Monday, October 31, 2005

Again, it's about legitimacy....

A senior and esteemed colleague of mine, John Steinbruner, says at Arms Control Wonk what I've been getting at too in various posts (here, here, here, and here): it's about legitimacy.

The irremediable problem is that the United States did not initially establish the legitimacy of its assault on Iraq and has no realistic prospect of doing so after the fact. With that vital ingredient missing, the United States cannot itself accomplish stabilization and reconstruction and cannot provide the tutelage that might enable an emerging Iraqi government to do so. Ultimate outcomes in these circumstances depend far more on legitimacy than on firepower, the adroitness of military operations or sheer political will.

Unfortunately and indeed tragically, arbitrarily scheduled termination of the United States military operation promises to be even worse than indefinite continuation. As is widely recognized, American withdrawal could readily trigger a yet more violent civil war in Iraq with yet more dangerous regional implications. The only meaningful alternative even remotely visible depends on transferring primary responsibility and operational control of the stabilization and reconstruction process to a more representative international entity not implicated in the original assault and better able to evoke universal justifying principles. That entity does not currently exist. It would have to be created for the occasion. The United States would have to provide financial and military support without attempting to exercise control....

Your tax dollars at work

When the Pentagon went shopping for seven armored cars for senior Iraqi policemen, U.S. officials turned to an Iraqi supplier to provide them some hardened Mercedes-Benzes.

After spending nearly $1 million, here's what they got: six vehicles with bad armor and run-down mechanics. They also were a little more than slightly used: The newest model was a 1996; the oldest, a 1994.

According to the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, the seventh auto is missing.

Questions for WHIG

At the heart of Friday's indictment of a top White House aide remain two unsolved mysteries.

Who forged the documents that claimed Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium for nuclear weapons in the African country of Niger?

How did a version of the tale get into President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address, even though U.S. intelligence agencies never confirmed it and some intelligence analysts doubted it?


I see someone signed in from Georgia (Tblisi). Is that you, Susan? I hope everything's going well.

Go for a walk

If it's like here in DC today wherever you live -- in the 60s Fahrenheit, sunny, leaves are turning red, gold, and yellow, pumpkins are placed on window sills and front porches -- get out of the house or office. Go for a walk. It's a time of beauty. The best season of the year.

Jim Kunstler on why there's a war

The cry across the land grows increasingly shrill: "THEY LIED TO US!"

For going on three years, the American public, especially on the political left, has been complaining that the Iraq War was some kind of a shuck-and-jive. The Bush government pulled the wool over everybody's eyes. They ran a vicious propaganda operation. We were fooled by all those fairy tales about WMDs, Saddam and Osama, and African radioactive yellowcake.

Now, through the fog of the Valerie Plame affair and the indictment of Scooter Libby, the cry is reaching a crescendo: "THEY LIED TO US!"

Being a Democrat myself, and therefore nominally in opposition to Bush-and-Cheneyism, one has to contend with all sorts of embarrassing nonsense emanating from one's own side. In Sunday's New York Times op-ed section, for instance, Nicholas Kristoff wrote: "Mr. Cheney, we need a stiff dose of truth." I'm sorry to tell you this Nick (and the rest of my homies), but what Jack Nicholson's character said in that court martial movie some years back still applies: you can't stand the truth.

If the American public could stand the truth, we would stop calling it the Iraq War and rename it the War to Save Suburbia. Of all the things that Bush and Cheney have said over the last six years, the one thing the Democratic opposition has not challenged is the statement that "the American way of life is not negotiable." They're just as invested in it as everybody else. The Democrats complain about the dark efforts by Bush and Cheney to cook up a rationale for the war. Guess what? The Democrats desperately need something to oppose besides the truth. If they would shut up about WMDs for five minutes and just take a good look around, they'd know exactly why this war started.

When the American people, Democrat and Republican both, decided to build a drive-in utopia based on incessant easy motoring and massive oil dependency, who lied to them? When tens of millions of Americans bought McHouses thirty-four miles away from their jobs in Boston, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Dallas, who lied to them? When American public officials adopted the madness of single-use zoning and turned the terrain of this land into a tragic crapscape of strip malls on six-lane highways, who lied to them? When American school officials decided to consolidate all the kids in gigantic centralized facilities serviced by fleets of yellow buses that ran an average of 150,000 miles per year per school, who lied to them? When Americans trashed their public transit and railroad system, who lied to them? When Americans let WalMart gut Main Street, who lied to them? When Bill and Hillary Clinton bought a suburban villa in farthest reaches of northern Westchester County, New York, who lied to them?

You want truth, Progressive America? Here's the truth: the War to Save Suburbia entailed an unavoidable strategic military enterprise. Saving Suburbia required that the Middle East be pacified or at least stabilized, because two-thirds of the world's remaining oil is there (and in case you haven't figured this out by now, Suburbia runs on oil, and the oil has to be cheap or we couldn't afford to run it). The three main oil-producing countries in the Middle East, going from west-to-east are Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran. We had serious relationship problems with all of them at various times, and they with each other, leading at frequent intervals to a lot of instability in that region, and consequently trouble for us trying to run Suburbia on cheap oil (which they sold us in large quantities)....

So, as a card-carrying Democrat and as a Progressive who would like to see his country successfully adapt to the changing realities of the world, I propose we stop making ourselves ridiculous by whining about being lied to, because we've only been lying to ourselves. We walked into the War to Save Suburbia with, as the old saying goes, our eyes wide shut.

Marshall on the Italian Connection

Josh Marshall starts a series on the Italian Connection for the Niger yellow-cake documents forgeries.

Happy Halloween

You're in for a scare here (via Pharyngula).


Magana mamey

Photo: Ian Maguire

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Top ten!

Sometimes, when you have an entire night ahead of you to produce ten pages and finish off a piece of sparkling philosophical prose, it's best to take a long and stupid break, look at the wall while chin is placed between thumb and forefinger, and mull over a top ten list. Unfortunately, all that comes to mind is top ten records, that worn-out category that a billion others have done (I rejected top ten dance steps because I only know two: the high school dance one and the adulthood wedding reception one). To make it a little more difficult then, only pop, rock, and related. "Pet Sounds," anything by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Velvet Underground, Love, Marvin Gaye, and Radiohead are out, and the list must not exclude embarrassing revelations. It must not exclude the Kinks, however, for that would be heresy. It can also include whatever just happens to float your boat at the moment, but which you might hate within a year or two. But no looking at the record collection and make the list as quickly as possible. Plus, you're allowed to do the list, then feel ashamed afterwards and wish it looked completely different. So, top ten, in no particular order. And I imagine I'm just talking to myself here, but feel free to chime in (giggle).

1. Pilot -- From the Album of the Same Name
2. Kinks -- Village Green Preservation Society
3. The Books -- The Lemon of Pink
4. Wire -- Pink Flag
5. Kinks -- Something Else
6. The Jam -- In the City
7. Brian Eno -- Here Come the Warm Jets
8. Tom Waits -- Rain Dogs
9. Prefuse 73 -- Surrounded by Silence
10. Robert Wyatt -- Old Rottenhat

There... about two minutes.

UPDATE (one minute later):

I'm ashamed to have included Pilot, but I've loved that record forever.

James Wolcott, as ever

I've been a-wonderin' lately why we can't use the term "fascism"in American politics. It's a real word, after all, and it actually does apply to a certain collection of political desires, attitudes, methods, and policies. Hell, it's even disputed among fascism scholars whether fascism's a phenomenon of the left or of the right. I wish the anarchy folks in black during protest marches hadn't given it such an outlandish name, so that we could really apply it to where it actually fits without being chastised. In fact, some of the Bushniks might even wear the badge proudly. Let's bring back fascism!

Like the neocons who think he's the hunkiest, [Victor Davis] Hanson urges Bush to broaden the war on terror and put a major hurting on Iran and Syria and any other tyranny in the region thwarting American aims. But he also wants Bush to fight a two-front war.

"George Bush also should begin addressing his most venomous critics at home, by condemning their current extremism. He must explain to the nation how a radical, vicious Left has more or less gotten a free pass in its rhetoric of hate, and has now passed the limits of accepted debate."

This will no doubt pass the limit of accepted debate, but allow me to part with the following sentiment: Fuck you, Victor Dave. The limits of accepted debate have already been trampled into mud and splinters by Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, David Horowitz, Michelle Malkin, and the Swift Boaters, among others, about whose rhetorical extremes you've never made a peep. Moreover, this conflating of Howard Dean Democrats with Islamofascist hate speech is McCarthyism at its most unrefined. Truth is, Democrats have been remarkably watery and ineffectual when it comes to the Iraq war, as Arianna has lamented (and when a Greek goddess laments, it's like thunder from the mountaintop).

