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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Tuesday, 2 May 2006
The Day After: Tuesday Tidbits
Topic: Couldn't be so...

The Day After: Tuesday Tidbits

Markers for noting where we all were on Tuesday, May 2, 2006, the day after May Day, or International Workers Day, or whatever. In these pages there is coverage, with fourteen photos, of the massive marches in Los Angeles here, and Our Man in Paris (sometimes), Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, covers a very rainy May Day in Paris, with photos, here.

As an historical marker, it should be noted that the day was also the third anniversary of the president delivering his address at dusk on the deck of that aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, off the coast of San Diego. He had flown to the ship in the co-pilot seat of an SB-3 Viking jet for a real carrier landing, and stepped out in his flight suit, doing the Tom Cruise in "Top Gun" thing. They had turned the ship into the setting sun to so that when he was in his suit and tie and delivered his speech under a banner that read "Mission Accomplished," the lighting was just right. He declared that "major combat operations" in Iraq had ended - "In the battle of Iraq the United States and our allies have prevailed."

The media went wild and themselves declared he had hit a home run, or something, and all his critics would hang their heads in shame. (For a review of all that see this.)

Times change. What was the mother of all photos ops now seems to have been just stupid, or a least a tad premature.

There was a ton of commentary May Day in the press on the irony of it all, on the press strategy and the planners who thought this was a wise idea, and on the idea the man had no idea what he was doing.

Of the all the commentary, this from Tim Grieve, sums it up -
… Just before the war began, a reporter asked Bush what he could say to assure Americans that he wasn't leading them into another Vietnam. "That's a great question," the president said. "Our mission is clear in Iraq. Should we have to go in, our mission is very clear: disarmament. And in order to disarm, it would mean regime change. I'm confident we'll be able to achieve that objective, in a way that minimizes the loss of life. No doubt there's risks in any military operation; I know that. But it's very clear what we intend to do. And our mission won't change. Our mission is precisely what I just stated."

But if the mission was "disarmament," that mission was accomplished before the first U.S. soldier died. Three years into the war, there's still no proof that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. What there is, increasingly, is proof that the president and his men knew that Saddam didn't have WMD but pressed ahead with their plan for war anyway. So what was the mission when Bush said "go"? What is the mission three years later? And how is that mission worth more than $300 billion and 2,400 American lives?

These are questions one might have asked the president today, if in fact he had been taking any. At the White House, Bush played host to Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice, squeezing every last drop of press out of the dog-and-pony show that began last week when Rumsfeld and Rice met up in Baghdad for a synchronized surprise visit. Bush said it was important that they'd gone. "I thought it was very important for both secretaries to go firsthand, to be there with the leadership to say we're supporting them," Bush said. "It's very important for these two senior officials to sit down with these new folks and say, you have our support and we want you to succeed."

Important for U.S. public opinion? Maybe. Important for the Iraqis? Apparently not. After Rice and Rumsfeld left Baghdad, Iraqi politicians trying to make something out of their government said the joint visit was more hindrance then help. "We didn't invite them," said a Shiite legislator close to the new prime minister. "It would be more appropriate if they would leave us alone," said a senior Kurdish legislator. "Rice's trip to Iraq at this critical time is just another desperate move by the Americans to try to impose themselves on our new government," said another Shiite legislator. "They have lost their influence."

That is not all we have lost. The soldiers are gone. The money is gone. America's place in the world, its image, its power - they're all diminished. Americans' faith in their government is shot: Only 9 percent think it was "mission accomplished" back in May 2003, and only 40 percent believe that the mission in Iraq - whatever it is - will ever be accomplished now.
And that is followed by a discussion of the statements Colin Powell made over the weekend, saying that Rumsfeld and the president made "grave errors" at the beginning of the war, and he told them they needed more troops than they were planning to use, just to stabilize the place - "They were anticipating a different kind of aftermath of the fall in Baghdad. It turned out to be not exactly as they had anticipated."

Oops. The president had no comment on what Powell said, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who a National Security Advisor at the time, said she didn't remember him saying that. And, as Grieve notes, the new White House chief of staff, Josh Bolten, was telling Fox News this - "I don't think we need to change, but we do need to refresh and reenergize."

Oh. That'll help.

But what about the day after?

Marker One for Tuesday, May 2 - Managing the Message

Well, no more aircraft carrier extravaganzas. And as Jack Shafer notes here, more than a few critics of this administration see "a lockdown on and manipulation of information the likes of which we've not seen since the Nixon administration."

That's about this -
  • The establishment of a White House press office that not only doesn't say anything but doesn't know anything.

  • A mania for secrecy that has resulted, most recently, in the secret reclassification of declassified documents in the National Archives.

  • The deliberate sowing of official disinformation about Iraq and the Iraq war.

  • The tightening of FOIA restrictions.

  • The production of video "news releases" that look like news but are government propaganda ("In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting.").

