The Trouble with E-Bombs and the Predator; Don Young Fools Greens with Straw Man; Hitchens as Ganesh? The Electoral College, Is It in the Constitution?
by Alexander Cockburn
February 23, 2003
E-Bombs and Predators
Remember the late Carl Sagan's Nuclear Winter? Over in Rumsfeld's empire they've been working on Winter Lite: the "e-bomb," a high-powered microwave designed to fry the circuits of enemy equipment. It's been hailed as the new "wonder weapon" in the forthcoming Iraqi conflict.
As described by Robert Williscroft, in DefenseWatch, (cited on the sparky DefenseTech site) "a properly constructed E-bomb can effectively "fry" everything electric and electronic within several miles of the point of detonation. And the pulse is not the end. During the next fifteen minutes or so, collapsing electrical systems and communications grids will distribute the pulse, and create their own smaller pulses, analogous to an earthquake aftershock. The entire affected electrical and communications system will tear itself apart--self destruct."
But Williscroft goes on to describe Pentagon fears that "the use of the experimental weapon could burn out electronics on U.S. military equipment in the vicinity. Electronic circuitry on most Air Force systems hasn't yet been redesigned to survive a concentrated onslaught of electromagnetic pulses, according to a February 2000 report by Air Force Col. Eileen Walling. DefenseWatch argues that a simple version of the "e-bomb," constructed outside the refinements of the Iron Triangle's budgetary requirements, with about $400 worth of materials, would serve as an almost ideal terrorist weapon against a high-tech target like the United States.
Williscroft also cites concerns among Rumsfeld's men that destroying all urban communications in Baghdad might somehow alienate the locals. (You believe that?) And "it would significantly raise the financial cost of rebuilding Iraq's economy once a conflict is over." But that's what makes life so delightful for the postwar construction industry. Ask Dick Cheney how Halliburton makes its money.
Oh, and talking of fizzles, this just in, also from DefenseTech, about another miracle from the folks bringing you RMA, the Predator, touted as so perfect a piece of unmanned flying equipment that soon it might be requisitioned to GUARD THE HOMELAND'S SHORES. " Too bad," says DefenseTech, they're so slow, dumb, noisy, and near-sighted that almost anything stronger than a peashooter could take them down. Nearly half of the military's 60-or-so plane Predator fleet has crashed or been taken out. On Wednesday, the Iraqis claimed to have destroyed their second American drone in a month. Two more have gone down in Pakistan since the start of the New Year.
Rituals in the Tongass
Rep Don Young of Alaska, the hammer of the greens, is chuckling proudly after successful completion of a time-honored ploy: the straw-man threat. Here's how it worked, and how it always works. Details courtesy of Sam Bishop in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
Young's Mission: to protect future logging in the 17-million acre Tongass National Forest.
Means to achieve this objective: Passage of a bill put up by Alaska's Senator Ted Stevens, which would exempt from lawsuits a Forest Service decision, soon to become law, against establishing any more official wilderness areas in the Tongass.
The Straw-Men: Language inserted by Young into the House version of the bill that would lift a ban on logging and other development in roadless areas greater than 5,000 acres in Alaska's national forests. Young also proposed to exempt the entire Tongass Land Management Plan, completed in 1997, from further legal challenge. And he proposed language that would have forced the Forest Service to sell all the timber the industry would take.
Greens Torch Straw Men: Environmental groups and Democratic members of Congress battled furiously to keep Young's Tongass "riders" out of the final version of the omnibus bill
Finale: The dreaded "riders" are dumped, but the Forest Service kept its immunity from suit
"What we ended up with was what Ted put in," Young said. "We ended up with what we wanted at first." Young said he would have liked to lift the roadless rule, too, but it made a fine straw man.
It's a great little parable about how a lot of green politics actually work.
Hitchens as Ganesh
CP Diary's discussion of the Barstool Bombardier's admonitions in Vanity Fair on how to make drink your slave, not your master, elicited some amusing notes, plus a few indignant squeaks from the genteel element about how we should stick to the big issues of war and peace and not dally amid trivia like Christopher Hitchens' drinking habits.
Here's "CZ", a lady of evident refinement: "Re your words quoting C. Hitchens describing himself as possessing , "... a near-godlike physique which is the envy of many of my juniors." Who's kidding whom? The last time I saw Mr. H., on the conservative PBS television program, Uncommon Knowledge, he was approaching Jabba-the-Hut proportions, his skin was an unhealthy, slightly blue-grey color, and he had sickly dark circles under his eyes. Perhaps this is some ancient Hindu god to which he is referring? One of the blue ones? Ganesh, perhaps?"
Ganesh, we recall, was the god with an elephant's trunk, which in CH's case would be useful for downing bumpers of claret while keeping both hands free for typing rationales for dropping cluster bombs on kids in Baghdad.
Against this, there is a deadly tradition of pwog high mindedness abroad in the land, of which the following, from JF, is a good example:
To Jeffrey & Alex,
First I would like to explain, in my attempt to write about my feelings you have towards Hitchens, I must say I love Counterpunch. I believe it to be one of the most aggressive radical sites on the web, simply top notch. You do more than a great job putting it all together. Hitchens truly is a sell out. But I must question the postings Counterpunch puts up proposing, accurate or not, that Hitchens is an alcoholic loser [JF's words, not ours]. Personal attacks may draw an audience, or piss off the accused, but I ask, what good does this do for the Left? Debating Hitchens's arguments is one thing - personally attacking him is another - even if warranted."
