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January 8, 2006 - Just when you thought you knew the players and the rules...

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There is much unease in the Middle East as a key player has been sidelined from the game - as in this from the BBC midweek –


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is to be kept heavily sedated as he fights for his life after suffering a major stroke on Wednesday.

Doctors in Jerusalem say they will keep the 77-year-old leader in an "induced coma" for up to 72 hours.

Earlier, he underwent seven hours of surgery to stop bleeding in his brain. ...


And there was more surgery, and as of publication here, he's still hanging on.


So what is the unease?


Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat - "I'm really worried that the competition to replace Mr Sharon will be marred with more escalation against the Palestinians whether in the form of assassinations, arrests, incursions of settlements and that worries me a lot."

And here Kenneth R. Timmerman in Front Page Magazine argues the old general was holding back on an aerial attack on Iran to take out their nuclear program to build a bomb and a delivery system to hit Israel - he saw the problems with that, if though we just provided Israel with a whole lot of new and shiny "bunker-busting" bombs.  Now whoever replaces him may be less reluctant to carry out "The Cheney Plan."  Maybe so - Timmerman provides a whole lot of detail.

But no one knows what will happen now, and with no one knowing, you get some really odd filler material from what one fellow, Andrew Sullivan, calls the two leading fundamentalists in the world.

Pat Robertson says this


"He was dividing God's land. And I would say, Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the E.U., the United Nations or the United States of America. God says, This land belongs to me. You better leave it alone."


God got him good! This is punishment for giving up Gaza.

From Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the newly elected leader of Iran, we get this - "Hopefully the news that the criminal of Sabra and Shatila has joined his ancestors is final."

God is very mysterious. Both these guys think He is acting here with some sort of cardiovascular retribution. Given that Pat Robertson is a frequent guest at the White House and one of those influential "movers and shakers" important to Karl Rove, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected to lead Iran, you see we're not so far apart after all. We both believe in a vengeful God. And here, as in Iran, politicians who claim to be the instruments of an angry and vengeful God stay in power. That works.

Note that the hyper-intellectual, mad-for-war, atheist Christopher Hitchens here provides the secular assessment of Ariel Sharon - he used to be a very bad man but he improved. As in this –


A notorious unit under his command had been responsible for the mass slaughter of the inhabitants of Qibya, a village in the then-Jordanian West Bank, in 1953. He had gone on to be one of the most promiscuous participants in the lawless attack on Egypt, in collusion with the most reactionary circles in Britain and France, in October of 1956. After 1967, he was a particularly brutal enforcer of the occupation in Gaza.

In politics as well as in the military field, he was a brutal, blustering demagogic opportunist.


But, finally, Sharon "did begin to acknowledge the contours of Palestinian statehood, and this counts as one of the better ironies of history."


He made things better a bit, but realistically he had no choice. That was the only "opportunity."


The Sabra and Shatila massacres he arranged were youthful exuberance?

We shall see what happens now, as we have a classic power vacuum. All bets are off.

In the interim we see here, in The Guardian (UK), Pat Robertson and the Israeli government are developing a Jesus theme park in Israel –


The Israeli government is planning to give up a large slice of land to American Christian evangelicals to build a biblical theme park by the Sea of Galilee where Jesus is said to have walked on water and fed 5,000 with five loaves and two fish.

A consortium of Christian groups, led by the television evangelist Pat Robertson, is in negotiation with the Israeli ministry of tourism and a deal is expected in the coming months. The project is expected to bring up to 1 million extra tourists a year but an undeclared benefit will be the cementing of a political alliance between the Israeli rightwing and the American Christian right.


And note these details from the ABC Travel pages –


Highlights may include a Holy Bible Garden, full of plants and trees mentioned in the New Testament, and equipped with quiet sites for reflection and prayer. A Sea of Galilee Amphitheater will overlook the mouth of the Jordan River and hold 1,500-2,000 worshippers. And the park will have a Christian Experience Auditorium and a Multimedia Center.

The center would also feature an online broadcast center, which would give religious leaders an opportunity to address their followers back home, live, near the tranquil blue waters of the Sea of Galilee (which today is considered a lake).


The Guardian reports a mixed reaction, locally –


Yossi Sarid, a former government minister and member of the Knesset, said he was wary of the friendship of the American Christian right and projects such as the Galilee centre. He said: "I am not enthusiastic about this cooperation because I have no desire to be cannon fodder for the evangelists.

