Saturday, May 28, 2005


Quote of the Day

I should perhaps declare a small bias here: on spotting your own correspondent, Mr Galloway shouted that he was a "drink-sodden ex-Trotskyist popinjay and useful idiot", some of which was unfair.
—Christopher Hitchens writing of himself in "The Yanks fail to lay a glove on Galloway"

The Tennessee Waltz: FBI cleans up Democrats

On Thursday the FBI arrested three Tennessee state senators, one former state senator, a state representative, a lobbyist and a nobody after a sting operation known as "The Tennessee Waltz." The news today, according to the AP, is that Sen. John Ford has resigned "to spend the rest of my time with my family clearing my name." In addition to the charge of taking payoffs which he shares with his fellow legislators, Sen. Ford is also charged with threatening to kill a witness.

Of the current politicians the FBI netted three Democrats and a Republican. The state representative was the Republican.

God knows these people badly needed bustin' if they're guilty as charged. But it would appear there may have been a little preferential investigating going on.

"This was a major-league effort," said Neil Cohen, a former state prosecutor. "It's not uncommon - it's ongoing all the time all over the country - but there aren't many at this level where there's this much effort and resources and time devoted to one particular sting."

The FBI went all out in this two-year setup.

The FBI even went so far as to register E-Cycle as a corporation with the Georgia Secretary of State, listing its chief executive officer as "J Carson." E-Cycle had a storefront office in Memphis, not far from the Beale Street entertainment district.

Undercover agents, posing as executives of E-Cycle, offered lawmakers free trips to Florida and wined and dined them at a reception at a Nashville hotel in January.

"I think it's fair to say this type of thing is expensive," said George Bolds, spokesman for the FBI office in Memphis, who said he could not reveal the exact cost of the sting. "It's kind of an extraordinary and sensitive technique used."

Well, this should free up their resources so that they can move on into Texas.


The free Afghan press (updated)

Last Monday NPR reporter David Greene covered Bush's welcome to President Karzai of Afghanistan at the White House. Bush led the cheer for "democracy" then permitted some questions. Afghan reporters had been expected—
[audio at about 2:45] ... one sign of a free society, Mr. Bush has often said, is a free press. In Afghanistan there are dozens of news organizations that have cropped up since the Taliban government was overthrown. But in the East Room today a seating section reserved for Afghan journalists was nearly empty. White House officials rushed to fill the chairs with American reporters, and the two presidents seemed surprised when they turned to see if any foreign journalists had questions.
Bush: Somebody from the Afghan press?

Karzai: Anybody from the Afghan press? Do we have an Afghan press? Oh, here he is.

Only one reporter from the newspaper had traveled to Washington with Karzai. Nine other reporters were supposed to make the trip, according to a spokesman for the Afghan president. But the Karzai government decided in the end to prohibit them from traveling.

The spokesman Khalid Ahmad said they were worried the journalists might try to flee once they arrived in the United States. This, Ahmad said, could reflect poorly on his boss. Ahmad added that the group of journalists would be traveling to the United States in two weeks when there would be less risk of them tarnishing the image of Afghanistan's leader. [my transcription]

9:16 pm

Via David Mark of Journalists against Bush's B.S., John McCaslin in his "Inside the Beltway" column revealed that this press opportunity was even more a Potemkin Village show than NPR had indicated.

The White House calls it a "press availability."

If that's the case, then why did so few members of the White House press corps show up for yesterday's question-and-answer session in the East Room with President Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai?

So few reporters were on hand, in fact, that the White House hurried to have White House interns fill the empty seats. "That way it wouldn't look bad for the cameras," says one White House insider.

What gives?

A member of the press corps we spoke to yesterday equated reporters at such staged White House functions with "props." He explained that because the president only takes four questions at each press availability -- two from U.S. wire service reporters and two from foreign scribes -- many in the press corps don't bother to show up.

"Since we can't ask questions, why schlep over there?" he reasons. "The White House this morning actually called reporters beforehand, saying: 'Are you going to be here?' Later, after they eyeballed the room and found it to be empty, they brought in White House interns.

