Friday, June 30, 2006

Space Saturday IV: King Tut's Fireball

Scientists believe they have solved the mystery surrounding a piece of rare natural glass at the centre of an elaborate necklace found among the treasures of Tutankhamun, the boy pharaoh.

They think a fragile meteorite broke up as it entered the atmosphere, producing a fireball with temperatures over 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit that turned the desert sand and rock into molten lava which became glass when it cooled.

Experts have puzzled over the origin of the yellow-green glass — carved into the shape of a scarab beetle — since it was excavated in 1922 from the tomb of the teenage king, who died about 1323 B.C. It is generally agreed that it came from an area called the Great Sand Sea but there has been uncertainty over how it was formed because there is no crater to back up the idea of a meteorite strike.

The Day After Hamdan & Beyond

For the purposes of this discourse, reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court's sweeping rebuke of the Bush administration's extralegal tactics in the War on Terror falls into two catagories -- those who applaud it while acknowledging that new detention and prosecution policies will need to be found, and those who see the ruling as a liberal plot that gives a go-free card to Al Qaeda.
I don't have to tell you which camp I'm in.
As we mull the implications of the Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld decision, let's not lose sight of the fact that it was not about the guilt or innocence of Salim Ahmed Hamdan. He is a despicable sack of terrorist excrement and eventually will be found guilty of charges that he is an enemy combatant.

Let's also not lose sight of the fact that there would not have been a Supreme Court ruling if the secrecy obsessed Bush administration had worked with Congress and the Courts -- and not against those institutions -- to fashion appropriate responses to the unprecedented threat posed by terrorist groups in the new millenium.

Finally, let's not lose sight of the fact that there might not have been a ruling if the feckless Democratic Party had operated as a true Loyal Opposition over the last several years.

Those who think that Hamdan cuts terrorists a break live in a world where everything breaks down into a Righteous Right vs. Treasonous Left perspective. They need to take a deep breath and empty their drool cups.
Chester, a Marine Corps veteran and military affairs writer, avoids the drool in a Belmont Club post and hits a very big nail on the head.

Chester states that Hamdan is a turning point in the application of war conventions and treaties and implicit in that is that soverign states that play by the rules are most vulnerable in the face of non-state organizations that don't.

This is a genuinely scary thought.
My view is that for the time being we're stuck with our conventions and treaties just like the police are stuck with their rules and regulations even when going against the most depraved serial killer.

As Belmont Club guru Wretchard notes, privateering is not desirable, but it may be inevitable as a result of Hamdan. This is another genuinely scary thought.
My hope is that there can be new legislation that holds up to legal scrutiny while taking into account the unlevel playing field in the War on Terror. That is a tall order for legislators more intent in pandering to their base with amendments banning same sex marriages and flag burning.

I am reminded of what Pogo said: "We have met the enemy and it is us."

But the big news, for the moment, is that the freaking system works.
As expected, reaction to the Supreme Court ruling has been all over the place.

Ronald A. Cass at Real Clear Politics loves it when the Supreme Court goes his way, but has a hissy fit when a ruling like Hamden comes along:
Liberty may have been the traditional casualty of war, but common sense is its new colleague. The Supreme Court, trying hard on the anniversary of last term's Kelo decision to find a suitable sequel, performed a rare triple loop in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. It found jurisdiction in the face of a statute directly taking jurisdiction away from the Court. It second-guessed the President on the need for particular security features in trials of suspected al Qaeda terrorists. And it gave hope to One-World-ers by leaning on international common law to interpret U.S. federal law. If that weren't enough, the (left, lefter, and far left) turns were executed in the course of giving a court victory to Osama bin Laden's driver. What a perfect way to end the term!
This, of course, is not a victory for OBL's driver. It is a victory for common sense.

Contrast Cass's whinging with what the New York Times says in an editorial:
The Supreme Court's decision striking down the military tribunals set up to try the detainees being held in Guantánamo Bay is far more than a narrow ruling on the issue of military courts. It is an important and welcome reaffirmation that even in times of war, the law is what the Constitution, the statute books and the Geneva Conventions say it is — not what the president wants it to be.

. . . The current conservative court is not hostile to law enforcement or presidential power. But it is proving to be admirably protective of individual freedom and the rule of law. Rather than continue having his policies struck down, President Bush should find a way to prosecute the war on terror within the bounds of the law.
Andrew Cochran at Counterterrorism Blog looks ahead:
The decision is actually a huge political gift to President Bush, and the detainees will not be released that easily. The President and GOP leaders will propose a bill to override the decision and keep the terrorists in jail until they are securely transferred to host countries for permanent punishment. The Administration and its allies will release plenty of information on the terrorist acts committed by the detainees for which they were detained . . . They will also release information about those terrorist acts committed by Gitmo prisoners after they were released. They will challenge the “judicial interference with national security” and challenge dissenting Congressmen and civil libertarians to either stand with the terrorists or the American people. The Pentagon will continue to release a small number of detainees as circumstances allow. The bill will pass easily and quickly. And if the Supremes invalidate that law, we’ll see another legislative response, and another, until they get it right. Just watch . . .
Okay, I'll be watching, but I think the administration -- even this administration -- is not stoopid enough to lock horns with The Supremes.

Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Dish is, as always, eloquent and to the point:
The more you read, the more you see what a body-blow this is to our quasi-monarchical president. The ruling clearly states that the interrogation methods currently authorized by Rumsfeld and the CIA are unlawful. There's also a warning against the over-broad executive interpretation of Congress's Authorization for the Use of Military Force - which implicates the NSA program. Big news, methinks. The Founders have not been disproved. This constitutional system works, even in wartime, and even under an administration with demonstrable contempt for the rule of law.
Daniel Henninger is one of the few people in the Wall Street Journal's ivory tower whose knuckles don't drag when he walks. He's not happy with the ruling, but is not afraid to be be critical of the administration. He takes a semi shot here:

So we got the Hamdan Guantanamo detainee decision yesterday, the turmoil over revealing the Swift surveillance of terrorist financing a week ago, the FBI's capture in Florida of the would-be al Qaeda bombers of the Sears Tower before that, and oh yes, those 17 Muslims in Canada who wanted to invade Parliament and behead the prime minister. We seem to be thoroughly entangled just now in never-ending tensions over civil liberty concerns on one hand and manifest national security threats on the other. Nearly five years after September 11, it's a little stale to argue that this much confusion is just the way a vigorous democracy functions. Or not.

