Happy last day of 2005, everybody, the first year of the rest of the Bush Administration. I have a discussion of brush-clearing over at American Street; note the milestone-- the President has managed to spend 365 days on vacation at his Texas hobby ranch in the last five years... The "war president" who has deemed the Bill of Rights as too dangerous to actually uphold because of the serious existential threat presented by a smallish criminal gang... (more dangerous, he implies, than either Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia) hasn't deemed it too dangerous to spend over 20% of his presidency on vacation.
And so here we are. For the new year, look for nothing particularly new. Economically, we will continue our long slog into a permanent malaise (except for our super-rich, of course, who will continue to do fabulously, as more tax cuts-- and social program cuts-- are inevitable). Militarily, we'll be reducing our troop strength in Iraq to around 80 or 90 thousand troops by September; Iran will probably spread rumors that it has the bomb by the end of the year, though I'm pretty sure this won't be confirmable; OBL will pop up around Columbus Day to assure us that if we vote for Democrats in the Congressional mid-terms, he will kill our children. And this one move (along with rigged voting machines and gerrymandered districts) will somehow override the immense distaste of the American people for Republican corruption (Jack Abramoff will have implicated most of the House GOP leadership as part of his plea deal; Bill Frist's securities "issues" will prove very, very serious, and Karl Rove and Scooter Libby will be appealing convictions associated with obstruction of justice to Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald, though Rove will still be advising the President "informally"), and the GOP will hold both houses of Congress in the mid-terms.
I will keep trying to bring you first-hand reports from the various wars going on out there, in particular, though, our own Government's war on our own constitution. Otherwise, like the rest of you, I will try to live my life, with familia TD, as best we can.
On behalf of the Loquacious Pup, Mrs. TD and m'self... wishing you all a happy healthy new year, and all the best for '06...
An international panel will be re-assessing Iraq's recent elections, taking particular note of complaints made by Sunnis to the effect that as a result of pre-election assassinations, intimidations and that sort of thing, the Iraqi elections weren't exactly... "fair." A U.N. monitor had already declared the Iraqi elections "good enough"...
The big winners, thus far, were, surprise surprise, Shiite religious extremist parties, promising Sharia law as fast as it can be imposed; in second place were the Kurds, who want... as little to do with the rest of the Iraqi state as possible (and have their own pashmurga militias to make it so). Coming up the rear were Sunni... religious extremist parties.
Many Sunnis who fear Shia reprisals and payback for the Saddam era, and otherwise have problems with an Iranian style theocratic shit-hole are... pissed. And many of their contentions of electoral irregularity were at least serious enough to warrant further investigation (if not meaningful change, which they will not result in.)
The United States desperately needs something approaching "legitimacy" so that the new government can be formed as fast as possible and ask us to draw down our troops to below the magic 99,000 level (I'm thinking its more like 90,000) before the all-important '06 mid-term elections...
So look for two or three seats to change hands in favor of Sunnis, and the elections to otherwise be declared "Halal"... followed by... well, you all know where this is going...
Lather, rinse, repeat.
The never ending saga of Jose Padilla the only American citizen ever to be picked up in the United States and held (for over three years now) entirely at the whim of the President takes yet another turn, as the Bush Administration has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and overturn a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals order precluding moving Padilla from military to civilian custody pending the Supreme Court's decision on whether or not to review the Fourth Circuit's own earlier decision in Jose Padilla v. C.T. Hanft denying Padilla's habeas corpus application by reversing a lower court decision which had granted habeas relief.
The Fourth Circuit has essentially taken umbrage at the Bush Administration's outrageous actions of taking dictatorial powers upon itself (even as it went out of its way to manufacture a legal basis for those dictatorial powers).
Well, Padilla's New York-based attorneys Andrew Patel and Donna Newman (Ms. Newman is interviewed here) appear to have let the government have it (via TChris of TalkLeft) in their responsive papers to the High Court. Let's hope they get their message through.
For the umpteenth time, boys and girls, this is the most important case of our lives: point blank, can our government, in the name of "protecting us", just treat our most important constitutional protections as a dead letter... in short, are we a dictatorship... yes... or no?
In this assessment of the wage and benefit package reached by the Transit Workers Union Local 100 after last week's crippling New York City transit strike, the New York Times concludes that the union got the better of the deal.
This is a somewhat interesting assessment, given that the union walked away from the table and the commuters of New York when the wage offer was 10 1/2% over three years. After a painful strike in which each union member lost 6 days pay the wage gain was (wait for it)... 11% over three years. The big sticking point, of course, was the union's refusal to commit new (meaning not yet hired) workers to pay up to 6% of their first 10 years' salaries toward their own pension (resulting in the union storming away from the bargaining table and onto the picket lines).
Well, the union won't have to bear that. Instead, its existing members will now contribute a minimum of 1.5% of their salaries toward their own health care costs (previously, they did not contribute anything), an amount which can be increased if costs of healthcare increase to the MTA, the unaccountable state agency that manages the City's transit system (I continue to find it both frustrating and amusing observing how many otherwise intelligent people here think that the City government runs the MTA, when in fact, its the state government).
