Archive for February, 2007

Harmon Paine, PI — Chapter 2

[To see the first installment of this roman á clay feet, click here:

A couple of special forces guys hauled me into the chopper like a spent marlin. With my shirt untucked and my hair scattered like a particularly knotty pick-up sticks problem, dignity was difficult to convey. I met their hard looks with one of my own meant to convey that I could slit a man’s throat with with a damp cocktail napkin.

“You airsick?” one of them asked contemptuously.

I shook my head and looked out the open side. My tomato plants were still quivering in the chopper’s downdraft. At least they’ll pollinate, I thought. Tomato plants are the pandas of the vegetable world. Their reproduction is so chancy, it’s a wonder they’ve survived.

“Where we headed?” I asked.

He just smiled a jagged smile and said, “You’ll see.”

The copter lifted high over the city and headed resolutely west. Despite their undeniable and irrefutable compensatory skills, my companions weren’t trained in the finer arts of conversation. I contented myself with my own thoughts and the view. I wondered about this world in which you could be tending your tomato plants one minute, and abducted by your government the next. Or one in which you could be flying to see your Aunt Gladys in Van Nuys one minute, and make an unscheduled stop at the 93rd floor of the World Trade Center the next. It didn't make sense, but sense is a human affectation. Reality has no use for it.

We had left the city about ten minutes behind when we approached a small suburban airstrip. As we descended, I saw that the field was empty, except for an enormous 757, with a flag of the United States on its tail. I looked at the closest special forces guy. “Is that who I think it is?” He held up two fingers.

“Veep,” he said.

We were on the ground in a second, and I was escorted off the chopper, across a short span of tarmac to the stairs, and up into the plane. I read the words on the side carefully just to make sure: United States of America. A young man in a gray suit received me at the top of the stairs. His thinning hair tossed about freely in the breeze.

“Good flight?” he asked.

“Not bad, but I had to hand over my shampoo,” I replied. “And no peanuts.” My military companion shook his head, saluted, and left us.

“Well, if you’re hungry, we’re fully equiped to offer you anything you need.”

“Answers would be nice.”

“I’m sure they would, but I’ll let the Vice President fill you in. If you’ll follow me...”. He led me to a small but comfortably furnished sitting room. There were a few magazines scattered on a coffee table, an oil painting of a craggy mountain rising out of the plain, and the seal of the Vice President of the United States. “I’ll let him know you’re here. Are you sure there’s nothing you want?”

“On second thought, the ride did make me a little thirsty. Got any root beer on this bucket?”

“Root beer,” he repeated. “I’ll check.”

While waiting, I looked around the room. There were a few photos on walls, mostly of state visits. One picture was of a much younger VP with a hunting party. I swear one of them looked like Jimmy Hoffa.

[to be continued]

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Tory Schmory

One cosies up to Christopher Hitchens at one’s own risk.

But when the man’s good, he’s very good:

David Cameron has become the green challenger. His party’s events feature tie-less informality and earth tones and much grave talk about the need for “organic” attitudes. Confronted with things like youthful crime, which used to bring out the authoritarian beast in his party’s traditionalist ranks, Cameron speaks soothingly of root causes and compassion.

Twenty or even 10 years ago, it would have been inconceivable that the historic left-right divide in British politics could have taken this form. Old leftist friends of mine from the 1960s are now on Labor’s front bench and staunchly defend the overthrow of Saddam Hussein as a part of the noble anti-fascist tradition, while dyed-in-the-wool reactionaries are warning against American hubris. I keep having to pinch myself.

Some of this is dictated by public opinion, which generally regards the Iraq operation as an exercise in hysterical egomania by a prime minister too eager to please his master in Washington. At the moment, British politics are still too dominated by the figure of Blair for opinion polls to be very useful as a guide, but there is a lot of intuitive evidence that Gordon Brown would have a very tough time fending off a challenge from the younger and fresher Cameron—especially a younger and fresher Cameron who chose to appear in so many of the borrowed plumes of environmentalism and multiculturalism.

