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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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Monday, 24 April 2006
The Great Unraveling, or Something
Topic: In these times...

The Great Unraveling, or Something

Looking back on Monday, April 24, 2006, it might be possible to see the political system in place disintegrating. The administration has about a thousand more days in office, and no one knows quite how those days will play out. Maybe this happens in the middle of every second term. Decisions were made in the first six years and the implications of those decisions cannot be glossed over or spun as "not as bad as they seem" forever. The mood of the country is sour, and those who have run the joint for the last six years are increasing seen as somewhere between incompetent and bat-shit crazy by increasing numbers of people.

The clock ran out on any number of things, and long before the mid-term elections, when angry voters may change the House and Senate from majority Republican to majority Democratic, and with those bodies no longer controlled by the party of the administration things could get really ugly. There'll be some explaining to do, after six years of a free ride where the administration "got the benefit of the doubt" or just unquestioning approval born of loyalty, and the puzzled and alarmed were told they were the usual - that they were unhinged by irrational personal hatred of a great man they just didn't understand because of their elitist, intellectual way of looking at things, or that they wee unpatriotic, if not treasonous, for raising issues in dangerous times. The puzzled and alarmed could say, all they wanted, that, no, it wasn't "the man" really, it was the decisions, the policies and the responses to events that were dangerous. It didn't matter. Such talk was dismissed with a patronizing shrug, or attacked as something like treason, as any questioning of any of all that, even minor tax policy, was letting "the enemy" know we weren't united behind our leaders.

But you can only ride that pony so far. As the war in Iraq seemed to be worse than pointless as it entered its fourth year, and although the stock market was healthy, and corporations, for the most part, making fine profits, real income for most had declined for four years straight, costs had risen, particularly for healthcare and health insurance (now forty-five million don't have any at all), and then, with all the talk that maybe we should launch a preventive war with Iran, maybe using nuclear weapons, to keep them from developing their own nuclear weapons in eight or ten years, the price of crude oil jumped to record levels, and thus the price of gasoline, as that neared four dollars a gallon, the simmering resentment rose too.

There is some explaining to do. And if the Republicans lose the House or Senate, or both, then the current implicit administration position - "we don't have to explain anything to anyone, and you have no right to ask questions" - becomes impossible. Subpoena power is nasty. When confronted with the many calls from recently retired top generals for the Secretary of Defense to be replaced, the president simply said, "I'm the decider." Case closed. He stays. No real substance, no reasons he's the right man. Not open to discussion. Since the start of the administration six years ago, with Vice President Cheney formulating energy policy, and perhaps foreign policy too, with the heads of the oil industry in secret meetings, it's always been this way. Heck, the Supreme Court decided Americans had no right to know what went on in those meetings, in a decision where the key vote was that of Antonin Scalia, who went duck hunting with Cheney the weekend before the oral arguments. Now Scalia says "his proudest" moment on the court was refusing to recuse himself on that matter (you could look it up). Maybe those "we don't explain, we do" days will be gone.

November is, of course, a political lifetime away. Many things could happen to reverse the mood of the country. Would a war with Iran rally everyone behind the administration, if they make a convincing case we just had to drop some nukes on them, given what they might do sometime in the next decade? After Iraq and the weapons of mass destruction that weren't there? It's a long shot that that would work, but it may be the only thing to do to recover from the current mess. Nothing to lose, after all.

And things keep happening that shouldn't have happened before Election Day in November.

The political week started Sunday evening, not Monday morning, with the former head of covert CIA operations in Europe telling "60 Minutes" that the Bush administration had "politicized and cherry-picked" intelligence on Iraq (see CBS's excerpts here for details). Tyler Drumheller has turned Naji Sabri, Iraq's Foreign Minister, and got him working as a CIA asset. Drumheller informed George Tenet, the head of the CIA. Tenet told Bush, Cheney and Condoleezza Rice. They were thrilled. They wanted to know what this Sabri fellow had to say. But they were told Sabri said that Iraq did not, in fact, have any active WMD programs. None. Nothing there. But it was too late. The administration had already decided Saddam Hussein had to go, and, one assumes, decided that no one would ever find out that what they were saying was the reason we had to go was just not so, or wouldn't find out until it was too late. Well, three years later it is too late.

This is an historical footnote. It doesn't much matter now. They fooled us all but good, and there's something to say for that, although just what that is depends on your political leanings. As for the "benefit of the doubt" element, see Josh Marshall here - he interviews Tyler Drumheller after the "60 Minutes" show and asks about the big post-war effort to blame the whole thing on the intelligence community, the commissions and all. They interviewed Drumheller. He told them just what he told "60 Minutes" - more than three hours of testimony in front of them all. They seem to have decided this was not worth a mention, and one assumes the Republicans on the committee in question felt revealing this would embarrass their side, and the Democrats knew that harping on this would make them look unpatriotic or something or other. Interesting, but ancient history.

But it does leave the general public feeling a bit like the rube at the carnival tricked in front of everybody, bitter and embarrassed for getting suckered. And unfortunately Tyler Drumheller didn't have the decency, or feel it was his patriotic duty, to keep quiet until November - or alternatively, CBS didn't sit on this story until after the November election because they have it out for Bush and the Republicans. There they go, those lefties, subtly trying to influence the upcoming election with such things.

But it's history. What's done is done.

But it must be irritating for the White House. And making things worse was Osama bin Laden. Yeah, we were going to get him "dead or alive." We didn't. So what? So much else is going on everyday that at one point the president even said he didn't matter - "I really don't think about him much." We weren't supposed to think about him much, either. But the week opened with a new tape from him - he doesn't much like our "Zionist-crusader war on Islam" and is urging militants to fight in Sudan, and calls for attacks on civilians in the west, as they elected those waging war on Islam. Odd, it hardly seems that the Islamic government in Sudan needs much help in driving out the whole population of Darfur from the western edge of Sudan and starving the hundreds of thousands they haven't yet killed (see this).

But these calls for new attacks? There was a general shrug - there he goes again. Then there was this -
Three nearly simultaneous bombings hit an Egyptian beach resort popular with foreigners Monday, killing at least 23 people on streets filled with vacationers and Egyptians marking the beginning of spring.

The bombers struck the Sinai seaside city of Dahab in the early evening along a crowded promenade of shops, restaurants and bars. Interior Minister Habib el-Adly said those killed included 20 Egyptians and three foreigners. Sixty-two people were wounded.

The explosions came a day after Osama bin Laden issued a call to arms to Muslims to support al-Qaida in fighting what he calls a war against Islam.
Osama bin Laden couldn't wait until November?

This is not helpful, politically. And the same day another retired general says Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, has to go (see who here). That makes eight. And he says it on Fox News, of all places.

That was the day after the first major newspaper in America calls for the president to dump Vice President Cheney. That would be the Los Angeles Times here, as they see it is one way to save things, after dumping Rumsfeld, "not because he has been criticized by a group of retired generals but because he embodies the smugness and inability to acknowledge error that has characterized both the Iraq war and the wider war on terrorism."

Yeah, that. But they say it's time to be even more "bold" and "audacious" - and of course "throwing Cheney overboard would be an implicit repudiation of the excessively hawkish foreign policy with which the vice president, even more than Rumsfeld, has been associated."

The president knows he should -
The truth is that the president, however grudgingly, has recognized that he and the administration made mistakes in the run-up to the war in Iraq and in its aftermath. He has not confessed that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, but he has acknowledged with increasing explicitness that he was wrong to believe that Saddam Hussein harbored weapons of mass destruction.