  • And more, including, but not limited to, a laundry list of slights; pundits on the take (Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher, and Michael McManus); gross insults (Chief of Staff Andrew Card telling The New Yorker, "I don't believe [the press has] a check-and-balance function"); and other provocations (for example, a vice president who has removed himself from the information grid) directed at the press.
Well, it's a strategy, and Shafer explains it, and its disadvantages -
... the Bushies ambition was to "decertify" the press from its modern role as purveyor of news and portray it as just another special interest. ? Bush's preference for "unfiltered" news, received directly from his staff, is well-known. Disciplined and silent, as The New Yorker's Ken Auletta put it, the administration has factored the press corps out of the equation.

The upsides of filling the president's tanks with unfiltered and blunting the press corps are obvious. Limit the flow of information to the press - and the public - and you temporarily blind your critics and political foes, freeing you to execute your policies unimpeded. As journalist Ron Suskind told Boehlert, "For [Republicans], essentially the way to handle the press is the same as how to handle the federal government; you starve the beast."

The downsides are less obvious. A starved press corps doesn't necessarily wither away. In fact, a Machiavellian case for feeding the press corps with stories - even stories that reflect negatively on the administration - can be made. If properly fed such "scoops," they will remain under the control of their feeders, which is what happened to the press corps orbiting Henry Kissinger during the Nixon-Ford administrations. Starve them and they may well go prospecting for news in the vast bureaucracy where White House feeders aren't in control. The recent clandestine CIA prisons and NSA surveillance scoops by the Washington Post and New York Times illustrate the limits of White House control on information: Other, non-White House parts of the bureaucracy rebelled against Bush. Viewed from this end of the telescope, Bush secrecy "caused" the Post and Times scoops and may well cause many more, no matter who gets fired or prosecuted.

Another downside: As information theory instructs us, it's never in the interests of a totalitarian regime to completely eliminate debate over - and knowledge of - controversial policies. Unless an administration is infallible - and Pope George W.'s certainly isn't - it benefits from testing its policy ideas in some fashion with its critics, or even its allies, before deploying them. Public debate helps an administration build support for its plans, permits it to see the weaknesses of and retrofit its strategies, and if need be, abandon the ideas. Machiavellians might logically desire secret prisons for their enemies, but will they if the press discovers the prisons - which is to be expected - and the stories cause international incidents that outweigh the benefits of operating them? Right now, the political damage may seem slight. But combine the prison story with the NSA account, and add a third such revelation (these things always come in threes), and even Sean Hannity will abandon his lame-duck president. (Come to think of it, if the press is so cowed, where did the prisons and NSA stories come from?)

The hermetically closed universe in which the Bush administration operates contains the seeds of its own destruction. But that doesn't mean reporters and others can't nurture that germination and flowering.
What to say of all this? Shafer is onto something. Saying the press is just one more special interest with its own axe to grind, and shouldn't be trusted, ticks them off, and they dig up more facts, and then you have to say the facts are biased, and that can get quite surreal really fast, and make a comedian and satirist like Steven Colbert a star, but there's more on that a the bottom of the column.

Marker Two for Tuesday, May 2 - Managing the Next War Differently

In the futures market, the one where you buy futures based on current events, at the end of the day after May Day, those investing in the outcome that the United States would be launching a preemptive war on Iran by the end of the year were ahead, at fifty-two percent (which you can track that here. If you believe in the collective wisdom of the market, and many do, as was discussed in these pages here way back in August 2003, then the growing consensus is that we'll have this new war before the next New Years Eve.

Will we manage this one differently?

Stuff like this was all over the web Tuesday - "We need to shut them up once and for all and my proposal is controversial but it is no doubt effective: use nukes to turn Tehran into a parking lot. ? Liberals will squeal like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs but I don't care - we need to attack sooner rather than later."

That is from someone who uses the name "Right Thinking Girl" but she's not alone, as Shelby Steele had the same in a column in the Wall Street Journal that everyone on the right was quoting. His basic argument is something changed since after WWII and we have been fighting wars since then with one hand tied behind our backs, trying to be precise in our bombing and careful in our ground actions, attempting to be the good guys. He's rather fond of General Sherman's March to the Sea in the late Civil War, where he leveled everything in sight and tried his best to make Georgia uninhabitable for generations. He was a real man and all that. We just don't use enough force.

Why has this happened? His theory is this is just "white guilt" and that's stupid. Why are we all hung up on our racist past and out to prove we don't want to subjugate dark folks? We do fight wars against dark folks, but it's war, damn it, and not an exercise in public relations. That's why we don't win.

No, that's not a distortion -
Certainly since Vietnam, America has increasingly practiced a policy of minimalism and restraint in war. And now this unacknowledged policy, which always makes a space for the enemy, has us in another long and rather passionless war against a weak enemy.

