Notes on how things seem to me from out here in Hollywood... As seen from Just Above Sunset
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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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Consider:

"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, 10 February 2004


The Madness of King George?
Yeah, yeah.
But one could heed what he said.


In public life it seems one must be careful of one's statements.

On Sunday, February 8th in his interview with Tim Russert on NBC's Meet the Press hour, George Bush said this:

"I don't think America can stand by and hope for the best from a madman."

Really. Yes, quoted out of context this seems too good to pass up.

Here and in the parent magazine Just Above Sunset the issue of actual madness was raised. See Is our leader dumb as a post, a liar, or mad as a hatter? for that.

Yes, domocrats.com last summer launched a website petition to declare Bush insane under the 25th amendment. A joke?

Indeed he said we went to war - or said in one of the previous explanations - because Saddam Hussein refused to let inspectors into Iraq. Hans Blix was fiction of our own imaginations? Those briefings Blix gave to the UN never happened? We must have been hallucinating? Must be so. Bush said this last July at the White House with Kofi Anan at his side. Anan subtly rolled his eyes. The statement has been repeated by various Republican congressmen, and by James Woolsey, the former director of the CIA. Must be so.

Who is mad here? As Groucho Marx once said, "Who are you going to believe - me or you own eyes?" Make your choice.

Oh heck, why we went to war gets more mysterious every week. It's kind of fun to guess what the next reason will be. The problem is forgetting you heard the previous reasons, or if you remember them, telling yourself you're mad to think you actually heard them.

It's a matter of who is mad. You or them.

Today we have the budget projections:

White House expects 320,000 new jobs a month this year, a number not seen in a decade.
Job forecast: higher than it looks
Mark Gongloff, CNN/Money staff writer , CNN, February 10, 2004: 6:47 PM EST
The White House forecast for job growth this year is even more optimistic than it appeared at first blush.

When the Bush administration issued the Economic Report of the President Monday, several news organizations reported there would be 2.6 million new jobs this year. But that number was based on the difference between projected average payrolls for this year and last year.

In order to achieve that number, a White House source explained Tuesday, the President's Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) is forecasting about 320,000 new jobs will be created every month this year. That would be about 3.8 million in total, or about 2.9 percent higher than the December 2003 total estimated by the Labor Department.
Not very likely. The best we've done in any month in the last several years has been last month's 112,00 new jobs. The month before was 1,000 as you recall. We need 150,000 a month to just break even with population growth.

How is this going to happen? No one in the administrations is saying, but that the tax cuts helped businesses make much more money, and sooner or later they should start hiring folks. It could happen. Have faith.

Faith is good. The GDP rose over seven percent in the last several quarters, while wages rose only 0.6 percent - so there's a lot of excess profit out there. Surely that means using some of that money to staff up these corporations. On the other hand, paying dividends to the shareholders takes a lot of that money - and now the tax on dividends has been halved (it's no longer "taxed twice" as your recall.) And there are executive salaries. Oh well. They might staff up. It could happen.

Actually, for what I can find, this would be the biggest spurt in job creation in the last sixty years. The evidence that this could actually happen is scant, to say the least. But my conservative friends say a positive attitude works wonders. We'll see.

As major corporations add jobs they will add those that provide the best results at the lowest cost, so they may staff up in Bombay or Lahore rather than here. Oh well.

And thus today you also have this:
"The movement of American factory jobs and white-collar work to other countries is part of a positive transformation that will enrich the U.S. economy over time, even if it causes short-term pain and dislocation, the Bush administration said yesterday.

The embrace of foreign "outsourcing," an accelerating trend that has contributed to U.S. job losses in recent years and has become an issue in the 2004 elections, is contained in the president's annual report to Congress on the U.S. economy.

"Outsourcing is just a new way of doing international trade," said N. Gregory Mankiw, chairman of Bush's Council of Economic Advisors, which prepared the report. "More things are tradable than were tradable in the past. And that's a good thing."
Really? It does make our corporations more cost-competitive. And you really can't fault them for wanting to reduce costs. That keeps prices lower.

