Friday, June 30, 2006

A defining moment?

The Times calls the Supreme Court's repudiation of Dubya's tribunals:
a defining moment in the ever-shifting balance of power among branches of government that ranked with the court's order to President Richard M. Nixon in 1974 to turn over the Watergate tapes, or with the court's rejection of President Harry S. Truman's seizing of the nation's steel mills, a 1952 landmark decision from which Justice Anthony M. Kennedy quoted at length.
Dahlia Lithwick, the best writer on Slate by a mile, isn't sure we should be jumping up and down about it.

With so many illegal nasty tricks still at his disposal, why should Bush worry? Says Dahlia:
Today's rebuke to the president still feels hollow to me because I just don't believe the Bush administration cares what the Supreme Court thinks about the constraints on executive war powers. As a legal matter, Bush lawyers always claimed they'd won the last round of enemy combatant cases, even when the rest of us heard O'Connor's admonition, in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, about a state of war not being a "blank check" for the president. As a practical matter, even if it's true that U.S. forces and interrogators must now abide by the Geneva definition of torture, when is the petition for relief of a tortured detainee going to present itself before this court? And even if Guantanamo is closed, which I gather may soon happen, what is to stop Bush from falling back on secret prisons and extraordinary renditions—which we will never know about?
Chris Floyd says basically the same thing, but says it a lot more passionately, though he focuses more on how little the Pentagon thinks of the other wimpy branches of government ("the direct impact will be negligible") and on the weird dissent by Clarence Thomas, who apparently never reads his dissents aloud from the bench. This time he did, and why? So he could blast John Paul Stevens for his "unfamiliarity with the realities of warfare."

Would it surprise you dear reader (if you didn't already know, or couldn't see from a mile away), that, ahem, Stevens actually served in the Navy from '42-'45, and that Thomas "is yet another hard-right chickenhawk who never served – yet presumes to lecture a World War II vet (and Bronze Star recipient) about war's reality."

Anyone paying attention?

Watching the jets ...

Where's the condemnation of Israel's criminal bombing of the Gaza electrical plant? It would appear not to be news at all, if you're a "progressive" reader of, say, Huffingtonpost (where the only opinion piece on the topic is currently a defense of whatever Israel does by the ever-reliable Dershowitz).

Bombing civilian infrastructure in Gaza = collective punishment = war crime. How much simpler can it be?

And how bad will it get for the Gazans trapped in their homes? Virginia Tilley writes in Counterpunch:

It is not the immediate human conditions created by this strike that are monumental. Those conditions are, of course, bad enough. No lights, no refrigerators, no fans through the suffocating Gaza summer heat. No going outside for air, due to ongoing bombing and Israel's impending military assault. In the hot darkness, massive explosions shake the cities, close and far, while repeated sonic booms are doubtless wreaking the havoc they have wrought before: smashing windows, sending children screaming into the arms of terrified adults, old people collapsing with heart failure, pregnant women collapsing with spontaneous abortions. Mass terror, despair, desperate hoarding of food and water. And no radios, television, cell phones, or laptops (for the few who have them), and so no way to get news of how long this nightmare might go on.

But this time, the situation is worse than that. As food in the refrigerators spoils, the only remaining food is grains. Most people cook with gas, but with the borders sealed, soon there will be no gas. When family-kitchen propane tanks run out, there will be no cooking. No cooked lentils or beans, no humus, no bread ­ the staples Palestinian foods, the only food for the poor. (And there is no firewood or coal in dry, overcrowded Gaza.)

And yet, even all this misery is overshadowed by a grimmer fact: no water. Gaza's public water supply is pumped by electricity. The taps, too, are dry. No sewage system. And again, word is that the electricity is out for at least six months.

The Gaza aquifer is already contaminated with sea water and sewage, due to over-pumping (partly by those now-abandoned Israeli settlements) and the grossly inadequate sewage system. To be drinkable, well water is purified through machinery run by electricity. Otherwise, the brackish water must at least be boiled before it can be consumed, but this requires electricity or gas. And people will soon have neither.

Drinking unpurified water means sickness, even cholera. If cholera breaks out, it will spread like wildfire in a population so densely packed and lacking fuel or water for sanitation. And the hospitals and clinics aren't functioning, either, because there is no electricity.

