Cartel of Defiance

cartel of defiance (noun): 1. In medieval combat, a formal declaration, delivered by herald, of a combatant's intention to fight and refusal to submit. 2. An electronic assemblage of engaged and enraged citizens. 3. An intertextual mode of reading, writing, and thinking that puts the current political, cultural, and personal moment in dialogue with text/art from the past in counterargument to the ahistorical Memory Hole into which America seems to have slipped.

Friday, March 28, 2008

"No law at all"

“There’s a strong commitment by the central government of Iraq to say that no one is above the law.” -- GWB, March 27, 2008

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Message in a Bottle

So I think I figured out how to still post on Cartel of Defiance. As John Belushi says in Animal House, "who's with me!!?"

Sunday, February 25, 2007

How to recognize different types of lies from quite a long way away

No. 1
The larch.
The larch.

And now...
No. 1
The larch.
The larch.

And now...
No. 1
The larch.
The larch.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Even as Democrats filtered back to Capitol Hill on Tuesday in anticipation of the opening of the 110th Congress on Thursday, there was a bit of confusion about just when the 100 hours would officially begin. Would it be as soon as the new Congress was sworn in and began voting on internal rules changes? Or when the House takes up its first actual legislation next Tuesday? . . . . [N]ext Monday is out since the House, despite Democratic pledges of a disciplined five-day work schedule, will not be in session. The day off was scheduled to allow freshman lawmakers time to return from an orientation session — and others to attend the college football national championship game. Democrats eventually decided Tuesday that the 100-hour timer would be started next Tuesday, when the House is scheduled to take up H.R. 1, a measure enacting recommendations from the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission that never made it out of the Republican-controlled Congress. -- "Democrats Plan First 100 Hours, Give or Take a Speech", New York Times, Jan 2 2007

President Bush is expected to announce his new Iraq strategy in an address to the nation early next week, several sources in Washington told CNN Tuesday. The president has not yet signed off on any changes, including a possible increase of U.S. troops, according to sources with information about Bush's deliberations on Iraq. However, the sources say he is 'driving toward a conclusion' and a plan is 'taking shape' which is 'getting more detailed' as the president puts 'on the finer points.' -- " Officials: Bush 'driving toward' new Iraq plan", CNN, Jan 2 2007


Friday, December 29, 2006

Bush and Reagan

"[T]he problem is not that the people are taxed too little, the problem is that the Government spends too much. Until President Clinton and the liberals in Congress accept that principle and act accordingly, I'm afraid we are headed for a repeat of the late 1970's. And that is something we can all live without. . . . For more than four decades, one party, the Democratic Party, has controlled the House of Representatives. The solution to the deficit problem is not to ask heavily taxed working Americans to 'sacrifice' even more. It's the big-spending liberals controlling the Congress who need to show some restraint and 'sacrifice' a few of the pork-barrel measures they've been slipping past the taxpayers for far too long." (From a 1993 op-ed that Atrios very shrewdly points to tonight)

"President Bush is considering new economic initiatives to go along with a possible increase in troops to help stabilize the country, according to officials familiar with the administration's review. . . . The economic package now on the table focuses on three elements, and is separate from the long-term jobs-creation program being promoted by the U.S. military." (Washington Post, "Bush Considers Economic Package For Iraq: Officials Describe the Initiatives as Part of a Series of Steps Designed to Counter Insurgency," also tonight)

Thursday, November 23, 2006


White House officials said Wednesday that Mr. Bush and Mr. Maliki would discuss a range of issues — from giving the Iraqis more control over security forces to American frustrations with the pace of the disarmament of militias in Iraq. -- This Thanksgiving, Bush Team and Iraq Leaders Face Range of New Realities, New York Times, Nov 23, 2006

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

In Clover

“Once the minority of House and Senate are comfortable in their minority status, they will have no problem socializing with the Republicans. Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they’ve been fixed, then they are happy and sedate. They are contented and cheerful. They don’t go around peeing on the furniture and such.” -- Norquist

This was more than the hungry animals could bear. With one accord, though nothing of the kind had been planned beforehand, they flung themselves upon their tormentors. Jones and his men suddenly found themselves being butted and kicked from all sides. The situation was quite out of their control. They had never seen animals behave like this before, and this sudden uprising of creatures whom they were used to thrashing and maltreating just as they chose, frightened them almost out of their wits. After only a moment or two they gave up trying to defend themselves and took to their heels. A minute later all five of them were in full flight down the cart-track that led to the main road, with the animals pursuing them in triumph. -- Orwell

Monday, November 06, 2006

in the western night

For the present stalks abroad
Like the past and its wronged again
Whimper and are ignored,
And the truth cannot be hid;
Somebody chose their pain,
What needn't have happened did.

Occurring this very night
By no established rule,
Some event may have hurled
Its first little No at the right
Of the laws we accept to school
Our post-diluvian world:

But the stars burn on overhead,
Unconscious of final ends,
As I walk home to bed,
Asking what judgement waits
My person, all my friends,
And these United States.