"As a Jew, they believe I have to vanish before Jesus can make his second appearance. As I have no plans to convert, as an Israeli and a Jew, I find this a provocation. There is something sinister about their embrace."

Avraham Hirschson, the Israeli tourism minister, said: "I'm not a theologian, I'm the minister of tourism, and I'm not interested in the politics of our tourists as long as they come here. They come here as tourists, and they're friends of Israel."


It hardly seems like the twenty-first century. After the enlightenment we had all sort of war about territory and resources and just raw power. Now, we're back to competing fundamentalists. What happened?

It doesn't matter. The Rapture is coming. The index is now at 151 and rising - and anything over 145 is "fasten your seatbelts."


It'll all be over soon enough.


And what our friends say?


Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta –


I always figured one proof that God is not the vengeful jerk that Osama bin Laden and Pat Robertson make him out to be is that, after all these years, those two idiots are still alive and kicking and making general nuisances of themselves.


You'd think a guy who had a controversial "Wonderful World of Jesus" business deal awaiting Israeli government approval would know enough not to go insult Israel's leadership. And I would also wonder, the next time Pat Robertson shows up at the White House, whether we should take this to be proof that our own leaders still associate themselves with people of low degree, or instead whether it would just be further proof that the members of this administration still don't read the newspapers.


Frequent contributor Phillip Raines –


I can only guess at the security that will need to be in place at Jesusland theme park.  Metal detectors won't be enough. 


I also thought Sharon - once a warmonger - has become a little less vengeful himself.  I can't help but think that was because he saw the last days coming, as anyone his age and weight with such a stressful life would realistically consider.  With power, wisdom and time running out I would want to make peace, not kick ass and seek revenge.  Maybe he did too.


And the Pat Robinson problem of dealing out smite cards because he knows what God thinks…  Could anything be more arrogant wrapped in piety? 


It's just too much.


Rick again –


In Sharon's case, I tend to think it's the classic case of conservatives getting the power they also wished (and campaigned) for, and then slowly becoming converts to reality.


In Pat Robertson's case, I think the dude knows the only way to keep a picture of his mug fresh in our brains is to periodically say something radically stupid, then tip off the media. I suppose he was just about due again.


Dick in Rochester –


Can anyone here hack into Robertson's phone list?   I wanna talk to God, too!



What else?


As mentioned in Washington 90210 - the background piece on Jack Abramoff (Beverly Hills High School, Class of 1977), the lobbyist who pled guilty to all sort of the felonies and will, in return for a lighter sentence, reveal just what congressmen and staffers he sort of bribed - this whole investigation is being overseen by one Noel Hillman, "a hard-charging career prosecutor who heads the Public Integrity Section and who has a long track record of nailing politicians of all stripes."


But we're also told "politics almost certainly will creep into the equation" as Hillman's new boss is one Alice Fisher, "who is widely respected but also a loyal Republican socially close to DeLay's defense team."  As noted, Alice Fisher was appointed to this post in a "recess appointment" last September - Carl Levin, a senator from Michigan, and a Democrat, had been blocking the nomination. Some agent had named Alice Fisher in an email saying we really were torturing folks down in Guantánamo, and he wanted to look into that. Did she have something to do with saying that was fine and dandy? Levin didn't get to ask the question. Like John Bolton at the UN, Alice Fisher was appointed through the procedural back door, and no one can do anything about either one of these two until 2007.

Alice Fisher has no prosecutorial experience - her last job was as a registered lobbyist for HCA, the famous Hospital Corporation of America founded by the father of Senate Majority Leader Bill First, and the source of Bill Frist's issues with the SEC and Justice Department over illegal stock transactions - that insider trading charge now under investigation.

How did she get to be head of the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section? The senate would never approve her. After Michael Brown at FEMA, that would look just dumb - they wouldn't be performing their "oversight" function to "advise and consent" on key nominations to high office. They learned their lesson.

The president used his "recess appointment" powers. And he just did it again. Wednesday, the 4th, he made seventeen more.

Here's the list


Floyd Hall, of New Jersey, to be a Member of the AMTRAK Reform Board.

Enrique J. Sosa, of Florida, to be a Member of the AMTRAK Reform Board.

