September 29, 2007

A Request to Congress for Assistance

Dear Congress:

You don't know me, and perhaps you're not very interested in my situation because I'm not a big campaign donor. I want you to know that I did give to the campaign of John Kerry because I was very concerned about the prospect of four more years of George W. Bush as President, a fear that I might add has been validated to a certain degree. I was a little disappointed that Mr. Kerry didn't actually spend all the money on his campaign, since that's why I gave it to him, but hey, you know? I'm just a citizen, not a powerful insider.

But that's not actually why I'm writing. This has to do with something that happened to me when I was walking home from school in 1959. I was in the fifth grade at the time, and this other kid (I'll call him "Dicky T.", because that's close to his name) ran up behind me and pushed me hard, which hurt. Then he challenged me to a fight, and we threw a few punches, the way kids in my neighborhood did, and a couple of them hit me in the face and really stung. I'm glad I don't have to get in neighborhood fights anymore. Around here, people just file lawsuits.

Anyway, here's the deal: I'm not trying to say that Dickie T.'s attack was completely "out of the blue," you know what I mean? It actually started that day on the playground when we were playing tetherball. Dickie T. and I were two of the better players and a pretty fierce rivalry had sprung up between us. I mean, sure - Rudy and Eric were good too, but I think they were playing kickball that day. So Dickie T., he was skinny (we were all pretty skinny in those days because of a high fructose corn syrup deficiency) and had this white hair and blue eyes and just looked sort of irritating, you know? A little bit like Eddie Haskell, not that I think someone should be condemned just because of the way he looks. Anyway, Dickie T. stood in the back of his half-circle and jumped up and caught the ball right where the rope connected to the eye-hook, and then flung the ball over my head and wrapped the pole and won the game. Okay, as you know, you can't do that. You have to hit the ball, not grab the rope. I called him on it. "You lose the game, Dickie T.," I said, "because you cheated." We were too young to know what taking umbrage was, but if we had been older, that's what Dickie T. would have taken, and he said so, or in effect that's what he said, because he said, "You wanna make somethin' of it?"

I always hated hearing that. Nothing good ever followed it. Anyway, the bell rang, fortunately, and we went back to class, and that was it. I thought. Until I got blindsided later that afternoon. So here's my request. I saw where you guys took Move.On to task for exercising a First Amendment right to free speech because you didn't like what they said. I didn't know you could do that kind of stuff! Now I see where maybe you're going to do another censure resolution against Rush Limbaugh because he said Iraqi veterans who oppose the war are "phony soldiers." Why should he be allowed to say stuff like that? What kind of country is this? So while you're at it, could you add an earmark or a rider or whatever you call it to one of those bills or motions and censure Dickie T.? You know as well as I do that you can't grab the tetherball the way Dickie T. did that day, and you sure as heck shouldn't run up behind another kid and shove him in the back and then start a fight when you're the one in the wrong. Dickie T., if you ask me, never really paid a price for that, other than a couple of feeble punches from another eleven year old, and that's nothing. But a Congressional censure - I'm not sure where Dickie T. is these days, but can you imagine how surprised he'll be when he finds out he's been taken to task by Congress? He probably thinks Congress just concerns itself with big issues like war and balancing the budget and healthcare and doesn't get involved in private controversies where it shouldn't be taking sides.

We'll show him. Thanks for your help with this.

September 27, 2007

The fall of previous Fascist Dictatorships

Everywhere there's lots of piggies
Living piggy lives.
You can see them out for dinner

With their piggy wives
Clutching forks and knives
to eat their bacon.
--George Harrison, "Piggies"

I've been reading a superb new book about post-war Italy called "The Fall of Mussolini," by Oxford historian Philip Morgan, which recounts, among other things, the colorful period toward the end of World War II and its bloody aftermath in Italy. The Italians, with the operatic and grandiose tendencies which adorn their culture, dealt with the problem of Fascists and German collaborators with the kind of direct brutality, and disregard of judicial nuance, which makes an episode of "The Sopranos" seem like a Neil Simon comedy. There is the fairly well-known case of Mussolini himself, who, after his dramatic rescue by German commandos from his mountain top hotel "prison" in September, 1943, was installed by Hitler in a gilded cage in the town of Salo, on the shore of Lago di Garda in the north. The Allies eventually crossed the Gustav Line and then the Hitler Line in the north, and in April, 1945, Mussolini was spirited away from his "capital" by a German SS convoy, heading toward the neutrality of Switzerland. Alas for Il Duce, his lame disguise of a German helmet and reading glasses did not fool the partisans who ambushed the patrol near Lake Como. Along with several confederates and his mistress, Clara Petacci, Mussolini was taken to a farm house and shot, along with the other captives. The bodies were taken to Milano, where Musso and Clara were hung upside down in the Piazzale Loreto, and the well-documented (and photographed) desecration of the bodies took place. For the Italians, it was a necessary catharsis.

