Just Above Sunset
Volume 5, Number 10
March 11, 2007


 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

"Notes on how things seem from out here in Hollywood..."

Dissent - Some Voices, Not Many

Those of a certain age remember the antiwar protests of the late sixties and early seventies. The great unwashed took to the streets, and perhaps prolonged the war by offending a whole lot of people. Many might not have thought much of the mess in Vietnam, but they also weren't shaggy free-love peace-and-dope hippies, burning draft cards and bras and whatnot. The "vast silent majority" that Nixon claimed implicitly supported his policies - something about bombing the bad guys into submission, pouring in more troops, even into Cambodia, while secretly negotiating a winless exit in the Paris talks - were, as he said silent. Perhaps he misunderstood them. Perhaps the pushy young folk put them off, so they said nothing. Withholding comment is, however, not approval. Silence regarding the government's actions is not, necessarily, endorsement of those actions, or of the policies behind them. It's just silence.

Now, with the approval of the president's handling of the war at twenty-one percent, lower than any comparable time in the Vietnam days, we have the silence again. No one is in the streets, save for a few coalescing around the well-marginalized Cindy Sheehan. We all support the troops now, and have our won't-mar-the-paint magnets on our SUV's that say so. We have no problem with the guys who put it on the line for us, even if we think they're being used for a useless cause. The prospect of a super-stable and friendly secular free-market Iraqi democracy we've wedged by force of arms into the Middle East seems unlikely. We'll get something less than that, at best. That's not what we were originally told we were doing over there, and as it became the last plausible reason for whatever it is we're doing, the idea that this was ever considered a sensible and achievable goal has many rubbing their eyes. That was the plan? You guys thought you could do that, and also thought it would be cakewalk-easy and pay-for-itself cheap? Just who is smoking good shit these days? Radical, man!

But we have no protests. Only a few words of the old song apply - "There's something happening here - what it is ain't exactly clear." Forget the rest of the words. And anyway, the song was actually about the small Riot on Sunset Strip - Sunset and Laurel Canyon, just down the block - back in November 1966. Those days are long gone - Pandora's Box is now a bus stop.

Perhaps we're now into a different way of getting things changed. The midterm elections changed Congress. The Republicans who rubber-stamped anything the administration chose to do - for whatever reason or for no reason at all - were tossed out. The House is now firmly in the hands of the opposition, and the Senate barely so, with a key opposition senator in hospital recovering from brain surgery. Changing the lawmakers is probably more effective than thousands forming a circle around the Pentagon and trying to levitate it (October 21, 1967) - no chanting involved. And Rumsfeld is gone, so what's the urgency? And then too, a panel of "wise old men" (well, they were old), the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, commissioned by congress with administration approval, has declared the Iraq War is just not working - we need to change policy, strategy and tactics if we're to have any good come of it, and even if we do, it's an iffy proposition anyway. Better musty old James Baker says such things than some Abbie Hoffman. Levitating the Pentagon was Hoffman's idea, and those crazy days of long ago seem quaint, so to speak, like the Geneva Conventions, perhaps. We are more serious now, even if we are less whimsical.

But it is clear the president is doing everything he can to justify ignoring the seventy-nine recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. It's clear we're in for a major escalation - one last push, or surge, with twenty to fifty thousand more troops on the ground. This will be the "new way forward" - more of the same, with a new name. We don't have more troops, of course, so that means extending tours and accelerated deployment of troops now in the pipeline. Key generals are saying the military is just about broken, and even Colin Powell agrees, adding that it might also be nice if the "new" troops knew what their mission will be, as that is not clear at all.

Peter Baker in the Washington Post captures the dilemma, that "as Bush rethinks his strategy in Iraq and approaches one of the most fateful moments of his presidency, he confronts difficult questions: At what point does determination to a cause become self-defeating folly? Can he change direction in a meaningful way without sacrificing principle?"

Probably not. We "go big." That's how he thinks. We understand. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that sixty-six percent of Americans do not think Bush is willing to change his policies in Iraq. We all know that. Larry Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to Powell in Bush's first term - "I just don't believe that this president, with this vice president whispering in his ear every moment, is oriented to change. And even if he were, I don't believe his administration is capable of implementing change." Won't change, and even if these guys decided they would change, they can't. Done - game, set, match.

And there was what the president said in his year-end interview with People magazine -

    I think it's been a very difficult year in Iraq - for our troops, for the families of the troops, for the Iraqi people. And it's been difficult for the American people, because success in Iraq has been slower coming than any of us would like. And so the task at hand now is to come up with a new way forward. I think most Americans fully understand the importance of success; they're wondering whether we have a plan to succeed. It's my job to listen to a lot of opinions and come up with a strategy that says we have a plan.

