Monday, November 26, 2007

What Impressed Me This Week: Bush on Musharraf

Quote of the Week: Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of the time he will pick himself up and continue on. -- Winston Churchill

True Believers in Democracy
In the transcript of the divorce proceedings between President Bush and Reality, a few lines stand out. "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job. ... Bring them on. ... I'm a uniter, not a divider. ... Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. ... We found the weapons of mass destruction. ..." and several others. Perhaps you have your own favorite.

Well, there's a new one to add to the list. Last Tuesday, when ABC News asked Bush about US ally General Musharraf, the Pakistani military dictator who recently completed his second coup, the President said, "He hasn't crossed the line. ... I think he truly is somebody who believes in democracy."

In watching the rest of the interview, I was pleased to hear President Bush answer questions about our own elections as if they are really going to happen and will result in a new president taking office. Because Bush "truly is somebody who believes in democracy" too.

Ground-Level Views of Iraq
In Iraq it is important to keep track of both the high-level view of statistics -- deaths, oil production, electricity and so on -- and the low-level accounts of what life is like and what individual people are thinking. Recently there have been some really excellent ground-level views.

In The New Yorker, Jon Lee Anderson talks to people on various sides of the Sunni/Shia divide and gives an interesting view of what's been going on since the Surge started. He cites the violence-reduction statistics and gives due respect to the successes of the new tactics. But he's skeptical about where things can go from here. His conversation with an Anbar-Sunni tribal leader (exactly the folks who are supposed to be making the Surge work) is not encouraging:
Zaidan said that Anbar’s Sunni tribes no longer had any need to exact blood vengeance on U.S. forces. “We’ve already taken our revenge,” he said. “We’re the ones who’ve made them crawl on their stomachs, and now we’re the ones to pick them up.” He added, “Once Anbar is settled, we must take control of Baghdad, and we will.” There would have to be a lot more fighting before the capital was taken back from the Shiites, he said. “The Anbaris will take charge of the purge. What the whole world failed to do in Anbar, we have done overnight. Baghdad will be a lot easier.”
Zaidan predicts that the Americans will provoke an intra-Shia civil war between the Arab Shia and the Persian Shia (who side with Iran). The Sunnis will fight on the American/Arab-Shia side, and will win.

Anderson tells an amazing story about two Shiites working with the Americans, who he calls Karim and Amar. They are using their American connections to help them take revenge against members of the Shiite Mahdi Army, who killed Amar's brother. Amar plans to kill a hundred men, and he delivers souvenir body parts of his victims to his mother, who approves.

Jared Polis is a Democratic congressional candidate from Colorado. He took a Thanksgiving trip to Iraq and has been blogging about it. Because he's just a candidate and not an actual congressman, Polis is traveling as a private citizen, the same way you would if you decided to go visit Baghdad. His accounts include a lot of nitty-gritty details and remarkably little spin for a politician: You have to change planes in Amman. The descent into Baghdad isn't as bad as everybody says. Power failures at Baghdad Airport happen often enough that everybody just goes on with what they're doing. The road from the airport to the Green Zone is a lot safer than it used to be. A lot of jobs are done by mercenary soldiers, many from Latin America, and so on.

He visits a mercenary compound and finds that the food there is much better than you can get at the Al Rashid Hotel. And then there's this:
The first question here is always "who are you with?" rather than "where are you from?" The contractors hold their corporate identity above their national identity. Indeed, they come from many nations and the common corporate culture bonds them and allows them to work together for their mutual benefit. It is eerily reminiscent of the post-nation state futures depicted in dystopian corporatocracy science fiction or anime.
Anyway, you can read all his blog entries. He talks to members of parliament, people who work for NGOs, and anybody else he runs across.

The best way to understand how far we are from due process of law in Iraq is to follow a single case, and the easiest case to follow is that of Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi who became a photographer for Associated Press. Hussein has been detained since April, 2006, and AP has been trying to get the military to either charge him with something or let him go ever since. Maybe he's in league with the terrorists, or maybe the Pentagon didn't like the way his photographs kept contradicting their propaganda. Who knows?

