Sunday, December 18, 2005

Shock Means Nothing Anymore

One can hardly put to words the feeling that the United States Administration headed by President George W. Bush just does not care for antiquated things such as the Bill of Rights. Since September 12th, 2001, America has operated under rules completely held in secret. With the latest revelation that an executive order was repeatedly invoked authorizing the National Security Agegncy to conduct eavesdropping activities on citizens without any oversight, it must be determined that there is no out-of-bounds any more.

The executive branch has the right (they say) to investigate, review, and decide the merits of wiretapping United States citizens without the subject's knowledge, or any other branch of government interfering with the investigation. No oversight. No FISA to be burdened with. And with any luck, no newspaper will move ahead with the story that this situation actually exists.

Why does this shock anyone? Will the next revelation surprise the public? Veiled corporate councils that conceive energy policies, hidden interrogation centers, word-bending on torture, an entire war brought about courtesy of intelligence hand-picked to deceive? To put this melodramatically, it would take the President himself knocking over a liquor store caught on the six o'clock news to shock the public at this stage.

There is no War on Terror. Just as there was no "war" on poverty, or illiteracy, or drugs, or crime. The term is not applicable to a tactic used by the fanatics familiar with the tool. War is reserved to a declaration by Congress against a foreign state. There is no declaration of war on Iraq, just an open-ended call to the President to do what he deems fit. What the U.S. faces is a very small group of radicals that wishes to avenge the perceived wrongs (without taking issue as to the rightness or wrongness of these perceptions) done to them by attacking American interests at home and abroad. They do not call any one place home, and will be with us for as long as the long arm of American foreign policy interferes with other countries' affairs.

The rationale the President used in his latest radio address is that he can do this because the United States is at war. How long then can he continue to conduct this warrantless search of citizens? Whenever the war on terror is over. Notice an open-endedness to that approach?

President Bush suggested that he has done all of the greater good of protecting the American people. Something to review for the moment then - what does the oath that President's take before being sworn in as the nation's leader state?
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

And what of the Fourth Amendment in said Constitution?
Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

This government has been a grand experiment. Can a republic be built upon democratic ideals and survive humans? Each administration should have enough respect to leave the system as good or better than when they found it. A farmer will tell you that you must care for the land and treat it right if not for good crops this year, but a good harvest next year and for the next decade. Instead, the last century has shown a creep towards concentration of power. Whether it was a Roosevelt (both), a Reagan, a Johnson, or a Clinton, the American public has grown compliant to the shift. That march towards power is hurting the experiment's results each and every year.

Placing the brakes on that push towards absolutism is reserving the rights of the citizens to the citizens, and not solely to the executive/legislative/judiciary branches of government. Maybe this is why so many are up in arms about the notion that a President can do what she or he sees fit when it comes to our rights in the name of security.

There has to be outrage and shock at this, even if it seems hard to muster.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

When Can You Torture?

What type of hypothetical situation warrants torture? What type of situation must one encounter before the asphyxiation begins, and the organ failure ensues?

Is there a bomb? Is it a very large bomb? Is it ready to go off, and is said bomb placed in New York City or Los Angeles?

Is there a detainee who knows everything about the plan, but just isn't talking? Is time running short and there are hundreds of thousands of lives at stake? Will the knowledge that this person holds result in a mushroom cloud unless she or he talks?

All of these postulates are put forward as an excuse to allow torture. In a way it relies on a utilitarian approach to assessing the situation: Will the threat and application of pain to one person bring about safety and security for a large number of people? With one bad thing, many can be happy - that is the premise.

Charles Krauthammer
has made the following case:

...there is the terrorist with information. Here the issue of torture gets complicated and the easy pieties don't so easily apply. Let's take the textbook case. Ethics 101: A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb in New York City. It will go off in one hour. A million people will die. You capture the terrorist. He knows where it is. He's not talking.

Question: If you have the slightest belief that hanging this man by his thumbs will get you the information to save a million people, are you permitted to do it?

It is a wonderful scenario. There can be no doubt that one must choose to torture, and not waste a moment applying the car battery to the detainee's chest. Torture first, then ask polite questions later.

This hypothetical is ludicrous.

The premise presumes that the person being held is indeed the bomber. What if they are not? What if the bomber's name is Jason Smith, and the authorities picked up Jayson Smith? An hour torturing the wrong actor in the scenario and the authorities are still no closer to locating the device, and in addition they have inflicted harm and pain on the person who during his torment may just name some random place in an effort to stop the torture being given.

So getting the right suspect in the first place is critical to the hypothesis. Has the U.S. ever gotten this point wrong in the past? Yes, we have botched it in the past. There is no reason to believe that from here to infinity, the U.S. will only get the right people to torture in the future.

Of course the hypothetical must disallow such conjectures. It's purpose is to commit the person answering the question to say, "yes, I'd torture the person if it would save millions of people." An alternative such as evacuating the city as quickly as possible isn't a solution, and it cannot be offered on purpose. It would be a reasonable alternative as opposed to depending on torture to produce some evidence that will lead to the defusion of the bomb.

Krauthammer conveniently leaves out that torture produces little if any intelligence that can be used. Most humans who have suffered through torture (a certain Senator in the United States Senate comes to mind) will devulge the information that they think the interrogators want to hear. And in the case of the above hypothetical, wouldn't we naturally presume that the actual terrorist detainee would plant any number of false places in the heads of those doing the torture to prevent them from finding the pending nuclear explosion? Uptown -- the Lower East Side -- Wall Street -- the Brooklyn Bridge.

There are so many holes to poke in the argument, it is a wonder that it was brought up in a serious manner. By the logic of the argument that saving many at the expense of one is admirable, we should be able to apply the fallacy to other instances. Move away from a nuclear bomb, and make it C4 explosive. It is in a bag and is placed somewhere on the subway in NYC. It will do a lot of damage and quite possibly kill two dozen people unfortunate to be near it when it detonates. Can torture be applied to the bomb planter? What about an armed bank heist that might result in the death of one or two innocent civilians?

If it is the quantity of life lost, and not the actual act of torturing a suspect that is the concern, then there must be a limit that one can agree on. It is just difficult to establish if that limit is one life, 20 lives, possibly one thousand. A million lives seems to be the accepted amount, but 500,000 lives should be high up the list as well.

It would be more telling (and actually boost the case for those that advocate torture) if there was some definitive case for the ticking time bomb scenario. None have occurred that are noted in any of these arguments. We only learn of the hypothetical. There may be a reason for this: torture has never worked out so neatly as to stop something from happening, much less garner information that is at all usable. Of the plots that have been thwarted, torture had nothing to do with it. Richard Reid just wan't bright enough to detonate his shoes (thanfully). The millenium bomber just was too gosh darn nervous to keep his story straight at the border. Without evidence that getting physical with a suspect grants the interrogator a treasure trove of information, one really goes out on a spindly limb with torture.

It is quite probable that any interrogation technique will not yield any information that can be used. However, it is a certainty that the one technique that we would not wish to be used on any Americans is that of torture. What's not good for us should be just as unacceptable for others.

Mr. Krauthammer argues that the hypothetical is reason enough to establish his conclusion that there must always be room for an exception to torture a person. Fine. Don't complain then when an American pilot or soldier is shown being tortured on camera. You have to have a certain type of stomach to bear witness to such things when you advocate for torture, don't you?

Saturday, December 10, 2005

What The Power Of Democracy Can Do

A tip of the hat yet again to Professor Juan Cole for spotting the intelligence.

Harold Pinter
takes a stab at what is the matter with the United States policy with respect to the rest of the world's governments.

It makes for a good read, though his comments about Iraq and American foreign policy do not begin until about a third of the way through the speech.

A point that was of particular insight starts when he presents this thesis:

"Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.

