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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, 18 December 2006
Dissent - Some Voices, Not Many
Topic: Dissent

Dissent - Some Voices, Not Many

Those of a certain age remember the antiwar protests of the late sixties and early seventies. The great unwashed took to the streets, and perhaps prolonged the war by offending a whole lot of people. Many might not have thought much of the mess in Vietnam, but they also weren't shaggy free-love peace-and-dope hippies, burning draft cards and bras and whatnot. The "vast silent majority" that Nixon claimed implicitly supported his policies - something about bombing the bad guys into submission, pouring in more troops, even into Cambodia, while secretly negotiating a winless exit in the Paris talks - were, as he said silent. Perhaps he misunderstood them. Perhaps the pushy young folk put them off, so they said nothing. Withholding comment is, however, not approval. Silence regarding the government's actions is not, necessarily, endorsement of those actions, or of the policies behind them. It's just silence.

Now, with the approval of the president's handling of the war at twenty-one percent, lower than any comparable time in the Vietnam days, we have the silence again. No one is in the streets, save for a few coalescing around the well-marginalized Cindy Sheehan. We all support the troops now, and have our won't-mar-the-paint magnets on our SUV's that say so. We have no problem with the guys who put it on the line for us, even if we think they're being used for a useless cause. The prospect of a super-stable and friendly secular free-market Iraqi democracy we've wedged by force of arms into the Middle East seems unlikely. We'll get something less than that, at best. That's not what we were originally told we were doing over there, and as it became the last plausible reason for whatever it is we're doing, the idea that this was ever considered a sensible and achievable goal has many rubbing their eyes. That was the plan? You guys thought you could do that, and also thought it would be cakewalk-easy and pay-for-itself cheap? Just who is smoking good shit these days? Radical, man!

But we have no protests. Only a few words of the old song apply - "There's something happening here - what it is ain't exactly clear." Forget the rest of the words. And anyway, the song was actually about the small Riot on Sunset Strip - Sunset and Laurel Canyon, just down the block - back in November 1966. Those days are long gone - Pandora's Box is now a bus stop.

Perhaps we're now into a different way of getting things changed. The midterm elections changed Congress. The Republicans who rubber-stamped anything the administration chose to do - for whatever reason or for no reason at all - were tossed out. The House is now firmly in the hands of the opposition, and the Senate barely so, with a key opposition senator in hospital recovering from brain surgery. Changing the lawmakers is probably more effective than thousands forming a circle around the Pentagon and trying to levitate it (October 21, 1967) - no chanting involved. And Rumsfeld is gone, so what's the urgency? And then too, a panel of "wise old men" (well, they were old), the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, commissioned by congress with administration approval, has declared the Iraq War is just not working - we need to change policy, strategy and tactics if we're to have any good come of it, and even if we do, it's an iffy proposition anyway. Better musty old James Baker says such things than some Abbie Hoffman. Levitating the Pentagon was Hoffman's idea, and those crazy days of long ago seem quaint, so to speak, like the Geneva Conventions, perhaps. We are more serious now, even if we are less whimsical.

But it is clear the president is doing everything he can to justify ignoring the seventy-nine recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. It's clear we're in for a major escalation - one last push, or surge, with twenty to fifty thousand more troops on the ground. This will be the "new way forward" - more of the same, with a new name. We don't have more troops, of course, so that means extending tours and accelerated deployment of troops now in the pipeline. Key generals are saying the military is just about broken, and even Colin Powell agrees, adding that it might also be nice if the "new" troops knew what their mission will be, as that is not clear at all.

Peter Baker in the Washington Post captures the dilemma, that "as Bush rethinks his strategy in Iraq and approaches one of the most fateful moments of his presidency, he confronts difficult questions: At what point does determination to a cause become self-defeating folly? Can he change direction in a meaningful way without sacrificing principle?"

Probably not. We "go big." That's how he thinks. We understand. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that sixty-six percent of Americans do not think Bush is willing to change his policies in Iraq. We all know that. Larry Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to Powell in Bush's first term - "I just don't believe that this president, with this vice president whispering in his ear every moment, is oriented to change. And even if he were, I don't believe his administration is capable of implementing change." Won't change, and even if these guys decided they would change, they can't. Done - game, set, match.

And there was what the president said in his year-end interview with People magazine -
I think it's been a very difficult year in Iraq - for our troops, for the families of the troops, for the Iraqi people. And it's been difficult for the American people, because success in Iraq has been slower coming than any of us would like. And so the task at hand now is to come up with a new way forward. I think most Americans fully understand the importance of success; they're wondering whether we have a plan to succeed. It's my job to listen to a lot of opinions and come up with a strategy that says we have a plan.
What? Yes, he said the real problem he faces is how, in the absence of a plan, to convince us all he has a plan. Admittedly, he is not good with words. He may have meant something else. But he literally said his job is to fool us all, to fake us out and make us believe there is a plan. Maybe he just means that there really is a plan, and he doesn't quite understand it, but knows it's his job to point to it when asked. In the same interview he's asked whether all the problems he faces bother him, and says you'd think he couldn't sleep at night with all that's going on, but he's been sleeping surprisingly well. He's cool.

Surreal and mind-bending protests in the streets are unnecessary. How to you top the president?

Still, people are uneasy with him. Christopher Caldwell, in the New York Times Magazine speaks to that -
Why have few such people risen to the defense of George Bush?

Here is a guess. The recent election feels like something more intimate than a personnel change. It feels like the beginnings of an escape from a twisted relationship.

… Why are opinions so personal when it comes to President Bush? Because he has frequently sought, like the child of the 1960s that he is, to blur the line between the personal and the political. Posing as an amiable guy rather than a partisan politician has great advantages in democratic power politics. Even if not all of them vote for you, most Americans want to believe that their president is a jolly good fellow. But when a politician makes likeability a substitute for authority, his opponents make hatred a substitute for opposition.
Hatred? Maybe so. Or perhaps there's monumental frustration with the man-child, the incurious "C+ Augustus" as some call him. He's going to massively escalate the war, but in a likeable way. This is Douglas Adams territory. How did it come to this?

Under the penname Pachacutec you'll find this -
Let me say this slowly. It's something I've never said before.

Bush is unfit for office. He's not my president.

Now, I've called him nuts, crazy, dangerous, said he should be censured over warrantless wiretapping, and so on. I've said he's paranoid and craven and callow and cowardly. I've said his 2000 election was undemocratic and probably illegitimate, in some fashion. Selected, then elected. And even with all that, I still mentally sustained a degree of deference to him, in some corner of my mind, as President of the United States.

I've never called for impeachment and I'm still not. I'm not raving or slamming my fingers down on my keyboard. I'm feeling very calm. I'm not trying to be funny, snarky, witty or anything else. I'm just grappling with the incredible hubris… words fail. "Irresponsibility" is too thin. What's the word? How does one characterize the absolute contempt this man has for human life, for the expressed will of the American people, who have completely repudiated his failed occupation of Iraq, now that he's indulging his fantasies of an escalation?

I think a lot of people in the mythical middle who thought he was basically a good guy who's been stubborn and wrong are coming to the realization that he's dangerous, almost to an inhuman degree. He's pissed all over the Baker-Hamilton charade which, for all its flaws, still helped cement the notion in the popular mind that to continue is to fail. And his response is to go in exactly the opposite direction all the world, including the American public, wants him to go? I knew he would do it; I'm not saying I was surprised. But the blunt reality of it staggers.

I know we all know this stuff, and I can't account for why this is hitting me the way it's hitting me now, for as long as I've been hammering at this worst president ever. But it is.
Note there's no "let's take it to the streets" talk here. This is resignation, not protest. In fact, the call is for something else entirely -
I'm not arguing for impeachment, not because I don't think he's been criminal, or even because he doesn't deserve it. I believe he does. But I want the Democrats during these next two years to begin to change things, pass some good legislation. They can't pursue impeachment and do all that stuff at once. Our home, our world, is on fire. Put out the fire first. We don't have time to impeach this horrible man.

I do want vigorous investigations, and I'm a real Waxman kind of guy. Leahy, Dorgan, Conyers, the whole gang. More, more, more. Why? Because we need to educate the public and find out just how much damage has been done to the Constitution so we can set about putting things right again.
So let's be practical. This isn't the sixties, after all.

At the same site you'll find Scarecrow -
The day that the Iraq Study Group released its much anticipated report detailing the "grave and deteriorating" conditions in Iraq and recommending the President change his course, the official barometer of public moods, NBC's Tim Russert, passionately sounded the alarms as the Baker/Hamilton/O'Connor intervention unfolded before the public, press, and Congress. It was as though the catastrophe of Iraq and the need for an extraordinary intervention had been revealed to us for the first time. It was another Walter Cronkite Viet Nam moment.

Over the next week, the media zeroed in on what they assumed was the relevant question: "Will the President listen?" It was an interesting question, revealing more about how far the centrist media lags behind than it was asking about the President. Initial analyses wondered how a President so desperately in need of a "graceful exit" could possibly ignore so clear a message from such a distinguished, centrist and bipartisan group of Americans.