. . . Perhaps there's a silver lining. The public demonizing of Messrs. Bush, Cheney and Gonzales as ruthless tramplers of civil liberties is a throwback to the anti-LBJ, anti-Nixon style of Vietnam-era protests. This has been catastrophic for shaping public policy around this issue. But if the bad guys go slow because they think that George Bush and Dick Cheney are RoboCops willing to do what they gotta do track, trap and catch them, hey, maybe our crackpot "system" works after all.
Excuse me, but shaping what public policy? We are precisely where we are because of the absence of public policy. Du-uh.

Reliably liberal Reed Hundt at TPM Cafe on The Rove Option:
Look for the brilliant mastermind of November victories to use the Supreme Court's pro-prisoner decision to the R's advantage this fall. Add to "cut and run" as an epithet for Democrats the potent message that D's stand for releasing murderers and terrorists. To thwart this tactic, Democrats need to clamor for legislation calling for no bail, confidential reports to Congress on the danger to the country from these prisoners (conducted by the 911 Commission), trials starting no later than in the fall, and harsh penalties.
Sounds good, but it assumes that the Dems have a pulse. I'm not sure that they do.

The reliably reactionary New York Post in a fire and brimstone editorial:
So it turns out that the Constitution is a suicide pact after all.

At least, that's how five justices of the United States Supreme Court justices would have it.

. . . Practically speaking, it means that the masked thugs who sawed Nicholas Berg's head off while the vidotape ran are entitled to the same procedural protections as a Marine who goes AWOL.

What's next? Miranda warnings and a public defender for Osama himself, if the happy day ever comes when the master murderer is led shackled from the cave he now calls home?

Bottom line: The court has severely limited the power of the executive to wage war on a form of international terrorism that has shown itself willing - indeed, eager - to harness sophisticated technology to kill thousands in the blink of an eye.

The Washington Post gets the last word in a news analysis:

For five years, President Bush waged war as he saw fit. If intelligence officers needed to eavesdrop on overseas telephone calls without warrants, he authorized it. If the military wanted to hold terrorism suspects without trial, he let it.

Now the Supreme Court has struck at the core of his presidency and dismissed the notion that the president alone can determine how to defend the country.

. . . In some ways, the ruling replicates a pattern in American history where presidents have acted aggressively in wartime, only to be reined in by courts or Congress. Even some Bush supporters said yesterday that it may be appropriate now to revisit decisions made ad hoc in a crisis atmosphere, when a president's natural instinct is to do whatever he thinks necessary to guard the nation against attack.

"That's what presidents do, and I say thank goodness for that," said George J. Terwilliger III, deputy attorney general under President George H.W. Bush. "But once you get past that point . . . both as a matter of law and a matter of culture, a more systemic approach to the use of authority is appropriate."
Thank goodness indeed.

Cartoon du Jour

Signe Wilkinson in the Philadelphia Daily News

Iraq I: Good News Amidst the Chaos

There are positive things happening in Iraq that tend to get lost in the Sturm und Drang of death and destruction.

Lemme tell you, it was not easy finding good news and that's not because it's not out there. It's because most of it is so trivial, so incidental or so fleeting that it just ins't worth mentioning.

Anyhow, after considerable effort this is what I came up with:

Enrollment in public schools has risen every year since the 2003 U.S. invasion, reversing more than a decade of declines and offering evidence of increased prosperity for some Iraqis.

Reports the New York Times:
Despite the violence that has plagued Iraq since the American occupation began three years ago, its schools have been quietly filling. The number of children enrolled in schools nationwide rose by 7.4 percent from 2002 to 2005, and in middle schools and high schools by 27 percent in that time, according to figures from the Ministry of Education.

The increase, which has greatly outpaced modest population growth during the same period, is a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy landscape of bombs and killings that have shattered community life in many areas in western and central Iraq. And it is seen as an important indicator here in a country that used to pride itself on its education system, then saw enrollment and literacy fall during the later years of Saddam Hussein's rule.

Not surprisingly, Baghdad is the only province in the country where primary school enrollment fell.

While Sunni and Shiite militias continue to battle each other, Kurds in northern Iraq are creating a constitution that does away with Shariah, or Islamic law.

The move runs counter to the trend in other Muslim countries such as Afghanistan and Iran, where leaving Islam is a capital offense and Christian converts are often killed.

<>Meanwhile, an increasing number of Kurds are converting to Christianity.

Feral dogs are a menace throughout Iraq, but the Army Veterinary Corps has made inroads in dealing with the problem.

Reports Bill Crawford at National Review Online:
A group of Army engineers learned that five villagers, including a child, had been bitten by a stray dog. The dog was killed by the villagers, and buried. Our soldiers, concerned that it could have rabies, dug up the body and sent tissue samples to the Veterinary Corps in Landstuhl, Germany. The dog did have rabies, and the five villagers who were bitten received appropriate medical care, saving their lives, and earning the gratitude of the entire village.
Iraqi blogger have been a reliable source of on-the-ground information and sometime the only reliable source.

Omar at Iraq the Model is warming to the controversial amnesty provision in Prime Minister Maliki's reconciliation plan.

Zeyad from Healing Iraq blog recently met with a bunch of Jordanian bloggers and posted this report.

Meanwhile, Fatima at Thoughts From Baghdad is in the States for a while and tells what it's like to get out of Dodge.

Iraq II: Bad News Amidst the Chaos

One of the two Marine Corps recruiters shown desperately trying to enlist recruits outside a shopping mall in Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 911" has been killed in Iraq.

Marine Staff Sgt. Raymond J. Plouhar, 30, died of wounds suffered while conducting combat operations in Anbar Province.

The Marine took four years off from active duty to serve as a recruiter in downtrodden Flint, Michigan, and appeared willingly in "Fahrenheit 911" but hated the results, according to his father.

At one point in the film, Plouhar explains how he approaches the possible recruits:
It’s better to get them when they’re ones and twos. And work on them that way. Right now there is somebody out there who wants to be a Marine but has no idea how to do it.
Plouhar had 38 days left on his tour.

Iraq III: Boys Will Be Boys Amidst the Chaos

Five U.S. Army soldiers are being investigated for allegedly raping a young woman, then killing her and three members of her family in Iraq.

A U.S. official told The Associated Press that the 502nd Infantry Regiment soldiers also also allegedly burned the body of the young woman they are accused of assaulting in the March incident.
The killings appeared to have been a ''crime of opportunity,'' the official said. The soldiers had not been attacked by insurgents but had noticed the woman on previous patrols. One of the troopers apparently has admitted his role and been arrested.
The U.S. command has ordered a criminal investigation into the alleged killing of a family of four in Mahmoudiyah, south of Baghdad.