But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States' actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked."

Remember the old quote of who writes the history books? Follow from there, and recall that the United States "won" the Cold War. One might think that it will be some time before Americans understand what really happened throughout the past six decades at the behest of our leaders.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Why President Bush Lost The Battle

Every so often, the writer Gary North will add some insight into the debate that might otherwise go unnoticed. His viewpoint is that of a Libertarian and most of his arguments are made quite persuasively. Recently he published an article entitled, "Tactics, Not Strategy, in the Antiwar Movement". This entry is no different.

The general premise is that when Presidents of the past century waged war, there was complicity by those in power to accept the terms of the conflict. Whether it was for political (Wilsonian principles of just involvement) or financial (Lockheed Martin, GE, etc.), the power centers would see some tangible benefit for following. The public would be last to know, but dutifully told that this was the best course of action possible.

North sees the internet and particularly the world wide web as the great equalizer that puts a tremendous strain on the old power structures of the 20th century. His shorthand phrase for the transition from the industrial to the technical is "the transition from atoms to electrons." The state can't deploy the National Guard to stop people from thinking and writing about their beliefs. The control has shifted.

In the article linked above, Gary North asks three questions of the antiwar movement, and then tries his best to answer them:

The tactical question today is this: What can critics do to persuade the voters that (1) this war is a colossal mistake, (2) our troops' continued presence in the Middle East is an equally colossal mistake, and (3) we must get out and stay out?

Here are my answers.

First, critics can act just as termites act. They can keep chewing on the structure. This undermines its legitimacy, and legitimacy means everything. Without it, voluntary cooperation ceases. Public support is withdrawn, voter by voter. This is now happening to the Bush Administration.

Second, critics with an anti-empire vision of the Middle East can capitalize on the failed war in Iraq as an example of the cost of empire in that region. They can use Iraq as an ideological domino. "You want more Iraqs? Just stay the Establishment's course." Putting this in one slogan: "Bring the troops home by Christmas." This will reinforce that other slogan: "Get the troops out by Ramadan."

Third, non-interventionists must produce comprehensive historical works that show that Iraq is merely a representative example of the American Empire in general. They must make it clear that it really is an empire, and that empires are not only doomed throughout history, they are doomed for a reason: they rest on coercion.

Step three will be very expensive. Were it not for the falling costs of communication, this program would not be plausible. It will not be easy. There is no non-interventionist equivalent of Ideals and Self-Interest in American Foreign Relations. That book must be written. It must show that George Washington's recommendation in his Farewell Address is the only viable solution, both ideally and pragmatically, to Dwight Eisenhower's warning in his Farewell Address.

I believe that book was already written in North's third point, and it was completed by Ivan Eland in "The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed". Indeed, Eland's case is that the United States of America began its empire with its capture of Cuba and the Phillipines just before the turn of the 20th century and the country has not abated since.

President Bush is only the latest to not understand this history. Invasion and conquest even for what on paper sounds like a lofty ideal only brings about wreckage for both actors. It seems that the comparison between Vietnam and Iraq circa 2003 were quite apt. No one understood though how fast the turn against the war would occur given the power of ideas and their rapid transmission via the web.

The soldiers and marines did the job that they were given quite well - invade a foreign country and defeat the defenses of that nation. They don't have a choice in the matter. The leaders of the U.S. over the past five years are the ones who failed their nation, and it will be pinned to their biographies the footnote, "they lost the war."

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Contemptible Legislation

In an effort to ensnare Democrats in the House, the Republicans chose late Friday to introduce legislation purportedly following the wishes of Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania (12th district - Dem.).

Here is the speech that Rep. Murtha delivered on November 17th and a brief excerpt:
I believe before the Iraqi elections, scheduled for mid December, the Iraqi people and the emerging government must be put on notice that the United States will immediately redeploy. All of Iraq must know that Iraq is free. Free from United States occupation. I believe this will send a signal to the Sunnis to join the political process for the good of a “free” Iraq.

My plan calls:

To immediately redeploy U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces.
To create a quick reaction force in the region.
To create an over- the- horizon presence of Marines.
To diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq

This war needs to be personalized. As I said before I have visited with the severely wounded of this war. They are suffering.

Because we in Congress are charged with sending our sons and daughters into battle, it is our responsibility, our OBLIGATION to speak out for them. That’s why I am speaking out.

Our military has done everything that has been asked of them, the U.S. can not accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. IT IS TIME TO BRING THEM HOME.

Now is as good a time as any to block such dissent. With this possible goal in mind, the House had Rep. Duncan Hunter of California introduce this resolution:
' Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.

1 Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately. '

This to be quickly followed by calls of "Look at the Democrats, they are surrendering/cutting and running/acting like cowards," and the like.

Maybe there should have been a follow-up resolution by the Democrats that followed the same petty, political maneuvering. Something akin to:

' Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq is going just fine.

1 Resolved, That those soldiers and marines who have died to date is not enough, and whose honor dictates that more lives be lost on their behalf, the United States shall continue operations in Iraq until a number not exceeding 10,000 is reached.

2 Resolved, At said number, the honor shall be sufficient for full withdrawal and victory so declared. '

Such is the environment that this Administration has birthed.

More Americans will turn against this war and the brains that created it in the coming months.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

What It Means To Form A Government

Over the past several months this web log has focused on current events and in particular, the war in Iraq and its harrowing consequences to the American public. The original intent though was to add a bit more perspective within the political sphere through a historical lens.

A day late and a dollar short, but here goes the first back-to-basics post. Personally, I have been reading several political philosophy books in order to learn a bit more on the subject, and to add depth to my own reactions and understandings in current events.

Almost finished is the book, Political Thought: From Plato to the Present, by M. Judd Harmon (1964). In it the author traces some of the more important philosophical figures within the political realm. Many of the names are quite familiar, but it has been quite some time since a connection between their political philosophies and the times in which they were developed crossed before my eyes. I will try to pick up similar books in the future that offer different perspectives yet the read has been quite a good one so far.

What has struck me so far is the progress made in the 16th through 18th centuries for the advancement of democracy. While no one form of government arrived out of whole cloth from the mind of any single person, you can see a shift occur as one era passes to the next. With the connection of organized religion to nation states and the requisite power-sharing, to the eventual independent and powerful monarchical systems of Europe, and the current climate of sovereign peoples electing a representative form of government, the transition is astounding.

It reminds me that questioning the status quo is precisely the trait that has continually served mankind for the better. Where would civilization be without that need to know right from wrong, what is good and what is not; it makes the species evolve politically speaking.

Secondary to this is the extreme difficulty of getting to the point of self-rule. It has never been that a people have cleverly united and divided lands into states, and agreed on which style of confederation they liked best. It is the slowness of the process that allows the individuals to coalesce into a whole, to choose the next best path forward, and stand by the agreement. It can be no small task to match customs, cultures, and belief systems to achieve harmony, let alone prosperity and unity.

It reinforces my own personal belief that a people must want the form of government they have. Whether that be a dictatorship, a monarch, or a republic. No one form is guaranteed to work for all societies and each has its own form of penalties and risks.

And finally, a passing thought tied to a contemporary issue. Within the United States there is an ongoing controversy regarding the display of religious artifacts, most notably the Ten Commandments. When a father leans over to a child and tells the little son or daughter that the commandments are the basis for our own government, they should be immediately pointed to a library and given Book XI of Montesquieu's "The Spirit of the Laws". They may be surprised to find many more similarities between Motesquieu's writings and our own Constitution than exist in commandments about idols and neighbors.