I agree wholeheartedly with the Times that the union's leadership comes away with a major face saving. I disagree that the leadership achieved anything for its members, other than shifting controllable pension obligations to future members back to the MTA, while shifting uncontrollable health care obligations onto existing union members. There's a simple word for that deal, given what the union otherwise had available to it: bad.
The union may get lucky, and health care costs may not rise that much, Yeah.
It looks to me that The Times is not assessing this union situation much better than, say, it assessed the credibility of the reporting of Judy Miller or Jayson Blair.
Yes! And it counts!
With apologies to Marv Albert, we give you this account of the CIA-- the agency that proved so brilliant at assessing the extent of Saddam's vast cache of weapons of mass destruction (recall its former director saying that the presence of such weapons was a slam dunk)-- was given authority to randomly pick up people off the streets of the world under suspicion of being swarthy and then spiriting them off to be tortured at some neutral third country under contract to the Company, and is now... wait for it... investigating itself.
Note that one of those mentioned as subject to extraordinary renidition was our old pal Australian national Mahmoud Habib, who was mentioned in my interview with Joshua Dratel, attorney for fellow Australian David Hicks...
Also mentioned is a German named Al-Masri...
Let's just say that the United States and its spy agency has been... behaving less than in an ideal manner. Maybe this is what's necessary to protect us from terrorists. (That's bullshit, of course-- following actual laws-- our own and those of other countries, not to mention basic principles of basic human decency-- won't really undermine our ability to combat terrorism any more than having to do so precludes us from combatting any other crimes.) Alas, the outcry about it seems to be coming entirely overseas... Americans just don't give two shits about any of this. (Of course, it's not as if, say, we had an opposition party raising its concern about an abusive government, either.)
Oh well. If our Imperium should last 1,000 years, none shall say that this was its finest hour.
We give you this WaPo article discussing the "debate" going on in Congress and other policy circles as to whether to limit or reduce benefits to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Note, btw, that many of the cries for help come from older veterans from the Vietnam era; the real discussion is prospective... shall we screw veterans from the Iraq and Afghan campaigns ahead of time, as they will make their claims for benefits in years to come...
There are only two answers, since I'm reasonably sure the third, keeping things the same, is probably the least likely. The most likely (and ultimately most costly and least efficient, but most expedient politically) is that, like all but the richest members of our society, who will always be able to secure governmental support for their endeavors, the vets will have to fend for themselves... however they do it. The somewhat less likely other possibility (and ultimately, bizarrely, least costly and most efficient) is universal medical coverage, in which case, the vets would receive appropriate care and treatment because all Americans would receive appropriate care and treatment.
For those wondering why we have these bizarre results-- trillions for worthless weapons systems sail through, whereas basic health care for soldiers and veterans becomes a political football, despite being roughly a rounding error in budgetary matters-- the reason is pretty basic. Its called "corruption". Strangely, we do a pretty good job at policing basic corruption in the health care area, usually by finding malingerers or other false claims pretty quickly. Also, everything is so damned dispersed; even a $50,000 operation presents almost no kickback opportunities compared to a $50,000,000 fighter plane or $50,000,000,000 naval vessel or missile system...
And its that simple. The Pentagon (largely, but by no means exclusively, thanks to Dick Cheney) exists as a corruption machine: only a few select contractors are permitted to play, and anyone else must do business through them. They sell everything from weapons systems to pencil sharpeners to civilian and uniformed personnel who go back and forth to the private sector (including, for example, Cheney himself), and its a cozy way of dispensing around 20% of the federal budget without too many questions being asked.
An actual war... well, that's just a gravy opportunity even better than a year of Christmases (as it has been... if you're one of the selected "in" contractors...) We won't discuss the extent this may have played a role in getting us involved in the Iraq campaign (short answer... who knows?)
Not much good if you're just some grunt who thought he was serving his nation, of course. But then, friend, where's your rugged American spirit of individualism?
Happy Boxing Day, and welcome to the official national secular celebration of the day of birth of the Lord and Savior (and The One True God TM). (Oh... it's also been one year since that tsunami, but it's not as if that happened in your neighborhood...)
As part of your ongoing present, we give you this WaPo article discussing the co-option of street art (which we used to call "graffiti") by good old corporate America to sell their wares.
You see, today's target demographic, the young, edgy urban male is too busy playing Grand Theft Auto to do his fair share of shopping. Hence, in order to reach a consumer ever better at tuning out the crap that Madison Avenue is trying to pump into his (its usually a "his", but I'm sure there are plenty of "hers" too) head, creative measures are in the offing, such as the apparent defacing of buildings and sidewalks actually being paid ads.
The article notes some occasional absurdities, such as an actual "graffiti artist" (who, again, we used to call a "vandal") trying to deface an "ad" in Chicago and being arrested for it. Unclear, of course, as to whether he was improving it, or worsening it. Doesn't matter, though.
Given advertisements over urinals in men's room, in movie trailers, on cereal boxes, on taxi cabs, on the internet (though thankfully not on your favorite blog the talking dog because, well, there just aren't enough of you reading to get an advertiser's attention... thank The One True God TM for some small favors)... one realizes that finding untaken ad space becomes more of a challenge for today's aggressive and abusive businessman. Hence, what had been perceived as "someone's private property," or better, public property, becomes the perfect canvas for the art of subliminal commercial persuasion.
