Archive for February, 2007

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A milk bone for al-Maliki

February 28, 2007

I was elated when I heard that the U.S. had agreed to a sit-down with Iran and Syria, as part of a regional conference organized by the Iraq government. It was the first sensible thing they’d done in months, and just might allow peace to shovel it’s dainty camel’s nose under the tent.

But it seemed odd. Sy Hersh’s latest bit of blockbuster journalism (and despite its length, everyone in America should read the whole thing) says that the Busheviks have decided to start shoveling money to Al Qaeda affiliates, in their zeal to isolate and crush Iran. How did this fit? Does the administration’s far right hand know what its right hand is doing?

Presumably, Condi Rice was behind the change of heart. And yes, Sy’s piece says that she’s been cut out of the strategic discussions over switching sides to make defeating the Shi’ites into Job One. So, I figured, now the State Department has joined the Pentagon in pushing back against the Persian War.

I was too sanguine. Leftcoaster points to the fine print in today’s NYT story on the embrace of jaw-jaw. The money paragraph:

Iraqi officials had been pushing for such a meeting for several months, but Bush administration officials refused until the Iraqi government reached agreement on pressing domestic matters, including guidelines for nationwide distribution of oil revenue and foreign investment in the country’s immense oil industry, administration officials said.

In other words, there has been no change of heart. A one-time show of diplomacy has been granted to al-Maliki as his “what a good boy are you” reward for finally granting American majors a lock on the control of, and the lion’s share of the profits from, Iraq’s oil fields for the next thirty years.

<> Tony Snowjob almost gave himself rugbeater’s elbow today, whacking down expectations of any results from this meeting. Clearly, the American “negotiators” will have their instructions: Show up. Look pretty for the cameras. Offer nothing, accept nothing, trumpet anything Iran says that sounds intransigent or belligerent. Make sure there is no followup meeting. Come home. Maliki sat up and begged for this meaningless concession; now his job will be to roll over whenever Exxon gives the signal.

It was Bush and Cheney, the Oil Patch Kids, behind this cosmetic move, not Condoleeza. As I should have known from the first, given the contempt Condi has lavished again and again on the very idea of ever talking to Tehran.

The rush of hope was sweet while it lasted.

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New Orleans sinks public schools

February 25, 2007

Universally educating our children in public schools is a tradition invented by Americans, and the little red schoolhouse is as much a Norman Rockwell icon as apple pie. Yet somehow, beginning with Ronald Reagan, Republicans have decided that eliminating this long egalitarian tradition is “conservative”.  Few tactics have been too low in their crusade to crush the public school system, and replace it with parochials and charters. But under cover of the chaos and desperation in New Orleans, the Louisiana lege has plumbed new depths.

From mahablog via The Agonist, we learn how nakedly they have set public schools up to fail

When New Orleans went under, one thing that occured is that the State took over the school system. When it reopened the schools it turned a large number into charter schools. More than half of its 54 schools are now charter schools. The idea is to use the crisis to have a massive experiment which proves once and for all (contrary to every other experiment) that Charter schools are better than public schools.  <>

<>In order to make sure this is the case a number of things were done.

First all teachers were fired, then the Charter schools rehired the ones they wanted. Most of the rest left the State. Only after this had occured did the non-charter schools start advertising for new teachers. And even today, when ads for teachers are put out, the fine print indicates that certified teachers will teach in charter schools, and non-certified teachers will teach in the non-charter schools.

Secondly, unlike the non-charter schools, charter schools were allowed to cap enrollment and turn away students. So they have been cherry picking the best students and maintaining a good teacher/student ratio…

It goes on from there. The whole thing’s worth the read, but probably only after downing a precautionary tablet or two of Pepto-Bismol.

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Squid pros go

February 25, 2007


This was reported everywhere, but I had to blog it because I am a lifelong sucker for giant squid.

This beauty, Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, not actually a giant but a (larger) colossal squid, was snagged by kiwi fishermen in polar waters. I’d gladly have spent a year in indentured servitude for the chance to be on that ship for the two-hour struggle.

More pics available here and here.

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Lame ducks considered dangerous

February 22, 2007

A couple of weeks ago, Josh Marshall made a point in passing, and I want to underline and highlight it. It’s the central reason why our country today faces its direst peril since the Cuban missile crisis.

[Iraq is] a failure. There’s no recovering it. And the unspeakable reality — truly unspeakable, apparently — is that it’s not that bad. Horrible for the Iraqis. Horrible for the American dead. Terrible for American prestige, power and honor. All that. But not the end of the world. The future of our civilization isn’t at stake. And our physical safety isn’t at stake. We’ll go on. We are not the brave British standing behind Winston Churchill bucking us up with the confidence that “We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills. We shall never surrender …” Those aren’t the stakes here. Put it in those words and it’s almost comical. President Bush wants us to believe that it is because it serves his grandiosity and direct political interests to believe that, to believe that his political interests — where everything, history, legacy, etc. is on the line — are the same as ours as a country. They’re not.(my emphasis)

Marshall was considering the disconnect between Bush’s stakes and the country’s in the “Surge”. But the disconnect is at least as marked – and far more consequential – when the same logic is applied to Iran.
Bush is a gambler. Through his whole life, his instinct, when he is losing, has been to double the stakes. (His Dad could always cover the new limits.) Once the “Surge” fails, he is guaranteed to go down in history as a loser. His payoff in this game will be large, and negative. He has nothing personally to lose by running the table, and attacking Iran. The chances are very slim that he can reverse his fortunes. But if the alternatives are a certain loss (for him) and a miniscule chance of vindication (for him), he is not likely to hesitate in going for that minimal chance.