More to come.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Honoring The Fallen By Attacking The Critics

Veteran's Day comes and the President chooses to fight back at those who would suggest the reasons for a preventative war were in error. Using the celebration and remembrance of those that have fought in wars from this nation's founding until the present as a calling to recommit to this conflagration in Iraq might be acceptable, but this is not where his speech stopped. It was an event to fire back. A place to stand up and say before the public that the attack was justified, if only for a couple of inconclusive intelligence reports this whole affair is justified.

President Bush's speech seems to be a way of saying to Democrats in Congress and across the country that he will not be raked over the coals any longer.

He will actually fight back.

Regrettably for him though, his speech writers have not located anything new that will aid him in his effort to quash the rebellion to his policy.

Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war.

These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgments related to Iraq's weapons programs.

They also know that intelligence agencies from around the world agreed with our assessment of Saddam Hussein.

They know the United Nations passed more than a dozen resolutions, citing his development and possession of weapons of mass destruction.

Oh where, oh where to begin.

There are many sources which point to an Adminstration that was truly "after" the government of Iraq and its dictator, but a good amalgam was presented by Juan Cole. In addition, Karen Kwiatkowski offered up her version of events quite some time ago in regards to the Office of Special Planning.

Beyond the points of dispute, what can be seen is a stark example of where the priorities are in regards to the use and safety of the United States military. On a day honoring the past dead (where in Iraq the average daily mortality rate hovers around 2.3), President Bush chose to return the volley back at Democrats who have protested practically everything about this current quagmire. Idealogically, citizens are to presume that being against the war must somehow be against the men and women who fight and die each day over there. To launch a preventative war is alright, to worry about the standing of our forces and reputation around the world is cowardly.

One should worry about the republic if half of the population finds this an appealing argument. Those days of 50% or higher job approval ratings must seem fleeting though as the President's standing in the public's eye shows no signs of abatement. The public no longer marches right along behind the rhetoric (however fallacious it was from the start) of the "war on terror," and most of the credit for this shift in opinion stems from the opposition bringing the issues to the fore.

Was the intelligence that propped up the logic for the need of immediate war influenced in any way by the intelligence and defense bureacracies? Was Congress fed information that would promote war, and starved for information which would have cast doubt for the cause?

It will be quite interesting to review the results of the Senate committee tasked with reviewing the impetus for intelligence mistakes. One should not hold their breath for anything earth-shattering, but rather be watchful for what information is being reviewed and how much the White House will release regarding sensitive materials.

Beyond the intelligence manipulation, it might behoove Congress to review the logic behind the Adminsitration's stance with regards to torture. The argument, "the U.S. does not use torture, so therefore we don't do anything illegal," comes out as flimsy as a rationale for heading to war in the Middle East. This should continue to be investigated and those accountable for instituting this policy punished.

America's servicemen and servicewomen deserve that much respect.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Not A Landslide, But...

Two governor's races that were apparently close with a week remaining have apparently gone to the Democratic contenders. Both states were held by Democratic Governors already, so it is not as though the citizens of each state had had enough of, or tied their votes directly to a general dissatisfaction with the President and national Republicans.

Apparently the New Jersey race was more notable for the rot that appeared under the guise of political advertising in the state.

All in all, it doesn't appear quite like a landslide for the President. However, judging how they handle problems, a puddle and some mud can give this administration its what-for in short order.

In other election news the Azerbaijanis held their national elections over the weekend. While it is not front-page news, it is still fascinating to understand how other people and cultures use politics and democracy. An extra bit of background on the country:

It is in a rough neighbourhood: to the north are the anarchic Russian regions of Dagestan and Chechnya; to the south, Iran. Azerbaijan fought a war with neighbouring Armenia in the 1990s, in which it lost the Nagorno-Karabakh region, and the two sides may yet fight another. Above all, it has oil and gas: new pipelines will soon carry both from the Caspian to the Mediterranean.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Italian Intelligence Problems

After a week full of headlines that did little to bolster the enthusiasm of White House supporters, there comes a brief glimmer of light into the fiasco that was the origins of the sixteen words in the 2003 State of the Union speech. It is not a trivial matter that this snippet of intelligence found its way into a major speech by the President, became an important reason to launch a preventative war, and created the release of Valerie Wilson's identity. The impact of the forged documents from Niger added credibility to the President's war prior to March 7th, 2003, and then added headaches to the Administration's efforts to contain the embarassment thereafter.

Out comes this piece of investigative journalism from Josh Micah Marshall. This whole episode should be detailed by an agency or body that has no political stake in the outcome in order to lay down all the facts of who created the forgeries, and the intention the creators had in so placing these documents in the hands of the U.S. Embassy in Rome.

This is not to make the allusion that the Administration had something to do with these documents, but to highlight that any intelligence gathered should be viewed with a skeptical eye. Even if a President says that it is true in a State of the Union speech.

Tikrit Vote Update

As noted below, when President Bush had an informal chat with the troops, one of the officers mentioned that many folks were registering to vote in his area in Tikrit. "100,000 new voters in the al-Salahuddin province. Sir, I was with my Iraqi counterpart in Tikrit, the city Tikrit last week, and he was going around, talking to the locals. And from what he told me that the locals told him, the Iraqi people are ready and eager to vote in this referendum."

While that certainly sounded good to those back home, most of those voters were clamoring to vote so as to euthanize the new Constitution. The Salah ad Din province voted 81% No on the referendum.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Minority Approval

Regarding the entire vote on the Iraqi referendum: Why is it that Parliament approved the process whereby a minority may adopt a constitution?

The Kurds made certain to have an escape route if the Iraqi Constitution did not meet their expectations - a super majority vote against the document in three provinces would enable them to reject the Constitution. Sixty-six percent of three provinces could vote down the adoption of the document and put it back in the hands of a newly elected Parliament.

What that equates to is that a mere thirty-four percent of the entire country (spread out equally across every province) may adopt the Constitution. It is quite obvious that such an event will never occur, but it alludes to the main point, that a minority may approve a founding document for a country.

It comes down to the provinces of Anbar, Salahuddin, and Ninevah, and whether proponents of the Constitution could must 34% or higher.

The democratic slogan of "majority rule" never met a stranger bedfellow in Iraq.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Question And Answer Period

Today, the President of the United States spoke with troops in Iraq, asking them to answer questions that he had for them. He even tossed in a "hardball" question, which baseball fans will recognize as... actually, he may have meant curveball as hardball doesn't match what he was implying.

Just the same, this exchange was humorous:

THE PRESIDENT: Captain, thank you very much. Let me ask you something. As you move around, I presume you have a chance to interface with the civilians there in that part of the world. And a lot of Americans are wondering whether or not people appreciate your presence or whether or not the people are anxious to be part of the democratic process. Can you give us a sense for the reception of the people there in Tikrit toward coalition forces, as well as the Iraqi units that they encounter?

CAPTAIN KENNEDY: Mr. President, I'm going to field this question to Captain Williams.

CAPTAIN WILLIAMS: Mr. President, I'm Captain David Williams. I'm from Los Angeles, California. I'm currently with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, attached to the Military Transition Team. Sir, in North-Central Iraq, voter registration is up 17 percent. That's 400,000 new voters in North-Central Iraq, and 100,000 new voters in the al-Salahuddin province. Sir, I was with my Iraqi counterpart in Tikrit, the city Tikrit last week, and he was going around, talking to the locals. And from what he told me that the locals told him, the Iraqi people are ready and eager to vote in this referendum.

THE PRESIDENT: That's good. It's pretty interesting. That's a pretty interesting concept for the people of Tikirt, when you really think about the fact that that was Saddam Hussein's hometown. They didn't get to vote too often when he was the leader there. Let me ask you about the progress. Most of you have been there for nearly a year, as I understand it.

