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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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Friday, 10 June 2005

Topic: The Economy

Chasing the Zeitgeist: "Are there no prisons, are there no poor houses?"

The May 22 issue of Just Above Sunset was hard to assemble. The zeitgeist ("the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate" or, if you will, the spirit or "ghost" of the times, if that's what the German means) kept running away. Monday of the week I thought that week’s topic discussed everywhere would be the New York Times stirring up issues of class, but on Tuesday the Newsweek Koran story broke, and Wednesday everyone was talking about George Galloway blowing everyone away in the Senate hearing, on Thursday the talk was all of the responsibilities of the press and possible censorship, and Friday Laura Bush landed in the Middle East as probably the only person we could send there now without too much problem, and even then she had some trouble. As I said before, you can chase the zeitgeist all you want. It’s a slippery devil.

That week you could read A Touch of Class - a riff on the Times series and data tables Class in America: Shadowy Lines That Still Divide (May 15, with tables and interactive graphics here) – and by the way, in the Components of Class online thing I score in the 87th percentile (pretty classy).

In the item, Orwell came up. Lots of references came up. But a good deal of the discussion had to do with class mobility – not much of that these days – and why most of the heartland, or whatever we are now calling the fly-over part of America, those on the lower side of the economy, persist in supporting the current folks in power, who cut taxes for the rich and cut programs for those in the middle, and lower.

The whole discussion was buried by other issues that week, but in the last line there was the claim the issue would be back.

It's back.

Samantha Henig in the Columbia Journalism Review on June 5 notes that three major newspapers "decided within months, and even days, of one another to publish a major series exploring class in America."

The besides the New York Times?

- The Los Angeles Times "New Deal" series was last October (here).

- The Wall Street Journal published own "Moving Up: Challenges to the American Dream" on May 13 (here but you have to be a paid subscriber to read it). That seems to be the first installment of a series that will continue.

Henig's breakdown?
The Wall Street Journal led off its Friday the 13th sneak attack on the New York Times (newspapers love to play these Beat ya! games) with a headline (that left no doubt as to the series' premise: "As Rich-Poor Gap Widens in the U.S., Class Mobility Stalls, Those in Bottom Rung Enjoy Better Odds in Europe."

The piece, by David Wessel, effectively dismantled the idea of the American Dream with evidence that social mobility in the United States is no longer what it's cracked up to be. In fact, even "class-bound Europe" might offer more of an opportunity to scale the ranks than America. Although most Americans still cling to the idea that "their country remains a land of unbounded opportunity," as Wessel put it, leading economists and sociologists recently have accepted that not only does it matter who your daddy is, but it matters more now than it did thirty years ago.

? Two days later, the New York Times anteed up with a long, rather windy introduction to its own class series, an essay that was striking, among other things, for its lack of actual reporting. It, too, included the obligatory Benjamin Franklin reference, as well as quotes from Becker and Solon.

Once it was done clearing its throat for the entire length of its opener, the Times in subsequent parts of its series served up an avalanche of detailed, if largely anecdotal, reporting. But in the process it essentially abandoned the sort of critical analysis of class in America over the past few decades that the Journal and, earlier, the Los Angeles Times, had attempted. Instead, the Times set out to look at how class affects individuals. Not individuals in the aggregate, but rather a few very specific individuals: "a lawyer who rose out of an impoverished Kentucky hollow; an unemployed metal worker in Spokane, Wash., regretting his decision to skip college; a multimillionaire in Nantucket, Mass., musing over the cachet of his 200-foot yacht." Each day brought a new topic - health, marriage, religion, education, immigration, corporate nomads - with a new set of stories to illustrate how conceptions of class color each of those topics.
Much of the rest is a lengthy discussion of these techniques ? and worth a close reading if you are interested in how the press should or should not report ? but at least the topic is in the air again, or part of the zeitgeist.

But what was said, not how it was said, was more interesting ? and the local paper out here led the way -
? months before the New York Times and Wall Street Journal were exploring class, the Los Angeles Times was drawing some conclusions of its own - and timely ones, at that. Starting its series in the heat of election fever, the Times drew connections between the isolated rags-to-riches or riches-to-rags tales, the academic research showing stagnated social mobility, and the political implications of the two.

The first article of its series, by Peter G. Gosselin, published on October 10, 2004, called attention to a deliberate move by government leaders that began 25 years ago to rely upon and even subsidize the free market, while cutting back on government regulation and reining in social programs. The resulting economic makeover, Gosselin says, "has come at a large and largely unnoticed price: a measurable increase in the risks that Americans must bear as they provide for their families, pay for their houses, save for their retirements and grab for the good life." He questioned President Bush's campaign assertions at the time that "people are better off relying on themselves, rather than on business or government, in case of trouble" by providing both anecdotal and analytical evidence to the contrary.

