December 20, 2006

The Slander of Barney Bush

Because it's Christmas, and because one ought, whenever possible, to say positive things about one's fellow man, I shall admit that Bush's treatment of his dog Barney speaks well for him. G.W.B. seems to really like his dog, is kind to him, travels with him, seems more emotionally attuned to his canine friend than he does, say, to Laura Bush. The only caveat I might append to this encomium is this small reservation, that it does not seem fair to assume, as Bush appears to assume, that Barney supports Bush's Iraq policy. Bush has notably averred that if his only remaining support for the "war" is that offered by Laura and Barney, he'll stay the course. I am sure that W talks to his dog, probably at length; still, how can he be sure that Barney, a dog possessing the commonsense inherent in dogs, does not side with the 70 to 80% of the American populace who believe Bush's war is full of animal crackers?

We might note too (since we've run out of nice things to say here at Pondside) that Bush's declaration, a kind of Alamo-like challenge that he'll go on getting American's killed, killing Iraqis, spending money America doesn't have while increasing the frequency and intensity of terrorism in the world at large; that he'll proceed this way, even if his only support comes from his wife and the family dog - that all this sounds like the ranting and raving of a lunatic.

There is evidence for this diagnosis, of course, some of it professional. Viz., the whole book by Justin Frank, "Bush on the Couch," which concluded, psychoanalytically, that Bush is a megalomaniac with elements of paranoid ideation. Let us look logically at Bush's co-opting of Barney in this regard. For Bush to believe that a policy of war against Iraq, which even he would have to concede is at best an arguable theory of social and political engineering, and hugely subjective in any evaluation of its success and subject to many persuasive and compelling contra arguments, should be sustained even if only one married couple and their canine friend support it (and as stated, how can we be sure about Barney?), then Bush would necessarily believe, overtly or impliedly, that he possesses powers of insight and intellectual analysis that are absolutely unique to him (and only to him; I do not believe he would stay the course if only Laura & Barney chose to, if he disagreed).

While reiterating one should be gracious in acknowledging the positive qualities in another man, surely at this point there is not an American soul extant, including Harriet Myers (who used to think otherwise), who really believes Bush is such a person. On the contrary, most Americans concluded long ago that Bush is a person of thundering, crashing mediocrity, a cypher, an intellectually lazy goof-off with no powers of concentration, insight or analysis at all. The evidence is all around us, here in America and in the world at large. Particularly in Iraq. Bush is just another guy, and without the Bush brand name behind him, no one would ever listen to him at all, based, if you will, on his personal congitive powers.

The disjunction between Bush's self-image coupled with his fantastical assertion that he would stay the course even if no other rational homo sapiens agreed with him (by now Laura has been so reduced by co-dependency she can't think straight, and Barney, as noted, has been given the benefit of the doubt) - all of that, put on one side - versus the measured judgment of the American people that Bush is a moderately intelligent fruitcake - leads one to an inescapable conclusion. Bush must, indeed, be out of his mind.

The respectable, mainstream mass media, however, cannot do its own analysis on this basis. It has to analyze what Bush says, what he orders, what he leads America to do, on the basis of policy decisions. As an analysis of pros and cons. It has to take Bush's weird ideas seriously, as if they were part of a serious debate. The delusions, the flights from empiricism that characterize almost all the decisions the Bush White House makes, are taken at face value, as if they were simply one among many rational decisions that might have been made, and Bush chose this one.

The NSA spying scandal is an excellent case in point. Simply put, there was no reason that Bush ever needed to walk all over the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution or the FISA statute in order to eavesdrop on terrorist conversations in the United States. A cowed Senate and Congress would have given him carte blanche to invade every nook and cranny of American privacy by amending U.S. law (hell, by amending the Constitution). Senator Russ Feingold's censure motion garnered 4 supporters in the Senate, an eloquent measure of the institutional cowardice pervasive in the legislative branch. Bush did not need to invoke the "unitary executive" or to claim that the Congressional resolution of October 2001 (the Authorization for Use of Military Force) mysteriously granted him this non-military authorization.

Bush has gotten involved in felonious activities associated with the domestic spying scandal, and with other high crimes, such as violations of the War Crimes Act (at least as the act existed before Bush was granted his absolution by that same cowed Congress in the form of a retroactive exoneration) because it is his nature to commit such acts. Yet, again, the mainstream media has to take seriously his assertion that "the times have changed" and the Constitution is "out of date," and seeking search warrants for roving electronic captures of conversations is "too cumbersome." Or terrorists are a "new kind of enemy" not entitled to protection under the Geneva Conventions. One can multiply examples easily. This scofflaw pattern has characterized his governing style from its earliest days.

This approach to government, to life, is not a policy matter. It is a deranged mental state, a personality disorder. Simply for the sake of analogy, and without implying a similarity of scale, one might, in the 1930's, have taken seriously Hitler's anti-Semitic ravings and debated the "merits" of whether European Jewry was responsible for all the world's ills. At the time, there was doubtless a lot of mainstream "debate" about just such questions. In retrospect it seems sick to have discussed the matter in such terms at all. In the long run, historical judgment will condemn all of Bush's arrant lawbreaking and Constitution-wrecking behavior in the same way that Hitler's "policies" are now seen as simply the idiosyncratic mental disorders of a power-mad, delusional, paranoid and megalomaniacal personality.

Such things take time. Acquiring the perspective to see things as they really are requires time for reflection. In the meantime, we will suffer under Bush's self-delusions, with the stately institutions of Washington aggrandizing his madness. Barney, however, should not be tarred with the same brush. In the absence of hard proof, I am inclined to believe that it's simply a case of misplaced loyalty. After all, some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall, as the great Bard told us centuries ago.

December 04, 2006

The Jose Padilla Case Takes A New Turn

That's our man Jose, poster boy for George Bush's War on the United States Constitution, on his way to a dental appointment down the hall in the South Carolina brig. Shackled, muffled and blindfolded, Jose shuffles toward a Navy dentist for a root canal, which for Padilla is nothing to be dreaded, since he'll actually be in human company for a change. Those of you who want to know more about the legal significance of the Padilla nightmare should read Jack Balkin's series of reprinted articles (originally written about the time Padilla was disappeared by the Pinochet Unit of Bush's Junta). Follow the link above to Balkinization and you can read them in all their frightening immediacy.

Padilla's case puts the lie to the idea that "it can't happen here" or it can happen only to evil people very unlike ourselves. Under the Bill or Rights, as it existed before George W. Bush happened to it, Jose Padilla is exactly like you and me, an American citizen entitled to a presumption of complete innocence; that is to say, then, that at this point, nearly five years after his arrest on the battlefield of O'Hare International in Chicago, the government has never proved anything against Jose Padilla. Nothing. It dropped the original "dirty bomb" allegations which supposedly justified his disappearance into the Bush gulag. Nevertheless, Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and the government lawyers who do Bush's dirty work, such as the uber-articulate Paul Clement, Solicitor General of the United States, have strained mightily to deprive Padilla of the rights to counsel, to an indictment, to confront his accusers, or to grant him his day in court. Finally, as some who have followed this sorrowful case know, Padilla was transferred into the criminal justice system in South Florida and added to an ongoing conspiracy case set for trial next month. The junta took this route in a cowardly attempt to avoid another unfavorable Supreme Court ruling on the extent of Bush's perogatives as the "unitary" executive, that is, his powers as a self-appointed tyrant.