The case represents the latest allegations against U.S. soldiers stemming from the deaths of Iraqis. At least 14 U.S. troops have been convicted.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is continuing to investigate allegations that two dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians were killed by U.S. Marines in the western town of Haditha on Nov. 19 in a revenge attack after one of their own died in a roadside bombing.

For my take on that incident, The Ten Lessons of the Haditha Massacre, go here.

Iraq IV: Wingnut Weldon Amidst the Chaos

Rep. Curt Weldon has proven himself to be seriously wacko, but his latest stunt is a whopper.

Weldon, a Republican from Southeastern Pennsylvania, is one of the small number of people who still believe that Saddam Hussein had WMDs. Never mind that the U.S. military cashed in its chips on this one many moons ago.

Weldon planned to lead a secret mission to Iraq to literally dig up what he claims are WMDs, but a fellow WMD freak put the kibosh on the plan.

That would be Dave Gaubatz, a former Air Force special investigator who served as a civilian in Iraq and acquired what he considered reliable information on the existence of WMD caches in four locations in Basra and Nasiriyah.

Gaubatz couldn't get U.S. military officials to look into the info and contacted Weldon and Rep. Peter Hoekstra, the Michigan Republican who heads the House Intelligence Committee, in the hopes that they could put pressure on the military.
Instead, Gaubatz said, Weldon hatched the wild scheme to go to Iraq with Hoekstra under the guise of visiting U.S. troops over the Memorial Day weekend. Once there, they would detour to remote and extremely dangerous Nasiriyah where they would dig up those elusive WMDs equipment borrowed from the Army.
Gaubatz blew the whistle after a meeting with Weldon, a 10-term incumbent who is facing a tough re-election fight in a district where voters are sick and tired of his hijinks.

Said the naive Gaubatz:
It was treated as an election issue that would get votes. I've never been involved in politics, so it was a very big eye-opener to me.
A spokesman for Hoekstra denied that he was in on the scheme. Weldon has sidestepped the issue and has merely retirerated that the jury is
still out on WMDs and he knows of four sites in Basra and Nasiriyah that have not been searched. This is news even to the White House, which has acknowledged that President Bush's claims three years ago that WMDs were found in Iraq was based on false U.S. intelligence.

Meanwhile, Weldon has managed to get himself in trouble with veterans as well as his constituents.

Jeremy Broussard, an Iraq war veteran and senior adviser to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American Political Action Committee, wrote Weldon:
You can honor the service and sacrifice of these brave men and women by acknowledging the reality on the ground in Iraq and moving forward with the facts, not spin.
Rep. Jane Harrman, a California Democrat, scoffs at calls for WMD hearings by Weldon and other Republicans:
Those pushing this story are trying to manipulate the facts to get an outcome they want, and we know from recent experience what happens when the intelligence gathering process is politicized.

If the Republicans want hearings, then let’s have hearings. But they should cover the use – and misuse – of all pre-war intelligence, not just this flimsy and cherry-picked report that is much ado about nothing.

Update on Homeland Insecurity

Bernard B. Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner whom President Bush nominated to be homeland security czar before finding out that he was a crook with a badge, has pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges as the result of accepting tens of thousands of dollars of gifts and a loan while he was a city official in the late 1990's.

He entered the pleas and was sentenced to a total of $221,000 in fines.

Speaking in a quiet voice, Mr. Kerik admitted that he had accepted renovations to his Bronx apartment from a company he believed to be "clean."

Kerik, a former driver and bodyguard for Rudolph Giuliani while he was campaigning for mayor, was named police commissioner in 2000 and held that post on 9/11 when the World Trade Center was attacked.

Bush nominated him to be the head of the Homeland Security Department in December 2004, but he withdrew a week later, citing possible tax problems related to the family's nanny.

That was not the half of it.

It turned out that Kerik also was banging the nanny, was using a condomium apartment reserved for stressed out police officers for another tryst, consorted with organized crime figures and blew his assignment to rebuild Iraqi police forces after the 2003 invasion, leaving the job after only a few weeks and without explanation.
You might say that he was the president's kind of guy.

Update on Domestic Spying


In a note to readers, USA Today has backed off an earlier assertion that BellSouth and Verizon had contracted to provide telephone calling records to the National Security Agency for its secret domestic spying program.

BellSouth and Verizon have since denied participation in the program. AT&T has declined to comment on the matter.

Said the newspaper:

Based on its reporting after the May 11 article, USA Today has now concluded that while the N.S.A. has built a massive domestic calls record database involving the domestic call records of telecommunications companies, the newspaper cannot confirm that BellSouth or Verizon contracted with the N.S.A. to provide bulk calling records to that database.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

An Interstate State of Mind

Kiko's House at White Sands, New Mexico, May 1976
While most of my friends were buying houses and raising families in the 1970's, I was seeing the U.S.A. in a Volkswagen bus.

I had globetrotted in previous years and realized upon my homecoming that I knew more about the Far East than East L.A., so I set out on a year on, year off exploration of the contiguous 48 states.
I'd seen Hawaii and Alaska traveling to and from Japan, and except for Kentucky and Montana, ended up driving through the other 46 states courtesy of the marvelous Interstate Highway System, which celebrates its 50th anniversary today.
The system was the brainchild of President Eisenhower, who argued that the U.S. needed a first-rate national road system for military transportation in the event of war with the Soviet Union.

War never came, of course, but the system -- officially known as The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways -- kept growing and today includes 47,000 miles of highway, 14,750 interchanges, 55,500 bridges and 104 tunnels. But no traffic lights.

The interstates' impact on America -- and my peripatetic travels -- was profound.
From the interstates grew suburbs, service stations, motels and strip malls, not to mention the recreational vehicle and O.J. Simpson low-speed police chase.
There also have been downsides:
It could mean a death sentence for a rural burg if the interstate passed it by, most famously the necklace of towns along legendary U.S. Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles. The highways were nearly a death blow for America's decrepit public transportation system. Gridlock entered the nation's vocabulary and stayed. And all those service stations, motels and strip malls are not exactly eye candy.
All that said, I have many fond memories of my travels on America's interstates, and most especially on the highways and byways and interesting places and people that the interstates took me to. Here are a few:
Waking in a sleeping bag at the edge of a pasture off of I-80 near Rock Springs, Wyoming and drowsily realizing that I was being watched. By 10 or so curious wild horses that had surrounded my van.

Sitting out a rainstorm in the Florida Everglades near the southern terminus of I-75 where I watched a hawk get blown from a fence post in gale force winds. The magnificent bird looked around to make sure no other creature had seen his un-raptor-like goof and then flapped back up onto the post.

