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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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Thursday, 4 January 2007
The First Day - The More Things Change...
Topic: Breaking News

The First Day - The More Things Change…

Thursday, January 4, 2007 - the Democrats take control of the House and Senate and for the first time in six years the nation had a at east one branch of the government that won't agree with everything the president says and does. In the House, Michael Scherer noted things went rather well -
Like a rare winter blossom, the fresh feeling of bipartisan cooperation sprouted briefly on the floor of Congress Thursday afternoon. "My fellow Americans, whether you are a Republican, an independent or a Democrat, today is a cause for celebration," announced Ohio Rep. John Boehner, the new Republican minority leader.

He was congratulating his Democratic foe, California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, on winning the 2006 elections. Before him was a packed room that included all 435 members of Congress, dozens of their cherubic children, and esteemed dignitaries like the singer Tony Bennett and the actor Richard Gere, who fingered a string of Buddhist prayer beads in the gallery. The mood was light, especially on the Democratic side of the aisle, where cheek kissing and backslapping were in order. A new day was dawning. A new Congress was set to begin. "Republicans and Democrats can disagree without being disagreeable to each other," Boehner predicted hopefully.

After he was done, Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to reach the pinnacle of congressional power, took the podium. As on election night, she was dressed in a purple suit, an apparent symbol for the union of red and blue America. "I accept this gavel in the spirit of partnership, not partisanship," the San Francisco Democrat told the assembled crowd. "We have an obligation to reach beyond partisanship, to work for all Americans."
It's more than likely Nancy Pelosi wore purple today for a specific reason, as that was the color favored by the suffragettes long ago, or so that is noted here. That may or may not be so. It doesn't matter much. The good feeling lasted all of four minutes, before selected Republicans, after the speech ended, were booing and hissing at the Democrats. They actually were - just like in the House of Commons in the UK at Question Time with the Prime Minister. The cause was a parliamentary inquiry, by New Jersey Democrat Rush Holt, that he really should not have filed - something about ensuring that Congress has the ability to overturn the results of that Florida congressional election where the 18,000 votes went missing. It's still under investigation - but the winner so far, Republican Vern Buchanan, was sworn into office anyway. The minority wants the case closed, no matter what turns up later. Things have not been going well for them.

That was followed by the first bill the Democrats introduced - the ethics package that would ban gifts from lobbyists, limit privately funded travel, and close a loophole that gives members of Congress cheap access to corporate jets. How do you argue against that? The Republicans objected that Pelosi had decided to prohibit their amendments, reversing what she had been saying before the election about not using the former Republican rules of procedure. North Carolina's Patrick McHenry charged that Pelosi was ramming the bill "down the throats of all members." So it was payback time. After six years of rules where the Democrats were not allowed to ask questions nor allowed to read the details of the bills before votes (fine print can be a killer), much less ever offer an amendment, this was just an object lesson.

And it got testy with the "but you PROMISED you wouldn't run the place like we did" back and forth -
"The much ballyhooed commitment to minority rights is virtually nonexistent," complained Rep. David Dreier, who as Rules Committee chairman since 1999 had overseen a never-ending Republican effort to curtail Democratic powers to amend legislation. "Promises were made, and they are not being kept," Dreier continued, in his newly discovered role as a champion of parliamentary fairness. "That is the thing that I find most troubling."

A few minutes later, New York Democrat Louise Slaughter, the new chairwoman of the Rules Committee, appeared to be taunting her colleague. "I feel your pain," she said. "I understand your hurt."

"I never used the word 'pain,'" Dreier shot back. "I never said 'hurt.' I said 'disappointed.'" He pointed out that Republicans had not even been given 24 hours to consider the ethics reform proposal, though it was made up of proposals that had been widely discussed in recent months. Even when he tried to submit for the record a time-stamped copy of the legislation proving this point, Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida raised temporary objections. At another point, Dreier asked that one of his motions be read in full. Democrats tried to object, but he insisted on eating into the Democrats' time.
And so it went. The next two years will be rough. The house has been in the hands of the Republicans for twelve years. Folks there need to get their roles straight, although they're working on it -
When Pelosi announced that the American people were demanding a "new direction in the war in Iraq," the Republican caucus stayed in their seats, while the Democrats leapt up in applause. When she promised to "combat climate change," only about a third of the Republicans joined the Democrats on their feet. When she declared that Democrats would allow no new deficit spending, the Republicans stood only after a noticeable hesitation. The former speaker, Republican Dennis Hastert of Illinois, did not bother to work out his legs at all, choosing to applaud halfheartedly from his seat.

Earlier, the House clerk had read off a traditional verbal roll call to determine Pelosi's election as speaker, a process that took more than an hour. Each vote was recorded with a different ceremonial pencil, emblazoned with the colors of the American flag. As they announced their votes, Democrats called Pelosi, 66, the "pride of San Francisco," "the young lady from California," and "the conscience of America." Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., a Democrat of Illinois, evoked the names of Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman and Jesus before casting his vote for speaker. Others invoked "the children of Katrina and Darfur" and the "Ohio State Buckeyes," a football team set to play for the national championship on Monday. As expected, Pelosi won the job with 233 votes, one for every Democrat in the House.