If you look at it in this light, it can even seem like a plus that the latest leader of Margaret Thatcher’s no-nonsense party is now inescapably linked to certain dreamy voyages of the imagination. But I can’t easily adjust to the fact that for the first time in memory, there is nothing intimidating about the British Conservative Party. For all I know, its current leader might regard that as a compliment.

I can’t say that John Major was all that intimidating, but he at least had some intellectual bodyguards nearby. Michael Heseltine, for example, was not to be trusted as a political ally, but if you went up against him he’d kick you in the balls just as soon as say good day.


Pretty Good, Could Be Better

UN Watch reports that Canada is pretty solid on human rights (you were expecting different?)—but could do a little more:

Human rights at the United Nations is everywhere under assault. At the newly created Human Rights Council in Geneva, and at the General Assembly in New York, an increasingly brazen alliance of repressive regimes is not only spoiling needed reform but undermining the few meaningful mechanisms of UN human rights protection that already exist. Impunity for systematic abuses is their goal. Amid all of this, where does Canada stand?

This report, presented today to members of the Parliament of Canada, shows that Canada ranks at the very top—in both the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly—for its record of consistent support for positive initiatives, and solid opposition to malicious measures. The data also shows, however, that Canada falls short in its failure to speak out often or strongly enough for victims of most of the world’s worst regimes.

The study offers a meaningful evaluation of Canada’s actions by comparing them with those of other countries on a selection of votes considered the most significant by Council stakeholders. These include most prominently the “name and shame” resolutions…

It is here where Canada—among many others, I’m sure—could do more:

What is perhaps most revealing is the report’s analysis of what Canada has done for victims of the most repressive regimes. Looking at the latest list of 19 as compiled by Freedom House, Canada did nothing for 13 of them.

Canada took no action whatsoever at the Human Rights Council or the General Assembly against China’s violations of civil, political and religious rights—which harm over a sixth of the world’s population. Canada was equally silent regarding Fidel Castro’s police state, where journalists languish in jail for daring to speak the truth. It said nothing about Saudi Arabia’s refusal to allow women to vote or drive a car, or its state-sponsored schoolbooks that teach children to hate Christians and other non-Muslims. Nor did it protest Robert Mugabe’s repression in Zimbabwe.

Maybe Canada didn’t—but plenty of Canadians did.

Look, this report is reasonable and fair—but let’s be quite clear. Canada is not the problem with the United Nations. Remember, all of the offending nations are themelves members in good standing at the UN. China has a permanent seat on the Security Council, for crissakes.

I know not every nation can be a Bobby Orr, but do so many have to be Marty McSorleys?


You Say Abuse, I Say Dormitory Living

I don’t want to belittle the bleak, hopeless experiences of “unlawful combatants”—well, yes I do:

During his 3 1/2 -year detention as an “enemy combatant,” accused al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla was at various times deprived of a clock, windows and a Koran, and forced to sleep on a metal bed frame without a mattress, according to testimony Tuesday from an official at the Navy brig where he was held in Charleston, S.C.

The account of Sanford E. Seymour, the brig’s technical director, was narrow in scope and offered only a glimpse of Padilla’s incarceration, which Padilla and his attorneys have said included torture that renders him psychologically unfit to stand trial.

Limited by a court ruling to what he had discussed with a psychologist evaluating Padilla’s competence for trial, Seymour’s testimony was sketchy but ran contrary to some of Padilla’s most serious allegations.

While Padilla has asserted that he was injected with LSD or a truth serum, Seymour indicated it may have been a flu shot, and while Padilla said he was subject to noxious odors that made his eyes and nose run, Seymour said a nearby paper mill sometimes makes the brig stink.

Like I said, welcome to dorm living.


They Jihad to Go

Does it matter what Fatah and Hamass agree, or don’t agree, to? As long as Islamic Jihad et al remain free to shell and murder with impunity?