The wrong question stayed on the media's minds for about a week, while many of us waited impatiently for that inevitable epiphany, best exemplified by ISG member Leon Panetta. Barely a week after the report's release, he expressed total surprise that the President didn't seem to be listening at all and never had any intention of changing his fundamental policies or the way he pursued them.

… What does it mean when a savvy and experienced Washington hand like Panetta, along with most of the media, is still surprised by all this? … At least now even the Beltway knows the answer to the wrong question, so perhaps it's time the media got to the more difficult and important question: "What should the country do when the President and his men continue to drive the bus into the Iraq ditch, but they ignore both the ISG report and the electorate's resounding message to start disengaging from Iraq?
That's a good question. But the press is consumed with the "when" of the matter. When will we hear what we all know will be more of the same - much more? The idea is that a better question is, since everyone knows what will be announced as our "new" policy, just what to do about it?

And the "it" is multifaceted -
The President's men are going to prosecute this war to the bitter end no matter what the cost in lives and treasure, no matter what the American people said in November and no matter what the media think or what the family intervention wants. Reality-based thinking needs to start from that premise.

This is not just about sending more troops to Iraq to be shot at by everyone the President's policies and macho posturing are antagonizing, which is getting to be just about everyone. As the New York Times Sunday editorial, Unfinished Business reminds us, this Administration is hell bent to continue staining America's honor through every egregious violation of the rule of law - warrantless spying, renditions, indefinite detention, denial of counsel and legal recourse, torture, phony Iraq trials - brought to light in the last three years, not to mention those we don't yet know about but are undoubtedly occurring. And it's not just Middle Eastern "unlawful combatants" who are subject to the most serious crimes, now sanctioned by the Military Commission's Act. Immigrants and US citizens and whistleblowers and relief agencies are also victims or targets.

This regime does not believe in America. They don't accept the principle that the authority of government flows from the consent of the people. They don't believe in America's core ideas of democracy, or the rule of law, checks and balances, the Bill of Rights, individual human dignity, or such quaint notions as pursuing negotiations instead of war. They are putting the security of everyone in the Middle East, friends and foe alike, in danger, and they're starting to bring the war home.

So what do we do now? Nothing is going to stop these people from continuing what they're doing, and more of it, except removing them from office (or seriously threatening to do so). We need to begin asking questions about how we bring that about.
That's a little more like to old days. It's not a call for impeachment, exactly, but a call to start thinking about how to do it. We live in an age when being practical matters. Everyone knows you cannot levitate the Pentagon. You do what you can - although impeachment may be nearly as impossible. But it is, at least, theoretically possible.

But why do it? Christy Hardin Smith has her reasons -
The Bush Administration has managed to do in six short years what more than two hundred years of our nation's history had not done: un-do the notion of American commitment to human rights, the rule of law, and to freedom and justice. All with a series of decisions, one piling up on top of the other - with no check, no balance, no oversight, simply one rubber stamp after another for the last six years from the Republicans in Congress who cared more about their hold on personal power than they did about their oath to uphold and protect the Constitution.
And what set her off, in this case, is this -
Detainee 200343 was among thousands of people who have been held and released by the American military in Iraq, and his account of his ordeal has provided one of the few detailed views of the Pentagon's detention operations since the abuse scandals at Abu Ghraib. Yet in many respects his case is unusual.

The detainee was Donald Vance, a 29-year-old Navy veteran from Chicago who went to Iraq as a security contractor. He wound up as a whistle-blower, passing information to the FBI about suspicious activities at the Iraqi security firm where he worked, including what he said was possible illegal weapons trading.

But when American soldiers raided the company at his urging, Mr. Vance and another American who worked there were detained as suspects by the military, which was unaware that Mr. Vance was an informer, according to officials and military documents.

At Camp Cropper, he took notes on his imprisonment and smuggled them out in a Bible.

… Nathan Ertel, the American held with Mr. Vance, brought away military records that shed further light on the detention camp and its secretive tribunals. Those records include a legal memorandum explicitly denying detainees the right to a lawyer at detention hearings to determine whether they should be released or held indefinitely, perhaps for prosecution.

The story told through those records and interviews illuminates the haphazard system of detention and prosecution that has evolved in Iraq, where detainees are often held for long periods without charges or legal representation, and where the authorities struggle to sort through the endless stream of detainees to identify those who pose real threats.
Vance continued to be held, badly treated, and denied access to a lawyer for more than two months after the FBI had already told the military that he was the whistleblower in the case. He was one of the good guys. But there's a kind of momentum here.

Before his release, his "captors" seemed quite interested in whether he intended to complain afterwards. He's suing. The Pentagon continues to deny that it did anything wrong. Of course the Justice Department will press for his lawsuit against Donald Rumsfeld to be dismissed, and will probably prevail. Rumsfeld is gone.

Should people rise up in protest when a citizen, and Navy veteran, is held, under the terms of a legal memorandum explicitly denying him the right to a lawyer at detention hearings to determine whether he should be released or held indefinitely? Maybe so, but this story will sink with all the rest. The days of protest are over.

Just a reminder of the days of protest - Jon Wiener is author of Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files, University of California Press, January 21, 2000, and served as historical consultant on the 2006 documentary The US v John Lennon. In the Tuesday, December 19, Guardian (UK), he offers some perspective -
When the Dixie Chicks told an audience in London in 2003 that "We're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas", they set off a political storm in the US that echoed the treatment meted out to John Lennon 30 years earlier. They were talking about the Iraq war, while Lennon had been campaigning against the Vietnam War.

The Dixie Chicks got in trouble with rightwing talk radio. Boycotts followed, and lead singer Natalie Maines ended up publicly apologizing to President Bush.

What happened to Lennon was of course worse. The turning point for the Beatles came with their 1966 US tour, when they first publicly criticized the war in Vietnam. As the decade wore on, Lennon was the target of increasingly aggressive media ridicule, especially when he began experimenting with new forms of political protest - such as declaring his honeymoon with Yoko Ono a "bed-in for peace."

In the next couple of years, establishment hostility turned nastier on both sides of the Atlantic, as the former Beatle embraced more serious radicalism, making common cause with Tariq Ali (then editor of the Marxist Red Mole). In 1971, Lennon joined a march in London against internment without trial in Northern Ireland and helped fund the republican cause. By the time he left for New York that autumn, the knives were out.
So in the late sixties Lennon had been busted for cannabis possession, claimed it had been planted by the police, but pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge. Within months of his joining the anti-war movement here and publicly attacking President Nixon, the administration responded with deportation proceedings. That was in the courts for years.

The context -
What exactly had Lennon done? It wasn't just singing Give Peace a Chance - it was when and where he sang it; 1972 was an election year, Nixon was running for re-election and the Vietnam War was the key issue. Lennon was talking to anti-war leaders about doing a tour that would combine rock music with anti-war organizing and voter registration. That was the key, because it was the first year 18-year-olds had been given the right to vote. Young voters were assumed to be anti-war, but also known to be the least likely of all age groups to vote. Lennon and his friends hoped to do something about that. Nixon found out about the former Beatle's plans, and the deportation order followed.

The threat was effective. Lennon's lawyers told him to cool it and the tour never took place. Nixon won in a landslide, and the war in Vietnam went on for three more blood-soaked years. Lennon spent the next couple of years facing a 60-day order to leave the country, which his lawyers kept getting postponed.
Ah, those were the days.

And this assessment -
In some ways Lennon was naive. When he moved to New York, he thought he was coming to the land of the free. He had little idea of the power of the state to come down on those it regarded as enemies. His claim that the FBI had him under surveillance was rejected as the fantasy of an egomaniac, but 300 pages of FBI files, released under freedom of information after his murder, show he was right. The FBI is still withholding 10 documents - which we hope will finally be released today - on the grounds that they contain "national security information provided by a foreign government": almost certainly MI5 documents on Lennon's radical days in London.

Lennon never apologized to the president. He fought back in court to overturn the deportation order. But in the year after Nixon's re-election, Lennon's personal life fell apart and his music deteriorated. In the end, Nixon resigned in disgrace after Watergate, and Lennon stayed in the US.
And then he was shot dead. On the other hand, in 2004 a group of activist musicians organized an election-year concert tour of battleground states "with a strategy very much like Lennon's." Headlining the Vote for Change tour were the Dixie Chicks.

What were they thinking? The days of protest are over. We live in different times. Time magazine's annual "Person of the Year" issue hit newsstands Monday, December 18, with its odd choice - YOU. But the "you" in this case is any content creator on the Internet. That must be where the protest is these days - along with the personal silliness of MySpace and all the blogs about cooking and old trains and breeding cocker spaniels. Everything got all personal, and diffused.

Well, you use the forum you have. Or you got to war with the medium you have, not the one you want. Who wants to levitate the Pentagon anyway?

