July 03, 2007

White House Announces Alternative Benchmarks

"The Iraqi government is unlikely to meet any of the political and security goals or timelines President Bush set for it in January when he announced a major shift in U.S. policy, according to senior administration officials closely involved in the matter. As they prepare an interim report due next week, officials are marshaling alternative evidence of progress to persuade Congress to continue supporting the war." Washington Post, July 8, 2007.

[following is a transcript of President Bush's remarks today in a Rose Garden conference with the press - July 10, 2007]

Good afternoon. I'd like to make a reporting on significant new progress in the war on terror, specifically Iraq, where's the military is engaged in active ongoing operations against an entrenched foe and al-Qaeda. We're making steady progress, and I am in constant communication with actual military commanders on the ground. In other words, we're making good progress and I'm basing these assessment and other on what military personnel is saying directly instead of legislating a war plan in the Congress. Some of the highlight to specify or to make further note of include a number of perameters which is highly suggestible of good progress. In other words, toward a goal, which is victory, which is criteria we are constantly reviewing and not just staying the course.

Some of these indicators are folks just living their life in Baghdad now in peaceful ways that before was made harder by evildoers and killers who hate their freedoms and the new democracy and institutions which is developed. On a Tuesday in the third week of May, as just one example, a Shiite unemployed teacher had a kebab lunch with his family and two Sunnis were also there and enjoyed the fine food. In other words not all this civil war talk you hear so much around this town really is like that. It's not all death squads.

Since 9-11 the world has changed. These foe are determined and will not give up their desperate fight on a Congress timetable. Six more years later after 9-11 when America was attacked by a ruthless ideology. We're taking the attack to these same ruthless foe now. In other words, we've gone on offense since 9-11.

Some perameters which can be seen in Iraq now includes fewer dead bodies on the Baghdad streets on typical mornings. In other words, fewer corpses. Today we are finding fewer bodies and often the heads are still attached. There is still too many headless bodies and drill holes in the skulls, often though with fewer drill holes than one more year before these count. Exploding cars in Baghdad are downward also with fewer cars actually blowing up on many days. In other words the streets can be more peaceful with less cars exploding in Baghdad. Also we are not counting the dead bodies from car bombs because too many Americans we're seeing cars blow up in their TVs and thinking that no progress was being made because of body counts, which we do not do. Far too many mosques are being blown up in Baghdad still, often in acts to retaliate because one group, the Sunnis, will blow up a mosque of the Shia. Then the Shia will often blow up a mosque which is Sunni. In other words, tit for tat. This is sectarian violence which is ongoing in Iraq, but some perameters are trending down, though not all or as many as you would like yet. Also our focus is al Qaeda, the same murdering ideology which changed the world by attacking us on 9-11 and we are taking the battle to the enemy. In other words not just waiting to be hit again. Iraq continues to step up so we can step down with many units fully operational according to commanders on the ground who report to me, although morale problems and the militia problem remains problematical, with units not always reporting for duty, but fewer incidents of Iraq army units we trained fighting against as militia are being reported.

The Iraq Parliament cut short its summer vacation and are in the Green Zone, where security remains good, although commanders do report daily attacks by evildoers on the Zone by mortar and artillery. Even in these conditions the brave new democracy meets and talks and while they do not yet have a oil law or any power sharing agreement, democracy is hard work. In other words you talk and then you agree, and Prime Minister Maliki, who reports often to me, is assuring this kind of talking and progress through agreement.

The biggest mistake we could make would be to heed the call of some who want to break off the fight with al Qaeda now when progress is steady, not as fast as we or other wants, but toward a goal of a stable Iraq. I urge the Congress to see the plan through and to give it a real chance to work. I would be glad to take any questions now.