Cresting the last hill on I-80 on a beautiful August morning and seeing the fog-drapped vistas of Oakland and San Francisco emerge as Seals & Crofts' "Summer Breeze" came on my radio.

Standing next to my van on a corner in Winslow, Arizona off of I-40 as Jackson Browne crooned the lyrics "Well, I'm standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, and such a fine sight to see . . ." on my tape player.

Sitting in a Muni bus stopped for pedestrians crossing Broadway at Columbus Avenue in San Francisco as read a passage from Jack Kerouac's "Dharma Bums" in which Cody Pomeray was crossing Broadway at Columbus Avenue in San Francisco. (Okay, I was a few blocks from I-280.)

Coming around a bend on a mountain pass road off of I-25 in southeast Colorado and coming upon a herd of real cattle being driven to their summer grazing range by real cowboys on real horses -- and a single Honda ATV.

Sitting at the same spot for five and a half hours in a blizzard on I-95 in Chester, Pennsylvania. Boy was I glad that I had started my drive with a full fuel tank.

Having my driver's side mirror sheared off by a low flying crow part way down a long downhill run on I-84 near the Idaho-Oregon state line, finally breaking to a stop and walking a good half mile back uphill where the only sign of the bird were scattered feathers. I never did find the mirror.

Breaking down on I-40 outside of Nashville and coasting off the highway, through an interchange and into the parking lot of an auto parts store where I was able to swap out a bum spark plug and was on the road again in less than an hour.

Leaving I-90 and driving into a South Dakota a hamlet (whose name I have forgotten) with an unpaved main street and but a single business, a rundown cafe where I had the most delicious apple pie a la mode that I've ever tasted. The check, with a cup of coffe and refills, came to 50 cents.

Picking up a hitchhiking teen and his border collie on I-80 at State Line, Nevada who told me a couple hundred miles on that he was running away from home and this was the first time in his life that he had left town. I later stopped for gas in Winnemucca and told him to call home. He did and arranged for his mother to come get he and his dog at the local sheriff's office.

Hurtling down I-25 in New Mexico and, aware that I could see a car-free 10 miles or so ahead, stepping on the gas and briefly hitting 125 miles an hour. (No I wasn't in my van.)

Stopping for the night off of I-81 near Woodstock, New York where the temperature hit 35 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.

Leaving I-25 and driving into Rifle, Colorado as the temperature hit 120 degrees, and later finding an exquisite waterful tucked into a small canyon where I was able to cool down.

Having a lady toll collector on I-70 near Lawrence, Kansas make google eyes and proposition me as I paid her. I declined.

Driving from Portland, Oregon to Delaware on various interstates on a 36 hour, 3,250 mile sprint with stops only for gas and bathroom breaks.

Seeing lightning strike and raise an enormous cloud of sand and debris a mere quarter mile or so from my van as I crossed the Bonneville Salt Flats on I-80 in Utah.

Buying gas for 29 cents a gallon -- a $4 fill-up -- a few weeks before the first of the two 1970's gas shortages on I-94 near Bismark, North Dakota.

Binoculars at hand, watching a magnificent condor alight in the top branches of a Ponderosa pine above a rest area on I-5 near Santa Clarita in Southern California.

Spacing out in the heat later on the same trip and leaving my wallet atop a gas station vending machine off of I-5 near Coalinga in Central California, driving another 100 miles before realizing what I had done, backtracking and recovering my wallet.

Taking a slow-motion, dawn-to-dusk detour on unpaved, deeply rutted and totally unmarked back roads from I-80 in Wyoming south into northwestern Colorado and seeing no sign of human habitation other than three mailboxes for the entire 80-mile trip. As well as one of the most beautiful sunsets in my memory.

Getting busted for possession of illegal fireworks at a speed trap on I-95 near Brunswick, Georgia.
And finally:
Being waved off of I-10 west of Yuma, Arizona by a California Highway Patrol officer because of dangerously high desert winds and spending the evening taking turns buying rounds of beers, swapping stories and dancing with a delightful group of stranger ranging from over the road truckers to bikers to vacationing retirees at a roadhouse with a bar covered with embedded silver dollars and a honky-tonk jukebox with songs to die for.
Most of my interstate travels were in the stock 1975 Volkswagen Kombi pictured above.

These modifications were made: I stripped out the interior from the front seats on back, built a curtained bulkhead of Philippine mahoghany and a new floor 15 inches above the existing floor with built-in storage bins. The face of the raised section, seen through the open sliding door, was covered in a black walnut laminate from a tree felled in an electrical storm at the farm where I lived in Chester County, Pennsylvania. I made the rooftop storage box of reinforced plywood.

The coup de grasse was a custom-made Plexiglas roof bubble which I designed and had made for a ridiculously low price by a fellow near Woodstock, New York who fabricated cockpit canopies for racing planes in his ranch house basement. Finally, I swapped out the stock side view mirrors for oversized truck mirrors, one of which departed with that crow.

The Kombi lived a long and interesting life, which ended just short of 180,000 miles in typical fashion for VW buses of that era: The engine blew up.

A Setback in Bush's War on Civil Liberties

In the latest and biggest reversal of the Bush administration's extralegal tactics in the War on Terror, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled by a 5-3 margin that the president does not have the legal authority to go forward with military tribunals for detainees at the Guantanámo Bay military prison.

The sweeping rebuke to the administration's aggressive detention and prosecution policies means that officials will either have to come up with new procedures to prosecute so-called enemy combatants awaiting trial, try them by traditional courts martial or in civilian courts where the Rule of Law cannot be so easily ignored.

Perhaps most importantly, the high court held that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions regarding humane treatment applies as a matter of treaty obligation in the War on Terror. This is immense since the Bush administration has used the conventions to wipe its collective ass.

I'm a little shaky on this, but the ruling may also mean that many interrogation techniques that the administation has appoved of, including waterboarding and hypothermia, violate the U.S. War Crimes Act, which states that violations of Common Article 3 are war crimes.

If I'm right, that's enormously significant. It means, by extension, that President Bush and his henchmen are war criminals because they knowingly violated the War Crimes Act and Common Article 3.

Will they be prosecuted for that? No f*cking way.

The test will be to see what the administration does in response to the ruling, which was the biggest challenge of the president war powers since the 9/11 attacks and the most important case the high court decided this term.

The court was ruling on the case of Ahmed Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's driver and Yemeni native captured in Afghanistan in 2001 shortly after the 9/11. He is accused of conspiracy, which his lawyers say is not an internationally approved charge.