No longer proclaiming "mission accomplished," Bush has been pursuing a sadder-but-wiser policy in Iraq that many Democrats also endorse. It involves ramping up the training of Iraqi troops to take over from U.S. forces while leaning on Iraq's feuding sects to join, however unenthusiastically, in a government of national unity.

Having changed his tune, the president should also think about changing the company he keeps - big time, as Dick Cheney would say.
Of course, Cheney will never allow the president to do this, but it is odd to have a major paper call for the resignation or dismissal of a duly elected official. You don't see that very often. And irritating for the White House.

But it seems we're going to have a government in Iraq, and that should shut up some of the critics, except the new man finally selected to lead Iraq seems to think would be a good idea to take all the roaming militias and death squads and incorporate them into the armed forces (see this) - as if we'd fix the gang problems out here in Los Angeles by having all the Bloods and Crips and such join the Los Angeles Police Department.

As for how the war is going otherwise, along with the daily deaths of our guys, two or three a day, and the usual Baghdad bombings and thirty or so locals dead each day from those, or just showing up shot in the head and dumped in an alley, there was this - joint US-Iraqi inspections of detention centers continue to reveal "signs of torture," particularly at the Ministry of Interior. It seems the Shiites now in power, or in the majority in government for the first time in many decades, tend to get a little carried away in their political discourse. And that's not a good sign. On the other hand, this is - our top commander in Iraq changes the rules governing privatized military support operations after confirming cases of "human trafficking." Subcontracting services can be such a bother, and kidnapping to build a workforce and keeping them in what amounts to slavery reflects badly upon your skills in vendor management.

But do people really care what's happening in Iraq? Yes and no. There was that Gallup poll the week before showing that Americans' biggest concerns are Iraq, immigration and the price of gas. So if things are going to get better for the administration, and there will be this wonderful "reenergizing" of the Bush presidency and the American people will come around, there will be a serious rethinking of the war, and real leadership on immigration and on the gas prices.

Maybe. Maybe not. There's not much more the administration can with Iraq, as events on the ground are "not in the control" of the White House, and all the levers have been pulled. And gasoline prices cannot be controlled by much of anything the administration does, although blustering about bombing Iran if they continue being pesky does tend to drive prices up, and that could be toned down, even if it's politically useful not to tone it down. The best that can be done is this - "President George W. Bush, alarmed by a spike in gas prices at the pump, has asked the Departments of Energy and Justice to look into possible cheating or manipulation of gasoline markets, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said on Monday." The Democrats had been urging this, so the Senate and House majority leaders, Frist and Hastert, said it was their idea and sent a letter to the White House, and the president says it was his idea. Whatever. Nothing will come of it. But it's a nice gesture.

As for immigration, the president was out here Monday the 24th, speaking down in Irvine (see this) - pleasing no one. His party in the House wants to build a big wall at the Mexican border and make being here without papers an aggravated felony. His party in the Senate wants to allow those without papers to pay a fine and jump though some hoops to "earn" citizenship. No one is compromising and he's stuck, and favoring the latter, but his "base" is furious.

The result, a major poll released after he spoke, from polling the previous week, ending Friday - "President Bush's approval ratings have sunk to a personal low, with only a third of Americans saying they approve of the way he is handling his job, a national poll released Monday said." Thirty-two percent approval, sixty percent disapproval - the worst ever. And that was before gas hit four dollars a gallon at some places out here. We're talking trouble.

But he has a new chief of staff, Josh Bolten, replacing Andrew Card, shaking things up, and according to Time Magazine, Bolten has a recovery plan.

The best summary of that is from Tim Grieve here -
The plan: Seek more money for immigration enforcement, then pose for lots of pictures with new agents in uniforms. Put smiles on the faces of Wall Street pundits by pushing through extensions of tax cuts for stock dividends and capital gains. Talk more about the Medicare prescription drug benefit, the stock market and the economy generally. Talk more with the press. Talk tough with Iran.

If you didn't see anything about Iraq or the price of gas in there, well, you didn't. The administration apparently hopes that happy talk from happy talking heads who are happy about tax cuts will make Americans forget that they're paying three bucks a gallon at the pump. As for Iraq? It's there only by implication. In a sign that the bubble may be a whole lot thicker than we thought, Time says Bush's advisors think Bush can recapture the national security credibility he lost in Iraq by turning up the pressure on Iran.

Out here in the reality-based world, we think that the opposite is true: Every time we hear the Bush administration warn about the threat Iran poses, we remember the similar threats the Bush administration made about Iraq. But the Bolten plan isn't about us; it's about the base, the third of the country that still approves of the way the president is handling Iraq, the people who still believe - every new revelation notwithstanding - that Bush told the truth then and can be trusted to tell it again now.
And there's another good summary here, but it's all the same - change next to nothing, but talk more about how you're right about everything. It's not the product, it's the PR. Right. Maybe they'll send out Karen Hughes to visit gas stations to tell folks, as the pump up, that things are fine. Or she could bring cookie to people reading the eviction notice or waiting, uninsured in the emergency room, or visit the families of dead soldiers and say pleasant things about the weather.

Bah. This really is unraveling.


Bonus items:


"What are the fed smoking?" asks a Scientific American blog post about the FDA's statement reaffirming its opposition to medical marijuana, which reportedly "directly contradicts" a 1999 review by the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine.

These guys don't do science. They remember Reefer Madness.

Last week, Tommy Chong at a convention in San Francisco, with this -
"I know Dick Cheney's Secret Service guys smoke pot," Chong said. "The reason I know that is I sold them bongs."
Ha. The whole speech is here (an audio mp3 file). It's amusing.

Also this -

That woman who was fired by the CIA because she leaked classified information to a reporter about our secret overseas prisons and our rendition practices? That was discussed in these pages here - Dana Priest of the Washington Post wins a Pulitzer for investigative reporting, digging in and letting the American public know what is secretly being done in our name with our tax dollars, disappearing people forever in a chain of secret foreign prisons - no charges or chance to dispute the reason for removing them from life for life, with "enhanced interrogation" or whatever you choose to call waterboarding, beatings and carefully planned humiliation - and often people we find out did nothing and know nothing and were grabbed by mistake or misplaced enthusiasm, like the useless German fellow we later dumped in the woods in the Balkans who wants to sue us. It seems some think it was good reporting to uncover this, as it violates any number of treaties we recognize and thus have the force of law, and contradicts what the administrations has said publicly. Some think it was not good reporting, but rather something like treason. And the leaker got fired.

Since then, someone who worked for her, Larry Johnson thinks the firing of his former boss Mary McCarthy "smells a little fishy."

Then it gets real odd. The woman "categorically" denies she was the source of the leak about the secret CIA detention and torture camps in Eastern Europe. She says she passed the lie detector test for that part. They fired her for having social contact with the press, or because she was a Democrat, and the new head of the CIA, Porter Goss, is a former Republican congressman and he's been purging the CIA of anyone who isn't a conservative Bush supporter, no matter what their skills or accomplishments.

See Newsday, November 2004, with this -
The White House has ordered the new CIA director, Porter Goss, to purge the agency of officers believed to have been disloyal to President George W. Bush or of leaking damaging information to the media about the conduct of the Iraq war and the hunt for Osama bin Laden, according to knowledgeable sources. "The agency is being purged on instructions from the White House," said a former senior CIA official who maintains close ties to both the agency and to the White House. "Goss was given instructions ... to get rid of those soft leakers and liberal Democrats. The CIA is looked on by the White House as a hotbed of liberals and people who have been obstructing the president's agenda."
Just following orders.