--W.H. Auden, from "A Walk After Dark" (1948)

Sunday, November 05, 2006


There are croakers in every country, always boding its ruin. Such a one then lived in Philadelphia; a person of note, an elderly man, with a wise look and a very grave manner of speaking; his name was Samuel Mickle. This gentleman, a stranger to me, stopped one day at my door, and asked me if I was the young man who had lately opened a new printing-house. Being answered in the affirmative, he said he was sorry for me, because it was an expensive undertaking, and the expense would be lost; for Philadelphia was a sinking place, the people already half-bankrupts, or near being so; all appearances to the contrary, such as new buildings and the rise of rents, being to his certain knowledge fallacious; for they were, in fact, among the things that would still ruin us. And he gave me such a detail of misfortunes now existing, or that were soon to exist, that he left me half melancholy. Had I known him before I engaged in this business, probably I never should have done it. This man continued to live in this decaying place, and to declaim in the same strain, refusing for many years to buy a house there, because all was going to destruction; and at last I had the pleasure of seeing him give five times as much for one as he might have bought it for when he first began his croaking. -- Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Oh yeah !

"'[Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld] didn't see it coming,' Garner added. 'As the troops said, they drank the Kool-Aid.'"
-- Secret Reports Dispute White House Optimism
by Bob Woodward, Oct. 1, 2006

"Army Reserve Sgt. Terri Doughty made an important discovery while stationed for 12 months in Kuwait during Operation Iraqi Freedom: Kool-Aid and hot water taste pretty good together."
-- Retiree Aids Soldiers With 'Kool' Drink While Deployed
by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, American Forces Press Service, Dec. 16, 2004

Monday, September 11, 2006


Ahmed Rashid, Losing the War on Terror, Washington Post, Sept 11 2006: "In the five years since Sept. 11, the tactics and strategy of Islamic extremists fighting U.S. or NATO forces have improved dramatically. To a degree they could not approach five years ago, the extremists are successfully facing off against the overwhelming technological apparatus that modern armies can bring to bear against guerrillas. Islamic extremists are winning the war by not losing, and they are steadily expanding to create new battlefronts. . . . No doubt on all these battlefields Islamic extremists are taking massive casualties -- at least a thousand Taliban have been killed by NATO forces in the past six months. But on many fronts there is an inexhaustible supply of recruits for suicide-style warfare. Western armies, with their Vietnam-era obsession with body counts, are not lessening the number of potential extremists every time they kill them but are actually encouraging more to join, because they have no political strategy to close adjacent borders and put pressure on the neighbors."

Dick Cheney, Meet The Press, Sept 10 2006: "But just in the last 48 hours we’ve killed 130-some Taliban in, in southern Afghanistan."

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"Pull out his eyes! Apologise!"

Q: David, what are your personal and professional goals for the "The Wire"? To change minds, to make money, to employ people, to be successful? [Jim King]"

A: Change minds? Nobody changes anyone's mind anymore. People strain facts through their own ideology and ignore that which is happening before their eyes. Alive in this millennium, Orwell would be embarrassed for having so grossly understated his case. -- David Simon, at the opening of extended interview on The Wire

I had the opportunity this afternoon to be part of a relatively small group who heard President Bush talk, extemporaneously, for around forty minutes. It was an absolutely riveting experience. It was the best I've ever seen him. Not only that; it may have been the best I've ever seen any politician. . . . The conventional wisdom is that Bush is not a very good speaker. But up close, he is a great communicator, in a way that, in my opinion, Ronald Reagan was not. He was by turns instructive, persuasive, and funny. His persona is very much that of the big brother.
-- "Hail to the Chief," Powerline

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Zoo Story

The desire for the presence of the most anicent is a hope that animal creation might survive the wrong that man has done it, if not man himself, and give rise to a better species, one that finally makes a success of life. Zoological gardens stem from the same hope. They are laid out on the pattern of Noah's Ark, for since their inception the bourgeois class has been waiting for the flood. The use of zoos for entertainment and instruction seems a thin pretext. They are allegories of the specimen or the pair who defy the disaster that befalls the species qua species. This is why the over-richly stocked zoos of large European cities seem like forms of decadence: more than two elephants, two giraffes, one hippopotamus, are a bad sign. Nor can any good come of Hagenbeck's layout, with trenches instead of cages, betraying the Ark by simulating the rescue that only Ararat can promise. They deny the animals' freedom only the more completely by keeping the boundaries invisible, the sight of which would inflame the longing for open spaces. . . The more purely nature is preserved and transplanted by civilization, the more implacably it is dominated. We can now afford to encompass ever larger natural units, and leave them apparently intact within our grasp, whereas previously the selecting and taming of particular items bore witness to the difficulty we still had coping with nature. The tiger endlessly pacing back and forth in his cage reflects back negatively, through his bewilderment, something of humanity, but not the one frolicking behind the pit too wide to leap. -- Adorno, Minima Moralia, 75

Clearest Article on Iraq

is this one from the NY times. Essentially: violence, against U.S. troops, is getting much worse. Specifically, in July 2625 roadside bombs were laid (and 1666 exploded); in January of this year, only 1450. This is up to almost 100 a day. 518 U.S. troops wounded in July, compared to 287 in January.