Why this new minimalism in war?

It began, I believe, in a late-20th-century event that transformed the world more profoundly than the collapse of communism: the world-wide collapse of white supremacy as a source of moral authority, political legitimacy and even sovereignty.

The collapse of white supremacy - and the resulting white guilt - introduced a new mechanism of power into the world: stigmatization with the evil of the Western past. And this stigmatization is power because it affects the terms of legitimacy for Western nations and for their actions in the world. In Iraq, America is fighting as much for the legitimacy of its war effort as for victory in war. In fact, legitimacy may be the more important goal.

If a military victory makes us look like an imperialist nation bent on occupying and raping the resources of a poor brown nation, then victory would mean less because it would have no legitimacy. Europe would scorn. Conversely, if America suffered a military loss in Iraq but in so doing dispelled the imperialist stigma, the loss would be seen as a necessary sacrifice made to restore our nation's legitimacy. Europe's halls of internationalism would suddenly open to us.
Now that's interesting. We foolishly abandoned "white supremacy as a source of moral authority, political legitimacy and even sovereignty."

We'll see if the White House is as white as its name and takes up this argument.

He's brave enough to advance the idea, and the Wall Street Journal is brave enough to print it. Is he tiring to call the White House's bluff and daring them to just come out and agree with him?

Maybe so -
Today words like "power" and "victory" are so stigmatized with Western sin that, in many quarters, it is politically incorrect even to utter them. For the West, "might" can never be right. And victory, when won by the West against a Third World enemy, is always oppression. But, in reality, military victory is also the victory of one idea and the defeat of another. Only American victory in Iraq defeats the idea of Islamic extremism. But in today's atmosphere of Western contrition, it is impolitic to say so.

... This is a fact that must be integrated into our public life - absorbed as new history - so that America can once again feel the moral authority to seriously tackle its most profound problems. Then, if we decide to go to war, it can be with enough ferocity to win.

... compassionate conservatism, whatever you think of the concept domestically, clearly shouldn't extend to war - and there are times when the international equivalent of Sherman's march through the South would, in the long run, save American soldier's lives and foreshorten the conflict.

Which is why there are times when we really should turn off the "smart" bombs and show our seriousness by putting the world on notice that, when we believe the situation calls for it, we are willing to ignore the inevitable bad press and the howls of protest from human rights groups, and exhibit a show of strength and military professionalism that is politically disinterested and tactically thorough and lethal.

Of course, no one wishes to see innocent civilians die (only the unserious make the claim that those who support what they consider to be a necessary war somehow luxuriate in collateral deaths). But at the same time, from a practical standpoint, there is nothing wrong with fighting a war as if it is a war - and sometimes the only way to disabuse the enemy of the notion that we are constrained by a moral calculus that makes little sense in urban combat situations is to refuse to show the kind of restraint they have come to anticipate and count on.
A riposte from Glenn Greenwald here -
Looking at the bright side of this deranged rhetoric, it is, in a sense, refreshing to see that many of these war supporters, in their great frustration, are finally relinquishing their solemn concern for the Iraqi people and the tearful inspiration caused by the Purple Fingers. Instead, they are now just calling for some good old-fashioned carpet bombings and mass killings.

... Does it really have to be said that the reason we can't carpet bomb Iraq and "win the war" is because we are supposedly there to build Iraq, not to destroy it? Let's review a few basic, undisputed facts about our current occupation of Iraq - undisputed because the administration itself acknowledges them. Once our original, predominant justification for our invasion disappeared - that would be the whole bit about WMDs - the only one we had left, the one we have since trumpeted over and over, is that we are there in order to improve that country, to enhance our reputation in the region, and to win "hearts and minds."

... According to the President, we're going to win because the terrorists bring suffering and destruction to Iraq and we don't. So they will like us and hate the terrorists and will soon be our "partner for peace." Advocating that we act more the way the President says Al Qaeda is acting - by bombing more and killing more civilians - doesn't seem all that compatible with those goals.

We are not there to conquer territory or drive the Iraqi government into forced surrender and submission.

... Escalating the use of military force in Iraq by indiscriminately killing civilians and eradicating whole cities would contradict every single statement we have made about why we are there, what we want to achieve, and what our plan is in that region. We're not refraining from those acts because of white guilt or a fear of what European diplomats will say about us. We're refraining from them because the wholesale indiscriminate slaughter of thousands or tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis - all because we have grown impatient and annoyed with our pet little democracy-building project and just want to bomb the whole place into submission - would be both morally reprehensible and, from the perspective of our own interests, an indescribably stupid thing to do.