Posted by Alan at 22:30 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 19 December 2006 07:30 PST home

Tuesday, 19 September 2006
The Thai Solution
Topic: Dissent
The Thai Solution
No one much here follows politics in Thailand, but Tuesday, September 19, there was this -
Thai military leaders are looking to consolidate their hold on power after staging a coup while the prime minister was at the UN General Assembly.

Martial law has been declared, and the coup leaders have announced that regional commanders will take charge of areas outside the capital, Bangkok.

They have ordered provincial governors and heads of government agencies to report to them in the coming hours.

The country's stock market, banks and schools will be closed on Wednesday.

BBC World, CNN and other international TV news channels have been taken off the air, while Thai stations have broadcast footage of the royal family and patriotic songs.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra cancelled a speech he was due to give at the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday evening.
You had to dig for perspective, like this on Thaksin Shinawatra, the telecommunications mogul who became prime minister of Thailand in 2001.  It seems Thaksin responded to the terrorist threat there by passing an emergency powers law, dismantling local councils in the Muslim south, and dispatching thousands of soldiers to the south, officially turning southern Thailand into a war zone. This won him reelection in 2005, but then -
As the situation in the south worsened, Thaksin chose not to respond by restoring rights and freedoms. Strengthened by his personal convictions and by the idea that as a democratic leader he would enjoy public support for anything he did, he took the opposite approach, muscling the press more and consolidating power. His notion of democracy only strengthened his resolve. "Thaksin's idea of democracy is he does what he wants, every four years you decide whether he's right, and then if you vote for him, shut up again for four more years," one Thai expert told me.

... For their part, Thais have begun to wake up from Thaksin's spell. This summer, the prime minister's popularity ratings fell below 50 percent, and confidence in his government has remained low ever since. The Thai media, like its counterparts in the United States and other democracies where initial rally-around-the-flag sentiment has waned, has become more aggressive. Thai journalists have probed procurement scandals in Thaksin's government, and they united to help defeat an effort by one of the prime minister's allies to buy into the most respected Thai-language newspaper, Matichon. Even in parliament, where Thaksin controls the majority of the seats, MPs have become so disgusted with Thaksin's style, as well as the continued violence in the south, that some of the prime minister's own party members have begun to speak out against him.

Gee, that sound awfully familiar, and they even had their own Patriot Act, sort of.

And "he does what he wants, every four years you decide whether he's right, and then if you vote for him, shut up again for four more years." Just what President Bush was saying in 2004, of course, with that business about how he'd had his "accountability moment" - the election - and things were settled. Then came the plunging approval ratings and the revolt of key members of the legislature controlled by his own party. The trip to New York was clearly a bad idea.

Okay, first there was Hungary - riots in the street as the lies caught up with the man in power, then this coup in Thailand. The parallels in leadership are ridiculously obvious, and the reactions so unlike anything that would happen here - a popular uprising in the streets in one place and a coup in the other. We don't work that way, or even like the Brits who forced Blair to announce he's leaving. We just keep on keeping on.

You do get things like this, Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post, wondering what's happing here, but not channeling Stephen Stills -

I wish I could turn to cheerier matters, but I just can't get past this torture issue - the fact that George W. Bush, the president of the United States of America, persists in demanding that Congress give him the right to torture anyone he considers a "high-value" terrorist suspect. The president of the United States. Interrogation by torture. This just can't be happening.

It's past time to stop mincing words. The Decider, or maybe we should now call him the Inquisitor, sticks to anodyne euphemisms. He speaks of "alternative" questioning techniques, and his umbrella term for the whole shop of horrors is "the program." Of course, he won't fully detail the methods that were used in the secret CIA prisons - and who knows where else? - but various sources have said they have included not just the infamous "waterboarding," which the administration apparently will reluctantly forswear, but also sleep deprivation, exposure to cold, bombardment with ear-splitting noise and other assaults that cause not just mental duress but physical agony. That is torture, and to call it anything else is a lie.

It is not possible for our elected representatives to hold any sort of honorable "debate" over torture. Bush says he is waging a "struggle for civilization," but civilized nations do not debate slavery or genocide, and they don't debate torture, either. This spectacle insults and dishonors every American.
Yep, this is more serious than what Stills was singing about - the rather tame riot on Sunset Strip, back in 1966, a block down the street actually. This is a little more serious.

And it's not just a Post Columnist. How about the associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, Bruce Fein, with this -
The most frightening claim made by Bush with congressional acquiescence is reminiscent of the lettres de cachet of pre-revolutionary France. (Such letters, with which the king could order the arrest and imprisonment of subjects without trial, helped trigger the storming of the Bastille.) In the aftermath of 9/11, Mr. Bush maintained that he could pluck any American citizen out of his home or off of the sidewalk and detain him indefinitely on the president's finding that he was an illegal combatant. No court could second-guess the president. Bush soon employed such monarchial power to detain a few citizens and to frighten would-be dissenters, and Republicans in Congress either cheered or fiddled like Nero while the Constitution burned. The Supreme Court ultimately entered the breach and repudiated the president in 2004's Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. Republicans similarly yawned as President Bush ordained military tribunals to try accused war criminals based on secret evidence and unreliable hearsay in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Convention. The Supreme Court again was forced to countervail the congressional dereliction by holding the tribunals illegal in 2006's Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.
Something is up, and the conservatives are just catching up - that lettres de cachet business was discussed in these pages in early February here. It's an obvious parallel. Welcome to the club, Bruce.

So McCain and the others stand up on this issue - no Hungarian riots or Thai coup here - but it hurts. The Washington Post reports here that McCain's opposition to torture could really hurt his chances for the Republican presidential nomination - it's a matter of loyalty, something about alienating the Republican base McCain has been cultivating. But it's that, and more than that -
In a reprise of criticism showered on McCain during his 2000 campaign, some prominent conservatives are branding him a disloyal Republican and an unreliable conservative because of his assertiveness on the detainee issue.

… The senator's actions "are blocking our ability to gain from terrorist captives the vital information we need," said a front-page editorial Saturday in the Union Leader of Manchester, N.H., the largest newspaper in the state with the first presidential primary.

Conservative radio talker Rush Limbaugh said Friday that opposition to Bush's approach "is going to go down as the event that will result in us getting hit again, and if we do, and if McCain, et al., prevail, I can tell you where fingers are going to be pointed."
To be clear then, it is a moral imperative of some sort to torture bad guys - even if the information elected is totally bogus and cannot be verified, and it turn the world against us, and puts our troops in real danger if they are captured. Okay then.

And if you want to keep your seat in congress, it's good politics -
I do think that the fast-evolving base of the GOP is likely to be roused by the promise of torturing terror suspects, and that running on Guantanamo Bay may make sense if you want to rile up these people - and, boy, do they need riling.

I understand Rove has postponed using 9/11 families against the Geneva Convention - he'll wait till later in the campaign to do that, if it becomes necessary. But make no mistake: Rove isn't going to duck the torture issue. He's going to brandish it. McCain, Graham, Warner: these men represent the old Republican Party, not the new pro-torture, Christianist, Jacksonian base. Rove would love to isolate the old, decent guards from the Southern base and find a candidate to continue the Bush legacy. And this may be his opportunity.
But that's Andrew Sullivan. What else would you expect from a gay conservative Republican of the old school?

And there's the religious competent here. Janet Hook and Richard Simon offer this, in the September 19 Los Angeles Times, concerning the political price John McCain may be paying for his stance on torture and coercive interrogation -
"This very definitely is going to put a chilling effect on the tremendous strides he has made in the conservative evangelical community," said the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, one of several conservative activists who support Bush's proposal on interrogation techniques.
It would seem then the unrestricted right for the CIA to abuse prisoners is now a traditional value, and endorsed by the evangelicals. They really did like Mel Gibson's Christian snuff film The Passion of the Christ - it got them all excited, what with Jesus spending all of one Friday afternoon in a stress position, almost exactly of the sort we now use, and dying from it, just as more than a few of our prisoners have. That it did some good is obvious - Jesus died for our sins and all (it is called Good Friday, after all) - but why are we the Romans here? It's very confusing.

One "DK" at Talking Points Memo puts it this way -
The torture debate in Congress - I never expected to write such words- - is as surreal to me as watching the collapse of the Twin Towers. If the Democrats are able to take control of at least one chamber in November, then surely the President's pro-torture bill will be viewed in hindsight as the nadir of the Bush presidency. If not, how much lower can things go?

I am beyond being able to assess the political implications, one way or the other, of this spectacle. Regardless of which version of the bill finally passes, this debate is a black mark on the soul of the nation. Of course passage of a pro-torture bill will diminish US standing internationally and jeopardize the safety and well-being of U.S. servicemen in future engagements. But merely having this debate has already accomplished that. Does anyone honestly believe that if Congress rebuffs the President in every respect that the rule of law and the inviolability of human rights will have been vindicated? Of course not.

… Only the weak, scared, and evil torture. Those who order and sanction torture, but leave the dirty work to others, are an order of magnitude more culpable morally. (A special place is reserved for the lawyers who give legal cover for such orders.) In their fear and their weakness and their smallness, the President and those around him stepped over the line. To do so in the heated days after 9/11 is understandable to a point, though not justifiable. Yet they persisted, first in saying that they did not step over the line and now in seeking to redraw the line. So which is it?