Padilla's lawyers are now mounting a legal challenge to the government's right to try Padilla at all, on the grounds that his solitary confinement in a 9x7 foot cell, in a cell block emptied of all other prisoners, without a window, calendar or mirror, and while being subjected to the usual Torquemada routine of "stress" positions, volume ten Garth Brooks, and sleeping on a metal plank -- that all of this, "justified" solely by Bush's unilateral, sua sponte, unreviewable determination that Padilla, an American citizen, was nevertheless an "enemy combatant" without any of the rights we thought we took for granted -- drove Jose Padilla insane. The "government lawyers" (who I hope must mainline Ambien in order to sleep even an hour a night) of course maintain there is not a "shred" of evidence to support this claim. They probably trot out the usual legal cliche -- not even a "scintilla" of proof. Well, of course it might be hard for Jose to prove it. That's the advantage of solitary confinement without access to a lawyer or the Red Cross. Ask August Pinochet how many of his desaparecidos successfully resisted prosecution by claiming they were driven insane. Where is your witness other than the victim himself? Anyway, Pinochet (thank all that's good and decent) is now dead, and he didn't conduct trials in the first place. We're not there yet -- but let Bush get away with this atrocity and eventually we will be there.

The estimable Mr. Patel, counsel for Padilla, must be making the Bush administration sweat. This is not a favorable turn of events for Bush, especially given the recent changes in Congress. An American citizen is about to detail the "special interrogation techniques" made popular in Poland, Hungary and other CIA dungeons around the world. Unless, of course, he can be silenced again. Which may not be so easy this time - Padilla is just crazy enough to spill the beans, and the Bush Administration can thank itself for that.

November 30, 2006

My Dog Ate My Car Bomb

Nouri al-Maliki, no doubt, is a man under a lot of pressure. Nevertheless, he has a job, presumably a well-paying one, and in today's Iraq that must be a great consolation. I assume he lives and works in the Green Zone in Baghdad, which insulates him from most of the mayhem, save for the occasional mortar round lobbed in from the surrounding neighborhoods. Under the conditions of contemporary Iraq, I doubt that Nouri really worries all that much about the fine points of representative democracy, which must, in any event, be foreign concepts to him and most of the Shiites with whom he spends his time. After all, the Iraq he has known all his life has either been a police state run by the opposing sect or the current state of anarchy reminiscent of Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. Either deplorable condition would leave one with the depressing sense that life is uncertain and insecure, but at least now Maliki controls things in a way that the Shia never controlled before. Maliki would be, I presume, extremely reluctant to yield power to anyone else, and most particularly to any coalition of Sunni politicians who might resurrect the apparatus of oppression which held sway over his early life.

Viewed from this perspective, the current manufactured controversy over whether Maliki's no-show at the meet-and-greet with Bush in Amman, Jordan was or was not a "snub" fades into insignificance. One can say two things about his decision. First, it was deliberate, and the post hoc ergo propter hoc justifications for his nonappearance (it turned out a 3 way with the King and Bush wasn't "necessary" or a "productive use of time") are patent nonsense. The head of government installed by American contrivance doesn't blow off a long-planned "summit" with his benefactor because he decides, without consulting Bush, that their meeting would be a "waste of time." This is no rationale, especially when talking about Bush. All meetings with Bush are by definition a waste of time, as he proves over and over again. The purpose of his frequent international trips is to give him something to do, which in his case is to travel the world spreading ill will. It makes him look sort of like a president as he's filmed climbing on and off planes, saluting and waving, having his picture taken with heads of state.

Second, Maliki's lame excuse was deliberately transparent. It was contrived to mollify the "firebrand" cleric Muktada al-Sadr, head of the Mighty Mahdis, who had insisted that Maliki skip the meeting altogether. That was clearly too much. As pointless as the meeting was, you can't just give Bush the finger. So, as a giraffe is a horse designed by a committee, the half-snub was the compromise worked out by Maliki, al-Sadr, and, we suspect here at the Pond, the Bush Administration. Everybody looks pretty good. Maliki makes the point of his "independence." Al-Sadr looks powerful. Bush appears, as always, smilingly irrelevant and ineffective.

Next will come the news reports on "developments" in the "substantive" meeting which Bush and Maliki will hold today in Jordan. You don't need to be Merlin the Magician to predict those. Maliki will "redouble" his resolve to bring Baghdad under control. Bush will pledge U.S. support for his efforts and resist a "time table."

On Friday, another 100 Iraqis will be tortured, killed, dismembered and dumped around Iraq. Another few American GIs will die. The U.S. will add another $2 billion to the national debt. Bush will head to Camp David and Maliki will sneak back into the Green Zone under cover of darkness.

November 26, 2006

The Insurgents Muscle In

"The insurgency is raising tens of millions of dollars a year from oil smuggling, kidnapping, counterfeiting, corrupt charities and other crimes, a report concluded." New York Times, November 26, 2006.

Scene: An upstairs room at the Busharoni Olive Oil Company, New York City. The present.

Don Busharoni (speaking with a characteristic gravelly voice): I want to call a meeting of the heads of the Five Families to discuss this crisis we got. The Halliburtoni, the Bechteloso, all of them. It's like discipline, you know, are we working together or not? Don Dickarini?

Capo Dickarini (speaking with a characteristic growly baritone out of the corner of his mouth): We could go to the mattresses. Assert control. It's our territory, you know? Or we could be smart.

Don Busharoni (impatiently watching Sonny wave his hand): Yeah, okay. Sonny?

Sonny Busharoni: It's like Pop says, is our families working together? It was a deal. We wanted one thing, oil, we didn't care about the rough stuff when we moved in. We didn't start this. We whack a guy, take over, plenty for everybody. Now this.

Don Busharoni: I told the al-Tattaglia family that, straight to Ahmed al-Tattalgia's face. But now this other guy...

Capo Dickarini: Aziz ibn Solazzo.

Don Busharoni: Yeah, Aziz. I tell him that too, there's enough to go around, but this other stuff, the drugs, the kidnapping, the ransom...this we will never do, because then the political support that makes this good life possible, we will not have it.

Sonny: Pop, that's old thinking. We gotta change. If the al-Tattalgia people joins up with ibn Solazzo and takes over these profit making operation in our territory, and we don't revamp...

Don Busharoni (turning to his consigliere, Connie Rice-A-Roni): Please forgive my unruly son. The children these days do not understand when it's right to discuss things in public.

Connie Rice-A-Roni: (nodding quietly) Suppose we were to send an emissary, Don, such as the other Don, Don Rumafellio.

Don Busharoni (shaking his head gravelly, or gravely): I am sorry. It was necessary to have him whacked. He was blowing our political cover.

Connie Rice-A-Roni: Then maybe Jimmy "The Fix" Baccharini. He can talk.