This was far from the only instance of reprisal and vendetta, however. It was a national phenomenon. Among many other episodes, there is the notorious storming of the prison at Schio, in July, 1945, where the partisans short-circuited the legal process by picking out the Fascists they considered appropriate for rough justice and shooting 54 of the prisoners, including 13 women. The principle of omerta, with which we're so familiar because of Francis Ford Coppola movies, prevented any legal action against the perpetrators, who were considered heroes in any event.

Mussolini was in power for 21 years between 1922 and 1943, when he was removed from office by fellow Fascists (including his son-in-law, Ciano), and the Third Reich lasted 12 years. It seems very likely, however, that both regimes could have survived indefinitely if Hitler had not initiated World War II. Finished totalitarian states create their own inertia by closing off the means of effective opposition. Another example, of course, is the Soviet Union, which existed as a dictatorship from 1917 to 1991. I think it's reasonable to say that none of these regimes disappeared because of internal democratic forces. Germany and Italy were conquered from without; the Soviet Union collapsed because of internal rot.

As I have said before, I don't think the USA is in that class of Great Tyrannies of History; however, it is clear that since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 that the United States has drifted increasingly toward an authoritarian, militaristic, right wing form of government, a process broken only briefly by that most talented and unprincipled of huckster/gasbags, William Jefferson Clinton, and if anyone can figure out his true political beliefs, drop me a line. I've always been curious. America's governmental style has been called "corporatist," which makes the most sense; the influence of big money on national priorities is unmistakable, and both parties, to stay in power, must play the fund raising game with all its attendant corruption. Along the way, we've learned to tolerate breaches of the Constitution and civil liberties which would have been unthinkable 30 years ago. The Fourth and Fifth Amendments (unreasonable search and seizure; due process) survived the war against the Nazis and the Japanese Empire, but apparently will not remain intact after an attack by 19 Arabs hijacking four airplanes.

The Republicans pushed this thing so far that they lost seats in both the House and Senate in 2006; however, let us never forget that George W. Bush actually received a majority of votes in this country in November, 2004, not even 3 years ago. Parse it any way you will, but that represented a vote with full knowledge of the fraudulent basis of the Iraq War, the Valerie Plame disclosures, Guantanamo, Jose Padilla, Abu Ghraib, the torture regime, and so much more. And even when the Democrats were given power, we saw that their predilections turn out to be very similar to their Republican brethren. They will spend any amount on defense (more than the combined defense budgets of the rest of the world) while paying lip service to other national needs, and will do nothing to remedy the dire fiscal problems of the USA, with its collapsing dollar and exploding national debt.

So I don't think the American people are going to vote their way out of these trends. That says something fairly profound about the nature of democracy; countries change their fundamental nature more by cataclysm than by evolution, once reactionary processes set in. When it happens, it might be good not to appear too prosperous or powerful, as the Italian Fascists learned to their abrupt horror in post-war Italy. The peasantry might not know how to vote, but they know who's been feeding at the trough of corruption.

September 26, 2007

Hidden Agendas Nos. 12 and 35

If you are, like your faithful correspondent (by which I mean I write what I write in good faith), possessed of a skeptical turn of mind, you probably often find yourself these days muttering imprecations concerning the current Congress, which has been in office since January, and is now entering its 9th full month in "power." Some of your sotto voce comments might take the form, "what the fu'?" This is entirely understandable. There has been no change whatsoever in the course of the war in Iraq, other than an escalation of both the cost and commitment of soldiers. Congress has now been asked for an additional $190 billion for the "global war on terror," meaning the ongoing military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a betting man would not go in heavy against Bush getting exactly what he wants.