Hanson's use of the phrase "the limits of accepted debate"--he probably meant acceptable debate--has the authoritarian ring we've become used to on The O'Reilly Factor and other Fox news shows, where the word "treason" is thrown at every sharp note of dissent.

Not that I'm worried about an authoritarian crackdown. I think the Bushies are now too deep into the crackup stage to attempt and enforce a crackdown on opinion. The very vehemence of Hanson's report is a sign of impotent frustration. He's not getting his way and it seems less likely he's going to get his way, so he's hankering for a showdown that will at least provide theatrical catharsis.

"The American people, both pro and con, are more than ready for a great debate to settle these issues one way or another," Hanson intones....

UPDATE (10:36pm):

From the comments (slightly edited), since it's a good point:
Helmut, this is an excellent point about fascism. One of the pervading myths is that WWII eradicated European fascism. However, Spain had a fascist regime until 1975. Many on the right claim that the latter years of Franco's dictatorship were highly modernized, but even up until his death there were still executions and other forms of repression. Moreover, Spain has never openly confronted its fascist past. Unlike Germany where the Nazi party was outlawed, the Falange (the party affiliated with Spanish fascism) is alive and well. After Franco's death, the power structure of the political system continued into Spain's democratic era. Such politicians as Manuel Fraga and Juan Antonio Samaranch (yeah, the one that was the president of the International Olympic Committee) were huge figures in the Franco regime. So, I guess the point where I disagree with you is that it's hard to bring fascism back when it never went away.

"Pepe Carvalho"

Rich on the WHIG DNA

Via Truthout:
...Mr. Bush is only slightly less brazen [than Cheney]. His own false claims about Iraq's W.M.D.'s ("We found the weapons of mass destruction," he said in May 2003) are, if anything, exceeded by his repeated boasts of capturing various bin Laden and Zarqawi deputies and beating back Al Qaeda. His speech this month announcing the foiling of 10 Qaeda plots is typical; as USA Today reported last week, at least 6 of the 10 on the president's list "involved preliminary ideas about potential attacks, not terrorist operations that were about to be carried out." In June, Mr. Bush stood beside his attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, and similarly claimed that "federal terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against more than 400 suspects" and that "more than half" of those had been convicted. A Washington Post investigation found that only 39 of those convictions had involved terrorism or national security (as opposed to, say, immigration violations). That sum could yet be exceeded by the combined number of convictions in the Jack Abramoff-Tom DeLay scandals.

The hyping of post-9/11 threats indeed reflects the same DNA as the hyping of Saddam's uranium: in both cases, national security scares are trumpeted to advance the White House's political goals. Keith Olbermann of MSNBC recently compiled 13 "coincidences" in which "a political downturn for the administration," from revelations of ignored pre-9/11 terror warnings to fresh news of detainee abuses, is "followed by a 'terror event' - a change in alert status, an arrest, a warning." To switch the national subject from the fallout of the televised testimony of the F.B.I. whistle-blower Coleen Rowley in 2002, John Ashcroft went so far as to broadcast a frantic announcement, via satellite from Russia, that the government had "disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot" to explode a dirty bomb. What he was actually referring to was the arrest of a single suspect, Jose Padilla, for allegedly exploring such a plan - an arrest that had taken place a month earlier.

For now, it's conventional wisdom in Washington that the Bush White House's infractions are nowhere near those of the Nixon administration, as David Gergen put it on MSNBC on Friday morning. But Watergate's dirty tricks were mainly prompted by the ruthless desire to crush the political competition at any cost. That's a powerful element in the Bush scandals, too, but this administration has upped the ante by playing dirty tricks with war. Back on July 6, 2003, when the American casualty toll in Iraq stood at 169 and Mr. Wilson had just published his fateful Op-Ed, Robert Novak, yet to write his column outing Mr. Wilson's wife, declared that "weapons of mass destruction or uranium from Niger" were "little elitist issues that don't bother most of the people." That's what Nixon administration defenders first said about the "third-rate burglary" at Watergate, too.

NY Times tripe

Check out this piece of tripe in the NY Times. It's on that tired old workhorse, "anti-Americanism." James Traub's argument here is that you have no mind if you listen to Pinter, Comsky, Fo, Vidal, etc., but then he also manages to pin the irrationality on the "elite," putting Nobel Prize winning writers in the same category as all of us flaming left-wing academics. Traub should have gone to school -- he would have seen how many of us actually do teach.

"You are not rational. Go to de-irrationalization chamber now."

While you may not buy into the rhetoric of Vidal, Pinter, Chomsky, et al., and you might get tired of dumbasses conflating any criticism at all with "hating America," this piece in the NY Times is a hack job, pure hackery, drawn from the pages of a poorly written right-wing blog. I'm just wondering how it got there.

Tip of the melting iceberg

A majority of Americans say the indictment of senior White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby signals broader ethical problems in the Bush administration, and nearly half say the overall level of honesty and ethics in the federal government has fallen since President Bush took office, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News survey.

The poll, conducted Friday night and yesterday, found that 55 percent of the public believes the Libby case indicates wider problems "with ethical wrongdoing" in the White House, while 41 percent believes it was an "isolated incident." And by a 3 to 1 ratio, 46 percent to 15 percent, Americans say the level of honesty and ethics in the government has declined rather than risen under Bush.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Mexico ratifies war crimes tribunal

Good for Mexico. They ratified it despite intense pressure from the US to agree to a US exemption from the Internaional Criminal Court.
Mexico became the 100th country to ratify the treaty founding the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal, which the United States has opposed...

The United States argues that the court could be used for frivolous or politically motivated prosecutions of American troops.

The issue appears to be the latest point of contention between Mexico and the U.S. Relations between the neighbors have been strained by Mexico's opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq and over immigration policies.


Robert Fisk in The Independent (via Selves and Others):
I wonder sometimes if we have not entered a new age of what the French call infantilisme. I admit I am writing these words on the lecture circuit in Paris where pretty much every political statement - including those of Messrs Chirac, Sarkozy, de Villepin et al - might fall under this same title. But the folk I am referring to, of course, are George W Bush, Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara and - a newcomer to the Fisk Hall of Childishness - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.

For as someone who has to look at the eviscerated corpses of Palestine and Israel, the murdered bodies in the garbage heaps of Iraq, the young women shot through the head in the Baghdad morgue, I can only shake my head in disbelief at the sheer, unadulterated, lazy bullshit - let's call a spade a spade - which is currently emerging from our great leaders.

There was a time - yes, I know about o tempora o mores - when the Great and the Good spoke with a voice of authority, albeit mendacious, rather than mediocrity; when too many lies spelled a ministerial resignation or two. But today we seem to live on two levels: reality and myth....

Scooter: Teleological Suspension of the Ethical?

A bit more on the post, below, about the spuriousness of lying as political practice: what I didn't say explicitly was that I don't think (but somebody with a more refined ethical/political sensibility please correct me if I'm wrong) a politically-motivated legal transgression can be politically relevant if the act is only known to the law-breaker (or his sympathetic peers). In other words, an act of civil disobedience can't really be expected to work, if it is secretive.

Suppose Thoreau, instead of openly refusing to pay a poll tax, had claimed some false exemption (I don't really know whether such exemptions existed, but say they did); were he not caught in the lie, the gesture would not, even in the tiniest of way, have been significant. Were he caught in the lie, he might then claim his lie had been political. But that explanation presupposes his getting caught in the lie. Would we still be reading Thoreau if he had tried to reverse-justify a criminal act known only to himself when it was committed?

If Libby is being charged for something he did based on his political convictions--especially if it isn't totally clear that the act is criminal--then, sure, let's talk about the criminalization of politics, the threat that emerges when any of us feels that the means we employ for the political ends we seek are in danger of being made preemptively (or retrospectively) illegal. Ironically, the initially vehement response to the Plame leak by the Bush Administration had the effect of criminalizing the potentially purely political gesture of discrediting Wilson by revealing his relationship to the CIA. It is only in response to this that--in a new context in which he may find himself guilty of a serious crime (supposing he didn't know this to begin with)--Scooter allegedly lies. I'm sympathetic to that. I get it. I'll even make this suggestion: let's maybe go easy on the guy.

But if Libby defends himself by insinuating that his alleged perjury is justified by a politics that of necessity cannot be shared or explained to the rest of us, that documents never to be released by the Bush administration would show him to have operated extra-ethically because he had to, because it was the right thing to do, then let's deal with him more carefully. And ask ourselves to what degree transparency really matters to us.

And if he claims he can't remember anything that happened, let's not hesitate to call him a coward.