To sit and listen to people who have spent the last three years piously lecturing us on the need to stand with "the Iraqi people," who justified our invasion of that country on the ground that we want to give them a better system of government because we must make Muslims like us more, now insist that what we need to do is bomb them with greater force and less precision is really rather vile - but highly instructive. The masks are coming off. No more poetic tributes to democracy or all that sentimental whining about "hearts and minds." It's time to shed our unwarranted white guilt, really stretch our legs and let our hair down, and just keep bombing and bombing until we kill enough of them and win. Shelby Steele deserves some sort of award for triggering that refreshingly honest outburst.
Or maybe Steele was just plugging his new book, White Guilt, published the day before the Wall Street Journal item. In any event, the right side of the web was humming with praise for what was finally said in the Journal, and the left side was appalled.

So the marker for the day was that on this particular Tuesday the masks did come off, and this next war, maybe with nukes, will perhaps be justified in a new way.

And note this - the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, and the six-ship Enterprise Strike Group, left port Tuesday for the Middle East. They have the nukes.

Marker Three for Tuesday, May 2 - "No one likes me, everybody hates me - guess I'll go eat worms."

Two new polls - USA Today / Gallup here, with the president's approval rating down two point in the last two weeks, the thirty-four percent, the lowest he's ever been. And it shows the majority disapproves of a few specifics too - the way he's handling Iraq, the economy, foreign affairs, immigration, energy and terrorism. And more than half also say these characteristics don't apply to the president - "picks good people for key leadership positions," is "honest and trustworthy," "shares your values," "cares about people like you," and "can manage the government effectively."

CBS News here shows him at thirty-three percent, the lowest he's ever been there too. The detail - seventy-four percent - and fifty-six percent of the Republicans surveyed - disapprove of the way Bush is handling rising gas prices. Sixty-four percent disapprove of the way Bush is handling the war in Iraq. Fuifty-eight disapprove of the way he's handling the economy. Overall, seventy-one percent think the United States is headed in the wrong direction - that's two points worse than the results they measured right after Hurricane Katrina.


Andrew Sullivan here -
Both Gallup and CBS now have Bush at all-time lows in approval numbers; and the ratings for the GOP appear to be way below the water-line for November. Things can change. But I have a feeling that Bush has now become Carterized. It is very hard to see how he can regain his footing at this late stage. After six years or so, the public knows who you are; and they have come to a judgment. With the economy now booming, who can imagine where his polling might be headed if his reckless fiscal policies bring disaster sooner rather than later?

Ironically, his main hope might be Iraq. It's possible that things will improve - and any halfway decent outcome will seem like good news given the recent past. The NYT had a helpful piece today on a place where things are going right. Maliki may exceed expectations. I sure hope he does. On Maliki, Bush's future hinges. And it's not much within the White House's control.
This conservative fellow says George Bush has morphed into Jimmy Carter? That's cold.

There are some instructive line charts from Jonathan Schwartz here - a month by month comparison shows the Nixon line and the Bush line, on both the approval numbers and the disapproval numbers, pretty much match up. The Nixon lines end at his resignation. Bush will stay for almost three more years. But at least Schwartz is not talking about Jimmy Carter.

You could hear the new polls discussed all day on the talking head shows, with a few saying even a war with Iran won't fix this, as no one will rally round this guy now - "After six years or so, the public knows who you are; and they have come to a judgment." Even if it were the right thing to do it would not help him. Some of us saw Howard Fineman on MSNBC saying the only thing that could help, possibly, is some devastating natural disaster - an even bigger hurricane or an earthquake out here that destroys Los Angeles - and the government does a wonderful job and proves what happened with New Orleans and the Gulf Coast taught them something and they fixed everything. That's a big "and" of course.

So another marker for the day was that on this particular Tuesday the consensus was there's no hope - the man who leads us is not trusted on much of anything, and there's no way to fix it.

But who knows? What's that old line from the cartoon show about the moose and the squirrel? "Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!"

We'll see.

Marker Four for Tuesday, May 2 - The Ultimate Screw-Up

It's that Valerie Plame (Wilson) thing again, the CIA woman whose cover was blown during the effort to do something about her husband, who had said, in the New York Times, that he had no idea why the president said, in his State of the Union address to congress just before the war started, that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium in Africa. The vice president had asked the CIA to check it out, the CIA sent him, and he found the whole thing was just not so, and he reported back to the CIA, and assumed they told they vice president.

So the fun began, and stories were planted in the press that his wife set up the trip to get him out of the house or whatever. The collateral damage was that her cover as a CIA agent was blown, but no one is 'fessing up to that, as that's a bit of a no-no. The defenders of the administration say there was no real damage, and she wasn't really a secret agent, or that if she had been one as court documents now lay out, she wasn't working on anything important. No one is complaining, even if the original calls for an investigation came from the CIA itself. Everyone knows they are incompetents and crybabies, and always working to thwart the noble efforts of the president, who is fighting evil for us. That's why we paid Ahmed Chalabi and his group of exiles for the real information on what Saddam was up to. The CIA is useless, and Porter Goss will fix it by purging all the people there who have it out for the president.