So we have to face facts at a certain point. While the Democrats have gotten fairly proficient at throwing skeet into the air for Bush to blast out of the sky with his trusty veto-gun, it's becoming obvious that the "majority" party will only nibble around the edges of the war debate. We have seen "nonbinding" timelines, and "nonbinding" benchmarks, and troop rotation rules, and now the Biden amendment, which will advance "soft partition" as governing U.S. policy, and several other ideas which, aside from not passing or getting vetoed if they do pass, would not make much difference to Bush's policy of endless war in any case.

I'm sitting at a pine table with my feet up, my keyboard in my lap and the green trees of an American suburb visible through the window. No "insider" is calling me on the phone to give me the real story; thus, it seems unlikely that a casual observer such as myself could deduce something which is not already apparent to legislators who do this kind of thing for a living. The Democrats know that they were given a majority on a platform of ending the war. They have not ended the war, nor do they intend to end it. Reading one or two things I wrote last March, I actually thought they were going to end the thing by denying Bush any funding without a binding timetable on withdrawal. That is not the case. So the Democrats are playing a game in which they pretend to vindicate their November "mandate" by tossing up a bewildering array of proposals to "affect" the war without actually ending it in the cynical belief that no one will notice that the war is still going on; or, they hold the even more cynical view that if we don't like it, we can pound sand, because there's no one else left to vote for.

As Hardy once said to Laurel (many times, actually), "Isn't that a fine turn of events?" So moving along with this deductive analysis, which I'm starting to get into, we reach another branching point. Do the Democrats not believe the polls that an overwhelming majority of Americans want to see this war ended as soon as possible? Or, do the Democrats actually represent someone else other than the people who put them in office?

As to the polls: come on. How clear can things get? So we're left with the second point - the Democrats represent the same interests as the Republicans, but they work from the other side of the street. Thus and therefore, we have a public Iraq "debate" which is for voter consumption and mollification, and which is full of angry attacks from Mr. Mumbles, who brings in cots and catered food for one night while he makes the Republicans suffer for their intransigence, and the eye-batting derision of La Diva Pelosi, who says stuff like "this is the President's war, and he's accountable for it," then lines up another appropriations bill for the President's war, which is to say, she does his accounting for him.

So the answer is maybe simple, and was pronounced by Alan Greenspan just the other day. The one thing that can be salvaged from this fiasco is a preeminent place for American Big Oil in Iraq. That's it, game, set, match. Whoever pulls us out of Iraq now, "prematurely," forfeits our first-in-line position. How would you like to be called on the carpet by the CEO of Exxon and forced to explain that one? "We paid good money for you, Congressman," he would roar, "and this is what we get for our trouble!?" How it must haunt the dreams of our corrupt solons. We've spent close to a half trillion dollars over there, gotten 4,000 soldiers killed, destroyed everyday life for the Iraqis and gotten about 700,000 of them killed, too -- and now we're just going to leave? And then what? The Chinese, Russians and French sashay into Baghdad and cut those production agreements and lap up all that petroleum? I don't think so. So there's your inside-the-beltway conversation, the real debate - how to placate the American public while you work for the people who finance your campaigns and bankroll your think tanks (where you'll go to work after you sell your votes). You can't very well announce that the Americans dying over there are getting blown up so Exxon and Chevron won't lose their place in line. It doesn't sound much like Omaha Beach, does it? It sounds like the U.S. military is in the same mercenary position as Blackwater, and that's a lousy recruitment tool. It's better to talk about bringing freedom and democracy to the heart of the Muslim world, even if no one could possibly believe there's any chance of that now.

So we're going to be in Iraq for quite awhile, I think, because Maliki has not come across with that "hydrocarbon law" (drafted by an American lawyer), which may mean Bush will have to find someone else to head up the Iraqi sovereign government, and even with that bill, we'll need huge numbers of troops to make oil exploration and development feasible. Wild, huh? That Nader, though - what a crock he was.