Newsweek breaks the currnet story, and adds -
A counter-terrorism official acknowledged to NEWSWEEK today that in firing McCarthy, the CIA was not necessarily accusing her of being the principal, original, or sole leaker of any particular story. Intelligence officials privately acknowledge that key news stories about secret agency prison and "rendition" operations have been based, at least in part, upon information available from unclassified sources.
Oh. And CNN adds this - "A U.S. official told CNN on Monday that the CIA officer fired for leaking classified information was accused of a 'pattern of behavior,' including multiple contacts with more than one reporter."

The woman had tendered her resignation and was fired one week before her final day. This is very odd.

Of course it's not as odd as what one UCLA professor, for the fun of it, collects here - all the right-wing blogs and radio shows saying there were no secret prisons, none at all. It was just a ruse to trap CIA folks who like to leak information to make Bush and his administration look bad. They made it all up to trap people like this woman.


Not this from conservative Andrew Sullivan -
It is against the law for CIA officials to be leaking extremely classified information - especially information as sensitive as secret detention facilities. But all these comments seem to me to have ignored the critical and unmissable context. Yes, leaking is against the law. But what if the leaker is exposing something as grave as illegal torture? Isn't that when a leak becomes the blowing of a whistle? Wouldn't you want law-abiding officials within the CIA to do something if their own government is breaking American law, violating treaty obligations, breaking the law of other countries - and using the secrecy of the executive branch to conceal it?

Recall the story McCarthy is accused of leaking. ... It just won the Pulitzer Prize, and it richly deserved to. What Dana Priest reported was that the Bush administration had taken over former Soviet camps in Eastern Europe and adapted them to abuse and torture terror suspects. The detainees' innocence or guilt was never verified by anything approaching due process. For me, it represented the quintessence of Bush's betrayal of Reagan. Ronald Reagan helped liberate Eastern Europe from Communist tyranny. He wielded the moral authority of freedom and tore down the walls of Communism, a system where people could be detained without trial, "disappeared", and tortured. In an inversion as hideous as at Abu Ghraib, Bush's CIA was twisted into a reflection of our former enemy.

Many, many people in the military and CIA are in close-to-open revolt against these policies; many, many more have been placed in morally excruciating positions: they have been forced to choose between loyalty to their country and their conscience. They hate what this president has made them do: every fiber of their being as Americans and as moral individuals rebels against it. This doesn't necessarily excuse McCarthy legally. If she is guilty as charged, she probably should have quit first, disclosed all she knew and faced the legal consequences. But when the government itself breaks the law, when it violates ancient moral standards that Americans have fought and died for, sometimes people within the government have to stand up and be counted.

McCarthy may well be one of those people. And, if that's true, I have a feeling that history will be much kinder to her than to her hyper-ventilating critics.
Of these many, many people in the military and CIA are in close-to-open revolt against these policies, and the generals, much is going around. The change may not come in November in the elections. There may be a revolt, a revolution led by the decent, sensible people. Who needs a left-leaning opposition bloc when you have people of common sense? Thomas Paine was onto something.

Posted by Alan at 23:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 25 April 2006 14:13 PDT home

Sunday, 19 February 2006
Quotes for The Week of the Gun
Topic: In these times...

Quotes for The Week of the Gun

For your amusement, useful and pithy observations -
Sometimes accidents happen in life from which we have need of a little madness to extricate ourselves successfully. - François de la Rochefoucauld

There are no accidents without intentions. - Alex Miller

The Act of God designation on all insurance policies; which means, roughly, that you cannot be insured for the accidents that are most likely to happen to you. - Alan Coren

EEYORE: I'm not saying there won't be an Accident now, mind you. They're funny things, Accidents. You never have them till you're having them. - Alan Alexander Milne, Winnie the Pooh

Accidents will occur in the best-regulated families. - Charles Dickens

I don't believe in accidents. There are only encounters in history. There are no accidents. - Pablo Picasso

It is very strange, and very melancholy, that the paucity of human pleasures should persuade us ever to call hunting one of them. - Samuel Johnson

When you have shot one bird flying you have shot all birds flying. They are all different and they fly in different ways but the sensation is the same and the last one is as good as the first. - Ernest Hemingway

One knows so well the popular idea of health. The English country gentleman galloping after a fox - the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable. - Oscar Wilde

Whenever I see a photograph of some sportsman grinning over his kill, I am always impressed by the striking moral and esthetic superiority of the dead animal to the live one. - Edward Abbey, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

One of my favorite clothing patterns is camouflage. Because when you're in the woods it makes you blend in. But when you're not it does just the opposite. It's like "Hey, there's an asshole." - Beefullo Demetri Martin

Until he extends the circle of compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace. - Albert Schweitzer, The Philosophy of Civilization

As long as people will shed the blood of innocent creatures there can be no peace, no liberty, no harmony between people. Slaughter and justice cannot dwell together. - Isaac Bashevis Singer

The fate of animals is of greater importance to me than the fear of appearing ridiculous; it is indissolubly connected with the fate of man. - Emile Zola

America... just a nation of two hundred million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable. - Hunter S. Thompson

The world may be divided into people that read, people that write, people that think, and fox-hunters. - William Shenstone
Enough said.

Posted by Alan at 08:24 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Tuesday, 24 January 2006
Maybe honesty is actually the best policy...
Topic: In these times...

Maybe honesty is actually the best policy...

You'd think on a day when no major news breaks - Tuesday, January 24th - things would calm down. Here at the edge of the Hollywood Hills, just about when Laurel Canyon meets the Sunset Strip at the Laugh Factory and the big Virgin store (they sell music and video, not big virgins), things did calm down - after two days of howling Santa Ana winds blasting down the canyon and rolling trash cans down the streets, that all stopped. Calm, hard sunshine, and near eighty - and the pool guys are everywhere scooping the debris out of the pale chorine water all over the neighborhood. Back to normal.

And the trusty Los Angeles Times landed with a thump at the door, on time - so feed the cat, pour some coffee, see what's up. Well, what was up was the usual doom and gloom, some local, some national, some international, but one just knew what was going to raise some eyebrows was that appeared at the bottom of the opinion page, this from Joel Stein -
I don't support our troops. This is a particularly difficult opinion to have, especially if you are the kind of person who likes to put bumper stickers on his car. Supporting the troops is a position that even Calvin is unwilling to urinate on.

I'm sure I'd like the troops. They seem gutsy, young and up for anything. If you're wandering into a recruiter's office and signing up for eight years of unknown danger, I want to hang with you in Vegas.

And I've got no problem with other people - the ones who were for the Iraq war - supporting the troops. If you think invading Iraq was a good idea, then by all means, support away. Load up on those patriotic magnets and bracelets and other trinkets the Chinese are making money off of.
This is going to be trouble. Bill O'Reilly already hates the paper, and the Times did get rid of Michael Kinsey as opinion editor, and dump the lefty columnist Robert Sheerer - and they run Jonah Goldberg's columns all the time now, saying the left is foolish when it isn't stupidly alarmist and everything is fine now. And then they run this Stein thing.

Well, Stein argues he's just not for this war, and says that "being against the war and saying you support the troops is one of the wussiest positions the pacifists have ever taken - and they're wussy by definition." He wants none of that - because "blindly" lending support to our soldiers will keep them overseas longer "by giving soft acquiescence to the hawks who sent them there - and who might one day want to send them somewhere else."

