Nov 21, 2007

Kabuki Show at Naval Academy

When I was an Insurance person, one of the things I learned was that when you have a big shindig coming up, you plan it out with plenty of time. All these many weeks I have been waiting to get information about when the Annapolis Conference on Israel and Palestine would be held. Not that I am a prospective invitee, of course, but just so I could KNOW.

Finally, today, I read a piece in Reuters that says that the conference will be held on the 27th of November (next Tuesday) with meetings the days before and after. If anyone I know in business had decided to call a conference of that magnitude a week before the conference, they would have been lucky if one of the principle invitees showed up. How long has this been going on? Since Bush made a speech back on July 16, 2007. This is the responsibility of the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, and she has “funked it.” Badly. In business, she'd get fired or be put on probation.

But note how Reuters reports it: the US said on Tuesday it “has told other nations it will soon send out invitations to the Middle East peace conference it plans to hold in Annapolis, Maryland, but none have gone out yet.” When are they going to send them? Wednesday? Thanksgiving? (Maybe some undocumented alien in the State Department can work all day Thanksgiving to prepare the FedEx packages so the invitations get there by Saturday. After all, she or he is not a real Amurcan and really doesn't need to celebrate Thanksgiving, right?)

In a larger context, of course, the conference has long been seen as a Kabuki Dance, with no real intention on the part of Israel to make any concessions and to stop their illegal expansion of the settlements in the Occupied Territories. Take the report of a prior planning meeting that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on October 19, 2007. Rice left the Mideast after a meeting in Jerusalem after having “shot down the primary Palestinian demands after several days of back-and-forth meetings with Israeli and Palestinian Authority leaders.” (p. A4) Her visit was so bland that it barely received coverage, and an editorial in Ma'ariv quoted by the LAT said “she made it clear that she in fact agrees with most of Jerusalem's demands.” (ibid.)

“During Rice's visit, Palestinian officials took every opportunity to publicly list the issues they wanted addressed before the conference: Palestinian prisoners, the borders of a future Palestinian state, the West Bank barrier being constructed by the Israelis, as well as refugees and Jerusalem.” (ibid, loc.cit.) I'm not Palestinian, but I could add to that a time line for withdrawal and the dismantling of the settlements. No, Rice and her entourage “rarely, if ever” referred to those items, preferring to speak of “core issues”(ibid.) So you can see, the fix is probably in, and the Palestinians will get a ride on the merry go round to nowhere once again.

Rice and Tony Blair, now the international envoy to Israel and Palestine, passed through the separation wall and visited Bethlehem. Sam Bahour, the Palestinian-American businessman and developer, who runs an email service giving news about the Palestinian side of the struggle once or twice a week, was quoted in the Financial Times as saying after the visit: “These moves are not unimportant but I don't want us just to become a university for people to learn how bad things are in Palestine. Palestinians are beyond statements. The Palestinian reality is overwhelming any real hope.”

Syria may or may not come. They have been marginalized, of course, and they know they have a target on their back and are in the rifle sights of the neo-cons. I saw a travel ad in the Los Angeles Times monthly magazine this past Sunday (actually a slick hundred plus pages of advertisements for the West side beautiful people—party hosts, snazzy law firms to hire, slinky models and French fashions. And, oh yes, the crossword puzzle, which everyone use to look forward to doing every week). The ad was of a cowboy in Israel. Yep, the cowboy and his family work a cattle ranch—and the grassy plains and hills in the background make you wonder—where is this? Not out in the desert. Not near the Jordan River. Nope, on the Golan Heights, don't you know, which obviously Israel has now settled. I wonder what the cowboy and his family will do if Israel ever negotiates with Syria to give the Golan Heights back? What's that you say, annexation of territory gained during war is illegal? Well, who cares, pardner, this is Israel!

So there is something to watch the week after Thanksgiving, the Kabuki dance in Annapolis. It will make the news and take your eyes off what going on down in Venezuela.

Venezuela? Yes, according to the press, Chavez is about to take over the country as a real dictator, and there is a popular uprising, a lot of opposition. It's all bullshit. More on that later. There's a real chance that another coup is in the offing. Just a hunch.

Nov 8, 2007


The title means "questions" in German. Just pretend that these are the questions at the end of today's lesson.

If Pakistan's "President" Pervez Musharraf has declared marshal law and put the constitution in "abeyance," because he fears a threat from terrorists and radicals who will take over Pakistan, why is he arresting lawyers and charging them with treason and the death penalty? Why is he placing judges under house arrest? Why has he arrested supporters of Benazir Bhutto and placed the former prime minister under house arrest?