Up in the gallery, the coolest man in the room, the octogenarian Tony Bennett, occupied himself throughout the proceedings by sketching the House floor with a fine black pen and a small notebook. Afterward, the man who first recorded "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" reluctantly displayed his impressive handiwork to curious reporters. When asked for his thoughts on Pelosi, he beamed, "I think she is just the best thing that's ever happened."
And Richard Gere fingered his prayer beads and thought Buddhist thoughts, or non-thoughts - not only more Buddhist, but more appropriate.

There's the now famous one hundred hour pledge - the first one hundred hours in session would bring ethics reform, corporate taxation reform, lower student loan rates (at least back to the former level), and a raise the minimum wage - and it's going to be ugly. Newt Gingrich's promised in the 1994 election there'd be a slate of new laws in the first one hundred days of Congress. In your face, Newt. Who knows what will get done? The Democrats even want Medicare to be allowed to negotiate with the drug makers for bulk discounts on prescription medication for the program, just like the VA has done for a decade or more. The Republicans and the major pharmaceutical companies have to figure out how to explain to the American public why that's a horrible idea. They're working on it.

Pelosi may have said nice things about a new spirit of partnership with Republicans. She didn't mean it, really. You get power you use it. The whiners and the folks doing what they want have just flipped sides.

The folks doing what they want in this case are doing what most everyone wants - including working to find some way to salvage something in the Middle East, a way that actually may not include escalated war as the only solution. We've been told for six years that war for regime change in pesky places is the only solution to foreign issues, and tax cuts for the wealthy the only solution to just about any domestic problem. Could that actually have been narrow-minded? Could there be other, even many other ways to get things straightened out? Who'd have guessed? We were told any other alternatives were between unmanly and treasonous. Now a woman leads a crowd saying "manly" can be stupid - "Honey, when you're lost you really can ask for directions."

But we'll get more of the usual response - "Shut up, I'm driving."

A little of that broke the same day as the new Congress convened, with this -
President Bush quietly has claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans' mail without a judge's warrant.

Bush asserted the new authority Dec. 20 after signing legislation that overhauls some postal regulations. He then issued a "signing statement" that declared his right to open mail under emergency conditions, contrary to existing law and contradicting the bill he had just signed, according to experts who have reviewed it.

A White House spokeswoman disputed claims that the move gives Bush any new powers, saying the Constitution allows such searches.

Still, the move, one year after The New York Times' disclosure of a secret program that allowed warrantless monitoring of Americans' phone calls and e-mail, caught Capitol Hill by surprise.

… "The [Bush] signing statement claims authority to open domestic mail without a warrant, and that would be new and quite alarming," said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington.

"You have to be concerned," a senior U.S. official agreed. "It takes executive-branch authority beyond anything we've ever known."

Most of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act deals with mundane changes. But the legislation also explicitly reinforces protections of first-class mail from searches without a court's approval.

Yet, in his statement, Bush said he will "construe" an exception, "which provides for opening of an item of a class of mail otherwise sealed against inspection in a manner consistent … with the need to conduct searches in exigent circumstances."
So THERE! Who is in charge? Pass any law you want. I don't have to do any of what's in there.

This may not be a big deal, of course. No one expects anything sent in first class mail is really private. Was there ever really that expectation? There are too many hands involved in moving it here and there. That the government, on orders from one man, the president, can now carefully read any mail it wants at any time - to see who it should jail for four or five years without charges or any way to argue it's all a mistake - just means bad people will use, as always, other means to communicate, and now good people will too. It's bad news for the postal service, more than anything. The claim, more broadly, that the times have changed and the government has the right to intercept and analyze all its citizens' communications in all media without showing cause and obtaining a warrant, will just spur innovation. It'll be fun - like the days of the underground novels in the old Soviet Union being passed around by hand on typewritten pages. Accept it, as a challenge. We're there now. It's just odd it happened so soon.

The irony is that the Republican mantra that government is generally useless and should be kept as small as possible - the Ronald Reagan way of seeing things - has morphed into a Republican administration that wants to know what is said by anyone (and wants to keep it one file), wants to regulate the consenting sexual activity of all adults (and probably keep files on that too), wants to forbid women the choice to seek an abortion in difficult circumstances, and make sure living wills that you create on matters of how you should be treated when you're dying are vetted by the House and Senate, as we saw in the Schiavo case. This crew seems to have turned into a bunch of East German busybodies. But to their credit, they do seem loathe to regulate business of any sort, if it's a large enough business - hands off the economy. So they're not that bad, or not that East German.

But there is that "we do what we want" element that's somewhat Teutonic.

Consider the BBC report on "Pelosi Day" that the president is going to replace both our top commandeers in the war, General Casey and General Abizaid. Both have argued more troops may not be the answer to the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan, that there may be a variety of other ways to get this all to work out in our interest. Next week the president is set to announce his major escalation plan. They have to go, no matter what they know of military matters, or in the case of Abizaid, cultural matters in the region.

And further -
ABC News' Martha Raddatz Reports: ABC News has learned that the president intends to nominate Admiral William J. Fallon to replace General John Abizaid at Central Command. The announcement is expected next week, before the president gives his Iraq strategy speech, according to US officials.

Officials also tell ABC that the replacement as MNF-I commander in Iraq (replacing Gen. George Casey) will be LTG David Petraeus. Though Casey was originally staying in position till June, he is expected to leave earlier than expected probably in the next few months.

