. forces invaded.

These realities get worse every day that our forces remain in Iraq. They can't be wished away by clever diplomacy or by leaving our forces in Iraq for several more years.

The administration could recognize that a rapid withdrawal is the only way to overcome our strategic paralysis, though that appears unlikely, notwithstanding election-eve changes in White House rhetoric. Congress could force a stock-taking. Failing this, the public will sooner or later see through all of the White House's double talk and compel a radical policy change. The price for delay, however, will be more lives lost in vain - the only thing worse than the lives already lost in vain.
And he makes the case for getting out in three months. And he argues as Clinton did - the same points, generally.

That's because things like this are going on (a summary of the Halloween Iraq news from Mark Kleiman at UCLA -
It's over.

The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld strategy for Iraq is now obviously a dead letter.

In a showdown between the U.S. Army and the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr, the Prime Minister of Iraq sided with Moqtada, and we are obeying his orders and backing down. PM al-Maliki thinks the presence of U.S. forces in Iraqi cities is fueling violence, and he'd like to see them withdrawn to bases in the countryside.

Let's review the bidding:

1. The Mahdi Army, Moqtada al-Sadr's private militia - the same outfit that we fought house-to-house in Najaf - kidnapped an Iraqi-born U.S. soldier a week ago.

2. Moqtada is a minister Moqtada's nominee is health minister in the Iraqi government, and his party is one of the three that make up the ruling coalition.

3. In response, our troops invested Sadr City, the huge Shi'a slum where Moqtada has his power base, looking for the kidnapped soldier and for one of Moqtada's lieutenants, suspected of organizing the snatch. They set up roadblocks that made travel difficult both within Sadr City and between that area and the rest of Baghdad.

That's the situation as of the weekend.


4. Moqtada complained, and threatened unspecified but drastic consequences. The Mahdi Army cordoned off Sadr City, completely isolating it.

5. Without any advance warning to the U.S., al-Maliki ordered that the roadblocks be taken down.

6. The roadblocks are coming down.

Of course when the head of a sovereign government gives orders about U.S. military actions in his country, we have no option but to comply. But why should our troops keep dying to prop up a government that won't stop its own political allies from kidnapping them?

Nor, it turns out, does that government want to be propped up the way we're currently trying to do it: Al-Maliki has said he believes that the continued presence of American forces in Iraq's population centers is partly behind the surge in violence.

Duhhhhh ... right. But of course Bush's friends call any Democrat who says that a coward, if not a traitor.

And note also al-Maliki's proposed solution: The speedy withdrawal of American forces from Iraqi cities to U.S. bases in the country.

And of course if we were to do that, we wouldn't need 150,000 troops in Iraq.
And all that is just numbering the sequential events in this news item. They told us to back off, and what can we do?

Here's one idea from Gary Kamiya, apologize -
Americans are feeling many emotions about Iraq these days. There's anger. There's sadness. There's despair, and vindication, and fear. But largely forgotten is the quietest, but most necessary, emotion of all: shame.

When we chose to invade Iraq, we made ourselves morally responsible for the consequences. This was not a debt we wanted to think about. And until the last few weeks, it was possible to repress it, by clinging to the hope that things would somehow turn out OK. That hope has now been dashed. Whether we stay or leave, Iraq is not going to be OK. And all we can do is watch as the deadly consequences of our folly, our rashness, our stupid self-righteousness, our inexcusable imperial hubris are visited on thousands of men, women and children - only a minuscule fraction of them those "terrorists" we were supposedly attacking.

We have turned Iraq into hell. In Iraq today, death can come from anywhere, for any reason or no reason. You can be killed because you belonged to the wrong sect, because you were seen talking to an American, because someone wants your car, because you wore shorts, because you were selling ice, because you drove too close to a U.S. checkpoint, because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There is an old Arab proverb: "Better a thousand days of tyranny than one day of anarchy." It is not an inspiring sentiment, but perhaps there is a reason for it.

… This is the shadow we now live under because of Iraq. We did it. We can't undo it. And we will never be able to make up for what we've done.

Our guilt would be somewhat mitigated, or at least easier to deal with, if there had been any real reason for this war. All wars are terrible, but some are justifiable. This was not. It was a frivolous war, perhaps the most abstract, pulled-out-of-thin-air war ever launched by a world power. It was dreamed up by hollow men who had never experienced war themselves, who made the decision as if playing a board game, and were supported by people who convinced themselves that the world was a board game.

To be sure, some war supporters had good intentions. But that does not exonerate them. If you start a war for no reason, you have to be right about the outcome. You don't have the option of being wrong.

The war supporters' good intentions were to get rid of Saddam Hussein, one of the great monsters of our time, and improve the miserable lives of the Iraqi people. These were laudable sentiments. I was bitterly opposed to the war, but I allowed myself to celebrate the moment when he fell. I thought it was inhumane and dogmatic not to celebrate the downfall of such a dreadful dictator, even though I feared what would happen next. But it turns out that I was wrong to celebrate.

… Whether you agreed with the war or not, once it started America incurred a moral responsibility to the Iraqis.

… What can we do about this? We have no vocabulary for it, no moral compass. What do you do when you have incurred a debt so great it can never be repaid?

In 1997, after a Jordanian soldier killed seven Israeli schoolgirls who were visiting a nature reserve, the late King Hussein knelt, weeping, before each of the girls' parents as a sign of his sorrow, his responsibility and his shame.

America owes the Iraqi people the same gesture.

Protest marches mean little now. Anger can be expressed on Nov. 7. But we need to express our shame.
Ah, we never do such things. But the thought kind of puts the Kerry thing in perspective. It really doesn't matter much.

Posted by Alan at 22:03 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 1 November 2006 08:17 PST home

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