It seems the CIA is fighting back, and leaking to MSNBC. And their sucker punch has to do with the upcoming war we will launch against Iran this time. They tell MSNBC that she was working on trying to stop nuclear material and know-how from getting into Iran, and when she was exposed and had to resign, they had to roll up her operation. So know, if we want to know how soon Iran can build a working nuclear weapon, and what they have and what their resources really are, that's going to be a whole lot harder. Blowing her cover blinded us when we most needed to see.

Her real assignment was a rumor floating around, as here, but on May Day David Schuster of MSNBC here says that people in the CIA, or had been in the CIA at the time, were telling him the Plame woman was working on the Iranian nuclear threat when the White House blew her cover in the summer of 2003.

There was an uproar, as the defenders of the administration said this was the liberal press out to "get" the president on more time - these were "unnamed intelligence sources" who were making these claims. No names. So it was lying cowards who said this, afraid to come out and say such things in the light of day. Or MSNBC made it all up.

Case closed.

But on Tuesday, May 2nd, MSNBC was having none of that. They trotted out one of their sources (video here), Rand Beers, who went on record - "You know for a fact that firstly, the people who work there could be undercover agents working in that office or people on the agent's side of the CIA. And secondly, the issues were among the two most important issues the CIA was working on."

The next move is on the right. How do you deal with that? On Tuesday Senator Frank Lautenberg called on CIA Director Porter Goss to provide the Senate with a "national security damage assessment" based on all this - "If this report is true, the disclosure of her identity has caused harm to our national security."

The same day, this - "Iran's first target would be Israel in any response to a US attack, a Revolutionary Guards commander said Tuesday, reinforcing the Iranian president's past call for Israel to be 'wiped off the map.'"

Oh, and note this -
Ahmed Chalabi, the man who helped provide cooked intelligence on Iraq to the Pentagon and the New York Times in the lead-up to war, is once again being engaged in US policy decisions, current and former intelligence officials say.

According to two former high level counterintelligence officials, one former senior counterterrorist official and another intelligence officer, Chalabi is acting as broker between the US Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Iranian officials in what are now stalled diplomatic efforts between the US and Iran.
Well, he may lie to us for his own reasons, but at least he's not CIA.

And just for old time's sake, note this, Turkey has denied us access to its bases for an air attack on Iran, even though we promised to provide them with their very own nuclear reactor - "Turkey's refusal to comply with the US request was another indication of the growing tension between the two nations, which, according to Gul, have not 'seen a single day of positive stability since the Islamic party was elected to power [in 2002].'" As you remember, we tried to get them in with the Iraq war, but they felt insulted by the bribes, and then got angry when we pressured their generals to agree to let us use their airspace, ignoring their own civilian government.

This is not going well. Marker of the day? We're going into this war more blindly and foolishly than the last time.

And even that one has more and more odd consequences, like this from CBS 2 in Chicago -
Graffiti painted by Chicago gangs is showing up in Iraq.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports the graffiti shows the increasing gang activity in the Army.

Military leaders are concerned some soldiers may be supplying gangs at home.

Some gangs encourage their members to join the Army to learn urban warfare techniques and teach other members.

Chicago police have reportedly seen evidence of gangs getting help from soldiers, and the FBI visited Army bases to check into gang activity.
Oh great.

Marker Five for Tuesday, May 2 - Angry Sportswriters

This is very odd, Peter King in Sports Illustrated saying this from New Orleans, and he's not talking about the Saints -
What I saw was a national disgrace. An inexcusable, irresponsible, borderline criminal national disgrace. I am ashamed of this country for the inaction I saw everywhere.

I mentioned my outrage to the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, on Thursday. He shook his head and said, "Tell me about it.'' Disgust dripped from his voice.

What are we doing in this country?

... How can we let an area like the Lower Ninth Ward sit there, on the eve of another hurricane season, with nothing being done to either bulldoze the place and start over, or rebuild? How can Congress sit on billions of looming aid and not release it for this area?

I can't help but think that if this were Los Angeles or New York, that 500 percent more money - and concern - would have flooded into this place. And I can't help but think that if the idiots who let the levees down here go to seed had simply been doing their jobs, we'd never have been in this mess in the first place - in New Orleans, at least. Other than former FEMA director Michael Brown, are you telling me that no others are paying for this with their jobs? Whatever happened to responsibility?

Am I ticked off? Damn right I'm ticked off. If you're breathing, you should be morally outraged.

Katrina fatigue? Hah! More Katrina news! Give me more! Give it to me every day on the front page!

Every day until Washington realizes there's a disaster here every bit as urgent as anything happening in this world today - fighting terrorism, combating the nuclear threat in Iran. I'm not in any way a political animal, but all you have to be is an occasionally thinking American to be sickened by the conditions I saw.
Well, the word on Fox News and the other right-side outlets was people were just tired of hearing about the whole thing, so you see what's up here.