Finally, people can't leave. None of the neighboring countries have resources to absorb a million desperate and impoverished refugees: logistically and politically, the flood would entirely destabilize Egypt, for example. But Palestinians in Gaza can't seek sanctuary with their relatives in the West Bank, either, because they can't get out of Gaza to get there. They can't even go over the border into Egypt and around through Jordan, because Israel will no longer allow people with Gaza identification cards to enter the West Bank. In any case, a cordon of Palestinian police are blocking people from trying to scramble over the Egyptian border--and war refugees have tried, through a hole blown open by militants, clutching packages and children.

In short, over a million civilians are now trapped, hunkered in their homes listening to Israeli shells, while facing the awful prospect, within days or weeks, of having to give toxic water to their children that may consign them to quick but agonizing deaths.

One woman near the Rafah border, taking care of her nephews, spoke to BBC: "If I am frightened in front of them I think they will die of fear." If the international community does nothing, her children may soon die anyway....

Israel has done many things argued to be war crimes: mass house demolitions, closing whole cities for weeks, indefinite "preventative" detentions, massive land confiscation, the razing of thousands of square miles of Palestinian olive groves and agriculture, systematic physical and mental torture of prisoners, extrajudicial killings, aerial bombardment of civilian areas, collective punishment of every description in defiance of the Geneva Conventions--not to mention the general humiliation and ruin of the indigenous people under its military control. But destroying the only power source for a trapped and defenseless civilian population is an unprecedented step toward barbarity. It reeks, ironically, of the Warsaw Ghetto. As we flutter our hands about tectonic political change, we must take pause: in the eyes of history, what is happening in Gaza may come to eclipse them all.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Ah. cripes, more national righteousness—from "liberals"

This is exactly what we DON'T need, but it's what we're sure to get more of.

"Liberals" thinking they can beat "Conservatives" at their own spurious game—by dredging up the ghost of that influential and wicked Senator from Boeing, by being more militaristic, invading more countries, flexing more muscle—only doing it better, and more virtuously, so that the women and children whose bodies are shredded and crushed by our bombs will go to glory happy in the knowledge that their lives were given for a good cause, so that America could feel good about itself....

The title of Peter Beinart's book is puke-inducing. The Good Fight: Why Liberals – and Only Liberals – Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again. Ponder the arrogance, the presumption, the ... uh, ignorance of history. And this from someone with clout in the opposition party!

I'm grateful, then, that Andrew Bacevich is around to let all the air out of Beinart's balloon in a withering review in which he discusses Beinart's "imaginative, if largely spurious, depiction of postwar history" along with Stephen Kinzer's slightly more reality-based Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The pledge

I found out about the Voter's Pledge in Father's Day Reflections on a Lost Son, an article by Michael Berg, father of slain contractor Nicholas Berg, which was published in Commondreams this weekend.

(Not that Commondreams isn't a terrific site, but does that mean Berg's piece was refused by op-ed pages in all regular newspapers?)

Here it is:
"I will not vote for or support any candidate for Congress or President who does not make a speedy end to the war in Iraq, and preventing any future war of aggression, a public position in his or her campaign."
Writes Berg:
My contribution this Father’s Day is to urge all those who oppose the military occupation of Iraq and do not want to see future wars of choice to sign the Voters Pledge at www.VotersForPeace.US. Nearly fifty thousand people have already signed and many of the major organizations in the antiwar movement have endorsed it.

Together we can change the path of the United States so that all fathers and mothers can face the future with pride that we did our part to move our great country back toward the way it’s supposed to be.
Pretty simple idea. Pretty amazing idea.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Chuck, Chuck, what word rhymes with Chuck?

... that would be appropriately contemptuous of Schumer's statement that he won't rule out supporting the odious Lieberman if he has to run as an independent—against the nominee for the Democratic party!?