"So you had all these fresh young faces -- pretty blonde girls, and guys who haven't shaved -- nodding their approval as the president speaks."

They really miss Guckert/Gannon, don't they?

Friday, May 27, 2005


Trying to get Galloway: The Right goes gaga over website

Even as George Galloway has made it through the first round of character assassination attempts from the MSM after his testimony before the Senate subcommittee, you knew it wouldn't end there. The Right has taken up the cause.

A Norwegian blogger George Gooding decided to check the Mariam Appeal website (which ceased to represent the appeal sometime in 2001), and what he found—or better, what he didn't—has got his knickers in a twist. This got him a link and replay from Clinton W. Taylor, "a lawyer and a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at Stanford" writing at the American Spectator and another link from the site of Roger L. Simon, which appears to be one of the more popular right-wing blogs.

Taylor chortled that "the Senate tortoises may yet have the last laugh. Mr. Galloway seems to have told a big, fat whopper under oath, and a tech-savvy blogger has dug up some proof," and Simon, who is apparently a mystery writer, whispered knowingly that "I have specific information the details from Seixon's site have already been forwarded to the Coleman Committee via this blog."

The latest buzz has to do with this exchange during the testimony—

SEN. COLEMAN: So Mr. Galloway, you would have this committee believe that your designated representative from the Mariam's Appeal becomes the chair of the Mariam's Appeal, was listed in Iraqi documents as obviously doing business, oil deals with Iraq, that you never had a conversation with him in 2001 or whether he was doing oil business with Iraq.

GALLOWAY: No, I'm doing better than that. I'm telling you that I knew that he was doing a vast amount of business with Iraq. Much bigger, as I said a couple of answers ago, than any oil business he did. In the airports he was the representative of some of the world's biggest companies in Iraq. He was an extremely wealthy businessman doing very extensive business in Iraq.

Not only did I know that, but I told everyone about it. I emblazoned it in our literature, on our Web site....

What Mr. Gooding was checking for, I presume, was whether the content of Mr. Galloway's speech in the first paragraph above was indeed "emblazoned on the website."

Well, it wasn't, at least not as Americans would understand it. If you consider Mr. Galloway's statement itself, you will see that in a literal sense it is not very likely that this was "emblazoned on the website." What would such an emblazonment look like?

Mr. Fawaz Zureikat
is an extremely wealthy businessman
doing extensive business in Iraq ????

How do you say "tacky" in Norwegian? I think we may have a little class and cultural misunderstanding going on here. Mr. Gooding, the blogger, is Norwegian-American or American-Norwegian. Whatever he is, he isn't British.

What "emblazoned" means to a Brit of class is not what "emblazoned" means to most Americans, who think that "understatement" is when you "take the Fifth"—a privilege that Mr. Galloway did not invoke. When Americans "emblazon" they tend to do it in neon, but in the circles in which Mr. Zureikat undoubtedly moves and with which Mr. Galloway dealt, "emblazoned" means that you have allowed your name to be used—period.

I really don't think George Galloway meant anything more—or anything less—than that.

At another point in his testimony, Mr. Galloway mentioned that his primary contributor was "Sheik Zayed, the ruler of the United Arab Emirates" and his third highest contributor was "the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia." As a contributor "poor" Mr. Zureikat was sandwiched between these august personnages—neither of whose names appear on the Mariam Appeal website, by the way.

Several other points about this website:

Now if Mr. Gooding could just get hold of those books....

Previous posts
Galloway before Senate committee this morning (5/17/05)
George Galloway: An item you may have missed (5/18/05)
Complete testimony of George Galloway (5/21/05)
Letter to the PBS NewHour concerning George Galloway (5/24/05)

Thursday, May 26, 2005


Fast Fact of the Day

In the first two years of the Clinton presidency, the Republicans deployed 48 filibusters, more than in the entire previous history of the Senate.
—Sidney Blumenthal in "Bush's war comes home"

Sinclair Broadcasting will show dead U.S. soldiers this time

Sinclair Broadcasting caused several stirs last year. The first was that it refused to let its eight ABC-affiliated stations carry the ABC Nightline report in which the names and photos of all soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan were shown. Last year's program was run on April 30.