Well, maybe not impunity:

Israeli forces killed two Islamic Jihad leaders and their driver in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, drawing vows of revenge for the ambush in Jenin.

Keeping pressure on militants elsewhere in the West Bank, Israeli soldiers moved back into Nablus and clamped a curfew on thousands of people, a day after residents said the army had ended a raid — the biggest in months — that began on Saturday.

Near Jenin’s refugee camp, an Israeli undercover unit ambushed a car in which Ashraf al-Saadi, described by Islamic Jihad as a commander in its armed wing in the West Bank, was traveling.

Witnesses said Saadi was wounded by Israeli gunfire and two other men in the vehicle, Mohammed Abu Naaseh and driver Ala al-Breiky, were killed outright. Saadi fled on foot and fired a pistol, but was shot dead by the plainclothed unit after falling to the ground, the witnesses told Reuters.

“Israeli forces came to arrest the wanted men. Saadi spotted the unit, took out a pistol and fired at it, wounding a (paramilitary) border policeman. The force fired back, killing the three men,” an Israeli military spokesman said.

Israeli security sources said Saadi had cooperated with senior Islamic Jihad members involved in suicide bombings in Israel in 2005 and 2006. The sources described Abu Naaseh as a senior Islamic Jihad commander in Jenin refugee camp.

Or, as the Palestinian media put it, “assassinate”.

Of course, Palestinian media are notoriously fickle.


Fifth Columnists

If Representaitive Jim Moran didn’t exist, I swear we conservatives would have to invent him:

House Democratic leaders offered a full-throated defense last night of their plans to link Iraq war spending with rigorous standards for resting, training and equipping combat troops, saying that they would hold President Bush accountable for failing to meet those readiness tests.

But some Democrats, especially those from conservative districts, remain wary. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (Va.), who supports the plan, said many Democrats “want to make sure this is still President Bush’s war. It’s his war to manage, and it’s his war to end.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself, Jimmy—and, believe me, I’ve tried. The Democrats don’t back the president, they don’t back the country, and they certainly don’t back the troops. Just listen, and they tell you so themselves.

Of course, Moran is known for saying a lot of ugly truths about his party and the Left:

What do Sen. Carl Levin, author Michael Lerner, activist Phyllis Bennis, opinion journalist Bruce Shapiro, and civil-rights advocate Michael Ratner have in common? All are among the veritable phalanx of liberal Jews who are at the forefront of the movement to stop President Bush from using military force to topple dictator Saddam Hussein.

So how is it that Rep. James Moran (D., Va.) can think, much less say: “If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this.”?

Moran was also one of the only 37 members of the House who voted against the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act. I guess instead of calling him and his ilk a Fifth Columnist, I should call him an Eight Per Center.


A Poll Up His Ass

Bill Clinton acclimated the country to politics by poll, so we shouldn’t be surprised that the “a href=””>liberal media want to submit even issues of national security to a questionnaire:

It’s a landslide.

In stark contrast to the indecision and hesitation on Capitol Hill and among the Washington media elite, the American people have made up their mind about Iraq. They want out, and they want Congress to do something about it.

According to the results of the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, disapproving of President Bush’s Iraq policy is not just the majority view; it is the sentiment of two out of every three members of the American public.

Two out of three Americans can’t be wrong.

Similar numbers think similarly of journalists. So let’s make a deal: we’ll pull out of Iraq when the Washington Post, New York Times, NPR, BBC (I could go on, but you get the point) report without bias. Two out of three Americans can’t be wrong.


From Her Lips…to Just About Anywhere

Angelina Jolie is doing God’s work, so I’ll be gentle. Besides, you have to admire the trajectory that leads from Billy Bob Thornton to Brad Pitt to el Jefe arriba:

BAHAI, Chad — Here, at this refugee camp on the border of Sudan, nothing separates us from Darfur but a small stretch of desert and a line on a map. All the same, it’s a line I can’t cross. As a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, I have traveled into Darfur before, and I had hoped to return. But the UNHCR has told me that this camp, Oure Cassoni, is as close as I can get.