After the vote, there should be ample evidence as to why the citizens in and around Tikrit were registering. Odds are they are registering to vote "no" on the Constitution. This should be followed after the election.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Iraqi's Vote On A Constitution With An Asterik

Democracy is not easy or simple. Drafting a Constitution that will guide a country forward in a democratic political structure is complex. So why not add more complexity?

Iraqis voting on October 15th have several key elements going against them: they face the threat of violence if they so choose to excercise their right to vote, they will in all likelihood have not seen the final draft version of the Constitution as it is still being reworked, and even if approved the Constitution is already open for changes after the election.

Picture this scenario, your town is considering whether to add funding for a new sports field next to the local school. The local government passes the funding, but local citizens circulate a petition to put the question of said funding on the ballot for voters to decide whether this is a wise course of action. Voters will not see the wording on the ballot until they walk in the door because no one could agree on how it should be worded until the night before. Additionally, the morning of the vote, the same local government passes a resolution stating that the vote will then be debated and leaves open the possibility of creating the fields anyway.

That is not democracy, that is local shenanigans.

Imagine if a constitution is created in that same manner. Wouldn't the voters sense this to be sheer mockery?

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad has been quite busy making this game work for the American Administration. The results of all this skullduggery should be interesting after October 15th.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

He Speaketh Without Hyperbole

One must admit that the current Administration in the United States never gives up advancing the message. Admiration to its stick-tuitiveness quickly subsides when the President predicates his message on mirages in the desert.

Today President Bush made what his handlers will no doubt call an important speech regarding the "war" on terrorism. Conceptually, it is such an outlandish position to take as to seem a comedy routine if not given by the President himself.

In his speech, he asserts several elements of what his administration believes is the end goal of all terrorists across the greater Middle East. To wit, he states

...[T]he militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region, and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia.

It is not that insurgents believe that America should get out of Iraq and will gladly assist in the exit strategy, it is that they want the entire region to themselves. America is just an innocent bystander in this, and that the true aim must be complete and utter domination of all earthly cultures and governments for as long as they breathe.

How does a leader of a nation become so enamored with such nonsense? Does he really believe this to be the case at the intellectual level? Does he not see the comparison of his own mission in Iraq to reshape the region in his democratic vision as matching his fanciful description of Al Qaeda's vision but with different ends?

President Bush goes even further.

Some have also argued that extremism has been strengthened by the actions of our coalition in Iraq, claiming that our presence in that country has somehow caused or triggered the rage of radicals. I would remind them that we were not in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001 -- and al Qaeda attacked us anyway.

And then shortly thereafter:

Over the years these extremists have used a litany of excuses for violence -- the Israeli presence on the West Bank, or the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia, or the defeat of the Taliban, or the Crusades of a thousand years ago. In fact, we're not facing a set of grievances that can be soothed and addressed.

Osama bin Laden listed the U.S. presence on the soil of Saudia Arabia as a key motivational factor for the attacks against our country. The President uses our lack of ground troops in Iraq as proof that we can be attacked for no good reason apparently. How such a vacuous utterance can wend its way into a presidential speech is beyond comprehension.

He does not understand that the prime fuel for confrontation invovles a set of people who cannot find redress. It may be true that many Saudis welcomed the U.S. presence in their country in 1991, but over the years the presence became symbolic of a soiled connection between the Saudi government and the U.S. Israeli occupation and forced removal of Palestinians from their homes and their land is such a grievous and contentious issue, that to not understand the complexity of it speaks volumes of the President's capacity to come to even a basic understanding of difficult problems.

If the United States removed itself militarily from all the countries that wish us gone and renewed strong diplomatic ties to said countries, attacks on our people would dwindle to the point where lightning strikes are of higher concern.

He doesn't understand this. He never has. What President Bush does understand is bluster, and he isn't very good at delivering it.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Two Weeks Until Meltdown?

It is less than two weeks before the country of Iraq casts an up-or-down vote on the Iraqi Constitution which is set for October 15th, 2005, and to be sure that everything is alright and stable before such a critical election, the Iraqi President has asked the Iraqi Prime Minister to leave.

Additionally, it appears that Parliament wishes to make it much more difficult to defeat the Constitution (which not many Iraqi's have had a chance to read because its text had not been finalized and distributed for printing even by early last week) during the upcoming vote. From the article linked above [special thanks to Juan Cole for linking to it]

"... parliament, which has only 16 Sunni members, approved an interpretation stating that two-thirds of registered voters - rather than two-thirds of all those who cast ballots - must reject the constitution for the rules to apply."

The thought process behind such a move goes like this: "If the Sunnis wish to defeat this by voting, we should strangle them with rules that make voting illusory. This will lead to a decrease in violence."

It is incomprehensible to adopt such a rule at this late stage. Parliament is asking for civil war.

It is incredible that roughly one year ago the American public's mood had begun to shift on the worthiness of the adventure in Iraq, but still elected the engineer of said adventure by the slimmest of margins.

It can scarcely get better.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

On Knowing What You're Goosestepping To

From time to time a new podcast comes out from American Dissent Radio. From the latest entry, there comes the mention of a phrase that has the conservative world calling out, "Hear, hear."

The quote: "Don't get stuck on stupid."

The context is Lt. General Honore and New Orleans Mayor Nagin's press conference before Hurricane Rita knew which path she would choose. Attention was given to where evacuations were to take place. Reporters were interested in several points and the Lt. General stepped in to stop the line of questioning and insert a no-nonsense press briefing.

The right side of the political spectrum hails this as a "put them in their place" show. The 'them' being reporters from the print and television corps. But does this vacuous one-liner hold some greater truth that is lost on the press somehow?

Hurricane Katrina is still top of mind for all survivors in and around the area where she struck. The natural disaster left and indelible image in the minds of millions of Americans: entire towns rescinded by the winds and storm surge, levees awash with flooding waters, and citizens who took a refuge of last resort mired in waste and without basic needs or security met. From all of this, it is likely that the next hurricane to possibly draw a bead on the city will garner extra attention with regards to planning.

Hence the press conference called to disseminate information critical to those who wish to leave once again. The reporters couch their questions based on the historical precedent set in New Orleans which appears to irritate Lt. Gen. Honore, and he begins to reprimand the reporters for their questions.

Honore: And Mr. Mayor, let's go back, because I can see right now, we're setting this up as he said, he said, we said. All right? We are not going to go, by order of the mayor and the governor, and open the convention center for people to come in. There are buses there. Is that clear to you? Buses parked. There are 4,000 troops there. People come, they get on a bus, they get on a truck, they move on. Is that clear? Is that clear to the public?

Female reporter: Where do they move on...

Honore: That's not your business.

We can see that the Lt. Gen. has already noted what the reporters should ask about. This is not the appropriate answer though. Citizens that are going to evacuate might wish to know where they are going to be taken, yes? This is a valid question on the part of the reporter, and Lt. Gen. Honore implies that he knows what their business should and should not be.

It would have been much more appropriate to say, "At this time we cannot say 100% where citizens will be evacuated to due to the nature of the hurricane not picking a final destination. When a destination is determined, we will do our best to inform the public and the press." His choice though is to withhold information (he may not have even known himself the answer to the question) based on his own agenda. It already gives the impression of hiding something.

After a question on what occurred during Hurricane Katrina, Lt. Gen. Honore states, "Let's get a little trust here because you're starting to act like this is your problem. You are carrying the message, ok?" That little line says a great deal of how some would utterly love the press to operate. Do not ask the question, just repeat what I say.

However, that is not a reporter's duty.

Further along though we have the phrase that will catch on for a full three months in the internet world with the more conservative world:

Male reporter: General, a little bit more about why that's happening this time, though, and did not have that last time...