This year Nightline plans a repeat, this time showing the names and faces of soldiers killed since May 1 of last year. It will run on Memorial Day.

Sinclair has announced that this year its stations will carry the broadcast. Apparently they feel that Memorial Day is the only day when such a memorial would be appropriate.


Language matters

I was reading Bob Herbert's latest column in the NY Times this morning. His topic today is torture, especially psychological torture.

Yet consider these paragraphs—

People have been murdered, tortured, rendered to foreign countries to be tortured at a distance, sexually violated, imprisoned without trial or in some cases simply made to "disappear" in an all-American version of a practice previously associated with brutal Latin American dictatorships. All of this has been done, of course, in the name of freedom.

These two sentences are entirely in the passive voice. The reader is permitted not to notice who perpetrated these crimes. In fact, Herbert doesn't call them crimes; he calls them a "practice."1

At best this is flabby language. Call rewrite!

Agents of the U.S. military, intelligence agencies and the FBI have murdered, tortured, and sent people, including U.S. citizens, abroad to be tortured at a distance, raped them, imprisoned them without trial or in some cases simply made them "disappear" in an American version of crimes we used to associate with brutal Latin American dictatorships. The government did all of this, of course, in the name of freedom.

Isn't that a little clearer?

Herbert concludes his column with a quote—

"We're in this Orwellian situation," said Leonard Rubenstein, the executive director of Physicians for Human Rights, "where the statements by the administration, by the president, are unequivocal: that the United States does not participate in, or condone, torture. And yet it has engaged in legal interpretations and interrogation policies that undermine that absolutist stance."

"It has engaged in legal interpretations and interrogation policies that undermine that absolutist stance"? Here the commission of war crimes has been transformed into a bureaucratic snafu, replete with jargon.

With language like this it is no wonder that the relatively uninformed public doesn't react to the horror.

Of course, photos would be better than any language; the few photos from Abu Ghraib that leaked had dramatic effects. But the Pentagon, Congress and MSM suppressed most of them. Too "inflammatory."

So we are left with words. But the standard language of the MSM presents a confusing, blurred picture of the atrocities, and the writers are afraid to—or won't—identify the government leaders and agencies responsible—even when the responsibility is a matter of record.

That is the Orwellian situation we're in.

Related post
"The human cost of a fortnight in an embattled land" (1/17/05)


1I don't mean to beat up on Bob Herbert. Herbert has done a great deal more than most writers in the mainstream media to expose the horrors of this regime, and I am grateful for his efforts. I use his writing merely because it's at hand. There are many worse examples to be found. [back]

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Quote of the Day

To the extent that the threats against which a given government protects its citizens are imaginary or are consequences of its own activities, the government has organized a protection racket.
—Charles Tilly, War Making and State Making as Organized Crime, in Bringing the State Back In

A small point about a large conspiracy

Sitting in my email Inbox for a few days were some newsletters from "Unanswered Questions," which is devoted to, among other matters, questioning the government's role in 9/11.

Considering that the Iran-Contra scandal was never fully exposed, that many of the miscreants who were exposed were given Presidential pardons and that one of those unproven miscreants went on to become President, I am more than a little skeptical of the possibilities for the success of their project.

I suppose the theory is that if this or that conspiracy could be proved, it would bring down the government, presumably making room for something or someone more benign. Maybe. But I doubt it.

Just look at what the Congress, the media and the American public know right now about the origins and prosecution of the Iraq war. If the American government performed according to the civics books, were it as it exists in the minds of many of its citizens, George Bush and Dick Cheney would have been successively impeached and Dennis Hastert would be President.

But the American Leviathan is not so easily moved, and when it has been moved the movement does not occur so much out of the popular will as from a coup engineered by one set of oligarchs against a competing group.

I didn't need to say all that to make my little point, but it's just one of those days....