Hmm. While I'm thinnin' on that one, Digby has some things to say about ole Joe and the Dem establishment:
The establishment would obviously like to do away with primaries. They would prefer to simply tell the plebes for whom to vote and just take their money. But, that's not the way it's going to work anymore. It's not just that politics have taken a parliamentary turn, which is quite true. It goes to the heart of why so many Americans don't trust Democrats to lead: the spineless factor. It's why the Democratic terrorists are going to take the radical step of trying to elect someone who doesn't publicly kiss George W. Bush on the lips every chance he gets.

You don't have to look any further than Joe Lieberman to understand why the entire world thinks Democrats are a bunch of chickenshit losers. We're tired of being associated with someone who can't even stand a fair fight in the Connecticut Democratic party without whining like snivelling schoolkid and threatening to take his ball and go home. Why should anyone trust such a gutless tool with the reins of government?

Best web site ever?

I'm not terribly interested when my wife and her girlfriends gather, either in person or via phone, to talk about what celebrities are wearing on the red carpet prior to some big awards show—the Oscars, the Grammys, the Golden Globes. And I really really can't stand the "professionals" who are paid to comment on Lindsay Lohan's or Jessica Simpson's or Nicole Kidman's getup.

But I've recently realized that it's not that the subject matter isn't interesting. Young, gorgeous, obscenely rich, completely unself-aware people making a spectacle of themselves—it tittilates, it fascinates, it appals.

The gofugyourself web site does the celebrity fashion dishing thing, and does it brilliantly. The site is simply one of the most entertaining things online. Heather and Jessica are great writers. They're consistently funny, and they're not—as many critics wrongly claim—one-dimesionally catty bitches.

Of course, they can be both catty and bitchy when the situation calls for it, which it so often does, but there's really a pretty menschy humanity beneath it—they can, in fact, say nice things—that makes them all the funnier when they go bitchy.

Heather and Jessica are pretty much always "on," but there are some actresses/celebrities/whatever who really wind them up. Lindsay Lohan is my personal favorite, but they're also great with Britney and the Simpson sisters.

Nothin' to see here, folks

It came out this week that, in regard to the $9 billion that "somehow got lost" in Iraq, Dubya issued one of his patented (and patently unconsitutional) "signing statements" that effectively nullified the creation of an inspector general to look into these missing billions.

The rationale, posted on the site, is breathtaking in its chutzpah. It cites "the President’s constitutional authorities to conduct the Nation’s foreign affairs [independent of interference from any other branch of government, and without any consideration whatsoever of the popular will], to supervise the unitary executive branch [who say's it's "unitary"? The preznit does], and as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces [ironic that, given his track record of military service, no?].

Let's get this straight. One of the [750 or so!] acts passed by Congress the president chose to ignore was the one establishing the inspector general post for Iraq. Did anyone notice this? Well, not really. Or at least no one did anything about it. Remember this is $9 billion dollars that went poof!

Why isn't Bush eager for anyone to follow the money? As Dave Lindorff writes:
You might think that the inspector general himself would have complained about such a restriction on his authority to do the job that Congress had intended, but this is a man who has a long history of working as a loyal manservant to the president. Bowen was a deputy general counsel for Governor Bush (meaning he was an assistant to the ever solicitous solicitor Alberto Gonzales). He did yeoman service to Bush as a member of the team that handled the famous vote count atrocity in Florida in the November 2000 election, making sure every vote wasn't counted, and then worked under Gonzales again in the White House during Bush's first term, before returning briefly to private practice.

Bowen simply never mentioned to anyone that, courtesy of an unconstitutional order from the president, he was not doing the job that Congress had intended.

The deception was far-reaching. When Thomas Gimble, the acting inspector general of the Pentagon, was asked in 2005 during a congressional hearing by Christopher Shays (R-CT), chair of the House government reform subcommittee, why the Pentagon had no audit team in Iraq to look for fraud, the facile Gimble replied that such a team was "not needed" because Congress had set up the special inspector general unit to do that. He conveniently didn't mention that the president had barred the special inspector general from investigating Pentagon scandals.
Lindorff goes on to speculate where that money actually went.
[M]oney being like water, it tends to flow to the lowest level, which, from a moral and ethical standpoint, would be the Bush/Cheney administration and the Republican Party machine that put them, and the do-nothing Congress that covers up for them, into office.