These facts rebound back, for me, to any number of military and political statements over the last two years that justified increased U.S. aggression on the grounds that it would decrease insurgent capacities. Such statements -- like the raft of comments about WMD -- are now proven not just ideologically but empirically wrong.

How will the right-wing or the media get its head around these facts? What *possible* strategy is left in the face of ied attacks nearly doubling in six monthes? Particularly in the context of increasing "sectarian clashes" which, as the NY times puts it, "have killed an average of more than 100 Iraqi civilians per day over the past two monthes."

Even before these latest reports were released (the Times artice is based on a nine page classified Aug 3 report entitled "Iraq Update"), the rhetoric of a right-wing hawk like Richard Lowry was already getting pretty damn wobbly. "Bush would be much better served by forthrightly acknowledging Iraq’s distressing circumstances and backing an all-out push to secure Baghdad even if it takes thousands more American troops in the country. . . . It is not too late to tamp down that militia-directed violence, which hasn’t yet taken on an uncontrollable life of its own." If Lowry is reduced, in the second sentence, to this rather extreme standard -- not just that violence has taken on a "life of its own" but "an uncontrollable lifeof its own," the first sentence is, conversely, strikingly restrained: with between 120-130 thousand troops in Iraq for 3 years, will adding thousands more really constitute "an all-out push to secure Baghdad?" And what would happen after this "all-out push" Rick? -- since (to mention the obvious) we wouldn't have anything left if it were all-out.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Bad Quote

The creation of COP Falcon, as well as a handful of other combat outposts throughout Ramadi, marks a radical departure from past U.S. military practices here that focused on defending a main thoroughfare through town and its embattled government center. Under the command of Col. Sean MacFarland of the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, Bajema’s company and a handful of others have taken up permanent residence in what one commander called Ramadi’s “heart of darkness” in a bid to regain control of the city. -- Stars and Stripes, August 13, "Marines, GIs take up residence in insurgent haven: Goal is to drive enemy from Ramadi one block at a time"

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Even someone believing himself convinced of the non-comparability of works of art will find himself repeatedly involved in debates where works of art, and precisely those of highest and therefore incommensurable rank, are compared and evaluated one against the other. The objection that such considerations, which come about in a peculiarly compulsive way, have their source in mercenary instincts that would measure everything by the ell, usually signifies no more than that solid citizens, for whom art can never be irrational enough, want to keep serious reflection and the claims of truth far from the works. This compulsion to evaluate is located, however, in the works of art themselves. So much is true: they refuse to be compared. They want to annihilate one another. Not without cause did the ancients reserve the pantheon of the compatible to Gods or Ideas, but obliged works of art to enter the agon, each the mortal enemy of each. The notion of a "pantheon of classicity", as still entertained by Kierkegaard, is a fiction of neutralized culture. For if the Idea of Beauty appears only in dispersed form among many works, each one nevertheless aims uncompromisingly to express the whole of beauty, claims it in its singularity and can never admit its dispersal without annulling itself. -- Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life (1.47)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


"Lieberman was widely ridiculed for calling his fifth-place showing in the 2004 New Hampshire presidential primary a three-way tie for third." -- Washington Post

Thursday, July 27, 2006

soldier's point-of-view

This is a surprising article to see in The Washington Post. It describes the really depressing, futile and harrowing position of one 750-person batallion in Iraq charged with patrolling part of Southern Baghdad. A particularly relevant article given the redeployment of more U.S. troops into Baghdad. The title of the article, drawn from one of many disturbing comments offered by these soldiers, is "Waiting to Get Blown Up."

I feel like I've been reading a lot of good journalism about Iraq recently. Nearly everything one reads these days reinforces the depth and seriousness of this disaster. I caught an article in the most recent issue of Harper's that was certainly worth reading. Again -- focused and devestating. It concerned Bayan Jabr, currently the Interior Minister, but previously the head of housing construction projects under Paul Bremer. The article presents a disturbing picture of entrenched and pervasive corruption and theft; how Bremer had to tolerate this corruption because he was already so mired in failure and also had few real options; how the Americans that tried to call Jabr to account were themselves fired; and the connection of Jabr, today, to the infilitration of the Iraqi police and military by death-squads and private militia.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


In the offline world Staurt Klawans has a good description of the "situation" at the heart of Richard Linklater's new adaptation of Philip K Dick's 1977 novel, Through A Scanner Darkly: "Kenau's character let's slip his sense of identity -- as you'd expect of a drug-addicted undercover narc assigned to carry out intensive surveillance on himself." You would indeed!

