Friday, June 30, 2006

Jules Witcover on Hamdan v. Rumsfeld

In a sane media landscape, i.e., one drastically different than the real existing one in the US, Jules Witcover would be considered The Dean of American pundits.  And the long-reigning "Dean" David Broder would be a distant memory on TV and op-ed pages.  Then he could spend his time watching pols on TV and snoozing through most of them and babbling his inane ramblings and pantie-sniffing fantasies to himself.

But that's not the media we have.

But we do have Jules Witcover, even if he's not called The Dean.  He writes about the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision in A Major Victory for American Justice Tribune Media Services 06/30/06:

In what may be the most momentous and significant judicial decision on the limitations of presidential power in years, the Supreme Court's rebuke of President Bush's plans to try detainees at Guantanamo Bay by new military commissions could have far-reaching ramifications beyond the fates of the prisoners involved.

The 5-3 vote, with only the Court's most conservative justices dissenting, calls seriously into question Bush's sweeping declaration of almost unlimited constitutional power to wage the war on terrorism without regard to established restrictions under both American and international law in wartime.

He also notes that:

... the Supreme Court's decision appears to go far beyond the fate of detainees, to challenge the Bush administration's implied contention that the president's designation as commander in chief of the armed forces gives him a virtual blank check to carry on the war against terrorism.

In other words, it opposes the Unilateral Executive theory (aka, Unitary Executive theory by its advocates) of unlimited Presidential power.

And Witcover concludes that:

... this decision is the first truly major rebuff to Bush by a Court on which he had recently managed to place two new judges - Justice Samuel A. Alito was the second after Roberts - the significance of the ruling cannot be understated.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

A note on the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision

This is an idea that deserves a bit more scrutiny before it becomes Liberal Blogostan conventional wisdom.  Constitutional lawyer Green Greenwald writes, in his very informative blog post on the Supreme Court decision on extra-legal military trials for combat detainees (The significance of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld 06/29/06):

Congress can reverse almost every aspect of the decision as it specifically pertains to these military commissions. It could abrogate any treaties it wants.

This was picked up by Faiz in a blog post at Think Progess with a twist:

Glenn Greenwald notes that Congress could decide to abrogate the Geneva Convention or exempt its application with respect to the military commissions. It would be an extraordinary step, but with this Congress, anything is possible.

Faiz reads the meaning of Greenwald's comments as I do.  But Greenwald's statement didn't specifically say "Geneva Convention".  Actually, "Geneva Conventions" is the term used to apply to the body of laws and precedents that constitute the laws and customs of war.  There actually was a compilation of laws known as the Geneva Conventions that the US signed in 1949.  But the term is also used as a generic term for the laws of war.

Domestic law can be complicated enough.  International law even more so, in addition to being less familiar to most of us.  I'm not an attorney or any sort of professional specialist in international law.

But my understanding of it is that for Congress to try to opt out of some aspects of the international laws of war is a very different thing than, for instance giving notice of withdrawal from a mutual defense treaty.  Because in general, the laws and customs of warfare are legally binding in international law on everyone, regardless of whether a particular country has specifically ratified particular treaties incorporating them.  From an international law perspective, the requirement to have the status of prisoners captured in combat reviewed by an impartial tribunal would still be binding on the US even if Congress passed a law saying not to observe it.

How new innovations become accepted as part of the binding laws and customs of war is a murkier process,at least to me.  There is a specific set of standards called the Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions that deals with the treatment of insurgents and guerrilla fighters.  The US has never ratified the Additional Protocol, and I don't believe that it's considered binding on the US.

The same is true of the International Criminal Court, a particular bogeyman for the Bush administration.  As Bush said in one of his televised debates with John Kerry on 09/30/04:

I wouldn't join the International Criminal Court (ICC). It's a body based in The Hague where unaccountable judges and prosecutors can pull our troops or diplomats up for trial.

And I wouldn't join it. And I understand that in certain capitals around the world that that wasn't a popular move. But it's the right move not to join a foreign court that could - where our people could be prosecuted.

But whether Americans are so immune from the reach of the ICC is not so clear to me.  Some of the victims of torture in the Bush Gulag, for instance, have been citizens from countries like Germany and Britain that are members of the ICC.  So where the ICC may not have standing to deal with American violations of the rights of American citizens, my understanding is that citizens of countries that have ratified the ICC have standing to ask for relief for American misconduct against themselves.

The bottom line is that I don't believe that Congress can simply vote away some provision of the internationally accepted laws and customs of war.   I can imagine that this Republican Congress would vote cheerfully to declare the US a rogue nation when it comes to international law on the treatment of prisoners.  But it may not be quite so easy as they might like it to be.

I had an initial reaction to the Supreme Court's ruling on Hamdan v. Rumsfeld at The Blue Voice.

Gaza incursion

I posted on the Israeli incursion into Gaza today at The Blue Voice:  The US and threats to Israel.

Below are some news links on the action:

Hamas arrests planned weeks ago; G8: Move raises 'concerns' by Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel Ha'aretz 06/29/06:

The detention of Hamas parliamentarians in the early hours of Thursday morning had been planned several weeks ago and received approval from Attorney General Menachem Mazuz on Wednesday. The same day, Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin presented Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with the list of Hamas officials slated for detention.

The Group of Eight industrialized countries said Thursday that the Hamas arrests raised "particular concerns."

A Justice Ministry spokesperson said that the change in policy towards ministers and parliamentarians who are members of Hamas was carried out with the approval of and in coordination with the judiciary, and that Israel intends on arresting more Hamas officials.

The U.S. and Gaza / Sit quietly and do nothing by Shmuel Rosner Ha'aretz 06/29/06:

"Firing Qassam rockets at the defense minister's town, that's quite provocative," a senior American official told Haaretz with a smile a few days ago.

The message was clear: If someone provokes you, it's okay to respond. Even by force. "The Palestinians know what they have to do," he said. As long as they don't do it, they have no one to complain to. This, then, is the American modus operandi on the current season: sit quietly and do nothing. Or, as one official said more bluntly, "let the Palestinians sweat a little."

Anyway, the U.S. is preoccupied with other important matters. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in the midst of a trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Russia and has no time for the Israeli-Palestinian arena. Israel's ambassador in Washington, Daniel Ayalon, has been briefing the two senior White House envoys Elliot Abrams and David Welch on the developments. They repeat the familiar, cautious, measured administration responses: "Israel has the right to defend itself ... avoid unnecessary harm to civilians ... maintain restraint ..."

Israel's return to Gaza: multiple motives/The Palestinian-Israeli standoff goes beyond one kidnapped soldier - for both sides by Ilene R. Prusher and Joshua Mitnick Christian Science Monitor 06/29/06:

To be sure, the escalating conflict is about more than just one kidnapped soldier. After Palestinian groups launched more than 170 homemade rockets on Israel in the course of a month, there has been increased domestic pressure on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to do something to stop the attacks.

Analysts say that unlike former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who had a history of taking an aggressive military stance, Mr. Olmert is considered relatively "untested" as a national leader, making it harder for him to display patience. Mr. Sharon and cabinet members who supported the disengagement plan - Olmert included - said that once Israel was no longer occupying Gaza, it would respond harshly.

Still, some Israeli news commentators worried in the morning papers whether Israel was about to get bogged down in Gaza again. Olmert said in a speech in Jerusalem that the operation would be limited. "We have no intention of recapturing the Gaza Strip. We have no intention of staying there."

On Nizmit Hill, however, where the crash of a Kassam rocket could be heard and felt, soldiers mused that Israel would wind up spending much longer here than it did during the week-long evacuation of settlers from Gaza.

Israel denies tactical role of arrests Aljazeera 06/29/06:

The Israeli army has denied it arrested Palestinian government ministers in an attempt to pressure the Palestinian Resistance Committees group into releasing an Israeli soldier kidnapped by them on Sunday.

Mark Regev, the Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, said the arrests were "due to the fact that Hamas over the last few weeks has escalated terror attacks against Israel".
Jacob Dalal, an army spokesman, said: "They are not being used as bargaining chips. These are people with terrorist records, with allegations and charges pending against them."