Instead of just presenting individual anecdotes and relying on pathos to keep people reading, leaving the question of "but how do we fix this?" dangling unsaid, the Los Angeles Times dared not only to ask, but also to answer. ?
Why so many people less financially secure than ever before "even as the nation, by many measures, has grown far more prosperous." It was because of "a deliberate shifting of economic risks from the broad shoulders of business and government to the backs of working families."

So? Stop doing that.

In fact, the Los Angeles Times came back on May 15, the same day that the New York Times published its extensive overview of class, with an article (a special in the business section) examining the current administration policies - Bush's recommendations for Social Security, and the recent court ruling which permits "United Airlines' parent to dump its pensions on the federal government," thereby leaving "workers and their families bearing big new risks." It wasn't pretty. In other words, something is up.

Friday, June 10, in the New York Times, Paul Krugman in Losing Our Country decides to explain just what's up ? as each major newspaper on each coast is now working the issue.

Krugman?
? The middle-class society I grew up in no longer exists.

Working families have seen little if any progress over the past 30 years. Adjusted for inflation, the income of the median family doubled between 1947 and 1973. But it rose only 22 percent from 1973 to 2003, and much of that gain was the result of wives' entering the paid labor force or working longer hours, not rising wages.

Meanwhile, economic security is a thing of the past: year-to-year fluctuations in the incomes of working families are far larger than they were a generation ago. All it takes is a bit of bad luck in employment or health to plunge a family that seems solidly middle-class into poverty.

But the wealthy have done very well indeed. Since 1973 the average income of the top 1 percent of Americans has doubled, and the income of the top 0.1 percent has tripled.

Why is this happening? I'll have more to say on that another day, but for now let me just point out that middle-class America didn't emerge by accident.
So, as they said out here in Los Angeles, this is deliberate?

Well, yes (and the emphases are mine) -
Since 1980 in particular, U.S. government policies have consistently favored the wealthy at the expense of working families - and under the current administration, that favoritism has become extreme and relentless. From tax cuts that favor the rich to bankruptcy "reform" that punishes the unlucky, almost every domestic policy seems intended to accelerate our march back to the robber baron era.

It's not a pretty picture - which is why right-wing partisans try so hard to discredit anyone who tries to explain to the public what's going on.

These partisans rely in part on obfuscation: shaping, slicing and selectively presenting data in an attempt to mislead. For example, it's a plain fact that the Bush tax cuts heavily favor the rich, especially those who derive most of their income from inherited wealth. Yet this year's Economic Report of the President, in a bravura demonstration of how to lie with statistics, claimed that the cuts "increased the overall progressivity of the federal tax system."

The partisans also rely in part on scare tactics, insisting that any attempt to limit inequality would undermine economic incentives and reduce all of us to shared misery. That claim ignores the fact of U.S. economic success after World War II. It also ignores the lesson we should have learned from recent corporate scandals: sometimes the prospect of great wealth for those who succeed provides an incentive not for high performance, but for fraud.

Above all, the partisans engage in name-calling. To suggest that sustaining programs like Social Security, which protects working Americans from economic risk, should have priority over tax cuts for the rich is to practice "class warfare." To show concern over the growing inequality is to engage in the "politics of envy."

But the real reasons to worry about the explosion of inequality since the 1970's have nothing to do with envy. The fact is that working families aren't sharing in the economy's growth, and face growing economic insecurity. And there's good reason to believe that a society in which most people can reasonably be considered middle class is a better society - and more likely to be a functioning democracy - than one in which there are great extremes of wealth and poverty.

Reversing the rise in inequality and economic insecurity won't be easy: the middle-class society we have lost emerged only after the country was shaken by depression and war. But we can make a start by calling attention to the politicians who systematically make things worse in catering to their contributors. Never mind that straw man, the politics of envy. Let's try to do something about the politics of greed.
That's one angry Yale economist. But not far off the mark. As mentioned before, I have heard the same arguments from my conservative friends ? opposition to these ever-increasing tax cuts for the extremely wealthy is "class warfare" and just plain envy of those who did something with their lives, or inherited vast sums from someone in the family who once did something with their lives. Why should they support lazy people with no sense of personal responsibility. And so on and so forth?

Why?

Bob Herbert explained four days earlier in the New York Times - and cited the Los Angeles Times of all things - in The Mobility Myth -
The war that nobody talks about - the overwhelmingly one-sided class war - is being waged all across America.

Guess who's winning.

A recent front-page article in The Los Angeles Times showed that teenagers are faring poorly in a tight job market because of the fierce competition they're getting from older workers and immigrants for entry-level positions.

On the same day, in the business section, the paper reported that the chief executives at California's largest 100 companies took home a collective $1.1 billion in 2004, an increase of nearly 20 percent over the previous year. The paper contrasted that with the 2.9 percent raise that the average California worker saw last year.