Sonny Busharoni: Talk! That's all we do, Pop! Let's hit 'em hard. They understand that.

Capo Dickarini: And draw attention to the whole syndicate, eh Sonny? Smart move. Right now we control construction, we control most of the oil, we service the military, and overcharge them by building in the protection money. We run the security.

Don Busharoni: That was genius, Dickie. To literally sell them protection.

Dickerini (nodding graciously): There's enough for everybody. So the al-Tattalgias working with ibn Solazzo have figured out an angle to pick up the loose change by selling humans. I say let them have it. We're making a nice living, and the American people front us the money for it. We don't just have government protection for what we do. We are the government. Who ever thought of a better deal than that?

Don Busharoni: Capisco, Dickie.

Sonny Busharoni: We whack 'em! Bada-bing! They don't buy us out. We buy them out. We do the kidnapping! We smuggle oil. We counterfeit money.

Connie Rice-A-Roni: They're counterfeiting American money, Sonny. We'd be counterfeiting our own money.

Don Busharoni (shaking his head): Sometimes brains can skip a generation, I guess. And they're only smuggling the oil we don't steal. My son has been watching too many gangster movies. He doesn't know how to run a real racket.

Capo Dickarini (taking the Don's hand and kissing it): I'm so glad, Godfather, your steady hand is back in charge.

November 20, 2006

The Torture Train Derailed, Part 2

Hamdan, eponymous player in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld, was not actually adjudicating issues of torture in his lawsuit. He didn't have the luxury, nor indeed the means, for that. The Bush Administration, with the crafty assistance of such Cassius-like characters as Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina (who always wants to give the appearance of being morally right while never relinquishing his alliance with evil power - truly a villain Shakespeare could have worked with), has pretty much obliterated all "conditions of confinement" claims any hapless Gitmo POW might come up with. We can't let them "clog the courts" with frivolous litigation about substandard conditions of confinement. That is the exclusive province of jailhouse lawyers operating on American soil, and there's just no room left for the prayer-rug crowd. Nope, Hamdan's lawsuit, pressed by Michael Ratner and those other troublemakers at the Center for Constitutional Rights, was more desperately critical: he wanted a fair trial. His life was on the line. Could they use unsubstantiated hearsay against him? Coerced confessions? Could he personally confront his accusers? Just how stacked was the deck against him?

Back in the old days, when the only good Muslim was a Muslim you never heard from again, Bush had set up his military kangaroo courts with his usual casual disregard for legal niceties, such as evidentiary rules against hearsay or anything else that an occasional viewer of "Perry Mason" or "Boston Legal" might take for granted. He did not attempt to incorporate the legal protections afforded American soldiers under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) in courts martial. He saw no problem with the admissibility of coerced confessions. If Ahmed didn't do it, why did he say he did? And in any event -- and here's the crux of Bush's entire philosophy of Guilt By Declaration: they're all guilty anyway, which is why they're locked up in the first place.

I would defy anyone to find any extended discussion or comment by George W. Bush, at any time or any place, about the "presumption of innocence" to which any defendant, American or foreign, is nominally entitled under the American system of justice. Try to discover a single instance, search your memory -- when and where did George W. Bush ever say, "Well, on the face of things, as a starting point, we don't even know if a single inmate at the Guantanamo detention facility is guilty of anything, since no one has ever been brought to trial. We begin with the presumption they are actually all innocent."

He never talks that way. It never crosses his mind that Arabs and others held at Gitmo, some for periods now nearing 5 years, are entitled to any kind of consideration, to any kind of legal avenue for reviewing the merits of any case against them. Maybe they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, maybe they aren't terrorists, maybe they never took up arms against the United States at all. The main purpose of judicial review (such as habeas corpus), at an early stage of detention, is to make certain that someone is being held on at least the basis of prima facie guilt, so that the de facto imposition of punishment, confinement for a term of years, is not meted out regardless of guilt or innocence simply because no means of redress is available.

Bush loses no sleep over any of this. Anyway, he has a fallback position. If the detainees aren't guilty of, or chareable with, any "crimes" against the United States, nevertheless they are "prisoners of war" who have been removed from the battlefield. That's where we found a lot of 'em: on the battlefield. Ergo, they're enemy soldiers who can be held until the "cessation of hostilities." When will the hostilities end? Well, how much time you got? The war against terror, as Bush has admitted, will never end. When you're fighting a noun instead of a nation or named adversary, it's difficult to have that deck-of-the-Missouri moment. The confinement at Gitmo, therefore -- also open-ended.

In that sense, Hamdan was one of the lucky ones. They charged him with something. He got his case heard, and although the Supreme Court ruled that the "conspiracy" charge against him was not a war crime cognizable in a military commission trial, the bare bones of a case could go forward against him. He could have a day in court.

Just not in any court Bush had set up as of the date of the Hamdan decision. That was the crux of the decision, the gravamen of the Court's holding. Bush's improvisational approach to criminal justice just hadn't produced anything compatible with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

And how, exactly, had Bush's quick knock-off of a trial system for Gitmo detainees run afoul of Geneva? It didn't meet this criterion:

d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

Reflect on that for a moment. Bush had devised a method of trial which did not measure up to the basic requirements of the civilized world. So it was back to the drawing board, since the Bush team now knew that Common Article 3 applied to Osama's hack. Of all the...and, hey, wait a minute! If the Geneva Conventions apply to this guy, then that means...

November 14, 2006

How Bush's Torture Train Went off the Rails: An Exegesis of Evil in Numerous Parts

Let us now consider how George W. Bush's future as a free man hangs so precariously by a slender thread.

Back in the happy-go-lucky days after September 11, when Bush could get away with nearly anything he wanted (and he wanted to get away with a lot), his naturally malevolent character motivated him to seek ways to violate the Geneva Conventions. It never mattered to George whether torture is "effective" or "productive." It doesn't matter to him whether it produces false or misleading evidence, as it undoubtedly does and has. His motivations were always malicious, and the whole giant barge of baloney floated under the "ticking time bomb" theory of justification was always way, way beside the point.

No, George wanted legal license to make certain various Sons of Allah, more or less snagged at random, suffer in ways that the civilized world prohibits, simply because Bush does not like the constraints of civilization. Why he doesn't is again entirely beside the point.

Thus it was that Bush commissioned his crack team of Inquisitors to research the law of torture and abuse and find legal loopholes that would permit him to violate the Geneva Conventions. Preferably with complete impunity. Alberto Gonzalez, at that time White House Counsel, was naturally eager to help. He had helped Bush set an American record for executions in Texas while George was Governor, and established an unblemished standard of never, ever granting clemency to any condemned convict, including the retarded and the patently insane. Gonzales, sensing the gravity (and the opportunity) of the mission, retained the help of John Yoo, a professor of law at Berkeley's Boalt Hall (the institution which has also spawned Phillip Johnson, the creationist apologist). Not surprisingly, Gonzalez and Yoo (and others eager to help, of course) found "the way forward." The al-Qaeda flotsam and jetsam falling into American hands in the mountains and poppy fields of Afghanistan weren't really humans at all. They were a kind of homo sapiens sub species known as "enemy combatants."

