Just Above Sunset
February 26, 2006 - The Other Form of Marxism

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There are fewer items here this week, partly because there was a holiday in there somewhere, and technical difficulties have forced a redesign of Just Above Sunset. Creating the new design and creating a site exclusively for the photography - Just Above Sunset Photography - takes time. And a day was lost to covering an historic event down in Long Beach.

But the week's news was interesting in all that it stirred up. So here are some thoughts.

As noted in the other items, any lingering discussion of the Vice President shooting his hunting partner in the face, and the fellow apologizing for causing the Vice president any anguish, was subsumed by the two major stories that had the nation buzzing - the administration approving a company owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates to run operations at six of our key ports, and, mid-week, what seemed like the start of a civil war in Iraq. It's beyond the cartoons now.

The only lingering news regarding the Vice President's accident was this item - "Secret Service agents guarding Vice President Dick Cheney when he shot Texas lawyer Harry Whittington on a hunting outing two weeks ago say Cheney was 'clearly inebriated' at the time of the shooting."

It seems the Secret Service guys judged that more than a few in the hunting party exhibiting "visible signs" of impairment - slurred speech and erratic actions and that sort of thing. Now we move into the realm of felony - but of course, the item appeared in Capitol Hill Blue. They're excitable folks over there. They may not exactly make things up, and they do often get the general sense of what's going on just about right (as discussed here last August). It's the specifics that seem unlikely. Some of the agents are now gone? Others have asked to be reassigned? Maybe it's all true. And note they vigorously defend themselves here. But it doesn't matter now. Other events have overwhelmed the news cycle.

What events?

Michael O'Hare gives a wide overview here, arguing that life is imitating art in a way, but the art involved has more to do with maybe the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges and W. C. Fields, and more recently The Daily Show. "Art" is being used loosely here of course, to cover slapstick and satire.

One does think of Duck Soup (1933) –


Rufus T. Firefly: I'd be unworthy of the high trust that's been placed in me if I didn't do everything in my power to keep our beloved Freedonia in peace with the world. I'd be only too happy to meet with Ambassador Trentino, and offer him on behalf of my country the right hand of good fellowship. And I feel sure he will accept this gesture in the spirit of which it is offered. But suppose he doesn't. A fine thing that'll be. I hold out my hand and he refuses to accept. That'll add a lot to my prestige, won't it? Me, the head of a country, snubbed by a foreign ambassador. Who does he think he is, that he can come here, and make a sap of me in front of all my people? Think of it - I hold out my hand and that hyena refuses to accept. Why, the cheap ball-pushing swine, he'll never get away with it I tell you, he'll never get away with it.


That Marx Brother film also contains the famous line - "Well, who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?" (Lots of other quotes from the film here.)

Michael O'Hare may be onto something –


Having survived a history of 9/11, letting Osama slip away in Afghanistan, taking that wretched country from the Taliban to World Heroin Central, breaking the army in the wrong war against the wrong enemy, putting an important source of petroleum and one of the most secular and educated Arab countries into near-medieval chaos, drowning New Orleans by neglect and insisting he had his hand on the wheel right through it, rendering us impotent as Iran and North Korea nuke up, humiliating Americans for a generation with Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and putting the US economy in the hands of foreign creditors, Bush appears to have finally trashed his reputation as curator of national security by tying a decision he had nothing to do with and that almost certainly has no real security implications at all, (the ports) around his own neck.

And on the domestic side, we Californians are paralyzed in dealing with Mr. Morales because (i) killing bad people is good and just, but (ii) not if it hurts them, and (iii) doctors, who have a legal monopoly on being sure people don't hurt, (iv) restrict their practice to keeping people alive (v) unless they are good people who want to die, in savage, brutish places like Oregon or Britain.

Tell me there's no god of irony; tell me Ludicrosia, the muse of farcic history, is a mythic creature. Right.


There's a muse for farce, this Ludicrosia? She spoke to Feydeau?


Well, maybe not, but all this is happening. Yes, out here in California, we did try to execute another fellow, and like the first two this year, there was no reprieve from our Austrian governor, Arnold Shwarzenegger, the fellow with the Nazi father. Thumbs down. That's why we love him.

But it didn't happen - the doctors (anesthesiologists) who were to handle the drip lines to make the whole thing more humane (make sure he's out cold before you open the line with the lethal stuff) walked out. They said doctors shouldn't participate in killing people - maybe unless they asked (assisted suicide) or they weren't actually people yet (first term abortion). The state medical association backed them up.