Three million out of work? That's just a regrettable byproduct of a healthy economy.

Well, this is not madness. The madness is in believing that folks will like this stance - and that particular madness comes from believing there are more corporate owners of businesses in the country than people who are - what do you call them? - employees. How quaint a concept. People still work and not own? Couldn't be. Their thinking is that most people want businesses to do well, even if they lose their jobs. Even if they end up sleeping in the streets. Strong businesses make America strong.

Hard to sell - but the current administration really seems to believe that.

Senator John Edwards of North Carolina said it would come as a "news bulletin" to the American people that the outsourcing of jobs overseas is good for the country. "These people," he said of the Bush administration, "what planet do they live on? They are so out of touch."

Well, Edwards is running for the nomination, so he cannot just flat-out call Bush and his team mad as hatters. "Out of touch" is a strong as he gets.

One blogger, Atrios, looks at it this way:
... Few policy changes benefit all citizens - generally there are winners and losers and the strongest claim that can be made is that in principle when policy changes increase the overall level of income/output, then the losers can be compensated by the winners with an appropriate amount of redistribution. These people fall into the trap of perceiving the level of GDP or average income as value-free metrics of the health of the economy. They aren't value free. Saying improvements in GDP are "always good," and voters should always support policies which in theory do so, embraces the idea that, say, this is the case even if it will make life worse for 90% of the population, while improving things for 10% on the basis that the "average" will be higher. It's simply a fetishizing of GDP, and embracing the belief that we all should. It's reducing "the greater good" down to one number.

Look, most economic theory (and most economists) will say that free trade is a rising tide, but no one does or should claim that it's a rising tide which lifts all boats. It doesn't. And, asking people to support policies which go against their own self-interest on the grounds that it's going to increase the value of some economic statistic is ludicrous.

... it isn't as if I don't think people are capable of supporting policies which go against their own narrow self-interests - either by truly making charitable sacrifices or simply pursuing some notion of "enlightened self-interest" which recognizes an overall personal net benefit from some action of collective choice which, say, raises their taxes. I just reject that the simple metric of per capita GDP, or some abstract notion of "economic efficiency," does or should embody this notion of the "greater good." There's a sense that per capita GDP is a valueless measure of an economy's wellbeing, but it isn't. If policies which lead to higher per capita GDP also have huge distributional consequences, then ignoring those consequences isn't eschewing value judgments - it's simply sticking your head in the sand and pretending the consequences don't exist.
In short? These guys are mad - crazier than Michael Jackson and his sister combined.

But maybe not. They've sold this stuff so far.

We all got an average tax rebate last year of three hundred dollars. A whole lot of folks didn't see even that, as you got around forty-five thousand back if you earned more than three hundred thousand a year, and more the more you made. Between thirty and a hundred thousand you probably missed the whole thing. But yes, the average was three hundred dollars. Pretty impressive. Folks liked the idea - the concept - even if they didn't get the money.

Perhaps they should have paid attention to the concepts of average and mean values back in school. Oh well, it helped businesses get healthy, and staff up on Pakistani employees. Good for the country.

The folks who support Bush seem to be as mad as the White House crew.

As for other madness?

Yes, Afghanistan produces seventy percent of the world's opium, and yes, we control Afghanistan. We won that "preview war" the year before we whipped Iraq. But we cannot let the economy there collapse and a civil war to start up. Let it be. That's not madness. That pragmatism.

Pakistan? One of their top scientists fessed up to selling nuclear technology to Libya and North Korea and God knows who else, and yes, the president of Pakistan pardoned him, and yes, we're okay with that because they're our ally in this war on terror. Yep, they have their own nukes aimed at India and ready. But they're not North Korea, damn it. Everyone makes mistakes.

And that Osama fellow is floating around in the mountains between these two allied nations of ours. And they're doing next to nothing to help us find the fellow before the Republican convention. But we love them anyway.