Anyway, Daniel Hopsicker, an investigative journalist who has devoted himself in recent years to the 9/11 conspiracy, has posted a review of a book on the 9/11 hijackers called "Perfect Soldiers: The Hijackers, Who They Were, Why They Did It" written by L.A. Times reporter Terry McDermott.

Hopsicker is not kind to the book, nor should he have been. He writes,

With almost nothing new, McDermott's book is instructive only in what it leaves out: who Atta was and who recruited him. McDermott deals with the stickier facts, even ones reported by numerous sources, through the simple expedient of blithely ignoring them.

But the pebble that sticks in his craw is this—

... it's the book's assertions that Mohamed Atta was a teetotaler that may be its toughest sell.

Whether Mohamed Atta was a repressed teetotaler or a man with a weakness for Jack Daniels and infidel flesh is not the most burning question about the 9.11 attack… But its indicative of “Perfect Soldier’s”--and the official story it represents--even-more cavalier treatment of questions which are vital to our understanding of what happened. [emphasis in original]

Hopsicker reviews the piles of evidence to the contrary and one can hardly dispute his point. But he goes on to say—

The record may not tell us who Atta was, but it offers clear indications of who he wasn’t. He wasn’t Wahhabi fundamentalist. We think of Atta as Islamic Stolichnaya. [emphases in original]

And of course, if Atta is not a Wahhabi fundamentalist, he must be in league with other forces, which would be the true forces driving the conspiracy.

The problem is that Hopsicker seems to assume that believers in a religion are consistent followers of said religion. So if the "believer" does not follow the precepts of that religion down to the last jot and tittle, he must not in fact be a believer.

I recall a report shortly after the invasion of Afghanistan that said that it was discovered that Taliban soldiers had had cassettes in their cassette players that they listened to as they drove about in their jeeps—cassettes that were probably confiscated from the general population as forbidden. (I've looked for a link, but no luck. Maybe I have a false memory.)

And here's another example. Asra Q. Nomani writing in Salon reports an interview with a Taliban diplomat—

There is one type of music he allows in the house. Patriotic Afghan songs, "thahrahnah" in Pashto. He gets up to bring a cassette and presses the "play" button on a little red boom box. Deep incantations fill the room. Crows caw outside. He writes the phonetic translation and literal translation in neat English with curls starting his "m's" and "n's."

"Kari khidmat da waran wijar hewad abad kari. Khapal nikona yad kari." Serve your country. Build this destroyed country. Remember your ancestors' deeds.

The Taliban, in fact, had no exceptions to their ban on music, patriotic or otherwise. It's just that those in power or those serving those in power (in theocracies or otherwise) find that the rules don't apply to them—just as Pat Robertson had a stable of racehorses which were presumably to be used to make him piles of money in the horse-racing industry. (After some protests, Robertson got rid of all but one.)

As for the Wahhabis, it was told to me by a member of the diplomatic corps some years ago that one of the Saudi princes maintained the illegal alcohol concession in Saudi Arabia. I doubt anything is different today.

If Atta was indeed one of the hijackers, the question really is what group or ideology could motivate him to the point of suicide other than religion?

If you want to get yourself killed, religion is surely the best starting point. Not only do most religions promise you pie in the sky for your self-sacrifice, but you will be acknowledged as good and noble and strong and all those other characteristics that you wish you were but probably aren't.

It is surely no accident that the Air Force Academy has been whipping up Evangelical Christian fervor over the past few years. And if the cadets got drunk and committed a few rapes here and there, are we to believe that they weren't true-believers? Or are we to assume that all those rapes that were discovered were committed by the few Jews, Buddhists and atheists who can still be found at the Academy?

Now how did I get on that topic?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


Letter to the PBS NewsHour concerning George Galloway

I don't know how many of my American readers caught the NewsHour segment that covered George Galloway's testimony last week, but I've been rather in a stew over it ever since. Finally I dropped them a note.
Dear Sirs or Madams:

I realize that you are under a great deal of pressure to confer a right-wing perspective on everything you report, and I also realize that covering a figure such as George Galloway must have made that very difficult. Overall, however, I'd say that Terence Smith's report of Galloway's testimony before the Senate subcommittee was one of your very best shots.