They are descending from the morally reprehensible to the morally cowardly.
But then the gamble is that this is a winner, politically. They're willing to do anything to protect us, no matter how stupid or reprehensible, or illegal. Would any Democrat have the guts to do that? So there you have it.

Of course one should note here the Republicans who are jumping ship and lining up with the Democrats on this issue - Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Richard Lugar, Mike DeWine, Gordon Smith, John Sununu, Lincoln Chafee, and Chuck Hagel. Very odd. Rush Limbaugh and Reverend Sheldon are going to be very unhappy.

Can the folks at the conservative Boston Herald (not the Globe) be right when they print this -
At one level this battle between the White House and a rebellious handful of Senate Republicans is a war of words - a fight over legalese, interpretations, meanings. At another level this is about core American values, about the rule of law and maintaining this nation's reputation for taking the moral high ground. And this time George W. Bush has picked the wrong fight at the wrong time with the wrong people.
Oh my. But William "Bill" Kristol, the public voice of the neoconservative movement, at The Weekly Standard urges Republicans to campaign on torturing military detainees here. What does he care if Archbishop Desmond Tutu says this -
You taught us no government worth its salt can subvert the rule of law. We believed you. That's part of what you have as a gift for the world. Then how can you commit Guantanamo Bay? Take back your country.
What, like the folks in Hungary or Thailand?

And besides, the president said he'd shut down the CIA program if he doesn't get his way, to which a retired diplomat says this -
I try hard to respect the Office of the President of the United States, but it is truly a miserable wretch of a man who would threaten to disband the CIA interrogation program if he doesn't get his wish to eviscerate a good deal of Article 3 compliance thereto, as the President threatened at a press conference last week. This hullabaloo about "outrages against personal dignity" versus "shocking the conscience" is a tempest in a teapot. Outrages against personal dignity are like pornography, which is to say, you know it when you see it (sometimes, indeed, they fuse somewhat, like Rumsfeld's Pentagon authorized tactic at Guantanamo of having female guards rub their breasts in the face of a male detainee, before smearing fake menstrual blood on him, in a particularly noxious use of our military personnel).

Article 3 compliant interrogations have stood us in good stead for decades, and there is absolutely no convincing reason for a carve-out allowing the CIA to avoid compliance with its provisions. We know that Army Field Manual compliant interrogations are more than effective, and we know further that torture often leads to false confessions and unreliable information. So if Congress has the will to face the President down (which they must), the CIA interrogation program should be allowed to continue, but with the interrogations pursued in accordance with the requirements of the Geneva Convention. This is, after all, how the uniformed services are again now (after belated remedial action) satisfactorily interrogating detainees. Bush, like a petulant adolescent who risks not having his way, is threatening to shut down the entire CIA program if his gutting of portions of Article 3 doesn't prevail through Congress. Then, the cowardly pro-torture crowd, should god forbid a terror attack subsequently occur, will blame those noted anti-American appeasers and defeatists like John Warner, Colin Powell, Jack Vessey, Lindsay Graham and John McCain for allowing the carnage.

One would think even this President would not be so reckless as to shut down an important interrogation program merely because he'd have to comply with Article 3, which would be more than effective regardless. Or so one would at least hope. But he will likely disingenuously argue he cannot abide risking CIA interrogators facing criminal liability because of vague and confusing standards, as if "shocking the conscience" is crystal-clear black-letter law, and "outrages against personal dignity" constitute some amorphous, hyper-confusing morass of conflicting standards. For decades these standards have been more than clear, so this rationale must be seen for what it is, utter and complete claptrap. Appropriate legal safeguards for interrogators can be drafted into the law, but the bedrock principle here must be total fidelity to Article 3 norms, not so we here can preen as detainee rights purists, but rather so as to preserve America's moral leadership on an issue so critical to the ideological component of the war on terror, so as to prevent other governments from rushing to a race to the bottom on detainee and interrogation treatment standards, and not least, to better be able to protect our own POWs, from a position of moral strength, when they are, as they inevitably will be, captured by foreign forces.

Of course, very little if anything surprises me anymore with this White House.
And Tim Grieve here notes how Byzantine all this has become -
Memo to Tony Snow: The next time you're inclined to say that Colin Powell is "confused" about issues related to the "war on terror," perhaps you should retract the thought before it comes tumbling out of your mouth.

The White House is apparently offering a new proposal on military tribunals and detainees now, its plan to rewrite the Geneva Conventions' Common Article 3 dead on arrival in the face of opposition from Senate Democrats and at least five Senate Republicans - all of whom were provided political cover when Powell wrote a letter saying the president's previous proposal put U.S. troops at risk. Snow last week attributed Powell's opposition to confusion on the part of the president's former secretary of state. He tried to retract the charge, but the president piled on anyway, dismissing Powell's missive by saying that he'd seen "all kinds of letters" about his plan and suggesting that Powell had somehow equated the United States with terrorists.

Powell's response? In an interview with the Washington Post, Powell says that the way in which the Bush administration has waged its war on terror is causing the world to question America's bona fides. "If you just look at how we are perceived in the world and the kind of criticism we have taken over Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and renditions," Powell tells the Post, "whether we believe it or not, people are now starting to question whether we're following our own high standards."

Case in point No. 1: A government commission in Canada Monday released a report in which it found "no evidence" that Maher Amar - subjected to rendition by the United States and then torture by Syrian officials-- had committed any crime or posed any threat to Canadian security.

Case in point No. 2: Bush's plan itself. As experts on both sides of the issue tell the New York Times, the president's plan to "clarify" the Geneva Conventions' prohibition against "humiliating and degrading treatment" was driven by a desire for latitude, not specificity. Among the techniques on the table, experts say: "sleep deprivation, playing ear-splittingly loud music and waterboarding, which induces a feeling of drowning."

For Powell, it's a goose-and-gander issue. "Suppose North Korea or somebody else wants to redefine or 'clarify'" the Geneva Convention protections that U.S. soldiers now enjoy. "To say that we want to modify, clarify or redefine Common Article 3, which has not been modified for the 57 years of its history, I think adds to the doubt" about whether the U.S. really has the high moral ground in the war on terror, he says.
But Powell is now considered a fool. Before, he was a useful idiot.

But this Maher Amar? He's back in the news?

His case was first discussed in these pages here, on December 21, 2003, for goodness sakes.

Two years, eight months, and twenty-nine days later the New York Times reports this -
OTTAWA, Sept. 18 - A government commission on Monday exonerated a Canadian computer engineer of any ties to terrorism and issued a scathing report that faulted Canada and the United States for his deportation four years ago to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured.

The report on the engineer, Maher Arar, said American officials had apparently acted on inaccurate information from Canadian investigators and then misled Canadian authorities about their plans for Mr. Arar before transporting him to Syria.

"I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offense or that his activities constituted a threat to the security of Canada," Justice Dennis R. O'Connor, head of the commission, said at a news conference.

The report's findings could reverberate heavily through the leadership of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which handled the initial intelligence on Mr. Arar that led security officials in both Canada and the United States to assume he was a suspected Al Qaeda terrorist.

The report's criticisms and recommendations are aimed primarily at Canada's own government and activities, rather than the United States government, which refused to cooperate in the inquiry.

But its conclusions about a case that had emerged as one of the most infamous examples of rendition - the transfer of terrorism suspects to other nations for interrogation - draw new attention to the Bush administration's handling of detainees. And it comes as the White House and Congress are contesting legislation that would set standards for the treatment and interrogation of prisoners.

"The American authorities who handled Mr. Arar's case treated Mr. Arar in a most regrettable fashion," Justice O'Connor wrote in a three-volume report, not all of which was made public. "They removed him to Syria against his wishes and in the face of his statements that he would be tortured if sent there. Moreover, they dealt with Canadian officials involved with Mr. Arar's case in a less than forthcoming manner."

… The Syrian-born Mr. Arar was seized on Sept. 26, 2002, after he landed at Kennedy Airport in New York on his way home from a holiday in Tunisia. On Oct. 8, he was flown to Jordan in an American government plane and taken overland to Syria, where he says he was held for 10 months in a tiny cell and beaten repeatedly with a metal cable. He was freed in October 2003, after Syrian officials concluded that he had no connection to terrorism and returned him to Canada.
We refused to cooperate in the inquiry? Yep. State secrets. And we said he couldn't sue us for damages. State secrets.

The Washington Post adds more - in Syria, Arar "was beaten, forced to confess to having trained in Afghanistan - where he never has been - and then kept in a coffin-size dungeon for ten months before he was released, the Canadian inquiry commission found."

We have to torture the bad guys to get the vital information that would save lives. But what we get is… what they think we want to hear. Pain and fear of death does that. He screamed out that, yes, he HAD trained in Afghanistan with the bad guys. So, don't we get to sue the guy we tortured if we find out what he said is just something he made up to get us to stop the torture? What are our options in that case? Torture him more, or file a complaint with some court or other? Can we bring an action against him for being innocent AND lying about it when we beat the crap out of him? Surely the Attorney General is working on that.