I don't know... has someone said something about all this before...?
First of all, let me wish everyone a Merry Jesus' Birthday. Then, let me tell you the great news: Sec Def Donald Rumsfeld has concluded that Osama bin Laden is no longer in control of Al Qaeda.
Amidst all the hoopla over the fact that our Administration is using its "war-time" powers to implement what some might construe as... authoritarian measures... it seems that we won the war while no one was looking.
The issue with OBL was either capturing him, or failing that, at least ending his control of A.Q. and sufficiently disrupting his and its operations so that he is no longer in control. Plus, Rummy notes that OBL's reticence for around a year means he is, effectively, out of business. (Of course, given that we haven't had a presidential or other federal election since last we heard from him, we haven't needed him to stoke up the fear necessary to get those security moms out voting against their economic self-interests... but I digress...)
Well, OBL out of business... this is truly a Merry Christmas, no?
According to reports from the Grey Lady (God knows how long they've sat on them), the surveillance of phone calls and e-mails and internet traffic by the Bush Administration was far more extensive than previously revealed. It included huge numbers of (surprise, surprise) domestic telephone calls, and vast data mining of who knows what (because, of course, releasing any aspect of this would be precluded in the name of "national security," which means, of course, that no one other than a high official of the nation is entitled to any security from an abusive government (if it happens to be that of the nation in which they reside, anyway.) Surprise, surprise, regulated communications companies actively assisted the government (like they'd protect your privacy?)
We also learn that the FBI has an extensive program of monitoring mosques for radiation levels, on the presumed assumption that Islamist terrorists would bring fissionable materials to prayer, or perhaps to swap meets at their mosques.
Meanwhile, as I previously observed, the government is trying to take a mulligan with respect to Jose Padilla, the American citizen picked up on American soil who was deemed "somehow too dangerous" to be subjected to our soft and squishy criminal justice system (and those annoying constitutional protections).
Massive government intrusion into our lives with warrantless searches, targeting of specific groups for arbitrary treatment, the arrest of citizens for secret detention without any due process of law, a President who, because of his "war-time powers", need not bother with either Congress or the courts to vet the legality or authority for his actions... I don't know about you, but those events all sound more like those of an authoritarian state than a constitutional republic.
And what's more amazing is that we have an apathetic public who has been weaned on bread and circuses; more concerned with, say, sports, pop culture and the latest electronic gadgets than with the fact that they are waking up in a country that is less of a free country seemingly by the day (oh... but its protecting us from terrorists... something that every American government had done... this one being the least successful at it!)
And we have a well-oiled right wing media machine that works something like you will see this one play out: a harumph from the Times and other commercial media, a call from the Administration that anyone who opposes the government actions is an overt supporter of "the terrorists" and a traitor, quickly seized upon by talk radio and the vast number of right wing blogs, many of which are recipients of Mr. Scaife's largesse, a commercial media that then reports "both sides of the story," when there is only one side, thereby adding to the perception of "scandal-fatigue," followed by whining lefty blogs (of which this is but one, with a small reach at that)... and that's it.
I'm beginning to think that even if this President did something seriously bad, like getting oral sex from a White House intern, the spin machine would work the same way, and nothing would happen...
After a third day without subways or buses, amidst the threat of incarceration of its leader, Roger "Rosa Parks" Toussaint, the Transit Workers Union agreed to return to work and continue to negotiate a contract, ending the three day walk out.
Timed as it was to hurt the City, during Christmas week, and implemented out of panic probably because union officials feared the most militant factions of their own union rather than because of the perceived need for barganing advantage, this strike will go down as one of the great pointless endeavors in labor-management history, though each worker is out 6 days pay, the union is out $3 million in fines, and the City lost around a billion dollars in business.
Management (few people seem to realize that our Metropolitan Transportation Agency is actually a creature of the State-- rather than the City-- government) also mishandled this... it appears that 16,000 pending disciplinary actions against a 36,000 member union is... excessive, perhaps? Retirement at 55 takes on a different perspective if large numbers of union members die in their 60's from work-place contracted conditions... And frankly, a decision to try to protect one's working terms and conditions is not "thuggish" (though, frankly, the choice to do this over Christmas week in a city with so many businesses dependent on holiday sales, was). (Question: why couldn't this union make the case for its actual grievances? The lack of public sympathy for the strikers was palpable, and frankly, it was staggering.)
So... faced with crippling fines and jail terms, the union seized on an initiative by state mediators, and decided to stanch the bleeding and return to work-- having gained exactly nothing from striking-- also out of panic.
And there you are. A local radio station said it best: nothing says the holidays like an MTA strike.
The City's transit strike entered day II; a local judge has summoned Transit Workers' Union Local 100 President Roger Toussaint to court tomorrow, to face possible contempt and jail.