Israel Detains Hamas Leaders, Settler Killed Der Spiegel Online 06/29/06:

Israeli war planes flew over Syria on Wednesday to threaten exiled Hamas leaders there. And Palestinian militants said they had killed an 18-year-old Israeli settler they kidnapped in the West Bank.

International concern is mounting, with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urging restraint and warning that the crisis risks inflaming tensions across the region.

At least seven ministers and 20 members of parliament were among Hamas officials rounded up in several West Bank towns by Israelis on Wednesday night, according to Palestinian officials, in a move seen as upping the pressure on Palestinian militants to release Shalit.

Israeli troops seized Finance Minister Omar Abdel-Razeq and eight other cabinet members, along with nearly 20 legislators of the governing Islamist group, Palestinian officials said, Reuters reported. Israel said 64 Hamas officials in all were taken into custody.

Reflections on the USS Liberty and Gilad Shalit: Disproportionate Response by Steve Clemons, Washington Note blog 06/29/06:

A group of armed Palestinians, some connected to the militant wing of Hamas, did penetrate Israel's border security and did kidnap a young soldier, Gilad Shalit. ...

Since then, Israel has been on a rampage and has permitted emotion and knee-jerk, overzealous responses prevail over measured and sober approaches that might not have only helped get the Israeli soldier freed but made some progress in establishing a climate to talk about the bigger picture of an Israeli-Palestinian solution.

Now Israel is not only blowing up bridges and power plants but has arrested dozens of Hamas ministers and lawmakers. Israel is arresting symbols of the Palestinian government - and edging this situation to potential full-out war. Condi Rice is urging restraint, but Israel seems out of control. ...

Israel would do well to go reacquaint itself with the USS Liberty, which Israelis fired on killing American servicemen. I have had a discussion with someone who was the former head of the U.S. National Security Agency who has no doubt at all that Israel's attack on the U.S. ship was purposeful and not an accident, as Israelis and Americans eager to cover up the incident have asserted.

America's response was measured and put in context - whether one agrees withthat or not. Israel got a huge pass.

(The attack on the USS Liberty is a favorite grievance nurtured by the anti-Semitic right.  From everything I've read by Steve Clemons, including this post, I do not associate him at all with such a viewpoint.  The Liberty incident really did happen.  And this seems to me to be a perfectly legitimate way of using the incident to illustrate his point.)

Iraq War: Does Bush have a "secret plan" to get out?

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

I like Bill Arkin's blog on military affairs, and I quote it often.  But lately he seems to be trying a little too hard to sound counter-intuitive.  As in this post, where he (more-or-less) reassures us that the Bush administration is determined to draw down the US military presence in Iraq over the coming, well, sometime:  The Calendar for Victory in Iraq Washington Post 06/27/06.  He writes:

Here's what President Bush and Company are not saying:  Before we leave Iraq, we will kill every last foreign fighter, neutralize the insurgency and destroy the sectarian militias.

It has been obvious since December that the president's National Strategy for Victory in Iraq is to drawdown U.S. forces, and eventually to withdraw the vast majority, before any of the missions with which most Americans identify are accomplished.

When Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) called the Iraq war an "open-ended commitment in Iraq," he was not only dead-wrong, he willfully ignored the truth about the Bush administration's policy and the U.S. military's acceptance of reality.

...  A calendar is already in play, the clock is ticking.

Arkin even argues that Bush's plan - still concealed just like Richard Nixon's 1968 "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War remains secret until this day - is "a carefully calibrated balancing act that carries an implicit recognition of the limitations of American power, and of the American public's patience".

I'm sure that the administration would be happy for the public to think that.  But I just don't see the signs of it.  Arkin's reasons for thinking so involve some, shall we say, subtle assumptions:

Bush said yesterday that the decision on troop draw downs would be made by the Iraqi government with the U.S. military commanders in Iraq.  Nowhere in his remarks, or in military chatter for that matter, is there any reference to turning corners post-Zarqawi, to strides being made in eliminating the violence, or in "defeating" the bad guys.

Or, those supposedly pregnant absent phrases could reflect a brief and ephemeral recognition that constantly declaring turning points and tipping points and so forth encourages more cynicism than hope in the public at this juncture.

Arkin doesn't use the now-iconic "six months from now" formulation.  But he is essentially repeating the war fans' position here:

The Iraq calendar nonetheless is clear: Small changes in the U.S. force structure, together with a sharpened focus on difficult areas, such as al Anbar province, more joint U.S.-Iraqi operations and better sharing of intelligence hopefully will bear fruit. Violence will decrease or at least stay at current levels.  If after x-months, the situation isn't worse, more forces can be withdrawn.  If after y-months, Iraqi forces are performing well, even more American soldiers can go.  U.S. forces ultimately (post-2007) will draw down to a small quick reaction capability with close-in intelligence to support Iraqi forces taking the lead, in x-cities and governorates, and eventually in all.

It may be a bad sign that Arkin in this post uses the Republican grammar whose purpose has always eluded me when he talks about "the Democrat plans".  Or maybe I should say "Republic grammar".  Has Arkin decided to become a flack for the "Republic Party"?  I wouldn't say so based on this one post.  But it is strange.

Referring to his interpretation of Bush's Iraq War secret plan, he makes a memorable point, though I'm not convinced this level of humility has actually been adopted by the Bush-Cheney-Rummy administration:

It is recognition that we can't follow the "old" strategy of fighting forever until the last "evil one" is killed.

We're not only on our way out of Iraq; we've just found a solution to end the war on terrorism.

"Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of." - George McGovern and Jim McGovern 06/06/05

A defender of Obama on Democrats and religion

Nathan Newman defends Sen. Barack Obama's speech on religion in Obama, Religion and the Blog Reaction TPM Cafe 06/28/06

Here's the thrust of his defense:

What's remarkable about some of the blog and other reactions is that folks seem to be talking about every policy other than the one Obama himself seemed to emphasize for change, which is progressive opposition to allowing prayer in public institutions. Opposition to prayer and other expressions of faith in public institutions is hardly a fringe position on the left-- it was decided by Supreme Court Justices and supported by liberal opinion editors for most of the last four decades.

Obama did not suggest changing progressive positions on abortion.
Obama did not suggest changing progressive positions on gay rights.

He suggested changing progressive positions on expressions of faith within public institutions such as schools.

That's the concrete proposal he made, criticizing those who hold out for a stronger version of separation of church and state.

I haven't done a survey of blog responses to Obama on religion.  But nothing Newman has to say in that post changes the position I expressed in my post yesterday.

Which is that Democrats can take positions on religion-related issues without  repeating key Republican talking points that accuse the Democrats of being somehow anti-religious.  I gave a couple of examples of that from recent times.

Or Democrats can take positions on religion-related issues and at the same repeat key Republican talking points that accuse the Democrats of being somehow anti-religious.  And by doing so, they give the Republican talking points a seeming validity they don't deserve.  And having Democrats endorse the Republican talking points is more useful to the Republicans than just another Republican repeating the Party line.  That's what Obama was doing, and that was the basis of my objection to it.

Pachacutec posting at FireDogLake in It’s Bill Clinton’s Fault 06/28/06 indulges in a little too much Clinton-bashing (liberal variety) for my taste.  But I agree with the substance of his criticism of Obama's speech:

The greatest victory of the radical right wing has been to train Democratic politicians to disrespect, mischaracterize and run against their base in the progressive movement. ...

First of all, there’s a very thriving religious left, thank you very much.  It’s absolutely false that Democrats and progressives disrespect or somehow fail to include people of faith.  All the establishment media fled YearlyKos before the very moving interfaith service on Sunday morning, because that was not interesting to them, and they had getaway flights to catch.  One of our leading Roots Project activists is a pastor in Massachussetts (home of the abolitionist movement), who delivered a knockout sermon that enlivened her congregation last weekend.

Pachacutec provides a link to the text:  We Are the Change 06/25/06 by Rev. Deborah Mero

And it's a bit harsh, but he also has a real point when he writes:

Idiots like Obama still think the path to power is to spin Karl Rove’s lies into oratorical gold to gin up support from people who would rather see him in shackles than see him in national office.

A good warning sign of something like this happening is when Democrats start making process points, i.e., "The Democrats need to pay more attention to ..."  If what completes the sentence is a common Republican talking point, then the person is normally just repeating a Republican talking point but trying to say "*I'm* not one of *those* Democrats".  If Democrats being interviewed on news programs get asked a "process" question about religion or whatever, they can actually help the Party's general image by talking about what the Democrats actually are doing and supporting that would be of particular interests to religious groups.