Yes, Afghanistan has opium - the bulk of the world's production - and Pakistan has nukes that they have discussed with the bad guys to help the bad guys get their own nukes, and the worst of the real terrorists in the hills, the guys who hit us over two years ago.

Our response? We defeated Iraq and got Hussein. That makes things better.

But it's not madness. We need allies there, even the Saudis, who persist in supporting the Muslim sects out to kill us all. The Saudis - friends of the Bush family for generations (see All in the Family by Kevin Phillips, Viking Penguin, reviewed here) - will keep the oil flowing, as they are the key player in OPEC.

Except today OPEC jacked up oil prices to compensate for the weak dollar. Starting April 1st - an interesting date - they reduce output by a million gallons a day. Oil futures spiked.

But the Saudis are our friends. They have been forever. And the weak dollar helps the country - we can sell our stuff better overseas, and stuff from France and Germany will cost much, much more - punishing them for telling us Iraq wasn't a threat and blocking us from getting rid of the weapons of mass destruction we proved were there, if you remember Colin Powell at the UN last year.

Oops. Try not to remember that.

Work on forgetting a lot of stuff.

Or, alternatively heed Bush's advice -

"I don't think America can stand by and hope for the best from a madman."

It's true.

Posted by Alan at 21:15 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 10 February 2004 21:59 PST home



Notes on Freedom of the Press

Controversy everywhere these days!

See Catholic Backlash Over Pope on a Pogo-Stick
Pete Harrison, Tuesday, February 10, 2004
LONDON (Reuters) - Thousands of angry Roman Catholics have written to Britain's BBC complaining about a planned cartoon show mocking the Pope as a puerile preacher on a pogo-stick, the broadcaster said Tuesday.

Petitions are circulating in parishes and some Catholics are even risking jail by refusing to pay their TV license fees if the show goes out as planned this summer.

"I am not prepared to pay for the Holy Father to be mocked," said human rights activist James Mawdsley who met Pope John Paul after the Vatican intervened to have the campaigner released from a Burmese jail.

Luke Coppen of the Catholic Herald newspaper said the cartoon was "gratuitously insulting" and had caused "quite a big uproar." The BBC said complaints about "Popetown" -- a satirical cartoon about office politics in the Vatican -- had numbered "a few thousand."

Extracts from the show have appeared on the Internet where discussion boards are buzzing.
So who is this James Mawdsley fellow?
Mawdsley hit the headlines in December 2001 when the Pope helped secure his release from a Burmese jail where he had served 14 months of a 17-year sentence for handing out pro-democracy leaflets.

"I will not pay the 1,000 pound ($1,800) fine, so that means prison -- never mind," he told Reuters.

Mawdsley said at least 6,000 people had written to the BBC complaining, while 28,000 had signed a protest petition.

A spokesman for the Catholic Church in England declined to comment.
And what about the BBC, now so disgraced for not being pro-government in the Fox News way of reporting the real truth?
The clash comes at a critical time for the BBC. A furious row with the government over its reporting of the run-up to war with Iraq left the corporation bloodied and weakened. And now its future funding is up for review.

Last week, it was accused of caving in to the government after several lines were cut from its satirical radio show "Absolute Power," which poked fun at Prime Minister Tony Blair and the culture of spin.

The BBC declined to comment on media reports that it was thinking of shelving Popetown.

CHX Productions, which is producing the show for the BBC and uses the voice of American comedienne Ruby Wax for its pogo-ing Pope, also declined to comment.
When in doubt, decline to comment. No Comment.

Posted by Alan at 09:16 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 10 February 2004 09:24 PST home

Monday, 9 February 2004


More proof that the neoconservatives are right, all the world envies the United States and wants to be just like us, but needs a little help - a nudge now and then. They may not have the concept exactly right.