Nadine Hogan, of Florida, to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Inter-American Foundation (Private Representative).

Roger W. Wallace, of Texas, to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Inter-American Foundation (Private Representative).

Gordon England, of Texas, to be Deputy Secretary of Defense.

Benjamin A. Powell, of Florida, to be General Counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Ronald E. Meisburg, of Virginia, to be General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board.

Julie L. Myers, of Kansas, to be Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security (Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

Tracy A. Henke, of Missouri, to be Executive Director of the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness at the Department of Homeland Security.

Arthur F. Rosenfeld, of Virginia, to be Federal Mediation and Conciliation Director at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

Ellen R. Sauerbrey, of Maryland, to be Assistant Secretary of State (Population, Refugees, and Migration).

Dorrance Smith, of Virginia, to be Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs).

Robert D. Lenhard, of Maryland, to be a Member of the Federal Election Commission.

Steven T. Walther, of Nevada, to be a Member of the Federal Election Commission.

Hans Von Spakovsky, of Georgia, to be a Member of the Federal Election Commission.

Peter N. Kirsanow, of Ohio, to be a Member of the National Labor Relations Board.

Stephen Goldsmith, of Indiana, to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Corporation for National and Community Service.


Do these names mean anything to anyone?

As the Associated Press reports here


Under the Constitution, the president may avoid the Senate confirmation process and make appointments while the chamber is in recess. Such appointments usually are short-term, expiring at the end of next congressional session.

But because the Senate held a pro forma session Tuesday and then adjourned, the White House contends the second session of the 109th Congress has begun. Therefore, the White House believes Bush's nearly 20 recess appointments are valid until the following session, which won't conclude until the end of 2007.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the appointments were necessary to fill vacancies, and that a few posts were empty because some lawmakers "are playing politics with the nomination process."


So there is some heartburn.


John McCain complains that the regular confirmation process should be used "so the Senate can be assured that nominees are qualified." Ted Kennedy says there's a problem with Hans von Spakovsky going to the FEC - von Spakovsky is the Justice Department lawyer who was Republican Party chairman in Fulton County down in Georgia, the guy who argued Georgia voters should be required to have photo identification, and many said that was an effort to keep out black voters who wouldn't go through the process of getting the ID cards and couldn't afford them. Black voters don't usually vote Republican of course. And this Hans was also involved in a decision that rejected a recommendation of career Justice Department lawyers in a Texas redistricting case - as you recall, the lawyers had concluded that the redistricting plan violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it eliminated several districts where minorities had substantial voting power, and illegally diluted black and Hispanic voting power. Hans said that didn't matter.

Peter Kirsanow to the National Labor Relations Board?  Kennedy - "He is an ardent foe of basic worker protections, including the minimum wage and prevailing wage laws, and is a vehement opponent of affirmative action."

Yeah, so? Who isn't?

The appointment of Ellen Sauerbrey to be assistant secretary of state for refugees, population and migration ticked off a lot of people. She's now our ambassador to the United Nations Commission on the status of women - and argues all aid be stopped to any country where abortion is legal and condoms are available. She articulates our new official position that all population and AIDS and STD issues can only be address by encouraging abstinence and Judeo-Christina values. You'll find a complete discussion of all that here.

Even I'd-rather-be-a-Republican, Bush-is-my-hero, things-in-Iraq-are-quite-rosy Joe Lieberman has problems with the nomination of deputy associate attorney general Tracy Henke to be director of state and local government coordination and preparedness at the Homeland Security Department.  Lieberman said Henke's decision to delete statistics about racial disparities in traffic stops from a draft press release "may have undermined the office's reputation for objectivity and independence."

Like it matters?

The Washington Post notes, here, some other issues, like Julie L. Myers to head the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau at the Department of Homeland Security, in a maneuver circumventing the need for approval by the Senate. –


Myers, a niece of former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Richard B. Myers and the wife of the chief of staff to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, had been criticized by Republicans and Democrats who charged that she lacked experience in immigration matters.

Myers's nomination faced a bruising and potentially embarrassing fight on the Senate floor, where Democrats were prepared to argue that politics, not merit, drove her selection for an important job preventing terrorists and weapons from entering the country.


Well, she's never run anything this big, and as the Post noted last September


The Bush administration is seeking to appoint a lawyer with little immigration or customs experience to head the troubled law enforcement agency that handles those issues, prompting sharp criticism from some employee groups, immigration advocates and homeland security experts.