In fact, in this tightly conceived scenario Dick and now Linklater pack in so many degrees of self-fissure, it's almost hard to keep track. In this world, the cops wear continually shifting "scramble suits" that conceal them as a vague blur of ordinary looking people. This is essential to the premise -- while undercover the cop is concealing his identity as Fred the cop, pretending to be a user; on the job, Fred is hiding the fact that he's the addicted-Bob Arcter, who he then is forced to "investigate," spending more and more of his time, as the movie progresses, (covertly) monitoring (a version of) himself on a surveillance screen -- the title's scanner.

"Substance D," the fictional drug in the film, is at once located in the specfic drug culture of the 1960s and allegorically generalized (people often refer to the drug simply as "D" or sometimes "Death"). It suggests any number of levels of addiction, addiction to any life-destroying aspect of our culture for instance, or, perhaps,"addiction" to life or to culture itself. Does any thinking person summon up some version of the Bob Arctor/Agent Fred divide -- an estranged part of our selves, criminal, gestural, vague, out of time, and a reflective part, the part that continually thinks about "who we are," and, in a manner of speaking, sets up shop in a surviellance post, monitoring all of, say, awol's activity through a scanner, darkly.

While its easy enough to imagine this scenario being translated into a Hollywood film -- there have been a lot of Philip K Dick adaptations of course -- it's hard to see this deep fissuring not getting resolved with some kind of very large, very loud futuristic weapon -- some cross between a laser and a bazooka. This is not the case at all in Linklater's film -- as it goes forward it only gets more unresolved, we learn that both Arctor and Fred emerge out of an earlier splitting where Arctor/Fred had walked out of his "safe" "real" life in a suburban family, and then, progressing further, there are simply a coiled number of further turns, betrayals, and splits. Not to mention the much publicized technique of roto-scoping that Linklater has developed in this film and A Waking Life, which bizarrely draws over "live action" film with this fluid, shifting and sometimes groovy (sometimes slightly dizzying) animation, draining reality in every frame and causing another level of identity fissuring that is built into the texture of the film.

In short: what's at stake with Linklater "doing" a Philip K Dick novel at all?

Dick's novel was written in 1977, a year after Dazed and Confused, Linklater's 1993 film, was set. (Ironically, Dick set his novel in 1994). The mid-70s are also, of course, the first summers of the blockbuster action films that have been ever since such a central part of U.S. culture and film politics: Star Wars was released on May 25, 1977 and Jaws was released on June 20, 1975. (The Terminator, one apotheosis of this trend, was released, appropriately enough, in 1984; Arnold's version of Philip K. Dick, Total Recall, was released on June 1, 1990).

In retrospect, the rise of the 70's blockbuster coincides with the long era of (relative) peace, between the Vietnam War and 9/11-Iraq. Certainly, the mind-boggling success of those early Speilberg and Lucas films must have had something to do with a negation of or escape from the previous 10 year death-spiral in Indochina; since then, we might imagine that the continual formula and power of the summer release -- particularly those versions that are really about "action" in some way -- benefitted from the way that Vietnam receded into memory. The Sylvester Stallone-Arnold Schwarzanager connection would seem to play out along these lines: Rocky was released and won the academy award in 1976, Rocky 2 in (June of) 1979, Rambo: First Blood in 1982 and Rambo 2 in (May of) 1985.

Linklater's A Scanner Darkly is, in this light, an interesting mix: half (radically) independent film (using an experimental technique, keyed into a number of his earlier films) and half summer blockbuster (explicitly in relation to a long-line of Philip K Dick adaptations and The Matrix). The casting choices seem, to me, to emphasize this as well: its five stars in a weird range, from Keanau and Woody Harrelson to the exiled-from-Hollywood Robert Downey Jr and Winona Ryder to Rory Cochrane, a Linklater actor who gives a kind of dystopic rewriting of his pothead role in Dazed and Confused. The film plays with any number of conventions, essentially critiquing/subverting both the plotlines and action-ideology of Hollywood "summer science-fiction" and the slack, conversation-driven looseness of his own films. Such positioning seems, to me, very political, beside or in addition to the overtly political take down on our own surveillance-based, "crime-fighting" political culture. (The most striking resonances with the NSA are, superficially, just a coincidence, since most of this news broke after the film had been made).

Sunday, July 09, 2006


I think there is a change, perhaps a sea-change, that's beginning to take place in the political understanding of Iraq in the U.S.

There are different ways to understand this, and in this post I'll just rely on my own inchoate recent associations. Three things in particular. First, for some reason, I was impelled to write this post at k/o the other day. It seemed to me that calling Iraq a "racist" war was something that simultaneously felt obvious and untenable, almost banal in its familiarity and yet urgent and still unarticulated. (Hence the title of the post, ironic and unironic at the same time).