See this item, one of many from -
World Briefing: Europe
The New York Times, Published: February 7, 2004
FRANCE: STELLAR SHOWING

The Michelin Red Guide added three restaurants to the much-coveted three-star category: L'Esp?rance and La C?te Saint Jacques, both in Burgundy, and Les Loges de L'Aubergade in the southwest join 24 other restaurants on the list. One specialty of Les Loges is a foie gras hamburger with a c?pe mushroom-based catsup called "Ketc?pes," a name Michel Trama, its chef, has trademarked. The suicide last year of Bernard Loiseau, chef of the three-starred La C?te d'Or, drew attention to the high-pressure struggle to achieve and retain top ratings.

- Helene Fouquet (NYT)
What more is there to say?

Posted by Alan at 20:44 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 9 February 2004 21:19 PST home



Plato's Cave, the Titanic in the Caribbean?
What was that Bush interview yesterday really about?


In the current issue if parent magazine Just Above Sunset I posted an item on our leader, George Bush - Is our leader dumb as a post, a liar, or mad as a hatter? - and now that he's done the interview with Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" people are weighing in on the matter.

Take Fred Kaplan in Slate for example.

See Bush at Sea: Does this war president have any idea what he's talking about?
Posted Monday, Feb. 9, 2004, at 1:54 PM PT, SLATE.COM

Kaplan opens with this:
Going over the transcript of Tim Russert's interview with President Bush, a disturbing question comes to mind: Is the president telling lies and playing with semantics, or is he unaware of what's going on - including inside his own administration?
Good question.

Kaplan reviews the Kay Report and the weapons of mass destruction that weren't there, and according to David Kay, weren't ever there - at least for almost the last decade. Kaplan suggests this might have given George Bush pause when considering the reasonableness of our new doctrine of preventative/preemptive war.

Nope. Bush said Saddam Hussein wished he could have such weapons, so we had to take him out. Since last week this has been our new explanation for the war.

Kaplan's problem?
First, President Bush seems to be vastly enlarging his doctrine of pre-emptive warfare. This doctrine originally declared that the United States has the right to attack a hostile power that possesses weapons of mass destruction. The idea was that we must sometimes strike first, in order to prevent the other side from striking us.

Now, however, the president is asserting a right to strike first not merely if a hostile power has deadly weapons or even if it is building such weapons, but also if it might build such weapons sometime in the future.

The original doctrine, though controversial, at least stemmed from the logic of self-defense. Bush's expansion of the doctrine, as implied in his remarks to Tim Russert, does not.

If no commentators have noted, or perhaps even noticed, this new spin on American military policy, it may be because they don't take Bush's unscripted remarks seriously. (It's just Bush, talking off the top of his head. No sense parsing the implications.) That in itself is quite a commentary on this president. But it's not clear that these particular remarks were unscripted. Bush used the same phrase -"a capacity to make a weapon" - three times; it was almost certainly a part of his brief. Either the statement means something - that we now reserve the right to wage pre-emptive war on a hostile power that has the mere capacity to make weapons of mass destruction - or it's empty blather. It's unclear which would be more unsettling.
Oh heck, either way, we're in trouble. It's either nonsense or... nonsense.

Kaplan too is troubled by the discussion of a previous war.
Also worthy of note were Bush's comments on the war in Vietnam. Russert asked him whether he supported that war. Bush replied that he did, sort of. The president added: "The thing about the Vietnam War that troubles me, as I look back, was it was a political war. We had politicians making military decisions, and it is a lesson that any president must learn, and that is to set the goal and the objective and allow the military to come up with the plans to achieve that objective."

... While Bush himself may not have done much micromanaging of the war, his defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, not only helped pick targets, but rearranged the structure of the units sent into battle. In preparing for Iraq, he ordered the removal of several heavy-artillery battalions from Army divisions. In the weeks leading up to the invasion of Afghanistan, he rejected several war plans submitted by Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. Central Command, until the general devised an unprecedented combination of troops and special operations commandos that conformed to Rumsfeld's concept of "military transformation" and smaller, lighter forces.

