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Daily Journal: Thursday, February 8, 2007

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Tim Russert’s Rolodex
Spare Me the Libby Trial

Enabler to the Decider

Let me make this confession about the Lewis Libby trial. I vaguely know that it’s tangentially about who leaked what to whom regarding the identity of Valerie Plame or Wilson or whatever name the CIA (ex?) agent goes by these days. Beyond that, I know next to nothing and have wanted to know nothing. I have no idea if Libby is playing the role of good-fall-guy, if Tim Russert is some sort of savior of justice, if Judith Miller put a twist in the whole affair, if Cheney came off badly or better. I haven’t followed the trial, nor will I, for these two reasons: First, to obsess over this case anymore is becoming crass, in the sense that the outing of a CIA agent, even if it was illegal, reveals how scabrous Washington works, but pales in comparison with the far more scabrous and lethal ways the Bush junta has been working to this day whether or not the Libby-Plame-Novak business ever happened. In that sense, the Libby trial is a diversion, a sideshow that, all told, does Bush’s bidding for deflecting from more grave (more mass grave) matters. Second, every time I glance at the headlines referring to the Libby trial, I see a name that smacks of A-list Washington back-scratchers, whether it’s politicians, lobbyists or, the worst of them, journalists. People who cavort at the same parties, swap the same jokes, the same wives, the same pimps. People who present one face publicly and an entirely different face to each other, journalists especially included. Tim Russert above all: he is the insider’s insider, a journalist in name only whose independence is a façade, whose act every Sunday is a theatrical rendition of toughness, rather than toughness itself, played with guest stars from a narrow, revolving, mostly white, mostly conservative, entirely establishment Rolodex that would never dare question the premise of the play. The toughness is within narrow bounds of challenges that never go beyond the utterly deferential. The mere fact that Russert keeps inviting the same so-called newsmakers on his show and pairing them up against each other (or rather with each other), as opposed to inviting more insurgent-like critics, more outsiders, as opposed to instigating more subversiveness than abetting subservience, shows him to be official Washington’s vassal, as safe a show as there is: Larry King for wonks. Look at his recent guests: Feb. 4, John Edwards. Jan. 28, Chuck Schumer, David Vitter (Republican senator from Louisiana), Michael Gerson (Bush’s former speech-writer and Ecclesiastical wannabe). Jan. 21, John McCain, Edward Kennedy. Jan. 14, Stephen Hadley, Chris Dodd, Jon Kyl, Joe Lieberman, Chuck Hagel (in other words a wingnut and four senatorial funerals). And on it goes. What’s the point? The Russert show is weekly strut and bull session that reinforces the hermetic nature of the Washington bubble. The Libby trial is an extension of that. I venture to guess that not a single one of the so-called star witnesses in the trial haven’t appeared at least a half dozen times on Russert’s show. Sure the trial is revealing, sure it’s a way to look inside the inner workings of powerful Washington. But really: what is it revealing that’s actually new to anyone? And what will it solve, what justice will be served, what punishments will be meted out when men like Novak, Cheney and even Russert, those enactors and enablers of scandalous policies and wars, will continue to be where they are today, unscathed, their speaking fees slightly fattened by the added exposure? So spare me. The Libby trial, like the assassination of Saddam around Christmas, is the non-story of the month.

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USS George W. Bomb
Chronicle of Deaths Foretold