The results for the world, for the country, are almost certain to be devastating on a scale that will make the Iraq debacle look like a spilled ice cream cone at the fair. But Bush’s temperament is not likely to permit him to consider the stakes in any terms except those of his own personal humiliation or vindication.

Bush’s soul is the rope in a tug of war between Gates, who is resisting an Iran war, and Cheney, who is urging it. Everything in Bush’s history says that Cheney will pull Gates down. It is up to Congress to start tugging for the Pentagon’s team. Legislators must outlaw an Iran attack in advance, and follow through with impeachment if Bush decides to force the constitutional crisis. Wes Clark, bless his heart, is circulating this petition to get the ball rolling.

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Infinite jeopardy round

February 21, 2007

“I’ll take Bush Administration Totem Animals for 200, Alex.”Gitmo totem animal
“Inspired design of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals”
“Ka- ka- ”
“Could you phrase that as a question, please?”
“What is a kangaroo?”

Enterprising scholars at Seton Hall University law school in New Jersey have combed through what little has been pried loose from the secretive bowels of the torture-happy Cheney Administration’s operations at Gitmo, and emerged with this salubrious report. (pdf format).

The Defense Department responded to 2004 instructions from the Supreme Court, in both Rasul and Hamdan, that detainees must be granted habeas corpus access to federal courts, by setting up a system of combatant status review tribunals (CSRTs), to determine whether detainees were “illegal enemy combatants”.

Of 558 detainees who went through the tribunal process, federal courts forced Gitmo to release tribunal records for 102 of them. The Seton Hall study analyzes those 102 reluctantly coughed up records. If nothing else, take a peek at the first two pages, the executive summary. None of the tribunals granted any right to counsel. A “personal representative”, usually shockingly passive (meeting the defendant only once in 78% of the cases, sometimes for as little as 10 minutes, often not bothering to speak at the hearing), was assigned by the DoD.

The evidence against them was secret; neither they nor their representatives were permitted to see it when it was classified, and rarely permitted to do so when it was not classified. In no instance did the unclassified “evidence” provide any clue as to why they were being considered enemy combatants. The rules of the proceeding required the three tribunal judges to assume that the secret evidence was “reliable and accurate”. The secret evidence could include material obtained under torture; it could include hearsay from anonymous informants.

The government called no witnesses in any of the hearings. The defendants were permitted to ask for witnesses, but not a single requested witness (other than a handful of other detainees, presumed to be sworn enemies of the United States) was allowed to testify.

This is what Cheney and Bush and Rumsfeld and Gonzales call “justice”. It gets better. From the executive summary:

14. In three of the 102 CSRT returns reviewed, the Tribunal found the detainee to be not/no longer an enemy combatant. In each case, the Defense Department ordered a new Tribunal convened, and the detainee was then found to be an enemy combatant. In one instance, a detainee was found to be no longer an enemy combatant by two Tribunals, before a third Tribunal was convened, which then found the detainee to be an enemy combatant.

15. When a detainee was initially found not/no-longer to be an enemy combatant:

a. The detainee was not told of his favorable decision;

b. There is no indication that the detainee was informed of or participated in the second (or third) hearings;

c. The record of the decision finding the detainee not/no-longer to be an enemy combatant is incomplete.

You are presumed guilty until proven innocent. Then you are presumed guilty again and again and again until judges can be cycled in who will ignore the proof of innocence.

It has been said that military justice is to justice as military music is to music. That’s as may be. What’s clear is that Bush justice is to justice as the screams of the slowly dismembered are to music.

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Pentagon pushback?

February 17, 2007

When the threatening political waves forced Dubya to jettison Don Rumsfeld, he was in a bit of a bind. He has a deep backbench of neocon ideologues, but none of them would have emerged from the black hole of the Judiciary Committee, had the Chimperor ventured to nominate him. He was forced to put forward someone with “realist” gravitas.

Robert Gates is no white knight of the left. He is a lifelong militarist, and as a CIA heavyweight he shares the Bush Administration’s axiom that the best way to run a democracy is to make sure the voters are kept in the dark about everything their government is doing. Of the available, confirmable non-neocons, he must have seemed to the Bushites to be as good a bet as any to act in sympathy with their program.

What they may have failed to take into account is that, unlike Rummy, unlike Cheney, unlike Feith or Wolfowitz or DiRita or Kristol or Kagan or Gaffney, Secretary Gates happens not to be insane.