September 24, 2007

The Go Code for Iran


The duty officer asked General Ripper to confirm the fact the he had issued the go code and he said, "Yes gentlemen, they are on their way in and no one can bring them back. For the sake of our country and our way of life, I suggest you get the rest of SAC in after them, otherwise we will be totally destroyed by red retaliation. My boys will give you the best kind of start, fourteen hundred megatons worth, and you sure as hell won't stop them now. So let's get going. There's no other choice. God willing, we will prevail in peace and freedom from fear and in true health through the purity and essence of our natural fluids. God bless you all." Then he hung up. We're still trying to figure out the meaning of that last phrase, sir. "Dr. Strangelove," by Terry Southern, Stanley Kubrick, et al.

Suppose, sometime in January, 2009, President Bush gives the go code for his 1,200 target bombing campaign against Iran. He doesn't ask for Congressional approval; at this point, Bush has nothing but wholesale contempt for both parties, and for the simplest of reasons: they don't agree with him, he's right, ergo - they're stupid. Apparently, the strategic planning for the Iran war has already been done. The targets are identified, although we can be sure, based on recent performance, that American intelligence is way, way off, and that many of the bombing sites will prove to be hospitals, business parks and residential buildings. Whatever. It's a TV show, not a real war, unless you happen to be within the blast radius of one of the very real bombs that falls on Iran.

If you look at sources like, one of those techie websites that look on with a barely-constrained fascination at American military might, you get the general idea that an American bombing campaign can't really start until we get about two more carrier groups in the Eastern Mediterranean. I know this bums Bush out, because it's such a dead giveaway. General Ripper, in "Dr. Strangelove," had the incomparable advantage of building on routine. The B-52s were always at or near their fail-safe points, so giving the go code, suddenly and without warning, guaranteed surprise and "total commitment." Sterling Hayden peerlessly depicted a general with a virtually foolproof scheme for defeating all safeguards while being absolutely batshit crazy. It is one of the most singularly frightening performances in the history of cinema, because General Ripper, you sense intuitively, is the natural and credible outcome of a system premised on an insane theory. If you want to defend yourself with men trained to respond affirmatively to instructions to destroy the world, then you must accept the certainty that among their number will be those who will be enthusiastic about destroying the world. Common sense tells us that is the case. And if they are enthusiastic, they will find ways to bring it about, with or without a direct order.

So even if Bush lacks all of Hayden's charisma, and, ultimately, his element of surprise, so that the bombing campaign over Iran will be his usual dreary and hamfisted exercise without the redeeming theatricality of "Dr. Strangelove," when he gives the go code without Congressional authorization, I have little doubt his orders will be carried out. On what basis would the generals say no? From a reading of the Constitution, which vouchsafes the power to declare war to Congress? That was forfeited long ago. From the War Powers Act? Bush has demonstrated over and over again, with the enabling casuistry of David Addington and others, that he will take whatever pieces of paper Congress has already given him and stretch them to the breaking point. Congress has given him two more-or-less open-ended Authorizations for Use of Military Force; Addington could find the go code in them with the papers face down and his feet on the desk.

As time has gone on, it has become increasingly apparent that Bush is as mad as a March hare. No one, maybe not even God, has any influence over him anymore. He's brought in a bunch of short-timers to nominally fill the roles of the original Cabinet incumbents, but they don't mean anything to Bush. Our warmongering, fiscally irresponsible President has run this country the same way he ran those few businesses he could get his hands on during his "civilian" life. Straight into the ground. He can feel it now. That familiar sensation of absolute, irredeemable failure. So he has very little to lose. The one constraining factor, I have always thought, is Bush's morbid fear of being tried as a war criminal. He's worked hard to maneuver his way out of that, probably the only disciplined and consistent course of action he's taken while President. He started with the Detainee Treatment Act and built upon it with the Military Commissions Act, two pieces of legislation which putatively deal with all these Afghans and Arabs the U.S. has rounded up over the last 6 years. I don't see any evidence either of these laws has anything to do with actual practice, but they were useful as excuses to pass exoneration provisions for violations of the War Crimes Act which might otherwise have reached all the way to the Oval Office.

But bombing Iran? That's not covered, as far as I can tell, by either get-out-of-jail-free card. An offensive attack against another sovereign nation in violation of international law. So I come back to the idea that serial pardoning will mark the final days of the Bush Administration. As for the 99,000 acre ranch in Paraguay, which some observers are convinced is at Bush's disposal -- it's kind of like that .45 caliber pistol which General Ripper reveals to Captain Mandrake by tossing aside a file folder. The paranoid believe in security in depth.