If President Bush decried violence by the military junta in Myanmar/Burma a few weeks ago and called for sanctions, why isn't he doing the same to Musharraf?

Does President Bush wish that he had a uniform to go along with being Commander-in-Chief?

Why did Vice President Cheney's office hold up the publication of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran last year in order to suppress information that did not support the worst case scenario about Iran's nuclear program?

If terrorists really are going to blow up the Beverly Center or the Glendale Galleria sometime during the Christmas holidays--as the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are saying--am I going to let my daughters shop there? Will I do my usual Christmas Eve panic buy there?

Does Condoleezza Rice really think that Israel will take any action to help move in the direction of a two-state solution? If so, why has Israel continued to expand the settlements in the Occupied Territories?

If Israel wants the Palestinians to recognize its right to exist, how come the Israeli government does not recognize the right of Palestine to exist?

I am at the point tonight in which only questions appear to be useful.

Nov 6, 2007

Another Little Bit to Add to the Dossier

Postscript on torture and the Bush administration. Thanks to Scott Horton and his own research. Well, who knows how he found it in the archives. I find it stunning. In a post on his blog, “No Comment” entitled ‘We Do Not Torture’: The Lies Started in 1967” Horton provides an article from the New York Times, “Branding Rite Laid to Yale University,” Nov. 8, 1967. Here are the last two paragraphs:

The charge that has caused the most controversy on the Yale campus is that Delta Kappa Epsilon applied a “hot branding iron” to the small of the back of its 40 new members in ceremonies two weeks ago. A photograph showing a scab in the shape of the Greek letter Delta, approximately a half inch wide, appeared with the article.

A former president of Delta said that the branding is done with a hot coathanger. But the former president, George Bush, a Yale senior, said that the resulting wound is “only a cigarette burn.”

Practical joker. Ah yes, and then there's that smirk, and that attitude. Lovely guy to be around.

Cowards, Orwell, and Pogo

New York's Senator Schumer--who sends regular emails soliciting funds for the Senatorial campaigns, and California's so-called Democratic Senator, Diane Feinstein formally announced over the weekend that they would support the nomination of Judge Mukasy to be attorney general, despite his refusal to do the right thing and denounce water boarding as torture.

Feinstein's argument, as I am sure she will repeat until her death--was that Mukasy was the best candidate we could expect from the President, who would probably fall back on an interim emergency appointment when Congress closes its current session. Rather than demand a good candidate, she will settle for second best, and act with condescension towards the idealists who hoped that she would have been able to help send a message to the Bush administration that breaking the law is unacceptable behavior.

Like all cowards, she will rationalize her decision as "practical wisdom," not understanding that she--and Schumer for that matter, since he gave the same reasoning, not having the courage to admit that he had made a mistake to support Mukasy because of New York political friendship--stood at one of those moments that would have perhaps earned her a place in an updated Profiles in Courage. But no, she is incapable of courage, bound as she is, and has been, to the military industrial complex through through the business connections of her husband, bound as she is to ordinary go along to get along thinking, bound as she is to interests other than her constituents. She actually turns out to be the Republicans' senator in California, and would be seen as such if the Republicans had not transmogrified themselves into something else over the past few decades and didn't understand that they have an ally in the Senate. Her votes have more often than not on political and security matters, blindly followed the wishes of the administration.

Feinstein won re-election in 2006, and it is a shame that she ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination and against an extremely weak Republican cypher Richard Mountjoy. She has $3.2 million cash in hand and raised $8.3 million for the 2006 election. Thus she has five more years in office, and I am sure she will continue to disappoint Californians who are looking for some intellectual and moral leadership from a senior member of the senate.

Don't support any of her efforts to raise money for herself. Protest her decision silently or loudly when she participates in the national elections six months from now. She does not provide the leadership we need so sorely at this point in our country's history. Her cooperation with the Bush Administration's continuing erosion of the Constitutional rights of the citizens of the United States is a bitter thing to contemplate. Her decision will provide footnote in the history of shame that will be written eventually about these times.

Obliquely related to that--well, perhaps directly related to that--is George Orwell, who has been on my mind for the last few years now. I used to teach "Politics and the English Language" to my students many years ago, and the failure of journalism to play its proper role as the fourth estate during the past two decades plays off nicely against that brilliant essay. In fact, upcoming this week--Wednesday, at the New York Public Library--is a symposium on Orwell, called There You Go Again: Orwell Comes to America. Check out its website.