Is that far-fetched? See Glenn Greenwald here -
For the last four years, the United States has been (and still is) a country which kidnaps other countries' innocent citizens (including those of its own allies); brings them to Jordan, Syria and Egypt to be tortured (sometimes for as long as a year); lies to its allies about what it is doing with their citizens; and then, when the innocent citizens are finally released and they go to an American court to try to obtain compensation from the US government for their disappearance and torture, the Bush administration tells the federal judge that the case must be summarily dismissed because national security would be harmed if the administration were held accountable in a court (and the courts then comply).

Do any other counties in the world kidnap civilians who are citizens of other countries and torture them?

… So on top of operating secret torture gulags in Eastern Europe, we also kidnap people, charge them with no crime, given them no opportunity to defend themselves, send them off to be tortured for months, and then when it turns out that they are completely innocent, we block them from obtaining compensation in our courts because our Government claims that national security would be jeopardized if they were held accountable for their behavior.

How can you be an American citizen and not be completely outraged, embarrassed, and disgusted by this conduct? What the Bush administration is doing on so many levels is a grotesque betrayal of every national value and principle we have claimed to embraced and fought for. Can it even be debated at this point that the Bush administration has so plainly, as Billmon described it the other day, "forfeit(ed) forever its ability to chastise the human rights abuses of others without triggering a global laughing fit?"

Who would ever take seriously the notion that a Government that engages in this behavior can lecture anyone on human rights abuses or import democratic values around the world?
But the same day the president addressed the UN and did just that. As one commentator summed it up - "The sad fact is that, even among Middle Eastern countries governed by aspiring or actual democrats, the United States is less and less a moral model. Our beacon has dimmed not because of who we are but because of what we've done. And President Bush made clear today that he's not going to do anything differently."

Nor are we. This is neither Thailand nor Hungary.

Posted by Alan at 22:51 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 20 September 2006 07:48 PDT home

Monday, 26 June 2006
Shutting Things Down
Topic: Dissent

Shutting Things Down

Actually, the two issues that seem to be at the center of the national dialog as the week began on Monday, June 26, are related, even if they don't seem to be. As the Senate was dropping all other business to work on passing a proposed amendment to the constitution to ban flag burning - something no protester has done since the late sixties - simultaneously the whole right side of things is calling for the New York Times to be charged with treason, or so the Republican Congressman from New York, that excitable King fellow, said should be done. Well, he said that on Fox News Sunday and the president helped him out the following day, just as the Senate was getting into the flag burning thing.

Obviously there's a call from the Republican side for everyone to get patriotic - and some antique form of letting people know you are unhappy with the government should be forbidden, and the press should be patriotic too, and not print what the government says they shouldn't print. Patriotism here is shutting up, and not rocking the boat.

But flag burning? When did that become a problem?

It became a problem, of course, when all the polling is showing the Republicans could easily lose the House in the upcoming November elections, and might lose the Senate too. They need to remind voters that they will let no one protest in the wrong way ever again, like way back when, nor will they let the press print what the government says it shouldn't print. There are limits, and people need to know them. For a crowd that so often derides "political correctness" as an evil that undercuts free speech and "open dialog," there's no small irony here. After all the outrage and anger at "what you can't say" - blacks really are inferior and Mexicans lazy and whatnot - here they are taking a gamble, hoping their hyper-patriotic base and a few in the middle will agree that there are, well, exceptions.

The effort in the Senate is being led by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, just as he led the effort to keep one brain-dead woman alive (he said she certainly wasn't, and he was a doctor after all), and just as he led the effort to pass a proposed amendment to constitution to ban gay marriage, as that was just wrong too. He needs a win one of these days, and this may be it. This one may have just enough votes to pass.

Tim Grieve here calls the effort "Gay Marriage II" and that fits. And as the Wall Street Journal notes here, Frist is working with Daniel Wheeler, the executive director of the American Legion and the president of the Citizens Flag Alliance. Wheeler "says he has never seen a flag on fire" but considers the flag-burning amendment "crucial because it 'reflects the values of the American people.'" Right.

Grieve says this -
Here in the reality-based community, we tend to deal more with things we have seen. And as we sit back to watch the Senate debate a constitutional amendment over flag burning, we wonder how some of the things we've seen "reflect the values of the American people." We're thinking here about places like New Orleans and Guantánamo; we're thinking about families struggling to make it on a federal minimum wage that hasn't been increased in nearly a decade; we're thinking about more than 50,000 dead Iraqis, more than 2,500 dead Americans, and thousands upon thousands upon thousands of both who will spend their lives suffering from the devastating injuries of war.

How does any of that "reflect the values of the American people"? And what, exactly, has Bill Frist done about it?
Not much, of course, but we're talking baseball, apple pie and motherhood here.

Really, we're talking baseball, Los Angeles Dodgers' baseball specifically - even if the team motto is, unfortunately, "Go Blue!"

Michael Scherer explains the baseball connection here -
If only for a cigarette lighter, Rick Monday would have gone down in history as just another above-average baseball player, a left-hander who peaked with a 32-home-run season. But on April 25, 1976, two bell-bottomed protesters jumped the outfield fence at Dodger Stadium and streaked onto the field with an American flag, a bottle of lighter fluid and a pack of matches. The first match didn't light. By the time they got the second match going, Monday had run over to snatch the flag away, making his mark as the slugger who saved the Stars and Stripes.

Thirty years later, it is politics as much as patriotism that keeps Monday's achievement in the headlines. Senate Republicans have been treating him like a war hero in recent weeks, passing a resolution to commemorate his courage and holding a Flag Day rally on the lawn outside the Capitol in his honor. The slugger brought with him the yellowed and tattered, but uncharred, flag he saved in Los Angeles, as six senators took their turn at a podium to praise Old Glory and memorialize the outfielder's spot decision. "It is arguably one of the greatest moments in the game," praised Sen. Jim Bunning, a Kentucky Republican, who played as a pitcher in the major leagues until 1971. "Like Rick, we should do everything we can to protect and honor our flag."
Monday was a pretty good ballplayer, and Bunning a fine pitcher, but this is almost comic. One assumes they served apple pie, and photogenic mothers of the June Cleaver type stood around with their cute little blond kids.

But Monday seems to really want to be, as Scherer explains, the "poster boy for the latest attempt to pass a constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration."

Ah, but such things happen when the Republicans sense danger, which in this case is a loss of power.

And this one will be close -
The current vote counts used by both Republicans and Democrats put the flag amendment within one vote of the two-thirds majority needed for passage - the closest margin on this issue in the history of the republic. A total of 14 Democrats, including Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Dianne Feinstein of California, are expected to join 52 Republicans who support changing the Constitution to allow federal prohibitions of flag burning. A solid minority of senators, including Majority Whip Mitch McConnell and two other Republicans, are expected to hold back the tide. The House, meanwhile, has already passed the flag amendment, under the unlikely leadership of Jack Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat, and Duke Cunningham, a now-convicted California Republican.
Stop! Yeah, the House passed it - they'd vote to take the vote way from women and dark skinned folks, to beatify George Bush if the pope would agree, and bring back slavery - as they are heavy with "red meat" conservatives, but the new enemy of the right Jack Murtha, and the man in jail for taking bribes so incompetent contractors got key defense contractors got business, led this. That's delicious.

And there's this from Frist, after the "baseball" rally - "There is a new spirit coming across the country. I think you can feel it in the last six months - people coming together around the flag." What's he been smoking?

Scherer helpfully runs down the main arguments and counter arguments - Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont saying this is lot like the gay marriage thing, just posturing, and "I think the Constitution is too important to be used for partisan gain." And Mitch McConnell, the Republican from Kentucky, is screwing up his own party by saying he won't vote for it - something or other about free speech and all that, and then he may be up for Frist's job as majority leader.

The cool thing is how they're dealing with McConnell, "trotting out Heather French Henry, a former Miss America from Kentucky, to publicly call for her senator's vote." She says he's not representing "the people." And she was Miss America, after all. She knows. She had the title, officially.

And the Republicans want this debate now, and if it passes, the debate in the legislatures of all fifty states, and it must be ratified by thirty-eight to get added to the constitution. They've got the baseball players, and the former Miss America, and their side. You want to oppose that? Scherer - "Most Republicans have made no secret of their desire to thrust America into a full-fledged debate over a form of protest that went out of style before the Bee Gees fell off the charts."

Then there's Orrin Hatch of Utah -
"Five unelected activist jurists changed the law," Hatch said at the Flag Day rally, referring to the divided 1989 Supreme Court decision that struck down federal laws against flag burning. Hatch, of course, did not mention that one of those "activist jurists" was arch-conservative Antonin Scalia.
Oops. As you recall, the Supreme Court did rule that burning the flag might be offensive, but much free speech can be offensive to one side or the other, and you just didn't go and make rules to make sure no one is offended - that not how it's supposed to work. And Scalia said so.