Photo: Michael Costello

Friday, October 28, 2005

Criminalizing the Political Lie

As I've noted elsewhere on this blog, I live in Encinal, a town in what we call Deep South Texas, just about 40 miles north of the Mexican border. I work in Laredo, which is right on the border. Each night I am required to stop at a permanent U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint on my way home from work. Dogs sniff at my car, agents knocking on it here and there, giving me officious, dirty glances. I'll be the first to admit that mine is a red car, a Volkswagen, and that I am an Anglo with a longish goatee and little round glasses. They peer in the windows, wielding little flashlights. They leer suspiciously at my broken door panel. Usually, I have been at work for ten or twelve hours when I am greeted by these stalwart defenders of our borders. I suspect they have been sworn to uphold the Constitution, as I had to do before I could conduct the Census of Agriculture by telephone many years ago. But I have no reason to believe that any of the agents who are regularly rotated through the checkpoint on I-35 north of Laredo have any idea what the Constitution even is.

Anyway: last night. I was particularly grouchy, and agent Shook wanted to know where I was born. I do not like answering this question, and do not feel that undocumented migrants and narcotics present an immediate enough threat to my country to warrant the requirement that I stop to answer the question on my way home from work. So I told him I wasn't going to answer.

"Sir," he explained, "You say you're a U.S. Citizen. This is just one of the ways we can find out whether or not that's true."

"But you're not going to check, right?" I asked. "I mean, can't I just make something up? How about I say 'Toolafalls, Mississippi'? Would that do?"

"Well, sir," he said, darkly, "that would be a lie" (it isn't clear how he knew this) "and it would be a crime."

I backed down, and did not claim to be born in a town I only know from Flannery O'Connor's "The Life You Save May Be Your Own."

To my surprise, the agent did not conduct a punitive search of my car, as had happened the last time I refused to answer the question about my place of birth (Frederick, Maryland, by the way). Instead he had the dog-handling agent circle the car another two or three times. I stared ahead, nervous, irritated. And then he told me I could go. He told me to "have a good evening."

My resistance (which I acknowledge as the tiniest of symbolic gestures, scary as it is for me personally)--my plan to lie in response to the Border Patrol--is, of course, a political gesture, one that reflects my conviction that theirs is a nightly unconstitutional, unjustified infringement upon my privacy.

However, I chose not to lie to agent Shook, after he told me it would be a crime. Also: it has been clearly explained to me by other Border Patrol agents that the question of origin is really only about confirming the respondent's command of English. Even knowing this, I opted not to lie. Even knowing all of this and believing deeply that the Border Patrol checkpoint is wrong, that it is the wrong solution to the wrong idea of what our problems are, I chose not to lie, not even a little.

Had I lied--knowing such a lie were a crime--I think I'd be prepared to face conviction for that crime, it would have to be part of my consideration in lying. I cannot imagine arguing that, because my lie was politically motivated--even in a context in which the lie means to subvert the authority of a question that is unconcerned with the truth of the response--that my conviction for the crime of lying could be understood as a "criminalization of politics."

The Harridanseses!!!!

Neddie Jingo, one of the bestest, cleverestest and chainsawingest bloggers out there has a band and is playing this weekend in Arlington, VA. Details via Jingo:
The Harridans' preparations continue apace in the campaign to rip your head off at Jay's Saloon & Grille in Arlington this coming Saturday night [tomorrow, the 29th]...

We've rehearsed -- well, you'd be amazed by the amount we've rehearsed, and have decided that any more rehearsal is just going to harm the spontenoodity of the righteous rocking. A ragged edge or two just lends authenticity, dig?

Two-thirds of us have played this joint twice before, under the nom-de-rock Scooby Don't. It's a beautiful little dive on 10th Street, a real taste of pre-Yuppie-Scum Arlington. The day Jay's goes under, you'll know the Bastards have finally won.

We're playing a master-class of Rock's Early Years: toe-tapping favorites covering the Chuck Berry Songbook, the Carl Perkins Oeuvre, the Beatles Gestalt, the seminal work of Evvis from Mevvis, plus some Race Music just to mix things up: Al Green, Urethra Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Lynyrd Skynyrd. Add to this a few nods to Swingin' London, circa nineteen-sixty-amphetamine, and you have a program of fine, fine rocking to help you relax, kick back, and set about talking your honey into a Saturday-Night drunk-fellatin' mood. (Or a Connie-Lingual mood, if that floats your little man in a boat.)

Come on down, Washintonians and -ennes! Having your head ripped off is actually a pleasant experience. It is to be enjoyed.

Question: what is globalization?

I have a question for you, dear readers, and would appreciate responses in the comments. The question is what is globalization?

Don't go to your Stiglitz, Held, Giddens, Rosenau, etc. or Wikipedia for the response. I know all that stuff. I'm really interested in what your own immediate working definition is.

I've written quite a bit already on globalization (beyond blogland), but one thing globalization theorists often do is make reference to a vague and perhaps necessarily unempirical notion of a publicly shared idea of globalization.

If you're an expert, by all means let me know what you think. But especially if you're not, I'm very interested in hearing what you have to say.


Well, there it is. Libby is indicted on five counts. Rove lives to see another day, for now. Dick Cheney is speaking to troops somewhere. Bush is playing hopscotch. You'll get your news elsewhere, so in the spirit of the profound philosophical positions of Phronesisaical, I give you some dead bananas.

Photo: Ian Maguire

Levine cautions against undemocratic means

Peter Levine, a deliberative democracy expert, has been expressing concern about undemocratic means being used to scapegoat figures in the Plame Affair, ultimately making matters worse for the state of democracy in the US. I agree qualifiedly. But I also add a bit further perhaps from a somewhat different perspective. I sent him some comments for his blog (which is worth a daily read) in response to his post, "Criminalizing Policy." He kindly added them to the comments. Please read his post first, then take a look at these comments of mine posted below (I've edited late-night misspellings, poor grammar, and stuff):

I'm still not quite clear on how a process of broadening the Plame investigation into a broader indictment of the Iraq War is undemocratic unless it's on purely rhetorical grounds. Yes, I agree, there are many people who were tacitly complicit in the justification of the war. And I recall pre-war that there was pretty good evidence that many of the charges or justifications for the war were trumped up, evasive, misleading, outright lies, etc., which makes the silence all the more devastating. There was, however, also a highly organized campaign to slander any criticism as unpatriotic and even treasonous. My wife is French (and no fan of Chirac) -- I'll tell you some time about the harrassment she went through here in the US for the simple fact of being French. This was the pre-war climate created by the administration and its media spokespersons. You're right -- those who willingly ignored shaky evidence are not off the hook. This includes John Kerry, Bill Clinton, and other supposed opposition figures. Out of self-interest, they did not wish to risk being labeled as treasonous and allowed what I consider (and considered) an utter disaster to take place. Many in the State Department and elsewhere in government were critical of the supposed evidence, but they were also quickly silenced through a series of demotions and firings, and then relegated to low-readership marginal news sources as places to express their views. The list is long.

This is not simply a hindsight perspective either. I recall having long debates with friends and acquaintances about the war perhaps a year before the invasion -- smart and generally informed people who accepted entirely the premises for the war laid out by the Bush administration. Any qualifications made in the face of vague or dramatized or demonstrably false evidence generally fell back on an ingrained Cold War logic of democratic domino effects in the Middle East as a justification for invasion and occupation of another country. Deliberation was based in constantly shifting goalposts and carefully managed rhetorical excesses.

We did not have a poorly informed national deliberation so much as an entirely manufactured one in which it took real diligence, analysis, and often courage to see anything beyond the manufactured debate and to speak about it. That in itself functioned in an exclusionary way, eliminating much of the public from genuine deliberation through either misinformation or chastisement. It is to say that there was no genuine deliberation if the basis of democratic deliberation involves accurate information, inclusion, transparency, and accountability.

To make the simple claim that the Plame Affair is an overall indictment of the war is indeed simplistic. But La Repubblica's recent dossier on the yellow-cake documents and other evidence shows a concerted effort to create an overall argument for the war. The Plame Affair is directly linked to Joseph Wilson's editorial that the evidence claimed by the administration was false. Rumors have it -- and DC is full of rumors that are often wrong -- that Fitzgerald is expanding his investigation into the forged documents and that this may implicate Silvio Berlusconi, Dick Cheney, and John Bolton. We also knew pre-war that the office at DOD for post-war planning was occupied by two guys with masking tape on their door indicating in magic marker the name of the office. Colin Powell knew that the aluminum tubes claim was false or, supposedly in his own words, "bullshit." State has since been transformed after Powell's resignation into a top-down organization taking orders from the White House under Rice (this from people who work at State), rather than the bottom-up filtering process of information management. So much for that institution of checks and balances in foreign policy.