If they think the Democrats need to talk more about religion, or to do it differently somehow, then let them demonstrate their point by actually talking about religion in what they think would be the preferable way for Democrats.  Not just trash their own party by repeating the other side's polemical claims.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Nuclear gambling

Keir  Lieber and Daryl Press write about The End of MAD?  The Nuclear Dimension of U.S. Primacy in International Security 30:4 (Spring 2006).

To me, the most important part of Andrew Bacevich's book The New American Militarism (2005) is his analysis of the way in which the Bush Doctrine of preventive war was a direct descendant of nuclear first-strike theories from the Cold War.  Lieber and Press discuss a key part of the larger strategy perspective of the Bush administration, the uses and risks of nuclear supremacy in pursuit of a foreign policy goal of remaining the world's hyperpower forever in a unipolar world dominated by American military power.

The Bush administration's thinking on nuclear policy is closely related to its approach to prventive war.  It's also as reckless, with the potentially consequences even more catastrophic.

Lieber and Press write in their conclusion:

The debates over nuclear forces during the Cold War suggest that a consensus on the foreign policy implications of U.S. nuclear primacy will remain elusive.  “Hawks” will welcome the new era of nuclear primacy, believing that America’s dominance in both conventional and nuclear weapons will help deter potential adversaries from challenging the United States or its allies.  For example, China may be deterred from attacking Taiwan if Chinese leaders understand that their small nuclear force is unlikely to prevent the United States from coming to Taiwan’s defense - and if they fear that during a crisis or war the United States may be tempted to attack their vulnerable arsenal.  Hawks will expect Chinese leaders to reconsider the wisdom of making thinly veiled nuclear threats against the United States.

Arms control analysts - or “owls” - will likely worry that American nuclear primacy may unleash destabilizing forces that undermine U.S. security.  The steps that Russia and China take to reduce their vulnerability could create crisis instability and increase the odds of accidental or unauthorized nuclear war.  For example, both countries will likely place more of their nuclear forces on higher peacetime alert levels, adopt hair-trigger retaliatory postures, or delegate greater launch authority to lower-level commanders - all of which would raise the risk that nuclear weapons could someday be used against the United States.  In short, owls believe that the United States will soon wish it had never pursued nuclear primacy in the first place.

Finally “doves” will not look favorably upon U.S. nuclear primacy, but for different reasons than the owls.  They fear the consequences of a newly emboldened, unconstrained, and assertive United States.  In an era of U.S. primacy across so many dimensions of power (economic, technological, and military), the greatest fear is overly ambitious foreign policies, fueled by a combination of American hubris and power.  According to this view, the pursuit of nuclear primacy is a symptom of the United States’ current misguided foreign policy, which may encourage more misguided adventurism in the future.  (my emphasis)

I'm not sure who it is that would articulate their concerns in the "dove" fashion as they define it. There is certainly good reason to worry about "imperial overreach" in US foreign policy.  But in the long term, nothing threatens the US security so much as nuclear proliferation.  One of the worst effects of the preventive war in Iraq is that it created strong incentives for states like Iran to pursue their nuclear programs more aggressively to deter potential attacks by the United States.

They continue:

Our own view is that the wisdom of pursuing nuclear primacy - in fact, the wisdom of developing any set of military capabilities - must be evaluated in the context of a country’s foreign policy goals.  If the United States continues to pursue global preeminence - defined by the current Bush administration as preventing the emergence of a peer competitor (read: China) and preventing weaker countries from challenging the United States in critical regions such as the Persian Gulf - then the benefits of nuclear primacy may exceed the risks.  If, on the other hand, the United States adopts a more restrained foreign policy -  for example, one that rejects using force to reverse nuclear proliferation and one that accepts the emergence of China as a great power - then the dangers of increased nuclear arms races and crisis instability would likely trump the benefits.

That's a careful Mugwump (fence-sitting) position as far as normative advice on what they actuallyrecommend.  But it's hard to see how staking the future on a policy of bullying other countries into what we want forever and ever can be the best approach.

The following is also a very important point.  The effectiveness of using nuclear threats depends on reasonably accurate assumptions about how the other side is likely to calculate risks.  The history of conventional air power suggests that it's a very difficult thing to achieve.

Finally, new research on the political utility of nuclear superiority and the strength of the nuclear taboo is needed.  Unfortunately, the end of the Cold War diminished interest in these questions just as high-quality data on decisionmaking during nuclear crises became available in historical archives.  Scholars and policy analysts would be wise to ask whether nuclear primacy will give the United States bargaining leverage in crises with major power adversaries - and, if so, whether the gains outweigh the dangers that nuclear primacy may also bring.

Astrological disparagement

And when it comes to talking about religion, Digby is arguing (seriously) that we shouldn't criticize a literal belief in astrology (Mainstream Beliefs 06/27/06):

Atrios mentions this kerfluffle about Jerome Armstrong being a believer in astrology and how it's scandalized certain elements of the wingnutosphere (and the left blogosphere, too.) His point is that a belief in astrology is no less mainstream than many of the religious beliefs people hold --- beliefs which we secular liberals must be very, very careful not to disparage or be accused of ruining everything for the Democrats.

Let me tell you, it is as big a faux pas to disparage astrology or any of the new age or non-traditional spiritual belief system as it is to put down mainstream religion.

Well, if Nancy Reagain could insist that "Ronnie's" speeches be scheduled in alignment with her San Francisco astrologer's advice, I suppose we could say the belief is "mainstream" in the sense that lots of people believe it.  (Billmon provides some good background on this in Star Crossed 06/28/06.)

But most religious people make a distinction between religion and superstition, with superstition being understood as the ability to read  messages from the divine through physical signs (stars, chicken innards, etc.) or being able to manipulate divine powers through some sort of conjuration, i.e., magic.

The village atheist will tell you, of course, that belief in God is just as "superstitious" as belief in astrology.  But actually, someone minimally familiar with the contemporary Christian position on the subject can tell you that Genesis 1:1 says that God created the heavens and the earth.  For most Christians, who aren't trying to turn it into a science textbook, one of the theological implications of that is that the stars are part of God's creation, not independent divinities that determine the fates of human beings.

But as far as public policy, neither astrology nor creationism/"intelligent design" should be taught in science classes as science.  Nor should they be used in public science endeavors because they aren't science.

But since religious beliefs are now an extremely prominent part of the "public square", it's legitimate to wonder whether it's optimal or desirable for a public official, especially the President with his authority to launch a nuclear war, should be making decisions based on astrological charts or voices from God in his own head.

For more on astrology, see The Skeptic Annotated Bibliography - Astrology from the Center for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP).

Losing it over religion

This is a Democrat cynically promoting a favorite Republican talking point against the Democratic Party:  Obama: Democrats Must Court Evangelicals by David Espo Washington Post/AP 06/28/06.

This is a Democrat addressing a religion-related policy issue without repeating Republican talking points against the Democratic Party:  Jerry Brown on the Pledge of Allegiance controversy 09/05/04 (Brown's statement is from 2002).

So is this:  Our Endangered Values Interview with Jimmy Carter by Jeff Fleischer Mother Jones 06/02/06.

There's a difference.  We need much less of the former, and much more of the latter.

This article from 2003,  Supreme Court to decide Pledge of Allegiance case by David Whitney Sacramento Bee 10/14/03, recalls a House vote on the Pledge of Allegiance issue which the Christian Right and other Republicans has used to promote the Republican talking point that Obama relied upon:

The House of Representatives approved by a 400-7 margin in March a resolution urging the Supreme Court to reverse the decision because it was "clearly inconsistent" with the views of the framers of the U.S. Constitution. The Senate voted 99-0 for a resolution supporting the pledge. Nearly two dozen groups, including the Congress, filed briefs urging a reversal of the 9th Circuit decision.  (my emphasis)

This is about as united as the Democratic Party ever gets on anything, and they came down solidly on the side of the Pledge of Allegiance with "under God" and against the court ruling.  Yet Sen. Obama, supposedly one of the great liberal hopes, was there pointing out the Dems alleged failure to "acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people" and using as a prime example - the mention of God in the Pledge of Allegiance.  From the Post/AP article linked above:

Sen. Barack Obama chastised fellow Democrats onWednesday forfailing to "acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people," and said the party must compete for the support of evangelicals and other churchgoing Americans.

"Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation. Context matters," the Illinois Democrat said in remarks to a conference of Call to Renewal, a faith-based movement to overcome poverty.

"It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase `under God,'" he said. "Having voluntary student prayer groups using school property to meet should not be a threat, any more than its use by the High School Republicans should threaten Democrats."

But the most obvious way in which he reflected the Republican Party talking point was in his use of their buzzword, "the public square":

At the same time, he said, "Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering the public square."

Maybe I'm missing something.  But this phrase "the public square" is something I rarely if ever see used outside the context of Democrats allegedly taking religion out of it.  Maybe it's a translation of the Athenian "marketplace" where Plato had Socrates holding forth, I don't know.

But since when has religion been "out of the public square"?  Unless we define public square to mean only specifics contexts like compulsory prayer time in public schools, it hardly makes any sense.  Thomas Jefferson, who served as President 1801-1809, refused to publicly discuss his religion on the grounds that it was a private matter and not an issue of public policy because the American government had a separation of church and state.  But pretty much every since then, religion and references to God have been very much part of the "public square", if by that we mean the part of national life in which public policies are debated.

And the freedom to advocate, proseltyze and criticize religion is generally wide open in the US, at least since the Civil War.  The main significant abridgement of freedom of religion that come to mind would be violence and  various pressures against religiously-motivated activists who dissented from segregation and Jim Crow laws.

The argument that religion has been excluded from "the public square" is basically just a variation on the long-term fundamentalist complaint that they're being picked on whenever someone disagrees with them on something.

Atrios is on-target with his message to Obama (Just Do It 06/28/06):

If you think it's important to court evangelicals, then court them. If, on the other hand, you think it's important to confirm and embrace the false idea that Democrats are hostile to religion in order to set yourself apart, then continue doing what you're doing. It won't help the Democrats, and it probably won't even help you ...

Now if Obama starts saying "the Democrat Party", we'll know he's morphing into Joe Lieberman.

Iraq War: Giving peace a chance?

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

Probably not.  (Probably not giving peace a chance.  Also probably not on ever telling us the truth.  Or that we've been winning all along.)

But if there's going to be a settlement short of civil war, massive ethnic cleansing and/or the breakup of Iraq, peace talks have to happen some time or other.  The current news, from Insurgents offer to halt attacks in Iraq by Steven Hurst and Qassim Abdul-Zahra St. Petersburg Times/AP 06/28/06:

Eleven Sunni insurgent groups have offered an immediate halt to all attacks - including those on American troops - if the United States agrees to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq in two years, insurgent and government officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Withdrawal is the centerpiece of a set of demands from the groups, which operate north of Baghdad in the heavily Sunni Arab provinces of Salahuddin and Diyala. Although much of the fighting has been to the west, those provinces are increasingly violent and attacks there have crippled oil and commerce routes.

What's more immediately interesting to me than the offer itself is the fact that 11 different insurgent groups coordinated enough to put together a unified position.

Plus, the article mentions the names of a number of different insurgent groups, which you rarely see in reporting on the Iraq War:

The Islamic Army in Iraq, Muhammad Army and the Mujahedeen Shura Council - the umbrella group that covers eight militant groups including al-Qaida in Iraq - were not party to any offers to the government. ...

Eight of the 11 insurgent groups banded together to approach al-Maliki's government under The 1920 Revolution Brigade, which has claimed credit for killing U.S. troops in the past. All 11, working through intermediaries, have issued identical demands, according to insurgent spokesmen and government officials. ...

Besides the 1920 Revolution Brigades, the eight include Abtal al-Iraq (Heroes of Iraq), the 9th of April Group, al-Fateh Brigades, al-Mukhtar Brigades, Salahuddin Brigades, Mujahedeen Army and the Brigades of the General Command of the Armed Forces. The three other groups are small organizations that also mainly operate in areas north of Baghdad.

"Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of." - George McGovern and Jim McGovern 06/06/05

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

More on the Jim Crow GOP

 I think that a lot of the fundamental principals that Jefferson Davis believed in are very important today to people all across the country, and they apply to the Republican Party. .... After the War between the States, a lot of Southerners identified with the Democrat Party because of the radical Republicans we had at the time, particularly in the Senate. The South was wedded to that party for years and years and years. But we have seen the Republican Party become more conservative and more oriented toward traditional family values, the religious values that we hold dear in the South. And the Democratic party has been going in the other direction. As a result of that, more and more of The South's sons, Jefferson Davis' descendants, direct or indirect, are becoming involved in the Republican Party. The platform we had in Dallas, the 1984 Republican platform, all the ideas we supported there - from tax policy, to foreign policy: from individual rights, to neighborhood security - are things that Jefferson Davis believed in.

   - Trent Lott, Southern Partisan Fall 1984 (via Edward Sebesta)

With the Republican Party - or should I imitate Trent's grammar and call it the "Republic Party"? - channeling the spirit of Jeff Davis, this kind of Democrats is something we can surely do without:  Those 'traditional' Democrats by David Neiwert 06/27/06.  Neiwert writes:

It is, perhaps, symbolic of just how deeply right-wing extremism has invaded the mainstream discourse - primarily through the immigration debate - that now there are people running as anti-immigration Democrats who have backgrounds involving various kinds of far-right extremism.

The most recent of these, via Blog for Arizona, is William "Bill" Johnson, who's running in the Democratic primary in Arizona's 8th congressional district. On the surface, Johnson is just another conservative anti-immigration Democrat, who, as Mike notes, are now being referred to as "traditional Democrats."

These people are "traditional Democrats" only in the sense that, for much of its history, the Democratic Party was in fact the "white man's party" - home of the Ku Klux Klan and a long line of racial demagogues (see, e.g., the notorious Theodore Bilbo), as well as a clearly racist voting base, not just in theSouth but in the rural and suburban Midwest as well. It was not until the 1960s and '70s that the bulk of these racists - politicos and voters alike - largely migrated to the Republican Party under the aegeis of the "Southern trategy."

Those people definitely don't count as Jacksonian Democrats.  Immigrant workers in Northern cities actually were enthusiastic supporters of Old Hickory, back in the day.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Neosegregationism and the Jim Crow GOP

Edward Sebesta has been up and running with his Anti-Neo-Confederate blog for several weeks now.  He's very good at analyzing how this particular strain of rightwing radicalism is seeping into the mainstream.  In this fairly lengthy post, Neo-Confederate Opposition to the Voting Rights Act Extension 06/24/06, he goes into some detail about the ways in which a supposedly respectable  defender of the Republicans' latest attempt to reinstate massive voter discrimination based on race uses arguments that are standard for the neo-Confederate/white supremacist crowd:

Instead the Voting Rights Act is argued as a personal attack, a slander on the residents of the South, "our states", specifically white Southerners, who are the "us" implied in the "our" of "our states." Butler makes a point of comparing "our state officials," Southern state officials to officials of "New Jersey and Pennsylvania." Butler is making this into a North versus South comparison, and attempts to make it an issue of insult to Southerners, an appeal to Southern nationalism.  The Voting Rights Act is made to be an insult to national honor. Southern nationalism is Confederate nationalism renamed, with these States' civil religion being the Confederacy, with the Confederate flags and the Confederate state holidays and other observations to honor the Confederacy, this nationalism is Confederate nationalism.

The second quote, about "the people most responsible for electing him," reveals the bargain of the Southern strategy of the Republican party and makes a claim on it, the South votes for the Republican party and in return the Voting Rights Act is to have its strongest provisions cut out and out of the South.  If it reminds you of 1876 and the abandonment of African American civil rights by the Federal government then, it should.

The [neo-Confederate]  Southern Partisan has long lead a campaign against civil rights legislation with these two themes, "South is being treated unfairly" and that the Republican party would be nothing without the South, so the Republican party owes the South, in particular owes the South the reduction of Civil Rights legislation.  The difference is primarily that Butler says "our states" instead of "the South." 
(my emphasis)

Thomas Schaller addresses Democratic strategy in the South in Cat Scratch Fever: My run-in with Dave "Mudcat" Saunders, the Democrats' Dixie huckster American Prospect Online 06/21/06.