And as for the matter of urgency -
... Republicans are also struggling to deal with the current trends in flag desecration. In recent years, public reports of flag burning have become far less common than fatal lightning strikes. This has driven Sen. Bob Bennett, the junior Republican from Utah, to oppose the amendment. "It's a non-problem," Bennett told Salon, in a statement. "The only time people burn the flag is when this amendment comes up."

... In 1990, Gallup found that 68 percent of Americans supported the amendment. That number dropped to 55 percent in 2005, a measure that held steady in a CNN poll completed this month. Flag burning is not a red-hot issue for voters in general: A June Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that only 4 percent of registered voters consider flag burning one of the two most important issues in this year's election. By contrast, 53 percent identified the Iraq war and 32 percent mentioned illegal immigration, while on social issues, 21 percent of voters ranked abortion as a top issue, and 16 percent named gay marriage.

All this may make Americans wonder why the Senate is now closer than ever to forcing another round in the 1970s culture wars.
That's a good question. Everyone really misses the Bee Gees?

Some others make sense. Not a senator yet, but running in Virginia against the incumbent George Allen, is James Webb - the former Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, the best-selling author (Fields of Fire from 1978), and a former United States Marine Corps officer decorated for valor in the Vietnam War. He's left the Republicans. He's running as a Democrat. Allen is the tobacco-chewing good ol' boy wannabe, son of the famous football coach, with the confederate flags all over (more detail in these pages here). So it's the done-everything, intellectual and writer and lawyer and man of action, against the "I don't read nothin' much" never-in-the-military man of the Old South, who went to high school out here in chic Palos Verdes and cut classes a lot.

Allen wants the amendment to pass. Webb, doesn't -
"Jim Webb has great respect for our national flag and great respect for our Constitution, and is proud of the many contributions his family has made in defense of both. Like many combat veterans such as General Colin Powell and former Senators John Glenn and Bob Kerry, he does not believe it is necessary to amend the Constitution in order to protect the dignity of our flag. This is yet another example of deliberately divisive politics that distract Americans from the real issues that are facing our country," said Kristian Denny Todd, spokeswoman for the Webb campaign.
So why do military men, like Webb and Powell and Glenn, think this is all silliness? Maybe they fought so people had the right to burn the flag if they're angry - it's offensive, yes, and meant to be, but there are bigger issues, and it only makes the "burner" look petty and foolish. What's the problem?

What Webb says on his campaign site -
There are many challenges facing Americans today: an unpopular war, skyrocketing health care costs, a shrinking job market and rising inequality in society. I believe in the strength of American character and the ingenuity of the American people. With the right leaders we can overcome all of these obstacles. America doesn't lack ideas, it lacks leaders willing to stand up and make courageous decisions.

I have fought - and continue to fight - to protect American values. I fought in Vietnam with the hope that the Vietnamese might share the same freedoms we enjoy. I fought as a congressional committee counselor to guarantee our veterans the treatment they deserve. I fought as Secretary of the Navy to maintain the excellence of our military. I fought, pro bono, on behalf of countless veterans and refugees, in order that they might have their voices heard in the vast government bureaucracy. And I will fight in the Senate to give all Americans the chance to achieve their dreams.
Frist would say "that's a loser" and they will attack this -
Webb was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. He served with the 5th Marine Regiment in Vietnam as a rifle platoon and company commander. He remained in the Marine Corps until 1972, receiving the Navy Cross, the second-highest award in the Navy; the Silver Star Medal; two Bronze Star Medals; and two Purple Hearts.

Webb wrote his first book, Micronesia and U.S. Pacific Strategy, while a law student at Georgetown University. He received his J.D. in 1975. He served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs and then Secretary of the Navy (1987-1988) during the Reagan Administration. He resigned as Secretary of the Navy after refusing to agree to reduce the size of the Navy.

During the 2004 presidential campaign, Webb wrote an op-ed piece for USA Today in which he considered the candidacies of John Kerry and George W. Bush from the perspective of military veterans. He criticized Kerry for his activism against the Vietnam War in the 1970s while affiliated with the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and Bush for having "committed the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory" with the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
So he's another Kohn Kerry coward, not a fighter pilot like Bush. You know how that will play out.

And then there's the Hollywood thing - Webb wrote the story and was the executive producer for Rules of Engagement (2000), and Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson were in that. And Rob Reiner is directing his Whiskey River, now in production at Warner Brothers over in Burbank. Rob Reiner is so not red state. And too there's his past - Webb won a varsity letter for boxing at Annapolis, but in his second-class (junior) year, he fought and lost in a controversial decision to Oliver North, the fellow convicted of lying to congress in the Iran-Contra business and who now has his own show, War Stories, on Fox News.

So he will probably lose. He doesn't care if some misguided idiot burns a flag one day. He thinks there are bigger issues than punishing such assholes, if they return from the late sixties and early seventies. The congress doesn't. The House passed the thing, and the Senate has dropped everything to try to pass it.

Some of us see the whole thing as kind of a joke. But it's not. It's chipping away at what cannot be "said" politically. That's a dangerous business. Patriots don't shut up when something is just wrong. And both said do dramatic things. How do you draw the line?

The there's the New York Times. How do you draw the line there?

First it was the Pentagon Papers, and now we have Eric Lichtblau and James Risen doing their reporting. Last year it was reporting that the Bush administration was monitoring telephone calls and scanning all telephone records without the warrants required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (here). And last week it was the news that the Bush administration has been monitoring and examining the bank records of thousands of American citizens (here). The first won them the Pulitzer Prize. The second made lots of folks angry, like Congressman King from New York, who said here he wants to see the Times prosecuted for running banking story and "putting its own arrogant, elitist, left-wing agenda before the interests of the American people."

Monday, June 26, the president got angry, saying running the story was "disgraceful" and "does great harm to the United States of America." The White House press secretary said this - "The New York Times and other news organizations ought to think long and hard about whether a public's right to know in some cases might override somebody's right to live."

If they know we bent the rules to amass tons of private banking records then they'll hide the money trail and we'll all die? Something like that. You could see the Vice President and every talking head on cable discussing this. You believe there are some things you shouldn't know, as others would then know them too, or you don't, as knowing the administration is breaking a whole lot of laws and bending others, and your privacy is fast disappearing, is a big deal.

So which sort are you?

Arthur Silber puts it nicely here -
When you strip away the numerous distracting details and irrelevancies, people exhibit one of two basic perspectives toward government (including a particular administration that holds power), and toward authority in general. One group, composed of people some might consider skeptics but whom I regard as realists, consistently questions and challenges any concentration of power. Such people recognize one of history's primary lessons: that power seeks to protect its own prerogatives, as it simultaneously seeks to extend its reach. The realists recognize that people who routinely exercise great power should always be held to account for their actions, and there must always be restraints against abuses of power. They reject out of hand anyone's demand for unquestioning loyalty and obedience, a demand often expressed in the form: "Trust me." The realists know that it is precisely the person who makes such demands who is never to be trusted. Honorable people do not demand or expect unquestioning obedience.

The second group is made up of people who are eager to let others make the decisions that shape their lives. They identify with authority in general, and they willingly offer up their own judgment and independence on behalf of those who hold the reins of power. The phrase "speaking truth to power" not only doesn't hold meaning for such people: for these psychological dependents, truth and power are coextensive. The idea that truth and power might be fundamentally opposed almost never occurs to them, because they regard it as inconceivable and incomprehensible. These are the people who do not wait for the demand, "Trust me." They eagerly volunteer their trust to those in power before it is even requested. They think this proves their loyalty. If you rely on others to guide and protect your own life, loyalty is the prerequisite for such protection. The dependents know this without being told - and so do those who hold power. The necessary interrelationship of the dependents and those with power ensures that the scheme will continue without challenge.
And no one should, in anger, burn a flag. That's disloyal.

And as for the press -
The press in this country has voluntarily placed itself in the role of abject dependent for several decades. Many members of the press will rush to reassure us of their independence and their willingness to challenge power - and they will point to their treatment of the Clinton presidency as a notable example. But what did the press challenge in that instance? Not matters of state, and not anything remotely connected to the power government exercises or the policies it pursues - but irrelevant business deals from the remote past, or private sexual behavior. In the same way, if Bush should declare martial law after another terrorist attack and begin to exercise full dictatorial powers, the press will rise to the challenge of questioning absolute power in the new environment in its usual fashion. Our press will offer numerous articles and commentary about whether our President for Life (under an emergency law passed in both houses by large margins) should speak to us more often, to explain how he is protecting us and why we shouldn't be concerned about those friends, acquaintances and even relatives who have mysteriously vanished from our lives. Our President for Life knows what is best for us, our press will tell us repeatedly and with many variations, and he's the only one who can keep us safe. But it would be so much nicer if he reassured us more often. Unlike the members of the press itself, ordinary citizens often don't understand the wisdom exemplified by our leaders, and by our President for Life. They tend to worry unnecessarily. The President for Life should calm their fears, and talk to them regularly in his soothing, folksy way. He should make clear that, although he holds the power of life and death over all of us, he's really a "regular" guy. He just happens to be a dictator - but that last attack showed that's what we need now.
There's much more at the link, but with few exceptions, like the Times at times, that's where we are.