Good times

I was going through some old clips as I periodically do, the way people in more civilized cities go the museum on their lunch-hour, when I came across the Times clips from May 2, 2003. That was the day after President Bush’s big Top Gun moment on the USS Abraham Lincoln, when he declared major combat operations in Iraq over, 43 days after launching the invasion. Often enough newspaper clips are like archeological digs. A single shred can reveal a whole thread of history, or irony. These clips do more. They’re like the famous García Márquez novel, “Chronicle of a Death Foretold.” I’d clipped not just the front-page story that day but all the stories related to Iraq. The front-page carried three articles and a three-column picture showing Bush in his pseudo-military uniform with his arm around someone the Times felt didn’t need to be identified (the guy is black). The lead story plays up the president’s bombastic speech, the whole bit about a victory being won in the war on terror, even though even then al-Qaeda had no more than two armpit hairs and six pimples in Iraq. The U.S. Army, of course, was blazing the trail for al-Qaeda’s infusion. Two other stories had more skeptical headlines: “Between War and Peace,” by Michael Gordon, a Times military correspondent who thinks now, and must have thought then, that if the military was allowed to do its job (read firepower) it could subdue Iraq. But his piece made the more relevant point as it described a scene of bombings and devastation, a day before the president’s speech, that showed how the new war was just emerging. The news analysis next to Gordon’s piece had it in the headline: “Cold Truths Behind Pomp.” The Times had helped beat the drums of war, carrying the administration’s deceptions to the wider world. Now, 43 days too late, it was unholstering the skepticism. The additional stories in the inside pages are more telling for their irony, for what, even then, they presaged: “Gunrunners in Baghdad Take Over Open-Air Food Market.” That one, on page 16 of my national edition, was by Sabrina Tavernise, and it could have been written yesterday: “In the night, there is shooting. Sharp, sudden bursts of gunfire that keep Talib Juad and his family awake and afraid. Sometimes, he said, they find bodies in the morning. This is how it goes in many neighborhoods across Baghdad.” She then goes into the giant gun markets that have brazenly opened up in the city, hawking weaponry from the massive arms caches emptied by looters despite the American invasion: signals of the chaos the Americans brought with them, and enabled. Above that article is one entitled “U.S. Set to Name Civilian to Oversee Iraq.” It’s the piece introducing L. Paul Bremer, who would eventually become the viceroy in Iraq, basically (and tyrannically) ruling the country for a year—and, apparently, overseeing the disappearance of billions of dollars, between $9 billion and $12 billion to be precise, much of it into enemy hands. “Who in their right mind would send 360 tons of cash into a war zone? But that is exactly what our government did,” Henry Waxman, the Democratic chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said during a hearing on the missing billions on Tuesday. Bremer was there. Defending the fraud. I should find that clip and tack it onto the May 2, 2003 batch. A matter of closing the circle. Only the circle is far from closed.

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L’Infâme: Our Police State Neighbors
Taser Madness

Such, such are the joys

Yesterday I posted a piece about the Tasering of a 16-year-old student in his classroom in the local high school here in Palm Coast, Florida. The incident has generated reams of comments in a puiblic forum (and, oddly but probably not surprisingly, zero comment on the school board's forum: someone is censoring those and hiding behind the justification that the student in question has privacy rights. Yes, he does. The cop and the administrators in question don't. And they're the ones who should be questioned. The poor kid is out of the way now, tending to his felony charge. And serving as a mask for all those authorities to hide behind.) Here's just a very brief sampling from the forum. It gives a taste of the rabidness out there, but also of its opposite: the back-and-forth is by no means one-sidedly pro-police state. But first, the cop-fetishists:

Just because he was under 18, why is he still being referred to as a "child." [...] If he was pulled over by a Deputy, and refused the Deputy's orders, should the Deputy just sit around waiting until he was good and ready to comply? You all keep spouting on about the poor kid, and his rights. What about the right of the teacher to work in a violence and disruption free environment? What about the rights of ALL the other students who were disrupted, and put in a position of potential harm by this kids behavior? What about the right of the Deputy to have his authority acknowledged without being "bitch slapped"? [...] Just remember that there are some very bad people in this world that would like nothing more than to rob you, assault you, rape you, or maybe even kill you, just for the fun of it. THE ONLY THING PROTECTING YOU FROM THESE TYPES OF WONDERFUL HUMANS IS LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS.

All you Monday Morning Quarterbacks wouldn't last 5 minutes as a law enforcement officer.... [That comment was posted by someone whose sign-on sig includes the icon of a kitty firing what looks like an AK-47].

If you and others don't like it, I suggest you patrol the schools in the way you deem to be proper.

Yes, refusing an officers orders while arrested constitutes resisting. Therefore, the force necessary to arrest the individual may be used to gain compliance and control.The bigger question that remains is this:If the child has a documented history of acting like this, he obviously has problems recognizing and complying with authority (teachers, vice principal, officers). My anger would be directed at the school system itself for "mainstreaming" a child that apparently needs a different learning environment.