Bush was exultant. Waterboarding; beatings; mock executions; insanely loud music played in confined quarters for interminable periods; stress positions; the homoerotic fun of group nudity and sodomy; incarceration in dungeons and other shitholes; hypothermia; starvation and dehydration; fear, terror and intimidation. Even the occasional, lamentable death (46 at last count). All were now within the Administration's scaly grasp. What a great day for America. And on the surface of things, Bush seemed to have a pretty good case for his end-run around the norms of civilization. What law protected these untermenschen, if Article 3 read as follows?

Art 3. In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following
(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria. To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
(b) taking of hostages;
(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;
(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.
(2) The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.
An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.

So far, so good, thought Bush & the Gang. Maybe the Taliban prisoners, as soldiers of a "High Contracting Party," (Afghanistan) were entitled to some kind of grudging civility. But the real prizes, the al-Qaeda creeps - no such luck. All bets were off. Al-Qaeda was not a signatory to anything. Not even a country, let alone a "contracting party." Crank that wheel another turn, Torquemada!

Along comes the elderly kill-joy John Paul Steves, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Writing for the Court in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld:

"The Court of Appeals thought, and the Government
asserts, that Common Article 3 does not apply to Hamdan
because the conflict with al Qaeda, being “‘international in
scope,’” does not qualify as a “ ‘conflict not of an international
character.’ ” 415 F. 3d, at 41. That reasoning is
erroneous. The term “conflict not of an international
character” is used here in contradistinction to a conflict
between nations. So much is demonstrated by the “fundamental
logic [of] the Convention’s provisions on its
application.” Id., at 44 (Williams, J., concurring). Common
Article 2 provides that “the present Convention shall
apply to all cases of declared war or of any other armed
conflict which may arise between two or more of the High
Contracting Parties.” 6 U. S. T., at 3318 (Art. 2, ¶1). High
Contracting Parties (signatories) also must abide by all
terms of the Conventions vis-à-vis one another even if one
party to the conflict is a nonsignatory “Power,” and must
so abide vis-à-vis the nonsignatory if “the latter accepts
and applies” those terms. Ibid. (Art. 2, ¶3). Common
Article 3, by contrast, affords some minimal protection,
falling short of full protection under the Conventions, to
individuals associated with neither a signatory nor even a
nonsignatory “Power” who are involved in a conflict “in the
territory of” a signatory. The latter kind of conflict is
distinguishable from the conflict described in Common
Article 2 chiefly because it does not involve a clash between
nations (whether signatories or not). In context,
then, the phrase “not of an international character” bears
its literal meaning."

Upon such fine nuances may hang a man's entire future. Not so much a failure to read the fine print as a failure to appreciate the full import of the fine print. Hamdan, allegedly Osama's limo driver, was not "associated" with a signatory (the Afghan/Taliban or the United States), but he was, alas, "involved in a conflict 'in the territory' of a signatory" (Afghanistan). And, further alas, that conflict is "not of an international character" because as Bush, and Cheney, and Rumsfeld, and Addington, and Gonzalez, and Yoo, and Carbone and all the other charter members of Torture 'R Us keep insisting: Al Qaeda is not a nation, so it can't be involved in an international conflict, that is, one "between nations." Unfortunately for these future defendants (perhaps the near future, in Germany), this accurate observation had exactly the opposite effect to that hoped for.

So Common Article 3 is right on point. Oh, I know. It's so easy to figure something out once someone tells you the right answer.

Hamdan, it turns out, was a human being with rights under Article 3. Who could have imagined such a thing? The consequences of this revoltin' development, as Jimmy Durante would have said about something actually funny, will be spelled out next time.

November 10, 2006

Maybe the trial should be in Nuremberg

Posted Friday, Nov. 10, 2006
"Just days after his resignation, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is about to face more repercussions for his involvement in the troubled wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. New legal documents, to be filed next week with Germany's top prosecutor, will seek a criminal investigation and prosecution of Rumsfeld, along with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former CIA director George Tenet and other senior U.S. civilian and military officers, for their alleged roles in abuses committed at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba." Time Magazine

To say the least, there is considerable irony in the idea of German prosecution of American war crimes. The prospect of German legal proceedings against Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Carbone and others first surfaced two years ago and caused a diplomatic dust-up because of its effect on Rumsfeld's plan to attend a conference in Munich. Rumsfeld, now operating ex officio, is not faced with that difficulty anymore, although it's unlikely he's planning any idyllic sojourns in the Bavarian Alps at present. That case was terminated by the Germans on the theory the USA would deal with its own war criminals in its own way, under the complex network of American federal statutes which deal with torture and violations of the Geneva Conventions (the War Crimes Act). No doubt this rather fanciful notion served diplomatic purposes of the moment, and could not have been reflective of actual German sentiment.

Under Germany's Code of Crimes Against International Law, which was introduced in 2002, German courts have universal jurisdiction in war crimes and crimes against humanity. As another instance of irony, the U.S. largely led the way in establishing international precedent for the prosecution of war crimes following World War II, and presumably the Germans, once hoist on this petard themselves, would draw on the principles as the textual basis for a prosecution of alleged American war crimes. The USA, as noted, carries the same general principles on its own books as part of the War Crimes Act, the federal Anti-Torture Statute and the recently enacted Detainee Treatment Act (McCain bill) applying the anti-torture statute to all detainees in U.S. custody, whether or not designated "enemy combatants," an extension solidified by the decision in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld, in which the Supreme Court clarified the applicability of the Geneva Conventions to human beings in general, despite the strenuous efforts of Bush's Torture Brigade to create a special class of Untermenschen upon whom any atrocity or depraved act could be practiced with impunity, rather like another polity between 1933 and 1945.

The Supreme Court, having brought Bush up short with its Hamdan decision, motivated The Decider to decide to seek a get-out-of-jail free card in his Military Commissions Act. You may recall from an earlier Swim in the Pond that Bush was vociferous in his need, expressed in September, 2006, to get on with immediate trials at Guantanamo for his high value detainees being shipped there even as he spoke. Without risking too much sarcasm, one might note that (a) no trials are currently underway, as the Bush Administration fights mightily to deprive the inmates of counsel on the basis of Kafkaesque arguments also previously detailed, and (2) the real deadline Bush was up against was November 8, 2006, election day, when his pet Congress might turn a little unruly. The sole purpose of the MCA can be stated in the following, innocent-looking citations (the first is from the Military Commissions Act):

"(b) PROTECTION OF PERSONNEL.—Section 1004 of the Detainee
Treatment Act of 2005 (42 U.S.C. 2000dd–1) shall apply with respect
to any criminal prosecution that—
(1) relates to the detention and interrogation of aliens
described in such section;
(2) is grounded in section 2441(c)(3) of title 18, United
States Code; and
(3) relates to actions occurring between September 11,
2001, and December 30, 2005.