Honore: You are stuck on stupid. I'm not going to answer that question. We are going to deal with Rita. This is public information that people are depending on the government to put out. This is the way we've got to do it. So please. I apologize to you, but let's talk about the future. Rita is happening. And right now, we need to get good, clean information out to the people that they can use. And we can have a conversation on the side about the past, in a couple of months.

Admittedly, the reporter is delving into an area that is not the concern of the Lt. Gen. The question could be posed to someone who has responsibility and/or culpability for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, say someone who is running the blame game at full throttle such as former FEMA Director Michael Brown. Had the Lt. Gen. skipped the first sentence, his response would not be noteworthy - just another government bureacrat removing himself from a question not in his jurisdiction.

Yet it is the insult that sells this interchange for conservatives. It allows a voice to the internal frustration they may sense at press coverage that somehow seems more critical of a Republican President than it should be. Reporters are stupid because they ask questions that are critical. Within a week of the comment many throughout the internet community thought the answer "Don't get stuck on stupid," should be a rejoinder for all officials when speaking to the press.

From RadioBlogger:
I'd pay money to see David Gregory in the White House Press Corps foaming at the mouth over something trivial Scott McClellan said, and have McClellan say, "David, you're stuck on stupid. I'm not going to answer that."

Reporters do not exist soley to accept a press release without question from Enron, nor are they there to allow government officials dictation-rights when speaking of a country purchasing yellow cake from Niger as a premise for war. There will always be a need for serious questions and honest answers. It is quite apparent that when one side feels the pinch of these serious questions, they would rather they be dismissed with a meaningless answer rather than hold anyone accountable for their actions.

I am reminded of investigative journalist Bill Moyers quote regarding the duty of the press to the people: " I came to see that news is what people want to keep hidden, and everything else is publicity." Always question those in power.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Are Events Getting Better?

To take stock of recent events, let us review the news cycle in the last 24 hours.

Iraq is becoming a coordinated bloodbath.

The Gulf Coast and New Orleans is trying to stand back up. The fall-out of the ineptness in response to the tragedy will still play out in the coming weeks and months.

Budget deficits will go back up shortly.

Oil prices will see a relief soon, but not before consumer prices and inflation jumps and Americans pay more for everything.

Remember the good ol' days. They may not be back for quite some time.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Bracing Against A Tipping Point

Of course these are just theoretical propositions, but what happens when:

1) Energy prices jump 10%, 15% or 20% or higher in the span of one month due to a hurricane,

2) Consumers begin to feel a pinch from marked inflation and non-existent wage growth,

3) Feeling this tightening, the housing market suffers a contraction in its fevered pace and with it, a solid source of economic "growth" closes,

4) Throughout all of these phases, a war in Iraq continues without an end in sight on borrowed money.

It may be that the hurricane that has completely devastated the Gulf Coast states won't have as great an impact on energy prices that it currently has, but there is definitely a hint of how much damage the category 5 storm had on the refineries on and off shore in the area. The production and the distribution of gasoline from this area will directly affect the cost of gas as far north as Virginia, and this swath of the United States holds many, many businesses that will be forced to pass along these greater expenses to every consumer.

If such a dramatic spike occurs, consumers may be prompted to save (or in America - spend just a bit less) some money due to the costs of energy hitting the pocketbook. Let us presume that the average price for a gallon of 87 octane gas hits $3.60. A 15 gallon fill costs $54. That will get any consumer's attention, especially if that trip to the pump occurs twice or more a week.

Destabilize consumer confidence, and maybe that purchase of a home for $700,000 can wait a bit longer. Or maybe the idea of inflationary pressures on the economy will cause the same result. Either way, the very idea of Americans not spending money that they don't have might scare those who wish to retire comfortably to K Street after two or three election cycles.

And what of the war? Are there signs that the U.S. and Iraq are turning the corner? Well, no not really. The U. S. Ambassador Khalilzad suggests that the Iraqi Constitution "has not yet been, or the edits have not been, presented yet." It seems that the occupier still has some clout even if the drafting of a supposedly sovereign nation's primary document was completed the week prior. And of course, the 965 (and quite possibly counting) dead on the bridge leading to the Kadhimiya mosque will probably burn in many Iraqi minds that security and control are not part of the language whether it is imposed by American forces or nascent Iraqi ones.

Things are just not changing. Quite possibly, things will get a whole lot worse.

Friday, August 26, 2005

What Would You Do?

What would you, the reader, do to form a better government?

If you had to create a democracy that applied equally to any number of ethnic, regional, or social constituents, what would it look like?

It is easy to point out the deficiencies of one form of government over another. One might suggest polity, democracy, theocracy, or maybe even an aristocracy or oligarchy.

Would a mix of all of these be the best? Why not the selection of one over all others?

Would any prescription based on any percentage ever apply conditionally to any and all people across this earth?

Apparently, this question and the resultant answers are very difficult [sub] issues.

So which form of government to suggest?

First and foremost, does the country wish to participate in democratically elected government? If not, then the following questions need not be answered.

Secondly, a goverment of and by the population at large should not be conceived under duress. It is always better that the populace of the country in question not decide its fate based on future repercussions.

If political views will not break down through a duality of political viewpoints, then possibly a proportional representation of political concerns will work out best.

If disparate groups are involved in negotiating the essential framework for the basis of government, then a simple majority consensus must be abandoned; two-thirds majority should be employed with definitive steps taken for the minority to uphold its viewpoint.

Where cultural or religious concerns are involved, should the government inculcate those attitudes and belief systems into the stucture of the law? If so, why? If not, why not?

Will the governmental order ordain whose rights supercede the rights of others? Will one geographic region have control over another? Will one ethnic group hold court favor at the expense of the next?

Will women and men have an equal voice and equal standing before the law of the land?

And finally, will cultural differences between the state and the rest of the world have sway over the final edition of said Constitution?

What would you hope for if you were the current Administration and your forces were occupying a foreign land? Would that sway your vision of democracy?

Iraqi Constitution as taken from the Guardian Unlimited:

Chapter One

Article One

The Republic of Iraq is an independent state.

Article Two

The political system is republican, parliamentary, democratic and federal.

1. Islam is a main source for legislation.

- a. No law may contradict Islamic standards.

- b. No law may contradict democratic standards.

- c. No law may contradict the essential rights and freedoms mentioned in this constitution.

2. This constitution guarantees the Islamic identity of the Iraqi people and guarantees all religious rights; all persons are free within their ideology and the practice of their ideological practices.

3. Iraq is part of the Islamic world, and the Arabs are part of the Arab nation.


a. Arabic and Kurdish are the two official languages, and Iraqis have the right to teach their sons their mother language like the Turkomen and Assyrian in the government educational institutes.

b. The language used orally in official institutions such as the Parliament and the Cabinet as well as official conventions should be one of the two languages.

c. Recognizing the official documents with the two languages.

d. Opening the schools with two languages.

Article Three

Federal institutions in Kurdistan should use the two languages.

Article Four

The Turkomen and Assyrian languages are the official languages in the Turkomen and Assyrian areas, and each territory or province has the right to use its own official language if residents have approved in a general referendum vote.

Article Five

Power is transferred peacefully through democratic ways.

Article Seven

1. Any organization that follow a racist, terrorist, extremist, sectarian-cleaning ideology or circulates or justifies such beliefs is banned, especially Saddam's Baath Party in Iraq and its symbols under any name. And this should not be part of the political pluralism in Iraq.

2. The government is committed to fighting terrorism in all its forms, and works to protect Iraqi soil from being a center or passage for terrorist activities.


Article 35

- a. Human freedom and dignity are guaranteed.

- b. No person can be detained or interrogated without a judicial order.

- c. All kinds of physical and psychological torture and inhumane treatment are prohibited, and any confession is considered void if it was taken by force, threats and torture. The person who was harmed has the right to ask for compensation for the financial and moral damage he/she suffered.