Hamdan's lawyers argued that President Bush exceeded his authority by setting up military commissions to try terrorist suspects, whom the administration terms enemy combatants rather than prisoners of war. The term has meant that the suspects do not have the rights traditonally afforded prisoners of war as outlined in the Geneva Conventions.

Three issues were before the high court: whether the tribunals are a proper exercise of presidential authority; whether detainees facing prosecution have the right to challenge the procedures of those tribunals and their detentions; and whether the Supreme Court even has the jurisdiction to hear such appeals.

For most Americans, the suspension of civil liberties in the post-9/11 world would seem to be an abstraction -- something that applies only to people like Hamdan and other men with funny headgear and fanatical beliefs who are incarcerated in U.S. military lockups around the world.

But as the Bush administration's arguments before the court in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld again revealed, Americans who care about their core freedoms and the future of this great country had better start paying attention because there is great mischief afoot and it will not be easily undone just because George Walker Bush will no longer be president in a few years.
Hamdan was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and hustled off to the Navy brig at Guantanámo Bay. At issue is whether the military tribunals created to try him and other alleged terrorists are constitutional because the law passed by Congress authorizing them pretty much suspended all civil liberties, including habeas corpus. That is a writ issued by a judge ordering that a prisoner be brought before the court so it can be determined whether he is being imprisoned lawfully.
Habeas corpus is not some bleeding-heart concept. It is one of the pillars on which the American criminal justice stands and has served the nation well in times of war and peace for over 200 years. This means that habeas corpus is anathema to the Bush administration, which has thumbed its nose at the Rule of Law at at its most fundamental at almost every turn.

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the opinion for the majority. He was joined by fellow liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsbeg, David Souter and Stephen Breyer, as well as moderate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who has replaced retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as the "swing" justice.

Dissenting were the Bush administration's three reliable lapdogs -- Justice Clarence Thomas, Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito, who all wrote minority opinions.

Thomas took the unusual step of reading his dissent from the bench, the first time he has done so in his 15 years on the court. He said that the ruling would:
Sorely hamper the president's ability to confront and defeat a new and deadly enemy.
Chief Justice John Roberts did not participate in the case, although he had ruled for the government last year when the case was argued at the appelate level.

President Bush said that his administration would work with Congress to revise its policies, something that it had not seen fit to do when it established the tribunals and neutered the habeas corpus principle.

<>Commander Charles Swift, the Navy lawyer assigned by the military to represent Hamdan, called the ruling:
<>A return to our fundamental values. That return marks a high-water point. It shows that we can't be scared out of who were are, and that's a victory, folks.
To read the full text of the opinions, go here.

Quote du Jour

John Dickerson on that sinful Ralph Reed and other Christian conservatives in Slate:
The Reed story confirms what many devout Christians have argued since conservative social activists became a force in national politics in the 1970s: Engaging in worldly political maneuvering is ultimately debasing. Promises made at election time go unfulfilled until four months before the next election, and then suddenly Republicans are talking about gay marriage again. Hearts are better changed one at a time in the churches than through elections or legislation. Having spent 40 years building a powerful political machine, conservative Protestants are not likely to abandon it, but perhaps evangelical Christians, who make up about 23 percent of the electorate, should start considering whether they've gotten too cozy in their relationship with the politically powerful.
The answer, of course, is that they have, and they and their faith are much the worse for it.

Update on Net Neutrality

In a blow to Net Neutrality, a Senate committee narrowly rejected rules that would have ensured that all Internet traffic is treated the same no matter its source or destination.

More on the vote here.

Update on the Kitchen Table Economy

As I have noted time and again, despite the healthy growth of the U.S. economy, middle class Americans are not benefitting.

Economist Jared Bernstein explains why the kitchen table economy is suffering:
This disconnect between productivity and living standards is one of today’s most important, and most unsettling, economic dynamics. It’s obviously not the only salient problem we face — the extent of our fiscal and international indebtedness is also worthy of our attention. But I see these all of a package.

It’s a package tied up with a YOYO. That’s the acronym for “you’re on your own,” which over the past few decades has become a disturbing and destructive thematic embedded in our economic policy
Read more here.

(Hat tip to Kevin Drum at Political Animal.)

Harper Lee Writes Again

If I could only have one book on a desert island, it probably would be Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird."

The marvelous novel, which focuses on race, class, justice and growing up in a small Alabama town during the Depression, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1960 and was made into an equally terrific 1962 movie starring Gregory Peck which was nominated for eight Oscars but did not win best picture only because it was going head to head with "Lawrence of Arabia."

Anyhow, Miss Lee has kept an extremely low profile since 1960. Now 80, she published almost nothing of consequence except a 1983 book review until she wrote a letter to "O," the Oprah Winfrey magazine, for its summer reading issue about how she became a reader as a child that Alabama town.

Ms. Lee recalls becoming a reader before she entered first grade. Older sisters and a brother read to her; her mother read her a story a day; her father read her newspaper articles and "Uncle Wiggily" at bedtime. She notes notes that books were scarce in the 1930's in the town.

She adds:
Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cellphones, iPods and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Catholicism & The Marriage That Never Was

Any day that I can poke the Roman Catholic Church in the eye for its rank hypocrisy is a good day. But to be able to do so over the church allowing Nicole Kidman to remarry in a Catholic ceremony is like hitting the lottery.

Catholic canonical law is clear:

Kidman is forbidden from remarrying, in this case to country singing star Keith Urban, since she was married to Tom Cruise. For 10 years. A little too long to plead temporary insanity, no?

That union not only was never annulled, but Nicole and Tom had two children, appeared in the buff on the cover of Time magazine, did steamy sex scenes together and . . . well, you get the idea.

But guess what? In the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church, Kidman and Cruise were never married!

This is because the nuptial uniting the two stars was a scientology ceremony at the altar of, er . . . L. Ron Hubbard. In the eyes of the church, it was not a spiritual ceremony, but merely a legal one.

So a church that continues to coddle pedophile priests declares that Ms. Moulin Rouge didn’t need an annulment, which saved her and it the embarrassment of having to deal with the entire issue.

Besides which, having an A-List personality like Kidman or Frank Sinatra (with three remarriages, the fourth performed by Cardinal Cooke) in your flock is terrific publicity.

This is not personal. While I think Cruise is a ding-a-ling, I adore Kidman, who has proven that she is more than another pretty face by taking on demanding roles and succeeding admirably in some of them.

I had to get in line behind the entire Australian news media and my favorite Catholic blogger, Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Dish, on the nuptials sans annulment bit, but I feel no shame. I will leave that to the priest who married Kidman and Urban over the weekend in Sydney.

Some bemused Catholics shared their views with Andrew.