The gap between the rich and everybody else in this country is fast becoming an unbridgeable chasm.?
And what do we have here ? is the right correct in sensing a vast left-wing anti-free-enterprise and union-loving media conspiracy? Are the poor revolting against their betters? (If so, they would have to account for the Wall Street Journal exploring the same topic ? but perhaps one can assume the Journal, as America's business newspaper, is worried that we might be facing a new and sudden scarcity of consumers with ready cash to buy this and that, and thus something really, really bad for corporations.)

A conspiracy? You might think so when Herbert says things like this -
?. The bottom line is that it's becoming increasingly difficult for working Americans to move up in class. The rich are freezing nearly everybody else in place, and sprinting off with the nation's bounty.

Economic mobility in the United States - the extent to which individuals and families move from one social class to another - is no higher than in Britain or France, and lower than in some Scandinavian countries. Maybe we should be studying the Scandinavian dream.

As far as the Bush administration is concerned, the gap between the rich and the rest of us is not growing fast enough.

? Many in the middle class are mortgaged to the hilt, maxed out on credit cards and fearful to the point of trembling that all they've worked for might vanish in a downsized minute.

The privileged classes, with the Bush administration's iron cloak of protection, avoid their fair share of taxes, are reluctant to pay an honest dollar for an honest day's work (the federal minimum wage is still a scandalous $5.15 an hour), refuse to fight in their nation's wars, and laugh all the way to their yachts.

The American dream was about expanding opportunities and widely shared prosperity. Now we have older people and college grads replacing people near the bottom in jobs that offer low pay, no pensions, no health insurance and no vacations.

A fellow named Mark McClellan, who was bounced out of a management position when Kaiser Aluminum closed down in Spokane, Wash., told The Times in the "Class Matters" series: "I may look middle class. But I'm not. My boat is sinking fast."
Yeah, so? "Are there no prisons, are there no poor houses?"

But the fellow who said that in the Dickens novel is not presented as the good guy for saying those words. (You could look it up.)

Times have changed since then. Actually, much said on the right, and by the administration, now sounds just like that ? and now such questions are accepted as simply urging people to accept personal responsibility, or suffer the consequences. Life is risk. Deal with it. And don't ask anyone to join you in sharing life's risks ? Americans believe in taking care of themselves.

A brief aside ? my conservative friend, as we shared a second or maybe third bottle of Tuscan wine, declared insurance, the whole design of shared risk pools for home and auto and healthcare and whatever, was just immoral. I think the idea was that every individual should be responsible for paying for what happens in life ? auto accidents, major and even catastrophic health problems and that sort of thing. If you don't have the money yourself to take care of such things, then that's your problem and no one else's, as otherwise you're just a parasite on the successful folks. Really? Ah, maybe it was the wine.

In any event, there is something afoot here with all this press.

Been chasing the zeitgeist. Finally caught something.

Posted by Alan at 20:35 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 10 June 2005 20:53 PDT home


Topic: Political Theory

Impeachment: Fantasy of the Week (or of the Weak)

In case you missed it, on May 31 in the Boston Globe Ralph Nader argued that the Downing Street memo provides the grounds for the impeachment of the president. That would be Bush.
It is time for Congress to investigate the illegal Iraq war as we move toward the third year of the endless quagmire that many security experts believe jeopardizes US safety by recruiting and training more terrorists. A Resolution of Impeachment would be a first step. Based on the mountains of fabrications, deceptions, and lies, it is time to debate the ''I" word.
Didn't Ralph Nader run for president telling everyone there wasn't one bit of difference between Bush and Gore, between the two parties, and only he provided a real alternative? Ah, one supposes he'd be calling for the impeachment of President Gore had things in Ohio worked out differently. But that doesn't seem likely – Gore didn't have the issues with his father that Bush has with his.

In any event, in that last week there has been more and more talk about impeachment. Economist Brad DeLong routinely ends many of his posts with "Impeach Bush. Impeach Cheney." (He worked in the Clinton administration and may have hard feelings.)

But this is, really, idle chatter, or venting.

Tim Grieve over at SALON.COM in the "War Room" section has this comment -
? Whatever the strength of the case for impeaching George W. Bush, it ain't gonna happen. But that doesn't mean that it shouldn't happen, and it doesn't mean that Democrats - or any Americans, for that matter - shouldn't be making the case.

So let's hear it, once again, for [Representative] John Conyers. The gentleman from Michigan isn't calling for Bush's impeachment yet, but he's asking the right questions and vowing to go wherever the answers might lead. Last month, Conyers wrote a letter to Bush, asking him to answer the charges raised in the not-so-famous Downing Street memo. So far, more than 160,000 Americans have signed on to the letter. And so far, Bush hasn't responded.