"The president wants a clean sweep" an official told ABC News.
Is that Teutonic? A man with limited military experience - he avoided the Vietnam War with a stateside assignment and even walked away from that - is overriding his generals because he knows how to win this thing and they don't. One thinks of Hitler overriding his generals on the Russian front in WWII - he knew better. Then came Stalingrad. Of course Bush is no Hitler - it's just the leadership parallel in this one arena is curious.

But it's his choice - not the public's choice, nor Congress' choice, nor the Joint Chiefs', nor what the "wise old men" of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group decide. When everyone else is wrong you have to do what you have to do.

The dissatisfaction is spreading beyond MSNBC with Keith Olbermann's recent rant. Now we have Jack Cafferty at CNN -
President Bush is expected to call for sending as many as 40,000 additional troops to Vietnam - I mean Iraq - next week. Escalating the war is now being called a surge. Stay the course has been relabeled. It's the new way forward. We did this in Vietnam, remember? The U.S. kept sending troops over there which only led to more people dying.

The same thing will happen in Iraq. The United States is now an occupying army providing over a civil war in Iraq. There is no way forward, just more death, injury in the squandering of our national Treasury. This country has its belly full of this failed operation in Iraq. Read any public opinion poll.

Is 3,006 deaths not enough? How many do you suppose it will take before President Bush's conscience begins to bother him - 5,000, 10,000, more? How many? Meanwhile, the White House continues to try to get you to think that this is something it's not. The word surge is being used to camouflage the administration plans to escalate the war in Iraq.

And it's not just about the troops. The White House says they're looking at a whole range of options including on the economic front. This little misadventure is already cost us half a trillion dollars, and we're losing. But there's never been much of a market for reality in the Bush White House. It's all about the spin you know.

So next week when the president talks about sending more of your sons and daughters to die in Iraq, don't think surge. Recognize it for what it is.
The link also provides the video of that, if it matters. But it doesn't.

It's classic.

Pelosi (and most everyone else) - "Honey, when you're lost you really can ask for directions."

The President - "Shut up, I'm driving."

The more things change…

Posted by Alan at 23:02 PST | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 5 January 2007 06:28 PST home

Friday, 29 December 2006
Notes on the Farce - The Man Who Hardly Matters Now is Gone
Topic: Breaking News

Notes on the Farce - The Man Who Hardly Matters Now is Gone

Friday, December 29, at seven in the evening here in Los Angeles, but six the morning Saturday the 30th in Baghdad, Saddam Hussein was executed, for one of his lesser crimes - the killing of one hundred twenty-eight men and boys he said had plotted to overthrow his government. All the trails on even more gruesome matters are now beside the point - the one hundred thousand Kurds gassed with what might have been our tacit approval, as at the time Saddam Hussein was also fighting the theocratic madmen in Iran who had held our citizens hostage at the embassy in Tehran and we thought needed taken out. What was Rumsfeld doing over there at the time, shaking his hand and smiling? We'll never know, and perhaps that's best. We dodged a bullet there.

The execution may make the next several months in Iraq dicey - but perhaps not much different. Saddam Hussein had been in our custody for the last several years, and no one was any longer fighting for him or his party. As he was a Sunni, the majority Shi'a had always considered him an apostate, as did the extreme Shiite al Qaeda. But that wasn't because he was a devout Sunni - it was because he wasn't much more than a brutal thug from Tikrit who ran a secular government, ruling by intimidation and torture and murder and all the rest, and making his family and friends rich in the process. He got religion in the last few years - it was useful to claim he was a martyr of Islam. He had never claimed that before, but times change. It was just another lever of power - something you grab when you're falling. The Sunnis now, it seems, consider him irrelevant, and do remember his apostasy - letting women go to school and have "western" rights, and his not shutting down all cultural stuff from the west, the music and the movies and all.

No one is fighting for him now, or against him. They've moved on to other matters. The Shi'a are clearing the south of Baghdad of all Sunnis to have an open line to the heavily Shi'a south. The neighborhoods everywhere are being cleansed. The Sunnis, now out of power, are doing everything they can not to be overwhelmed and rendered totally powerless - and the "everything they can" is pretty nasty, with a lot of car bombs. And they've got the west, Anbar Province, where any number of our troops are killed each week, trying to keep things there under control. The Kurds in the north - Sunni but not Arab - are watching it all warily, dreaming of a separate nation, or at least a separate peace. And anyone with a degree or set of useful skills is leaving - they are now in Amman or Cairo, or soon will be.

So the execution will please the Shi'a, in an offhand kind of way. The dead man is so last decade after all. Those who lost all to his vicious rule are no doubt glad to see him gone, of course. The Sunnis are rid of an embarrassment. The whole world is rid this really nasty piece of work. Fine, but the whole business looks like a show of some sort - a bit of proving something or other, and not the least what our administration would like to prove to us here, and to the rest of the world, that we finally got something right. It's too late for that, but could be worth a try. The approval ratings here, and certainly around the globe, could use a bump.

But this isn't it -
Rosemary Hollis, director of research at Chatham House, London -

It's tawdry. It's not going to achieve anything because of the way the trial was conducted and the way the occupation was conducted. Life in Iraq has become so precarious that many people are saying it was safer under Saddam Hussein - it makes the whole thing look like a poke in the eye as opposed to closure or some kind of contribution to the future of Iraq. The purpose should have been to see justice done in a transparent manner ... the trial was gruesome, occasionally farcical, and failed to fulfill its promise of giving satisfaction.