Said one:

Just as a baptism performed in the name of the John, Paul and Ringo would not be valid, a wedding not performed according to the proper form also would not be valid. At least this is how the Pastor at my church described it in a recent church bulletin (suggesting that Catholics who had not been married in the church would need to have their marriage convalidated).

I love my church. Its rules are inviolable and eternal, except when they're not. Kidman . . . didn't even have to seek an annulment. But the stricture against a Catholic's divorce and remarriage is absolute - and a Catholic who obeyed the rules all along, and got married in a Catholic first wedding, would be denied the sacraments and barred from re-marrying in church. I guess because I am deemed objectively disordered by my own church, I haven't been as aware of this transparent nonsense as I should have been.

And another:

How quaint all this preoccupation with the canon law seems today. But think how many lives the Catholic Church has stunted and twisted over the years by forcing people to jump through these hoops.
And still another:
Delighted you have recently discovered the wonderful miasma of RC marriage and annulment rules. As an Episcopal clergman recently observed: "There is nothing that has a greater hold on the minds of people than ignorance fraught with technicalities."
I’m no stranger to the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, and there are few better examples than its relationship with La Cosa Nostra – the Italian Mafia.

In Philadelphia, where I labored as an editor and reporter for many years, the church's priests baptized, blessed and buried mobsters, the latter after they were gunned down in the internecine warfare that gripped that city’s crime family during the 1980’s and much of the 90’s.

The mobsters, in turn, give lavishly to the church, and one in particular used to throw expensive Christmas parties for his Catholic parish with the profits from drug trafficking and extortion rackets. For years, bicycles and other goodies were distributed by a Mafia Santa Claus and Mafia elves, but the parties ended when he went off to prison.

As regularly as the seasons came and went, the church and Italian America groups would complain to my bosses at the Philadelphia Daily News about its portrayal of these goons.

But not once did I ever hear the head of the local archdiocese, let alone a priest or officer of the Sons of Italy or Christopher Columbus Society, utter a harsh word about the mob from the pulpit or in public.

Then there’s the Catholic Church’s twisted views on homosexuality, which are of course intertwined with pedophilia.
Homosexuality be bad. Gay marriages be bad. Catholic remarriages be okay without annulments when we say they be okay. Pedophilia be tolerated unless you’re caught.

This brings me to the tragic story of Mychal Judge, a 68-year-old priest and New York Fire Department chaplain who perished in the World Trade Center blasts.

One of my first Kiko’s House blogs was on Father Mike, as everyone called the beloved Benedictine. You can read it here. And weep.

. . . And in Other Hypocrisy News

The conservative wing of the Greatest Deliberative Body in the World, the one that has passed not a single piece of legislation of consequence this year, was back to kanoodling its base this week as it took up a proposed constitutional amendment to ban American flag burning.

When was the last time that anyone burned an American flag? Beats me.
The amendment, which fell one vote short of approval, would have overturned a 1989 Supreme Court decision that quite reasonably found that although flag burning is offensive, it is constitutionally protected free speech.
The amendment stood a slightly better chance of passage than other conservative constitutional amendment flops, including the recently deceased same-sex marriage ban, authorizing school prayer, guaranteeing the right to use the word "God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and making English the "official" language.

More here.

Right-wing radio talk jerk Rush Limbaugh, who villified people with drug problems during his well-publicized series of run-ins with law enforcement over abusing powerful painkillers, is at it again.

Limbaugh was detained for about 3 1/2 hours at Palm Beach International Airport after authorities found a bottle of Viagra in his possession without a prescription.

Limbaugh's lawyer disingenuously claimed that Rush's name wasn't on the bottle to protect his privacy, but the bust could kill a plea deal that he has with prosecutors over the previous run-ins.

He's pathetic, isn't he?

More here.


Free speech issues are especially difficult to sort out on college campuses, but University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill, whose vile comments about 9/11 victims ignited a firestorm of controversy, should have been given the hook long ago.

The university has finally decided to do just that after two investigative committees skirted the free-speech issue but found evidence of serious misconduct in Churchill's record, including plagiarism, misrepresentation of facts and fabrication of scholarly work.

More here.

Speaking of 9/11 and free speech, two New Jersey Democratic legislators are pushing to have right-wing sweetheart Ann Coulter's new book banned from bookstores in the state.

Coulter criticizes four activist 9/11 widows known as "the Jersey Girls" in her new bestseller, "Godless: The Church of Liberalism," for being sob sister gold diggers who are cashing in on the tragedy. That criticism is so over the top as to be obsence, but like it or not Coulter has the right to be a toilet mouth just like Americans should have the right to burn their flag.

More here.


Governor Ernie Fletcher of Kentucky has been indicted for a variety of corruption-related offenses, but not for hypocrisy, which is an obvious oversight.

You see, the man who touts himself as a steward of the environment in a state with staggering pollution problems and a champion in the fight for fitness in a state rated the "fattest" in the nation, rides to and from work in a Lincoln Town Car each day.

The distance from the governor's mansion to his office -- 150 yards.

More here.

Efforts by the American Civil Liberties Union, that paragon of free speech, to muzzle its own board member continue apace.

Former ACLU board member and free speech champion Nat Hentoff, for one, has had enough.

More here.

Gaza Fatigue Syndrome

I know it's a cop out, but I'm so exhausted over the endless conflict between Palestinians and Israelis that I cannot bring myself the blog on Israeli airstrikes and military raids aimed at rescuing a kidnapped Israeli soldier and 18-year old settler.

Mind you, Israel is fully justified in going into Gaza, but . . . it seems like you can change a few details and tell the same story at pretty much any point for the last 50-plus years.

The Truth About Reconciliation Commissions

Talk of reconciliation between the warring parties in Iraq is much in the air these days and it already has had the salutatory effect pushing several of groups toward the negotiating table.

Don't get me wrong, expectatations are low that talks will actually take place before the next round of bloodletting, which too frequently occurs in and around mosques during Friday prayers. There also isn't a whole lot of optimism thatPrime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's reconciliation plan will go forward, but it's encouraging that it even has been proposed.

The plan is an effort to find a political solution to the violence that takes the lives of dozens of Iraqis each day, most of them at the hands of Sunni and Shiite militias who are doing a pretty fair imitation of being engaged in a civil war that the young national government has been helpless to stop. (The New York Times has a terrific interactive map of ethnic and sectarian divisions here.)

Al-Maliki's plan necessarily includes a provision for granting armed thugs amnesty, which has raised fears that it would be an invitation to attack U.S. troops and there would be an increase in such attacks.