The push to appoint Julie Myers to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, comes in the midst of intense debate over the qualifications of department political appointees involved in the sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina...

... After working as a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, N.Y., for two years, Myers held a variety of jobs over the past four years at the White House and at the departments of Commerce, Justice and Treasury, though none involved managing a large bureaucracy. Myers worked briefly as chief of staff to Michael Chertoff when he led the Justice Department's criminal division before he became Homeland Security secretary.

Myers also was an associate under independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr for about 16 months and has most recently served as a special assistant to President Bush handling personnel issues.

Her uncle is Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She married Chertoff's current chief of staff, John F. Wood, on Saturday.

In written answers to questions from Congress, Myers highlighted her year-long job as assistant secretary for export enforcement at Commerce, where she said she supervised 170 employees and a $25 million budget. ICE has more than 20,000 employees and a budget of approximately $4 billion. Its personnel investigate immigrant, drug and weapon smuggling, and illegal exports, among other responsibilities.

Myers was on her honeymoon and was not available to comment yesterday. Erin Healy, a White House spokeswoman, cited Myers's work with customs agents on money-laundering and drug-smuggling cases. "She's well-known and respected throughout the law enforcement community," Healy said. "She has a proven track record as an effective manager."


Right. And I'm the pope.

But this week the Post did point out that the president "avoided an abortion rights battle with the recess appointment of former Maryland Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey as assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration."  Sauerbrey is an opponent of abortion rights.  She's not held office or done much of anything - in 2000 she was the Maryland state chairman of Bush's presidential campaign - but then John Ashcroft lost a senate race to a dead man and found himself Attorney General.  She ran for governor in Maryland and lost twice.   It's a tradition?

Gordon England's appointment as Deputy Secretary of Defense, to take the Paul Wolfowitz slot, makes sense. He used to be a top executive at both General Dynamics and at Lockheed. He'll keep them happy.

As for J. Dorrance Smith, of Virginia, to be Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), note this


J. Dorrance Smith, the nominee, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in a closed session to answer questions about an opinion article in which he accused U.S. television networks of helping terrorists through their partnerships with Al-Jazeera.


That Wall Street Journal opinion article is available here - he blasts all the major US television networks and the government of Qatar for cooperating with Al-Jazeera in showing "gruesome battlefield footage" obtained in Iraq. He just hates "the ongoing relationship between terrorists, Al-Jazeera and the networks" - and suggested maybe our government shouldn't maintain normal relations with Qatar - as long as they continued to subsidize Al-Jazeera.

Carl Levin of Michigan - "I have deep concerns about whether or not he should be representing the United States government and the Department of Defense with that kind of attitude and approach."

Well, we shouldn't see what we shouldn't see. And no one should take feeds from Al-Jazeera. And note this - "A Republican National Convention planner and former ABC News executive, Smith was quoted in a September 7, 2004, PBS Online NewsHour article as saying "the networks were to blame for their dwindling viewership and called Fox's triumph during the GOP convention 'truly a seminal event.'"

Well, Smith was a senior advisor to Bush's father - Assistant to the President for Media Affairs (1991-1993), and as a staff assistant to President Gerald R. Ford. He was media adviser and consultant to FEMA under Allbaugh in June 2001, when Allison hit Houston, Texas. He also "recently served as a media consultant for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies." But he did have an amazing news career at ABC, as you'll see if you click on the last link.

So, what should one make of all these appointments?

Well, the president already told the congress that, yes, he had ordered the NSA to spy on American citizens without warrants or court orders or any of that stuff, in spite of the FISA law they passed in 1978. He didn't need probably cause. The law was clear but no longer applied to him. And he certainly wasn't going to stop.

And he signed the McCain Amendment in to law, that one banning torture, but issued a "signing statement" saying he reserved the right, as commander-in-chief, to ignore it when he felt he should.

Now he made these back-door appointments, some rather odd and some really "Brownish" - and once again said to the legislative branch they really don't matter very much.

He's in charge, and he's kind of redefined the government. And as long as he says "terrorists" and "Boo!" - he knows folks are so afraid that no one will argue, and Fox News and the rest will explain to all that this is how things must be.

More of the same.  It's a new world, or at least a new country.  Love it or leave it.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
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