Article 36

The State guarantees:

1. Freedom of expression by all means.

2. Freedom of the press, printing, advertising and publishing.

Article 37

Freedom to establish political groups and organizations.

Article 39

Iraqis are free to abide in their personal lives according to their religion, sects, beliefs or choice. This should be organized by law.


Article 66

A presidential candidate should:

1. Be Iraqi by birth and the offspring of two Iraqi parents.

2. Be no less than 40 years old.

3. Have a good reputation and political experience, and be known as honest and faithful to the nation.

Article 75

The prime minister should have all the qualifications as the presidential candidate and should have a university degree or its equivalent and should not be less than 35 years old.

Article 104

A general commission should be set up to observe and specify the central (government) revenues, and the commission should be made up of experts from the central government, regions, provinces and representatives.


Article 107

Federal authorities should preserve Iraq's unity, security, independence and sovereignty and its democratic federal system.

Article 109

Oil and gas are the property of all the Iraqi people in regions and provinces.

Article 110

The central government administers oil and gas extracted from current wells, along with governments of the producing regions and provinces, on the condition that revenues are distributed in a way that suits population distribution around the country.


Article 114

1. A region consists of one or more provinces, and two or more regions have the right to create a single region.

2. A province or more has the right to set a region according to a referendum called for in one of two ways:

- a. A demand by one-third of all members of each of the provincial councils that aims to set up a region.

- b. A demand by one-tenth of voters of the provinces that aim to set up a region.

Article 117

A region's legislative authority is made up of one council, named the National Assembly of the region.

Article 118

The National Council of the region drafts the region's constitution and issues laws, which must not contradict this constitution and Iraq's central laws.

Article 120

The executive authority of the region is made up of the president of the region and the region's government.

Article 128

The region's revenues are made up from the specified allotment from the national budget and from the local revenues of the region.

Article 129

The regional government does what is needed to administer the region, especially setting up internal security forces, such as police, security and region guards.

Article 135

This constitution guarantees the administrative, political, cultural and educational rights of different ethnic groups such as Turkomen, Chaldean, Assyrians and other groups.


Article 144

The Iraq Supreme Criminal Court continues its work as a legislative, independent commission to look into the crimes of the former dictatorial regime and its symbols, and the Council of Deputies has the right to annul it after it ends its duties.

Article 145

a. The Supreme National Commission for de-Baathification continues its work as an independent commission, in coordination with the judicial authority and executive institutions and according to laws that organize its work.

b. Parliament has the right to dissolve this commission after it ends its work, with a two-thirds majority.

Article 151

No less than 25 percent of Council of Deputies seats go to women.

Article 153

This law is considered in force after people vote on it in a general referendum and when it is published in the official Gazette and the Council of Deputies is elected according to it.

With statements in a constitution such as the Prime Minister should have, "all the qualifications as the presidential candidate and should have a university degree or its equivalent," maybe Westerners should not have involved themselves at all in the affairs of a foriegn nation, much like President Washington told us not to do.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Country Dissolving via Constitution-Making

An interesting point brought up through David Corn's web log in relation to how the Iraqi draft constitution might work out in terms of Sunni acceptance. In an excerpted interview with Ghassan Atiyyah at NPR, his opinions of what might happen are surprising.

If the Constitution were to be voted down, then everything goes back to square one: parliament is dissolved, another coutry-wide vote is taken to establish a new government and another consitution is drafted. That is a working scenario currently being bandied about, and it is based on the assumption that Sunni Iraqis vote against the constituion in great enough numbers (a 2/3's 'no' vote tally in three separate provinces). It has been thought that fearful Sunnis will get out and register in high enough proportions to cause this to happen.

Enter Atiyyah's nightmarish scenario.

ATIYYAH: [The Sunnis] are faced with a constitution on the basis, 'Take it or leave it.' It's very difficult for them to accept that because there are so many items in it which are very difficult for them to stomach, and they will lose credibility even among the moderate Sunnis. So they have the option now to vote against it in a referendum. Could the Arab Sunni muster two-thirds majority in three provinces, the Sunni provinces, veto the constitution and dissolve the parliament and bring a new election? I doubt that. Most of the Sunni boycotted the election. They didn't just throw their names in the electoral list. So it is for them only one week left to register their names. Then you have to mobilize them and to get them to the polling boxes. At the time when al-Zarqawi and the extremists and the jihadists threatened them by killing them if they go to the vote or the referendum, and so they will find themselves between the fire and the blue sea, and this will play into the hands of the extremists.[emphasis added]

So, there may well be not enough time to turn out enough Sunni voters to register and vote against a Constitution that is seen as directly foiling Sunni ambitions and leanings. If this is the case (a big if of course), then all of the items within the constitution which this populace does not like become the law of the land, and this can only lead to more destabilizing effects within the country.

The United States pushed this process onto the interim goverment, coerced them to come to a final draft on the deadline (August 15th), and now offers the take-it or leave-it position where it will be quite plausible that Sunnis have no option to 'leave it'.

There is almost no end to short-sightedness when it comes to the Administration's handling of the entire war and reconstruction effort. It would almost appear to be a primer for future governments on what not to do when it comes to foreign policy initiatives.

From the article above published by the Christian Science Monitor, the last two paragraphs might give us more insight on what it is that Sunnis are looking for:

Most average Sunnis say all they want from a leader is equal treatment and, when pressed, many say former prime minister Iyad Allawi - a secular Shiite but a former member of the Baath party - is the politician closest to their views.

"We don't look for a leader to be a Sunni to lead us. We want someone like Iyad Allawi. Their ethnicity is not important. [We want someone] who fulfills the dreams of Iraqis, it doesn't matter who he is. Someone to take care of security and electricity," says Yasser Kaha Ibrahim, a Sunni administrative worker.

Maybe the Iraqi Constitution won't deliver every Iraqi's want, but it certainly could cause the entire cauldron to boil over in one fell swoop.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


This is a short entry into a subject which derserves a book-sized exposition, but this week Iraqi leaders are striving to settle their differences in order to present the assembly a final version of what would become an Iraqi Constitution.

Two quick points: the first an unattributed quote from an American official, and the second point is about handling the tough issues.

Point One. This quote caught my attention:
"U.S. officials, pressing for a deal in time for an October referendum, hope a constitution will undermine the revolt among the Sunni Arab minority..."

This mind set that the Sunni population and those tied directly to the insurgent attacks will be hushed by democracy and consitutional government has never proven correct. It is disconcerting that this fallacy continues, that democratizing a people will stop discontent somehow. The wish for this to become a reality is almost wholly derived from the Administration's political hope that Iraq will be what it says it is - a successful foreign policy initiative.

Point Two.

Kicking the wasp-infested-can down the road. Later in the article linked above, this thought emerges:

"'We don't mind the Kurdish region but with the same borders as before the war in 2003. We want to fix everything now, but they don't want to define it, so maybe they can expand in the future. Then there will be a war,' he [Saleh al-Mutlak, a leading Arab nationalist] said.

Kurds can cite the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), agreed last year, which says the issue of Kirkuk, a disputed city which they want to be included in their region eventually, should be left until later."

When considering a constitution, it should not be viewed as a document that legislates small or local issues or makes permanent solutions to temporary problems. In this case however, Kirkuk may very well be central to the way Iraq is run. The area has great oil reserves, it is made up of Kurds, Arabs, and Turks, and has the potential to light the country on fire with political and civil discontent if handled improperly.

It has the same ignition value that slavery had for the United States. The main idea of autonomy for regions or groups of people and the authority that a central government possesses are being wrangled over. With this in mind, the best that the current Administration in the U.S. can hope for is that everyone loses out equally with the final document complete since one group taking a disproportionate "win" out of the constitution-making process will be viewed with a jealous eye by the "losers".

