Archive for July, 2006


Traces of Mr. Smith found in Washington

July 31, 2006

Two cheering developments on the Russell Tice front.

First, his lawyers have successfully got his Grand Jury appearance postponed, on the grounds that the subpoena did not inform him whether he was a target or a witness, and did not give him sufficient time to prepare.

Second, it may be illegal for the government to spend any money investigating him.

That conclusion is based on the interplay between two key whistleblower laws. First, under the Lloyd Lafollette Act of 1912, it is illegal to obstruct communications with Congress. For over 25 years, it has been accepted in the law that media disclosures qualify as communications with the government.

Second, the anti-gag statute shields speech protected by Lloyd Lafollette and other good government laws from any government spending on retaliatory investigations against the whistleblower. It has been passed annually in appropriations legislation since 1988. It states that free speech rights listed in certain good government laws supersede any other restrictions against unclassified disclosures. The government violates the anti-gag statute if it spends money to implement or enforce the superseded policies. Under the Anti Deficit Act, officials responsible for the illegal spending are personally liable to repay the Treasury.


You Can’t Hear That Whistle Blow

July 29, 2006

If a whistleblower whistles in a forest, and no one is permitted to hear, does (s)he make a sound?

I’ve mentioned Russell Tice, the would-be NSA whistleblower, who knows about agency domestic spying programs yet unrevealed to Congress, and has had a hard time getting the beans properly spilled.

Tice’s closed testimony before the House Armed Services committee is probably the source of the faux indignation from Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Goosestep) on May 17, over not being told about some unspecified “program”. Hoekstra quieted down once he’d made his point, which was presumably that he’d better get an extra portion of pork for awhile, if the White House expected him to jolly their lawbreaking along.

(Hoekstra also made the front pages by acting as stage magician Rick Santorum’s lovely assistant, when Rick went before the cameras to perform his most crowd-pleasing trick: making the elephant WMDs appear. Despite the fact that every elephant on the stage was a fake, the crowd was most appreciative. Over the following weeks, the percentage of Americans deluded into the belief that Saddam actually had WMDs at the start of the war leapt from 38% to 50%.)

The entrails tell this augur that Hoekstra and the White House are back on the best of terms, and ready to work in tandem to quash all inquiry into whatever it is that Tice knows. The federal intimidation machinery cranked into high gear yesterday, issuing a subpoena to haul Tice before a Grand Jury to testify about “violations of criminal law” – which is the term the Feds now use for informing the public about the Government’s violations of criminal law.

In a statement issued by the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, of which Tice is a member, he declared “This latest action by the government is designed only for one purpose: to ensure that people who witness criminal action being committed by the government are intimidated into remaining silent.”


Quietus for the status quo

July 29, 2006

I’m going to do what no would-be pundit should ever do. Stand back, Jeanne Dixon. I’m going to make a prediction.

President Bush famously declared back in March that when American troops leave Iraq will be “decided by future presidents.” The statement was widely interpreted to mean troops would be there for at least 2 and a half years. In point of fact, the plural “presidents” meant troops would be there for at least six and a half years.

Conventional wisdom in the mainstream media has agreed for a long time, that our GIs will be tied down in the Green Zone for at least a decade.

On the other hand, John Murtha, whose humint within the military runs deep and wide, predicted in January that troops would be drawn down under 100,000 by midsummer. Murtha underestimated the Administration’s capacity for bullheadedness; likewise its fear of doing anything that looks like cut-and-run prior to the fall elections. But strong signs are beginning to justify his analysis, if not its precise timing.

First, we have one of the rawest-throated of the war cheerleaders, former Dubya speechwriter David Frum, saying that it’s time to take Murtha’s advice, and pull troops over the horizon (to Kurdistan, rather than Murtha’s more logistically informed Kuwait). Not that Frum admits it’s Murtha’s advice, of course; nevertheless his capitulation to the reality based is complete.

Second, we have the Reuters report a week ago Friday, that the Iraqi parliament has begun quiet negotiations on the partitioning of Baghdad into a Sunni quarter west of the Tigris, and a Shia quarter to the east. That would be the trickiest – and in the event of an expanded civil war, the most lifesaving – element of the three-way partition some (like Peter Galbraith in the NY Review of Books) have been urging for some time as the only way to salvage some kind of stability in the end.

Okay, my prediction. The status quo simply cannot possibly be maintained beyond the end of 2006. By then, at least one of the following three events will have occurred:

  1. Open and public negotiations begin for the country’s partition. Omnia Babylonia in tres partes divisa est.
  2. Evacuation of most American troops out of the Green Zone to some set of over the horizon bases.
  3. A massive air campaign against Iran.

The Administration will do everything in its power to prevent either of the first two from happening before the congressional elections. Since any Republican bounce due to yet another war will last for weeks at best, the third is also likely to be postponed until at least late October; but should facts on the ground turn clearly desperate, it will be the fallback.

The three options are not mutually exclusive. No doubt the gang that can neither shoot straight, nor refrain from shooting, would like them to occur in the order mentioned. In particular, should the third precede the second, the Green Zone’s southern logistic lifelines would be snapped, and the carnage on our troops would make Iraq Part Deux look like a Sunday School outing. But the gang tcnssnrfs is not exactly in full control of events any longer.


Same old show. More expensive seats.

July 28, 2006

Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, 431 BCE:

The meaning of words had no longer the same relation to things, but was changed by them as they thought proper. Reckless daring was held to be loyal courage; prudent delay was the excuse of a coward; moderation was the disguise of unmanly weakness; to know everything was to do nothing. Frantic energy was the true quality of a man. A conspirator who wanted to be safe was a recreant in disguise. The lover of violence was always trusted, and his opponent suspected.