But... there is a sense in which the Plame Affair may actually be a real indictment of the entire Iraq War. There's no reason why anyone who supported it -- especially those in positions to know better, including generally likeable officials such as Colin Powell -- should necessarily be held unaccountable. This war shows very deep problems in the American system and to acknowledge that sooner rather than later may be painful, but necessary.

If what you mean by "dangerously undemocratic development" is that we may be looking at a scapegoating that helps others to "dodge responsibility," then doesn't that apply equally or more so to the entire policy of the Bush administration from pre-war to post-war? And then shouldn't accountability start somewhere? I worry more about the damage already done to American democracy and international legitimacy and the further damage that could be done by allowing those who manufactured a devastating foreign policy to be relieved of any accountability. The difference is that I think very good evidence shows that this runs deeper than the Plame Affair.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Neddie on Rosa Parks

A wonderful little essay on Rosa Parks by Mr. Jingo:
So Rosa's gone now too.

I suppose it's something we're going to have to get used to, as more and more of the Grownups shuffle off, leaving us Kids to run the store. Blankly we blink, puzzled, lost: Oh, you mean, the Grownups aren't always going to be here? You mean, we're in charge of all this now?....


The former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan writes about UK and American complicity:

...So the UK receives this intelligence material not occasionally, not fortuitously, but in connection with a regular programme of torture with which we are intimately associated. Uzbekistan is one of those security services from whose "friendly liaison" services we obtained information. And I will tell you what torture means.

It means the woman who was raped with a broken bottle in both vagina and anus, and who died after ten days of agony. It means the old man suspended by wrist shackles from the ceiling while his children were beaten to a pulp before his eyes. It means the man whose fingernails were pulled before his face was beaten and he was immersed to his armpits in boiling liquid.

It means the 18-year-old whose knees and elbows were smashed, his hand immersed in boiling liquid until the skin came away and the flesh started to peel from the bone, before the back of his skull was stove in.

These are all real cases from the Uzbek security services which we viewed as friendly liaison, and from which we obtained regular intelligence, in the Uzbek case via the CIA...

These other governments know that our security services lap up information from their torture chambers. This practical condoning more than cancels out any weasel words on human rights which the Foreign Office may issue. In fact, the case for the efficacy of torture intelligence is not nearly as clear-cut as Manningham-Buller makes out. Much dross comes out of the torture chambers. History should tell us that under torture people would choke out an admission that they had joined their neighbours in flying on broomsticks with cats.

We do not receive torture intelligence from foreign liaison security services sometimes, or by chance. We receive it on a regular basis, through established channels. That plainly makes us complicit. It is worth considering, in this regard, Article 4 of the UN Convention Against Torture, which requires signatories to make complicity with torture a criminal offence....

More in stupid headlines news

Daily death fear for US soliders in Iraq

Stupid headlines

Washington debates meaning of 2,000 deaths in Iraq

'Complete the mission,' Bush says; Senate holds moment of silence; Sheehan calls for protests.

Here's my interpretation of the "debate" over the "meaning": 2000 pointlessly dead Americans; up to 100,000 pointlessly dead Iraqis.

I live in Washington, DC, home to many people who cannot see past the miniature Roman Empire that is the Mall.

More brush for the fire

Vice President Cheney and his chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, overruling advice from some White House political staffers and lawyers, decided to withhold crucial documents from the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2004 when the panel was investigating the use of pre-war intelligence that erroneously concluded Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, according to Bush administration and congressional sources.

Among the White House materials withheldfrom the committee were Libby-authored passages in drafts of a speech that then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell delivered to the United Nations in February 2003 to argue the Bush administration's case for war with Iraq, according to congressional and administration sources. The withheld documents also included intelligence data that Cheney's office -- and Libby in particular -- pushed to be included in Powell's speech, the sources said.

The new information that Cheney and Libby blocked information to the Senate Intelligence Committee further underscores the central role played by the vice president's office in trying to blunt criticism that the Bush administration exaggerated intelligence data to make the case to go to war....

The Petco Grand Canyon

While the "naming of features or park facilities will not be used to recognize monetary contributions," the "naming of rooms in a park facility is allowed," as well as "boards or walls" within visitor centers.

"This is a thinly disguised scheme to subject the public commons to corporate branding campaigns," added Ruch, pointing to related effort by both the Bush administration and House Republicans to sell naming rights of certain park facilities, as well as some parks in their entirety. "Will anyplace be off-limits to the Nike swoosh or the McDonald's arches?"

I propose that rather than providing tax breaks to religious organizations and churches that they go the privatizing/advertising route. A Methodist could be a "Tilex," a Presbyterian perhaps an "Arby's," a Lutheran might be a "Target," and Baptists could be "Piggly Wigglies."

Mine the whole damn universe

Rep. Pombo Seeks to Open National Parks to Mining

Statement by Craig Obey, Vice President for Government Affairs, National Parks Conservation Association:

Despite assurances that the House Resources Committee reconciliation package proposed by Chairman Richard Pombo (R-11-CA) would not make any national park lands available for sale, a new draft would do just that.

Section 6204 (b) of the legislation now under consideration by the committee states, "notwithstanding any provision in law the Secretary of the Interior shall make mineral deposits and lands that contain them, including lands in which the valuable mineral deposit has been depleted, available for purchase to facilitate sustainable economic development."

By including this alarming provision in his new proposed reconciliation legislation, Chairman Pombo has shifted his focus from selling off 15 national park sites to offering the mining industry access to national parklands in approximately 12 states that have mineral deposits. The bill would also offer for sale several parcels of parkland in Washington, D.C.

An actual indictment

A federal grand jury has indicted Tom Noe, the former Toledo-area coin dealer at the center of a state investment scandal, of illegally laundering money into President Bush's re-election campaign.

The three-count indictment states that beginning in October 2003, Mr. Noe contributed to President Bush's election campaign "over and above the limits established by the Federal Election Campaign Act."

"He did so, according to the indictment, in order to fulfill his pledge to raise $50,000 for a Bush-Cheney fund-raiser held in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 30, 2003," Gregory White, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, announced at an afternoon news conference.

The two other counts were for conspiracy and filing false statements.

One of the indictment accused Mr. Noe of giving money to 24 friends and associates, who then made the campaign contributions in their own names. In that way, he skirted the $2,000 limit on individual contributions, prosecutors said.

"The indictment also alleges that Noe wrote several checks in the amounts slightly less than the maximum allowable amount so as to avoid suspension. All together, Noe allegedly contributed $45,400 of his own money through 24 "conduit" donors, the prosecutors said.

Federal investigators also allege Mr. Noe made his friends and associates fill out contribution cards and forms falsely certifying they were making the contributions themselves.

The goodness of charity

A little-noted provision in the tax relief package to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina is shaping up as a windfall for charity and a drain on government coffers. It allows donors who make cash gifts to almost any charity by the end of this year to deduct an amount equal to virtually 100 percent of their adjusted gross incomes, double the normal limit of 50 percent of income. The tantalizing prospect has set off a financial scramble among some wealthy donors and charities vying for their dollars.

"I just keep thinking there's got to be a catch, they can't really be doing this," said C. Kemmons Wilson Jr., a Memphis businessman whose father was the founder of Holiday Inns Inc.

Mr. Wilson said that he and his siblings gave away several million dollars a year and that the amount could double this year because of the provision. "How many sales does the government have?" he said. "This is a big sale, and you bet I'm going to go."

Fund-raisers say Mr. Wilson is one of many wealthy Americans pressing their financial planners in hopes of increasing their giving this year and reducing their tax bills. Some institutions, primarily universities, are encouraging big donors to take advantage of the favorable tax treatment and make sizable gifts or fulfill their pledges. Essentially, some donors may shift into 2005 gifts that would have been made in future years.

Because of the strong interest, experts say the government may forgo more tax revenue than Congress anticipated when it passed the legislation. Based on information from 2002 tax returns, Robert F. Sharpe Jr., a fund-raising consultant whose clients include the American Heart Association and the University of California, Los Angeles, estimated that the provision would spur $4 billion to $10 billion in additional giving this year; 2005 giving was already expected to exceed last year's total of $248 billion.

Mr. Sharpe said the additional giving would result in $1 billion to $3.5 billion in lost revenue for the Treasury, more than the $819 million Congress anticipated.

Exxon's doing well

Exxon Mobil Corp. had a quarter for the record books. The world's largest publicly traded oil company said Thursday high oil and natural-gas prices helped its third-quarter profit surge almost 75 percent to $9.92 billion, the largest quarterly profit for a US company ever, and it was the first to ring up more than $100 billion in quarterly sales.