But Sports Illustrated? That deserves a marker of its own.

Marker Six for Tuesday, May 2 - The 750

According to this, a Boston Globe analysis, President Bush has "quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office."

Someone is keeping count of those presidential signing statements. It's not just him signing away the prohibition against torture in "the prohibition against torture" Congress passed last year, and that business about the Patriot Act, where he signed the law that he must provide information for congress so they'd know what's going on, and added a statement he'd not do that if he decided maybe he shouldn't. It seems there are 748 more examples.

Someone not only finally noticed. They did a count - the president has declared himself free to ignore all sorts of laws - "military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, 'whistle-blower' protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research."

One constitutional lawyer sees it this way -
It is not uncommon for a President to refrain from executing a law which he believes, and states, is unconstitutional. Other Presidents have invoked that doctrine, although Bush has done so far more aggressively and frequently. But what is uncommon - what is entirely unprecedented - is that the administration's theories of its own power arrogate unto itself not just the right to refrain from enforcing such laws, but to act in violation of those laws, to engage in the very conduct which those laws criminalize, and they do so secretly and deceitfully, after signing the law and pretending that they are engaged in the democratic process. That is why the President has never bothered to veto a law - why bother to veto laws when you have the power to violate them at will?
Well, yes.

The marker for the day after May Day?

This - "Three leading Democratic senators blasted President Bush Monday for having claimed he has the authority to defy more than 750 statutes enacted since he took office, saying that the president's legal theories are wrong and that he must obey the law."

Good luck with that. The man is busy.

Marker Seven for Tuesday, May 2 - One More Time, and Even the Brits Do It Better

Okay, this has been covered a lot in these pages, most recently here, the issue with out healthcare system versus those of Canada, France the UK, which seem a bit more fair and whole lot more efficient - decent healthcare at a lower cost and all that.

Now what?

The marker is a Washington Post item here that reports on a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Via Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly (here) we see the JAMA thing is about the study of health outcomes for our system and the UK system for people between fifty-five and sixty-four, and it wasn't flakey ? "They controlled for race by studying only non-Hispanic whites. They controlled for obesity. They controlled for income. They controlled for education. They controlled for everything they could think of."

From the Post -
"At every point in the social hierarchy there is more illness in the United States than in England and the differences are really dramatic," said study co-author Dr. Michael Marmot, an epidemiologist at University College London in England.

... The upper crust in both countries was healthier than middle-class and low-income people in the same country. But richer Americans' health status resembled the health of the low-income British.
Yeah, but they have bad teeth. But this is pretty startling. Rich Americans do as well as "low income" Brits? What's up with that?

Drum -
The researchers are careful to say that their study doesn't prove that Britain's healthcare system is better than America's - something that would be nearly impossible to demonstrate conclusively with a study like this in any case. But that's not the point. The point is that it's obviously not worse even though the British spend about half as much as we do per capita.

So here's the deal: under the British system, you don't have to worry about which doctors your HMO allows you to see. You don't have to worry about losing coverage if you get laid off. You don't have to worry about being unable to get a new job because you have a pre-existing condition. You don't have to worry about being bankrupted if you contract a serious chronic illness. And large corporations don't have to worry about going out of business because of spiraling healthcare obligations.

And the result of all this? Healthcare that's as good as ours and delivered for about half the cost. Under a national healthcare system, when you get sick, all you have to worry about is getting well. Explain to me again why we're afraid of this?
Who knows? Something about personal freedom? What else is there to say?

There's a very wonky back and forth on the whole matter from Ezra Klein here, with bar charts and everything, and the data are clear -
We spend around twice what any other country does per capita, and we see very little, if any gain, from the added expense. Indeed, there's an interesting thought experiment as to how much better their outcomes would be if they pumped up their per capita spending to match ours. Meanwhile, they cover all of their citizens ... while we have a population of 46 million uninsured, and another 15 or so million underinsured. 20,000 Americans die every year because they lack health insurance, and many more perish because they forego care that turns out to be necessary.
But wait. There's more.

If you go here you will find a detailed discussion of the Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act (S.1955), the "Enzi Bill" which is supposed to "expand health care access and reduce costs through the creation of small business health plans and through modernization of the health insurance marketplace."

It does some of that, but it does more. It makes what's legally covered by all health a "lowest common denominator" affair. All the state regulations would now be scrapped.

No one would be required to offer these as they are now -
Ohio: alcoholism treatment, cervical cancer screening, contraceptives, emergency services, infertility treatment, mammography screening, mental health (general), off-label drug use, and well child care.

California: alcoholism treatment, AIDS vaccine, blood lead screening, bone density screening, cervical cancer screening, clinical trials, colorectal screening, contraceptives, dental anesthesia, diabetic supplies and education, drug abuse treatment, emergency services, home health care, hospice care, infertility treatment, mammography screening, maternity, mental health parity, metabolic disorders/PKU, minimum mastectomy stay, off- label drug use, orthotics/prosthetics, prostate cancer screening, second medical/surgical opinion, and well-child care.