Well, he's consistent, even if the tone is badly managed - the thing full of some sort of snide humor -
... those little yellow ribbons aren't really for the troops. They need body armor, shorter stays and a USO show by the cast of "Laguna Beach."

The real purpose of those ribbons is to ease some of the guilt we feel for voting to send them to war and then making absolutely no sacrifices other than enduring two Wolf Blitzer shows a day. Though there should be a ribbon for that.

I understand the guilt. We know we're sending recruits to do our dirty work, and we want to seem grateful.

After we've decided that we made a mistake, we don't want to blame the soldiers who were ordered to fight. Or even our representatives, who were deceived by false intelligence. And certainly not ourselves, who failed to object to a war we barely understood.
All true, but the tone is all wrong, and tone here is defined as the writer's attitude toward his subject matter. And that's not working for him, as in this -
But blaming the president is a little too easy. The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they're following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying. An army of people ignoring their morality, by the way, is also Jack Abramoff's pet name for the House of Representatives.
Why that last line? It's Hollywood thing, and this is a bad Bill Maher. Stein undercuts his argument with junk wit. As he says, he's not advocating that we spit on returning veterans like they did after the Vietnam War, "but we shouldn't be celebrating people for doing something we don't think was a good idea." He suggests instead of parades for veterans we give them what they need actually need - hospitals, pensions, mental health "and a safe, immediate return."

It's just too bad about the jokes, as he does make some sense.

Of course on the same day Senator Rick Santorum said this at a political rally -
And yet we have brave men and women who are willing to step forward because they know what's at stake. They're willing to sacrifice their lives for this great country. What I'm asking all of you tonight is not to put on a uniform. Put on a bumper sticker. Is it that much to ask? Is it that much to ask to step up and serve your country?
Huh? That's serving your country? "The real purpose of those ribbons is to ease some of the guilt we feel for voting to send them to war and then making absolutely no sacrifices..."

Stein is onto something.

Reaction? Over at Red State - Hating the Troops: One Lefty Says What Most Others Probably Really Think.

Did Stein say he hates the troops? Well, he said he rather they were not doing what they're doing, and suggests we owe them some stuff that will cost real money - hospitals, pensions and all that. He'd love to hang out with these guys in Vegas. Hate? It's not that simple, but you can find hundreds of items like the one at Red State.

The Fox News crew will fume. The Times will say something about printing all side of the issues of the day. And those on the left should try to get past the jokes here - you cannot have it both ways. The troops are not victims. They signed up knowing what they were going to be doing. If you do not approve what they are doing - implementing our new unique form of foreign policy - prophylactic war where we wish to make us safe and respected - then it seems odd to laud those who signed up to implement that policy. Let's be logical.

These military guys are good at what they do - and brave and honorable and wicked smart (the ones I know) and all the rest. But you can disagree with them. (In these pages see Disagreeing Sensibly on that matter.) That's still allowed, for now.

Well, Joel Stein stirred up a hornet's nest, but no more that the Washington Times did in its magazine, "Insight." The Washington Times is, of course, owned by Reverend Moon of the Unification Church, and is considered by many to be the voice of the Republicans now in power (the editorial page is managed by Tony Blankley), so what's with this?

Impeachment Hearings: The White House Prepares For The Worst -
The Bush administration is bracing for impeachment hearings in Congress.

"A coalition in Congress is being formed to support impeachment," an administration source said.

Sources said a prelude to the impeachment process could begin with hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee in February. They said the hearings would focus on the secret electronic surveillance program and whether Mr. Bush violated the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Administration sources said the charges are expected to include false reports to Congress as well as Mr. Bush's authorization of the National Security Agency to engage in electronic surveillance inside the United States without a court warrant. This included the monitoring of overseas telephone calls and e-mail traffic to and from people living in the United States without requisite permission from a secret court...
What? This is very odd, but you prepare for all contingencies (save post-war occupation of foreign lands and hurricanes).

The items ends with "unnamed administration sources" saying the White House will defend itself relying on the image of a hero who saves his people, and must sometimes do so by doing what he shouldn't, for the greater good, or some such thing. Folks will understand this.

Well, this is the kind of a story that livens up a slow news day, but it seems too contrived (as in completely untrue). It smacks of an attempt to float some ideas and see how folks react - run that last idea (the noble hero reluctantly doing what he must) up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes. No one saluted, one way or the other. But it was a nice try. The story was probably cooked up in the office of Karl Rove, to see how folks would react. They didn't.

They didn't because what was going on in the real world with the NSA spying thing was getting downright Byzantine, or Baroque, or whatever word you'd like - complex, convoluted?

There's a little summary here (Kevin Drum, Washington Monthly) but it comes down to this.

First the administration does really acknowledge that the NSA program violates the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), even as it was amended it 1995 to make things looser. But the first argument is that this isn't really breaking the law - the Attorney General says that the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed just after the 9/11 business gave the president the authority to disregard that law. Congress says no, it didn't. The administration says, yes, it did. Then, Monday, General Michael Hayden of the NSA said that the reason they had to bypass FISA was because it required a showing of "probable cause" that the target of a wiretap request was a foreign power - and that standard was just too tricky to meet. Then Tuesday there was this - in 2002, Republican congressman Mike DeWine introduced an amendment to FISA that would have retained probable cause as the standard for US citizens, but allowed "reasonable suspicion" to be used as a standard for anyone else - and the White House argued that wasn't really necessary and the congress could pass it anyway. That died in committee.

Drum has all the links if you want to look it all up, but adds this -
Congress refused to pass DeWine's amendment. This makes it plain that Congress did not intend for AUMF to loosen the restrictions of FISA.

So this leaves only the argument that the president's inherent constitutional powers give him the authority to order wiretaps of U.S. citizens even when Congress has passed laws forbidding it. There is, as near as I can tell, no case law that supports this view.

It's worth noting, by the way, that the administration has been adamant that calls are only monitored if one end of the call is outside the United States. But why not also monitor calls within the United States? Last month General Hayden said simply that "that's where we've decided to draw that balance between security and liberty" - in this case "we" meaning the president and the NSA.

This rather strongly implies that George Bush believes there's nothing stopping him from ordering 100% domestic wiretapping if he feels like it, and nothing Congress can do about it if he does.

So much for Article I Section 8.
Too complicated? It's power thing.

The current crew at 1600 Pennsylvania is saying we've had the constitution wrong all this time - if the president says he must do something the law says he shouldn't, he can, as it's his job, as we're at war, to use his own judgment as to what's best, no matter what the law says.

No president ever claimed this in the first two hundred thirty years, but either they were not so bold and decisive, or everything changed after 9/11 and this is far more serious than what Lincoln faced, or FDR with the Nazis, or all the presidents who had to deal with the Soviets having all those nuclear missiles aimed at out cities for more than fifty years, ready to drop in. These new guys hijack airplanes and blow up subways! This is serious now!

Juan Cole, the Middle East expert at the University of Michigan, of course, has his doubts, as in his list Top Ten Mistakes of the Bush Administration in Reacting to Al-Qaeda -
Al-Qaeda is a small terrorist network that has spawned a few copy-cats and wannabes. Its breakthrough was to recruit some high-powered engineers in Hamburg, which it immediately used up. Most al-Qaeda recruits are marginal people, people like Zacarias Moussawi and Richard Reid, who would be mere cranks if they hadn't been manipulated into trying something dangerous. Muhammad al-Amir (a.k.a Atta) and Ziad Jarrah were highly competent scientists, who could figure the kinetic energy of a jet plane loaded with fuel. There don't seem to be significant numbers of such people in the organization. They are left mostly with cranks, petty thieves, drug smugglers, bored bank tellers, shopkeepers, and so forth, persons who could pull off a bombing of trains in Madrid or London, but who could not for the life of them do a really big operation.