One of the problems with the report is that—given the title "U.N. Oil-for-Food Probe" taken side by side with the report's actual content—you have to wonder why the segment was done at all. It dealt precious little with the oil-for-food probe.

Of course, we all know. This report was not about the investigation; it was about George Galloway's testimony.

You opened by repeating the Senators' charges against Galloway and noted that he "vehemently denied the allegations." What you did not report was that his testimony was entirely voluntary, which rather throws his testimony into a different light, doesn't it?

Nor did you note that Galloway had already won a libel suit against a British newspaper on those same allegations, and that the Christian Science Monitor had apologized and paid him a substantial award for having made those same charges.

What you did instead was give us your own character study of George Galloway.

You noted that "Galloway is famous as a radical who was kicked out of Tony Blair's Labour Party for his opposition to the Iraq War and his sharp, personal attacks on the prime minister."

I'm always leary of the "radical" characterization, since your "radical" may be my "Mother Teresa" or "Dietrich Bonhoeffer." The word generally amounts to nothing more than a personal attack upon the person so characterized. Frankly, I don't think it should ever be used by a news organization of your stature without clearly delineating its meaning by other than a wink and a nod.

According to the BBC, Galloway was kicked out of the Labor Party by a Labor Party panel for having brought "the Labour Party into disrepute by behaviour that is prejudicial or grossly detrimental to the party." Mr. Galloway described the event as a "politically motivated kangaroo court whose verdict had been written in advance in the best tradition of political show trials."

As for his "sharp, personal attacks on the prime minister," what he said specifically was—if the BBC is to be believed—

They have lied to the British Air Force and Navy when they said the battle of Iraq would be very quick and easy.

They attacked Iraq like wolves. They attacked civilians.

We are not children, your viewers. We should be allowed, if you are to mention this event at all, to know what Mr. Galloway actually said and decide for ourselves whether this is "a personal attack."

But for this viewer, a personal attack would be something such as accusing Mr. Blair of poor diction or bad breath—not an accusation that he knowingly lied about the duration of a war or that he had invaded a defenseless country and killed civilians. This is not my understanding of a "personal attack"; it comes much closer to my understanding of "accusations of war crimes."

Not content with the "radical" characterization, your report then leapt back to the early 90s to drag out the Galloway statement to Saddam, which was made in the context of Galloway's opposition to the U.N. sanctions placed on Iraq after the first Gulf War.

I might have credited you for reporting the concluding sections of Galloway's opening statement—if you hadn't so insidiously edited it.

Here's the text as given by the Times of London, and the boldface text is the portion that you chose to report.

.... I gave my heart and soul to stop you committing the disaster that you did commit in invading Iraq. And I told the world that your case for the war was a pack of lies.

I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims did not have weapons of mass destruction. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to al-Qaeda. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11 2001. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning. Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies.

If the world had listened to Kofi Annan, whose dismissal you demanded, if the world had listened to President Chirac who you want to paint as some kind of corrupt traitor, if the world had listened to me and the anti-war movement in Britain, we would not be in the disaster that we are in today. Senator, this is the mother of all smokescreens.

Your report then captures a brief exchange between Sen. Coleman and George Galloway concerning whether Mr. Galloway knew that Mr. Zarikat was in the oil business in 2001, which Galloway denied, and ended with Sen. Coleman's implication that since Mr. Zarikat was chairman of Mr. Galloway's relief organization, Mr. Galloway should have known how Mr. Zarikat was making his money.

One brief sentence finally brought the viewer back to the nominal subject of your report—the oil-for-food scandal.

In addition to Galloway, the Senate reports also charged that Russian and French officials and a Texas-based oil company, Bayoil, allegedly profited from the oil- for-food program.

What a fine piece of misinformation you have produced! I believe you will be able to count on continued and perhaps even additional support for the NewsHour from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting if you continue to produce segments in this vein. For this viewer, however, it was simply appalling.