I’ve seen how aid workers and nongovernmental organizations make a difference to people struggling for survival. I can see on workers’ faces the toll their efforts have taken. Sitting among them, I’m amazed by their bravery and resilience. But humanitarian relief alone will never be enough.

Until the killers and their sponsors are prosecuted and punished, violence will continue on a massive scale. Ending it may well require military action. But accountability can also come from international tribunals, measuring the perpetrators against international standards of justice.

The aptly named Jolie has put her long, slender, exquisitely tanned and manicured finger on the problem: ending the suffering in Darfur may require military action. Across the continent in Somalia, Ethiopia showed how it’s done—with a little help from US gunships and special ops forces.

But who’s going to do it? Unless you’re there, Angie, the job doesn’t have a lot of appeal. Which may be why she goes off the rails here:

Accountability is a powerful force. It has the potential to change behavior — to check aggression by those who are used to acting with impunity. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), has said that genocide is not a crime of passion; it is a calculated offense. He’s right. When crimes against humanity are punished consistently and severely, the killers’ calculus will change.

On Monday I asked a group of refugees about their needs. Better tents, said one; better access to medical facilities, said another. Then a teenage boy raised his hand and said, with powerful simplicity, “Nous voulons une épreuve.” We want a trial. He is why I am encouraged by the ICC’s announcement yesterday that it will prosecute a former Sudanese minister of state and a Janjaweed leader on charges of crimes against humanity.

Now, I would pay to see Angelina Jolie in a black robe and powdered wig. But I don’t for a moment believe that this would change the fate of anyone in Darfur. Which presumably is the goal here.

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You Must be [Bleeping] Kidding Me

Yet another Palestinian welfare project paid for by me and you and you and you…

A United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees launched an appeal on Tuesday for $26 million to improve the living conditions of approximately 18,000 Palestinian refugees living in a camp near Aleppo, Syria.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) launched the appeal in Amman during a regular meeting of its advisory commission, attended by commissioner general, Karen AbuZayd.

The Neirab camp near Aleppo in northern Syria originally housed World War II troops, but was given to Palestinian refugees who fled their homes following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Six decades later, the refugees are still living in the same barracks, which have never been renovated.

How can they even say this with a straight face? People who left their own homes nearly sixty years ago rather than live next to Jews are refugees deserving of our support? I knew a family when I was a kid that moved out of our neighborhood when a racially mixed development was announced—and they lived nearly a mile away. Can they still get some cash?

This is institutionalized hatred, and we’re supporting it. If I cared about the Palestinians—and evidence of that is thin on the ground—I’d also (re-)emphasize that maintaining the Palestinians as basket cases is just plain cruel. Do you like what you see, you pro-Palestinian types? Do they seem happy to you? How many times do I have to observe that Arabs in Israel can and do lead all sorts of lives, while “Palestinians” in refugee camps in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and elsewhere lead an apartheid existence? I believe the Palestinians are beyond hope, at least as long as their media and their schools spew the most virulent anti-Semitism since Joseph Goebbels last drew breath.

But that’s just me. Karen AbuZayd (can that really be her name?) believes differently.


You’re Right, Let’s Go Home

“They continue to plot attacks against the homeland and other targets with the aim of inflicting mass casualties,” he said. “Indeed, al-Qaeda, along with other terrorist groups, continues to seek chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons or materials. Al-Qaeda also is forging stronger operational connections that radiate outward from their camps in Pakistan to affiliated groups and networks throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.”

“We assess that Tehran seeks to develop nuclear weapons and has shown a greater interest in drawing out the negotiations rather than in reaching an acceptable diplomatic solution,” McConnell said. “While our information is incomplete, we estimate Iran could produce a nuclear weapon by early to mid next decade.”

Intelligence officials on why it’s time to pull up stakes and get out. We’re the problem. Once we’re out of the picture, the world will be one big Coke commericial.

Yeah, you betcha.


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