What? Yes, he said the real problem he faces is how, in the absence of a plan, to convince us all he has a plan. Admittedly, he is not good with words. He may have meant something else. But he literally said his job is to fool us all, to fake us out and make us believe there is a plan. Maybe he just means that there really is a plan, and he doesn't quite understand it, but knows it's his job to point to it when asked. In the same interview he's asked whether all the problems he faces bother him, and says you'd think he couldn't sleep at night with all that's going on, but he's been sleeping surprisingly well. He's cool.

Surreal and mind-bending protests in the streets are unnecessary. How to you top the president?

Still, people are uneasy with him. Christopher Caldwell, in the New York Times Magazine speaks to that -

    Why have few such people risen to the defense of George Bush?

    Here is a guess. The recent election feels like something more intimate than a personnel change. It feels like the beginnings of an escape from a twisted relationship.

    … Why are opinions so personal when it comes to President Bush? Because he has frequently sought, like the child of the 1960s that he is, to blur the line between the personal and the political. Posing as an amiable guy rather than a partisan politician has great advantages in democratic power politics. Even if not all of them vote for you, most Americans want to believe that their president is a jolly good fellow. But when a politician makes likeability a substitute for authority, his opponents make hatred a substitute for opposition.

Hatred? Maybe so. Or perhaps there's monumental frustration with the man-child, the incurious "C+ Augustus" as some call him. He's going to massively escalate the war, but in a likable way. This is Douglas Adams territory. How did it come to this?

Under the penname Pachacutec you'll find this -

    Let me say this slowly. It's something I've never said before.

    Bush is unfit for office. He's not my president.

    Now, I've called him nuts, crazy, dangerous, said he should be censured over warrantless wiretapping, and so on. I've said he's paranoid and craven and callow and cowardly. I've said his 2000 election was undemocratic and probably illegitimate, in some fashion. Selected, then elected. And even with all that, I still mentally sustained a degree of deference to him, in some corner of my mind, as President of the United States.

    I've never called for impeachment and I'm still not. I'm not raving or slamming my fingers down on my keyboard. I'm feeling very calm. I'm not trying to be funny, snarky, witty or anything else. I'm just grappling with the incredible hubris… words fail. "Irresponsibility" is too thin. What's the word? How does one characterize the absolute contempt this man has for human life, for the expressed will of the American people, who have completely repudiated his failed occupation of Iraq, now that he's indulging his fantasies of an escalation?

    I think a lot of people in the mythical middle who thought he was basically a good guy who's been stubborn and wrong are coming to the realization that he's dangerous, almost to an inhuman degree. He's pissed all over the Baker-Hamilton charade which, for all its flaws, still helped cement the notion in the popular mind that to continue is to fail. And his response is to go in exactly the opposite direction all the world, including the American public, wants him to go? I knew he would do it; I'm not saying I was surprised. But the blunt reality of it staggers.

    I know we all know this stuff, and I can't account for why this is hitting me the way it's hitting me now, for as long as I've been hammering at this worst president ever. But it is.

Note there's no "let's take it to the streets" talk here. This is resignation, not protest. In fact, the call is for something else entirely -

    I'm not arguing for impeachment, not because I don't think he's been criminal, or even because he doesn't deserve it. I believe he does. But I want the Democrats during these next two years to begin to change things, pass some good legislation. They can't pursue impeachment and do all that stuff at once. Our home, our world, is on fire. Put out the fire first. We don't have time to impeach this horrible man.

    I do want vigorous investigations, and I'm a real Waxman kind of guy. Leahy, Dorgan, Conyers, the whole gang. More, more, more. Why? Because we need to educate the public and find out just how much damage has been done to the Constitution so we can set about putting things right again.

So let's be practical. This isn't the sixties, after all.

At the same site you'll find Scarecrow -

    The day that the Iraq Study Group released its much anticipated report detailing the "grave and deteriorating" conditions in Iraq and recommending the President change his course, the official barometer of public moods, NBC's Tim Russert, passionately sounded the alarms as the Baker/Hamilton/O'Connor intervention unfolded before the public, press, and Congress. It was as though the catastrophe of Iraq and the need for an extraordinary intervention had been revealed to us for the first time. It was another Walter Cronkite Viet Nam moment.

    Over the next week, the media zeroed in on what they assumed was the relevant question: "Will the President listen?" It was an interesting question, revealing more about how far the centrist media lags behind than it was asking about the President. Initial analyses wondered how a President so desperately in need of a "graceful exit" could possibly ignore so clear a message from such a distinguished, centrist and bipartisan group of Americans.