To that end, this compromise may ensure more violence and hatred among the several groups than relieve it.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Prisoners Of No War In Particular

After listening to an interview of Sabin Willett on the Al Franken Show today, it becomes readily apparent that secrecy and this administration is a terrible mix. Especially if you are an innocent caught up in a terrorist dragnet in Pakistan.

Two detainees in Guantanamo are presently in limbo while a judge reviews his options on where to send them. The Uighur (pronounced WEE' - gar) detainees are Abu Bakker Qassim and A'del Abdu Al-Hakim and their lawyer is the aforementioned Sabin Willett. These two muslim men left China (not known to be particularly open to the muslim faith) around the time of the September terrorist attacks in the U.S. and were apprehended by Pakistan police thereafter. At the time, the United States had a bounty on terrorist suspects of $5,000 a head which was apparently paid for these two detainees. Originally placed in Afghanistan at an American Air Force base, they were then transported to Guantanamo for further interrogation.

After some difficulty finding a translator, interrogators eventually came to the conclusion that these men had no connection to September 11th, the Taliban, or Al Qaida. Upon learning of their plight from a Judge Advocate General in the Army, Willett took on the case for the two men and visited them in Guantanamo. From the article on linked above:

"When he first visited his clients last month, Willett learned that the military had ruled the men weren't combatants. He told the judge that the Bush administration never informed him and had implied in court papers that the detainees were ordinary enemy combatants."

From the radio interview, Willett added that upon finding out they the military had ruled them non-combatants he also learned that such a disclosure was secret. He is their lawyer, his clients are innocent, and he cannot tell anyone. An interesting sense of justice from administration and Pentagon officials. Eventually their innocence was declassified, and Willett has pursued their release at the very least from the military base while the government tries to locate a country that will take them.

These men deserve restitution for being obtained and held in the manner that they were, as well as an immediate release from Guantanamo as an act of good faith by the U.S. government. Their case represent the worst fears of civil liberty champions of the past three years: allowing the government to detain, interrogate, and punish people in secret with no recourse available to the individual.

Additionally, Sabin Willett made a point of saying that JAG lawyers were quite unhappy with the process as it stands now. I can't imagine anyone trained in law would ever be comfortable with military tribunals, secret evidence, and a government allowed to label anyone an enemy combatant.

Why does an open democratic republic condone such practices?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

On Really Keeping Secrets

If the brush fire over Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove is wearing you down, then there is always the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the two ex-lobbyists who are now indicted.

This case appears to be just as complex as the Rove/Libby/Fleischer(?) leak case. I had heard that there is a slight twist to the leak of classified information that Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman passed on, that a key piece of intelligence was planted in their hands to find out if they would leak said information to intelligence sources in Israel. Federal agents wired Larry Franklin and then fed him information to dish to Rosen and Weissman. From an article which no longer appears on, titled 'Justice Dept. to indict two AIPAC staffers under U.S. Espionage Act' by Nathan Guttman:

"But suspicions against Rosen and Weissman focus on a meeting a year later, on July 12, 2004. Franklin was cooperating by then with the FBI, which had threatened him with an indictment after tracking his earlier meetings with the AIPAC men, discovering the alleged hand-over of secret information. He agreed to take part in a sting operation in which he would give the two information and the investigators would then follow them."

In essence, the information slipped to Rosen and Weissman was that the Iranian government was going to target or capture Israeli civilians who were supposedly working within Kurdistan inside Iraq at the time. What they were supposed to do was nothing. What they did was warn people inside the Israeli embassy in the United States of this information. Hence, blowing the secret information.

It reminds me of the case of Hermant Lakhani who was advanced aggressively as a Homeland Security success story in targeting terrorism. While Lakhani was touted as an arms dealer looking to score, others felt it was more the work of entrapment by U.S. and Russian agents on an unsuspecting middle-man in waiting. Can that really be qualified as a success?

Secret information is critical in making connections for those who are administering complex situations whether they be counter-terrorism operations or international relations. Legally speaking, Rosen and Weissman as well as Larry Franklin will face severe scrutiny for passing on top secret information in such a cavalier way. Yet it is a bit chilling to hear that the government succeeds in some of these cases by forcing the would-be criminal's hand in order to secure the conviction.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Struggling With A New Diction

It is now the "global struggle against violent extremism". And so as not to confuse Americans, it still means war in Iraq and to a lesser extent Afghanistan. How this will apply across the board to other countries and movements is yet to be seen of course, but my question is why now? In July of this year President Bush stated, "The FBI has deployed its personnel across the world, in Iraq and Afghanistan and other fronts in the war on terror," to the FBI Academy. It has been the disingenuous War on Terror for so long that there must have been some groundswell internally to change the label.

Maybe it is the looming withdrawl of thousands of American soldiers in 2006. You cannot rightly have a war launched at terror without keeping the military posted precisely where you say terrorism resides, correct? Actually, withdrawing would pose a momumental threat to the language of the past three years: "We're fighting them there so we don't fight them here," "Iraq is the frontline of terrorism," et cetera. Hence, if it is termed a struggle then the military isn't the only group on the hook to resist violent extremism.

Likewise there could be some backlash to what can rightly be called terrorism when an ally's populace begins to use the tactic. To be certain, Israel will have its hands full when it begins pulling out of portions of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank on August 15th, but this event may portend much worse things to come. A brilliant insight was provided by Juan Cole:

"Note also that this act of terrorism was impelled by the Israeli government merely moving a few thousand citizens out of non-Isreali territory back into Israel proper. Imagine if a foreign power forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of Israelis into refugee camps. Wouldn't that provoke significant terrorism on the part of the displaced? (Voila, you have the Palestinian radical groups)."

The greater point is that "violent extremism" knows precious little in the way of boundaries, borders, or people. When one group, however large or small, feels threatened and powerless to right some real or imagined wrong, then they will find a way to resist. Terror is one tactic. Non-violent protest is another. I would encourage anyone intersted in protesting a perceived wrong to use the latter, and never the former. Yet tensions run high and death and mayhem are the result. It truly is tragic.

So a global war on terror was not going to do the trick. I think it was quite obvious just months after the Iraq invasion that the United States military was not going to "win" against a foe that did not wear a uniform. Give the military a real military target and one can be assured that the target will not remain standing in 24 hours time. The Army took Baghdad in a matter of weeks. Yet the military isn't a police force, nor a humanitarian force, or for that matter a branch of the State Department trained and versed in Middle East culture and language. These men and women still are in a very real bind there in Iraq and even Afghanistan so something must give.

Turn off the war, and bring on the struggle. Yes it doesn't quite have the same ring to it, but it does seem a bit more applicable to what Americans will be facing in the coming months and years. If it gets the soldiers home sooner, then I'm all for it.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Action and Reaction - What War Does

What will the Iraq War do for America? It was a question that many people sought an answer to before the invasion began. With that step now in the past, the question still remains: Will it make the United States more secure?

I have been reading and listening to many opinions on the matter. Not many have struck me as being insightful or enlightnening, save for a few people. One of them was Gary North's exposition on what Osama bin Laden's motives really were with his then public statements to Americans in October of 2004. North drew the comparison to what bin Laden had done with Saul Alinsky's tactic of making the action directly control the reaction. In other words, the provocation isn't the end goal, but the reaction to the provocation is what is desired.

I may not entirely agree that bin Laden could have known a ferocious attack would have birthed an invasion of a country not directly tied to said attacks, but he could have certainly expected the U.S. to have no choice but to invade Afghanistan and become a political sitting duck in that country. The action was made knowing the reaction would play into the worries and fears of Muslims across the world. The fact that the President and his close staff had wanted to remove President Saddam Hussein would only further these fears.