Follow-up post
Trying to get Galloway: The Right goes gaga over website (5/27/05)

Previous posts
Complete testimony of George Galloway (5/21/05)

Monday, May 23, 2005


Memorandum of Understanding on Judicial Nominations

[Note: This is an HTML version of the PDF document available at This Memo of Understanding is the formal agreement reached today among 7 Democratic and 7 Republican Senators to avert the challenge to the filibuster rule in the Senate for judicial nominations.]



     We respect the diligent, conscientious efforts, to date, rendered to the Senate by Majority Leader Frist and Democratic Leader Reid. This memorandum confirms an understanding among the signatories, based upon mutual trust and confidence, related to pending and future judicial nominations in the 109th Congress.

     This memorandum is in two parts. Part I relates to the currently pending judicial nominees; Part II relates to subsequent individual nominations to be made by the President and to be acted upon by the Senate's Judiciary Committee.

     We have agreed to the following:

     Part I: Commitments on Pending Judicial Nominations

  1. Votes for Certain Nominees. We will vote to invoke cloture on the following judicial nominees: Janice Rogers Brown (D.C. Circuit), William Pryor (11th Circuit), and Priscilla Owen (5th Circuit).
  2. Status of Other Nominees. Signatories make no commitment to vote for or against cloture on the following judicial nominees: William Myers (9th Circuit) and Henry Saad (6th Circuit).

     Part II: Commitments for Future Nominations

  1. Future Nominations. Signatories will exercise their responsibilities under the Advice and Consent Clause of the United State [sic] Constitution in good faith. Nominees should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances, and each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgment in determining whether such circumstances exist.
  2. Rules Changes. In light of the spirit and continuing commitments made in this agreement, we commit to oppose the rules changes in the 109th Congress, which we understand to be any amendment to or interpretation of the Rules of the Senate that would force a vote on a judicial nomination by means other than unanimous consent or Rule XXII.

     We believe that, under Article II, Section 2, of the United States Constitution, the word "Advice" speaks to consultation between the Senate and the President with regard to the use of the President's power to make nominations. We encourage the Executive branch of government to consult with members of the Senate, both Democratic and Republican, prior to submitting a judicial nomination to the Senate for consideration.

     Such a return to the early practices of our government may well serve to reduce the rancor that unfortunately accompanies the advice and consent process in the Senate.

     We firmly believe this agreement is consistent with the traditions of the United States Senate that we as Senators seek to uphold.


Previous post
That filibuster "compromise" (5/23/05)


German conservative politician suffers from spill

Peter Gloystein is a wealthy former mayor of Bremen, Germany, and according to the Scotsman, "a leading Conservative politician." It was the public opening of the Bremen Wine Week.

[Note: The name of the man who was the brunt of Mr. Gloystein's joke is Oelschlager, not Ottmann.]

After the usual platitudes for the crowds thronged around a stage set up in the city’s old town, near the historic town hall, Mr Gloystein, 59, produced a bottle of sekt, German bubbly. The fact that it was a Winzersekt 2002 Riesling Brut was lost on Mr Ottmann, who was standing at the edge of the stage having previously been walking among the crowds seeking handouts.

"Everyone knows the guy locally," said Hartmut Ebener, an eyewitness. "He’s homeless, harmless and quite sweet. He didn’t deserve what happened to him."

Mr Ebener, along with other horrified spectators, was stunned when Mr Gloystein upended the magnum bottle and proceeded to pour it all over the head of Mr Ottmann.

The politician made things worse by laughing and joking even as booing and hissing rose from the spectators.

As well as being homeless, penniless, jobless and damp, Mr Ottmann suffers from a chronic long-term illness that makes it difficult for him to walk.

Sam Leith of the Telegraph best described the aftermath—
What made the scene so piercing? It was that, as he stood, with his hands at his sides and champagne cascading over his hair and down his front, Udo Oelschlager didn't shout or throw a punch: he burst into tears. "Who are you?" he asked in hurt bewilderment. "Why are you doing this?" You can't fake that.

Gloystein could not have created a more resonant image of wealth and complacency sneering at poverty. But it was the tears that surely did for him.