    The wrong question stayed on the media's minds for about a week, while many of us waited impatiently for that inevitable epiphany, best exemplified by ISG member Leon Panetta. Barely a week after the report's release, he expressed total surprise that the President didn't seem to be listening at all and never had any intention of changing his fundamental policies or the way he pursued them.

    … What does it mean when a savvy and experienced Washington hand like Panetta, along with most of the media, is still surprised by all this? … At least now even the Beltway knows the answer to the wrong question, so perhaps it's time the media got to the more difficult and important question: "What should the country do when the President and his men continue to drive the bus into the Iraq ditch, but they ignore both the ISG report and the electorate's resounding message to start disengaging from Iraq?

That's a good question. But the press is consumed with the "when" of the matter. When will we hear what we all know will be more of the same - much more? The idea is that a better question is, since everyone knows what will be announced as our "new" policy, just what to do about it?

And the "it" is multifaceted -

    The President's men are going to prosecute this war to the bitter end no matter what the cost in lives and treasure, no matter what the American people said in November and no matter what the media think or what the family intervention wants. Reality-based thinking needs to start from that premise.

    This is not just about sending more troops to Iraq to be shot at by everyone the President's policies and macho posturing are antagonizing, which is getting to be just about everyone. As the New York Times Sunday editorial, Unfinished Business reminds us, this Administration is hell bent to continue staining America's honor through every egregious violation of the rule of law - warrantless spying, renditions, indefinite detention, denial of counsel and legal recourse, torture, phony Iraq trials - brought to light in the last three years, not to mention those we don't yet know about but are undoubtedly occurring. And it's not just Middle Eastern "unlawful combatants" who are subject to the most serious crimes, now sanctioned by the Military Commission's Act. Immigrants and US citizens and whistleblowers and relief agencies are also victims or targets.

    This regime does not believe in America. They don't accept the principle that the authority of government flows from the consent of the people. They don't believe in America's core ideas of democracy, or the rule of law, checks and balances, the Bill of Rights, individual human dignity, or such quaint notions as pursuing negotiations instead of war. They are putting the security of everyone in the Middle East, friends and foe alike, in danger, and they're starting to bring the war home.

    So what do we do now? Nothing is going to stop these people from continuing what they're doing, and more of it, except removing them from office (or seriously threatening to do so). We need to begin asking questions about how we bring that about.

That's a little more like to old days. It's not a call for impeachment, exactly, but a call to start thinking about how to do it. We live in an age when being practical matters. Everyone knows you cannot levitate the Pentagon. You do what you can - although impeachment may be nearly as impossible. But it is, at least, theoretically possible.

But why do it? Christy Hardin Smith has her reasons -

    The Bush Administration has managed to do in six short years what more than two hundred years of our nation's history had not done: un-do the notion of American commitment to human rights, the rule of law, and to freedom and justice. All with a series of decisions, one piling up on top of the other - with no check, no balance, no oversight, simply one rubber stamp after another for the last six years from the Republicans in Congress who cared more about their hold on personal power than they did about their oath to uphold and protect the Constitution.

And what set her off, in this case, is this -

    Detainee 200343 was among thousands of people who have been held and released by the American military in Iraq, and his account of his ordeal has provided one of the few detailed views of the Pentagon's detention operations since the abuse scandals at Abu Ghraib. Yet in many respects his case is unusual.

    The detainee was Donald Vance, a 29-year-old Navy veteran from Chicago who went to Iraq as a security contractor. He wound up as a whistle-blower, passing information to the FBI about suspicious activities at the Iraqi security firm where he worked, including what he said was possible illegal weapons trading.

    But when American soldiers raided the company at his urging, Mr. Vance and another American who worked there were detained as suspects by the military, which was unaware that Mr. Vance was an informer, according to officials and military documents.

    At Camp Cropper, he took notes on his imprisonment and smuggled them out in a Bible.

    … Nathan Ertel, the American held with Mr. Vance, brought away military records that shed further light on the detention camp and its secretive tribunals. Those records include a legal memorandum explicitly denying detainees the right to a lawyer at detention hearings to determine whether they should be released or held indefinitely, perhaps for prosecution.

    The story told through those records and interviews illuminates the haphazard system of detention and prosecution that has evolved in Iraq, where detainees are often held for long periods without charges or legal representation, and where the authorities struggle to sort through the endless stream of detainees to identify those who pose real threats.

Vance continued to be held, badly treated, and denied access to a lawyer for more than two months after the FBI had already told the military that he was the whistleblower in the case. He was one of the good guys. But there's a kind of momentum here.