In case you still have the Los Angeles Times "Opinion" section from this Sunday laying around, don't toss it until you have had a chance to read the four small essays on George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" (and after you read the essays, refresh your mind with rereading the essay). One, by Mark Danner, is excellent, elaborating on the presentation of the Medal of Freedom to Tommy Franks, L. Paul Bremer III, and George Tenet in December 2004, and Danner's meditation on the quotation from Orwell:
From the totalitarian point of view, history is something to be created rather than learned. A totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy, and its ruling caste, in order to keep its position, has to be thought of as infallible.
And when I re-read those familiar lines, I thought immediately of the Bush administration poobah telling a journalist that they create reality and the rest of us comment on it. And then comes Orwell's kicker:
But since, in practice, no one is infallible, it is frequently necessary to rearrange past events in order to show that this or that mistake was not made, or that this or that imaginary triumph actually happened.
And of course, that raises all kinds of wonderful parallels, like the joke about the Russians, when there still was a USSR, that they "rewrote" history, or how they excised figures from photos when they had been sentenced to the Gulag, or had been "liquidated." That's the terrible version of the revisions in the story. Positively Pogo-esque.

Nov 2, 2007

Tipping Point

Yesterday Senator Kennedy came out against the nomination of Judge Mukasy to be the next Attorney general. Today, Senator Leahy came out against the nomination. President Bush's argument that Mukasy has "not been read into the program" is bogus. According to Bruce Fein, the Constitutional lawyer, nominees and contractors are "read into the program" all the time in order to be informed of what the demands of the position or contract are. If Mukasy has not been briefed, we can pretty accurate surmise that it is to give him cover and to keep him from condemning torture and doing something about it.

Because the Democrat's margin is so thin, all the Democrats must vote against the nomination. You can blame Chuck Schumer for proposing Mukasy to begin with and setting himself up. Schumer talks a good line and acts like a wuss when pushed into a corner. Write him, if you live in New York, to vote against the nomination. I don't trust Diane Feinstein to vote against Mukasy and so have written her to help add to the courage she needs to vote against the nomination.

Dear Senator Feinstein:

I am writing to you with regard to your deliberations on the appointment of Judge Mukasy to be the next attorney general. I refer you to the position of Bruce Fein, who was associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan. The president's position is that Mukasy has not been briefed on the matter of whether or not water boarding is used in our current arsenal of torture techniques. The president's argument is bogus, as Fein points out, since contractors and candidates are "read into the program" on many occasions.

I suspect that Judge Mukasy already knows what the position of the administration is. His waffling and obfuscation on the matter, and his creation of "a loophole big enough to drive a truck through" (as Senator Leahy commented during the Judge's testimony) regarding the President's ability to bring someone "within the law" are danger signs for all of us. Given his testimony, not to mention his previous judicial rulings in regard to legal rights, I fear that he will be worse than Gonzalez as an attorney general, because he is a skillful jurist, and more intelligent. To stay in the shadows and operate in the dark side, as the Vice President has called it, does nothing to advance our standing in the world or to defeat terrorism. The Vice President is misguided, and Judge Mukasy, instead of correcting this misguidance, will only perpetuate and institutionalize it.

We are at a tipping point in our struggle to keep the Constitution's integrity, and you, Senator Feinstein, are one of the very few citizens of the country who can keep us from tipping into an American version of totalitarian rule. Plant yourself in front of this juggernaut and stop it courageously. I urge you to vote against the approval of Judge Mukasy and to bring your influence to bear to convince your colleagues, especially Senators Schumer, Kohl, Feingold, and Cardin to do the same. The President will always bully people into submission. It is the moment to tell him that you will fight for the rights of your constituents under our Constitution.

Sincerely yours--

Write to Schumer, put the pressure on him. Mukasy's judicial rulings have gone against habeas corpus, and because he is more intelligent and more of a manager than Gonzalez ever could be, he will be even worse.

By the way, pick up a copy of Naomi Wolf's The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot. It's a pretty chilling and historically informative rationale for pushing back against what is happening. People who read it find it incredible, but I figure just reading her summary article in The Guardian can't hurt to heighten consciousness. Bruce Fein's recent article in The Washington Monthly, "Restrain this White House"
on the danger of Presidential signing statements is a good companion read. When very conservative Reagan partisans become alarmed, you need to pay attention, no matter which direction you come from. Go for it.

P.S. 2:47 PM Pacific time, I just heard on the news that both Feinstein and Schumer will vote for Mukasy. Maybe they can be turned around. Bring the pressure to bear!