What's happening with these two issues this week is the loyalists against the realists. And the issue is whether folks should just shut up and trust the guys in charge. It's getting pretty basic.

Posted by Alan at 23:01 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 27 June 2006 07:08 PDT home

Wednesday, 12 April 2006
On the Scene: Somebody Believes in America!
Topic: Dissent

On the Scene: Somebody Believes in America!
Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, isn't in Paris. If you visit his site you'll discover he's visiting New York at the moment, getting a feel for the five boroughs, not the usual twenty or so arrondissement et communes de banlieue. And what should he run into Monday, 10 April? The day's massive rally in lower Manhattan of all the immigrants, legal and not, and their supporters, saying it sure would be nice to be real Americans. There are two photos below.
Three weeks spent in New York not doing any of the expected tours.

Instead of seeking the top lookout on the Empire State Building the toothpick sculptures in the lobby were closely examined and found to be lacking in fundamental craziness. On this trip Radio Ric managed to visit all five boroughs, with a blitz trip to Staten Island on the free ferry, and a mini tour of the Bronx, to see its Little Italy, closed alas, on account of Palm Sunday. Junior's in Brooklyn discovered - it wasn't lost - and Junior's in Grand Central tested and found to be a midtown best - if eating in a vaulted, stone train station is your thing.

But the high point of the excursion was the mass protest manif in lower Manhattan on Monday, when the washers and dish dryers, landscape artists and cleaning ladies variados turned out en masse to acclaim their belief in the American Way of Life, by waving flags of the United States, Mexico, Columbia, Peru and other well-known countries that supply America with the essential manpower, to keep the Upper East and West sides in gravy. For Americans who took part, it was a true tear-jerker. Somebody believes in America!

News reports fell far short of telling the story and fell shorter on the turnout count. Folks were pouring out of the subway exits all over lower Manhattan, filling all the spaces allowed by the police - later said to fill fifteen downtown blocks. But there were more than that. All in all, somewhat thrilling. Where there's so much hope it wouldn't hurt if the Anglos joined.

Immigrant Rights Rally, lower Manhattan, Monday 10 April, 2006

Immigrant Rights Rally, lower Manhattan, Monday 10 April, 2006

Text and Photos Copyright © 2006 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

Posted by Alan at 19:02 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 12 April 2006 19:04 PDT home

Saturday, 18 March 2006
Milestones: Three, Going on Four
Topic: Dissent

Milestones: Three, Going on Four

On Saint Patrick's Day three years ago we saw this on television - the president, standing behind a podium, stiff and grim, saying that if Saddam Hussein didn't step down, if he didn't give up and leave Iraq, we'd invade and remove him and his government. He had forty-eight hours. Forty-eight hours later we attacked. It was over before long. He was gone. We were there.

We're still there. The war turns four.

On May 1st in 2003 the president declared "Mission Accomplished" (the White House photos from the aircraft carrier off San Diego are here - the shots of the "Mission Accomplished" banner looming large in the background now gone - it's just barely visible in one shot).

No one seems to have any victory celebrations planned for May 1st - but, since that is the day set aside by the Second Socialist International in 1889 to commemorate "labor" and celebrated around the world, there is a conflict. That day is already "taken." And people seem to be using the weekend of March 18-19 to have their say about the ongoing war.

Saturday was the big day.

Around the world here (AP) - "Thousands of people held anti-war demonstrations Saturday in global protests that marked the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq by demanding that coalition troops pull out." But everyone is just tired - in London, police said about fifteen thousand marched from Parliament and Big Ben to a rally in Trafalgar Square, but the authorities had been told there'd be a hundred thousand. In Stockholm, about a thousand marched to our Embassy, and it seems someone held up a United States flag with the white stars replaced by dollar signs. Two thousand marched in Copenhagen, and more around Denmark - the five hundred thirty Danish troops stationed in southern Iraq need to come home. AP notes big demonstrations in Turkey, but then "previously close relations with Washington were severely strained after parliament refused to allow U.S. troops to launch operations into Iraq from Turkish territory." And there was that movie -
A movie depicting Americans as the bad guys in Iraq has become a super hit in Turkey, a secular Muslim country and a NATO ally of the United States.

More than 2.5 million Turks thronged to see the movie "Valley of the Wolves - Iraq" in the first 10 days and pirate copies reportedly are doing a roaring business.

"The film is absolutely magnificent," Bulent Arinc, the parliament speaker and one of several politicians to attend the gala in Ankara, told The London Times. "It is completely true to life."
And elsewhere? "In Italy, Romano Prodi, the center-left leader who is challenging conservative Premier Silvio Berlusconi in next month's election, said he and his supporters wouldn't join Rome's march because of a risk of violence." And there were small demonstrations in Greece, Berlin, Vienna, and Spain of course, and three thousand marched in Seoul, South Korea.

The French were busy - "Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of French cities to protest against a youth labor law proposed by the prime minister." All three cable networks carried live images, long segments of scuffles in Paris, not any of the ant-war marches around the world. And the administration thought French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was their enemy, given what happened at the UN when he was the French ambassador there and elegantly dismissed Colin Powell's "smoking gun" presentation on why the UN had to get behind our proposed overthrow of the government in Iraq. Now he's keeping the anti-war images off our television screens by arranging photogenic street battles on the boulevards of Paris that are far more compelling than scruffy marchers at the same time seeking some air time. Very convenient. But, of course, not his plan.

Here in Hollywood, there was this - "Paul Haggis, the Canadian director of 'Crash,' this year's Oscar winner for best picture, will lead a protest in Hollywood this weekend against the war in Iraq, now three years old, organizers said."

Yep, he's Canadian, and the movie is about how people just cannot connect in this awful, dangerous, crime-ridden place - so Canadians know something we don't? Noon. Hollywood and Vine. But the Paris scenes are on television. We'll, Haggis is a director, not a marketing guy. Martin Sheen and Harry Belafonte seemed like a good idea. So was Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic, the author of the book "Born on the Fourth of July" - later a film where Tom Cruise played Kovic (Oliver Stone won the 1990 Oscar for Best Direction, Cruise was nominated for Best Actor). But then, Tom Cruise wasn't there. He was also busy - he had just forced Comedy Central to cancel a "South Park" episode about Scientology, threatening to boycott publicity events for his new movie and pull ads and all that. The extraterrestrial Thetans inside his brain told him protecting the faith was from satiric cartoons more important, just like in the world of radical Islam.

But the marches are pointless.

Yes, three years ago Rumsfeld was talking about a war that would last weeks rather than months. Cheney was saying out troops being greeted as liberators. We had a spare Iraqi government in reserve - Ahmed Chalabi (with his PhD in mathematics from the University of Chicago) and his band of Iraqi-Americans who after three or four decades exile wanted to get back home. Pop them in power. Accept thanks. Go home.

Yes, that didn't work out. We have 133,000 troops still serving in Iraq, some on third and fourth tours of duty. And there was this on the 16th from the US commander for the Middle East, General John Abizaid - "The general trend, given a legitimate government emerging, will be, Iraqis do more, we do less and eventually more reductions come about." Abizaid says troop levels are trending downward, generally, but this is "a period of sensitivity" when "sectarian tensions are high." He thinks national unity government must be formed in the "relative near term."

The new Iraqi parliament did meet, finally, for the first time, on the 16th - for thirty minutes. They couldn't agree on a speaker. They adjourned indefinitely. They'll meet again later, sometime. The "relative near term" seems unlikely.

This isn't looking good, and here Reuters surveys the thinking of experts on what to expect in the next three years of this - something between, on the upside, "gloomy," and on the downside, "apocalyptic" -
"The reconstruction is destined to fail," said Pierre-Jean Luizard, an Iraq expert at France's CNRS state research council. "Iraq is condemned to an endless civil war."

... Judith Yaphe, a former CIA analyst at the U.S. National Defense College, saw no great change soon: "I see the current situation - the insurgency and violence - persisting for the next foreseeable period. I don't know what the period is."

Henner Fuertig at the German Institute for Middle East Studies envisages four scenarios, more or less equally likely. They range from a best case where the U.S. plan actually works to a worst, in which civil war combines with a proxy "war of civilizations" between Muslims and Americans fought in Iraq.

... Another could be a new, probably Shi'ite, "dictatorship". That possibility was also raised by Charles Tripp, a British historian of Iraq, who questioned how much party "oligarchs" in Baghdad can control supporters and leaders in the provinces. "Much will hinge on the relationship between the two," he said. Political parties are weak, he added. Bargaining in the capital would depend on whether local followers respect their leaders' promises on security, oil supplies or other issues. If not, anarchy and local warlordism could prevail.

... The International Crisis Group think-tank said last month: "A civil war ... could trigger the country's dissolution, as Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shi'ites step up the swapping of populations ... It would come at terrifying human cost."