Kamil Mahdi, Iraqi expatriate, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, Exeter University -

Quite honestly, I don't think much of it any more, given what's happening in Iraq. It will be taken as an American decision. The worst thing is that it's an issue which, in an ideal situation, should have unified Iraq but the Americans have succeeded in dividing the Iraqis.

Toby Dodge, expert on Iraq at Queen Mary College, London University -

The new elite were bound to go ahead with the execution because they suffered at his hands. In the long term, though, this means very little in terms of drawing a line under the last four years of occupation or creating a new Iraq. In choosing to kill him, the current government of Iraq have simply reproduced Iraqi history instead of stepping away from the past ... it completes the Islamicisation of the insurgency.

Chris Doyle, director, Council for Arab-British Understanding -

For Bush, Blair and their diminishing brotherhood of diehard supporters, Saddam's demise is their sole concrete victory in Iraq in almost four years. This should have been the crowning glory of their efforts, but instead it may pose yet another risk to their demoralized troops. For Iraqis, some will see it as a symbol of the death of the ancien regime. For some Sunnis, Saddam's death represents the final nail in the coffin of their fall from power. But Iraqis may also see this as the humiliation of Iraq as a whole, that their president, however odious, was toppled by outside powers, and is executed effectively at others' instigation.
Yeah we kind of stage-managed the thing - from advising the new Iraqi government on how to set up a court system to American legal experts training the judges and all. And we nixed the idea of this going to that international tribunal in The Hague. This was a demonstration to show everyone that the locals could handle this just fine - no need for an international war crimes extravaganza in Western Europe. It was a "look at the wonderful new government acting all grown up" showpiece. Everyone was to be quite impressed. No one was.

Josh Marshall nails it -
Convention dictates that we precede any discussion of this execution with the obligatory nod to Saddam's treachery, bloodthirsty rule and tyranny. But enough of the cowardly chatter. This thing is a sham, of a piece with the whole corrupt, disastrous sham that the war and occupation have been. Bush administration officials are the ones who leak the news about the time of the execution. One key reason we know Saddam's about to be executed is that he's about to be transferred from US to Iraqi custody, which tells you a lot. And, of course, the verdict in his trial gets timed to coincide with the US elections.

This whole endeavor, from the very start, has been about taking tawdry, cheap acts and dressing them up in a papier-mache grandeur - phony victory celebrations, ersatz democratization, reconstruction headed up by toadies, con artists and grifters. And this is no different. Hanging Saddam is easy. It's a job, for once, that these folks can actually see through to completion. So this execution, ironically and pathetically, becomes a stand-in for the failures, incompetence and general betrayal of country on every other front that President Bush has brought us.

Try to dress this up as an Iraqi trial and it doesn't come close to cutting it - the Iraqis only take possession of him for the final act, sort of like the Church always left execution itself to the "secular arm." Try pretending it's a war crimes trial but it's just more of the pretend mumbo-jumbo that makes this out to be World War IX or whatever number it is they're up to now.

The Iraq War has been many things, but for its prime promoters and cheerleaders and now-dwindling body of defenders, the war and all its ideological and literary trappings have always been an exercise in moral-historical dress-up for a crew of folks whose times aren't grand enough to live up to their own self-regard and whose imaginations are great enough to make up the difference. This is just more play-acting.

These jokers are being dragged kicking and screaming to the realization that the whole thing's a mess and that they're going to be remembered for it - defined by it - for decades and centuries. But before we go, we can hang Saddam. Quite a bit of this was about the president's issues with his dad and the hang-ups he had about finishing Saddam off - so before we go, we can hang the guy as some big cosmic "So There!"

Marx might say that this was not tragedy but farce. But I think we need to get way beyond options one and two even to get close to this one - claptrap justice meted out to the former dictator in some puffed-up act of self-justification as the country itself collapses in the hands of the occupying army.

Marty Peretz, with some sort of projection, calls any attempt to rain on this parade "prissy and finicky." [See Peretz in the National Review here.] Myself, I just find it embarrassing. This is what we're reduced to, what the president has reduced us to. This is the best we can do. Hang Saddam Hussein because there's nothing else this president can get right.
Well, something is better than nothing.

And we did try to do it right -
The physical transfer of Saddam from U.S. to Iraqi authorities was believed to be one of the last steps before he was to be hanged.

"We have agreed with the Americans that the handover will take place only a few minutes before he is executed," a senior Iraqi government official said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

…"The Americans want him to be hanged respectfully," [Najeeb al-Nueimi, a member of Saddam's legal team] said. If Saddam is humiliated publicly or his corpse ill-treated "that could cause an uprising and the Americans would be blamed," he said.
And to that Ezra Klein adds -
And the last thing we'd want is to be blamed for causing trouble in the Middle East.

The Odd Quote Award goes to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki: "Our respect for human rights requires us to execute him, and there will be no review or delay in carrying out the sentence."

Technically, one might argue that a respect for human rights requires only preventing him from perpetrating further human rights abuses, and that executing him is only the most drastic way of doing so. I get what he's saying, obviously, but it's still, well, odd, in a making-fun-of-a-mullet-while-wearing-a-Members-Only-jacket kind of way.