The Bush administration and the American Right generally has refused to acknowledge what we now know. Al-Qaeda is dangerous. All small terrorist groups can do damage. But it is not an epochal threat to the United States or its allies of the sort the Soviet Union was (and that threat was consistently exaggerated, as well).
Oh. Well, we were misinformed. Is it really a Muslim version of the radical seventies groups like the Baader Meinhoff gang or the Japanese Red Army, and only a few hundred really committed members? Where there only a few thousand close sympathizers, "who had passed through the Afghanistan training camps or otherwise been inducted into the world view." But, but...

Well, we did what we did -
... the United States invaded a major Muslim country, occupied it militarily, tortured its citizens, killed tens of thousands, tinkered with the economy - did all those things that Muslim nationalists had feared and warned against, and there hasn't even been much of a reaction from the Muslim world. Only a few thousand volunteers went to fight. Most people just seem worried that the US will destabilize their region and leave a lot of trouble behind them. People are used to seeing Great Powers do as they will. A Syrian official before the war told a journalist friend of mine that people in the Middle East had been seeing these sorts of invasions since Napoleon took Egypt in 1798. "Well," he shrugged, "usually they leave behind a few good things when they finally leave."
They may think we're crazy.

And as for the ten mistakes, they're obvious, and you can read them all.

Note eight through ten -
8. Counterterrorism requires friendly allies and close cooperation. The Bush administration alienated France, Germany and Spain, along with many Middle Eastern nations that had long waged struggles of their own against terrorist groups. Bush is widely despised and has left America isolated in the world. Virtually all the publics of all major nations hate US policy. One poll showed that in secular Turkey where Muslim extremism is widely reviled and Bin Laden is generally disliked, the public preferred Bin Laden to Bush. Bush is widely seen as more dangerous than al-Qaeda. This image is bad for US counterterrorism efforts.

9. Bush transported detainees to torture sites in Eastern Europe. Under European Union laws, both torture and involvement in torture are illegal, and European officials can be tried for these crimes. How many European counterterrorism officials will want to work closely with the Americans if, for all they know, this association could end in jail time? Indeed, in Washington it is said that a lot of our best CIA officers are leaving, afraid that they are being ordered to do things that are illegal, and for which they could be tried once another administration comes to power in Washington.

10. Bush's failure to capture Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri allows them to continue to grandstand, to continue to frighten the public, to continue to affect financial markets, and to continue to plot. Al-Zawahiri almost certainly plotted the 7/7 London subway bombings himself, and gloated about it when he issued Muhammad Siddique Khan's suicide statement. Misplaced Bush priorities are getting our allies hit. The CIA is reduced to firing predators at villages because our counterterrorism efforts have been starved for funds by the Iraq quagmire. If al-Qaeda does pull off another American operation, it may well give Bush and Cheney an opportunity to destroy the US constitution altogether, finally giving Bin Laden his long-sought revenge on Americans for the way he believes they have forced Palestinians and other Muslims to live under lawless foreign domination or local tyranny.
Other than that, this went surprisingly well.

A reaction from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis (an email to Hollywood) -
What's the verdict?

The current US administration is the most incompetent, cruel, corrupt, bungling, lying, deceitful group ever assembled to manage the affairs of the United States of America.

The Swiss investigator Marty, on contract with the Council of Europe, suspects that the United States may have kidnapped a hundred terror suspects and freighted them around Europe before delivering them to CIA-controlled secret contract prisons, for interrogation and torture. What's wrong with this is that kidnapping, torture and secret imprisonment are... illegal. If it has happened, is happening, it is illegal. Nobody in Europe needs to get the opinion of the US Attorney General about this. GW Bush's opinion does not count.

Of the terrorism suspects locked up in Europe awaiting trials, to be found innocent or guilty, possibly more have been convicted than those in similar situations in the United States. For all his noise and swagger, GW Bush is not giving Americans any value for their money, fair or otherwise.
Well, some would disagree.

But no agreement will be reached, and there's a reason why - see Benedict Carey in the New York Times with this - A Shocker: Partisan Thought Is Unconscious.

People don't think things through - "Using MRI scanners, neuroscientists have now tracked what happens in the politically partisan brain when it tries to digest damning facts about favored candidates or criticisms of them. The process is almost entirely emotional and unconscious, the researchers report, and there are flares of activity in the brain's pleasure centers when unwelcome information is being rejected."

Drew Westen, a psychologist at Emory is lead author of the study, and he'll present it next Saturday at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology meeting out in Palm Springs. His comment? "It is possible to override these biases, but you have to engage in ruthless self reflection, to say, 'All right, I know what I want to believe, but I have to be honest.' It speaks to the character of the discourse that this quality is rarely talked about in politics."

Oh. No need to drive three hours out to Palm Springs to learn more. Got it.

What about Markos Moulitsas Zúniga (aka "Kos," of the most widely-read site on the left)? Is this honest? -
Let's not forget that ultimately, Osama's vision for the Arab world is far more akin to the Right's vision of America. ... On homosexuality, on militarism, on women's rights, on religion in school, on capital punishment, on free speech, on curtailment of civil liberties, and on a million different other issues Islamic fundamentalists don't share many disagreements with the ideologues running our country. The reason we hate Islamic fundamentalists is pretty much the same reason we're fighting to take back this country from the Republicans. They are two peas from the same pod, and diametrically opposed to everything we liberals stand for.
Well, it's a start.

Posted by Alan at 21:33 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 24 January 2006 21:40 PST home

Saturday, 21 January 2006
Safe and Convenient: The Price of Security and Other Things
Topic: In these times...

Safe and Convenient: The Price of Security and Other Things

He's back, as we see here - "Embattled White House adviser Karl Rove vowed Friday to make the war on terrorism a central campaign issue in November..."

Oh, it'll be more than that. At a more basic level there are simply two views of the world these days, and the idea Rove is peddling is one side. This one view is clear and unified - we're all in mortal danger, and have been since the 1933 or so, as there are madmen in the world (it gets worse every year), the family as a unit is disintegrating (divorce, gay marriage, a finally this movie about these very strange cowboys), there are always so many more odd others with odd religions and funny foods and nasty religions (the Catholic Cult-of-Mary turned out to be mostly harmless, the Jews finally seemed okay to everyone but Michael Jackson after his trial, but there's always the next as now we have Islam), and all the statistics show a steady climb is church-going and a yen for authority - a "big daddy" who lays down the new law (such as it is) and tell us what's good for us, and tells us anyone skeptical or raising questions is in cahoots with those who want to kill us all. This is supported by the nexus of talk radio - Rush and his imitators - promoting how awful the world is and how everything is disintegrating, and suggesting tight control from the top is the only thing that will save us all. Simple. Effective.

The other view is hardly worth mentioning - the one about tolerance and experimentation and seeing what's new and thinking about things and figuring out ways to adapt to how things change all the time - and trying some of the funny new foods. That's a minority view, and Rove knows it. These are the people who fly to Paris to see the sights there and hear a new language and sip cognac and chat with "the other."