President Bush is not changing the mantra either. In a brief press appearance, a reporter asked the President what he thought about the latest pronouncement/threat released by Ayman al-Zawahri, the presumed No. 2 man in Al Qaida. The response:

"We will stay on the offense against these people. They're terrorists and they're killers and they will kill innocent people ... so they can impose their dark vision on the world."

Al-Zawahri may not be telling the truth of course about claiming the London bombings as Al Qaida's own, but his threat is still the same: America and the U.K. leave or suffer the consequences. I have no doubt that President Bush is earnest in his declarations, but his solution isn't solving anything. If America is in Afghanistan and Iraq to prevent terrorism, why are they still occurring? If the U.S. wasn't an omnipresent hegemonic power in the region, would our country still be in the crosshairs? If President Bush doesn't even explore this path, then more Marines, Army, and Navy forces will perish in order to fight them "over there" with little to no effect on terrorism. From the article linked above, this is the final quote of Al-Zawahri.

"Our message is clear: you will not be safe until you withdraw from our land, stop stealing our oil and wealth and stop supporting the corrupt rulers."

So now America must contemplate what has come of these unintended consequences of razing a country to allay fears of weapons falling into the wrong hands. An article in this month's issue of The Nation allows four experts to comment on the current political situation. They are Helena Cobban, Juan Cole, Nir Rosen, and Shibley Telhami. A quote from Juan Cole truly hits home after it is proposed that the Bush Administration has championed democracy in the Middle East and that it is working.

"It is a good thing for the US to support democracy in the region, but it has to be done wisely. The main effect of aggressive Bush Administration policy to date has been to spread instability and increase polarization."

The clarity of this view becomes occluded with the current administration no matter what the reality is on the ground.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Rove-Pot Dome Scandal

This is my official effort to stop placing the word 'gate' after anything remotely associated with political skullduggery. In that effort, let us choose another scandal to suffix this one, since we haven't come up with something new in over 30 years. The Tea Pot Dome scandal has a nice ring to it, as opposed to the XYZ Affair which is a bit tougher to plant a 'Rove' or 'Libby' inside.

General perceptions: The Administration has taken a tenous position that it was not damaging to go after government bureacrats no matter what their position, even possible nonofficial cover agents within the CIA. If these people are critical of positions taken by the Administration, then suppressing that opposition is more important than anything else.

At the fore right now is Karl Rove and Irv Lewis Libby placing some talking points before reporters in an effort to discredit Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV. Karl Rove is now known to have handed to Matt Cooper of Time Magazine on "deep background" information that placed Wilson's wife at "the agency" (CIA) and that she worked on WMD. Also included for Cooper's review was the suggestion that Wilson's wife was responsible for his trip to Niger. Officials at the CIA denied the thrust of this contention when Robert Novak asked a spokesman if this was the case.

By the time this is done, it may very well be that Rove won't be indicted on violating Intelligence Identities Protection Act. It may be that none of the officials involved will be taken to task for the action of revealing this information, but be caught on technicalities of testimony before the grand jury.

I do see something more broad coming from this, particularly how the Bush Administration handles its critics. The outward appearance is that if you criticize, you are a political enemy combatant, and there is no civility left when dealing with such criticisms. What is worse is the defenders of this action, namely the national Republicans in Congress, the Republican National Committee, and the conservative media outlets. What purpose does it serve to allow a group of officials open season on anyone connected to critical remarks about their conduct or policies? Where do these defenders and administrative officials draw the line?

More people should question all the powerful players in the world and resist the temptation to defend malfeasance if only to win the argument for one's side.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Parliamentary Maneuvering

Senate majority leader Bill Frist could have been debating an enormous Pentagon bill with his colleagues this week before members of Congress went back to their home states for the August recess, but instead he has kicked that bill off the calendar and placed on the front burner the issue that concerns most Americans: gun manufacturers' liability.

Let that sink in for a second.

A 491 billion dollar defense budget, or exempting gun makers from lawsuits. I seriously wonder how any onlooker could view this without assuming that some deformed machination took place to reach this point. I would be curious to find out if a fair number of Republican senators respect the mind that is running that body right now.

What might be more insulting is that gun manufacturers haven't been hit with mile high legal bills from liability lawsuits. From David Corn's web log he cites a statistic that between 1993 and 2003, there were 57 tort suits brought against gun manufacturers, out of 10 million liability suits brought during that same time. Six suits a year on average? That is what took the defense budget off the Senate floor?

Strange days.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Laborious Movements

The split occurring within the AFL-CIO today is being generally reported as damaging. A rift such as this would appear to weaken what most call "big labor". I'm not so sure.

It is generally reported that the AFL-CIO was hedging bets towards taking further steps towards active political support in campaigns related to labor issues, while the four that broke ranks headed by the SEIU and Teamsters was looking to invigorate the unionizing process in America and rebuilding the base of union members. Without a compromise, the split took place. Nothing that I can find establishes the permanence of the break, but let us assume that it is going to stay broken.

If the AFL-CIO is right and that the only way to keep strength is through numbers and political donations, then the past ten years have been resounding defeats, yes? A loss of Congress, two consecutive lost Presidential races to a candidate not known to be particularly kind towards unions, and a shrinking membership base through lost manufacturing employment might make one scratch his or her head. Do campaign donations and get out the vote efforts improve the underlying structure?

If the Change To Win Coalition has it right, then placing higher goals on attracting new members and rebuiliding the organization's base might increase overall participation within the labor movement, and increase the vitality of an institution that has not seen the best of days lately. I don't see Big Labor being wed to the Democrats in D.C. as being the right cause to fight for at this moment. I do see AFL-CIO President John Sweney's comment, "...our future should not be dictated by the demands of any group or the ambitions of any individuals," as precisely what might be wrong within that organization. Listen intently to those who deeply care about the future lest you be left behind.

While reading sites about labor unions, I came across a decent history at the Department of Labor written by many historians. It might be good rainy day reading provided you live in monsoon territory.

And lastly, a quote from Lincoln:
"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights."

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Supreme Court Nominee Judge John G. Roberts

I've tried to pay attention to his nomination. I really have... in a 'sort of' way. To date I don't have an opinion yet one way or another on his nomination. It is extremely early to call him a sure bet or not, but that is in part due to the fact that most of us don't quite know the man and his leanings.

I can't say that I'd be against him or for him if he was firmly planted on a single issue of note today. I believe the Senators will need a fuller picture to understand him, and I feel the same way. If he is conservative in his views I really don't have a problem with that. If his judicial purview borders on that of Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, than I think I would be against his ascension to the highest court in the land.

I know it is up to the Administration to put forward whomever they wish to go before the Senate for confirmation and the man chosen looks like a good, clean candidate. However, I have very serious misgivings about this Administration given their track record of being forthcoming with information.

Might it extend to this nomination, too?

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Brief Introduction

Please excuse the clutter and dust, this is my first attempt at a web log entry. Only ten years on the web and just now catching up with the times.

The title for this, "Malice Towards None" is obviously taken from Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural addresss, the last paragraph reading as:

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

As a person who enjoys reading about U.S. Presidential history, I had the wonderful opportunity to read the six volume Lincoln biography by Carl Sandburg, The Prairie Years and the War Years. It had a very profound effect on how I would view every citizen both public and private based on Lincoln's life. The pinnacle of his presidency in my view was that address, and that line above. For a man who had been through so much to seek no vengence is the epitome of being a just human.

I hope that this area gives me the opportunity to explore my own thoughts on subjects here and there. If no one reads it, that is alright; I'll feel better for having written it just the same. If it appears that I indeed have malice towards one, I'll have to return to my first post and re-learn a thing or two from a great American.