Wouldn't doubt it at all

The man is scum. From Spiegel.

Was Berlusconi Behind the Pre-Iraq War Yellow Cake Story?
Problem is, as we all know, the documents were falsified. But where did they originate? A new, three-part series (Part one here, part two here, and part three here ) by the Italian daily La Repubblica -- and translated by blogger Nur al-Cubicle -- digs deep into the secret-services netherworld and comes to a rather surprising answer. The article implicates none other than Silvio Berlusconi. (Read the original Italian here .)

Prediction fiction rant

After a whole week of speculation regarding forthcoming Plame case indictments -- first, yours truly on Monday based on the number of media trucks surrounding the District Court in DC, then Richard Sale with "insider" information saying it was yesterday afternoon for sure -- I've decided not to predict tomorrow, which happens to be the final meeting of the grand jury. Rather, I'm going to predict that Fitzgerald eats turned scallops for dinner tonight, falls flat on his back into the bushes lining the driveway and stays home in bed tomorrow with food poisoning and covered in cortisone. I'm also going to predict that Rove admits all his evil acts and then jumps off the Key Bridge drowning passing kayakers and placing himself in intensive care. Libby will flee the country, living out the rest of his life in an Argentinian villa under the pseudonym "Senor Scootero," the Yanqui furiously scratching nightly pencil drawings of Turdblossom in the dark corner of the bodega. John Bolton will spontaneously combust while shredding documents in his UN office, burning down the top ten floors of the UN building. And Dick Cheney will take to the road as a busker fiddler. Bush will take up rollerskating and jacks and, as a result, so will 35% of the American population. The Democrats, meanwhile, will extol the merits of river-diving, stick-drawings, the combustible engine, violin, and hopscotch as an alternative policy. John McCain will pop a few more veins in his forehead. George Bush Sr. will announce that he's an anarchist and start dressing in black.

On another note, Bush wins the whole Miers debacle, or so the chucklepundits are saying. Charles Krauthammer gets the crystal ball award from NPR for saying that Miers' position in the White House conflicted with her potential duty to release information. So, Bush says that her retracted nomination shows just how much she respects the separation of powers. No one appears to have noticed that the consolidation-of-powers presidency of Bush and the nomination itself make him look even more like an incompetent doofus. There's no way around that one. Bush can't see anything over the desk in the Oval Office or the bicycle machine.

UPDATE (28 October 10:52):

I, unfortunately, neglected to predict this:

Harry Potter's "flying" car is stolen

Miers withdraws her name; Bush was "distracted"

So, Harriet Miers is out. And just as Arlen Specter had announced that he was going to grill her on constitutional issues such as the use of torture.

I have BBC radio on in the background -- just caught a bit of an interview with some Republican congressman. Here's the deal: Bush was "distracted" by the Iraq War and the "concerns of the American people" when he made the nomination.

What? Is Bush a kitten with a ball of string?

Norway and the EU - a particular case

Also from the IHT:
...Even the European Commission's ambassador to Norway, Gerhard Sabathil, admitted last year that such figures posed a problem. "There are no economic arguments for Norway to join the EU," Sabathil said in an interview with Aftenposten.

"But," he added - and this is where those working for Norwegian membership get most of their ammunition - "there are arguments for Norway to become a member in order to have its voice heard on a European level."

Today, Norway is part of the European Economic Area, a solution that gives the country and its companies access to the EU's internal market. For most Norwegian businesses - the fishing industry is a clear and vocal exception - this arrangement is a necessity, with close to 80 percent of Norwegian exports going to the EU.

The flip side is that Norwegians have to abide by almost every piece of internal-market legislation while having no vote on these laws. In Norway, this has become known as the "fax democracy," since Brussels simply faxes new directives for the Norwegians to follow.

"Because we're not part of the decision-making process, we can't take care of Norway's interests in a good way," said Svein Roald Hansen, chairman of the European Movement in Norway, the main organization working for Norwegian membership. "We're left to lobbying other countries to make our views have influence."

America when it's ugly

Anne-Marie Slaughter writes in the International Herald-Tribune that,
The law is the safeguard of liberty, but only as long as it is not twisted beyond all recognition. After all, tyrants have their lawyers just as democracies do. Our founders looked to law as constraint, not as license; as a check on power, not authorization. The difference is a matter of honor, of values, of identity itself.

Understanding and embracing law as a check on our worst instincts, as individuals and as a nation, has a deeper purpose, a moral purpose.

When we ask our soldiers, many still in their teens, to degrade and abuse their fellow human beings, we are degrading them. We are removing the very moral constraints that they take pride in as patriots and that they have learned to live by as part of what it means not just to be a soldier, but to be a U.S. soldier...

The soul of America as a nation depends not on the letter of the law, but on the deeper self-discipline to accept law and live by it as a statement of who we are and who we aspire to be.

Yet under President George W. Bush, who would describe himself as a deeply moral man, who indeed divides the world into good and evil, law has become a prop for power. Unless we as a nation, led by the Senate and by our retired military officers and young captains and cadets, rise up and insist on the constraints of law, America will no longer be so beautiful.

Others just do it; the US tries to legitimize it

The US Congress should reject a Senate bill if it includes a White House-proposed amendment that would allow the CIA to abuse prisoners during interrogations, a human rights group said.

Human Rights Watch said that under President George W. Bush, the United States has become "the only government in the world to claim a legal justification for mistreating prisoners during interrogation."

"The administration is setting a dangerous example for the world when it claims that spy agencies are above the law," said Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

With employers like these, who needs a good society?

Check out this story in the NYT.

Wal-Mart's executive vice-president for "benefits," M. Susan Chambers, acknowledged in a recent memo that "46 percent of the children of Wal-Mart's 1.33 million United States employees were uninsured or on Medicaid," according to the New York Times, which has published an internal memo to Wal-Mart's Board of Directors.

Sadly, Chambers isn't terribly worried about sick children; she's concerned Wal-Mart is spending too much on benefits.

Mmmm. Trickling down.

Isn't it pretty to think so?

Blumenthal in Salon

In a rewarding, typically Blumenthalian piece ("Shipwrecked: Bush has so thoroughly destroyed the Republican establishment that no one, not even his dad, can rescue him now") Sydney Blumenthal gives us reason for hope. Maybe.
The elements of the Republican establishment that Bush brought into his first administration as a sort of symbolic tribute were gone by his second. By their nature, these people are discreet, measured and private. It is not their impulse to voice disagreement in public. Their sweeping and emotional jeremiads against what Bush has wrought are extraordinary not only in their substance but in having been made at all. Those expressing their disquiet about Bush are more than simply losers in bureaucratic struggles for primacy of place. Once representative of the heart and soul of the Grand Old Party, they are historical castaways. They stand for another Republican Party that has been supplanted by Bush's version.

The Dominos Just Keep Falling

Yep, it's getting real peacy-like in them parts. In a show of level-headed statesmanship, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has chosen to speak figuratively about Israel. He could have said Israel "must be blown up." He takes the softer, diplomatic approach:

From the NYT:

TEHRAN, Oct. 26 - Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told a group of students at an anti-Israel event on Wednesday that Israel "must be wiped off the map" and that attacks by Palestinians would destroy it, the ISNA news agency reported.

He was speaking to about 4,000 students at a program called "The World Without Zionism," in preparation for an annual anti-Israel demonstration held on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran spoke Wednesday at a Tehran conference called "The World Without Zionism."


At Sic Semper Tyrannis:

An hour ago I was contacted by a U.S. government official close to the Fitzgerald case. This person told me that there WILL be indictments announced later this afternoon, and the Special Prosecutor will hold a press conference tomorrow.

Richard Sale,

Does a good society do this?

House Republicans voted to cut student loan subsidies, child support enforcement and aid to firms hurt by unfair trade practices as various committees scrambled to piece together $50 billion in budget cuts.

More politically difficult votes -- to cut Medicaid, food stamps and farm subsidies -- are on tap Thursday as more panels weigh in on the bill. It was originally intended to cut $35 billion in spending over five years, but after pressure from conservatives, GOP leaders directed committees to cut another $15 billion to help pay the cost of hurricane recovery.

How about taxes?


Tommy Atkins Mangos with stickers

Photo: Selvin Chance

Stateless constitution

Patrick Cockburn of The Independent (courtesy of Selves and Others) asks how there can be a constitution without a state in Iraq. The answer is found in Green Zone Myopia.