Second, I just read a Digby post, itself drawing heavily on an an op-ed in Sunday's Washington Post, and thought to myself that this was one of the best things I've yet read on the Iraq war. And, again, Digby seems to be saying nothing that we haven't heard a thousand times and yet it produced this level of interest and conviction in me.

And Digby's final point (obviously I'd say the whole piece is eminently worth reading) struck home the most forcefully. Countering the oddly optimistic ending of the Post op-ed piece (after a scathing indictment that doesn't seem at all to motivate such an ending), Digby takes issue and writes (with emphasis added by me):

"This was a very good article until this point. Our failure is already certain no matter what we do. The fundamental flaw in this entire enterprise is not how we did it, although the massive failures outlined in this article are so obvious that it's imperative to discuss them on their own terms. In fact, I worry that what this failure of execution reveals is a military leadership so lacking in intellectual ability and so wracked with primitive racism that this country cannot count on it to actually defend us in case of a real war. The officer corps are supposed to be smart guys, not a bunch of idiots who would read some piece of trash like "The Arab Mind" and actually believe it --- much less use it as the basis for tactics on the ground. This is a dangerous situation for America. However, the fundamental flaw remains the invasion itself, a bad decision from which everything else flows. The lesson is that an illegal, dishonest war of choice is doomed on its own terms. In the modern world outright conquest is impossible and anything else cannot be finessed with spin and wishful thinking. That we compounded that error with a comic book understanding of the people we were "liberating" and a lack of postwar planning that was criminal in its negligence is just more evidence of the perfidy of this administration and its congressional enablers. But the central problem remains that it is not how we waged the war, it's that we waged it at all.

A few things to point out here. First, I love the way that Digby takes on this odd, almost-mechanical optimism at the end of the op-ed piece (which concludes "Unless we demonstrate by our actions that we value their lives as much as the lives of our own troops, our failure is certain"). Digby suggests, it seems to me, that the last sentence is this unthinking concession to the dominant, bullying, hegemonic politics of our time -- a meaningless rhetorical squib in one sense ("our failure is certain" doesn't concede, of course, that "success" is at all likely) but a lame and unnnecessary (and destructive) concession in another sense. The end of the op-ed is like a limit-case for the dominant problem of opposition at the moment, a yes-yes-yes-yes-but structure (yes the war was unnecessary, yes its been a disaster, yes it gets worse all the time, yes its destablizing not stabilizing the region, yes we were wrong to get involved, yes we were probably mislead by the very people who are still leading the war, yes there were no weapons of mass destruction, yes the violence hasn't diminished, yes our military is over-extended, yes there is increasing ethnic strife in Iraq, yes this kind of ethnic strife necessarily tends to *create more* strife, yes the Iraq police and military are so filled with paramilitary and insurgent forces that strengthening these forces almost necessarily strengthens sectarian strife and the insurgency as well, but -- but we need to stay and accomplish something still, but we can turn around our failure in some way, at some point, in another six months, or year, or two years, or five years).

Second, Digby's post also concerns what we might call the overt racism of this war. As Digby points out -- in fact, this is the central argument of the entire essay -- the way we fight this war is necessarily implicated in and shaped by the decision to fight the war in the first place. Similarly, the racism that informs how we've fought the war (the "get-tough" policy that is the focus of the Post op-ed) is deeply connected to the decision to fight in the first place. The Post op-ed, like Digby's post, like the quotation from Cobra 2, insists on the conncetion between racism and our incompetent military strategy in Iraq. *All our failure* in fighting in Iraq is directly attributable to a get-tough policy on the insurgents which, in turn, directly relies on a perception of ethnic Arab culture. The Cobra quote (which I predict we will hear more of) lays this out most viscerally: "The only thing these sand niggers understand is force and I'm about to introduce them to it." This also holds for the great turning-point in the Iraq war, Operation Vigilant Resolve, the utterly failed assualt on Fallujah in April 2004. This operation, which was instigated, it seems, directly by President Bush, and had the initial "mission" of "capturing" the Iraqis who killed the four Blackwater employees, emptied 9/10ths of the city (from 350,000 to 30,000 civilians). According to Wikipedia, 60% of buildings in Fallajuh have been damaged, 20% "totally destroyed," and "the current population is unknown but estimated at less than 200,000".

Finally, Digby's post is unequivocal about the ultimate failure of the Iraq war. This seems to me to be the turning-point that I was alluding to above. And brings me to the third association: Ned Lamont's comments in the debate last week with Lieberman. In Jack Murtha's critque of the war, one claim had disproportionate relevance and significance for his entire chain of reasoning: "I have concluded that the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is impeding this progress. . . . Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. They are united against U.S. forces and we have become a catalyst for violence."

Murtha's key point is that the U.S. presence actually increases the violence of the insurgency, even in the act of attempting to decrease this violence. Every year we stay, according to this part of Murtha's argument, brings us further away from our goals. Lamont made this point repeatedly in the hour-long debate. He was unwavering in this strong version of an anti-war position. "I think it's important to look at the facts on the ground, and we're not making the situation better by our frontline presence there. . . . In fact, in the last six months, the number of sectarian deaths has increased a lot. There are deaths of Americans. It's going downhill. . . . I think our very visible, frontline military presence is making the situation worse."