At this point, the strike may be taking on the aspect of mutual assured destruction: yes, it inflicts heavy pain on a city of 8 million people; but it may well kill, or at least, permanently damage, the union. Coming as it does like clockwork in an odd year (and in the penultimate week of that year), it joins 9-11 in '01 and the blackout in '03 as just-another-event here in NYC in an odd number year.
The problem for the union, who purports to be "protecting the unborn", i.e., future workers who would have to pay more for their own pensions and health care than do current workers, is that they have now very likely de-fanged the threat value of a future strike.
The legend will be "we got through 9-11, we got through the blackout, and we even got through a transit strike during Christmas week..." In short, the one thing this union always had-- fear of the consequences of such a strike... will be shot. And, frankly, the longer this strike goes, the worse that will be.
And possibly shot for nothing. Because, for a change, it looks like the union will not get one jot better of a deal for striking than if its leadership had simply continued bargaining, and continued threatening a strike.
It is admirable for the union to stand up for the rights of people who aren't even union members yet; when measured against the consequences of trying to shut down this City during Christmas week no less, it seems... less so. Well, we'll see how this plays with the public. I have my doubts that it will play very well.
The saga of lone-U.S.-citizen-to-be-still-held-as-an-unlawful-combatant Jose Padilla took another turn as the same Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that held "Constitution? WHAT Constitution?" last September in overturning a lower court's grant of habeas corpus has now rebuked the Bush Administration for its brazen attempt to evade Supreme Court review by transferring Padilla out of military custody.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a decision by now spurned Supreme Court hopeful Michael Luttig noted the appearance of lawlessness, specifically, that the sudden transfer clearly designed to avoid Supreme Court review would make it look like Padilla had been arrested and held... by mistake. In short, the court felt that a decision (clearly) designed to evade Supreme Court review was a diss to it...
Will the fun never end?
"It" is a strike by over 30,000 transit workers at the nation's (by far) largest public transit system, forcing millions of people (such as m'self) to find alternative means of getting to work (such as walking, or in my case, "limp-jogging.")
Your talking dog won't pretend he has any sympathy for the strikers in this case. Had they elected to strike last Friday, when the deal they were offered still sucked... then I might sympathize. But they hung tough, and get offered a better deal than any other major municipal union here got... and then called it an insult and struck anyway!
Such strikes of public workers are illegal in New York State; given the total disruption this causes to the nation's largest city, where less than half the population has cars, and on days like this, there'd be nowhere to park anyway given all the Christmas shoppers there'd be nowhere to park... public transit is a lifeline for most of the City . The union faces a million dollar a day fine, and each worker will be fined two days pay for each day of the strike, meaning that any wage increase will quickly become... self-funding.
What are you going to do? The American labor movement already has enough problems, without major unions deciding to destroy it from the inside.
The world news is too depressing; I am really horrified hearing about that sea-plane crashing in Miami; I'm annoyed by the President's arrogance at stomping on what we used to think were our constitutional r ights, and I'm perturbed at the possible disruptions to be caused by a New York City transit strike. So instead... something completely different... a shameless self-promotion...
You are getting very sleepy, sleepy... you will go over to the Koufax Awards at Wampum and nominate this blog for "best series" (that would be "the talking dog") for our series, "the unlawful combatant interviews" (of attorneys Dratel , Katyal and Newman) or the complete "interviews" including those same three plus Staff Sergeant Shanona Gregozek and Pulitzer Prize winner David Hackett Fischer ).
Let's face it: this blog won't win best blog, or best writing, or any of the other popularity contests, given that we average fewer hits in a year than Atrios will get in the next twenty minutes. But best series... yes, bigger blogs are competing. But did they go out and get the story themselves? Or just package stories already available on the net. You see, these interviews are relatively rare on the net: a blog, and one not particularly well-trafficked at that, doing actual reporting... OK. Shameless self promotion over.
When I clap my hands, you will wake up, and go over to Wampum and nominate this blog for best series. Clap.
You will now remember nothing. Except to tell everyone you know to go to Wampum to nominate the talking dog's "interviews" for best series.
The President testily defended the practice (revealed by a New York Times story that the Times sat on for over a year to ensure the reelection of the Imperium) that our Government, via its NSA (formerly headed by Incompetetentallezza Rice and now by Stephen "See No Evil, etc." Hadley) is routinely spying on American citizens in contravention of what we all believed to be the American constitution and laws.
Given the ongoing saga of Jose Padilla, our... controversial... practices at Guantanimo Bay, Bagram, Abu Ghraib, and the various ghost CIA operations in Eastern Europe and the Middle East... our massive government deficits caused even more by the insane spending increases under total Republican government than by the insane tax cuts...
One might question why the folks in charge call themselves "conservatives." Possibly, because their policies are about conserving the wealth and power that they manage to appropriate to themselves.
Power that we now know includes routine monitoring of you and me and the intimacies of our lives. The authority of the President to do this, as, for example, set forth in legal memoranda he commissioned on the subject: because he can.
And I suppose if gasoline prices continue to come down... most Americans will be the happier for it.
In a few hours from now (about 11 30 pm in New York), Stanley "Tookie" Williams will be put to death by lethal injection at San Quentin prison, his last-ditch efforts at a stay of execution from the courts or from California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger failing.