And we were trying to do this humanely - if the state is going to kill one of its errant citizens of course you should do it humanely. That way it's not cruel and unusual, or at least it's not cruel. Well, it's not cruel looking at it from one side. Morales probably does not share that view. Yep, Marx brothers stuff, and not much different than Doctor Guillotine long ago arguing his new device was so quick and final it was really much more human than that hanging or firing squad stuff - and don't even mention drawing and quartering. Where are the Marx Brothers when you need them?

And what about this "wrong war against the wrong enemy?" On Wednesday, February 22nd, the sectarian civil war there has begun in earnest, as Sunni guys dressed in official-looking commando uniforms managed to blow up the Shiite al-Askari shrine in Samarra, the one with the big gold dome. This is a big deal, with the holy graves and all - kind of like mad Lutherans blowing up Saint Peters in Rome, instead of nailing things to doors.

So the Shiite al-Askari shrine in Samarra is rubble now. What did they do about it?

Well, immediately there was this - seventy-five Sunni mosques attacked, two burned to the ground and three Sunni clergymen assassinated. There were predictable demonstations in Shiite Iran, and in Pakistan and Beruit. A later Rueters report adds an Iraq update, with one hundred eighty-four Sunni mosques damaged and ten clerics killed and fifteen abducted, if you're keeping score. The Muslim Clerics Association is accusing the Shiite religious leaders of making things worse by calling for protests.

Okay, the Prophet Mohammed didn't do any of what we in the west call a "succession planning." Every serious organization has a succession plan. Not in this case - and even if the Shiites say Ali was the successor because, after all, he married the Prophet Mohammed's daughter, Fatima, the more fundamentalist Sunnis don't buy that at all. It may seem like farce to some in the west, but it's a serous rift there, as two branches of Islam have developed a lot of layers of meaning, custom and faith based on which you believe. Of course western religion has had wars over parallel splits. Heck, how many died on the banks of the Boyne in Northern Ireland in 1690 and have died in that dispute since? Better Orange than Catholic? You'd die for that? A lot of layers of meaning, custom and faith, based on which you believe, leads to chaos.

What to do now in Iraq? That's obvious - just like a prison riot, do a lock down. There will be a curfew in the core Sunni Arab areas, including Baghdad, to prevent worshippers from rioting afer the Friday prayers ceremony. And it looks that that will extend through Saturday, at least. No one is going anywhere. Baghdad Sealed Off to Stem Violence. And the shutdown means no going out to scare up some food. And you already don't have power most of the day. Are they glad we came and got rid of the bad man? The alternative is not so nice either.

What does our ambassador say?


Well, he says this


"What we've seen in the past two days, the attack has had a major impact here, getting everyone's attention that Iraq is in danger," Mr. Khalilzad said in a conference call with reporters.

The country's leaders, he added, "must come together, they must compromise with each other to bring the people of Iraq together and save this country."

Mr. Khalilzad's comments are the most explicit acknowledgment so far by an American official of the instability of the situation, and the fragility of the entire American enterprise here. The killings and assaults across Iraq that began Wednesday have amounted to the worst sectarian violence since the American invasion.

... In the deadliest assault, 47 people returning from a protest were pulled off buses south of Baghdad on Wednesday and shot in the head, an Interior Ministry official said Thursday. Three journalists from Al Arabiya, the Arab satellite network, were abducted and killed Wednesday in Samarra, near the ruined shrine. Seven American soldiers were also killed Wednesday in unrelated attacks involving roadside bombs.

Political and religious leaders, including President Jalal Talabani and Moktada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric whose followers are believed to be involved in much of the anti-Sunni violence, called for restraint.


We lost seven more guys. Unrelated. We've become like the Brits in Northern Ireland, trying to keep the two side from killing each other, and getting picked off by both. Unrelated. Sure.

The political writer Digby here reminds us that Thomas Friedman, the widely-respected and thoughtful columnist for the New York Times once said that it's not every day you get to see a political experiment in action. Friedman was always big on kicking some butt to "show our strength" - and it really didn't matter if Iraq was the wrong butt as we had to show we wouldn't be pushed around - and then was big on the grand experiment to plant a Jeffersonian democracy smack in the middle of that region to shake things up.

And now? The Marx Brothers in action - without the laughs and with a lot of dead people. And our guys get to keep the peace, and wonder, if they shoot, which side they other side will think we're taking. Keeping a lid on all this will be tricky. Maybe it's impossible.

Some of us saw Tony Blankley of the Washington Times on MSNBC's Hardball say to Chris Matthews maybe we should take sides and become the enforcement arms of the Shiites and Kurds, and destroy the local Sunnis. Yeah, the new Shiite government is shaping up to be a theocracy aligned with Iran, but maybe that's the best we can do. They might not be that unfriendly to us. Or so Blankley thinks.