...Iraq is full of such stories of cruelty and blood. It is not true when George Bush, Tony Blair and Jack Straw say that things are improving. They are getting worse by the day. It was announced yesterday that Iraqis had voted in favour of the new constitution. No doubt this will be lauded in Washington and London as an encouraging glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

But viewed from Baghdad, there is something absurd about the idea that a new constitution - the rules of the game under which the state will be governed - should be taken so seriously abroad when nobody in Iraq obeys the law and in any case there is no state.

Iraq is full of phoney milestones. The US government is congratulating itself this week on training 200,000 army, police and paramilitary forces. But half of the 80,000-strong Iraqi army consists of "ghost" battalions in which commanders pocket the salaries of non-existent troops.

Power is wholly fragmented. Each ministry is the stronghold of one or another party. Every time a new minister takes over, he fires the acolytes of his predecessor and hires his own supporters. Even inside ministries, power is divided again. Within the powerful Interior Ministry, for instance, the director generals of each section act as independent warlords.

Iraqis increasingly see the government as one more bandit gang trying to gouge money out of them. Private kidnap gangs have already forced much of the Iraqi middle class to flee to Jordan, Syria and Egypt. But now there is "official kidnapping", whereby a man is arrested and accused of support for the insurgents. Quite soon it is suggested to him that the only way he can get out of jail is to pay a large sum. One friend sold his house and paid $120,000 to his captors, who promptly arrested his son and demanded the same sum for his release.

The extent of the anarchy may not be evident to American, British and Iraqi officials living in the heavily fortified Green Zone. It is a separate planet. I asked one Iraqi friend who lives there if he thought American officials knew anything of Iraq. He replied derisively: "They don't even dare venture into most of the Green Zone." One Iraqi political leader claims "there are ministers in the government here who have never seen their own ministries because they never leave the zone."

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

White House cabal

And Larry Wilkerson, writing in the LA Times reconfirms from an insider perspective the incompetence of the cabal:
...It takes firm leadership to preside over the bureaucracy. But it also takes a willingness to listen to dissenting opinions. It requires leaders who can analyze, synthesize, ponder and decide.

The administration's performance during its first four years would have been even worse without Powell's damage control. At least once a week, it seemed, Powell trooped over to the Oval Office and cleaned all the dog poop off the carpet. He held a youthful, inexperienced president's hand. He told him everything would be all right because he, the secretary of State, would fix it. And he did -- everything from a serious crisis with China when a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft was struck by a Chinese F-8 fighter jet in April 2001, to the secretary's constant reassurances to European leaders following the bitter breach in relations over the Iraq war. It wasn't enough, of course, but it helped.

Today, we have a president whose approval rating is 38% and a vice president who speaks only to Rush Limbaugh and assembled military forces. We have a secretary of Defense presiding over the death-by-a-thousand-cuts of our overstretched armed forces (no surprise to ignored dissenters such as former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki or former Army Secretary Thomas White).

It's a disaster. Given the choice, I'd choose a frustrating bureaucracy over an efficient cabal every time.

Dead Americans... and dead Iraqis

And one more from Salon:
...In many ways the Fitzgerald investigation is a sideshow; we have plenty of evidence showing what happened. The secret Office of Special Plans, the "stovepiped" intelligence, the Pentagon's war against State and the CIA -- it has all been reported, and new evidence and accusations keep coming in. Just in the last week, former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, blamed the war on "a cabal between the Vice President of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the Secretary of Defense ... that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made." In the Oct. 31 issue of the New Yorker, Brent Scowcroft, who was national security advisor under Bush I, blasted the neocons who dreamed up the Iraq war, and uttered this amazing statement: "I consider Cheney a good friend -- I've known him for thirty years. But Dick Cheney I don't know anymore."

Whatever Fitzgerald decides, it's high time -- past time -- for Congress to begin asking deeper questions about how this war was sold to the American people. The 2,000 Americans who have given their lives deserve nothing less.

House of cards

Also in Salon, Michael Scherer has a good article on the questions Fitzgerald's investigation might crack open. These are questions Knight-Ridder followed all along. Scherer suggests four in particular that should get public play from the investigation:
Did the vice president's office put pressure on intelligence analysts in the run-up to war?

Did pressure from the vice president's office have anything to do with the more aggressive views expressed in the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) or the accompanying "white paper" about Iraq's weapons threat?

Who forged the Niger documents that purported to show a sales agreement for Uranium with Iraq?

What role did the vice president's office and the Pentagon play in gathering and disseminating intelligence from sources outside the normal intelligence process?

Cheney's nukes of the mind

Good Salon piece on Cheney's manufacturing of the nuclear Iraq claim that served as one of the justifications for the Iraq War. This is a difficult essay to excerpt adequately, so read the whole thing. But here's a bit anyway:

In fact, a close examination of how the pre-war propaganda machine worked shows that it was led by the neocons and their associates outside the administration, particularly those on the Defense Policy Board (DPB) like Perle, Woolsey, and Kenneth "Cakewalk" Adelman (and Judith Miller of the Times) who had long championed the cause of Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi exile organization, the INC, and were also close to the Office of Special Plans that Douglas Feith had set up in the Pentagon to cherry-pick intelligence. They would invariably be the first to float new "evidence" against Hussein (such as the infamous supposed Prague meeting of 9/11 conspirator Mohammed Atta with an Iraqi intelligence officer). They would then tie this "evidence" into ongoing arguments for "regime change" in Iraq that would often appear in the Times or elsewhere as news and subsequently be picked up by senior administration officials and fed into the drumbeat of war commentary pouring out of official Washington.

It is by now perfectly clear that the neo-conservatives on the outside were aided by like-minded journalists, particularly the Times' Miller -- then the only "straight" reporter on the client list of neoconservative heavyweights and columnists represented by Benador Associates -- and media outlets, especially the Wall Street Journal's editorial page and Fox News. Working hand-in-glove with the war hawks on the inside, they created a powerful and persuasive machine to convince the public that Saddam Hussein's Iraq represented an imminent and potentially cataclysmic threat to the United States that had to be eliminated once and for all. The failure to investigate and demonstrate precisely how seamlessly this web of intra- and extra-administration connections worked in the run-up to the war -- including perhaps in the concoction of the Niger yellowcake documents, as some former intelligence officials have recently suggested -- has been perhaps the most shocking example of the mainstream media's failure to connect the dots (the reporters from Knight-Ridder excepted.)

And, yes, Knight-Ridder deserves a huge amount of credit for its reporting in the leadup to the war and during the war. Among the major news outlets, it was the only one that investigated and reported on -- how should we say it... -- reality.

That was such a rave success that it's now on to Syria

Robert Dreyfuss, via Tom Paine, here on Alternet.
But the news from Syria shows that the conventional wisdom is wrong. The United States is indeed pursuing a hard-edged regime change strategy for Syria. It's happening right before your eyes. With the ever-complacent U.S. media itself bogged down in Iraq, and with the supine U.S. Congress unwilling to challenge our foreign policy apparatus, Syria is under the gun. As in Iraq, the United States is aggressively pursuing a regime change there without the slightest notion of what might come next or who might replace President Bashar Assad. Might it be the fanatical Muslim Brotherhood, by far the most powerful single force in largely Sunni Syria? Might the country fragment into pieces, as Iraq is now doing? The Bush administration doesn't know, just as they didn't know what might happen to Iraq in 2003. But they are going ahead anyway.

Short-term memory loss

Well, good for the Houston Chronicle. But, frankly, this ball was so soft that it melted before impact with the bat.

Texas senator [Kay Bailey Hutchison] who voted to impeach President Clinton on perjury and obstruction of justice now calls such charges 'technicalities.'


Photo: Christopher Wray-McCann


And we know why...

U.S. Military Deaths Reach 2,000 in Iraq

This, among other things such as the very fact of a trumped-up war:

"The case that I saw for four-plus years was a case I have never seen in my studies of aberrations, bastardizations, perturbations, changes to the national security decision-making process," Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Powell's former chief of staff and longtime confidant, said in a speech last week. "What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made."

Wilkerson added that when decisions were presented to the bureaucracy, "it was presented in such a disjointed, incredible way that the bureaucracy often didn't know what it was doing as it moved to carry them out."

Cheney's torture exemptions

The Bush administration has proposed exempting employees of the Central Intelligence Agency from a legislative measure endorsed earlier this month by 90 members of the Senate that would bar cruel and degrading treatment of any prisoners in U.S. custody.

The proposal, which two sources said Vice President Cheney handed last Thursday to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the company of CIA Director Porter J. Goss, states that the measure barring inhumane treatment shall not apply to counterterrorism operations conducted abroad or to operations conducted by "an element of the United States government" other than the Defense Department...

"This is the first time they've said explicitly that the intelligence community should be allowed to treat prisoners inhumanely," said Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "In the past, they've only said that the law does not forbid inhumane treatment." Now, he said, the administration is saying more concretely that it cannot be forbidden...