Williams is alleged to have murdered four people in the Los Angeles area over 20 years ago; he was also alleged to be a founding member of the notorious Crips gang. In prison, he has been a model citizen, among other things, writing children's books aimed at dissuading youths from gang violence.
We loves our death penalty here in America; we recently executed our one thousandth prisoner since 1976; only China, Iran and Indonesia have executed more prisoners. I'm sure most Americans are just delighted to be in the company of those three great nations-- the pinnacles of the kinds of values we hold dear. Of course, since 1976, we have also had over 600,000 homicides, proving the futility of a death penalty that doesn't particularly deter crime in any way, though it is widely believed to be administered unfairly (largely because it is administered unfairly). The one good thing you could say about the death penalty (aside from its popularity, and that does count for something in a democracy... though universal health care and a decent minimum wage are damned popular, and you won't see those anytime soon) is that it presumably saves states money, by ending a prisoner's life before spending the cost of warehousing them for decades. But... counting the cost of the endless appeals, the reality is, the death penalty ends up costing more in many cases than warehousing the prisoner for life. Without, of course, the possible discovery of later innocence.
Schwarzenegger's denial of clemency should have been expected; it reflects the same political cowardice that he showed in vetoing the gay marriage bill. Arnold needs some political support somewhere, so if acting like a hard-ass (and against the principles he intimated he stood for during his campaign) surprises some people, maybe it shouldn't... after all, there's an election next year, isn't there?
Williams' case presents a number of difficulties. Williams always maintained his own innocence; nothing surprising there. Because that will make it too easy, we'll just have to play this out. In my view, a lifetime of incarceration in (an overcrowded) California prison is probably a nastier punishment than execution. But as a penological matter, it sends a message that there may not be much point in behaving well in prison: it won't get you jack (to be fair, Williams' situation is by no means run of the mill.) But... it sends a message.
it won't bring Williams' victims' back, certainly. Perhaps it will make the victims' families feel better, for a time. Or not. Only they can know for sure. But once again, when, in our name, the state engages in barbarity in the interest of either punishing or deterring barbarity, and does so in a way that is by all accounts, grossly unfair (and let's just stick to Black men in Los Angeles; recall a fellow who brutally murdered two people around 11 years ago, but, unlike Williams, was in a position to hire a top-notch legal team and hence buy himself reasonable doubt, and is out playing golf somewhere, while Williams awaits death by lethal injection)... is that really what we want?
Trick question. I realize that this is the system that Americans do want. It just happens to have an... unattractive side from time to time.
From Bruce the Veep (who attributes his source as Andrew Sullivan), we give you this cogent explanation for virtually everything that has come out of the White House for the last several years.
We knew it had to be something like this.
Now, we finally have proof.
An interesting confluence of events, the near simultaneous deaths of the premier comedian of the 1970's, Richard Pryor, at 65, of an apparent heart attack, and former Minnesota Senator and Presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy, who died at 89.
Pryor was in famously bad health, suffering from multiple sclerosis; at one point, he suffered from burns over 50% of his body in an accident. McCarthy... was 89, and was living in an assisted living situation.
Both represented the promise and the energy released by the 1960's, particularly, the late 1960's. McCarthy was a darling of many a well-meaning student, and his decision to run against sitting President Lyndon Johnson on the issue of the war was part of the matrix of decisionmaking that led LBJ not to run (and hence, led Nixon to win, which has ushered in so much of our recent history... )
And Richard Pryor was just the definition of comedy: numerous Grammy winning albums, appeared in 40 movies, everywhere, and he was out there, willing to use any form of language... obscenity back when it was still shocking (not to mention back when it was funny.) Nothing I can say about him will do him justice, so I won't say anything.
So... at a time when the energy and the promise of the 1960's and even the 1970's seems to be fading... two icons of that era... pass on the same day.
Another visit to Pravda, another opportunity to ask an obvious question, this time against the backdrop of this report on rapidly improving relations between India and Russia: since defense trading is so damned critical to countries like Russia, and its desire to make money is what is driving it to sell weaponry to problem-children nations like Iran... and we spend so damned much on our own defense... why don't we simply buy enough of our defense needs from Russia (or others who might sell to Iran), taking away their incentive to do so...?
We know the answers: (1) the people who run our government are stupid and greedy, and (2) Russian arms makers haven't set up a sweetheart network of revolving door jobs available to ex-Pentagon officials and K-Street lobbyists to make sure they get "their fair share" of business (and that the relevant people get "their fair share" of kickbacks and bribes.)
The results, of course, are that we will have a harder and harder time keeping Iran from ultimately acquiring nuclear weapons, weapons that its current psychopathic Neanderthal elected President intimates that it intends to use on you know know (who, of course, will retaliate in kind.) Oh... also weapons it might funnel to its terrorist friends like A.Q.... who would then use them, possibly, on you know who... only there wouldn't necessarily be a return address...
It seems that as early as 1998, American officials in our embassy in Riyadh were warning Saudi officials about the threat posed by Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda against civil and military aviation.
It seems the Saudis may have stepped up their airport security at the time and, ironically, the United States... did not... As everyone who reads this knows, 15 of the 19 9-11 highjackers were Saudi nationals... We won't talk about warnings the American government might have had...