The President Covers His Tracks

On the legality of Bush's commutation of Libby's sentence, there is not a lot to say. Critics can rant and rave all they want, but there it is in the Constitution, Article II, Sec. 2, where the President, on an unqualified basis,

shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.
The Supreme Court has construed this power (which applies only in the case of federal law, such as the offenses for which Libby was convicted) to include the power to commute sentences, for any reason, for no reason, for a bad reason. The power has always been controversial, harking back as it did to the British king's power to let political allies off the hook. The more things change, the more they seem the same.

Looking at matters circumspectly, it is obvious that L'Affaire Plame is the true legal Achilles heel for both Bush and Cheney. It strains credulity well past the breaking point to believe, for a moment, that Bush did not know, in detail and in real time, everything there was to know about the coordinated leaks to the press which occurred in July, 2003. The press has been remarkably timid and reticent about this point, choosing to accept the ludicrous idea that Bush was telling the truth when he expressed his determination "to get to the bottom of the leak" etc. ad nauseum in the summer and fall of 2003, before he went underground with the excuse that he did not want to comment on an "ongoing investigation." Since we now know, to a moral certainty, that Cheney, Rove and Libby, among others, already knew everything there was to know about the leaks, what are the odds Bush was not similarly in the loop? His Vice President knew everything Bush professed not to know at the very time Bush was making statements to create the impression he did not know anything. We also know, from hearings which Henry Waxman conducted, that the White House's own office of security did not even open a file to investigate the leak. How, then, was Bush conducting his "inquiry?" There was no inquiry because Bush already knew the whole story. If he didn't know it as it happened, he knew when Cheney told him immediately after.

Lawyers use "Canons of Interpretation" to construe statutes, contracts, and other legal matters. For example, where a contractual matter is ambiguous, the interpretation least favorable to the drafter of the document is employed. The enumeration of specific things in a statute is assumed to be to the exclusion of things not mentioned, unless a contrary intent appears. And so forth. The main Canon of Interpretation to use with George W. Bush's every action and utterance is this: the man never does or says anything out of principle if such action could possibly be to his own detriment. Applying the Bush Canon to the Libby commutation, we see what's going on with renewed clarity. By commuting, instead of pardoning (which will come later), Libby remains in technical legal "jeopardy." (Try not to snort your July Fourth beer out of your nose as you read that.) Thus and therefore, when Libby's oft-testifying ass is hauled before a Congressional panel to find out what Bush and Cheney knew and when they knew it, he can escape, for now, with a Fifth Amendment plea. A blanket pardon would remove this cover for Bush and Cheney. That is the sum and substance of what is going on.

In the long run, Bush and Cheney know there is no way out of this trap other than pardons for both of them. They obstructed justice by failing to disclose the truth when they first knew it; they deliberately misled investigators and the American public. They are trying to run out the clock, with the feckless assistance of the pusillanimous press. Bush will eventually pardon Cheney, then resign, and Cheney will pardon Bush. They are going to give Article II, Section 2 a real workout. Just wait and see.

July 02, 2007

Musing about "SICKo"

Michael Moore, like Woody Allen, inspires a lot of envy among reviewers and other creative artists who wonder how these two can so inerrantly and consistently put successful movies up on the screen, and so they draw more than their fair share of ad hominem attacks. For example, Woody's amorous oddities are portrayed as pedophilia and Moore's critics are quick to note how fat and slovenly he is. It is true that Moore is grossly fat and dresses like a slob, and there is an irony to his appraisal of the American healthcare system, since it seems that a great deal of America's health woes can be traced to the epidemic of obesity, with its concomitant high incidence of diabetes, heart disease, failing leg joints and other problems. These are problems he never mentions in his film.