On Tuesday, the prime minister sought to assure the U.S. that such attacks would not be covered under an amnesty. We'll see.

Any reconciliation plan should necessarily include establishment of a so-called truth and reconciliation commission, but whether that can happen in a country that has experienced decades of dictatorship followed by unrest and now arguably civil war, seems far in the future.
Such commissions are tasked with revealing past wrongdoing by a government in the hope of resolving past conflicts. They typically are established by states emerging from periods of great instability.
The historic record of such commissions is decidedly mixed.

They have been marginally successful in Argentina, East Timor, Fiji, Liberia, Morocco, Panama and Peru, among other places. They have been more successful in Chile, El Salvador and Guatemala.

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission established in 1995 by Nelson Mandela after apartheid ended is considered the model.

The TRC was a court-like body. Anyone who felt they had been a victim of violence could come forward and be heard, while perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from prosecution.
No one was exempt from being charged. This included ordinary citizens, police officers and members of Mandela’s own African National Congress, the ruling party at the time the TRC operated.

The commission heard testimony from many witnesses about secret and immoral acts committed by the apartheid government, ANC and other liberation forces that would not have come out into the open otherwise.

In the end, 5,392 people were refused amnesty and 849 were granted amnesty.

In1998, the commission presented its final report, which condemned both sides for committing atrocities.

The TRC was a crucial component of the transition to full democracy in South Africa and was by highly successful by nearly all measures.
For more on the commission, go here.

There has been one truth and reconciliation commission in modern U.S. history. This independent, democratically selected body was formed in Greensboro, North Carolina, following the so-called Greensboro Massacre on November 3, 1979, in which a number of people demonstrating for racial and economic justice were killed and wounded after being fired upon.

For more on this commission, go here.

A Piece of History Comes Down

Rain has fallen steadily for most of the past week at Kiko's House and vicinity, triggering violent thunderstorms that topped off a chimney a couple blocks away and has caused widespread damage and flooding in the Northeast U.S.

Among the storm casualties is a large American Elm that has stood in front of the White House since Andrew Johnson was president and is prominently featured in the far right corner of the back of the $20 bill.

No word on whether the greenback will now have to be redesigned.

Update on the Miami Errorists

I will open this post by making regretably interconnected points regarding the War on Terror as we slump onward toward the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks:
Any threat to the homeland must be taking seriously.

The Bush administration has squandered all credibility when it comes to protecting the homeland. This includes its ability to ascertain what constitutes a serious threat and when the threat is not serious, nevertheless exaggerate it.
This is why the arrest of the seven wingnuts in Miami who allegedly planned to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago has been more the stuff of jokes for late-night comedians than an event worthy of multiple Justice Department News conferences, cluck-clucking by Vice President Cheney and endless cable TV news reports.
The proof that the arrests were hyped out of all proportion by the government is the fact that the story had a shelf life of barely 48 hours and had disappeared from TV by the time the Sunday talk shows rolled around.
This is a damned shame because the hype orgy further inures Americans to the need to remain viligilant and shift their focus to where it belongs:
Squarely on an administration whose priority is paying political dues and not making the homeland safer, including toughening security at ports and chemical plants and cleaning up the mess it made of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
But about the Miami Seven:

Most of the members of the group had not even bothered to convert to Islam.

It had no weapons or other supplies for its "jihad," so it supplied a government agent posing as an Al Qaeda operative with a list of the stuff it needed, including boots, uniforms, machine guns, radios and vehicles.

Neighbors of the men in Miami's Liberty City said that they made no effort to keep a low profile and stood guard in turbans, dashikis and long robes in a poor neighborhood populated by Haitians and other Caribbean emigrees who wore tropical attire.

Said Roger Wilkins, a history professor at George Mason University and former assistant attorney general in the 1960's:

These guys didn’t have enough money to get to South Beach. How can you have any credible information that these guys posed any threat to any structure anywhere in Chicago, much less the Sears Tower?

For this to really be a crime, you need an intent plus an act . . . You usually can’t indict and try people for woofing, as you know black men are wont to do, about how mad they are with America. Even if you say you want to blow up the Sears Tower, is there any indication, do you have any possible connection with any possible reality? Unless they have other facts, this just reeks of entrapment.

At the risk of piling on, I'll share a few words from Roger Cohen of the Washington Post:
This compulsion to exaggerate and lie is so much a part of the Bush administration's DNA that it persists even though it has become counterproductive. For instance, the arrest of the seven suspects in Miami essentially coincided with the revelation by the New York Times that the government has "gained access to financial records from a vast international database and examined banking transactions involving thousands of Americans." Almost instantly, the administration did two things: It confirmed the story and complained about it. The Times account only helped terrorists, Cheney said.

Is he right? I wonder. This is a serious matter. After all, Americans are being asked to surrender a measure of privacy and civil liberties in the fight against terrorism -- essentially the argument Cheney has been making. I for one am willing to make some compromises, but I feel downright foolish doing so if the fruit of the enterprise turns out to be seven hapless idiots who would blow up the Sears Tower, if only they could get to Chicago.
Cheney in particular has zero credibility, but his administration colleagues are not far behind. Prominent among them, of course, is the attorney general, a man so adept at crying wolf and mouthing the administration's line that he simply cannot be believed any more.

The Papers of the Rich and Famous

Allowing public access to the papers of important people is not an inalienable right, but it is a vitally important aspect of an open society.

I am elated to read that a priceless collection of Martin Luther King Jr.'s handwritten documents and books won't be sold at auction and instead will be given to Morehouse College, his alma mater, where they will be available to folks like you and I.

A coalition of businesses and philanthropic leaders led by Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin bought the collection from the King family for an undisclosed amount, according to Morehouse College President Walter Massey.

The collection of the civil rights leader was expected to sell for $15 million to $30 million at Sotheby's auction house in New York, but Massey said the Atlanta group offered more than that.
The papers span 1946 to 1968, the year King was assassinated. They include 7,000 handwritten items, including his early Alabama sermons and a draft of his "I Have a Dream" speech, which he delivered Aug. 28, 1963, at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Atlanta is King's birthplace and where his wife, Coretta Scott King, raised their four children after his assassination. It also is where she founded the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change and where King and his wife are entombed.

Said Sotheby's Vice Chairman David Redden:
I can't imagine a better home than the home of Dr. King for this collection. It was there for years, it's going to be there forever. I think that's a marvelous conclusion to this extraordinary process. It guarantees that it will be looked after properly and made available to the public.
The Bush administration's penchant for secrecy extends to presidential papers that routinely are made available to the public after a president leaves office.