But most people are afraid, anxious, turning inward from all the things science has discovered and toward the "faith," and turning outward for someone to tell them he or she will stop all this change, and make the queasy feeling that things are spinning out of control stop too. Out here you'll find them at Main Street USA at Disneyland down in Anaheim, or in Las Vegas exploring the fake Paris with its half-size Eiffel Tower, where it's safe and not too strange, although it is pretty strange the in other ways.

The latest twist on this "make us all safe, please" yearning, oddly enough, comes from a new effort by those we elected to do that at any cost. This is a combination of agreeing to prove to the government you are really not a terrorist - because, after all, they assume anyone of us could be - and the Reagan legacy view that anything the government can do can be done far better and far more efficiently if done by private enterprise, because if profit is involved and money is to be made, competition drives effectiveness to the ultimate. Whether this is true or not is not at issue, as people generally have come to believe this is true.

Thus we have this (AP) - "Airline passengers who buy a pre-approved security pass could have their credit histories and property records examined as part of the government's plan to turn over the Registered Traveler program to private companies."

The idea is the private companies would run the background checks, not the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). You'd give the private firms fingerprints of all your ten digits and permission to check your credit record and all property records, bank records, insurance data, and any court documents - anything they can find. If you pass, and don't seem to fit the profile of anyone who would be in league with any terrorist, you'd get to breeze through airport security - you don't have to take off your shoes or unpack your laptop computer or any of that. Pay the fee, pass the investigation, and you become a "trusted traveler."

The curious thing is what Amy von Walter, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration said - the agency wanted to be able to identify a terrorist who wasn't already known to law enforcement or intelligence agencies.

That's novel. Let the private firms - in their quest to make big bucks - do what the law enforcement or intelligence agencies can't do effectively - identify the bad guys. This gives a whole new meaning to what Adam Smith called the "invisible hand" of competition that makes all things run well.

So we'd now have, after June 20 when the program starts, Registered Travelers. These are the people who are "certified safe," not by the government, but by private firms.

The AP reports a few of the private firms are a tad surprised by their new role in preventative law enforcement, and wondering what to do. You see, before these companies will be allowed to sell "Registered Traveler Cards" they have to demonstrate that they can somehow or other definitively determine if any particular applicant is, say, a member of some terrorist sleeper cell. The FBI and CIA and NSA and such do this sort of thing all the time. But it's new to these guys.

The AP notes James Dempsey, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said that the idea that commercial data can somehow be used to find a sleeper cell is "highly speculative." And Marcia Hofmann, an attorney with the privacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center, is cited saying it wasn't clear whether federal privacy laws would apply to the program - ''It sounds like they want private companies to be in the business of law enforcement and intelligence gathering."

Well, yes, they do. The Transportation Security Administration was stung bad last year with a test program the collected airline passengers' personal data without their permission or knowledge. They secretly gathered files on a quarter million people. That was "Secure Flight" - every time someone hopped on a plane you automatically run the name against government lists of suspicious names. That didn't work out so well. Lots of name sound alike - some three-year-olds came up and that sort of thing. So it is obviously better to make this "private," and not governmental, and make it voluntary - you agree these firms can know everything. The government does catch crap.

Yes, yes - private firms are sometimes hacked. Yeah, last year someone stole, from ChoicePoint, all the personal data on over a million federal employees with Bank of America charge cards. Stuff happens.

Should you worry? -
There's already a private company running a Registered Traveler test program at the Orlando (Fla.) Airport. Verified Identity Pass, which was started by media entrepreneur Steven Brill, charges $79.95 for the card.

Earlier this month, the company told the TSA that it tested whether commercial data services could authenticate that a person is who he says he is.

The results: ''We dropped the idea after fully testing it and finding that it had no security benefits and significant, almost show-stopping negatives,'' the company said in a document responding to the TSA's request for information.
That's not encouraging. Asking a private firm to operate like the old East German secret police does, of course, involve a learning curve.

But there's money to be made, so General Electric, ARINC and Iridian Technologies, and some airports, are lining up for contracts. If people want "authority figures" to keep them safe, and ask for that, and will even pay for it, you take their money. This is America.

But our friend, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, sent an email to us here in Hollywood with this curious quote from the Transportation Security Administration - "We know that terrorists may seek to exploit the Registered Traveler program, and the program must be designed to thwart those efforts. Therefore, program benefits will change from time to time in order to make it more difficult for terrorists to anticipate our security activities. Further, TSA will not exempt Registered Traveler participants from random additional screening."

What? So what good is the whole program if, by revealing all and letting some for-profit firm says you're really not a terrorist, you still have to take off you shoes?

Ric: "Yes, but will they give you your money back - if you are a terrorist and have purchased an ID card in good faith." He notes this Google ad - "ID Card Solutions Custom ID Cards as low as .35 Each. Low Price Guarantee (Free Shipping)" - so you can make money on either side of this.

Ric also notes an item he found in Le Devoir about how the US government is bringing in ID cards through the back door. -
The problem is that they want to turn it over to private companies... So to travel abroad you'll need a passport, but if you don't go abroad you'll need one of these private ID cards - and if you want to skip the shoe search, you'll need the private card. You may get searched anyway, even having both passport and the ID card.

Apparently Canadians still don't need passports for US visits, but if they don't have one, they'll need these new private ID cards. Won't that be neat - the US accepting only its own ID cards? It'll also be a great way for keeping better track of Americans. Who are, as we know, almost all terrorists.

As I understand it, I am now required to get some new model passport if I want to visit the USA. My machine-readable passport is no longer good enough. And the other hand-made one has always been flaky. I could avoid it by getting a visa from the consulate but they cost something like $90 I think. Cheaper to get new paper with my eyeballs printed on it.

Anyhow, it's another good laugh for Bin Laden, if the dude even exists.

Anyway, Karl Rove is back, and he knows which way the wind is blowing. Shrink government, privatize everything you can, and trust that frightened, anxious people - most of us these days - will agree to most anything, and pay for it.

The Democrats had better run on some other issue. The Republicans will make the war on terrorism a central campaign issue, and they've won on that issue already.



Ric in Paris is wondering about all the news -
Do you hear Cheney? He said, "The United States doesn't negotiate with terrorists," in response to Bin Laden (allegedly) proposing to quit bugging the United States. All he asked for was the US to quit Afghanistan and Iraq. Man, I thought the US wanted to get out of those places. Is Cheney worried about his shares in Halliburton? Why is he so tight? It isn't as if it's his money.

But the world is doing okay. Disney is reported to be eager to buy Steve Jobs out of Pixar, sort of to pep up Disney's animation business. Apparently what they really want is the guy who runs Pixar, who used to be a Disney animator. The word is that Jobs wants to dump Pixar, pick up a cool six billion, and invest his ill-gotten plus values in the next generation of iPods - you know, the one with the 23" flat screen that fits in a pocket, has a 33.6 Mega virtual hard disk, GPS, telephone, video camera and the old MGM back lot built right in. Not announced last week at the Macintosh-MacWorld annual confest in San Francisco was the super new and ultra-mini new Mac. It fits inside a ring you wear on your finger and controls the entire Hollywood TV production so you can watch next season's TV serials on the inside of your closed eyelids while having triple-bypass surgery, with stereo surround sound and virtual nurses who strip to their Deadly Nightshade undies. It's pretty cool and insanely clever. When they get the one of two minor bugs ironed out of it, it'll be priced at $1.99 including tax, slightly higher west of New Jersey. Folks who are still paying attention will appreciate knowing that they should get their new iPods and ultra-minis in New Jersey before visiting France, because Jacques announced on Thursday that France was going to wrap atom bombs around the necks of dudes that mess with France or the euro. On account of this the price will be the same, 1.99 euros, which you should know is about 21 percent more that your limp greenbacks. Jacques gets that plus the 19.6 percent sales tax, so you see, things really are cheaper here. Taxes are a little higher though, but Jesus, this is France for Christ's sake!
And so it goes.