Even with a powerful news organization on his side, Hussein has been held without charges for more than a year and a half. Finally last week the Pentagon announced plans to file charges, but of course they won't say what day the hearing will be held, what the charges will be, or what evidence they plan to introduce. Hussein's lawyer will get a call at 6:30 on the morning of the hearing, and will show up prepared to defend his client against something-or-other. If Hussein is acquitted, they still don't have to set him free.

The Washington Post let AP's CEO comment here. Follow further developments on AP's web site.

Thousands of other Iraqis being held without charges. Most of them don't have an American corporation looking out for their rights.

Anatomy of Deceit
Marcy Wheeler's recent book Anatomy of Deceit is a quick read, and it's interesting for a number of reasons.
  • It pulls together a lot of the details of the Bush administration's outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame and ties it in with the overall marketing of the Iraq War. This is a story that has been spun to death, so it's worthwhile to see it all laid out end-to-end. In particular, when you look at the whole story over the long term, it's obvious that the Iraq War was the result of intentional deception, not accidentally bad intelligence.
  • Precisely because the mainstream media has done such a bad job of presenting this story and has allowed the administration to spin it any way it wants, the Plame case is an instructive example of the incestuous relationship between news organizations and the government that they're supposed to be keeping honest.
  • In particular, the Plame case shows how the First Amendment has been turned inside-out. Reporters need to be able to protect the identities of anonymous sources so that whistle-blowers within the government can expose wrong-doing without fear of retaliation. But in the Plame case, powerful wrong-doers within the government used the press to anonymously destroy the career of a whistle-blower's wife. By protecting the identities of their anonymous sources inside the administration, reporters were enabling precisely the kind of retaliation that source-protection is designed to prevent.
  • By focusing on the legal issues of who could be indicted and convicted, the press totally missed the moral side of this story: Valerie Plame was a covert CIA agent working on WMD proliferation -- precisely the issue that the Iraq War was supposed to be about. When her husband Joe Wilson started exposing the intentional deceit behind the war, the administration retaliated by blowing her cover and destroying her career forever. According to cable talk-show host Chris Matthews, Karl Rove told him that the Wilsons "were trying to screw the White House so the White House was going to screw them back." Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald concluded that he could not prove beyond reasonable doubt that Rove committed a crime. But is this really the moral level we want our government to operate on?
  • Wheeler is a blogger, not a traditional journalist. (She blogs under the name "emptywheel" on The Next Hurrah.) The coverage of the Plame case is a clear counter-example to the claim traditional journalists often make: That blogging is all about partisan ranting and not reporting. But in the Plame case journalists were part of the problem and wanted to sweep it all under the rug. Most of the real reporting was done by bloggers like Wheeler. That continued to be true through the Scooter Libby case, where Wheeler was part of a group that live-blogged the trial.
  • Wheeler is also a counter-example to the stereotype that bloggers are all men. And she works closely with another counter-example: Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake.

The book ends while Libby is still on trial, so it doesn't comment on the get-out-of-jail-free card President Bush gave him. So I will: We watched obstruction of justice happen in broad daylight and the major media treated it like it wasn't a big deal. Scooter committed perjury to keep an investigation from reaching the Vice President and/or the President. (What other theory makes sense? That he committed perjury for the hell of it?) And in return the president commuted his sentence. Quid pro quo.

The president's power to pardon is in the Constitution, so Libby's commutation can't be undone by either Congress or the courts. But a pardon in return for false testimony is obstruction of justice, and the only way to call a president to account for such crimes is impeachment. (It's worth pointing out that getting a job interview for a White House intern isn't illegal, but one of the impeachment counts against President Clinton was that he did so in exchange for Monica Lewinsky's false testimony in the Paula Jones case. It's an exact analog, except that the Bush case -- being about war rather than sex -- is obviously more serious.)

This is a god-awful precedent to have on the record. How we will ever get the executive branch back under constitutional control if the president can tell his people to commit crimes and promise them pardons if anything goes wrong? This isn't a partisan issue. Unless the Republicans are planning to hold onto the White House with a Musharraf-like coup, they need to start thinking about how a Democratic president will use the legal and political precedents that Bush has set. If they were smart and patriotic they would give bipartisan support to Kucinich's impeachment resolutions and save the Republic a lot of future trouble.