In trying to salvage the situation, Gloystein spoke in the same gestural vocabulary as the original offence. Here, he said, offering first his business card, then money from his pocket, then his £150 Montblanc pen. These declined, he offered him a night in a luxury hotel, followed by a two-week holiday. How much that missed the point; how much it compounded the offence.

"I don't need your money," said Oelschlager. "I'm not going to be bribed. You offended me and wanted to make me look like an idiot." Never underestimate the moral power of a gentle, suffering thing. Oelschlager is pressing charges, and Gloystein's career has gone down the poop-chute. Good.

As one Freeper said of the occasion over at the Free Republic, "What sort of world do we live in when one cannot pour wine on homeless persons?"


The secret that's not a secret: British troops to Afghanistan

I figure that anything you can read here at Simply Appalling is probably not a secret, but that's the way Scotland on Sunday characterized the latest plan to send British troops to Afghanistan.

Here's the headline and breathless introduction by Brian Brady—

Secret UK troops plan for Afghan crisis

DEFENCE chiefs are planning to rush thousands of British troops to Afghanistan in a bid to stop the country sliding towards civil war, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.

Ministers have been warned they face a "complete strategic failure" of the effort to rebuild Afghanistan and that 5,500 extra troops will be needed within months if the situation continues to deteriorate.

An explosive cocktail of feuding tribal warlords, insurgents, the remnants of the Taliban, and under-performing Afghan institutions has left the fledgling democracy on the verge of disintegration, according to analysts and senior officers.

The looming crisis in Afghanistan is a serious setback for the US-led 'War on Terror' and its bid to promote western democratic values around the world.

Defence analysts say UK forces are already so over-stretched that any operation to restore order in Afghanistan can only succeed if substantial numbers of troops are redeployed from Iraq, itself in the grip of insurgency.

Brian Brady might want to read my post of April 5—"What's up in Afghanistan and why is Blair sending more troops?"—which was based in part on a story in the daily edition of his own paper.

Clearly the Blair government, by leaking this "secret" report, is prepping the British public to accept not only a tenfold increase in British troops to Afghanistan—from less than 500 to over 5,000—but an additional cost of a half billion pounds Sterling (approximately $915,000,000).

The significant difference from last month's account is that in that story those troops were to have come from troops to be withdrawn from Iraq. The current report paints a picture of a government in a dither over where to get the troops—

"People within the MoD [Ministry of Defense] are now saying we will have to deal with this and go into the south of the country. What they are saying is, don't do it piecemeal. We will have to do it properly."

Senior army and navy officers, along with officials from the Treasury, were in the region last week to survey the options.

But American military experts last night claimed an increase in the British presence in Afghanistan would inevitably threaten the numbers committed to Iraq.

"There is not enough Coalition power, or Afghan government power, to extend their writ into the areas that have proved impossible to control. This is going to be a very difficult period.

"They might struggle to cover their commitment to Iraq, but even if they do that, it would mean that the UK could not take on any further military commitments anywhere else."

But perhaps the British are not in such a dither as it first appears. The Blair government may be playing a game with the Americans by saying in effect, "Okay, guys, we can't be both places at once. If you want us to help in Afghanistan, you're going to have to accept a pull-out from Iraq. Your call!"

The truth is that the Blair government has quietly been trying to figure a way to pull troops out of Iraq for some time now (see, "What's up in Britain?"). Afghanistan may look like just the ticket.

Unfortunately for the British, this may be a case of "jumping from the frying pan into the fire." The Brits have had it relatively easy with the Shia in Southern Iraq. Mixing it up with Afghan warlords and Taliban fanatics could easily turn out to be the worst nightmare imaginable for the British military.

Follow-up post
A further note on the Brits and Afghanistan (6/2/05)

Previous posts
What's up in Britain? (9/23/04)
What's up in Afghanistan and why is Blair sending more troops? (4/5/05)


That filibuster "compromise"

Reports are that tomorrow—Tuesday—is to be the day for the big filibuster showdown.

Over the past week or so the mainstream media have been running at least a story a day covering the efforts of a group of "moderate" Democratic and Republican Senators who are said to be trying to work out a "compromise" to avoid such a showdown.