Posted by Alan at 10:13 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 21 January 2006 10:15 PST home

Thursday, 19 January 2006
Dangerous Ideas: News From Abroad And An Exclusive Essay From Paris - The Bad News Is That The West Is Going To Have To Think
Topic: In these times...

Dangerous Ideas: News From Abroad And An Exclusive Essay From Paris - The Bad News Is That The West Is Going To Have To Think

Thursday is the day for the weekly photo shoot for the weekend edition of Just Above Sunset, the parent site to this daily web log. But Thursday, January 19th was a day of far too much news, and news that deserves some comment. There will be time later to process the one hundred and thirty shots, to choose the best and edit those for web posting (some are really good and, as usual, many not so good).

The 19th was the day al-Jazeera broadcast an audio tape purporting to be by al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, and after analysis, it turned out to be him. He said he and his people are making preparations for attacks in the United States, but he is offering a possible truce to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan - if we leave. We should save a lot of money and lives if we just went home. This was the first time in more than a year he's said anything at all (the last time was December 2004), and this new tape was released just after our airstrike in Pakistan - targeting his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, and killing a good number of civilians (including women and children). Well, the word now is we did get four leading al Qaeda figures and maybe one of them was al-Zawahri's son-in-law. Close enough. But the word is this new tape was made in early December, so he's not commenting on that.

Curiously Osama Bin Laden did an Oprah Winfrey thing. He recommended a book - "if you are sincere in your desire for peace and security, we have answered you. And if Bush decides to carry on with his lies and oppression, then it would be useful for you to read the book The Rogue State."

That's by William Blum. He said the introduction of the book has this: "If I were president, I would stop the attacks on the United States: First I would give an apology to all the widows and orphans and those who were tortured. Then I would announce that American interference in the nations of the world has ended." Unfortunately, the Associated Press here reports that's actually from another book by Blum, Freeing The World To Death: Essays on the American Empire (2004). Close enough.

BBC provides a full text of the message here, translated of course, including what this truce business is about, a "long-term truce with fair conditions that we adhere to. ... Both sides can enjoy security and stability under this truce so we can build Iraq and Afghanistan, which have been destroyed in this war. There is no shame in this solution, which prevents the wasting of billions of dollars that have gone to those with influence and merchants of war in America."

The AP tapped Jeremy Bennie, a terrorism analyst for Jane's Defense Weekly, who sad bin Laden appeared to be "playing the peacemaker, the more statesmanlike character" with his offer of a truce - "They want to promote the image that they can launch attacks if and when it suits them. They want us to believe they are in control." They got a comment too from Richard Clarke, the former White House anti-terrorism chief who ruffled so many feathers - "the initial significance of this (tape) is that he's still alive" but "the only new element in his statement is that they are planning an attack soon on the United States." He adds, not helpfully, "Would he say that and risk being proved wrong, if he can't pull it off in a month or so?"

Oh great. And this is only part of the message. Al Jazeera only released the "newsworthy" part of what they say is a much longer message.

What prompted this from Osama Bin Laden now? -
... what prompted me to speak are the repeated fallacies of your President Bush in his comment on the outcome of the US opinion polls, which indicated that the overwhelming majority of you want the withdrawal of the forces from Iraq, but he objected to this desire and said that the withdrawal of troops would send a wrong message to the enemy.

Bush said: It is better to fight them on their ground than they fighting us on our ground.

In my response to these fallacies, I say: The war in Iraq is raging, and the operations in Afghanistan are on the rise in our favor...
He doesn't like logical fallacies? He also mentions he doesn't think much of the plan to bomb the head office of al Jazeera in Qatar, after we bombed the offices in Kabul and Baghdad. He doesn't like our taking wives and children hostage to get his guys to talk, and didn't think much of our use of white phosphorous and all the rest. He's not happy. He suggests we agree to this truce or some really bad things will happen here. But he gets his answer here - "Vice President Dick Cheney dismissed Osama bin Laden's offer of a truce today - calling it 'some kind of a ploy' - and said it is not possible to sit down and negotiate a settlement with al Qaeda." Cheney is the final word. Bush was riding his bicycle.

What to make of this new statement from Osama Bin Laden?

This is good for the administration. The Evil One says "BOO!" and the Patriot Act gets made permanent and the whole wiretapping thing is forgiven, and the Republicans sweep the mid-term elections. If nothing happens the administration claims what they do keeps us safe, and if something happens, they claim we need them more than ever. Ah well.

Over at Time Magazine we get this, it's just an internal turf war over there -
Despite directly addressing Americans, its primary purpose may nonetheless be to remind Arab and Muslim audiences of his existence, and to reiterate his claim to primacy among the Jihadists....

[I]n the year of Bin Laden's silence, he has begun to be supplanted as the media face of global jihad by Musab al-Zarqawi, whose grisly exploits in Iraq grab headlines week after week. Not only that, Zarqawi may even be running operations abroad.... Although Zarqawi two years ago swore an oath of loyalty to Bin Laden, he is believed previously to have had something of a competitive relationship with the al-Qaeda leadership. And the public statements attributed to Zarqawi and those of Ayman al-Zawahiri have been noticeably at odds over questions of beheading kidnap victims and of wanton violence against Shiite Muslims. Zarqawi may have embraced the Qaeda brand with Bin Laden as its figurehead, but his essentially autonomous field operation in Iraq has become the movement's center of gravity.
So it's jealousy. Here's it's just blithering fear, the kind that drives out measured discourse and makes us all beg the administration to do anything to keep us from dying.

That essay from Paris? Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, elsewhere in these pages (see Perspective: Perhaps When You Are In The United States It Is Difficult To Have A Notion Of What Really Is Going On There) had some things to say about where others in this world see us headed with all this, and how they really want us to be the land of freedom and democracy, even as we're intent on throwing those away here at home, to be "safe."

This, from Paris -
Cassette Blues

PARIS - Thursday, January 19, 2006 - Since 9/11 I have been astonished at the seeming ease with which fundamental elements of the constitution have been trashed and overturned in the name of a 'war' against an enemy of ideas.

For what is behind Islamic-based terrorism directed against western targets other than a 'war' of ideas, of ideals?

The defense against ideas does not require laws for dealing with your own citizens as if they were potential terrorists. After all your own citizens are supposed to be on your side.

So it seems, in this 'war,' that the United States has gone about it in the wrongest ways possible. This was something the government decided to do - not the people - and the government decided it needed extraordinary powers for - for the 'defense of the west.'

As we have seen the government's policies and actions, instead of 'defending the west,' have produced an opposite result. Afghanistan invaded for scant purpose. Iraq invaded for even less purpose. Civil liberties reduced at home, based on a fictitious 'war.' Fictitious because it has no plan, no purpose, and is conducted against the wrong people - that is, mostly ordinary people who are not engaged in a 'war' with the west.

As a reminder, this is how the 'battle with world communism' was fought. It was assumed that communism was a danger to the west because - what? It was dangerous? It was stronger? It was a better idea? Its ideals were attractive?