... But the point here is that if civilian interference is "the thing about the Vietnam War that troubles" George W. Bush, why wasn't he troubled about the way his own wars were planned and fought, for better and for worse? Or has he ever really been troubled about the Vietnam War, back then or now? And was he aware of the intense internecine fighting between Rumsfeld and the Army over the war plans for Iraq? The main message that President Bush tried to send during his session with Russert was that he is a leader in command. "I'm a war president," he said at the start. "I make decisions here in the Oval Office on foreign policy matters with war on my mind." But in some of his remarks that followed, the president cast doubt on how much he's even in the loop.
Fred, Fred... assume he isn't.
____

The previous evening William Saletan brought up a more basic issue.

See You Can Make It With Plato: Bush's difficult relationship with reality
Posted Sunday, Feb. 8, 2004, at 2:19 PM PT, SLATE.COM

Here we get a lengthy lesson in Platonic versus Aristotelian view of what is real. Honest! We do. And how this then applies to the behaviors of our leader is explained. You see, Bush said he was only being realistic about the real dangers in the world.
Realistic. Dangers that exist. The world the way it is. These are strange words to hear from a president whose prewar descriptions of Iraqi weapons programs are so starkly at odds with the postwar findings of his own inspectors. A week ago, David Kay, the man picked by Bush to supervise the inspections, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that his team had found almost none of the threats Bush had advertised. No chemical and biological weapons stockpiles. No evidence of a renewed nuclear weapons program. No evidence of illicit weapons delivered to terrorists. "We were all wrong," said Kay.

... Again and again on the Meet the Press, Tim Russert asked Bush to explain the discrepancies. Again and again, Bush replied that such questions had to be viewed in the "context" of a larger reality: I see the world as it is. Threats exist. We must be realistic.
This big-picture notion of reality, existence, and the world as it is dates back 2,400 years to the Greek philosopher Plato. Plato believed that what's real isn't the things you can touch and see: your computer, your desk, those empty barrels in Iraq that Bush thought were full of chemical weapons. What's real is the general idea of these things.
Ah, Bush the Platonic Idealist. That explains it!
In Bush's Platonic reality, the world is dangerous, threats exist, and the evidence of our senses must be interpreted to fit that larger truth. On the night he launched the war, for example, Bush told the nation, "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." Russert asked Bush whether, in retrospect, that statement was false. Bush replied, "I made a decision based upon that intelligence in the context of the war against terror. In other words, we were attacked, and therefore every threat had to be reanalyzed. Every threat had to be looked at. Every potential harm to America had to be judged in the context of this war on terror."

You can hear the gears turning in Bush's mind.

... The more you study Bush's responses to unpleasant facts, the clearer this pattern becomes. A year and a half ago, the unpleasant facts had to do with his sale of stock in Harken Energy, a company on whose board of directors he served, shortly before the company disclosed that its books were far worse than publicly advertised. Bush dismissed all queries by noting that the Securities and Exchange Commission had declined to prosecute him. "All these questions that you're asking were looked into by the SEC," Bush shrugged. That conclusion was his measure of reality. As to the different version of reality suggested by the evidence, Bush scoffed with metaphysical certainty, "There's no 'there' there."
Well, you could count the coffins of our sons and daughters.

Be that as it may, this dive into the history of philosophy ends with this:
Why did Americans elect a president who thinks this way? Because they wanted a leader different from Bill Clinton. They liked some things about Clinton, but they were sick of his dishonesty in the Monica Lewinsky affair and his constant shifting in the political winds. Bush promised that he would say what he believed and stick to it.

On Iraq, Bush fulfilled both promises. "What I do want to share with you is my sentiment at the time," he told Russert. "There was no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a danger to America." Note Bush's emphasis on his subjective reality: "my sentiment," "no doubt in my mind." When Russert asked Bush about his unpopularity abroad, Bush answered, "I'm not going to change, see? I'm not trying to accommodate. I won't change my philosophy or my point of view. I believe I owe it to the American people to say what I'm going to do and do it, and to speak as clearly as I can, try to articulate as best I can why I make decisions I make. But I'm not going to change because of polls. That's just not my nature."