Note this - screen shots of Fox News with the graphic saying a civil war in Iraq may be a blessing in disguise ("All-Out Civil War in Iraq: Could it be a Good Thing?"). And here, a screenshot and transcript of Terry Jeffery, the editor of pro-Bush Human Events on CNN saying this all proves Bush's grand plan is working - the idea being that what happened this week in Iraq is all so awful that the sensible people in Iraq will join together to form a sectarian state that has nothing to do with religion. He's channeling Rufus T. Firefly. He saw Duck Soup too many times and confused it with real life.

And on the edge of it all. Friday, February 24, 2006 Attack Fails at Huge Saudi Oil Site and Oil Prices Up After Attack in Saudi Arabia. That site? Twenty percent of the world's oil passes through there. It's not every day you get to see a political experiment in action.

And back here the business with Dubai World Ports only got more absurd. Do we allow a corporation - actually pretty good at doing what they do but owned by the government of United Arab Emirates - to run operations at six key American ports? The nation is in an uproars on this - at least most politicians and those who think about policy, and good number of ordinary folks who don't want to get blown up and hear the United Arab Emirates is where some Arabs live, and that composite government has been playing both sides. Lou Dobbs on CNN is on a tear, with guests (Joe Klein, Friday) saying if we don't do this the Arab world we hate us, and Dobbs shooting back "like they don't hate us now after all we've done?" It's all over. No point in citing everyone saying things.

Thursday the White House had Karl Rove tell us the president understands folks are upset and the president might think about delaying this (here), and that was the same day Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England was telling a senate committee "the terrorists will win" if we don't immediate do this deal (here) - "The terrorists want our nation to become distrustful. They want us to become paranoid and isolationist, and my view is we cannot allow this to happen. It needs to be just the opposite." And he said opposing this deal was giving aid and comfort to our enemies, so even the Republicans who have questions are now being called traitors. Welcome aboard, guys.

If congress passes anything to stop this, will the president veto it? He says he will. But he says that all the time and never vetoes anything (see The Emperor Has No Vetoes for a discussion of this "the boy who cried wolf" veto business).

But he will veto this –


The Bush administration said Friday it won't reconsider its approval for a United Arab Emirates company to take over significant operations at six U.S. ports. The former head of the Sept. 11 commission said the deal "never should have happened."

Opponents, including the agency that runs New York and New Jersey ports, took their case to court, while the company, Dubai Ports World, stepped up efforts to change the minds of congressional critics.

The president's national security adviser said the White House would keep trying to persuade lawmakers - there's more time since the company offered to delay its takeover - but the administration wouldn't reconsider its approval.

"There are questions raised in the Congress, and what this delay allows is for those questions to be addressed on the Hill," Stephen Hadley said. "There's nothing to reopen."

Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey who led the bipartisan probe of the Sept. 11 attacks, said the deal was a big mistake because of past connections between the 2001 hijackers and the UAE.


So the president might delay implementation, but it's going to happen, no matter what. Dubai World Ports put their implementation on hold (here), to wait this out (and give the administration some breathing room), and New York and New Jersey are taking the feds to court.

Great. But none of it matters.

Congress and its laws? The courts? Piffle. The man decided.

And he says there's nothing to worry about. Trust him, not these other folks. He is the one who protects us from the bad guys. Everyone knows that.

As Tim Grieve puts it here - "The Bush administration can stand by and let all sorts of things happen - the gutting of Iraqi museums, the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, genocide in Darfur, Sudan - but it can't handle the notion that someone else might be playing the terrorism trump card."

Or maybe it's this, from Lou Dobb's show on CNN earlier in the week (video here or here and transcript) –


DOBBS: President Bush's family and members of the Bush administration have long-standing business connections with the United Arab Emirates, and those connections are raising new concerns and questions tonight in some quarters about why the president is defying his very own party leadership and his party in defending the Dubai port deal.

CHRISTINE ROMANS: The oil-rich United Arab Emirates is a major investor in The Carlyle Group, the private equity investment firm where President Bush's father once served as senior adviser and is a who's who of former high-level government officials. Just last year, Dubai International Capital, a government-backed buyout firm, invested in an $8 billion Carlyle fund.

Another family connection, the president's brother, Neil Bush, has reportedly received funding for his educational software company from the UAE investors. A call to his company was not returned.