Aside from the handful of dancing monkeys put into place by Chief Organ Grinder Rumsfeld, the military brass have always cast a cold eye on the Cheney Administration’s eagerness for Apocalypse. And I see several hopeful signs that the new SecDef is helping them resist, as effectively as possible without declaring open rebellion, the White House’s evident longing to open up an Eastern Front and march into Stalingrad Teheran.

First, there was the Secretary’s testimony to Congress last week. The talking point was supposed to be that Iran’s supreme leaders, ravening to kill American GIs, had manufactured EFPs for the express purpose of killing American soldiers, smuggled them into Iraq, and handed them to “the enemy” (whose identity was to be left permanently and purposely fuzzy.)
Asked if he thought this was really truly going on, Gates replied:

I think there’s some serial numbers, there may be some markings on
some of the projectile fragments that we found, that point to Iran.

Could he possibly have stuffed more qualifiers into a single sentence? Could he possibly have underlined more clearly how scanty the numbers of weapons involved, and the evidence for any of them, were (that “some, some” beating like a drum)? Notice how he carefull said “point to Iran”, rather than “point to Iran’s government”?

Second, Peter Pace uncatapulted the propaganda.,He threw DC into a tizzy by testifying that he was unaware of any actual evidence that Iran’s government ordered or even knew of these EFP transfers. As a result, Bush himself was backed into a corner. Asked specifically whether there is any such evidence, he couldn’t make the claim. Thereby he flatly contradicted the central thrust of the blindfolded in Baghdad briefing. (Remember Tenet’s “You don’t want the President to be a fact witness on this” back in the dear old days of yellowcake? Same deal here. Bush had planned to imply by association and vague suggestion that there was lots of such evidence; absent Pace’s bombshell, there would have been no direct, pointed questions on exactly that.)

Now, let’s remember just who Peter pace is. He is the survivor of an intense stuggle in a Darwinian fitness landscape, in which fitness was defined by willingness to hew unswervingly to the Defense Secretary’s party line, no matter how unhinged, how uncoupled from reality, it might be. “Yes man” was his career path and sole job description. There is no way he would have given the testimony he gave, without Gates’s permission. Probably not without Gates’s direction.

Third, there was the Secretary’s press conference yesterday. NPR reported that Gates had backed up the Administration’s position on the Iranian IEDs. Then they backed up that assertion with this sound bite:

For the umpteenth time, we are not looking for an excuse to go to war
with Iran,” Gates said Thursday. “I think that the evidence speaks for
itself, and I hope that the (American) people will see that evidence
in that respect.

Shall we unpack this, boys and girls? The “evidence” which has actually been given – to the press, to the Congress, to the public – consists of zip, zero, nada. Assertions, and wildly improbable ones, we have in plenty. Evidence we have none.

When “evidence” is nonexistent, and “speaks for itself”, what it speaks of is nonexistence. To the extent that the show and tell in Baghdad could be thought of as “evidence”, what it has “spoken” to Congress and press is rafts of doubt and oceans of unanswered questions. Taken as Washington blather, what Gates said is what his boss wanted him to say. Taken literally, it conveys the opposite message. I submit that Mr. G. was being deliberately Delphic.

In the light of that interpretation of the first sentence, the second one is equally double-edged. “I hope that the (American) people will see that evidence in that respect” sounds a lot like that classic line from The Who: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, uh, don’t get fooled again.”

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There once was a House Bill from Michigan…

February 15, 2007

The Michigan House of Reps has just introduced a bill creating a poet laureateship for the state. One can only heartily approve – while hoping that none of the drafters of the bill, whose sentiments are more praiseworthy than their scanning, becomes the first named to that post.

H.F. No. 224, as introduced – 85th Legislative Session (2007-2008) Posted on Jan 18, 2007

A bill for an act relating to the state; appointing a poet laureate; appropriating gift or grant money received; proposing coding for new law in Minnesota Statutes, chapter 138.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MINNESOTA:

Section 1. [138.99] POET LAUREATE.

Subdivision 1. Appointment.

The Gov’ shall appoint a state poet laureate,
Who shall serve for a four-year term.
Because this appointment will always be great,
There’s no need for the Senate to confirm.

In appointing a poet for the public good,
And to ensure there’s no unjust omission,
The governor shall consider, if he would
Thoughts of the Humanities Commission.

Subd. 2. Removal.
The poet will be free to write rhyming lines,
ith removal only for cause,
But we trust that the bard will promptly resign,
If the verse reads as badly as laws.
Subd. 3. Compensation.
‘Twould be fair to provide some just recompense
As reward for the poet’s tribulations,
But because at this time we haven’t the cents
We’re afraid there is no compensation.
But we ask as the poet travels the state,
And the people their ears they lend,
That our learned Commission take the position
To provide the poor poet a stipend.

Subd. 4. Gifts and grants.
To provide the support that needs to come
To support our new laureate,
Gifts and grants received of a generous sum,
We hereby appropriate.

(h/t to Nina Katerina of Salon Tabletalk)