Before his release, his "captors" seemed quite interested in whether he intended to complain afterwards. He's suing. The Pentagon continues to deny that it did anything wrong. Of course the Justice Department will press for his lawsuit against Donald Rumsfeld to be dismissed, and will probably prevail. Rumsfeld is gone.

Should people rise up in protest when a citizen, and Navy veteran, is held, under the terms of a legal memorandum explicitly denying him the right to a lawyer at detention hearings to determine whether he should be released or held indefinitely? Maybe so, but this story will sink with all the rest. The days of protest are over.

Just a reminder of the days of protest - Jon Wiener is author of Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files, University of California Press, January 21, 2000, and served as historical consultant on the 2006 documentary The US v John Lennon. In the Tuesday, December 19, Guardian (UK), he offers some perspective -

    When the Dixie Chicks told an audience in London in 2003 that "We're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas", they set off a political storm in the US that echoed the treatment meted out to John Lennon 30 years earlier. They were talking about the Iraq war, while Lennon had been campaigning against the Vietnam War.

    The Dixie Chicks got in trouble with rightwing talk radio. Boycotts followed, and lead singer Natalie Maines ended up publicly apologizing to President Bush.

    What happened to Lennon was of course worse. The turning point for the Beatles came with their 1966 US tour, when they first publicly criticized the war in Vietnam. As the decade wore on, Lennon was the target of increasingly aggressive media ridicule, especially when he began experimenting with new forms of political protest - such as declaring his honeymoon with Yoko Ono a "bed-in for peace."

    In the next couple of years, establishment hostility turned nastier on both sides of the Atlantic, as the former Beatle embraced more serious radicalism, making common cause with Tariq Ali (then editor of the Marxist Red Mole). In 1971, Lennon joined a march in London against internment without trial in Northern Ireland and helped fund the republican cause. By the time he left for New York that autumn, the knives were out.

So in the late sixties Lennon had been busted for cannabis possession, claimed it had been planted by the police, but pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge. Within months of his joining the anti-war movement here and publicly attacking President Nixon, the administration responded with deportation proceedings. That was in the courts for years.

The context -

    What exactly had Lennon done? It wasn't just singing Give Peace a Chance - it was when and where he sang it; 1972 was an election year, Nixon was running for re-election and the Vietnam War was the key issue. Lennon was talking to anti-war leaders about doing a tour that would combine rock music with anti-war organizing and voter registration. That was the key, because it was the first year 18-year-olds had been given the right to vote. Young voters were assumed to be anti-war, but also known to be the least likely of all age groups to vote. Lennon and his friends hoped to do something about that. Nixon found out about the former Beatle's plans, and the deportation order followed.

    The threat was effective. Lennon's lawyers told him to cool it and the tour never took place. Nixon won in a landslide, and the war in Vietnam went on for three more blood-soaked years. Lennon spent the next couple of years facing a 60-day order to leave the country, which his lawyers kept getting postponed.

Ah, those were the days.

And this assessment -

    In some ways Lennon was naive. When he moved to New York, he thought he was coming to the land of the free. He had little idea of the power of the state to come down on those it regarded as enemies. His claim that the FBI had him under surveillance was rejected as the fantasy of an egomaniac, but 300 pages of FBI files, released under freedom of information after his murder, show he was right. The FBI is still withholding 10 documents - which we hope will finally be released today - on the grounds that they contain "national security information provided by a foreign government": almost certainly MI5 documents on Lennon's radical days in London.

    Lennon never apologized to the president. He fought back in court to overturn the deportation order. But in the year after Nixon's re-election, Lennon's personal life fell apart and his music deteriorated. In the end, Nixon resigned in disgrace after Watergate, and Lennon stayed in the US.

And then he was shot dead. On the other hand, in 2004 a group of activist musicians organized an election-year concert tour of battleground states "with a strategy very much like Lennon's." Headlining the Vote for Change tour were the Dixie Chicks.

What were they thinking? The days of protest are over. We live in different times. Time magazine's annual "Person of the Year" issue hit newsstands Monday, December 18, with its odd choice - YOU. But the "you" in this case is any content creator on the Internet. That must be where the protest is these days - along with the personal silliness of MySpace and all the blogs about cooking and old trains and breeding cocker spaniels. Everything got all personal, and diffused.

Well, you use the forum you have. Or you got to war with the medium you have, not the one you want. Who wants to levitate the Pentagon anyway?

This item posted December 24, 2006


Last updated Saturday, March 10, 2007, 10:30 pm Pacific Time

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 - Alan M. Pavlik