...the extent of the CIA's direct involvement in torture is unclear, partly because the agency has been reluctant to help the Defense Department's many investigations into abuse and has refused to provide Army officers with documents deemed relevant to the probes.

Goodbye to Rosa Parks

Photo: William Philpott / Reuters

Civil Rights Pioneer Rosa Parks Dies at 92

And the gods will certainly look kindly upon her for having lived a long, simple life of great significance.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Here we go... Cheney in bad shape too

Cheney Told Aide of C.I.A. Officer, Notes Show

I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, first learned about the C.I.A. officer at the heart of the leak investigation in a conversation with Mr. Cheney weeks before her identity became public in 2003, lawyers involved in the case said Monday.

Notes of the previously undisclosed conversation between Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney on June 12, 2003, appear to differ from Mr. Libby's testimony to a federal grand jury that he initially learned about the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson, from journalists, the lawyers said.

The notes, taken by Mr. Libby during the conversation, for the first time place Mr. Cheney in the middle of an effort by the White House to learn about Ms. Wilson's husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was questioning the administration's handling of intelligence about Iraq's nuclear program to justify the war.

Lawyers said the notes show that Mr. Cheney knew that Ms. Wilson worked at the C.I.A. more than a month before her identity was made public and her undercover status was disclosed in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak on July 14, 2003.

Mr. Libby's notes indicate that Mr. Cheney had gotten his information about Ms. Wilson from George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, in response to questions from the vice president about Mr. Wilson. But they contain no suggestion that either Mr. Cheney or Mr. Libby knew at the time of Ms. Wilson's undercover status or that her identity was classified. Disclosing a covert agent's identity can be a crime, but only if the person who discloses it knows the agent's undercover status.

It would not be illegal for either Mr. Cheney or Mr. Libby, both of whom are presumably cleared to know the government's deepest secrets, to discuss a C.I.A. officer or her link to a critic of the administration. But any effort by Mr. Libby to steer investigators away from his conversation with Mr. Cheney could be considered by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel in the case, to be an illegal effort to impede the inquiry....

The growth of freedom of information

Another article on transparency. This one is good, and concise. By David Banisar, writing in Eurozine.

The ol' bait-and-switch

As always with this administration, two sides of the mouth, good cop / bad cop, two sides of the coin, hit them while they're looking in the other direction, bait and switch.

U.S. President George W. Bush said on Monday the investigation into the outing of a covert CIA operative was "very serious," even as Republican allies started casting aspersions on the prosecutor and the possibility of perjury charges.

The mixed signals came as special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald appeared close to indicting top White House officials in the nearly two-year investigation, lawyers involved in the case said....

After a Cabinet meeting, Bush was asked whether he agreed with Republican suggestions that Fitzgerald may be overzealous and that possible perjury charges would be little more than legal technicalities.

"This is a very serious investigation," Bush said. Rove sat behind the president in the Cabinet room; across the room sat Libby....

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas derided any potential perjury charge as a "technicality," and suggested Fitzgerald may be trying to show that "two years' of investigation was not a waste of time and dollars."

Other Republicans with close ties to the White House suggested that Fitzgerald was looking at perjury and obstruction charges because he was having trouble proving that officials knowingly leaked the identity of a covert operative.

In contrast, Bush has publicly praised Fitzgerald's investigation, saying earlier this month that "he's doing it in a very dignified way."

Grand jury

Damn, maybe I should have stayed with the jury duty. Lawrence O'Donnell in Huffington Post:
Will Fitzgerald issue indictments? Washington and cable news care about nothing else these days. The answer is: No, he won't. The most Fitzgerald will do is ask his grand jury to issue indictments. It's really all up to them. Which raises the question: who are they? A federal grand jury has 23 members.

A typical Washington, D.C. grand jury is about 75% African American. Fitzgerald's is slightly more than that. This is not the kind of group Karl Rove feels at home with. He has no professional experience trying to appeal to a group like this. He has been so unsuccessful at it that his boss's job approval rating with African Americans is now 2%, which, factoring in the margin of error, could actually be zero. To make matters statistically and demographically much worse for Rove and Scooter Libby, only 12 of the 23 grand jurors have to agree to indict them.

Pissy Bush

Bush is pissy -- but still the "I didn't do it" kid:
Presidential advisers and friends say Bush is a mass of contradictions: cheerful and serene, peevish and melancholy, occasionally lapsing into what he once derided as the "blame game." They describe him as beset but unbowed, convinced that history will vindicate the major decisions of his presidency even if they damage him and his party in the 2006 and 2008 elections.

At the same time, these sources say Bush, who has a long history of keeping staffers in their place, has lashed out at aides as his political woes have mounted.

"The President is just unhappy in general and casting blame all about," said one Bush insider. "Andy [Card, the chief of staff] gets his share. Karl gets his share. Even Cheney gets his share. And the press gets a big share."

The vice president remains Bush's most trusted political confidant. Even so, the Daily News has learned Bush has told associates Cheney was overly involved in intelligence issues in the runup to the Iraq war that have been seized on by Bush critics.

Bush is so dismayed that "the only person escaping blame is the President himself," said a sympathetic official, who delicately termed such self-exoneration "illogical."

New rhetoric: the liberals did it

From Digby. Iraq is now the fault of liberals:
I seem to be unusually sensitive to Republican rhetorical hanky-panky ("pro-life," "tax relief," etc), and I couldn't help but notice some spanking new jargon bubbling up into the mainstream:
...the deeper meaning here is ideological: George W. Bush's father was committed to a realist understanding of foreign policy. This served him well in Iraq, and not so well in Bosnia. George W. Bush, on the other hand, has become a leading proponent of democratic transformationalism; he believes it is America's job to help non-democratic countries become democratic. The realists don't believe that the internal organization of another country is any of our business; George W. Bush, evidently, does.


Are the conservatives turning against the neoconservatives?

They've been doing so for some time. Just read George Will. Their complaint is that neoconservatives aren't conservative; they're liberals with guns. [emphasis added.]
You got that? "Democratic transformationalists" are "liberals with guns." Those are the clowns that got us into that stupid mess in Iraq....

Try this at home

Thanks to Salon's Laura Miller for her recommendation of Zadie Smith's new novel, On Beauty. I'm quite enjoying the book; last night, among the last things I read was a lovely passage about the opening of Mozart's Requiem. Before falling asleep, I resolved to listen to it in the car on my drive to work this morning.

Remarkably, I remembered to do so. I had some reservations. It is cloudy here today (a condition which, owing to its rarity, makes people depressed and uneasy) and cold (a condition that other people might call "warm"). Besides, it's a Monday morning. Some superstitious part of me was hesitant to listen to something like the Requiem driving to work on a Monday.

I got over it. Minutes later, amid the sweeping pathos of the Introitus, I found myself thinking of Tom DeLay and the Bush administration: "Requiem aeternum dona eis, Domine" ("Lord, grant them eternal rest"). I felt both sympathetic and amused: try it, try contemplating Bush, Rove, Libby, whomever, in recent weeks as you listen to this thing: it will, incredibly, inspire simultaneous mirth and pity. You will be moved by the classically tragic elements of this administration's approach to government; and yet you will smile.

Here's another idea: I haven't tried this one yet, but I might look for an old pair of Realistic headphones and listen to the recording again tonight while watching something like O'Reilly. I could be wrong, but I suspect this might lead to a kind of high-voltage alternating current of pathos and bathos. If you try it, report back!

ALERT: Indictments today?

About 9am EST, I've just returned from the US District Court in DC having been called for jury duty (from which I was excused). There are media trucks and cameras set up all over the place. I asked the security guards, but no one knew what was up yet. Could it be Indictment Day?

It might just be a matter of continuous reporting, but let's hope for the best.

p.s. before anyone lectures me about doing my civic duty, let me say that I have a genuine excuse this time -- a nasty sciatica -- and I've already sat on two two-week-long juries in DC during the past four years.

N.O. predators

Mike Davis in Le Monde Diplomatique on "The Predators of New Orleans."

Liar Frist

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) was given considerable information about his stake in his family's hospital company, according to records that are at odds with his past statements that he did not know what was in his stock holdings.

Managers of the trusts that Frist once described as "totally blind," regularly informed him when they added new shares of HCA Inc. or other assets to his holdings, according to the documents.

Since 2001, the trustees have written to Frist and the Senate 15 times detailing the sale of assets from or the contribution of assets to trusts of Frist and his family. The letters included notice of the addition of HCA shares worth $500,000 to $1 million in 2001 and HCA stock worth $750,000 to $1.5 million in 2002. The trust agreements require the trustees to inform Frist and the Senate whenever assets are added or sold.