The weapons grow more terrible, the costs more insupportable. But the ugliness and inhumanity of war never change. And the traits of a nation caught up in war fever never change either.

The country’s growing weary of the Iraq war, so the trusted lovers of violence are in the kitchen cooking up the next one, a fresh new shiny one, with its riveting new cast of scary villains. Their eye on fat juicy ratings, the media will once again pick up their trumpets and join the parade. But maybe, just maybe, it’s a little too soon since the last scam. This time, maybe, just maybe, the rest of us won’t fall into lockstep behind them.

I would like to find an old snapshot of the America I grew up in. A country where even the poorest had a roof over their heads. A country that wasn’t afraid of its own shadow; that did not kidnap and disappear people; that did not run secret torture chambers; that did not eavesdrop on all of its citizens’ conversations; that did not wage bloody Blitzkrieg on nations which posed no threat to it. I’d like to put that snapshot on milk cartons all over the land, asking “Have you seen me?”

Maybe some kind soul would find that strong, generous, friendly country, perhaps sleeping in an alley among the bombed-out and homeless, or sheltering between the pages of a forgotten Constitution, gather her up, give her a square meal of unfiltered information and fortified civil liberties. And bring her back to us.


Eyeless in Gaza

July 27, 2006

While Lebanon and northern Israel suffer, the suffering in Gaza hasn’t stopped. The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz summarizes activities there. the last couple of days. (The story is a little bloglike; they keep adding paragraphs at the beginning of the page.) Note this part of the account (my emphasis), from Wednesday:

Wednesday’s death toll in Gaza was the highest in two weeks.Medics said two girls, one an infant, died when a tank shell struck a house near Jabalya, a Hamas stronghold. A three-year-old girl was killed earlier in the day.

Nearly 60 people were wounded, including a cameraman for Palestinian television. Six were in a critical condition.

IDF troops have pursued an offensive in Gaza while fighting on a second front in Lebanon, but have failed to stop rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel.

Saeb Erekat, a top aide to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, called on the world to remember the plight of the Palestinians despite the conflict in Lebanon.

“This is the forgotten war,” he told Reuters. “We urge the international community to intervene.”

The IDF, which withdrew its forces from Gaza in 2005, confirmed that it had carried out strikes against miliants.

At least 30 IDF tanks and other armored vehicles pushed more than two kilometers into the northern Gaza Strip overnight as part of Operation Samson’s Pillars. The troops clashed with militants on the edge of the Jabalya throughout the day.

What struck me was the name the IDF chose for the operation.

In the book of Judges, Samson was a mighty warrior against the Philistines (after whom Palestine is named.) A name could have been chosen from other Samsonian (Samsonite?) episodes – Operation Righteous Jawbone, Operation Burning Brand. When Samson pulled down the pillars of the Philistine temple, he destroyed the Philistine elite; but he himself died with them. And, incidentally, he was in chains and blind at the time. His enemies had put out his eyes years before.

So what kind of gallows humor was this, on the IDF’s part? Was it an acknowledgement that they were going into the operation blind? Or even of the way that mutual hatred has blinded both sides for decades? That for all their military supremacy they feel chained, imprisoned by history, grinding year in and year out at the same bloody mill wheel? Were they expressing a worry that things have escalated so far that, no matter how many Arab murderers and Arab innocents Israel crushes, she herself will be doomed by those same apocalyptic victories?

Maybe it’s just me. But I sense a different feeling in the air from any preceding stage of the long rapacious melodrama. It’s as if none of the combatants any longer expects any good end, any fruit from their pain. They are just reflexively, robotically, going through the motions of war, the motions of rage, the motions of grief. They can do this in their sleep by now. They can do it with their eyes closed.

Except for Hezbollah, Hamas, and the neocons. The worst remain full of passionate intensity.


Some folks sure know how to put the pang into birth pangs

July 25, 2006

Woah. I just became anonymously famous again.

There’s been a fair amount of scorn leveled at Condi Rice on the left blogosphere for her chirruppy talk about the death and destruction raining down on Israel and Lebanon right now as the “birth pangs” of a new Middle East. No one seems to have noticed it was code talk, that had a potentially sinister edge to it, for those with ears to hear .

So when, in the discussion of Soros’s new book at Firedoglake, Digby mentioned it again as an instance of the Bushies’ cockeyed optimism, I dropped in a comment (#178). “Birth pangs” are of course the way that Jesus talks in Q, the ur-document for the gospels, about the “wars and rumors of wars” that will precede the hour of His return. Thus, Condi was quietly reassuring Bush’s fundamentalist base that his support of the Lebanon war, and his refusal to feign interest in a cease-fire, were just him doing his bit of midwifery, as an upstanding Christian, to hasten the Apocalypse.

Now Digby has catapulted the meme, crediting “one of the commenters”. What an unpredictable megaphone this Internet medium is.

For the fundamentalist base, more wars – especially in the Middle East – is a good thing, because it will usher in a more rapid Rapture. For the neocons, more wars – especially in the Middle East – is a good thing, because it constitutes “creative destruction”, hastening the final secular showdown in which American nukes will decide the issue.

For the rest of us, it’s hard to distinguish where Condi’s “birth pangs” end and Cheney’s “last throes” begin. The span of human life they appear to envision between the two is nasty, brutish, and short.


More on signing statements

July 25, 2006

True blue Illinois blogger ellenofthetenth, who writes more goodish than either (in rapidly ascending order) myself or Glenn Greenwald, has a useful brief roundup of thoughts and links on the signing statements issue, in the context of a local house race.