Some people would say that communism collapsed as a result of the onslaught of Coca-Cola. In reality communism fell down because of its own internal contradictions. While attractive socially as an ideal, communism doesn't work because people aren't ideal. There is no way to achieve 100 percent full-time idealism by everybody. So that all-powerful enemy bit the dust, not thanks to being surrounded by iron, but by history.

Here it is useful to also recall that communists were not considered to be stupid or uneducated. They had a wishful ideal that didn't work, and turned out to be indefensible. The west 'won' by default.

It was not a sure thing, according to the politicians. There was a constant fear that communism would prove so irresistible that Americans would forsake Disneyland for the considerable charms of the Black Sea. More wishful thinking that didn't happen.

Today's situation is radically different. There is a small group of people in the world who have declared 'war' on western ideals. This is not based on the notion of economic unfairness or envy, but on a moral stance that has decided that the west is rotten and corrupt from top to bottom - that the west is in moral error.

For all anyone knows it may be true. But that it is proposed by people who are religious fundamentalists, that it proposes that all of mankind adopt the same religious attitude - that of the 15th century - one of ignorance and intolerance. It is not one that is likely to find many takers unless they are still, already in the 15th century.

As such it hardly seems that its message could be compelling. How do you convert folks back to the past? Wilder versions of the Christian right seem to have this as a goal too. But look at it. If it worked in the 15th century we nevertheless grew out of it and we are wherever we are today. We aren't going back.

So, then, there still is this 'war.' Does anyone think it will be won with guns? Bombs, smart bombs, missiles, atomic submarines, bombers, laser, radar, satellite positioning, bam, bam, bam, rata-tat-tat?

The bad news is that the west is going to have to think. This is a 'war' that will be won with ideas. If the west is all so superior, ideally and morally, it is not only going to have to defend itself with ideas, it is going to have to have ideas that are better than theirs in order to prevail.

Don't tell me this is impossible. Don't tell me the only way to do it is to junk the constitution. Don't tell me you have to suspect all Americans of being on the enemy's side. Don't tell me to fear - stop telling me bullshit.

Most of all, stop telling me that GW Bush is the supremo in this war. Tonight's TV-news reported the story of a new audio taped message by Bin Laden. In the middle of the news another story was interrupted to say that the CIA had confirmed the authenticity of the tape. Audio tape is yesterday's technology. Bin Laden just tossed a 50-cent bomb at the west and hit a media bull's-eye. The guy isn't even afraid to think.

It may be late, but it's never too soon to wake up. Light the fucking lightbulb!
Enough said.

Many of us are tired of being told to be afraid. And we want our country back - the one based on some pretty good ideas. We think those ideas can win this thing.

Ric's essay will be published as a stand-alone page in this weekend's issue of Just Above Sunset.



Other news buried by the Osama Bin Laden statement?

There's this (Reuters), from the land of the cheese-eating surrender monkeys - "France said on Thursday it would be ready to use nuclear weapons against any state that carried out a terrorist attack against it, reaffirming the need for its nuclear deterrent." Heads are exploding on the conservative right in America. Now what do we call those Freedom Fries?

In Baghdad, two coordinated suicide bombings - in a crowded street and in a café - killed fifteen more people (see CNN here). But things are going well.

After not much of this recently, a suicide bomber messes up a whole lot of people in the middle of Tel-Aviv, and as Knight-Ridder puts it dryly, Suicide Bombing Poses Challenge To Acting Israeli Prime Minister. No kidding. Ariel Sharon has not come out of his coma. He won't. Everyone knows that. Israel is "on hold" at the moment. Who knows what to do?

Then there's this from Eric Lichtblau in the New York Times -
WASHINGTON, Jan. 19 - The Bush administration today offered its fullest defense of the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping program, saying that congressional authorization to defeat Al Qaeda after the Sept. 11 attacks "places the president at the zenith of his powers in authorizing the NSA activities."
Short form? He's allowed to break the law. That's his job.

From Ric in Paris -
From his zenith the only way is downhill. Yeah, it means he has gotten as high as he's ever going to get.

Notice that it was quite some time ago. Where is he now?
Short answer? Thirty-nine percent.

And there's this from Ezra Klein -
I do like this new policy of honest arguments from the White House. Used to be that they'd do bad things and lie, distort, and spin their way out. Now they just suggest their critics are traitors helping the other side, respond to allegations of domestic spying by saying, essentially, "damn right we're spying on you," open McCarthyesque investigations into whoever leaks their illegal secrets, and justify their actions on the theory that the president can do as he damn well pleases. It's refreshing. And so's the paper, which simply reprises arguments the Congressional Research Service report demolished weeks ago. Such a Focaultian willingness to deny the authority of legal experts is a welcome display of postmodern thinking from an administration all too often trapped in absolutes. As I said, refreshing.
As Ric says, we're losing something here. And here, ace attorney and legal analyst, Dahlia Lithwick, explains what to expect when Judge Alito ascends to the Supreme Court - an analysis of his rulings, his writings, his answers in the nomination hearings. Short form? The president's allowed to break the law. That's his job.

And a new wrinkle here - "The Bush administration, seeking to revive an online pornography law struck down by the US Supreme Court, has subpoenaed Google Inc. for details on what its users have been looking for through its popular search engine."

Logoff. Now.

Then there's just odd news, like this - "VATICAN CITY, Vatican City (UPI) -- The official Vatican newspaper has published an article praising as 'correct' a recent U.S. court decision that intelligent design is not science."

What? The judge in the Dover Pennsylvania case issues a long, reasoned, clear, and even elegant ruling that you cannot teach "intelligent design" in science classes in public schools, as it's not science. And the Vatican agrees? Darwin is just fine with them? That's is exactly what the full article reports. Heads are exploding on the conservative right in America. The Catholic Church hates abortion, and they thought they could convince this new pope to give up on his opposition to the death penalty and his opposition to wars. He's German, after all. Now this? It's amusing.

And in the background the issue with Iran and its nuclear ambitions is still there. Note Fred Kaplan here -
What to do about Iran? The mullahs seem intent on acquiring a nuclear arsenal. Everything they've been doing lately - enriching uranium, spinning centrifuges, really just about anything they could do short of actual bomb production - is legally permitted under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (a serious problem with the NPT these days). The Bush administration is pushing the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions. But Russia and China would likely veto the motion, owing to the former's massive investment in Iranian reactors and the latter's heavy dependence on Iranian oil. The entire industrialized world is leery of economic confrontation for this same reason; Western Europe and Japan get 10 percent to 15 percent of their oil imports from Iran. As for a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, two objections stand out, among several others: It would be very difficult (the facilities are scattered, some buried deep underground), and it would be widely regarded as premature at best (even the most pessimistic intelligence estimates don't foresee an Iranian bomb for at least a few years).

Still, it's too risky simply to shrug and to hope for the best. Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has openly expansive ambitions across the Middle East, not least to "wipe Israel off the face of the map." Some political scientists have argued that the spread of nuclear weapons is a good thing, that it makes countries more responsible. Could anyone still argue that the theory, dubious enough in general, applies to Iran? Maybe a nuclear Iran could be "deterred" or "contained," but even that's a gamble.
He goes on to say there's just no good solution to the problem, and cites why, and asks his readers if they can think of anything. If you have any ideas click on the link and write him.

Thursday, January 19, 2006, was quite a news day.

Posted by Alan at 21:00 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 19 January 2006 21:21 PST home

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