Rejecting any "optimistic" scenario, highlighting the racist underpinnings of both the motives for the war and the means of the war; and pointing to the way that front-line US troops increase violence: these are all connected. We can't be optimistic because the presence of U.S. troops is resulting in the exact oppositte of what is intended (more brutal violence not less); and U.S. troops are having this effect because every action of our troops in Iraq -- how they are positioned, what they are supposed to do, what "missions" they are supposed to be accomplishing -- is fundamentally shaped by misguided assumptions about Arab culture that lead us into the war. The "Arabness" of Iraq was a fundamental part of why we invaded their country in the first place and its no wonder that our occupation has and continues to precipitate ethnic violence, sectarianism, and extremism. Not to mention that the particular brutality of the occupation -- exemplified in Operation Vigilant Resolve, but also obviously apparent in strafe bombing, checkpoints, detention "policy", Abu Ghraib, civilian massacres, etc. etc. -- is also based on fundamentally flawed and racist views on military strategy.

It's this fundamental reality that makes the ever-more discredited positions of liberal hawks like George Packer so problematic. Their "do-good" fantasy about a just-war intersects in about a million places with the "get-tough" fantasy that actually has always been at the heart of the Iraq invasion and occupation.

Finally, I think this equation will become -- or is, in front of our eyes, becoming -- more visible as the Bush administration runs out of the "benchmarks" which have formed the basis of their counter-narrative. With the Malaki government in place and no more elections impending how will Bush -- or for that matter Leiberman -- frame the continual violence that is both inflicted upon and provoked by the U.S. occupation?

small point

In the Peter Hoekstra letter to Bush that was leaked to the NY Times, the angry Repulican congressman is quoted as writing: "I have learned of some alleged intelligence community activities about which our committee has not been briefed. If these allegations are true, they may represent a breach of responsibility by the administration, a violation of the law, and, just as importantly, a direct affront to me and the members of this committee who have so ardently supported efforts to collect information on our enemies."

In the casual equation that it makes, this statement seems emblemtic of something one notices more and more these days. Why shouldn't a "violation of the law" be of much greater importance than a breach of responsibility or even this "affront" to the committee? The disregard for the law in our political culture -- or, to put this differently, our confused lawlessness -- surfaces even here, in the unorthodox effort of a Republican to call Bush on some of his shit.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

"grub first, then ethics"

Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in
an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?

(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the
supermarket and feel absurd.)

Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The
trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we'll both be

Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love
past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?

Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher,
what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and
you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat
disappear on the black waters of Lethe?

--Allen Ginsberg, from "A Supermarket in California," Berkeley 1955

Thursday, May 25, 2006

"Be grateful to them which brought you up by hand!"

"And then, dear boy, it was a recompense to me, look'ee here, to know in secret that I was making a gentleman. . . When one of 'em says to another, 'he was a convict, a few years ago, and is a ignorant common fellow now, for all he's lucky,' what do I say? I says to myself, 'If I ain't a gentleman, nor yet ain't got no learning, I'm the owner of such. All on you owns stock and land; which on you owns a brought-up London gentleman?' -- Great Expectations, Chapter 39

Saturday, May 13, 2006

an alliance between government and commerce

In the spring of 1996, at an annual conference organized under the name "Computers, Freedom, and Privacy" (CFP), two science-fiction writers told stories about cyberspace's future. Vernor Vinge spoke about "ubiquitous law enforcement," made possible by "fine-grained distributed systems"; through computer chips linked by the Net to every part of social life, a portion dedicated to the government's use. This architecture was already being built--it was the Internet--and technologists were already describing its extensions. As this network of control became woven into every part of social life, it would be just a matter of time, Vinge siad, before the government claimed its fair share of control. Each new generation of code would increase the power of government. The future would be a world of perfect regulation, and the architecture of distributed computing--the Internet and its attachments--would make that perfection possible.

Tom Maddox followed Vinge. His vision was very similar, though the source of control, different. The government's power would not come just from chips. The real source of power, Maddox argued, was an alliance between government and commerce. Commerce, like government, fares better in a regulated world. Property is more secure, data more easily captured, and disruption is less of a risk. The future would be a pact between these two forces of social order. Code and commerce.