Meanwhile, American television networks are planning "tasteful coverage" of the execution, which has made me realize that the only thing more worrying than everything George Orwell said coming true is when everything George Carlin said starts coming true.
Yep, George Carlin could spin "the Americans want him to be hanged respectfully" into a fine four minutes of whatever it is he does.

But it was a good day for a hanging. We like those - this one made Jesus smile.

And anyway, Fred Hiatt, who writes the editorials for the Washington Post, said the trial that ended in the "hang him high" verdict, while not very impressive, was fair enough -
… his trial was in no sense the model of civilized justice that would have showcased a new, democratic Iraq - in large measure because that new Iraq has yet to materialize. Several defense lawyers were murdered; judges had to be replaced. Political interference was evident. Even this week, the appeals tribunal sent back one life sentence as insufficiently tough, in effect demanding death for one of the co-defendants. Still, there is something unreal about the cries of foul from human rights groups demanding perfect procedural justice from a country struggling with civil war, daily bombings and death-squad killings. The reality is that by the trial's end, there was no significant factual dispute between prosecution and defense: Saddam Hussein acknowledged on national television that he had signed the death warrants after only the most cursory look at the evidence against his victims. That, he testified proudly, "is the right of the head of state." Exactly what would a perfect trial be capable of discovering?
Due process thus is a sham, or a luxury and quite unnecessary. Of course we have due process rules in part because there are things that we might not know without those rules. But this is Saddam Hussein, so they don't matter.

Matthew Yglesias responds -
The Washington Post editorial page is mad at human rights groups for complaining about procedural flaws in Saddam Hussein's trial since, after all, we all know Saddam is guilty. Martin Peretz is upset that death penalty opponents oppose executing Saddam Hussein since, after all, we all know Saddam's a really bad guy.

Do these guys not understand the concept of principles? The point of the belief that all people are entitled to fair trials before receiving criminal sentences is that all people are entitled to fair trials. The point of the belief that capital punishment is immoral (not a belief I share, incidentally) is that it's always immoral. It's not as if Amnesty International is confused and doesn't understand that Saddam isn't a very sympathetic case. Rather, the point is that organizations committed to principles of human rights - fair trials, no executions - need to uphold those principles even when violating them sounds appealing. If they didn't, the groups wouldn't be standing for anything.
Do these guys not understand the concept of principles? That's easy. No.

Even the new German pope gets it - a "top Vatican official condemned the death sentence against Saddam Hussein in a newspaper interview published Thursday, saying capital punishment goes against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church." Cardinal Renato Martino reportedly said in reference to Saddam's pending execution that "no one can give death, not even the State." It's just the principle of the thing.

That's all just western reaction anyway. What about on the ground in Iraq? Try the famous Iraqi blogger Riverbend -
A day in the life of the average Iraqi has been reduced to identifying corpses, avoiding car bombs and attempting to keep track of which family members have been detained, which ones have been exiled and which ones have been abducted.

… Why make things worse by insisting on Saddam's execution now? Who gains if they hang Saddam? Iran, naturally, but who else? There is a real fear that this execution will be the final blow that will shatter Iraq. Some Sunni and Shi'a tribes have threatened to arm their members against the Americans if Saddam is executed. Iraqis in general are watching closely to see what happens next, and quietly preparing for the worst.

This is because now, Saddam no longer represents himself or his regime. Through the constant insistence of American war propaganda, Saddam is now representative of all Sunni Arabs (never mind most of his government were Shi'a). The Americans, through their speeches and news articles and Iraqi Puppets, have made it very clear that they consider him to personify Sunni Arab resistance to the occupation. Basically, with this execution, what the Americans are saying is "Look - Sunni Arabs - this is your man, we all know this. We're hanging him - he symbolizes you." And make no mistake about it, this trial and verdict and execution are 100% American. Some of the actors were Iraqi enough, but the production, direction and montage was pure Hollywood (though low-budget, if you ask me).

That is, of course, why Talbani doesn't want to sign his death penalty - not because the mob man suddenly grew a conscience, but because he doesn't want to be the one who does the hanging - he won't be able to travel far away enough if he does that.
Does that mean trouble is on the way? Heck, it was on the way no matter what. This just makes things a bit worse. Dick Cheney, speaking in 1992, put it well, asking a simple question in defense of not rolling on into Baghdad at the time and toppling Saddam Hussein - "And the question in my mind is how many additional American casualties is Saddam worth?"

Darn! The question has come up again. But it's too late now. Here we go. We can only hope all sides in conflict note the guy is dead and shrug.

Posted by Alan at 21:56 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 30 December 2006 05:21 PST home

Saturday, 23 September 2006
Topic: Breaking News
It seems each Saturday will be devoted to putting together the weekly edition of Just Above Sunset, the magazine-format parent to this web log. What's to say today? Just some brief notes before it's back to work -

The New York Times has the big Saturday story. It's a "well, duh" thing, and it goes like this -
The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.

... The report "says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse," said one American intelligence official.
So the long-awaited National Intelligence Estimate is finally done, and it says we managed to do the opposite of what we intended. We screwed up - all the intelligence agencies agree.

As Kevin Drum put it succinctly here - "The point of an anti-terror policy is not to look tough. The point of an anti-terror policy is to reduce terror. Republicans pretty clearly don't get this."