He talks about a fact that is under-appreciated by many, which is that in several Southern states the partisan split is very much a racial split, as well.:

For Democrats, racialized voting in the South is frustratingly punitive. Depending on the cycle and the office, southern whites vote between 60 and 80 percent Republican, while blacks vote anywhere between 75 percent and 95 percent Democratic. Hold aside Florida and Louisiana, and in general the blacker the southern state, the wider George W. Bush’s margins were during the past two presidential elections.

Consider Mississippi, the state with the highest share of African Americans.  According to exit polls, 90 percent of black Mississippians voted for John Kerry in 2004, and they were 34 percent of the statewide electorate. T he Census Bureau estimates blacks were 37 percent of all 2004 voters in the state, but whether the 90 percent performance is multiplied by the lower or higher estimate, Democrats effectively started the 50-yard dash to a statewide electoral majority at somewhere between the 25-yard line and the 30-yard line, yet still finished second - by a wide margin, no less.  Meanwhile, the top three statewide elected officials in Mississippi are Governor Haley Barbour and Senators Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, none of whom might be described as liberal Republicans. Today’s white southerners, particularly in the Deep South, vote Republican with a vengeance. (my emphasis)

For some reason unknown to me, Thad Chochran tends to get a significantly higher percentage of the African-American vote in Mississippi than Trent Lott does.  But so  far as I can see, Cochran is pretty much as bad as Lott on the issues.  Cochran was even one of the few Senators who voted against the McCain-Levin anti-torture bill; Lott voted for it.

Schaller does an analysis of partisan voting patterns in Viriginia, and suggests based onthat, that Democrats should concentrate on winning swing voters in the growing suburban parts of the Southn and not on trying to out-"Bubba" the Republicans with what he calls a "rural strategy".  And he thinks that the more effective national strategy for a Democratic Presidential candidate would be based on a model that assumes:

... winning outside the rural areas and then taking a record of smart, progressive policies to rural voters for their inspection - which ratifies the strategy of Democrats first building a non-southern majority, governing confidently and successfully, and then appealing to the South, the nation’s most rural, poor, and conservative region. This approach is essentially how Bill Clinton, the first Democratic president since the Civil War to win a higher share of the vote outside the South than inside, won and governed.

Schaller focuses on national (i.e., Presidential) politics, so he doesn't address the role of Southern Democrats in Congress in this brief article.

But this article made me focus on a couple of issues.  One is that the common red-state/blue-state viewpoint really can be misleading, because for all the Republican strength in the South, this is not a Republican version of the old Democratic  "solid South" that we have now.  Republicans are stronger in statewide elections in Mississippi, for instance.  But of the state's four Congressional Representatives, two are Republicans (Bennie Thompson and Gene Taylor) and two are Democrats (Roger Wicker and  Charles Pickering).

The other is that the Democrats need to find a way to address the racial divide in politics more directly.  And not by kissing up to neo-Confederates or trying to out-Jim-Crow the Republicans.  The neosegregationist strategies the Republicans are using to disenfranchise black voters, like racially-discriminatory voter-roll purges, could be very useful issues in that regard.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The "Lobby" article

I've been meaning to post on the controversial John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt paper, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy 03/13/06. (Abridged version in the London Review of Books 03/23/06)

Their paper deals with the "Israel lobby" in the United States, which includes not only Jewish organizations but Christian Right groups, as well.  Much of the focus of the paper is on the American-Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC), the best known and also generally considered the most influential of the lobbies concerned particularly with US policy toward Israel.

It's a large and controversial subject.  This recent article is a useful way of framing the discussion: 
Is It Good for the Jews? by Daniel Levy American Prospect 07/05/06 issue; accessed 06/23/06.

Levy, who among other things was part of the Israeli negotiating team for the Oslo B talks, writes:

The publication earlier this year of a Harvard University Kennedy School of Government paper by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt entitled “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” placed the issue under a magnifying glass.

It is sensitive territory.  Their thesis, and the counterattacks, have been well-rehearsed elsewhere, including most recently by Michael Massing in The New York Review of Books.  Establishing some benchmarks is a worthwhile exercise.  The more shrill conspiracy theorists who suggest the existence of an all-powerful foreign interest occupying Washington, such as “They Dare to Speak Out” author and former Republican Congressman Paul Findley and his Council for the National Interest (a group that I had the misfortune to be quoted by in a recent New York Times ad), are wide of the mark.  Conversely, those defenders of the cause whose reflexive response is to cry antisemitism can be equally misguided and also do a disservice to the struggle against contemporary manifestations of real antisemitism.

AIPAC’s sheer name recognition and resources guarantees that most American Jews who care somewhat about Israel but are not policy wonks will likely choose it as their default vehicle for occasional involvement.  But the so-called Israel lobby is not monolithic.  Groups such as the Religious Action Committee of Reform Judaism, IPF, APN, and Brit Tzedek are probably more representative of American Jewish opinion than AIPAC (and closer to where the Israeli public and even much of government policy stands today).  Polls repeatedly show that American Jews, unsurprisingly, are liberal on Israel-Palestine, just as they are across a range of issues.  Paradoxically then, it could be argued that there is too little Jewish influence in Washington.  If more American Jews took a keener interest in what was being advocated in their names on Israel-related matters, then things might look very different, and far more hopeful.  And of course, AIPAC is not unique in being a powerful and influential lobby (as the group boasts on its own Web site) that flouts its success, or in largely representing a diaspora community on a foreign policy/homeland issue in controversial ways (just look at the role of the Cuban American National Foundation).  Furthermore, AIPAC is not omnipotent, unchanging, or unchallengeable.  It can also be a convenient scapegoat and excuse for failings of others or a credit-taking champion for the successes of more camera-shy actors.

Here, in no particular order, are a few of the many articles that have appeared dealing with the subject.

Quiet Riot: Tin foil Hats in Harvard Yard by Michael Oren 03/31/06.  As the title suggests, Oren makes the not particularly convincing argument that Mearsheimer and Walt are proposing a Jewish conspiracy theory.

Israel and Moral Blackmail: The Israel lobby is bringing out the big guns vt Justin Raimondo 04/03/06.  This writer has a tendency to give too much credit to Israel's ability to influence American foreign policy.  And he sometimes writes in a way that would make his arguments easily appropriated by conspiracy theorists.  Although highly critical of the Israel lobby, this article avoids that shortcoming.

Is the "Israel lobby" distorting America's Mideast policies? by Michelle Goldberg Salon 04/18/06.  Goldberg's experience of researching her 2006 book Kingdom Coming about the Christian Right gave her a heavy dose of the eccentric views of Israel in Christian Right apocalyptic theories.  This article provides a thoughtful critique of the Mearsheimer/Walt paper.

Juan Cole's Breaking the silence in the same daily edition of Salon (04/18/06) provides a more sympathetic take.

A Lobby, Not a Conspiracy by Tony Judt New York Times 04/19/06.  Judt observes that a more open discussion of these issues has long taken place in Europe, and it's good that the Mearsheimer/Walt paper addresses it in a serious way.

More on Walt/Mearsheimer By Jo-Ann Mort TPM Cafe 04/21/06.  She argues that the paper suffers from "shockingly sloppy" scholarship.

No, It's Not Anti-Semitic by Richard Cohen Washington Post 04/25/06.  Cohen also complains that some of the scholarship is sloppy, but this is a generally positive look at it.

Isreal, Oil and Realism by Martin Kramer, Sandbox blog 04/24/06.  Kramer is a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINIP), which generally reflects the kind of hardline policies favorted by the neoconservatives.

Alan Dershowitz blasts the paper in Debunking the Newest - and Oldest - Jewish Conspiracy: A Reply to the Mearsheimer-Walt “Working Paper” April 2006.

The Storm over the Israel Lobby by Michael Massing New York Review of Books 05/11/06.  Discusses the paper and the ensuring controversy.  Massing is generally sympathetic to the Mearsheimer/Walt paper.

Israel's American Constituency by Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service/ 05/25/06.  Discusses how AIPAC is often more hardline than the Israeli government.