Nevertheless, "SICKo" is a superb movie. Moore has learned to avoid some of the annoying tricks and tropes of his earlier documentaries, such as the quick-cut collages, statistical inaccuracies (e.g., comparing total murders in Canada to the U.S. in "Bowling for Columbine," despite the great difference in population) and conspiracy-theory deadends. These habits set him up for easy refutation and a perhaps deserved reputation for doing agit-prop as opposed to documentaries. Contrariwise, I don't think there is a refutation to "SICKo." As the title of his film suggests, America's healthcare system is a sick joke. It is the ultimate expression of our end-point devolution from cohesive society to Darwinist nightmare. American citizens face awful decisions on an everyday basis, whether insured or uninsured, such as Moore's opening sequence about a woodworker who had to choose between reattaching his middle finger for $60,000 or his ring finger for $12,000; lacking insurance, his middle finger was thrown into an Oregon landfill. In an evenhanded, unforced, let-the-facts-speak-for-themselves way, Moore asks ironic questions of hospitals and healthcare workers in Canada, Great Britain, France and finally Cuba. "Where do people pay after they stay at the hospital?" "Where is the admissions office to see if my insurance will cover this emergency visit?" In one hilarious moment, he finds the "Cashier" window at an English hospital, only to learn that the office dispenses money to patients so they can take a cab ride home.

In the most celebrated sequence of the movie, his trip to Cuba by flotilla of small boats to seek care for 9-11 rescue workers who could not get coverage for their lung and PTSD problems in the U.S., his crew of patients are first told they cannot receive the care given to the "evildoers" at Guantanamo Bay, so they travel instead to Havana, where all of them are given compassionate, first-rate treatment by Cuban doctors and therapists, for free and apparently with few questions asked. A lung patient is given an inhalant drug which costs 5 cents in Cuba and $120 in the U.S. One's empathic state at this point is such is that all you care about is that these ravaged, miserable souls (one rescue worker had worn his teeth to stumps with PTSD grinding; he was given a full set of new teeth) finally found someone in the medical profession to take care of them.

Then in an immediate and heartbreaking transition to Los Angeles, we are witness, by video camera, to the practice of USC Hospital's dumping of mentally deranged homeless at the rescue mission in South Central L.A. Cutting off the identifying plastic bracelets, hospitals in the area simply buy a one-way cab ride to the shelter for the indigent, insane, uninsured detritus who can't pay for confinement, with instructions to the cab driver to dump them on the sidewalk. Two countries, two systems.

Some criticism has come Moore's way, of course, about his failure to prescribe a specific remedy. This is ironic, indeed. I am not sure, from the somber tone of this movie, that Moore really means to suggest a solution. He is more like a pathologist doing an autopsy. At one point he overvoices a question which had occurred by the same moment to most audience members: is this who we really are? I thought about this question as I left the theatre. I think maybe this question had already been answered by the Katrina debacle. America's reaction to that tragedy was to treat the victims as a TV show. There was great wringing of hands, for a while, about the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people whose lives were ruined, about all the helpless who drowned or died on the streets. We got over it pretty fast. Probably three-quarters of a million people have died in Iraq because of the American invasion, but we have no official policy of counting them and snipe at people (Johns Hopkins researchers, e.g.) who do. There is no "national conversation" about that, and the official candidates for President consider such a disquieting datum unacceptable in polite debate.

So we're not going to have a national healthcare service in this country. We have Medicare for the elderly, a flawed system which tries to co-exist with the health-for-profit system it's integrated into, but it's headed for a fiscal brick wall along with Social Security. No money is going to be pried loose from the $1 trillion allocation of the discretionary budget given over to war, armaments and intelligence. No serious presidential candidate running in 2008 is proposing universal care, in the sense all other Western industrial democracies already possess, and such a plan, if proposed, would never get through Congress. The flip-point for Social Security and Medicare, when they go red in the middle of the next decade, will ensure that calls for a national health service are labeled unrealistic and unaffordable, while America's "defense" needs are greater than ever, since so many young Muslim men have access to fertilizer and C-4 explosives.

Moore's movie has the quiet, respectful tone of a requiem, or of a grave prognosis made on the basis of a symptom that finally spells the end, despite all heroic efforts to reverse the course of the disease. Let his detractors say what they will, it is a masterwork.