The division of the Senate is so equal that a small group of Senators can unilaterally impose their will on filibuster matters in several ways. Acting together,

In order for these "moderates" to agree to do this, they must work out a "compromise." Unfortunately, every version of a "compromise" that I've seen doesn't look like much of a compromise.

One of the reasons for this is that the Democrats have already compromised to the point that any further compromise is a compromise in name only. The truth is that it would be a rout.

Here's last Friday's version of the "compromise," as told by Laurie Kellman of the AP,

A draft memorandum of understanding from Friday's negotiations said Democrats and Republicans signing the compromise would take several steps designed to avert a showdown "based upon mutual trust and confidence."

For Democrats, that meant agreeing to clear the way for final votes on six contested judges, including Owen. Two other nominees would not be guaranteed final votes.

In addition, the draft said future nominees to the appeals court and Supreme Court "should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances." Each senator would be permitted to decide when that condition had been met.

In return, those agreeing to the compromise would "commit to oppose the rules changes" sought by Frist. For Republicans that would mean breaking ranks on the issue "to reduce the rancor that unfortunately accompanies the advice and consent process in today's Senate," the draft said.

Let's see. We started with 8 execrable judicial nominees, who were the casus belli in this filibuster battle, and the Democrats are now supposed to let the Republicans put 6 of them through and maybe—just maybe—hold back on two of them. Any future nominees could only be filibustered in "extraordinary circumstances."

Well, excuse me, but the Democrats found themselves in "extraordinary circumstances" some time ago. To say or admit otherwise is only to shift the terminology (the frame) to the benefit of the Right. Suddenly the extraordinary would become ordinary.

And why would the Democrats allow that? To save the filibuster?

I start from a different premise: It is not the filibuster that needs saving but the federal judiciary. To the extent that the filibuster can be used to do that, fine! But Democrats should not take their eye off the ball—and the filibuster is not the ball.

Tactically, the Democrats should be speaking about the kind of judiciary that the American people expect, that freedom and truth and justice require. And they should not use the words "judge" or "judiciary" without mentioning Terri Schiavo.

Over a month ago I wrote that I thought the threat to end the filibuster had been allayed by the Republicans missteps in the Terri Schiavo affair. I believed it then and believe it now. But I suggested in a later post—just before "Justice Sunday"—that the Republicans' best tactic would be to delay the matter. And that is what they have done. Schiavo has now dropped from the news and the American public no longer has before it such a compelling reminder of why the judiciary fight matters.

It is a sad fact that the Democrats have few orators who can match the brilliance of George Galloway, but such as they have, it is time for them to get on their soap boxes and make the case to the public about why federal judges matter to them—and the Schiavo affair is near enough in time to help bring the point home.

After all, it was judges—both state and federal—who would not allow the Florida legislature or the Congress to ride roughshod over the rights of Terri Schiavo and her husband. The public should be reminded that if the courts had been populated by judges who subscribed to the theory that they should defer to the legislature in all matters great and small, Terri Schiavo would still be on a feeding tube.

If Bill Frist hopes to win over the Christian Right by bringing this matter to a vote, I can only hope that those "moderate" Democrats will not prevent him. It is not at all clear that Frist will win the vote anyway.

But even if it were certain that he would win, the Democrats must not cave in. They would gain nothing more than the preservation of a Senate rule, and the Right would gain a great deal indeed. Let them do it the hard way—by voting.

Follow-up post
Memorandum of Understanding on Judicial Nominations (5/23/05)

Previous posts
Phil E. Buster recuperates after Terri Schiavo's death (4/13/05)
Will the Republicans "go nuclear"? (updated) (4/22/05)
The Second American Revolution goes nuclear (5/16/05)

Sunday, May 22, 2005


Quote of the Day

Senator, I had gotten used to the allegation that I was taking money from Saddam Hussein. It's actually surreal to hear in this room this morning that I'm being accused of giving money to Saddam Hussein.
—George Galloway at his Senate Subcommittee Hearing

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