Molly Ivins weighs in with a column sympathetic to the paper:  Let's call the Israel lobby the Israel lobby 04/25/06.

Iraq War: Is peace at hand?

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

It's been clear for a while now that the least bad option for the US forces to exit Iraq would involved some sort of peace agreement between Iraq's Shi'a government and the Sunni and Kurdish political and military forces.  A interim period with significantly reduced violence would allow the Bush administration to declare victory and claim "peace with honor" and bring the troops home.

Tom Hayden has been actively working to promote peace talks to achieve the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.  His take on the current peace proposals from Iraq's Shi'a-dominated government is that they may be an arrangement by which the Bush administration requested the Shi'a government to put forward a demand of some sort for US troop withdrawals.  He also thinks it could reflect the intense unpopularity of the US in Iraq.  He writes in Breaking Iraq News 06/25/06:

Until recently, the American media has remained inexplicably low-keyed towards this peace sentiment among high-ranking Iraqis. For example, the June 2005 public letter by Iraq parliamentarians was reported only by Knight-Ridder in this country. Whatever the reasons, the lack of public discussion perpetuates the illusion that American soldiers are dying to protect a majority of Iraqis who want us to stay. To borrow a phrase, it would be an Inconvenient Truth to report that the US embassy is having difficulty maintaining the loyalty of the very regime they helped install.

Most likely, a contradiction is unfolding within the American political hierarchy and national security establshment over whether this war is winnable. It also is a question of maintaining the American power posture, or its appearance. Those who know the war will end in defeat or quagmire favor a political strategy aimed at cutting losses, channeling the insurgency into talks and removing the issue from American politics in 2006. Others cling to the goal of eventually subduing the insurgency militarily and maintaining 50,000 troops permanently in Iraq.

He doesn't discuss in this article the Shi'a government's calculation of how useful the US is at this point in helping them in their civil war against the Sunnis and, increasingly, the Kurds.  As long as the US forces primarily focus their efforts against Sunni guerrillas and Kurds (to the extent they are fighting the Kurds at all), the Shi'a government is unlikely to want the American troops to leave.  But when they figure the US presence is more of a hindrance than a help, they'll begin to serious demand withdrawals.

It's not at all clear that such a thing is happening with the current peace proposals.

Juan Cole is skeptical about this round (Informed Comment 06/25/06):

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki presented a 28-point reconciliation plan to parliament on Sunday.

Al-Hayat reports that Malik views this initiative as a privilege of the executive and that he does not intend to have parliament vote on it. A Shiite parliamentarian said ti was outrageous to by-pass parliament in this way. Also, significant elements within al-Maliki's own United Iraqi Alliance (Shiite) are disturbed by the idea of granting amnesty to Sunni Arab guerrillas.

The problem is quite the other way around. The amnesty is not extended to anyone who has "shed Iraqi blood," and the Bush administration made al-Maliki back off the idea of granting amnesty to guerrillas who had killed US troops.

But if the point of the amnesty is to bring the guerrilla leadership in from the cold, this amnesty is useless. What Sunni Arab guerrillas worth their salt have killed no Iraqis and no US troops? As for the rest, why would Sunnis who had not killed anyone need to be amnestied? And wouldn't they be rather pitiful guerrillas?

This is like Kissinger saying he would talk to the North Vietnamese but not to any of them who helped the VC kill ARvN and US soldiers. There wouldn't have been any round table talks (not that that whole thing went very well anyway. Just saying.)

It appears that the main point of the "reconciliation" is not in fact to reconcile with the guerrilla movement. It is an attempt to draw off support from it by rehabilitating the Sunni Arabs who had been Baath party members. Those who had not actively killed anyone would now be brought back into public life and deep debaathification would be reversed, as I read it. (Ironically, al-Maliki led the charge for deep debaathification in the past 3 years!) Sunni Arabs would be compensated for losses inflicted on them by Iraqi and US troops (this is key to settling clan feuds against the new order). Shiite militias are to be disbanded. Militia influence in Iraqi police to be curbed. etc.

The plan also hopes to separate out the ex-Baathists from the Qutbists, who style themselves "Salafi Jihadis" but actually are just violent vigilantes, who, in the tradition of Sayyid Qutb of Egypt, blithely brand as non-Muslims worthy of death anyone who disagrees with their version of Islam. The Qutbists are coded as mainly foreigners.

(For more on Qutb, see my Sayyid Qutb post of 09/14/04.

To summarize, Cole thinks the plan is aimed more at reversing the de-Baathification process than at really reaching a settlement with the guerrillas.

Then there's the latest "big pullout coming next year" pitch:  Report: Gen. Casey plans to reduce Iraq force in 2007: Number of U.S. brigades would be cut from 14 to 5 by Jeff Schogol Stars and Stripes Mideast edition 06/26/06.  My response to this is, big whoop.  We've heard it all before.  When it actually happens, then I'll start believing it.

"Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of." - George McGovern and Jim McGovern 06/06/05

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Telenovelas: there's some serious money there

The Spanish-language TV market in the US is attracting some serious bucks:  Televisa Submits Revised Bid for TV Firm by Meg James Los Angeles Times 06/24/06.  James reports:

Capping a chaotic week, Los Angeles billionaire A. Jerrold Perenchio on Friday had a new bid in hand for Univision Communications Inc., even as another, earlier offer expired.

As expected, a group of investors led by Mexico's broadcasting behemoth Grupo Televisa submitted a bid of about $36 a share, or at least $11.2 billion, shortly before midnight Thursday.

But in assembling that bid, Televisa went through more partners than the Lotharios who populate the company's wildly popular telenovelas.

Both the Blackstone Group and the Carlyle Group had been partnered with Televisa but pulled out a few days ago, along with Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.  The article mentions in its concluding paragraphs:

It is not clear why the three private equity firms got cold feet. Sources say they left because of a dispute over how much Televisa should bid. Televisa wanted to put in a big enough initial offer to clinch the deal, one source said.

Not only that, but major media companies that own English-language networks began making noise about possible conflicts of interest. The three private equity firms also were part of a consortium that last month bought Dutch media company VNU, which owns the U.S. television ratings firm Nielsen Media Research.

Nielsen is the sole firm that measures television audiences in the U.S. Some have questioned the appropriateness of having one group of investors own both the ratings company and some of the TV networks it measures.

Darn it! Another good monster story debunked

Florida's Clearwater Monster of 60 summers ago turns out to have been Man, not beast by Jeff Klinkenber St. Petersburg Times 06/24/06.

Between the scientists and the journalists, we're not going to have any good mysteries left!


Arresting terrorists in America, kinda sorta

A quotable quote from Steve Soto at The Left Coaster (Bagging The Sheep, Not The Shepherds 06/24/06):

I want to follow up on the “Dumb Terrorists” story from yesterday, and an exchange I had with Bagley of all people in the comments thread from yesterday. Bagley’s point, as I understand it, was that these types of investigations and prosecutions are just as valuable if they stop dummies like these guys because it may prevent killings. Fair enough, but five years after 9/11, billions of dollars wasted and my privacy thrashed, all in the name of protecting me from terrorists here at home, I was hoping for a little more from our government that entrapping morons whose only link to Al Qaeda was through federal informants and agents who lied to them. We admitted as much yesterday when the Justice Department stated they stopped this case as soon as they had enough to prosecute these guys not for actually being tied to Al Qaeda, (which they weren’t except for our phony informant) but for being stupid and sounding like they were wannabes.

Which reminds me:  earlier this month there was a bust of what sounded like a Christian terrorist in Tennessee.  The FBI reportedly nailed him with a jar of the highly toxic poison ricin.  One jar more than Saddam Hussein had.  Haven't been hearing much about that case in the news, though.  Oh, yeah, the guy had pipe bombs, too.

Personally, I'm more worried about Christian terrorists that are, you know, actually stocking up on pipe bombs and ricin than about some lame-brained cultists who were baited into incriminating themselves by the FBI.  Not to minimize the danger of cults.  But I'm more worried about those that are doing something dangerous, even without the FBI to egg them on.

Stuck in Mesopotamia

T.E. Lawrence, aka, Lawrence of Arabia, is quoted in Robert Fisk's The Great War for Civilisation (2005) from 1920, in an article in the Sunday Times of London, evaluating Britain's military endeavors in Iraq:

The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour.  They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information.  The Baghdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete.  Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows ... We are today not far from a disaster.