Leads to too many questions.
How about "shortest ethics course", when it is suggested by the current Republican speaker of the House. No doubt we can get ex-Majority leader Tom DeLay and ex-Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham to serve as guest lecturers.
How about... shortest t.v. mini-series about the Holocaust..., in this case, a mini-series proposed by Mel Gibson set agaisnt the backdrop of the Holocaust. Mel Gibson's father is already on record as a Holocaust denier (that will shorten the mini-series right there), and Mel's Passion of Christ is regarded by many as anti-semitic... But hey... with rumors swirling that Mel may be the California GOP's backup should Arnold's services be terminated...
Or... shortest connecting flight...... as an apparently mentally ill passenger boarding his connecting flight from Miami to Orlando ran up and down the airplane aisles claiming he had a bomb in his bag (even as his wife ran behind him screaming that he was mentally ill and handn't taken his medication), and, when exiting the aircraft, failed to stow his arms and legs on the ground as directed by air marshals, who shot him, dead. Say this for post-9-11 airport security: it's no longer a joke, not even a little.
Shortest stay in the dock... former Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Hamza Al-Zubaidi died in U.S. custody before participating in the war crimes tribunals that are currently involving Saddam Hussein and seven others... reportedly of heart problems...
And shortest... welcome?... to SecState Incompetetentalleezza Rice, for suggesting that the U.S. does not tolerate torture by its personnel (apparently, like corruption in New Orleans or in my home County of Kings, where we do not tolerate corruption)... we demand it.
Well, that's all my attention span will take on this... yet another day that will live in infamy, on the 64th anniversary of some event that wasn't nearly as important as 9-11 (or that Super Bowl where Janet Jackson's booby showed...)
The American Secretary of State Incompetetentalleezza Rice visited new German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and was promptly pelted with questions about American unlawful "extraordinary rendition" (no denying that, please) kidnapping and rendition of prisoners believed to be terror suspects to friendly third countries where they could be tortured and abused, and most importantly, be tortured and abused beyond the reach and oversight of American law.
One such renditionee is a German national kidnapped to Afghanistan and unlawfully (he alleges) abused and tortured there... before eventually released after five months or so.
Some of the cooperating third countries are our "New Europe" allies in Eastern Europe, and some are in the Middle East, and some are, let's face it, God knows where.
Rice's response, of course, was to try to duck the questions (about ghost prisons and renditions and torture and s***) entirely; certainly, no satisfying answers were reached on the subject, and in the case of the German national (a Mr. al-Masri), Rice contradicted the German Chancellor's exclamation that the United States admitted it erred in his case, while the SecState's response was "if mistakes were made-- which they most assuredly were not-- we will take corrective measures-- if we feel like it-- which we most assuredly do not." With respect (I love that expression), the SecState doesn't necessarily want to compromise the legal position of the United States in a case just filed against it.
Still, these are rather troubling allegations. The premise of our "War on Terror TM" is that because there are "rogue states" (Afghanistan and Iraq) who do not obey international norms and harbor terrorists and cost Poppy Bush (which, btw, I'm
convinced is a reference to the flower rather than some friendly fatherly type thing) the 1992 election... they have to be stopped, even by preemptive force if necessary. So... we go on to behave as if we are a rogue state, acting ourselves as if we were international terrorists, willfully kidnapping people and moving them about the world beyond oversight for abuse and torture. (Yes, yes, I am aware that these are "mere allegations" at the moment; we'll see to what extent they are proven, though we know for sure of the "Black Ops" and ghost prisons and extraordinary renditions; we just don't know their full extent, and likely never will.)
Just all part of the pastiche of American moral authority.
And thus the trial of Saddam Hussein and seven other high ranking officials of the Baathist regime proceeded, with testimony being taken. The graphic testimony included description of tortures and killing, evidently in revenge upon a Shiite village some of whose residents were involved in a plot to assassinate Saddam; details included a description of a meat grinder used for human flesh. Saddam Hussein himself stood up and made several outbursts, including at one point that he was not afraid of execution (healthy attitude, given his current position...)
What's fascinating, of course, is that Saddam Hussein was a horrible dictator, doubtless responsible for the horrible deaths of thousands (and his sons I'm sure currently reside in an even lower circle of hell than is reserved for Tikriti Pere).
And perhaps the circus can go on without too many more members of the defense team being assassinated... particularly as those elections come up in a couple of weeks... maybe some Sunni politicians can get through it without themselves getting assassinated... Former U.S. Attorney General and world-renowned gadfly Ramsey Clark has arrived, to act as a "legal advisor" to the Saddam Hussein defense team... just part of the circus...
Oh well. The "trial" is not exactly an open process. Since there is nothing resembling "security" or "normalcy" in Iraq (and you have to hand it to Saddam... when he was in charge, there were both... nasty and tyrannical to be sure, but one could probably drive from the airport to downtown without being ambushed... unlike now...), can there be anything resembling "a fair trial"? Of course there can. The trial will, in the end, result in an awful lot of evidence, some of it even true, and the defendants will be found guilty and sentenced to death. There will be a huge outcry about it from the EU and the UN, but the democratically elected Iranian influenced government that will have to deal with the death sentence handed down by a court selected by Ahmad Chalabi's nephew... will have no problem carrying out the sentences.