No, it isn't. Bush isn't Clinton. He doesn't change his mind for anything, whether it's polls or facts. And he always tells the truth about what's in his mind, whether or not what's in his mind corresponds to what's in the visible world.

What are the consequences of such a Platonic presidency?
And I don't know the answer to that question.

Yes, Bush accomplished exactly what he set out to do in this interview: He showed you how his mind works. But as this guy sums up: "Republicans used to observe derisively that Clinton had a difficult relationship with the truth. Bush has a difficult relationship with the truth, too. It's just a different - and perhaps more grave - kind of difficulty."

_____

Not to be unbalanced to the left, one might note what those on the right thought of the interview. Kevin Drum kept on eye on the website of The National Review, William F. Buckley's flagship publication. And here's what he found.
Michael Graham: President Bush looks like he's afraid of Tim Russert. He's stammering and unsteady. For the first time, I've felt a twinge of fear myself about the November election.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: Not to pile on here, but I think lots of eyebrows legitimately raise re: the March 2005 commission deadline. I'm not sure he sufficiently answered that...

Kathryn Jean Lopez: A pundit-type just said to me: "If he loses this year, this will be the day he lost it."

Rod Dreher: I'm afraid I have to side with Michael on the Bush interview. I kept wincing as the president bobbled his answers.... He had better get his act together....

John Derbyshire: Just got through watching the President on Meet the Press. I thought it was a pretty dismal performance. I'll be voting for GWB in November, but let's face it, the Great Communicator he ain't. The tongue-tied blather was coming thick and fast. At times, he looked like Al Sharpton on the Federal Reserve.

Rod Dreher: ... I can't believe that fiscal conservatives were relieved by the president's patently dishonest answer when Russert brought up the spending issue. Russert said to Bush that even conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh are criticizing his spending. The president countered by saying that in times of war, every government spends more money, for the sake of the troops. Which is true, but evades the point of the Right's critique of this administration's fiscal irresponsibility. Nobody in Bush's base is complaining about military spending. It's all the other spending that's got our knickers in a knot. Bush had nothing to say about that.
Oh my!

And over at The Wall Street Journal the woman who worships the man, Peggy Noonan, said the whole thing was pretty dismal. Ouch!

Well, a lot of the talk about the budget upset the conservative folks, like Andrew Sullivan:
I'm not one of those who believes that a good president has to have the debating skills of a Tony Blair or the rhetorical facility of Bill Clinton. I cannot help liking the president as a person. I still believe he did a great and important thing in liberating Iraq (although we have much, much more to do). But, if this is the level of coherence, grasp of reality, and honesty that is really at work in his understanding of domestic fiscal policy, then we are in even worse trouble than we thought. We have a captain on the fiscal Titanic who thinks he's in the Caribbean.
Ouch again!

Oh well.

___

And yes, Bush said he wasn't really AWOL from the National Guard for a year back in the early seventies. He served his country proudly. The issues have been reviewed in the these pages.

But it seems everyone on the web today is quoting Secretary of State Colin Powell in his autobiography, My American Journey -
I am angry that so many of the sons of the powerful and well-placed... managed to wangle slots in Reserve and National Guard units ... Of the many tragedies of Vietnam, this raw class discrimination strikes me as the most damaging to the ideal that all Americans are created equal and owe equal allegiance to their country.
Powell should have never written THAT!

All in all? I suspect the tide is turning against Bush.

Oh heck, everyone sees it now.

Posted by Alan at 16:12 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 9 February 2004 16:45 PST home


Topic: Photos

Look up from your work at noon and you just might see a dirigible just outside your window. Today seems to be the day for such things out here in Hollywood. Sunny, in the sixties, and strange as usual.


Posted by Alan at 11:59 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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