Che tourism?

Apparently so.  According to this news article, Che Guevara tourism is flourishing in Bolivia.  Go figure:  La ruta del Che Guevara en Bolivia, un filón turístico: El 'Camino del che' tiene una longitud de 800 kilómetros El Mundo 24.06.06.

[The rouet of Che Guevara en Bolivia, a tourist gold mine:  The "Camino del Che" is 800 kilometers long]

"Camino del Che" could also be translated as the "Che Way".

I would never have the imagination to make stuff like this up.

The new Bolivian president, Evo Morales, invokes Che's name and imagery.  But, the article notes, the entrepreneurs who are capitalizing on the tourist potential don't even necessarily like what Guevera stood for.  They're just making the most of a market opportunity.

El Mundo reports that the excursions are a combination of leftwing pilgrimage and adventure/eco-tourism.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Republican Party's message on the Iraq War

Digby has a great translation of the Reps' position on the Iraq War:

There is no end in sight and there is nothing we can do about it.

That's their plan for the Iraq War.  That's it.

Atrios provides a link to a position paper that summarizes it well, too.  Check it out at the link. 

Come to think of it, that position paper has exactly the same plan as Nixon's "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War that he talked about on the campaign trail in 1968.



Iran War: The good news and the not-so-good news

"God may smile on us, but I don't think so." - anonymous Pentagon adviser quoted by Seymour Hersh April 2006 on Bush administration plans to pressure Iran militarily

Gareth Porter lays out the good news in Strategy Paper Reveals Bush Won't Attack Iran Inter Press Service 06/20/06.

Based on his reading of the 2006 version of the National Security Strategy and a speech about it at the time of its release in March by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, he argues that the policy is focused on "regime change" in Teheran, and not on stopping Iran's nuclear program.

He also argues that the current policy of supporting the Security Council negotiations is based on a pragmatic realization that Iran's nuclear program, in the worst case, won't produce a nuclear weapon while Bush's Presidential term runs:

A report by David Sanger in the New York Times Mar. 19 quoting an administration official in an interview a few weeks earlier further underlines the administration's decision against using force to prevent Iran from going nuclear.

"The reality is that most of us think the Iranians are probably going to get a weapon, or the technology to make one, sooner or later," the official was quoted as saying. The hope, according to the official, was that by the time it happened, "We'll have a different relationship with a different Iranian government."

The official said the "optimists" hoped to delay the Iran's nuclear capability by "10 or 20 years". That statement clearly inflated the time administration officials believe it would take Iran to be able to make a nuclear weapon. Intelligence estimates have consistent estimated Iran capable of building a bomb within five to 10 years.

But the Bush administration will only be in office for another two and a half years, so it knows that Iran will not go nuclear on its watch.

That's the good news.  The bad news is that they are plenty of Iran hawks among the administrator's neoconservative supporters.   And we just this week have had some new saber-rattling on Iran:  General Reports Spike in Iranian Activity in Iraq by Thomas Ricks
Washington Post 06/23/06.  Ricks reports:

Other U.S. officials have complained about Iranian meddling in Iraq, but the criticism of Tehran by Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. was the most direct and explicit so far. Speaking at a Pentagon news conference before an array of reporters and television cameras, the general listed Iranian influence as one of the four major problems he faces in Iraq.

"We are quite confident that the Iranians, through their covert special operations forces, are providing weapons, IED technology and training to Shia extremist groups in Iraq, the training being conducted in Iran and in some cases probably in Lebanon through their surrogates," Casey said, using the military abbreviation for "improvised explosive devices," or roadside bombs. The Iranians are "using surrogates to conduct terrorist operations in Iraq, both against us and against the Iraqi people."

While lots of things that happen in politics and war don't ncessarily make sense, this charge doesn't make total sense to me.  I don't doubt the part about Iran providing traning for Shi'a groups in Iraq.  But why would Iran support insurgents fighting against the Shi'a-dominated government?   Iran has generally supported the Iraqi government.  The US is helping the Shi'a government battle Sunni insurgents.  At this point, it's hard to see what Iran's interest would be in undermining the Shi's government of Iraq.

Juan Cole also has his doubts about this latest report:

The Lebanese Hizbullah denied on Thursday that it had any links to the Iraqi insurgency. The American charges in this regard puzzle me. Hizbullah is not helping the fiercely Sunni Arab guerrillas in the center-north and west. In the Shiite south, there are many Iraqi groups that would like to attack coalition forces, and they don't need Lebanese encouragement. If the US has captured Lebanese Hizbullah in Iraq, it should reveal their names and the circumstances of their arrest.

Ray McGovern also looks at the more pessimistic possibilities in Next Victim: Iran or North Korea? by Ray McGovern 06/22/06:

The question today is whether that war-decision-then-intelligence sequence remains in effect as President Bush's advisers weigh whom to attack next. This is hardly a frivolous question. As the president's poll numbers sink and the embarrassment of Iraq rises, Vice President Dick Cheney, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and presidential adviser Karl Rove no doubt are trying to choose the best way to enable Bush to polish his favorite image as "war president" in order to stem Republican losses in the mid-term elections this November. There are only two countries left in the "axis of evil." Which will it be: Iran or North Korea? ...

My best guess is that the [neocons] McInerneys and Adelmans, together with Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rove, will continue to have the ear of the otherwise inattentive president. And Rove may turn out to be the preeminent player in this, whether Iran or North Korea is chosen as the US target. For the synthetic urgency attached to these threats is a creature of the November election. The president will want to burnish his image as "war president" again, and the blue-uniformed McInerneys and Adelmans of this world are likely to second the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal and persuade the president of the need for a September or October surprise. Hold onto your hats.

Also, the Rove gambit for the Republicans of coming out hard in defense of "more of the same" in the Iraq War would make more sense if its part of a buildup to an "attack Iran" campaign.  And if that's the case, we would expect to start hearing complaints of how much Iran is interfering in Iraq.  Kind of like Gen. Casey's declaration quoted above.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Shakira en Madrid

Shakira is on the first leg of her world tour in Spain.  On Thursday, she played in Madrid.

According to El Mundo (Shakira trae el verano a Madrid [Shakira brings the summer to Madrid] 23.06.06), she "conquered the public with her songs and her dances".

The article even gives a partial set list.  It included:

Estoy aquí
Te dejo Madrid
Don't bother
Hey you
Si te vas
La tortura
Pies descalzos
Ciega sordomuda
Ojos así
Hips don't lie

Alejandro Sanz was on hand to sing the duet part on "La tortura", as he does on the record.  They are apparently very good friends.  (No, not that way; she has a long-time boyfriend.)

The article says she got a more mixed reaction on "Don't bother" and "Hey you", both from her most recent English-language CD, Oral Fixation Vol. 2, than on the Spanish ballads.  I think her English and Spanish songs are both great, but the lyrics are more intriguing on the Spanish ones.  "Hey you" sounds like a tribute to Petulia Clarke and "Downtown".

It says that when singing "Suerte", "Shakira became a force of nature capable of moving mountains and masses of human to the rhythm of her hips".  I can believe that.

Fugee Wyclef Jean was there live also to do his duet part on "Hips Don't Lie", which apparently she sang in English.  She does have a Spanish version that I saw her perform on some awards show. (The MTV Latino Awards maybe?)

The article describes "Hips Don't Lie" as the song "with which Shakira has returned to conquer the planet".

Her publicists anyway claim that "Hips Don't Lie" has received more airplay than any other song ever in history.