Perhaps this will be discussed all over the place next week. The spin will be interesting. No doubt the Democrats will decide not to discuss this - John Negroponte, the head of national intelligence, signs off on a document that concludes that what we've been doing for the last three or four years has made things worse, not better. Democrats don't want to be divisive. They'll let it go.

See Glen Greenwald here -
So, a recap of the Iraq war: there were never any WMDs. The proliferation of government death squads and militias in Iraq means that, compared to the Saddam era, human rights have worsened and torture has increased to record levels. Iranian influence has massively increased, as a result of a Shiite fundamentalist government loyal to Tehran replacing the former anti-Iranian regime. We've squandered hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives. And we have - according to the consensus of our own intelligence community - directly worsened the terrorist problem with our invasion, and continue to worsen it with our ongoing occupation.

How can anyone claim with a straight face that this war was a good idea? There are no even theoretical justifications left for it. And all of the Republican election-driven fear-mongering over terrorism ought to be met with this clear, straightforward report documenting that that threat has worsened under this administration directly as a result of its policies and, in particular, as a result of its signature policy - the war in Iraq.

But of course they will claim, with a straight face, the war WAS a good idea. It's just that good things take time, lots of time.

It should be noted too that a French newspaper is reporting that they're in possession of a document with the assessment that Osama bin Laden is dead - see this, where l'Est Republicain cites a memo they claim was obtained from the French counter-espionage agency, the Direction Générale des Services Extérieurs, or the DGSE. The memo says the Saudis are pretty sure Osama bin Laden died in August, from typhus or something. The Saudis say he probably is dead, but they cannot confirm this. No one really knows. It's on all the wires, of course. The word came at dawn on Saturday here in Hollywood with some emails from Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis - some in French. Time Magazine is on it now. But no one is sure of anything.

If this is true it's going to be a bit hard to say we brought him to justice. But we can say God did it - and this proves God is on our side, or something.

Next week the spin will be amazing.

A caged and distressed elephant in a curio shop on La Brea, just south of Hollywood

Posted by Alan at 17:47 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 11 August 2006
Topic: Breaking News
It's over? That's what the Associated Press reported late Friday evening, August 11 - the UN Security Council adopted a resolution that calls for an end to the war between Israel and Hezbollah. The resolution authorizes fifteen thousand UN peacekeepers to help Lebanese troops take control of south Lebanon, and oddly, as Israel withdraws. They don't get to stay. But it has, after all, been four weeks or more since this all started, and something had to be done. More than eight hundred are dead, mostly civilians, and Lebanon's infrastructure is pretty much destroyed, and all this displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and "inflamed tensions" (the AP folks doing understatement) across the Middle East. The resolution was drafted by France and the United States. It was adopted unanimously. Enough is enough.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert endorsed the resolution late Friday, after a day of what seemed like brinksmanship - a threat to expand the ground war and a public request for the United States to ship over some of those massive antipersonnel cluster bombs. Lebanon's cabinet was to consider the draft on Saturday, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Lebanese government assured her that it supported the text. And she said so on CNN, not Fox News, to show, one must presume, that she's being as fair as possible. Wolf Blitzer scoops Bill O'Reilly. Who'd have guessed that would happen?

There still is the matter of when to implement this all. Israel said its go-get-'em operations would continue until Sunday - that's when its cabinet will meet to endorse the resolution. And it seems they will. Early Saturday the tanks, troops and armored personnel carriers were still pouring over the border, that "blue line" that seemed to disappear for a month. Kofi Annan said he planned to meet Lebanese and Israeli officials "as soon as possible" to determine the exact date of a cease-fire. Is it over? It's sort of over, maybe.

Rice was saying the "hard work of diplomacy" was "only beginning" - it would be unrealistic to expect an immediate end to all violence, and said that we'd be increasing our assistance to Lebanon by fifty million dollars, and demanded other nations just stop interfering in Lebanon's affairs. Yep, if Iran and Syria keeps sending in replacement rockets and such we might get really mad.

Kofi Annan admitted the whole world has been frustrated, and he had been - "I would be remiss if I did not tell you how profoundly disappointed I am that the council did not reach this point much, much earlier." But better late than never - even if the American neoconservatives don't agree.

Some demands just weren't met. Forget the Lebanese objections - Israel will be allowed to continue defensive operations. Arab diplomats suspect the Israeli military will interpret "defensive operations" very loosely. And there's the mater of Chebaa Farms along the Syria-Lebanon-Israel border - that's for later. And Israel won't get its wish - an entirely new multinational force separate from the UN peacekeepers that have there since 1978, with no authority to stomp on Hezbollah when the drop rockets into northern Israel. And Lebanon's acting foreign minister, Tarek Mitri, is not a happy camper - they'll buy into this but allowing Israel to continue operations in any way is crap - "A cease-fire that by its terms cannot be implemented is no cease-fire. A cease-fire that retains the right for one side the right not to cease firing is not a cease-fire."

Picky, picky, picky… And there's no call for the release of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel or any sort of demand for the "immediate" withdrawal of Israeli troops. The thing only says there's a "need" for the "unconditional release" of the two Israeli soldiers captured July 12, the thing that's stared this all. It's not one of the step here. It just would help, but it's not required.

Like all compromises, no one gets everything they want. Britain's Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said to look at it this way - "The question is, has everybody got enough for this to stick and for it to be enforceable?"