Then there is the cabinet connection. Treasury Secretary John Snow was chairman of railroad company CSX. After he left the company for the White House, CSX sold its international port operations to Dubai Ports World for more than a billion dollars.

In Connecticut today, Snow told reporters he had no knowledge of that CSX sale. "I learned of this transaction probably the same way members of the Senate did, by reading about it in the newspapers."

Another administration connection, President Bush chose a Dubai Ports World executive to head the U.S. Maritime Administration. David Sanborn, the former director of Dubai Ports' European and Latin American operations, he was tapped just last month to lead the agency that oversees U.S. port operations.


Ah. Just business. These folks have done business with these people, and thus they trust them. Should we?

This seems to be some kind of turning point. Folks are wondering if they should. The warning signs are going up at the conservative National Review, where you would find this late Friday afternoon from John Podhoretz –


Rasmussen has a new poll up in which - hold on now - Democrats in Congress are outpolling President Bush on national security. By a margin of 43 to 41 percent, Americans say they trust Congressional Democrats more than Bush when it comes to protecting our national security. And by a margin of 64-17 percent, they oppose the sale of the ports to Dubai.

The deal is dead. It won't survive after a 45-day extension or a 450-day extension. Congressional Republicans have no choice but to be extremely aggressive and nasty toward the president and the White House, because they will be properly terrified of looking like Bush's lapdogs on a hugely unpopular matter that goes to the heart of the Republican party's political advantage in the United States.

If the White House doesn't handle this well in the next three days, the political consequences could be catastrophic.


And putting more bluntly, Rich Lowry adds - "Emergency, indeed: if Bush loses his edge on national security, he has nothing left."

And these are Bush guys. This is a political mess. And it had to come.

See this from Michael Hirsh in Newsweek - "How then did we arrive at this day, with anti-American Islamist governments rising in the Mideast, bin Laden sneering at us, Qaeda lieutenants escaping from prison, Iran brazenly enriching uranium, and America as hated and mistrusted as it ever has been? The answer, in a word, is incompetence."

Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly adds this


Yes, there's been incompetence to spare, but there's also been considered policy at work, policy that deliberately marginalized our allies, tackled fake threats at the expense of real ones, made preemptive war our default preference, and criminally misjudged the actual nature of the conflict we're in. Even if it had been executed well, it still would have been disastrous.

But sure: incompetent too. The damage that George Bush has done to the United States is going to be with us for a very long time.


The ports deal seems to have just brought up the underlying problem.

See William Greider in The Nation here


So why is the fearmonger-in-chief being so casual about this Dubai business? Because at some level of consciousness even George Bush knows the inflated fears are bogus. So do a lot of the politicians merrily throwing spears at him. He taught them how to play this game, invented the tactics and reorganized political competition as a demagogic dance of hysterical absurdities, endless opportunities to waste public money. Very few dare to challenge the mindset.


The politics of fear just hit the wall. It turned out to be a farce, and, like that Marx Brothers movie, a demagogic dance of hysterical absurdities, with endless opportunities to waste public money, and an this case, to do deals with your friends and thumb your nose at everyone.

And the president spent the end of the week in Indiana and Ohio, raising more than one and a half million for congressmen he needs to keep their seats, and saying things like this - "I wish I wasn't talking about war. No president ever says, 'Gosh, I hope there's war.' For those of you who are young here, I want you to know what I'm leading to is how to keep the peace and do my job that you expect me to do, which is to prevent the enemy from attacking again."


But it seems that the final credits are rolling and the lights are coming up.

Ah, but we will remember some hysterical absurdities with fondness thinking back on it all. Major General Geoffrey Miller was in charge of Guantánamo from 2002 to 2004, when he was then assigned to make Abu Ghraib in Baghdad work the same way. Late in the week disclosed a bit more of what was going on in the Muller years at Guantánamo, as reported here (Knight-Ridder) –


Military interrogators posing as FBI agents at the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, wrapped terrorism suspects in an Israeli flag and forced them to watch homosexual pornography under strobe lights during interrogation sessions that lasted as long as 18 hours, according to one of a batch of FBI memos released Thursday.


Absurd, and hysterical is the other sense of the word. But did it work? That depends –


Military interrogators "are adamant that their interrogation strategies are the best ones to use despite a lack of evidence of their success," [an e-mail] said.

The same e-mail complained that the military officer overseeing interrogations, a lieutenant colonel whose name was blocked out, "blatantly misled the Pentagon into believing that the (FBI's behavioral-analysis team) had endorsed the (military's) aggressive and controversial interrogation plan" during a teleconference with Pentagon officials.