(The cited section from the Detainee Treatment Act reads in full as follows:)


(a) Protection of United States Government Personnel- In any civil action or criminal prosecution against an officer, employee, member of the Armed Forces, or other agent of the United States Government who is a United States person, arising out of the officer, employee, member of the Armed Forces, or other agent's engaging in specific operational practices, that involve detention and interrogation of aliens who the President or his designees have determined are believed to be engaged in or associated with international terrorist activity that poses a serious, continuing threat to the United States, its interests, or its allies, and that were officially authorized and determined to be lawful at the time that they were conducted, it shall be a defense that such officer, employee, member of the Armed Forces, or other agent did not know that the practices were unlawful and a person of ordinary sense and understanding would not know the practices were unlawful. Good faith reliance on advice of counsel should be an important factor, among others, to consider in assessing whether a person of ordinary sense and understanding would have known the practices to be unlawful. Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit or extinguish any defense or protection otherwise available to any person or entity from suit, civil or criminal liability, or damages, or to provide immunity from prosecution for any criminal offense by the proper authorities. (Italics added.)"

Neat, huh? Without actually ever mentioning the words "exculpation" or "exoneration" in the Military Commissions Act, Bush completes his task of artful dodging by incorporating another no-worries the Republicans gladly handed him. And the italicized language is simply priceless. Bush will rely on the advice of the High Inquisitioner himself, Alberto Gonzalez, aided and abetted by John Yoo (another potential German defendant, and a person who sullies the proud traditions of UC Berkeley), as part of his airtight defense against prosecution for War Crimes under American law. Alberto, in that memo I asked him to put together to justify torture of "enemy combatants," told me it was okay to torture enemy combatants. So how could I have been doing anything wrong? Our noble President: craven, sneaky, dishonest, irresponsible to the very last. What a role model!

Under these circumstances, the Germans, who now have the assistance of the U.S. legal team representing Guantanamo prisoners (Michael Ratner and the Lawyers for Constitutional Rights), and Janet Karpinski, the military fall-woman for the abuses of Abu Ghraib, can perhaps be excused from their earlier decision to exercise, as they say, judicial restraint. Not only does the United States have no intention of ever prosecuting anyone for war crimes, at least under present arrangements; the Congress is actively engaged in making sure the whole thing is covered up.

It's simply shameful. Why, the Germans and the rest of the civilized world may ask, should the United States actively shield war criminals from the consequences of their actions? The German High Command, at least, could argue they were being charged with crimes that were not on anyone's books. Rumsfeld and his ilk violated statutes and the clear provisions of the Geneva Conventions in existence long before they took that road to the "dark side." And no, Mr. Bush - Common Article 3 is not "vague"--it is intentionally general, because it forbids indecent acts, and any decent person understands that what went on at Abu Ghraib, what has gone on in Afghanistan and Guantanamo, what has happened in all those secret CIA dungeons, degrades and debases the United States of America and the legal principles on which it was founded.

An Open Letter to Nancy Pelosi

Dear Representative Pelosi:

Congratulations on your ascension to the Speakership of the House of Representatives. Like many other Northern Californians, I have watched the progress of your career from the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco to a position just two steps removed from the presidency. Throughout your career, you have conducted yourself, from everything I have been able to observe, with intelligence, grace, dignity and a sense of fair play.

I can understand, after 6 years of Bush's shameful leadership, your impulse to right the ship of state and proceed with a series of domestic and foreign legislative initiatives designed to assist ordinary Americans and to restore a sense of honor to America's standing in the world community. It is as if to say that the first task of the Democrats is to assure that the blood is made no redder, and that ameliorative steps, such as ethics reform, raising the minimum wage, funding stem cell research, taking real steps to deal with the existential threat of global warming, leveling the unfair playing field of trade agreements and other measures are urgent and must be delayed no further.

However, I take issue with your immediate reiteration (stated first during the campaign) that the impeachment of George W. Bush is "off the table." It is as if you have consigned this Constitutional perogative of the Congress to the trash bin of "politics as usual" or excessive "partisanship," and that from your perspective the fresh breeze blowing through Washington, D.C. is "about" (to use that overworked preposition) bipartisanship and cooperation "for the good of the American people." I have no doubt that your experience in politics makes you a far more savvy interpreter of political movements than I could ever hope to be. But I can't help feeling that you are succumbing, almost immediately, to an inside-the-Beltway style of business as usual, this time under the guise of a populist agenda of "reform," without really rocking the boat.

I think the boat needs rocking. I agreed with your assessments of President Bush made before the feel-good spectacle of the last couple of days; to wit, that he is chief Docent of the Republican "Culture of Corruption," that he is "incompetent," and that he is a "naked emperor." Your words, not ours, but about 70% of the American public agrees with you completely. The evidence in support of your evaluation is overwhelming. In fewer than six years:

Bush has left the Bill of Rights in tatters. He has destroyed the concept of the presumption of innocence. His despicable, junta-like disappearing of American citizens, such as (but not limited to) Jose Padilla as part of an undeclared "war on terror" has virtually no precedent, and certainly none we should be proud of. The Congress stood silently by while these abuses occurred, and they continue to occur even now. The Justice Department now argues at this very moment (with a straight, or perhaps smirking, face) that detainees at Guantanamo Bay who are to be tried before the tribunals established by the execrable (and unconstitutional) Military Commissions Act should not be allowed to talk to their attorneys because the detainees possess "top secret information" that would be disclosed in these conversations; namely, the location of the CIA dungeons where they were secretly kept, and the kind of tortures ("alternative interrogation techniques") practiced upon them. This kind of insanity would be farcical if it were not tragic. It bespeaks an "imperial" (to use your word) disregard for the rule of law.

So much for the Fifth and Sixth Amendments as they apply to detainees. For the abrogation of the rights of Americans to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment, we need look no further than President Bush's wholesale violations of the FISA law. Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University Law School, and Bruce Fein, formerly counsel in the Reagan Administration, have not hesitated to brand Bush's actions "felonious." He simply rode roughshod over the clear requirements of the FISA law to seek appropriate warrants, after lying to the American people that he had sought such authorization. And Congress did nothing.

As for the Eighth Amendment, and its prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, and Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, we have Bush's systematic and blatant authorization for the use of torture at every level of his war on terror, on every front, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. When the Hamdan case made clear that Common Article 3 applied to all detainees simply and only because they were human beings, despite Bush's attempt to create a class of humans upon whom any atrocity could be practiced, Bush was caught up short. He realized that even with the help of a go-along Congress and a mostly go-along Court, he had overstepped his bounds and was now in jeopardy of yet another felony indictment, this one for violation of the Federal Anti-torture Statute, which incorporates the Geneva Conventions as part of its definitional criteria. Since people have died as the result of American torture, the death penalty was potentially applicable. Thus, Bush sought, and Congress of course gave him, a full exoneration (as part of the Military Commissions Act) for any atrocity practiced on enemy combatants at any time since September 11, 2001. This shameful pardon now stands on the books of the United States Code Annotated. The legislation was rushed through in advance of the November elections. Bush knew what was coming, and the putative reason for hurry, the need to get the trials underway immediately, was of course another of Bush's misrepresentations.