Satirized For Your Protection
Two of the best satirist bloggers are Dood Abides, DailyKos' resident master of Photoshop, and Jesus' General, who is more macho than is humanly possible. ("An 11 on the manly scale of absolute gender.")

A couple of the Dood's latest are Fred Thompson raising campaign funds by becoming the new Mr. Whipple for Charmin, and Bush waterboarding the National Turkey prior to its annual pardon. Each story is accompanied by an almost-convincing photo. The black hood on the turkey is a wonderful detail.

Meanwhile, the General writes to Time-Warner CEO Richard Parsons about the pressure he feels from being the only viewer of right-wing commentator Glenn Beck's show on CNN: "What if I had to use the restroom? Would some ambitious underling take advantage of the situation and cancel the program while no one -- and I mean that literally -- no one was watching?"

Another post has the General writing to Andrew Schlafly of the Conservapedia (the right-wing answer to the hopelessly biased Wikipedia) about the ten most popular articles on his site, nine of which are about homosexuality. The General is not surprised by this: "After all [homosexuality] is second only to the War on Christmas in terms of the danger it poses to this great nation. True patriots like ourselves must think about homosexuality every second of the day. It can be grueling, especially considering all the different kinds of homosexual sex there are to think about." The General goes on to offer Schlafly his own system for organizing his homosexual thoughts -- er, I mean, his thoughts about homosexuality.

And the General responds to the Pentagon's attempt to get wounded veterans to return their signing bonuses with this poster.

Short Notes
Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria points out a disturbing fact: Tourism is booming everywhere but in the United States. Why? Because we hassle foreigners. And it's not just Arabs or Muslims. Tourism from Japan is way down, and even from the UK. Think about that: White English-speaking people with a strong currency don't want to come here.

The mainstream press continues to discover Mike Huckabee. If he wins in Iowa, which the polls say is a possibility now, anything could happen. New Hampshire is one of the most secular states in the union -- the original settlers came here to get away from the Puritans in Massachusetts -- so an evangelical minister like Huckabee is not going to win the NH primary. But an Iowa loss would knock down Romney, who is leading in the NH polls, so you might well wind up with four or five guys all getting around 20% here. Then what happens? Meanwhile FireDogLake is past the who-is-Huckabee stage and is examining what he stands for and why you don't really want him to be president.

Continuing the evangelical theme, David Antoon takes a scary look at what has become of his alma mater, the Air Force Academy, and connects it with a larger pattern of evangelical activism in the military and in private armies like Blackwater: "The citizen-soldier military dictated by our founding fathers has been replaced with professional and mercenary right-wing Christian crusaders." In a related article, Mother Jones profiles Mikey Weinstein, another Air Force Academy graduate and former Air Force JAG, who started the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to fight exactly the problem Antoon is describing.

The Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity and Race has put out a report on the effects of an Indiana law requiring would-be voters to present a photo ID. And guess what? The people most likely to have such IDs are middle-aged white high-income voters -- who also turn out to be the target voters of the GOP. Kevin Drum opines that maybe Indiana's Republicans already knew this when they pushed for the law. And southwest Florida's News-Press finds similar results from a Republican-backed Florida law making it harder to register to vote: "More than 14,000 initially rejected — three-quarters of them minorities — didn't make it through that last set of hoops. Blacks were 6 1/2 times more likely than whites to be rejected at that step. Hispanics were more than 7 times more likely to be failed."

In honor of Thanksgiving, TPM put together "Testimony We Give Thanks For," a medley of the most embarrassing moments in Congressional hearings this year.

DailyKos' Bill in Portland responds to Karl Rove's remarks about the overall crudeness of liberal bloggers by prototyping a cuss-and-trade system, where all profane insults have to be balanced by offsetting polite comments.

Here's how you get signatures to put propositions on the ballot in California.

Recent developments in your right to privacy: The feds can use your cell phone to track you without showing probable cause.

TPM puts together video clips to contrast the fantasies about Fred Thompson's candidacy with the reality.


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