One personal story, among many, is illuminating. A Shi'ite relative of an Iraqi journalist was shot at home in the Sunni city of Fallujah by sectarian gunmen this week. It took days to bury him because of obstructive local officials and medical staff who made no secret of their anti-Shi'ite views. "When a couple of thugs start killing people for their religion, it's bad," the journalist said. "But when a whole community joins in with them, I'm not sure there's any hope."
Just reporting. That's what they said. It could all work out. You never know.

But marching down Hollywood Boulevard on a Saturday afternoon demanding that the war end will help? It's hard to see how. The administration will suddenly see no one trusts them and most thing this is going badly and will end badly?

They know that. A week of awful polling ended with this from Newsweek -
President Bush's approval rating has dropped to new lows on domestic issues and public anger is rising over his handling of Iraq and homeland security, according to NEWSWEEK's latest poll. ... His image as an effective leader in the war on terror is tarnished, with less than half the public (44 percent) approving of the way he's handling terrorism and homeland security. Despite a series of presidential speeches meant to bolster support for the war in Iraq, as well as the announcement of a major military offensive when the poll was getting under way, only 29 percent of the people questioned approved Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq. Fully 65 percent disapprove.
They know.

The counterargument came from the president in his weekly radio address, as the AP explains here - you see, all that sectarian violence in Iraq, with mosques blowing up left and right and reprisal executions of the families of those who have insulted the other, is really a good thing. Why, you ask? Because it "has motivated warring political factions to move quickly to set up a representative government."

Yep, it's a great motivational tool. Except they're not doing that.

AP - "Bush's broadcast came in advance of a speech he plans to deliver in Cleveland on Monday, the second in a series of talks marking Sunday's three-year anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. In the speech, Bush will discuss how the United States is working with various sectors of Iraqi society to defeat terrorists, restore calm and help rebuild homes and communities."

He'd better screen his audiences more carefully than ever before.

And as for that major military offensive launched when the Newsweek poll was getting underway (news item here), well, luckily the polling was completed before items like this -
According to a colleague of mine from Time who traveled up there today on a U.S. embassy-sponsored trip, there are no insurgents, no fighting and 17 of the 41 prisoners taken have already been released after just one day. The "number of weapons caches" equals six, which isn't unusual when you travel around Iraq. They're literally everywhere.

... About 1,500 troops were involved, 700 American and 800 Iraqi. But get this: in the area they're scouring there are only about 1,500 residents. According to my colleague and other reporters who were there, not a single shot has been fired.

"Operation Swarmer" is really a media show. It was designed to show off the new Iraqi Army - although there was no enemy for them to fight.
Then Time reported On Scene: How Operation Swarmer Fizzled -
... Contrary to what many television networks erroneously reported, the operation was by no means the largest use of airpower since the start of the war... In fact, there were no airstrikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a photo op. What's more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders.

The operation... was initiated by intelligence from Iraq security forces... But by Friday afternoon, the major targets seemed to have slipped through their fingers.
And elsewhere a Vietnam veteran says this - "Hey, folks, this is a small operation. It sounds like a battalion of infantry (maybe two battalions) from the 101st Airborne Division and some Iraqi police troops. In Vietnam this operation would have been too small to have been given a name. It would have just been, 'what you were doing tomorrow.'"

Was someone impressed? (Note: for a full discussion of the effects of air assaults and aerial bombardment on "insurgency" or "guerrilla" forces see this - the effect is always to increase the anger and will of the resistance, and to assure more people join them.)

But there will be the speech Monday in Cleveland. We'll be told we're doing fine, or doing the right thing and things will, at some point, be just fine.

Jennifer Loven explains what to expect in Bush Using Straw-Man Arguments in Speeches -
"Some look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude that the war is lost and not worth another dime or another day," President Bush said recently.

Another time he said, "Some say that if you're Muslim you can't be free."

"There are some really decent people," the president said earlier this year, "who believe that the federal government ought to be the decider of health care ... for all people."

Of course, hardly anyone in mainstream political debate has made such assertions.

When the president starts a sentence with "some say" or offers up what "some in Washington" believe, as he is doing more often these days, a rhetorical retort almost assuredly follows.

The device usually is code for Democrats or other White House opponents. In describing what they advocate, Bush often omits an important nuance or substitutes an extreme stance that bears little resemblance to their actual position.

He typically then says he "strongly disagrees" - conveniently knocking down a straw man of his own making.

Bush routinely is criticized for dressing up events with a too-rosy glow. But experts in political speech say the straw man device, in which the president makes himself appear entirely reasonable by contrast to supposed "critics," is just as problematic.

... A specialist in presidential rhetoric, Wayne Fields of Washington University in St. Louis, views it as "a bizarre kind of double talk" that abuses the rules of legitimate discussion.

"It's such a phenomenal hole in the national debate that you can have arguments with nonexistent people," Fields said.
Well, it sure beats dealing with real people. Of course the question is whether this is a cynical rhetorical trick to manipulate the gullible, or whether the speaker actually believes those who oppose him are arguing nonsense that the didn't actually say but really meant to say. Is the speaker deeply cynical, or merely delusional, living in a world of imaginary people who oppose him for no good reason and spout nonsense.

Take this for what it's worth -
Abrahams, who has a vast knowledge of improbable scientific literature, compares Gier's work to that of two Cornell scientists who showed that one attribute of extreme incompetence is "that the person so afflicted is incapable of knowing that he is incompetent." The study, titled "Unskilled and Unaware of It," demonstrated that people who scored, on average, at the 12th percentile in tests of humor, grammar and logic assessed themselves to be, on average, at the 62nd percentile. Incompetence at the extreme is a double-whammy, the authors declare: "Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it."
So three year on, that's where we are. March in the streets if you'd like. It won't do much good.


Note: Saturday, March 18, 2006, brings us this in the New York Times, one more exposé - everything you wanted to know about Task Force 6-26, our military's free-lance torture unit and the "Black Room" at Camp Nama, a converted Baghdad military installation located at the Baghdad airport -
There, American soldiers made one of the former Iraqi government's torture chambers into their own interrogation cell. They named it the Black Room.

In the windowless, jet-black garage-size room, some soldiers beat prisoners with rifle butts, yelled and spit in their faces and, in a nearby area, used detainees for target practice in a game of jailer paintball. Their intention was to extract information to help hunt down Iraq's most-wanted terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, according to Defense Department personnel who served with the unit or were briefed on its operations.
And their slogan? "No Blood, No Foul" -
"If you don't make them bleed, they can't prosecute for it." According to Pentagon specialists who worked with the unit, prisoners at Camp Nama often disappeared into a detention black hole, barred from access to lawyers or relatives, and confined for weeks without charges. "The reality is, there were no rules there," another Pentagon official said.
The Times - "The new account reveals the extent to which the unit members mistreated prisoners months before and after the photographs of abuse from Abu Ghraib were made public in April 2004, and it helps belie the original Pentagon assertions that abuse was confined to a small number of rogue reservists at Abu Ghraib."

Maybe so. But who knows? As in - "Army investigators were forced to close their inquiry in June 2005 after they said task force members used battlefield pseudonyms that made it impossible to identify and locate the soldiers involved. The unit also asserted that 70 percent of its computer files had been lost."

As Andrew Sullivan notes here -
Induced drowning, hypothermia, repeated beatings, the torture of relatives of intelligence targets: we have seen all these already multiple times. They are always the same techniques, almost as if someone had figured them out and trained people in them. But that couldn't have happened, could it? We don't know. We do know that the Pentagon's Steven Cambone tried to stop it, which implies the second explanation, which is that there were elite military units beyond the control of the Pentagon and the law, let alone the Geneva Conventions, who felt they had been allowed to enter the twilight zone.

Cambone's efforts seem to have come up empty, by the way. We have the far-right Christianist, general William Boykin, telling Cambone on March 17, 2004, that he had "found no pattern of misconduct with the task force." (Boykin was the man who declared the Iraq war one between his God and the God of Islam. He suffered no discipline for that comment.) So the alternative explanation is simply a complete breakdown in the chain of command. Other agencies - even CIA officials some of whom had been trained to abuse inmates at Gitmo - tip-toed around this black hole. They acted as if they knew someone had sanctioned it; or that no one dared stop it; or that these troops were empowered to do whatever they wanted.
Nothing new, but for the new unit. Readers here know Boykin, as in, from Monday, 8 December 2003, Who would Jesus assassinate? (subhead - "We ask our consultants. Lieutenant General William 'Jerry' Boykin and his Christian Army learn from the Israelis") For Stephen Cambone and the torture business, from May 23, 2004 see Notes on the War Scandals. It just takes time for things to develop.

But we are where we are. March if you will. Those in power will shrug. One thinks of what our governor out here in California, Arnold Shwarzenegger, said in a 1990 interview with US News and World Report - "My relationship to power and authority is that I'm all for it. People need somebody to watch over them. Ninety-five percent of the people in the world need to be told what to do and how to behave."

Back to sleep.

Posted by Alan at 16:00 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 18 March 2006 16:04 PST home

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