My guess is that a fair piece of those many billions of dollars is sloshing around back in the U.S. paying for things like Republican Party electoral dirty tricks, vote theft, bribing of Democratic members of Congress, and god knows what else.

If this seems far-fetched to anyone, remember that this administration has included a number of people who were linked to the Reagan-era Iran-Contra scandal, when the creative--and criminal--idea was conceived of secretly selling Pentagon stocks of shoulder-fired Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, and using the proceeds to secretly fund the U.S.-trained and organized Contra fighters who were fighting to topple the Sandinista government in Nicaragua (Congress had inconveniently banned any U.S. aid to the Contras).

Is Lindorff onto something, or is this just idle speculation? I have no idea, but I'm just a 14th rate blogger with a day job. But there are people? they're called journalists? investigative journalists? They might find this an interesting topic to pursue. Or not. I'm just sayin'

"Mass death on the installment plan"

We should be much harder on the Democrats than Republicans. They're supposed to be an opposition party, but do nothing but create pale weak shadows of Republican policy, and do indescribably nutty things like try to out-hawk the most militarily aggressive war party in the planet's history.

This week, Congress voted 351-67 to authorize another $66 billion in "emergency" spending for the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Among those opposed were Republicans like Ron Paul and Walter Jones, Jr. Among those giving Bush another blank check were prominent members of the Democrat leadership, including Nancy Pelosi.

Still, note should be taken when there is a Democrat who decides to at least pretend he represents his constituency, and who voices articulate opposition to the cynical, corrupt, murderous madness that seems to be a prerequisite for holding positions of power inside the Beltway. This week, that man was Dennis Kucinich. John Nichols describes his stand:
"Mass death on the installment plan. That's what this supplemental vote to keep our troops in Iraq is all about."

Kucinich, who recently [won] a landslide Democratic primary victory against an aggressive and well-funded challenger, argued that, "The Administration went into Iraq without an exit strategy not because they are incompetent, but because they have no intention of leaving.

"We are spending hundreds of millions building permanent bases in Iraq. The Administration recently announced deployment of no less than 50,000 troops in Iraq far into the future. We are looking at the permanent occupation of Iraq.

"And so the long cadence of lies has led to Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and Haditha, soon to be replaced by more lies and more tragedies. "What can you say when you are watching your nation descend, sleep walking, into something like the lower circles of hell in Dante's Inferno?

"You can say stop it! You can say enough blood is enough blood!

"You can stop it! Bring our troops home!

"You can say no to any more funds for this war! And then we can begin a period of truth and reconciliation about 9/11 and Iraq. Begin the healing of the soul of America."

No, really, a United States Congressman said that. You can look it up.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Jogo bonito

The planet is aflame. War, famine, pestilence. The air, water and topsoil—life itself—threatened everywhere, but that will all have to wait—it's time for the World Cup.

I'm sorry, I can't bring myself around to calling it football. On different occasions, I lived in London, Ireland and Sydney for extended periods, and I cringe today at how affected I was in my adoption of non-Yank slang. For fuck's sake, I'm an Amuhhrican.

For a year or so I worked near Tony Karon in the big open-plan Pathfinder office in the Time Inc. building. I didn't know him or read him much then— but now I find him a terrific political writer, insightful and urbane and never tendentious (on occasion, however, I do quite enjoy a bit of tendentiousness).

In "How to Watch the World Cup: Politics and War by Other Means," Karon offers a non-condescending guide to just how fucking important it all is.... Here he compares the styles of Germany and Brazil, the 2002 Copa finalists:

[The] teams ... represent global North-South polar opposites in the way the game is played. As Muhammad Ali was celebrated not just for his unique skills in the ring but for his iconic resistance to the racial order, so the universal popularity of Brazil is based not only on its exquisitely poetic style -- the "Joga Bonito" (beautiful game) -- but also on its role as a proxy representative of the Global South.