Florida: Alcoholism treatment, ambulance transportation, ambulatory surgery, bone marrow transplants, bone density screening, cleft palate, dental anesthesia, diabetes supplies and education, emergency services, home health care, mammography screening, mental health (general), metabolic disorders/PKU, minimum mastectomy stay, off-label drug use, prosthetics, TMJ Disorders, and well-child care.
We get uniformity, and reform with much-reduced coverage, depending on where you live. Make it all like the Ozarks? Seems so.

We're going backwards. Makes you wish you were British.

The marker is for a hidden issue that won't go away, buried in all the war news.

Marker Eight for Tuesday, May 2 - It's a Gas!

People really seem upset by the high gas prices. What to do? Switch to electrics cars? Burn fry grease from McDonalds? Ethanol from corn or something that grows fast? The president is pushing for hydrogen powered cars and trucks. What's the answer?

From Michael O'Hare of the Public Policy School at UCLA, you might not like the answer (emphases added) -
I don't know where to start with this stuff.

Hydrogen is not a fuel, and neither is electricity. There's no mine for either of them; if people start plugging in cars into the wall, power plants of all kinds will just rev up faster and longer, and the marginal electricity is made from natural gas, a fossil fuel that's only somewhat less greenhousy than oil, though a lot less than coal. These cars have to haul an enormous stack of heavy batteries around, and half the energy that goes into the power plant is lost in the transmission and generation system anyway. "Clean coal" doesn't mean "coal that doesn't cause global warming," it means less pollution of every other kind: coal, clean or not, is the worst greenhouse fuel until we figure out how to capture all the stack gas and put it somewhere (this is called carbon sequestration, and it's a very long-term, daunting, technological road at this point).

As a piece of social policy, one has to wonder about the wisdom of slapping a big tax on the only people who are providing any of this oil we want so badly. One doesn't even have to wonder about the whole concept of all the schemes to make oil less expensive; did the demand curve for petroleum suddenly tilt the other way while we weren't looking? One more time, what's the logic of subsidizing domestic production and exploration: is there some prize for being the first country to use up its petroleum?

When I did wind tunnel research on how tall buildings affect the street-level winds around them, the architects always asked whether some sort of canopy over the door would help, and we had to explain that the wind is very big, and so is the building, so anything that would change the way the wind blows also has to be very big. The oil system is very big, and poking at it with tiny instruments like deposits to the strategic oil reserve, or rushing to slurp out the two years' worth of oil imports in ANWR, are not going to make any important difference. Actually, no bullet is silver, even though we desperately want to think wind power, or biofuels, or nuclear, or turning off the lights more carefully, will "solve" the energy crisis. Lots of these will be incrementally helpful, but none of them is as big as the oil flow we've become habituated to, and every one has a really sobering social price of one kind or another.

Petroleum is not like solar energy. Fossil fuels are a stock, not a flow, of sunlight that was stored up over millions of years when no-one needed to drive kids to the soccer game. We've had a nice century drawing down that bank account, and it's over. Maybe, as Rick says, not right away, but soon. "Soon" in policy earthquake terms is a few decades. There's lots of coal, but if we start really playing that game with current technology (that is, burning it into CO2 that goes into the air), a lot if it will be used up (for example) keeping Europeans warm in a subarctic climate when the Gulf Stream stops. Of course the beach will be much easier to drive to as it moves inland.

What will make a difference is to use a lot less, and using less oil means real behavioral change on a broad, retail level. It absolutely doesn't mean making gasoline cheaper! We're talking about things like living in smaller houses, close enough together to get people out on their feet and bicycles, and into trains and trams. Of course this has all sorts of quality-of-life payoffs in my view, but it's a hard sell to a society that treats "get in my big car alone, drive where I'm going at 60 mph, and park free when I get there" as some sort of basic moral right. Still, I cannot understand a family that would rather have a house and a big yard that Mom and Dad don't play with their kids in because they're on the road commuting three hours a day, than an apartment with a playground nearby that the family can actually occupy and enjoy each other in.

We should be talking about paying a lot of taxes to pay for things like transit and community swimming pools where we can enjoy our neighbors, instead of the thousands of backyard pools that have no-one in them almost all the time, and community soccer fields instead of the ridiculous little patches of green that are useless once the kids are school age. We should be talking about having less stuff, and less house that needs to be filled up with it, and more shopping for it locally, on our feet, with a little wheely shopping cart instead of an SUV. What could possibly make up for having less stuff, though? Well, how about listening to more music and making more of it ourselves? And dinner with friends who come on the bus and don't have to find a parking place is a pretty low-impact, high-quality life experience.