-from the preface of Code and other Laws of Cyberspace © 1999, Lawrence Lessig

The attribute which most singularly defines this administration is its insistence that our Government is based on unilateral and unreviewed Presidential Decree. The President directs the telecom companies to turn over this information and they obey. That’s how our Government works, as they see it. And if the telecom companies are concerned about their legal liability as a result of laws which strongly suggest that they are acting illegally if they comply with the President’s Decree, and thus request a judicial ruling first, that request, too, is denied. There is no need for a judicial ruling once the President speaks. What he orders is, by definition, legal, and nobody can say otherwise, including courts....[snip]

Magically, hordes of brilliant pro-Bush legal scholars have been able to determine instantaneously -- as in, within hours of the program's disclosure -- that the program is completely legal and constitutional (just like so many of them were able confidently to opine within hours of the disclosure of the warrantless eavesdropping program that it, too, was perfectly legal and constitutional). Having said that, there are some generally pro-Bush bloggers expressing serious skepticism over the legality and/or advisability of this program.

-Glenn Greenwald, May, 2006, from his blog. (Follow the link for the complete essay.)

A new Pentagon research office has started designing a global computer-surveillance system to give U.S. counterterrorism officials access to personal information in government and commercial databases around the world.

The Information Awareness Office, run by former national security adviser John M. Poindexter, aims to develop new technologies to sift through "ultra-large" data warehouses and networked computers in search of threatening patterns among everyday transactions, such as credit card purchases and travel reservations, according to interviews and documents....[snip]

"How are we going to find terrorists and preempt them, except by following their trail," said Poindexter, who brought the idea to the Pentagon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and now is beginning to award contracts to high-technology vendors...[snip]

The office already has an emblem that features a variation of the great seal of the United States: An eye looms over a pyramid and appears to scan the world. The motto reads: Scientia Est Potentia, or "knowledge is power.

-Robert O'Harrow Jr., Tuesday, November 12, 2002,
© 2002 The Washington Post Company

House and Senate negotiators included language in the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2004, Pub. L. No. 108-87, § 8131, 117 Stat. 1054, 1102 (2003) signed into law by President Bush on October 1, 2003), prohibiting the further use of funds for the TIA program. Further, the Joint Explanatory Statement included in the conference committee report specifically directed that the IAO (the program manager for TIA) be terminated immediately (149 Cong. Rec. H8755—H8771 (Sept. 24, 2003). Notwithstanding the defunding of TIA and the closing of the IAO, several TIA projects continued to be funded under the classified annexes to the Defense and the Intelligence appropriation bills in 2003 and subsequently.

For example, several TIA projects were funded through the National Foreign Intelligence Program for foreign counterterrorism intelligence purposes by the National Security Agency as Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA) under the classified annex to the 2004 DOD Appropriations Act as contemplated in §8131 thereof. Recent reports suggest that some of this activity is now part of the Disruptive Technology Office (DTO) reporting to the Director of National Intelligence.

-Wikipedia, Information Awareness Office, article current on May 13th, 2006

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Slip of the Tongue

"By the '70s and into the '80s and '90s, the Democratic Party solidified its gains in the African American community, and we Republicans did not effectively reach out," Mehlman says in his prepared text. "Some Republicans gave up on winning the African American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization. I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong."
-- RNC Chief to Say It Was 'Wrong' to Exploit Racial Conflict for Votes, Washington Post, July 14 2005

MR. RUSSERT: Headlines in the Capitol Hill paper: “Dems prepare for transition.” Today’s Washington Post: “Confident Dems lay out agenda.” You’re measuring the draperies in the speaker’s office.

REP. PELOSI: No we’re not. No we’re not. The American people would like to know what we would do if we take over.

MR. RUSSERT: Ah, absolutely. If they...

REP. PELOSI: And that’s what...

MR. RUSSERT: ...and let me ask you about that, because you told The Washington Post that there will be investigations if the Democrats regain control of the House. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee would be someone named John Conyers. I went up to his Web site and this is what’s on his Web site: “Stand with Congressman Conyers. Demand an investigation of administration abuses of power and make recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment.”

REP. PELOSI: Democrats are not about impeachment. Democrats are about bringing the country together. This is what we have to do.

MR. RUSSERT: But that’s the man who would be chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Tim Russert on Meet the Press, May 7 2006


COOPER: It's interesting, though, because Democrats seem to be trying to fire up their base. And I'm wondering if it is going to backfire.

You have Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi telling "The Washington Post" that, if Democrats regain the House, they would launch investigations into energy prices and the war.

When people start hearing about investigating the president, I mean, does that just fire up the Democrats, or does that play into the Republicans' hands?

GERGEN: Terrific question.

I -- it -- it -- when I read that story over the weekend, I thought, you know, this is going to wave a red flag in front of the Republican bulls. They're going to look at this and say, we're not going to spend the next two years with investigations, led by Ron Dellums and others and people who want to impeach the president. We're just not going to get into that.