The German game epitomizes the industrialized West: physical power, relentless drive, unshakable organization and a machine-like efficiency in punishing opponents' mistakes. It's a kind of Blitzkrieg -- the modern German game, as Simon Kuper has noted, had its roots in Nazi sports culture and the militaristic virtues it lionized -- that overwhelms opponents with physical power on the ground and in the air, often winning "ugly" by a single goal. The best-known German players of the past half century have been goalkeepers, field commanders in defense and midfield, as well as clinical if artless goal-poaching forwards. There has never been a Pelé on the German team; in Brazil, by contrast, each year brings a new crop of awesomely talented teenagers from the favelas whose audacious skill and flair inevitably anoints them as "the next Pelé."

Brazil's style is more akin to advanced guerrilla warfare in which the insurgents have the momentum and the confidence. They combine impossible skill with breathtaking audacity and guile, an ability to shoot from great distances and apply boot to ball in a manner that improbably "bends" its trajectory. The telepathy with which they are able to anticipate each other's movements allows them to dazzle both the opposition and the crowd with the fluidity of their passing movements and their propensity for doing the unexpected. The adversary literally never knows where the next attack will come from, or what it will be. And the smiles of the Brazilians, even in crucial games, tell you that they're enjoying themselves. On the field, you'll rarely see a German player smile.

When Ronaldinho, currently rated the greatest player in the world, spotted the English goalkeeper David Seaman two yards off the goal line in their 2002 World Cup clash, he unleashed a 40-yard free kick that looped over Seaman's outstretched gloves, wickedly dipping and curling into the top corner of England's goal. So thunderstruck were the English TV commentators that they insisted the strike was a fluke, a pass that went fortuitously awry. It's for such moments that the soccer fans of the Global South live.

And he correctly points out that this is a rare chance for people like me to root for the Yanks without inhibitions.
President Bush may give the event a miss -- one can only wonder what he would make of a game in which the U.S. has a negligible chance of being world champion; for Americans with qualms about their country's imperial role, by contrast, supporting the plucky and rather well-liked outsiders of Team USA is an opportunity for guilt-free patriotic fervor.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

That trillion bucks is beginning to look like money well spent. Yeah boy!

What precision!

Let's just say a little skepticism is merited.

I really have no idea what exactly to believe about this Zarqawi character. And I am certain I will never know a whole lot more than I know now. He was something of a lunatic, by all accounts.

It's a bit of an understatement, but I'll say it: it seemed veerrrry convenient for the Pentagon to make him into something of a terrorist superhero with almost mystical powers. As Chris Floyd put it, he was a "notorious shape-shifter who, according to grainy video evidence, was able to regenerate lost limbs, speak in completely different accents, alter the contours of his bone structure and also suffered an unfortunate binge-and-purge weight problem which caused him to change sizes with almost every appearance."

Billmon has a pretty hilarious take on this:

Over the next few weeks, insiders say, Pentagon Channel executives determined that while the Zarqawi show still had a dedicated following of hardcore fans who would swallow any plot device, no matter how ludicrous, the series no longer made commercial or artistic sense. It was also believed that a spectacular and upbeat finale might lure viewers away from Haditha, the controversial docudrama now airing on the rival Reality Network.

Network sources say the Pentagon Channel is weighing a possible sequel to the Abu Zarqawi Hour, featuring an identical plot but a completely different cast. The network and Zarqawi have permanently severed their relationship, these sources added, due to "irreconcilable creative differences."

Pentagon Channel officials declined to respond to questions about a possible sequel, saying only that "all options are under consideration. Things related and not."

Mr. Zarqawi was unavailable for comment.

Bottom line is this: Score another one for extrajudicial murder. It sure got Alan Dershowitz all hot. But what about the father of the man beheaded by Zarqawi? Is he jumping up and down?
Well, you know, I'm not saying Saddam Hussein was a good man, but he's no worse than George Bush. Saddam Hussein didn't pull the trigger, didn't commit the rapes. Neither did George Bush, but both men are responsible for them under their reigns of terror. I don't buy that.

Iraq did not have al Qaeda in it. Al Qaeda supposedly killed my son. Under Saddam Hussein, no al Qaeda. Under George Bush, al Qaeda. Under Saddam Hussein, relative stability. Under George Bush, instability. Under Saddam Hussein, about 30,000 deaths a year. Under George Bush, about 60,000 deaths a year.

I don't get it. Why is it better to have George Bush be the king of Iraq rather than Saddam Hussein?