Nov 1, 2007


AP reports that Senator Kennedy will oppose the nomination of Judge Mukasy, Lindsey Graham and John McCain will support it, Charles Schumer is undecided, and President Bush comments on the process:

Bush said it was unfair to ask Mukasey about interrogation techniques on which he has not been briefed. "He doesn't know whether we use that technique or not," the president told a group of reporters invited into the Oval Office.

Further, Bush said, "It doesn't make any sense to tell an enemy what we're doing."

Without saying whether interrogators use water boarding, a technique that simulates drowning, Bush said, "The American people must know that whatever techniques we use are within the law." Asked whether he considers water boarding legal, Bush replied, "I'm not going to talk about techniques. There's an enemy out there."

But let's take a look at those statements. We have heard them before—or ones similar to that. I call it the “big secret” excuse. On its face it appears to be judicious and smart. It is always logical to keep secret that which you do not want your enemies to know, but in the case of water boarding, who exactly would benefit from the knowledge that we are or are not using water boarding as part of our interrogation techniques?

Let's be logical. Start with the “enemy” in this so-called “War on Terror.” Are we really trying to keep our enemies from knowing whether or not we use water boarding? Imagine yourself a terrorist, with ready access to stories from Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, rendition sites, the various information that has naturally leaked already from published documents, interviews, word of mouth from survivors of these places, the tales of rendition victims, in addition to which is a whole literature regarding the torture techniques of the Syrians, the SAVAK under the Shah of Iran, the infamous Egyptian and Pakistani secret services. This of course, is not to mention documented cases from human rights groups like Amnesty International, court documents, etc. All of this information is in the public sphere.

Additionally, we know that our armed services use water boarding as part of the training for members of our military who might be captured . In fact, as has been sufficiently documented over the past few years, survival training has included water boarding as a way of preparing our airmen, for example, for the kind of treatment they may receive. We know for example, that psychiatrists are present at interrogation sessions to counsel on the mental damage that could result.

Since water boarding has been known about and documented since the time of the Spanish Inquisition and has been condemned as torture by any number of religious and state authorities, there is no question that the technique is torture. Further, since we have punished both Japanese, German, and—in rare instances--our own military for using the technique, there is hardly any doubt as to its general condemnation. Do I need to remind us that in addition to treaties we have signed, we also have our own domestic anti-torture statutes?

Furthermore, we have ample evidence that torture of any kind tends to produce whatever information the torturer wants to hear, and for that reason is unreliable as a source of information. Torture victims may indeed go one step further and confess to things they did not do, or fabricate information which they think the torturer may want to hear. (At which point the torturer is then forced to vet the information and waste further valuable resources.)

Since this information is not only available to terrorists but also to their training officers, and in fact to the rest of the world, the matter of secrecy about whether or not we use water boarding is an illogical one to use. One would expect that any terrorists (or spy or ordinary sophisticated world traveler for that matter) always act on the basis of the philosophy of assuming the worst treatment will be applied by a torturer.

No, if George Bush truly thinks that not admitting whether water boarding is being used protects the people of the United States from terrorists, he is either disingenuous, stupid, or ignorant. Make no mistake about it, however, he knows the truth. No, I think he is being disingenuous. He is in fact attempting to keep information not from the terrorists but from the people of the United States. What he does not want is to make a statement that can be used to show that our government policy has been in fact illegal.

The Australian detainee at Guantanamo, David Hicks, pleaded guilty to a charge of “supporting terrorism” and was released from Guantanamo to serve out the balance of the agreed sentence in Australia. Part of the agreement was that he was not to make any statements about his treatment by the United States, and that he was not to be released from prison until after the next Parliamentary election. What a strange agreement! What a strange deal. And why do it unless you have something to hide?

This morning on the radio, I heard the President insist that since Mukasy had not been briefed on confidential matters yet, it was wrong of the Senators to expect him to answer their questions. But that too is disingenuous, because the matter the Senators are investigating is not one of confidentiality but definition: is water boarding torture? That Mukasy refuses to answer means only one thing: he knows—or at the very least strongly suspects that water boarding is being done. On a practical matter, he knows that if he declares water boarding to be torture, he will enter the position as an adversary of the president. But he wants the job, and the President wants him for the job. Mukasy has a chance to become a patriot here, but I suspect that he will not.

This is a very distressing state of affairs. Congress, especially some Republicans, had better stand up against this administration. I won't hold my breath. The world will stand up and cheer after January 19, 2009. If we ever get there with our Constitutional form of government intact.