We'll see. This has been going on far too long. Israel and the Palestinians at it - Hezbollah formed after the 1967 war to fight back. Qatar's Foreign Minister - Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani - said the Arab states would be submitting formal requests for a Security Council meeting in September to work out a new regional peace plan. Enough of this foolishness - it's not good for anyone.

Glenn Greenwald, the attorney and the fellow who wrote the best-seller How Would A Patriot Act?, calls this "a bizarre end to a bizarre war" and discusses the political-policy implications of what happened here -
Hezbollah would not be disbanded nor disarmed, and its re-supply route from Syria would neither be destroyed nor impeded. Given the grand pronouncements with which this war began - that Hezbollah would be destroyed, that it was the start of the epic war of civilizations - any honest person (and even many who are not honest) would acknowledge that this is a defeat for Israel and for neoconservative dreams of a wider war. As a result, many in Israel are predicting, and vigorously calling for, the resignation of Israel's Prime Minister.

The disappointment and anger of neoconservatives over this ignominious end must be severe, and it is almost certain to be a source of very intense conflict between them and the Bush administration.
And he provides links to various sources - Israelis calling for Olmert to resign and over at the influential National Review, John Podhoretz saying he should go, adding this - "I'm tempted to suggest that our government, having seemingly lost its will to oppose (or even to let others oppose) our deadliest enemies, deserves the same fate. But let's wait until the facts are in."

Get rid of George Bush? These guys aren't happy. Rich Lowry here quotes an Israeli source as saying that this is the "worst defeat for Israel since 1948," and adds this - "When it comes to UN resolutions in the Middle East is that they either simply reflect the facts on the ground, or make the victor give away a little bit of his victory; they never let someone pull victory out of a hat from defeat. So Israel will ultimately get from this resolution what they won on the ground, which is to say not much."

John Podhoretz earlier had said the resolution will mean that "Israel and the United States will be handing Hezbollah a victory. And Israel will have lost a war for the first time - and probably not the last." Olmert agrees to the cease-fire. He's a coward.

Greenwald -
When this all started, neoconservatives were in full bloodthirsty glory, salivating over the complete obliteration of Hezbollah and much of Southern Lebanon, as the start of the "great opportunity" - "our war" - in which we would do the same to Syria and Iran. Instead, they got a joint U.S.-French UN resolution engineering a cease-fire dependent upon French troops protecting Israel from the Hezbollah militia, and even Israeli hawks lamenting the humiliation suffered at the hands of Hezbollah (assuming Hezbollah, which clearly has the strongest hand here, agrees to all of this).

Watching Fox News right now discussing this is like being at a wake. … The neoconservative dream for broader war, at least for the moment, has collapsed on its shattered foundations. Nobody should consider a Hezbollah victory to be anything remotely a cause for celebration; that should go without saying. But the plan the neoconservatives harbor - and thought they were finally able to execute - is as dangerous a threat as anything else in the world, and anything which puts a stop to it, and which drives a wedge between them and their enablers in the Bush administration, is something which, independent of all else, is a constructive development.

… I view this war and the end of it as "bizarre" because the war's ambitions were so grand and sweeping from the start - the amount of brutality and slaughter required to accomplish them were far in excess of what could be tolerated - that it was almost designed to fail from the start. One could say exactly that of the general neoconservative view on all matters…
No Cheney neoconservative will really want Rice's head on a platter - and she gave the interview to CNN, not Fox News. Oh my, or as Donald Rumsfeld would say, "Good Gracious!"

Bill Montgomery adds this about Israel's position now, and ours -
They've blown it, right down the line, from the opening bid for an aerial knockout, through the defeats and retreats, the incredible shrinking war aims, the daily humiliation of seeing a third of Israel bombarded with rockets. And now this - a ceasefire that appears to give Hezbollah all or nearly all of what it demanded (although not the Laker tickets), all of it to be supervised by a "reinforced" version of UNIFIL (most of the reinforcements will probably never arrive) working under a limited one-year mandate, and with no more legal authority to use force than the current bunch of blue helmets.

And for this, Lebanon was ravaged, thousands were killled, millions on both sides spent weeks cooped up in air raid shelters and the credibility and any lingering shreds of respectability of the US government in the Islamic world were flushed down the you-know-what. For this.

After all, why did we embark on the war, if not to ensure that French soldiers will protect Israel from the Hezbollah rocket battery.

The long knives are already out - for Olmert, for Peretz, the ward boss turned defense minister, for Halutz and the commander of the Northern Front (who was effectively sacked in the middle of the war) and probably half of entire IDF general staff, if they don't sink them in each other's backs first. Losing is never pretty, and the post-war settling of accounts is going to be even less so.

It seems as if every minor league neocon in Washington is taking the opportunity to remind Israel that if there's one thing America detests it's a loser. So much for all the tearful singing of the Ha'tikvah. If Washington's Middle Eastern Rottweiler wants to keep getting its kennel ration, it will put a little more teeth into the business next time.

… All the bellicose rhetoric in the world - like Schiff's threat to respond with "cruel craziness" if and when other red lines are crossed in the future - can't conceal the failures: of a military aristocracy's arrogant faith in technology, of an Army that's grown accustomed to waging war against Palestinian teenagers, of a political establishment that believes with zombie-like intensity that the cure for incompetence is ever greater applications of military force.