And if the  parents want to sue? I think the deputy should sue too then for the battery and the mental anguish of being put in the situation. The way some of you are talking makes it seem as though the deputy wanted to use the taser on the kid. Would anyone be acting this way if the kid was one of the "Gang Bangers" so prevalently talked about in these forums? My guess is no and that everyone would think the kid got what was coming to him.    

The more reasonable voices. This from Inna:

i find it truly appaling that adults inthis community spent 11 pages discussing the "virtuous" act of tasing a child, let alone a child with emotional/behavioural problems. It is sickening how few people see anything wrong with what happened at our school. My teenager goes to that school, and to think that should he protest doing his work, or even step out of line verbally and be shot with 50,000 volts for it is beyond disturbing. Oh, I forgot, he b**ch-slapped the deputy... I wonder if he would have been tased regardless of that act if he had kept refusing to go to the office, and something tells me he would have. The whole time the boy was SITTING in his seat - and being obstinate, not what I would call violent behaviour that should have been percieved as such a threat by everyone involved. This discussion that at least the deputy didn't have to use a gun on the kid is just plain scary. If an incident like this was allowed to escalate to this degree, what would happen if there was in fact a serious violent outburst? Would you all condone just opening fire on the kids involved so that the rest of the kids and the teachers can move on with the rest of their day as quickly and conveniently as possible? Or would it only apply if a child was large enough. This makes me sick. I hope all of you pro tasering unruly kids people sleep better at night now that the big scary monster is in a juvenile facility and doesn't have to share the building with your offspting.

And this from sgreen:

I'm sure there's an interesting parallel between those who think tasing a 16 year old with a mental disability sitting in a classroom is ok, and those who support the ridiculous military action we've gotten ourselves into as a country in Iraq. Same mentality: worship force, never question those who make the decision to use force, you're a traitor if do you,  never question authority/law enforcement/troops or you obviously don't support them, law enforcement is above scrutiny and never make bad decisions, just fall in line. And let's keeping forming our opinions based on the notion everyday is to be lived in fear.

The full forum can be accessed here.


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Surge and Disperse
Insurgency Goes Suburban

What does it say about President Bush's authority among the military when the Pentagon no longer hides its contempt for its so-called commander-in-chief—and advertises that contempt through Stars & Stripes, the Pentagon's mouthpiece and daily newspaper? Thursday marked the official beginning of the "surge" in Baghdad. The same day, Stars & Stripes had this to say about Bush:

President Bush’s plan to add 21,500 troops to Iraq — 17,500 in Baghdad and 4,000 in western Anbar province — complicates the situation in the Madaein district, according to intelligence officers. With military forces, both U.S. and Iraqi, focused on getting Shiite militias under control in Baghdad, the militias are looking for other strongholds where it’s easier to operate. The Madaein district, particularly Salman Pak, is a natural place for such a shift, the officers said. The influx of Shiite militias, in turn, attracts more Sunni insurgents, who want their own control of the district, the officers said.

Every police chief in the United States has had the same experience with drug dealers, the homeless, prostitutes. The more cops harass them all by shuttling them off site, and out of sight, the more they surge somewhere else. Who could not have foreseen the same insurgent strategy in Iraq? “The 3-61,” the story goes on, referring to the 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, “is responsible for the area outside of Baghdad known as Madaein, which is something like a county. The squadron’s area of operations is huge: about 1,000 square kilometers, with a population of more than 845,000 Iraqis, according to Maj. Bruce Vitor, 35, executive officer for the 3-61.” The entire 2nd Infantry numbers 15,000 soldiers. A regiment generally has 2,000 soldiers. Insurgents must be shaking with laughter in their boots. They can relocate. Meanwhile the "surge" carries on: A fifth U.S. military copter was shot down in two weeks. The military is explaining it as a change in tactics on the part of the insurgency. An adjustment. Not so. What the Pentagon doesn't want to admit is that new weaponry is being introduced in Iraq. It's always been a matter of time: the moment insurgents were able to go after aircraft more effectively is the moment when they'd have got their hands on more advanced equipment, suggesting that a more significant arms pipeline into Iraq has opened. The Saudis and Iranians are battling their proxy war in Iraq, each arming its proxy army with weaponry. It may also be a matter of time until we discover (if it hasn't been discovered yet, and supressed) that the weaponry downing American aircraft is American—not because American soldiers are firing at their own, to be sure, but because the weaponry that's been dished out for the last three years, and the weaponry the Saudis have at the ready (and the Pakistanis, and the Jordanians, all of whom dread a Shiite take-over) has to go somewhere. We're finding out where. But the surge, thank heavens, carries on.