I think this episode betrays more than many others Bush's true mindset as he faces the last two years of his Presidency. It accounts for his conciliatory and gracious attitude toward your ascension to the Speakership, and his invitation to lunch. He needed to assess what he was dealing with. You and the Democrats could make life very hard indeed for George W. Bush. So his initial gambit was his usual back-slapping, nickname-calling, utterly false bonhomie. He is as sincere in this attitude of goodwill as he was about firing anyone in his cabinet who was involved in the disclosure of Valerie Plame's CIA identity. It's another lie. It's another corrupt act. His goal is to co-opt the Democratic Congress so as to escape impeachment and indictment.

One could go on and on, of course. Bush's utter indifference to the fate of the Earth's climate, to the sale of the U.S.A. to foreign banks through budget and trade deficits, to war profiteering, to Americans without medical insurance, to the rule of law and respect for civil liberties. The list is so long it boggles the mind while it sickens the stomach.

Bush does not care about his legacy, his place in history or the welfare of the American people at large. A substantial majority of Americans know that, which is why Bush is so universally reviled. But it should be noted that before the election, American approval of Congress was even lower than Bush's job approval rating. I think that's because the American people see Congress as part of the problem. That Congress is in on it. That they have let Bush get away with everything. The Democrats have been given an opportunity to prove otherwise. To demonstrate they can clean house, and restore America's moral standing in the world community. If this opportunity is not seized, the American people will seek other solutions.

Whether the House impeaches Bush or not, I do not see the wisdom in "taking it off the table." This does not seem like good poker. The President is immune to moral suasion, to the appeals of reason, to the elicitation of his better angels. He understands power and the uses of fear. If I were Speaker, I would hold impeachment and the possibility of indictment over his head like a sword of Damocles. I would resist his importuning and play acting. I would use the power the American people had given me to keep him in line.


November 04, 2006

Just in case you're wondering whether Bush is really capable of "changing the tone"

"The government, in trying to block lawyers' access to the 14 detainees, effectively asserts that the detainees' experiences are a secret that should never be shared with the public.

"Because Khan 'was detained by CIA in this program, he may have come into possession of information, including locations of detention, conditions of detention, and alternative interrogation techniques that is classified at the TOP SECRET//SCI level,' an affidavit from CIA Information Review Officer Marilyn A. Dorn states, using the acronym for 'sensitive compartmented information.'" News reports on pretrial motions, United States vs. Khan.

So follow along with this if you can. In other words, travel with me all the way Through the Looking Glass into the Wonderland World of Bush's judicial logic.

Let us say that you are a "terrorist" who is "accused" of plotting "terrorist activity" in a "conspiracy (or otherwise)" against the United States. I use quotation marks for all these terms to suggest the contingent and amorphous nature of what we know so far about the "legal side" of the "war on terror." Which is to say, we don't really know anything. We don't have any idea who the people detained at Guantanamo are, what they did (if anything), or what they've been accused of (if anything). We just know there are several hundred men, overwhelmingly (exclusively?) Muslim, who may have been in Afghanistan at the time of the U.S. invasion in 2001, or they may be al-Qaeda "members" who have been captured there or elsewhere, and they may or may not have engaged in hostilities against the United States. Since the war on terror, under Bush's logic, can never end, and since it is customary to detain enemy combatants or prisoners of war until the cessation of hostilities, it is possible that these "enemy combatants" or "terrorists" or whatever the hell they are will be detained forever, unless they're tried, convicted and sentenced to death or to a term of years.

It used to be the case, under American jurisprudence, that the fact of detention or arrest did not prove anything. It started a legal process in motion whereby proof would be adduced and a decision made based on such evidence. In the case of an ordinary war conducted by a sane Commander in Chief, such as World War II, the capture of an enemy soldier, such as a German soldier confined in an American prisoner-of-war camp, simply resulted in temporary detention till the eventual cessation of hostilities, when the soldier would be repatriated.

In the insane world of Bushian America, however, we have neither of these situations. The confinement is open-ended; the detainees are termed "enemy combatants" because they are not recognized as members of a regular army entitled to repatriation, and repatriation is off the table anyway because the hostilities will never cease. That's why these "detainees" have been, in many cases, confined longer in Gitmo than probably any German soldier detained in an American POW camp during World War II. There is no way out. They're just "bad guys" without rights. Why are they bad? Perhaps they were engaged in hostilities against the United States during the Afghanistan war. Maybe they're people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, such as a heroin farmer taking his crop to market (for exportation to the United States, perhaps) when the American military came through. Maybe they're just three Pakistanis attending a friend's wedding, as happened to specific British nationals who endured a two-year nightmare of torture and abuse before their release.

One way you could find out what they did and whether they should be in Gitmo at all would be to furnish lawyers to represent them, and then conduct a hearing. You could call it "administrative habeas corpus," since we're loath to allow them the real kind, the kind where you go to an actual court. With the playing field slightly leveled, the detainee could present his case. The Bush Gang, seeing the difficulties involved in such normality, have now moved to block their access to legal counsel. And the reason? The detainees, whatever their low estate otherwise, have become privy to Top Secret Information. And what is that information? They are aware, perhaps, of the location of the secret dungeon where the CIA squirreled them away before transfer to Gitmo. And more. They know what the CIA did to them to extract information.

Well, it's plain as day to the Justice Department that these detainees, guilty by reason of detention, cannot be allowed to blab to their lawyers about the hellholes in which they were drowned, beaten and shocked into making confessions. That would compromise the security of the United States, since it's obvious that other terrorists, once informed of the nature of the drowning, beating and shocking, could easily resist without themselves coughing up a confession, false or otherwise. It doesn't need to make sense, of course. Nothing the Bush Administration ever does needs to make sense. "Preparing" yourself for torture doesn't help you resist torture, because there is no real preparation possible. But it's an argument, it's words on paper, anyway. It's worth a shot, because every other Medieval degradation of the rule of law proposed by the Bush Administration has, by and large, worked.

As I write this, Nancy Pelosi is making nice with President Bush at their festive lunch, where bygones will be bygones. They can talk about the minimum wage and the right of Medicare to engage in bulk negotiation with the pharma industry. The Dems will allow themselves to be co-opted, convincing themselves that Bush is a man they can do business with, a mistake also made by a group of diplomats who boarded a plane in Munich in 1938 and flew home to announce peace in their time.

November 01, 2006

Whither the USA after November 8?

Like millions of other Americans, I anxiously await the outcome of the elections on November 8, in the sense that one might anxiously await the successful deployment of a parachute after jumping from a plane 20,000 feet in the air. I would not say that absolutely everything hinges on displacing the Republican machine in this election, but if we don't...splat.

The United States has slowly but surely descended into gangsterism at the highest levels of government, a horror-filled development that even our overheated political discourse cannot bring itself to acknowledge openly. Once the Republican Congress decided to countenance flagrant violations of the law, to permit the commission of felonies by the Executive Branch without so much as a harsh word of protest, we lost our Constitutional form of government. I don't see how anyone can deny that. A right-wing polemicist might argue with a straight face that authoritarian rule in an unconstitutional manner is necessary because of external or internal threats to the security of the United States, but this is very different from arguing that the extra-legal actions of the Bush Administration comply with the spirit, letter or literal meaning of many federal statutes and constitutional provisions. And it must then be admitted that the United States has become not so different from the Soviet Union which Reagan called the Evil Empire. To preserve our existence, we have forfeited our freedoms and our adherence to the rule of law.