Certainly, Saddam himself would have done nothing less, were he in a position to dispense or withhold mercy.
But there you go. Our President, who was the governor of a state that carried out more executions during his term than any other governor in American history (or so I'm told) isn't the least bit squeamish about our protectorate (and it is without doubt our protectorate) executing his family's bugaboo (i.e. the guy who cost Poppy the '92 election... which is all this was about anyway...)
Saddam is a bastard, to be sure. But karma is a most peculiar thing. Perhaps some big picture thinking should go into things.
Of course, while my fellow travelers on the left must realize that Bush isn't Hitler, our Loyalist readers must realize that Saddam isn't either. Our most inexact "Victor's Justice" may have boomerang consequences later. Nuremberg was kind of a one-off: WWII really was a special case... as was Cambodia's and Rwanda's killing fields, which ultimately involved some sort of international tribunals (tribunals which did not impose the death penalty on the guilty) and Mao's Cultural Revolution (which did not involve international tribunals). Saddam is, frankly, just another dictator, and if Mr. Allawi (the interim PM we installed) is to be believed, didn't do things all that differently from what the current proto-regime/Shiite militias are doing... but in any event, I daresay, a huge portion of the world's population lives under conditions that would not be unfamiliar to the people of Saddam's Iraq...
Will I shed a tear when Saddam is hanged (I suspect it will be hanging; it might be shooting, of course... Saddam himself often ordered that)... ? Certainly not for him. There will doubtless be stepped up violence by the Sunni/Baathist deadenders at all stages of the Saddam trial... others will die for this buullshit photo op, including lots of Americans. That's the way it is. Will it be worth it? Dick Cheney once asked the rhetorical question of how many American lives Saddam was worth, and he answered "not too damned many." Of course, that was before... now the only principle is that the ends justify the means...
This week's visit to our comrades at People's Daily gives us this discussion of the American military's admission of its use of a paid contractor ("the Lincoln Group"... funny, that... ) to dispense propaganda representing the American view of events in Iraq.
This is the kind of story that epitomizes why I try to bring you stories from former Cold War propaganda outlets Pravda and PD... because in today's bizarre world... those sources are more trustworthy than, oh, The New York Times. (Don't believe me?)
Of course, it's not just the Iraqis who our government seeks to influence through the occasional dip into propaganda every now and again... sometimes, we sell ourselves a bill of goods... consider this lengthy expose in Rolling Stone by James Banford on "the Rendon Group" (the Carlyle Group, the McLaughlin Group... never mind...)
The basic premise (surprise, surprise) is that the Bush government (Poppy's this time) hired John Rendon to "make a case" to the Panamian people on why an American war of aggression to remove a foreign leader (then Manuel Noriega) was a good thing. Rendon was later hired by the Kuwaitis to spread lies such as the Iraqi troops killed babies on incubators in order to stir up world (and American) fury to start Gulf War I. In the process, Rendon created the Iraqi National Congress (a true astro-turf as opposed to grass roots movement) in the early 90's, which he organized, served as paymaster of, etc. Fast forward ten years or so and Rendon's creation was the principal source of our "intelligence" as to Saddam's WMD threat...
The CIA evidently ran a lie detector test, and concluded that the "defector"
Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri... was full of s***, his tales of helping Saddam's men bury thousands of tons of the most dangerous weapons in the world... just thousands of tons of crap. But alas... we weren't done. The CIA was also running another operation (or DOD was... you're never sure with these things) to gin up support for a war with Saddam, and the truth well... wasnt that important in that operation.
So.. despite our government's knowing that this tale of Saddam's WMD was a (complete, total, undeniable) lie, this story of Saddam's massive caches of WMDs was nonetheless schlepped to the media... in particular, to war criminals Judith Miller and (the late?) Paul Moran, the latter of Australian television and long on the INC payroll himself. And Judy... more interested in getting on the front page and maintaining her cushy access... didn't bother doing, any... what's that word... verification? Just took things at face value... and yes, her overseers at the Times are every bit as guilty as she is (and no, it will not be preposterous if she, they and some others find themselves having to answer charges about their actions one of these days before, say, a war crimes tribunal...)
But... many fools accepted the credibility of the Times as proof enough that Saddam was dangeorus enough to warrant the ultimate act of going to war (fools not including yours truly, who knew from the Times' bogus and deliberate undercounting of protestors in February of 2003 of a massive anti-war protest in New York that I was at that the Times had, for wahtever reason, decided to throw its weight and prestige behind having the damned war... maybe... so its war correspondents could win Pulitzers? so its reporters would continue to be welcome at the tough guys' table? Who knows why... but not for anything resembling... journalism... or dare I say it... the truth...)
So here we are. We have a government willing to pay private contractor propagandists with taxpayer money to mislead voters into policies that, magically, require expenditures of yet more taxpayer money... lather... rinse... repeat... All I can say is that as long as we can still access Pravda and the People's Daily... and we still have media sources like Rolling Stone and New Yorker (and of course, m'self...) at least some of us can figure out what's going on out there.