Iraq body count

So, this starts today, which means that the US has killed a total of 2 Iraqi civilians thus far.

Eager to demonstrate success in Iraq, the U.S. military has abandoned its previous refusal to publicize enemy body counts and now cites such numbers periodically to show the impact of some counterinsurgency operations.

The revival of body counts, a practice discredited during the Vietnam War, has apparently come without formal guidance from the Pentagon's leadership. Military spokesmen in Washington and Baghdad said they knew of no written directive detailing the circumstances under which such figures should be released or the steps that should be taken to ensure accuracy.

No kidding -- trumped up terrorism threats?

A White House list of 10 terrorist plots disrupted by the United States has confused counterterrorism experts and officials, who say they cannot distinguish between the importance of some incidents on the list and others that were left off.

Intelligence officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the White House overstated the gravity of the plots by saying that they had been foiled, when most were far from ready to be executed. Others noted that the nation's color-coded threat index was not raised from yellow, or "elevated" risk of attack, to orange, or "high" risk, for most of the time covered by the incidents on the list.

The president made it "sound like well-hatched plans," said a former CIA official involved in counterterrorism during that period. "I don't think they fall into that category."

The Guardian bites The NY Times

And well they should. The Times was blind on the war. Miller is a plant (however you want to take that).
The New York Times continued to implode under the weight of internal criticism yesterday as the public clamour for one its most prominent reporters, Judith Miller, to be removed from her job gained pace.

The row threatens to engulf one of the country's most venerated newspapers in a bitter dispute over its reporting of the Iraq war, its unquestioning defence of an allegedly rogue reporter and its editor's ability to assert his authority over his staff.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Human Rights Watch on torture in the NY Review

...The treatment of prisoners alleged here also violates US obligations under international human rights law. The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment provides that "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture." The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which also bans torture and other mistreatment, ensures that the right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment can never be suspended by a state, including during periods of public emergency.

These standards have largely been incorporated into US law that is applicable to members of the armed services. The War Crimes Act of 1996 (18 USC 2441) makes it a criminal offense for US military personnel and US nationals to commit war crimes as specified in the Geneva Conventions. The federal anti-torture statute (18 USC 2340A), enacted in 1994, provides for the prosecution of a US national or anyone present in the United States who, while outside the United States, commits or attempts to commit torture.

Human Rights Watch calls for investigations into all allegations of mistreatment of prisoners in US custody. Appropriate disciplinary or criminal action should be undertaken against all those implicated in torture and other abuse, whatever their rank. As we have reported elsewhere, there is increasing evidence that high-ranking US civilian and military leaders made decisions and issued policies that facilitated serious and widespread violations of the law. The circumstances strongly suggest that they either knew or should have known that such violations took place as a result of their actions. There is also mounting information that, when presented with evidence that abuse was in fact occurring, they failed to act to stop it.


Photo: Jim Richter

Katrina toxics

This is from the comments on an earlier post. From Paul Fagiolo today. Thanks, Paul.
The latest word on Katrina toxics shouldn't be the last word on the subject because the issue reveals some interesting points about the state of environmental science, risk management, and government's role. In hindsight, anyone who really took the time to even scribble on the back of a napkin the quantities of chemicals stored in the watershed and the amount of storm water that flushed through would probably not expect a "toxic soup." One article which summarizes the first peer-reviewed analysis of New Orleans' hurricane floodwaters as "floodwaters less toxic than expected" deflates the issue. Perhaps it was our expectations that were off. But are there contaminants out there? Sure. Do we know what the toxicological impact will be? Not yet.

The source sampling report, in fact, puts the results in the context that the contaminants weren't detected by discussing dilution and evaporation. The report also points to low dissolved oxygen levels which indicate the presence of biological and chemical contaminants. These contaminants react with the dissolved (aqueous) oxygen in the water; this, as opposed to chemical toxicity, typically cause fish kills after a chemical release by essentially suffocating them. Although there have been no reports of fish kills in Lake Pontchartrain, isolated fish kills have been reported on the north shore and tributaries.

The report in itself is good work and the organization that peer-reviewed it and released it, Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T), is beyond reproach. ES&T's online news release, in fact, cited criticisms of EPA for not clearly communicating the risks. The scientists did what they are supposed to do -- they got out there and sampled; albeit nine days after the hurricane and the concentrated plumes of contamination were dispersed and diffused. Critics who point the finger at EPA for a "bumbling response" may be missing the forest for the trees. The efficacy of any one test or pronouncement should not be the focal point: it's the overall response that is the cause for concern. This failure to think big is the frustrating aspect of EPA's leadership; moreover, that appears to be the case of several federal organizations under criticism.

First, environmental regulations weren't intended for a disaster of this scale. There are detailed response protocols to assess, control, and abate spills -- specific scenarios -- a storage tank, a processing building, even a freighter. But when a whole city is wiped out, in what context does some storm water sampling fit in? This is analogous to Person A handing Person B a bucket of golf balls to count. And Person B lines them out, takes out a golf club, whacks them all into the woods, and then counts the balls he/she can find. Well, we roughly know the quantity and location of chemicals in the watershed. Wouldn't it make more sense to perform some hydrological modeling of the contaminate fate and transfer and then use sampling results to validate the model -- rather than using a sampling "snapshot" to quantify the risk? Maybe. This is routinely done for ground water contaminants but for storm water this may be a bit outside the box.

Furthermore, toxicology and environmental science are in terms of concentrations and doses -- as they scientifically should. But in some ways I can't necessarily describe, that framework fails to address catastrophes in an understandable way to the general public.

This is complicated by the whole ppm and ppb business. A caveman may have disregarded a found dead animal if it smelled bad enough. His innate senses and instinct communicated risk. Science has allowed us to quantify chemicals and has effectively allowed us to regulate safety and health. But as technology now allows us to detect parts per billion, risk becomes less intuitive. In water that we once thought was pure, we can now find molecules of chemical contaminants. What is risky? We have very little empirical data on human toxicology. Regulatory levels are typically extrapolated from animal testing trials with safety margins built into them. They're good faith estimates -- presumably the best science has to offer.

So, sure, people are frustrated because EPA is not clearly communicating the risk. Risk is a murky thing. The attitudes you see in New Orleans are typical. On one extreme, some people are entering back into New Orleans with little recognition of risk. They smell mold and fecal odors and probably respond accordingly. They don't see or smell mercury and don't consider it a hazard. On the other extreme, some people perceive a great risk and demand answers. To address the concerns of local residents, Wilma Subra, president of Subra Co., Inc. is conducting her own tests of the sediments. She advises residents to not enter the city unless they wear a respirator, boots, and gloves. That's an OSHA level of protection for hazardous waste site workers. She notes that Wal-Marts within 100 miles have sold out of such equipment.

Where is the sane middle ground? Most EPA officials seem to have a lawyer over their shoulder. Ok, maybe they really do and have to select their words carefully. They advise people about potential long-term effects. You can find reasonable guidance in places, assuming we know what reasonable is. If EPA is to be faulted for something, then perhaps it should be for not being the master of their domain and telling people what they need to know to return to their lives:

"We don't know what the risks are for certain but we're going to sample the residuals, the drinking water, the produce, the seafood the best we can and give you the best conclusion we can. In the meantime, don't expose yourself to anything you don't have to. Drink bottled water and don't eat local foods. Clean off all surfaces the best you can. Safely dispose of materials you can't decontaminate. Take particular care keeping children away from anything that could have been contaminated in the flood water. Don't lick the sidewalk. We're in this together."

Linkseses from Foreign Affairs

Review of Benjamin Friedman's new book, The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, reviewed by Joseph Stiglitz in Foreign Affairs. Worth a read, and in line with some of the stuff I teach -- the critique of both the economic growth mantra and anti-growth positions such as those found in ecological economics. From a philosopher's perspective, both are problematic, though I lean towards the latter in light of the urgency of current environmental problems. Stiglitz suggests that Friedman is shooting through the middle to explore new territory. It's good to see, but it has been done in other kinds of ways -- see my colleague Mark Sagoff's work on economic valuation, for instance, or Stiglitz's own work on the information economy and his critique of the IMF.

Who Will Control the Internet?
by Kenneth Cukier, also in Foreign Affairs. This is a huge multi-faceted issue. Many bloggers have been discussing it, and I'm a newbie to the issue. But one present, related concern regards exclusionary practices by ISPs signing contracts with other businesses. America will then be like China -- the only difference is in the content of what is not accessible. Anyone interested in an open internet ought to read this essay, critically.

Melvin Laird discusses the Vietnam - Iraq analogy.