There will be hell to pay for this fiasco - coming as it does on top of Uncle Sam's own murder suicide pact in Iraq. When and where that payment will be demanded isn't clear yet, but if the past is any guide it will be paid in the blood of the innocent and not the guilty.
Yeah, well, wait until we pull out of Iraq. This is just a foretaste of what's to come.

And as for Rice weeks ago saying the fighting might have continue as, although it seemed bad, it was really a good thing, and opportunity when you looked at it the right way, just the "birth pangs" of a new Middle East - "Condi better swap her forceps for a shovel, because it looks like there's going to be a lot of graves to dig in the 'new' Middle East."

It was a strange day indeed. The old way of working things out prevailed - disagreement, negotiation, compromise, uneasy peace and distrust, but some sort of peace nonetheless. For those who see compromise as a sign of weakness and moral failure, this was a very bad day. For those who will now live and not die in a pill of rubble or be blasted apart by a rocket falling from the sky, not so bad.

Posted by Alan at 21:40 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 12 August 2006 06:35 PDT home

Wednesday, 5 July 2006
Our Man in Paris: Bonjour Tristesse
Topic: Breaking News

Our Man in Paris: Bonjour Tristesse
Wednesday, July 5, 2006, France beats Portugal 1-0 and will play Italy for the World Cup this weekend. The tournament is a big deal, only every four years, and France has only won once before, in 1998 when they hosted it. Now they can win it all again. And what was the scene like in Paris? Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, lets us know in his latest letter from Paris.

Paris, Wednesday, July 5 - This is a historic day. Overnight the temperature dumped from over 30 to a reasonable 26 degrees - after dumping some hailstones the size of Great Auk eggs on unwary residents of southern France - and it is the 60th birthday of France's great gift to funky western mankind - the bikini.

Just think of all the things we wouldn't have if there weren't any bikinis. We wouldn't have dads on beaches and we wouldn't have moms frantically dieting after all those Easter Auk eggs they ate. And, by no means finally, your favorite French wouldn't be as famous as they are, for being cheeky. They would just be small, dark folks clad in itchy wool swimsuits, reeking of garlic.

Between football celebrations I have been watching TV-films on Arte. They have an Israeli series which shows, I am glad to learn, that Israel is a very weird place not anything like your average cheesy French village or oily truck-stop in South Dakota.

You say, 'so what?' You say, 'what else is new?' According to the TV-film I saw last night people who used to be policemen look after imported young ladies from the Ukraine and when they wear out they sell them for a discount to Egyptian spa owners. As unlikely as its theme, even unlikelier the happy end when the policeman learns to swim and the Tel Aviv goon squad nabs the bad guys and all the young ladies get a free trip to America - where they wanted to go in the first place.

But tonight is different because Spike Lee is in Munich to see his friend Thierry Henry playing for France in the semi-finals of the World Cup against Portugal. This city has opened the Parc des Princes and put a big screen up there, adding it to the free one in the Stade Charlety, and another one somewhere in the 16th.

Meanwhile Nicolas Sarkozy has declined to go and see Spike Lee in Munich because he has to stay in town to manage the spontaneous victory celebration on the Champs-Elysées right after the win by the (a) Allez les Vieux or the (b) Portuguese tigers.

Last Saturday night the Portuguese celebrating on the Champs-Elysées were impressive - more than 10 percent of the Portuguese in the world live in France, mostly around Paris - and after I saw the hosting Mannschaft get whacked last night by the Italians who were playing not much more energetically than when they soft-shoed the Americans into losing - I figure no matter who wins tonight, they are going to fix the Italians in Munich on Saturday, and Spike Lee will be there to see Thierry Henry hold the silver pot.

Caf? au Ch?teau, Paris 14th - the local Portuguese watch France defeat Portugal to advance to the World Cup championship gameOoops, that kind of gives it away. Tonight I went to see the Portuguese win at the Café au Château, a nearby mini-version of Porto right here in the 14th. All is very quiet on the streets here during a match and you could hear cats shedding as I neared the café, when about half a block short, a huge cheer or moan sounded. It sounded like a bomb in the stillness, coming as it did from the 700 nearest open windows.

It is not a big café and its TV is not large and it was holding at least 20 more than the legal limit as well as having a fair number sprawled around the terrace, some wearing team shirts. Due to the TV's location it could be seen from the terrace, the far end of the bar, or by short people. Since I wasn't even there I did not know that Zizou popped in a goal somehow - that was the moan I heard.

I never got close enough to the TV to get the score so I didn't know if I was consorting with winners or losers until this dude told me he studies bugs, insects. This was his way commenting on my photos - I was studying bugs? I told him, no. I didn't tell him I was doing it for Hollywood. These folks were going to be depressed enough.

The Portuguese will not be driving their cute honeys wrapped in green and red flags around the Champs-Elysées tonight. They will be home alone listening to old Fado records. Tomorrow they will wake up feeling slightly soggy and after a strong nip or two they will settle into rooting for Les Bleus, these old French dudes who have some new therapist who has put some young Turk spark into their legs.

Do I intend to be on the Champs-Elysées on Saturday night when France beats Italy? Does the Pope do mass? Isn't Spike Lee rooting for the French? Besides, TV-news says the Bleus have a new theme song, and they are going to sing it in public for the first time when they get their hands on that old silver pot again. Allez!

Photo and Text, Copyright © 2006 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

Posted by Alan at 18:58 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 5 July 2006 18:58 PDT home

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