Until then... trust no one... especially those trying to buy your attention.
Our visit to Pravda gives us this article discussing the latest Russian arms deal, to wit, the sale of 29 defensive "Tor" missiles to Iran, for the unequivocal purpose of deterring a possible Israeli (or... American) air strike at Iran's nuclear research facility at Bushehr... lest Israel repeat its 1981 assault (then, the exact same strike that Iran itself tried, and failed, to do) of Iraq's nuclear research facility at Osirak.
The current deal is at a pathetic $700,000,000... for such a ridiculously small sum, we risk hopelessly complicating a very dangerous situation... honestly... if our Department of Defense doesn't spend more than that every 24 hours... I'd be shocked... could help Iran defend its ability to develop those nuclear weapons against Israel... or more importantly... us.
You see, amidst all the horseshit about Saddam Hussein being aligned with terrorists and potentially giving terrorists the really nasty weapons he was developing (for our Loyalist readers who insist that the President never said these things... the source I link to is a White House press release), the reality is, Iran is already well known as an ally of terrorists (including our pals at Al Qaeda), and as we know, wants to develop a nuclear program and be able to defend it against Israeli or American air power... It would seem, then, that it was Iran that presented the compelling threat, as opposed to sanctions-contained Iraq. It's certainly possible to see why the President may have made this mistake... Iran and Iraq are spelled very similarly, are both loaded with Shiites, both have oil, and they are, of course, next to each other...
Jokes aside, as the Pravda piece makes clear, this is simply about making a ruble or two... Russia views this not as some sort of ideological advancement of the Iranian regime, but as a commercial adventure. It strikes me, then, that the complications this presents to us (assuming, as I do not, that the Bush Administration has any sense whatsoever of what presents actual strategic threats to this country)... why not simply out-bid Iran? Just tell Russia that we'll buy their missiles, as part of, I don't know, a demonstration research project or something... or better yet, we'll buy their whole operation and divert it from weapons into hybrid vehicles or toaster-ovens... as well as making good on some of our other promises to Russia, such as helping it dismantle its dangerous Soviet era nuclear weapons and ensuring their safe-keeping away from... terrorists... and places like Iran...
Just another example of our having hopelessly lost focus thanks to the Iraq adventure. We should pull our troops out as fast as humanly possible, starting yesterday, precisely so we can better assess, and ultimately deal with, threats like Iran's possible development or acquisition of nuclear weapons (and its complication of any possible response to such an event), not to mention, have enough money on hand to deal with things that way, if required.
The alternative is just madness. But that's where we're going.
Ukraine and Bulgaria, two members of our multi-national force in Iraq (it is, at least, that) have announced their intentions to withdraw their forces, a combined total of 1,250 troops, from Iraq in the next few months. This comes amidst a number of other countries (Italy, South Korea, Poland and others) already discussing or outright planning on partial or total withdrawals of their own, all while the 800 pound super-power gorilla debates whether the 98-pound weakling local Iraqi guerrillas have inflicted enough military and political damage to increase the Americanwithdrawal plans (around 1/3 of current forces, or a remaining force of 99,000 or less by next October 1, damn the torpedoes, car bombs and geo-political implications... midterms, you know.)
Of course, Bruce the Veep sends us this Spencer Ackerman snippet from "even the liberal New Republic which tells us, ostensibly, what we have known for a while: the Sunni-Shiite civil war is on. It's already started, and we pretty much can't stop it now, no matter what our strategy is, and that's that. I tend not to be that pessimistic; I don't think the civil war will be fully on until we're pretty much out of there. The problem is, the status quo is not sustainable for the United States either politically or militarily for, frankly, more than another few months, if not weeks. So, whether its on now, or conditional on our being largely (if not entirely) gone... I do agree that it's pretty much a foregone conclusion. The simple facts on the ground-- Shia death squads, Baathist dead-enders blowing up American convoys and Shia mosques-- demonstrate this. One side is itching for pay-back, and the other side knows it, and is trying for preemptive horror. With Americans getting killed or maimed every day, standing in between (and the Kurds haven't even been-- at least by and large-- dragged into this... yet...)
That said... there is nothing wrong with using the December 15th elections to say "our work here is done" (translation: "you're on your own"), and moving our military personnel out of Iraq, and into other venues where, at least, they might make a difference, and, perhaps, actually advance American strategic interests, instead of being walking targets in someone else's civil war.
Indeed, something tells me the Secretary of Defense agrees with me, which is why we will, by and large, be withdrawing our troops possibly faster than the mandatory "under 99,000 by mid-terms" we are already committed to do.
Once again, if you take the President at his word, our pre-war goals of disarming Saddam's Iraq, regime change and establishing democracy in Iraq have all been achieved. So... by what the President suggested we could achieve by launching an aggressive war... has already been achieved...
That said... this would be an excellent time to cut and walk, declare victory, and plan our next, more palatable aggressive action... somewhere else. We can devote our military resources to other things. And there was that tall bearded guy... O-something or other... whoever he is... maybe we can start thinking about him...