-- David Gergen on Anderson Cooper 360, May 8 2006

John Conyers is currently the ranking Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee. Ron Dellums retired from Congress, after 28 years of service, in 1999.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Reliable Source

"You have to have a great deal of confidence to do self-deprecating humor, especially when you're being attacked day in and day out," said Landon Parvin, who helped Bush and Bridges write the jokes contrasting Bush's public voice with his supposed inner thoughts." -- Washington Post, The New Bush Twins: Double Dubya

"Make. Announce. Type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home." -- Colbert

The reviews from the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner are in, and the consensus is that President Bush and Bush impersonator Steve Bridges stole Saturday's show -- and Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert's cutting satire fell flat because he ignored the cardinal rule of Washington humor: Make fun of yourself, not the other guy. -- Washington Post, The New Bush Twins: Double Dubya

Saturday, April 29, 2006

"Wheels within wheels"

"After this introductory preface, the three chums informed Mr. Pickwick, in a breath, that money was, in the Fleet, just what money was out of it." -- Pickwick Papers, Chapter 42

[the following selections all taken from today's San Jose Mercury News]

"The cost of the war in Iraq is skyrocketing, largely because tanks, trucks, helicopters and other military gear are wearing out in Iraq's harsh climate and have to be replaced faster than ever before, a review of military budgets shows. The Pentagon's cost for new weapons and equipment has risen sharply since U.S. troops entered Iraq, from about $8 billion in 2003 to more than $24 billion this year, according to statistics compiled by the Congressional Research Service. As a percentage, new equipment now accounts for 20 percent of military expenditures in Iraq and Afghanistan. The cost of replacing equipment is one of the factors likely to make Iraq one of the costliest military engagements in U.S. history." ("Fresh Military Gear Drives Up War Costs: Iraq's Climate Hard on Equipment")

"With oil prices above $70 a barrel fouling the world economy, dismay is focusing on Iraq, whose exports have slipped to their lowest levels since the 2003 invasion. Contrary to optimistic expectations, Iraq's oil production has slipped further and further since the U.S.-led invasion, to an average of 2 million barrels a day. . . . Those figures suggest misplaced optimism by Iraq's oil ministry, which in 2005 predicted crude production would reach 2.5 million or even 3 million barrels a day by the end of 2006. Analysts have called that prediction a pipe dream. Insurgents have been so deft at shutting down the pipelines from the giant fields aroud the northern city of Kirkuk that Iraq authorities tried to move crude by truck to its refineries and crude-burning power plants. But after insurgents attacked the trucks, drivers became difficult to recruit and the oil ministry was forced to cut production." ("Iraq's Failure at Oil Exports a Key to Crunch")

"The U.N. food agency said Friday that it is cutting rations in half for about 3 million refugees in Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region because of a shortage of money, calling it 'scandalous' that it has to stretch out supplies while it pleads for funds. The World Food Program said it would reduce food handouts to 1,050 calories a person starting Monday -- down from the 2,1000 calories that is considered the daily mininum requirement, meaning some of those being helped could eventually face starvation. . . . Donor governments have given the World Food Program only $238 million of the $746 million the agency needs this year for the whole of Sudan, said WFP official Christiane Berthiaume." ("Money Shortage Forcing U.N. to Cut Food Aid to Sudan by Half")

"Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan faces six charges, including allegations that between September 2003 and December 2004 he oppressed Iraqi detainess 'by subjecting them to forced nudity and intimidation by military walking dogs' and later repeatedly lied about his knowledge of any such abuse, according to the Army. Jordan would become the highest-ranking Army officer tried in the abuses at Abu Ghurayb. . . . Unrelated to the prisoner abuse, Jordan was also charged with fraud for submitting receipts for car repairs that were several hundred dollars more than the actual cost of the repairs." ("No. 2 Interrogation Officer Charged in Iraq Prison Abuse")

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Fixer

"Sometimes con mobs operate through one fixer who buys protection wholesale, so to speak, for all types of criminals. This is likely to be the case in cities under 30,000 in population, where one man handles all types of protection for a price. More often, however, they locate the big store in a community permanently, say, as a merchant might locate a dry-gods store there. This means that they must have sound connections with the forces of law and order--connections which can be depended upon to withstand stormy times. It also means that often the fixer must have a specialized technique for this type of work--fixing con touches. Hence, con men sometimes depend upon one powerful fixer who works constantly in their interests for a stipulated percentage--usually fifty per cent of the insideman's share after he has paid off the necessary expenses incidental to playing the mark."

-- David W. Maurer, The Big Con, Ch. 7 (1940)

Sunday, April 23, 2006

real horrorshow

a clockwork orange

"Nobody likes to see violence on the TV screens. Nobody wants to see little children blown up when a U.S. soldier is trying to give them candy. Nobody likes to see innocent women die at the hands of suicide bombers. It breaks our heart." -- George W. Bush, "President Bush Discusses Global War on Terror" 4.6.06

"It's funny how the colours of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen."-- Alex, A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

freudian slip?

MCCLELLAN: You have accomplished a lot over the last several years with this team. And I have been honored and grateful to be a small part of a terrific and talented team of really good people. Our relationship began back in Texas, and I look forward to continuing it, particularly when we are both back in Texas.

BUSH: That's right.

MCCLELLAN: Although I hope to get there before you. (laughter)

--AP 4.19.06

Man (1938)

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