AOL has an AIM chat with her that I'm linking here (Shakira platica con nosotros a través del AIM - AOL Latino Música)and also copying below (the remainder including links is from the AIM chat:

AngelinMusic: ¡Hola Shakira!
HipsOfShakira: ¡Hola Ángel!
AngelinMusic: ¡Qué gusto que estés con nosotros!
HipsOfShakira: El gusto es mío, gracias por invitarme
AngelinMusic: ¿Desde dónde estás chateando?
HipsOfShakira: De
AngelinMusic: wow, chévere. ¿Estás de gira promocional o dando conciertos?
HipsOfShakira: Me estoy reuniendo con el director de mi tour, estamos ultimando los detalles del tour
"Oral Fixation" que está apunto de empezar el 14 de junio en Zaragoza, España.
AngelinMusic: hablando del tour, nos hemos enterado que las entradas para los conciertos en
New York, Miami y Los Ángeles ya se agotaron.
AngelinMusic: ¿Qué se siente?
HipsOfShakira: Increíble. Este es un momento increíble en mi carrera. Me contaron que las entradas para el concierto de Miami se agotaron en Internet incluso antes que salieran a la venta. ¡No lo puedo creer!
AngelinMusic: ¡WOW! Felicitaciones
HipsOfShakira: Les estoy tan agradecida a mis fans. Me hacen muy feliz.
AngelinMusic: ¡Y nosotros nos alegramos por ti!
HipsOfShakira: ¡Gracias!
AngelinMusic: ¿Cómo han evolucionado tus shows en vivo en el último año?
HipsOfShakira: Este nuevo show tendrá un elemento muy fuerte de baile. Las luces, el sonido, las imágenes serán artísticos, pero sobrios. Este espectáculo tendrá momentos de belleza, pero no estará sobreproducido.
AngelinMusic: ¡Me muero de ganas de verlo!
HipsOfShakira: La música será lo más importante, de tal manera que mi público podrá cantar conmigo todas las canciones que conocen.
AngelinMusic: ¡Perfecto! ¡Me encanta!
AngelinMusic:¿Cuál es el mejor concierto que TÚ has visto? Descríbelo o dinos qué fue lo mejor que tuvo.
Depeche Mode
AngelinMusic: ¡Ahora te quiero todavía más!
HipsOfShakira: La mejor parte fue la música y el hecho que Dave Gahan es un intérprete estupendo y el mejor cantante –que está vivo- que he escuchado.
AngelinMusic: ¿Qué haces para divertirte cuando estás de gira y cuando no estás en el escenario? Pasatiempos, etc.
HipsOfShakira: Reunirme con la banda, oír sus chistes...
HipsOfShakira: leer todo lo que puedo
HipsOfShakira: y jugar tenis de vez en cuando.
AngelinMusic: ¿Nos puedes contar un poco sobre la
Fundación Pies Descalzos en Colombia?
HipsOfShakira: Le está yendo muy bien. Tenemos 3,074 niños a quienes alimentamos y les brindamos educación y ayuda sicológica.
HipsOfShakira: También estamos construyendo nuevas escuelas en áreas remotas en Colombia.
AngelinMusic: Fue increíble
verte con los niños en los Premios Billboard.
HipsOfShakira: Fue lo máximo que Telemundo los haya llevado de Colombia a Miami
HipsOfShakira: Son niños que viven en pobreza extrema en Colombia
HipsOfShakira: ¡Se divirtieron tanto! ¡Vieron el mar por primera vez y se fueron de compras!
AngelinMusic: Eso les debe haber gustado tanto.
AngelinMusic: ¿Cómo es un día normal para Shakira?
HipsOfShakira: No tengo días normales en mi vida.
HipsOfShakira: Excepto cuando estoy en mi casa en las Bahamas.
HipsOfShakira: Allí puedo jugar con mis tres perros, plantar flores, ir a la playa y contemplar el horizonte.
HipsOfShakira: Fuera de eso, siempre estoy en un avión, ensayando, dando entrevistas, grabando, etc.
AngelinMusic: Has estado en todo sitio promocionando tu álbum y tu éxito más reciente
‘Hips Don't Lie,’ así que tengo que preguntarte … ¿tienes que usar un sobrenombre cuando te quedas en un hotel para que la gente no te reconozca?
HipsOfShakira: Sí, uso un sobrenombre, pero solo para que no me despierten a las 3 AM.
HipsOfShakira: No me importa que la gente me reconozca. Me gusta cuando la gente me pasa la voz en la calle y me muestra su afecto.
AngelinMusic: Definitivamente todo tu esfuerzo valió la pena…
AngelinMusic: Dime, ¿qué tienes en tu iPod?
HipsOfShakira: Nada. No he tenido tiempo de llenar mi iPod.
HipsOfShakira: Es el iPod más vacío del mundo.
AngelinMusic: ¡Mi iPod está lleno de TUS canciones!
HipsOfShakira: ¡Qué lindo! Gracias.
AngelinMusic: ¿Cómo es trabajar con Alejandro Sanz?
HipsOfShakira: Me inspiró. Fue divertido, simplemente la pasamos muy bien.
AngelinMusic: Me encantó conversar contigo Shakira. Muchas gracias por compartir tu tiempo con nosotros.
HipsOfShakira: Muchas gracias por tu tiempo también.
HipsOfShakira: Un fuerte abrazo.
HipsOfShakira: ¡SHAKI!
AngelinMusic: Mucha suerte en todo. Te veremos en tus tours aquí en los EE.UU. ¡Abrazos!
HipsOfShakira: Chao.

¿Qué te pareció esta entrevista de AIM?
Fotos, música y más de la colombiana

Iraq War: And the lies keep on coming

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

One thing the Iraq War has shown is that the Pentagon's approach to "information operations" has some basic flaws.  The basic problem being that they think they can just lie about anything they want, however far it may be removed from any consideration of operational security.  See  Truth about deaths delayed:  Family of Slain Bay Area Soldier Angry That Army Waited 9 Months by Brandon Bailey San Jose Mercury News 06/22/06.  Bailey reports:

Army officials initially told McCaffrey's family that he was killed in an enemy ambush while on patrol outside Baghdad, two years ago today.

A subsequent investigation, however, concluded last fall that McCaffrey, and another soldier, 33-year-old 2nd Lt. Andre Tyson of Riverside, were deliberately killed by Iraqis who had joined the civil defense forces and pretended to be allies. A Pentagon official who did not want to be quoted by name said Wednesday that one Iraqi has been arrested and will be prosecuted for the killings, while another suspect is believed dead.

Army officials confirmed that their investigation was completed Sept. 30, but they did not share the findings with the families until this week, after McCaffrey enlisted California Sen. Barbara Boxer's help in answering questions about her son. Officials denied a coverup, saying it took months to unravel what happened and that it was simply an oversight that no one had followed up with the families.

"We deeply regret the delay in formal notification to the family,'' said Army spokesman Paul Boyce, adding that the soldiers' former commander met with Tyson's parents Tuesday and with Nadia McCaffrey at her Tracy home Wednesday.

But critics said the delay in sharing the truth has caused more pain for the soldiers' relatives and could lead other families to mistrust the military's handling of their own loved ones' deaths.

And Sen. Boxer's guess at the main reason for the delay is also what I would think, as well:

"The only thing I can think of is that there may well have been a desire not to let the families know, not to let the public know, that the very people we're helping and training are turning on the military - because it would decrease support for the war.''

That's what Bob McCaffrey, the soldier's father, believes.

"This war was started on a lie, and they continue to lie to the American public,'' he said. "They're putting a lot of media spin on how well the Iraqi'' civil defense "forces are doing.''

This editorial connects that incident with the story of Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Lowell Tucker,  the two soldiers kidnapped and murdered just recently, and also with the indictment of eight soldiers on murder charges:  Horrors of war San Francisco Chronicle editorial 06/22/06.

The editorial doesn't explicitly address the credibility issue.  But when we know of various high-profile instances now, including the Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch cases, where the Pentagon deliberately withheld information or just lied in order to create a story that sounded better for their PR, even to the extent of given wrong information to the families of the affected soldiers, you just have to question whether any information that give out  is even remotely accurate.  Especially on a case like the Menchaca and Tucker killings, that reportedly involved what the Chronicle describes as "death by extreme acts of cruelty".

Steve Gilliard commented fairly bitterly on the delays in telling the families of the two soldiers killed deliberately by "friendly" Iraqi troops:

The US may pretend that this happened [only] once but I can't imagine US troops trust large groups of Iraqis.

[The Pentagon] would rather play up executions [like those of Menchaca and Tucker] than admit that the Iraqi Army is about as trustworthy as a junkie.

Stand up? You bet, one they they'll stand up and complete the job these guys started.

Just to be clear on the last line.  Gilliard clearly means that he expects the Iraqi army to turn on the US Army on a much larger scale.

"Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of." - George McGovern and Jim McGovern 06/06/05