The specific examples of George W. Bush's misprisions have grown to such a long list that they're difficult to summarize. He has illegally wiretapped and intercepted the electronic communications of American citizens without a warrant, a felony and a violation of the Fourth Amendment. He established a systematic program of torture, a felony, a war crime, and a violation of the Eighth Amendment. He incarcerated American citizens without charges, denied them the right to counsel, denied them the right to a speedy trial, and disappeared them, a felony and a violation of the Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution. He has violated his oath of office over and over and over again.

The Republican Congress refused, on all occasions, ever to censure Bush or to reprimand him officially for any of these countless crimes and misprisions of office. Even the high-minded Republican Senators, like Arlen Specter, have voted to deprive "enemy combatants" of the right to habeas corpus in the Military Kangaroo Court Act, while openly acknowledging that the bill they supported with their votes was unconstitutional. In other words, obviously, unrepentantly, cavalierly violating their own oaths of office.

You see, gangsterism is catching. It is a kind of killer virus, and the infected gang members begin to confuse their own opinions, their own attitudes, with the rule of law. Once that happens, they break the law casually and routinely, as we are seeing now, in an accelerating fashion. They think what they want to do is good for the country, and if the law, or the American Constitution, says otherwise, then the law will have to give way. Who is going to tell them anything different?

That's where we are. It's a crucial point in American history. There will be widespread voter fraud on Tuesday. The question is whether the tidal wave of revulsion mounting against the gangsters in Washington is sufficient to overcome even that last-ditch scheme, that final criminal conspiracy. If not, after that...the deluge.

October 12, 2006

The Iraqi Dead

If the Johns Hopkins study recently published in The Lancet is correct, as many as 655,000 Iraqis have died as the result of the war since March 19, 2003. Since 1,303 days have passed since Shock 'N Awe Eve, Iraqis have been dying violent deaths at the rate of 503 persons per day, as the high average. Administration pronouncements this week declare that U.S. forces will remain in Iraq until at least 2010. For the sake of simplicity, if we assume this "date certain" (which it cannot be, since Bush feels this would embolden the terrorists, although it's difficult to see how they could become much bolder) is March 20, 2010, or 7 full years after the war started, then from an extrapolation of the death toll incurred to date (again, as the high estimate) we can calculate total Iraqi deaths by the formula 365 x 7 x 503 = 1,285,165.

Give or take a corpse or two. Remembering that Iraq began this war with about 25 million people (about 900,000 have left Iraq for surrounding countries since the war began, in addition to the war dead), we could analogize the effect on Iraq by scaling up the figures to a country the size of the United States, with 300 million people. If the United States is about 12 times the size of Iraq, then 600,000 dead is comparable to 7.2 million dead Americans, and 10,800,000 refugees, equivalent to total disruption in the lives of 18 million Americans.

Confronted yesterday with the carnage caused by his war of choice, President Bush sullenly disputed the Johns Hopkins study by saying its methodology had been "discredited." The passive voice is telling in the circumstances. "Discredited" by what organization, by what statistician, by what probability theorist? Surely it is not enough when talking about a disaster of this magnitude to dismiss a peer-reviewed study in Europe's most prestigious medical journal with a one-word perjorative, particularly when Bush's only comeback, when asked for his own estimate, is to assert again (in his awful grammar) that "a lot of innocent people have lost their life." Bush is the Commander in Chief and this war is the centerpiece of his presidency. He ought to know everything about it. If necessary, he ought to put L'Etranger and Hamlet to one side and pick up a statistics text and acquaint himself with sampling methodology. For that matter, he ought to read the Johns Hopkins study and find out why it was necessary for them to count dead by random sampling in the first place. Then, and only then, should he offer an opinion on the "discredited methodology" of the analysis. He might find, in fact, there is something to it. If so, he might begin to understand, however dimly, why Iraqis don't share his enthusiasm for the American occupation. He might conclude that it's high time the U.S. military chose to cut and run.

October 10, 2006

Why does the Dear Leader want to talk to us?

Among the official mysteries that trouble my sleep occasionally is the ongoing insanity about "multilateral" versus "one-on-one" "talks" with North Korea. I simply don't get it. While I have a hard time understanding why the Bush Administration is so adamant that it's impossible to talk directly to North Korea without a bunch of friends also in the room (Japan, China, Russia, etc.), I can't figure out why Prime Minister Pompadour insists it must must be an intimate tete-a-tete with the United States. In this morning's news, North Korea now threatens to launch a nuclear missile, outfitting one of its balky missiles with that contraption that may or may not have detonated on Sunday. (The weirdest idea is that N. Korea may have "faked" a nuke by exploding a vast pile of conventional explosives to simulate a low-kiloton-yield weapon.)

Anyway, the idea is now circulating that the USA blew its chance to head North Korea's nuke aspirations off at Pyongyang Pass by shunning Kim Jong, or not returning his calls, or maybe by not picking up the phone the morning after. The whole thing has the feeling of a jilted lover scenario. The Dear Leader does have a touch of the epicene about him, after all. Payback: it's a bitch. It's like a crazy girl friend you're trying to let down easy. First she waves a gun around. Then she actually fires off a shot. Now she's threatening to come over and burn your house down. She seems to do each thing she warns you about. Kim Jong has been following that pattern, firing missiles into the Sea of Japan, detonating nukes (maybe), now threatening to put the two together and shoot that sucker off.

All because we won't return his/her calls, or because we always show up with the guys and switch on the plasma to watch the game of the week, thwarting her chance to speak intimately, to give her a chance to prove we belong with her. So now we've gone to the UN and ganged up on her, isolating her in her madness.

All she wanted to do was talk...

Well, not really. Not probably. Thus endeth the cute analogy. There is an element of contradiction in the current criticisms of Pres. Bush. On one hand, the supposition is that talking to Kim Jong would have convinced him not to build nukes. On the other hand, the grave danger perceived by liberals arises from the possession of a nuclear arsenal by an unstable lunatic. Putting these two ideas together (which is never done in mass media analysis, since the arguments on either side would lose their partisan topspin), we get the idea that the U.S. should have had unilateral talks with an unstable lunatic to convince him not to build nukes. That does sound like one of those exit conversations with the crazy girl friend where you try to convince her, for the sake of getting out the door, that she'll actually be better off without you. That seems to work till you slide behind the wheel at the curb, turn the ignition and find the starter motor has been wired with C-4 explosives.

As an amateur fan of psychoanalysis, I like looking for unconscious motivations which seem to explain behavior that is not entirely rational on its surface. Talking, cajoling, manipulating, importuning a nut job is not going to result in a stable peace, yet this is the fond hope of liberals who are as troubled by a lunatic's possession of nuclear weapons as are conservatives on the right. Blaming the existence of such bombs on a "failure of negotiation" displaces one's fear. There is hope as long as the idea persists that reason can prevail over madness.