We're not talking about those things, though; we're talking (praying, actually) about making it not so, please. Our politics have a long, toxic tradition of candidates' and voters' mutual infantilization. The politicians treat an election, or an office, as the worst thing one can lose, and promise to fix everything with a trick that won't require any actual work by us; we vote for people who tell us fairy tales that would excuse us from any heavy lifting if they were true, and excuse us from confronting downers and grownup responsibilities if we pretend to believe. This game is being played at a really frenzied level around gas prices, and the mix of ignorance and plain mendacity both parties are wallowing in is - this is really amazing - neck and neck with the immigration performance in the theater next door.
What he proposes sounds French doesn't it?

But the marker for this particular day is this "Nine states have sued the administration of President George W. Bush for lenient automotive fuel economy standards that they say worsen an energy crunch and contribute to air pollution and climate change."

Force us to have more efficient cars, for our own good? Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The problem is the sinking ship, and learning to swim.

Marker Nine for Tuesday, May 2 - He said WHAT?

It should be noted that four days later there was still a buzz about what happened the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner the previous Saturday night. Stephen Colbert was asked to give the closing address, and he's a dangerous comedian. He broke the rules, which seem to be do light-hearted kidding and make no one uncomfortable and he was out for blood, as here -
Colbert is not just another comedian with barbed punch lines and a racy vocabulary. He is a guerrilla fighter, a master of the old-world art of irony. For Colbert, the punch line is just the addendum. The joke is in the setup. The meat of his act is not in his barbs but his character - the dry idiot, "Stephen Colbert," god-fearing pitchman, patriotic American, red-blooded pundit and champion of "truthiness." "I'm a simple man with a simple mind," the deadpan Colbert announced at the dinner. "I hold a simple set of beliefs that I live by. Number one, I believe in America. I believe it exists. My gut tells me I live there."

Then he turned to the president of the United States, who sat tight-lipped just a few feet away. "I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound - with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world."

It was Colbert's crowning moment. His imitation of the quintessential GOP talking head - Bill O'Reilly meets Scott McClellan - uncovered the inner workings of the ever-cheapening discourse that passes for political debate. He reversed and flattened the meaning of the words he spoke. It's a tactic that the cultural critic Greil Marcus once called the "critical negation that would make it self-evident to everyone that the world is not as it seems." Colbert's jokes attacked not just Bush's policies, but the whole drama and language of American politics, the phony demonstration of strength, unity and vision. "The greatest thing about this man is he's steady," Colbert continued, in a nod to George W. Bush. "You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday."

It's not just that Colbert's jokes were hitting their mark. We already know that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that the generals hate Rumsfeld, or that Fox News lists to the right. Those cracks are old and boring. What Colbert did was expose the whole official, patriotic, right-wing, press-bashing discourse as a sham, as more "truthiness" than truth.
And no one much laughed, and the president was furious.

And it was very French -
In the late 1960s, the Situationists in France called such ironic mockery "détournement," a word that roughly translates to "abduction" or "embezzlement." It was considered a revolutionary act, helping to channel the frustration of the Paris student riots of 1968. They co-opted and altered famous paintings, newspapers, books and documentary films, seeking subversive ideas in the found objects of popular culture. "Plagiarism is necessary," wrote Guy Debord, the famed Situationist, referring to his strategy of mockery and semiotic inversion. "Progress demands it. Staying close to an author's phrasing, plagiarism exploits his expressions, erases false ideas, replaces them with correct ideas."

But nearly half a century later, the ideas of the French, as evidenced by our "Freedom fries," have not found a welcome reception in Washington. The city is still not ready for Colbert. The depth of his attack caused bewilderment on the face of the president and some of the press, who, like myopic fish, are used to ignoring the water that sustains them. Laura Bush did not shake his hand.

Political Washington is accustomed to more direct attacks that follow the rules.
The rules are simple. There's one rule. Don't rock the boat.

And Colbert didn't spare the press -
But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works. The president makes decisions, he's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Put them through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know fiction.
No wonder the press said little about this, and the New York Times didn't mention his name in their write-up of the evening.

"Because really, what incentive do these people have to answer your questions, after all? I mean, nothing satisfies you. Everybody asks for personnel changes. So the White House has personnel changes. Then you write they're just rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic. First of all, that is a terrible metaphor. This ships not sinking. This administration is soaring. If anything, they are rearranging the deck chairs on The Hindenburg."

The transcript is here and you can watch the whole thing here.

This is an interesting comment - "What they got was an ass-ripping by a man who could barely contain his disgust with his surroundings. It's a fierce performance, but it's not great comedy."

Maybe it wasn't comedy. No one thought Jonathan Swift was "funny" and "nice" in the first quarter of the eighteenth century. This was something else.

And the buzz rolls on, and should be noted.

Posted by Alan at 23:24 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 3 May 2006 06:30 PDT home

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