To which Jeffrey St Clair sent this high-minded reply:
"Hitchens' essays aren't State Dept. white papers. & we're not dry pages of The Washington Monthly. Hitchens never really was on "our team." The fact that so many seem to think he was is a measure of his PERSONAL rhetoric of deceit. He is now a leading advocate of war, as he was in the war on Serbia, and runs cover for the entire Bush regime. Why shouldn't he be attacked as mercilessly as we would Bush, Rove, Gale Norton or Limbaugh? Hitchens, in a way, is much more dangerous than the "big fat idiot" Limbaugh. Plus, its fun. We all need a little sleaze and levity in our daily routine."
We'll all drink to that.
Trust Ben Tripp on The Constitution?
From Joanna Graham:
Ben Tripp says the electoral college isn't mentioned in the Constitution. This is a grave misunderstanding of the Constitution and of our electoral system. Our founding fathers (FF), distrusting the masses, intended only the House of Representatives to be directly elected. Originally, both the President and Senators were to be picked by members of the Electoral College who were selected by the state legislatures.
Let's get this clear: voters in each state (determined by the laws of each state) voted for the state legislature, which in turn made the rules about how to select members of the electoral college (probably their friends) and the members of the electoral college picked the senators and the president. We changed to direct election of the Senate by constitutional amendment in the early twentieth century (1916?) but the original plan has never been changed re the presidency (can also only be changed by amendment).
The reason we (usually) remain unaware of this is that eventually state legislatures selected statewide voting by all eligible voters as their way of instructing their electoral college members how to vote. But even today, only in some states are these members actually bound by the outcome of the popular vote, which is why the Florida legislature in 2000 could, perfectly legally, threaten to put forth the name of their own candidate.
One interesting feature of this system is that since the FF feared this process with respect to the presidency would result in endless gridlock, each state or region backing a favorite son (they thought they would be able to avert political parties), they designed in a menu of "if you haven't got a president yet, go to this step...." Basically, if the electoral college is so log jammed no candidate can be selected, then the House of Representatives gets to appoint still another committee, which will make the final choice.
This is what did happen in the contested election of 1876. Obviously, with the stakes so high and the decision being a backroom one, all kinds of threats, cajolery, bribes, etc. come into play. What Hayes traded away in order to beat Tilden (who had won the popular vote) was the safety of the former slaves. The federal troops left the former Confederate states and Reconstruction ended. So in many ways today we are still paying for that bad outcome. In the election of 1824, Andrew Jackson had the most votes in a four-way contest but not a majority, so the choice went to the House of Representatives. Candidate Henry Clay threw his support to John Quincy Adams and was rewarded by becoming Secretary of State.
Eighteen twenty-four was the first presidential election in which MOST of the electors were chosen by popular vote. The old guard must have had apoplexy when Andrew Jackson did so well. Four years later he won handily, ushering in the era of "Jacksonian democracy." I didn't really know any of this until the election of 2000. Then I studied my Constitution diligently on a daily basis.
There's nothing like a constitutional crisis to clarify what the Constitution actually says. I discovered we don't actually have direct election of the president at all (it's on a piecemeal, state-by-state basis; exists only to instruct the members of the electoral college how to vote; and can be taken away from us at the whim of our state legislatures, as Florida's threatened). I also learned that, playing by the system, you don't actually need to name a president until inauguration day, leaving plenty of time for the Congress to do their backroom bargaining.
Everything else aside, the Supreme Court should have known this backup system was in place and it wasn't up to them to intervene. And there was no need for the media to whine about "closure," either, except of course that it was totally humiliating to have the true nature of our presidential electoral system revealed to the entire world.
What I actually meant to say in this e-mail is that if Tripp got such an important fact wrong, why should we believe that any of the rest of his article is factual? It's a fascinating one, but I must say I doubt his credibility.
From Alexander Cockburn:
Dear Joanna: "You write: What I actually meant to say in this e-mail is that if Tripp got such an important fact wrong, why should we believe that any of the rest of his article is factual? It's a fascinating one, but I must say I doubt his credibility." Acu rem tetigisti, as the Latin tag goes. You've hit the nail on the head. Tripp is a notorious fantasist, with a long and shameful record of deception. The byways of this great land are littered with bewildered vagrants who, on being asked the reason for their pitiable condition, mumble, "I... trusted...Ben Tripp." The editors of CounterPunch take no responsibility for the maunderings of this farceur, whose latest claim is that he was Halle Berry's first husband, and the only man she's ever truly loved.
On the other hand, he makes us laugh a lot, and he gets most of it right most of the time. Who among us can say more?
From Joanna Graham:
How did Ben Tripp get into CounterPunch online if he is "a notorious fantasist"?
From Alexander Cockburn:
Joanna, I was being light-hearted. We think Ben is a wonderful, very funny writer. Something the left is definitely short on; the mix of satire and reality.
Alexander Cockburn is the author The Golden Age is In Us (Verso, 1995) and 5 Days That Shook the World: Seattle and Beyond (Verso, 2000) with Jeffrey St. Clair. Cockburn and St. Clair are the editors of CounterPunch, the nationís best political newsletter, where this article first appeared.