Got it? No evidence it works. So keep doing it. It might, one day. Or not. And the FBI behavioral-analysis guys wanted this crap stopped, and Miller's guys got on the line and told the Pentagon the FBI said they were doing just the right thing.


You want absurd? It's not A Passage to India - it's another farce.

First - Bush Prepares For India Trip, Says India Is Responsible Nuclear Nation. Yep, he's going for a visit. Complex stuff. Fast rising economy there, as the have all those industries doing what American workers used to do, but a great market for American goods - maybe they'll buy our stuff with their new riches. That'd take off some of the political heat back here regarding outsourcing. And they could be a buffer if China gets uppity. They have nuclear weapons, but have never signed onto the non-proliferation treaty, and are in conflict with our flakey war on terror ally Pakistan, and they have nukes there too. Tricky. And the may be the world's largest democracy, but were way friendly with the Soviets in the Cold War days. The idea is to make 'em happy. Then they'll help us with China and terror, and buy our stuff.

What to do? Offer them advanced nuclear technology. But of course make them promise to use it only on civilian stuff. But the offer upset all the national security worriers back here, thus the statements that these Indian folks were responsible.

It didn't matter. Late Friday they told us to stick our advanced nuclear technology where the sun don't shine (story here) - seems they don't give a hoot about our economic and political issues with China, and the don't like George treating them like children he can bribe and fool. It seems they want to be treated as adults, and not like American voters or American congressmen or senators.

Of course this didn't help - "The United States apologized and granted a visa on Friday to the Indian-born president of a world science body after he said he was refused entry on charges of hiding information that could be used for chemical weapons."

What? Professor Goverdhan Mehta, 62, an internationally recognized organic chemist, president of the Paris-based International Council for Science (ICSU) had been invited to a conference by the University of Florida. Some low-level staffer decided he was a terrorist and blew him off. He didn't make it. Ah well, it's not just Cat Stevens. This happens to world-famous scientists all the time. They complain. We look childish and foolish. Maybe we should have Dubai World Ports do the screening.

Of course it might be this - "George W Bush's protocol handlers have notified South Block that the American President's deep belief in his born-again faith precludes his visiting Mahatma Gandhi's Samadhi at New Delhi's Raj Ghat - during his forthcoming visit to India."

Nice move. What? They aren't Methodists over there? What's wrong with them?

It should be an interesting trip. He'll need to turn on some real Texas charm. Maybe he'll take along our new Minister of Propaganda, Karen Hughes. She can do her "I'm a mother so I understand" routine that she tried out in the Middle East.

No? It is a Marx brother film.

Ah well, as for wanting to be treated as adults, and not like American voters or American congressmen or senators, you cannot beat this


Remember Total Information Awareness? The Bush administration does.

Congress thought it killed off the controversial data-mining project in 2003. "Total Information Awareness is no more," Sen. Ron Wyden declared then. "The lights are out."

The lights may have gone out at the Defense Department's Information Awareness Office, but it now seems that the Bush administration simply turned them back on elsewhere. Following up where Newsweek left off earlier this month, the National Journal is reporting that the administration is still pursuing some of the most important components of TIA under the black umbrella of the National Security Agency - the same agency tasked with the Bush administration's warrantless spying work.

The National Journal says the administration and its contractors have hidden the continued existence of TIA components by changing some of their names. An e-mail message from one contractor suggests that a big component of the project, previously known as the "Information Awareness Prototype System," now goes by the name "Basketball" instead, the National Journal says. "TIA has been terminated and should be referenced in that fashion," an employee of the contractor warned his colleagues. Similarly, the National Journal says, a project once known as "Genoa II" was renamed "Topsail" when it moved from the Defense Department to the NSA's Advanced Research and Development shop.

As the National Journal notes, Wyden asked FBI Director Robert Mueller and intelligence czar John Negroponte earlier this month whether TIA operations had been moved rather than shut down. They said they didn't know, but Gen. Michael Hayden - the former NSA director and point man for the administration's warrantless spying defense - was a little more circumspect. "I'd like to answer in closed session," he said.


Change the name and no one will notice. This is the gimmick in more than a few vaudeville routines, and happens in many a farce. That works.

And on it goes. Anyone could find five or ten such farce stories a day (six more here were dumped as citing more would just be piling on). So what?

Maybe the "so what" is that all these items, while not that bad in and of themselves, start to build a growing sense - in those not previously fed up with this combination of incompetence, blind pride and dim-wittedness - that something is amiss. And maybe something should be done. Maybe the middle will move. The port deal pushed any number of people over the edge.


It's no fun living in a farce. You could die.

Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik

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