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James Spader's Patriot Act
“The Tragedy of Our Day Is the Climate Of Fear”
From "Boston legal." The quote above is from an Adlai Stevenson speech on "The Nature of Patriotism," Aug. 27, 1952.


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Ayaan Hirsi Ali Debate
The Dogmatism of Enlightenment

From Germany's signandsight: “French philosopher Pascal Bruckner accused Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash of propagating a form of multiculturalism that amounts to legal apartheid. His fiery polemic unleashed an international debate. By now Timothy Garton Ash, Necla Kelek and Paul Cliteur have all entered the ring. Read their contributions as well as Ian Buruma's initial response here.” Ian Buruma's latest salvo: “I admire the achievements of the Enlightenment as much as Professor Cliteur appears to do, but I also believe that one of its greatest achievements is the rejection of dogmatism, of any kind.” His full polemic:

It is the fate of certain books, like certain phrases (“fascism”, “Orientalism”, “multiculturalism”, “racism”), to be used as bludgeons to beat up people whose views one dislikes. These verbal sticks often bear little or no relation to their original meanings, or, in the case of books, to what their authors actually wrote. I suppose I should feel flattered that “Murder in Amsterdam” is gradually turning into such a book.

Professor Cliteur wishes to beat up nihilists, postmodern cultural relativists, and multiculturalists, and uses my book as his bludgeon. I can only assume he has actually read it, but his version is certainly not mine. Nowhere did I suggest that the ideals of the Enlightenment are no better than radical Islamism. My descriptions of Theo van Gogh’s killer and his murderous ideology make it quite clear what I think of religious extremism. Either Professor Cliteur is incapable of grasping a complicated argument, or he wilfully misreads my book in order to classify me as a “post-modern relativist.”

Since I have the highest opinion of Professor Cliteur’s intellectual capabilities, I can only assume that the latter must be true. One example of his methods should suffice to make the point. I wrote that young European Muslims are sometimes fatally attracted to radical Islam, because of their cultural dislocation. Feeling neither at home in the traditions of their fathers, nor in the societies of their European homelands, they seek the “purity of modern Islamism”, which “has been disconnected from cultural tradition.” It is indeed a universalist creed, just as belief in the fundamental values of the Enlightenment are. Thus what we see in Europe is “not a straightforward clash between culture and universalism, but between two versions of the universal, one radically secular, the other radically religious.”

To read into this that I believe them to be the same, or that one is no better, or worse than the other, takes extraordinary intellectual sloppiness or remarkably bad faith. I admire the achievements of the Enlightenment as much as Professor Cliteur appears to do, but I also believe that one of its greatest achievements is the rejection of dogmatism, of any kind. It is possible to be dogmatic about ideas that are not in themselves bad. Certain ideologues, in the US as well as in Europe, were convinced that invading Iraq with American troops was the best way to establish a democracy in the Middle East. To point out the fallacy of this kind of dogmatic leap of faith is not to say that Saddam Hussein’s Baathism, or Sunni Jihadism, are the same, or as good as liberal democracy.

Professor Cliteur holds so dogmatically to his idea of secularism and the Enlightenment that any accommodation towards religious faith, specifically towards Islam, is tantamount to appeasement of religious extremism, or a form of self-hating nihilism. My objection is not to the Enlightenment as such, but to the ideological zeal of some of those who believe they are acting in its defence. If we wish to isolate and defeat religious extremism, we must must have mainstream European Muslims as our allies. The rather crude polemics spouted by Professor Cliteur will not be of much help in this endeavor.



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