As a direct analogy, I notice no one on the liberal side currently talks about the development of nuclear bombs by Pakistan. The finalization of its advanced program occurred entirely during the Clinton Administration, in the mid-1990's. A.Q. Khan, who has operated a kind of mail-order House O' Apocalypse, is a nuclear physicist who received advanced training in metallurgy in Germany in the 1970's. He brought his expertise home to Islamabad and Pakistan, without signing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and while shunning all international inspections, proceeded to build bombs using advanced uranium enrichment technology and plutonium. With no effective restraint from the United States or the world community, Pakistan then proceeded with a heavy program of nuclear testing. All while the Clinton Administration looked impotently on, while South Asia became the most dangerous place on Earth. Thus, we have the Islamic Bomb, and the idea Pakistan is a "stable" nation that cannot cause any problems for U.S. interests is of course a fantasy.

The most dangerous process in the history of the world is thus "robustly" underway, in the buzzword of the Zeitgeist, and proliferation of nuclear weapons among nations with unstable regimes, who refuse inspections, and who have already demonstrated a willingness to traffic in the sale and transfer of nightmares, proceeds apace. No wonder we wish that talking would make it all go away. It won't. We ain't seen nothin' yet.

October 09, 2006

Dear Leader Nukes Foley's Hot Buns Off Front Page

Those post-pubescent Congressional pages can put their tape measures away for good, I guess. Mark Foley is in rehab for his drinking habit, and Kim Jong Ill has relegated the pages to back pages anyway with his underground test of an atomic bomb yesterday. Sic semper gloria mundi.

As a resident of the West Coast, I was always inclined to take North Korea's development of nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles more seriously than the shenanigans of yet another child molestor, even before the Dear Leader, he of the dubious fashion statements and even dubiouser hairstyle, exploded an atomic bomb on Sunday. Democratic party leaders, of course, are bummed; they were counting on the Foley "scandal" to last through all of October, having finally found an "issue" worthy of the American electorate, that vast, uncharted Jerry Springer Green Room, the great unwashed and uninformed denizens whom H.L. Mencken dubbed the "Booboisie." Foley's obsession with teenage ass was supposed to be the Democrats' Monica Lewinsky, and the press was playing along, discovering one pocket of "corruption" after another, demonstrating that the Republican claim to be the party of family values was hypocritical, and their inability to protect the pages from "inappropriate" IMs from a Congressional creep was the final proof of their "incompetence."

Yeah, that's it.

The cynicism which characterizes political discourse in this country has become so extreme that I'm not sure my Alice in Wonderland metaphor can quite state the case anymore. No one on either side of the American debate takes the voters seriously. And maybe you can't. 50% of the American populace believes, for example, that the U.S. found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. While over 60% of the Iraqi populace likes seeing American soldiers blown up in Iraq, 40% of the American populace still essentially approves of the war. Such examples can be multiplied till the cows come home. You do not sway the American populace with carefully reasoned analyses of the issues. You jerk them around with scandals and name-calling.

Thus, the Democrats have put together a publicity program which is intended to analogize the Republican leadership of the House to a deceiving Archdiocese. Foley is the libidinous priest with poor impulse control, but the Bishops won't discipline him. They cover for him, while the pages, the altar boys in this scenario, are left to fend for themselves. It's a movie the American public has seen and they can follow along, and that's the critical factor. Then the Democrats can seize control and begin their own programs of self-aggrandizement, and Congress can get back to the serious work of holding hearings and investigating itself, just like the good old days.

Meanwhile, the glaciers will continue to melt, the oceans will acidify, the American standard of living will continue to fall, and Premier Poof-Hair will go right along assembling his nuclear bombs for West Coast delivery.

October 08, 2006

Self-Fulfilling Religious Prophecies, and the High Road to Atheism

First, a congratulatory note to George Smoot of UC Berkeley's Physics Department for winning the Nobel Prize. It was a stunning achievement to confirm the way in which the Universe was formed on the basis of such subtle evidence. He has done my alma mater proud.

Meanwhile, back in American Reality, debates continue to rage about whether the Earth is 6,000 years old or somewhat less than the age of the (current?) Universe, about 14 billion. Perhaps just an honest difference of opinion. Or perhaps not. The persistence of irrational thinking in human affairs, even at this "late" date of human civilization, is probably a reliable indicator it's here to stay. Sorry, Sigmund, but your salutary hope that mankind would someday rise above the "illusion" you described in The Future of an Illusion has not yet come to pass, and that "future" you talked about? It's now, and things are as bad as ever. One could argue they're worse than ever, as the apocalyptics cheer on our impending demise brought about, in large part, because apocalyptics think an impending demise is a good thing.

If we're going to follow Hawking's advice and preserve some human DNA on Mars, it might be best to search for a Human Genome 2.0 which could avoid the mischief apparently inherent in Version 1.0. That one was obviously shipped before complete debugging, and we've paid a terrible price for rushing to market.

By the way, think about this idea, which I owe almost completely to a parallel line of thought first penned by Richard Feynman, another eminent physicist who liked thinking about ultimate questions. Feynman thought that religous thinking could be grouped into "believers" and "atheists," and that all interim categories, such as agnostics, could be eliminated. Just like him to go deep and eliminate unnecessary complications. You get there as follows:

Belief in a Supreme Being is a conscious state characterized by faith. If you believe, you believe. You can describe the god so conceived as anything you like, a Consciousness, an anthropomorphic God, or some shadowy, insubstantial presence so ethereal that Freud puckishly said that such backpedaling led to "taking the Lord's name in vain." Very clever, that Sigmund. In New Age parlance, it might be called "Spirit" (on the Oprah Show also). Anyway Someone or Something is up there, out there, around here. You can talk or communicate with it perhaps, through prayer or meditation.

Anyone who doesn't believe, in the positive, conscious sense described above, is an atheist. If, for example, you claim you simply don't know how the Universe was formed or created, or whether there's an ultimate cause, or a spiritual meaning to life, you certainly are not, by such declaration, affirming your "faith." On the other hand, you are admitting that you lack that positive, conscious affirmation in a divinity, etc. Lacking such faith, you are an atheist.

The wiggle room sought by agnostics (a kind of propitiation of the gods, I suspect - ancient habits die hard) is achieved by driving a distinction between "knowing" and "thinking" or perhaps "believing." Agnostics claim they simply don't know if there is a god or Supreme Being, but they don't rule it out. The distinction, for such questions, is specious, because no one can rule it out. Of course you don't know. Similarly, you can't really say you "know" there is no Supreme Being. We have no tools or sensory apparatus available to us in our Universe that allow us to determine singular conditions existing before the Big Bang (outside of our space-time continuum) or what may have occurred in prior Universes, and the possibility always exists, of course, that the real solution to Leibnitz's question, why is there Something instead of Nothing?, lies in data that are simply not accessible to the human sensory apparatus.

So, think it through and see if Feynman, as usual, hasn't simplified the issue profoundly. You're a believer or you're an atheist. You profess faith, as a positive, conscious attitude, or you don't, and if you're in the second category, however you arrive there, you're an atheist, although in the second category, of course and as in all human endeavors, there is a lot of jostling about who is more pious in their godlessness.