One of George Bush's first acts was to issue an executive order misleadingly entitled “Further Implementation of the Presidential Records Act.”
This order effectively overturned an act of Congress and a Supreme Court decision guaranteeing public access to presidential papers and could make it far more difficult for Americans to learn of government abuses.
In 1978, Congress passed the Presidential Records Act, declaring that the U.S. will retain ownership and control of presidential records. The act was a response to the clashes between Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Nixon administration over who owned Nixon’s records, including Watergate-related tape recordings.

The act requires that the unclassified papers of a president be routinely released 12 years after the president’s term ends. There are provisions to justify non-disclosure of information that could threaten national security.

In restricting access, the White House misrepresented both the 1978 law and the new executive order.

Said Bush:

We responded to a new law written by Congress that lays out a procedure that I think is fair for past presidents.
And White House flak Ari Fleisher:
As a result of the new law that is now going into effect, and thanks to the executive order that the president will soon issue, more information will be forthcoming.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Iraq I: Withdrawal Symptoms

Christian Menchaca, who was ambushed in Iraq, comes home.
It is increasingly evident that the Bush administration and Republicans are stewing in their own juices when it comes to the war in Iraq.
Making, carrying out and defending policy based on politics is always a risky business, but when the politics concern war, the likelihood that events will overtake and eventually undermine policy is great.

No one with an historical perspective -- which war architects Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz obviously did not have -- is surprised at where the U.S. is in Iraq four years on.
Let's break all of this down into its component parts:

Making Policy: The Bush administration's justifications for invading Iraq were built on lies. It would only be a matter of time before those lies would be exposed, support for the war would erode and break down along partisan lines.

Carrying Out Policy: As the justifications were undermined, new ones were posited. The invasion went off like clockwork, but hubris was no substitute for a rigorously planned occupation. The result has been a bloody disaster.

Defending Policy: Because the lies were indefensible and the mantra that all was well eventually rang hollow as the bodies and the lies piled up, Republicans had no choice but to take a dog-eared page from the Rove Play Book and characterize Democrats as unpatriotic and even traitorous.
This is the part of the movie where I note that I have no allegiance to the Democrats, who are as big a bunch of unmitigated losers that I've seen in my lifetime.

The Democrats simply have been unable to fashion a saleable anti-Iraq war message that is not co-opted by the clever if duplicitous Republicans. (Meanwhile, why do I agree with John Murtha's message but am tired of hearing him deliver it?)

But I digress . . .
Add to this fetid gumbo the reality that the Bush administration, so relentlessly able to stay on message for so many years, is at sea regarding how to extricate the U.S. from Iraq without paying the ultimate price.
No, I'm not talking about blood, sweat, tears and the billions that have gone down the sh*thole that is the war. I'm talking about losing political power.
This confusion was evident in back-to-back developments over the weekend: The president stated that the U.S. would not be leaving the war zone until 2009 as a much more ambitious withdrawal plan developed by the U.S. commander in Iraq was leaked to The New York Times.
Gen. George Casey's declaration that significant troop withdrawals could commence in 2007 and be completed by the end of 2008 infuriated Senate Democrats, who had been attacked by Republicans for proposing pretty much the same thing last week during a debate on setting a troop withdrawal timetable.

Can you hear the sound of the teenie weenie violin that I'm playing? Serves the Dems right.
True as this may be, it underlines two big problems for President Bush and his party:

First, they can't keep their story straight because this is still all about retaining power and avoiding accountability. Even the clever Karl Rove finds myself between Iraq and a hard place.
The administration has to figure out how to finesse a phased withdrawal from a country that is doing a pretty fair imitation of imploding into civil war, a country where the government has only a tentative grip on power, its army and police forces are underprepared and often beholden to sectarian interests, Iran is an increasingly influential player and the insurgency shows no sign of being vanquished.

Will the Iraqi government itself provide some cover for Washington? Its new reconciliation plan might. (See my next post for details.)

In any event, the White House has to do something before mid-term elections and time is running out.

That probably means abandoning Iraq through significant troop withdrawals, which would have the effect of making an accountability averse administration accountable for cutting and running from what is, beyond deposing Saddam Hussein, an unmitigated disaster.
Second, no matter what the administration does, its course is fraught with peril.
How to do that something without undermining its strategy of portraying Republicans as having the moral vision and commitment and Democrats as being pantywaists? How to do that something without it backfiring in the 2006 mid-term election and even the 2008 presidential election?

The White House and Republican and Democratic parties may be confused, but one group is not -- American voters, who by an overwhelming margin are against the war and increasingly in favor of an accelerated troop withdrawal plan.
The ultimate irony of the Bush administration and Republicans stewing in their own juices is this:
Their war policy is by default the glue that is holding Iraq together and the very thing that is tearing it apart.

They can't win.
Then there is the matter of what has been a given from the outset of the war:
That no matter when the U.S. draws down troop levels, it still will want to have a formidable presence in Iraq in the form of one or more large and permanent military bases.

How is that going to go over with, among other groups, the radical Islamists who have emigrated to Iraq in the service of making it an Islamic republic?
Permanent U.S. bases ultimately could be the mother of all sticking points and they're not even on most people's radar.

Iraq II: Reconciliation & The 800-Pound Gorilla

Details of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's reconciliation plan are emerging and I see nothing to sway me from my initial view that there is much to like -- and much to not like -- about it.

What's to like?
A reconciliation plan with a provision for granting amnesties is a hugely positive step. It worked terrifically well in South Africa and pretty well in Chile and a couple of Latin American countries, among other places.

The centerpiece of Al-Maliki's plan is a withdrawal timetable for U.S. and coalition forces that would be backed by a United Nations resolution. A timetable might provide some cover for the Bush administration, which could then say, "See, they're ready to fend for themselves and we can get the heck out."

Not coincidentally, several Sunni-led insurgency groups have approached Al-Maliki since he floated the plan and say they want to engage in negotiations.
What's not to like?
The withdrawal timetable does not include specific dates.

Language on amnesty from prosecution for groups including sectarian militias and insurgents that have preyed on Iraqi civilians is much too vague.

Earlier language that distinguished between "national resistance forces" and "terrorists" has been removed, as has explicit language about controlling party militias and death squads. Furthermore, there is no mention of the radical Islamists
who how come from outside the country, are at the heart of the insurgency, have no interest in reconciliation and want Iraq to be the center of a new Islamic empire.
Newsweek has more here, but it doesn't address the 800-pound gorilla in the room:
No reconciliation plan is going to go forward without the tacit approval of Baghdad's puppet master -- the White House. No withdrawal timetable will have specific dates until when and if it approves those dates.