? Conyers describes the next steps: "Well, the next thing that needs to be done is that we need to talk with some of the people in London in the Prime Minister?s top echelons of government and others around there in London about this whole subject matter," he says. "We need to not be pulling this off the Internet, reading it from newspaper reports. We need to do some face time with the people that are connected with it or know about it, or can add to our understanding of it. And then also inevitably we?re going to have to have hearings. There will need to be hearings in which this matter is talked about before the Judiciary Committee, and . . . we have witnesses of all persuasions to help shed some light on this. This is a critical part of the democratic process in a constitutional democracy."
As for the press generally ignoring this as not really newsworthy?
Conyers says that's not good enough: "You can?t be silent about something that?s from the British intelligence notes," he says. "You can?t say we refuse to talk about it, or it has no credibility, when everybody that was involved in it, from what we can tell, are all perfectly silent and are acquiescing by their silence in the accuracy of what?s being reported."

Between the blogs and his own investigation, Conyers seems confident that the truth - about the memo, about the war and the lies that led up to it - will eventually come out and sink in. "Things are going to turn, and we think that it?s a matter of such seriousness. ? This is not just picking on the President or playing petty partisan politics. This is a matter of profound truth. We?ve lost thousands of lives, and we stand to lose many more yet in a war that the President refuses to tell the Congress what his plans are for getting out of Iraq. He wouldn?t tell us he was going into Iraq, and now he won?t tell us how he plans to get out of Iraq. Something?s wrong here, and we?re going to get to the bottom of it no matter how much of our time and energy it takes."
You have to admire his high-mindedness. And something may be really wrong here ? Big Time, as Dick Cheney would say. But Conyers may be living on another planet.

What if the press is absolutely correct in generally ignoring this issue up until this week? On this planet, the one the press covers, the Downing Street memo isn't an issue ? nor is impeachment.

Over at Whiskey Bar Billmon offers this -
The truth (which the political establishment and corporate media understand but can't admit, at least not in so many words) is that the overwhelming majority of the American people probably don't give a flying fuck whether the war was started under false pretenses, or in violation of international law - or even that impeachable offenses may have been committed under U.S. law. All they know is that Saddam was a bad guy (right out of central casting, in fact) and that we're always the good guys, which means the United States had every right to invade Iraq and overthrow its government. It's strictly movie logic, and movie morality, but for most Americans that may be enough - at least as long as the movie ends the way such movies are supposed to end, with the triumph of the "good guys."

I know this is going to sound harsh, but my sense is that American popular opinion about the invasion of Iraq is roughly the same as German popular opinion about the invasion of Russia (which was also sold as a cakewalk, all the way up to the battle of Stalingrad) - most people are just sorry it didn't work out.

But, hey, that's the grim pessimist in me talking. Somebody out there must care, or the corporate media wouldn't even be bothering to debate its coverage of the Downing Street Memo. People may not mind that invasion was unnecessary and illegal, but they do mind the mess it has turned into. And that's a start.
That seems about right. And Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, our frequent contributor, adds this about no one really caring if this war was started under false pretenses, or in violation of international law. ?
I think this observation is correct.

Still, the older I get, the more I realize that democracy - still, in my book, the best way to govern a country - doesn't work very well if the people are not urged to favor doing the right thing. So maybe the job of the Democrats should not be to pander to voters by appealing to their most selfish angels, but instead to argue that our country should do the right thing, not only overseas but at home.

Impeachable offenses?

For the life of me, I can't find any. Not that I like him or what he's done - and this is assuming we're talking about George W. Bush here - what has he done that's vaguely impeachable?

Billmon says ? "People may not mind that invasion was unnecessary and illegal, but they do mind the mess it has turned into. And that's a start."

True, but in my opinion, maybe a start off in the wrong direction, assuming the caprice of the American voter may soon be to just pack up and get out.

Unlike in the case of the Vietnam War - in which I found myself mocking all those who argued that maybe we shouldn't have gotten in there in the first place, but should "now stay there and win it" - I do not think we should have gone into Iraq in the way we did, but since we invaded and took away their government (bad as that government may have been), we now have a responsibility to stay long enough to help the Iraqis set up a new one.

If, on the other hand, Bush had taken us in there to kick out one group of shitheads, and then pulled out without regard to what new gang of shitheads would take the place over, I think he would deserve to be doubly damned.

Billmon also says ? "It's strictly movie logic, and movie morality, but for most Americans that may be enough - at least as long as the movie ends the way such movies are supposed to end, with the triumph of the 'good guys.'"

One more observation, and then I promise to shut up for a while about "irony," which I tend to see everywhere: Why do all these conservatives who despise Hollywood for being so liberal seem to see all their adventures in such cinematic terms?

I guess it's true, that if you hate something enough, you become it - which is as good an explanation as any for all those old Trotskyites of yesteryear becoming the neoconservatives of today.
That's an interesting argument that Rick opens with. The US should do the right thing, not just do whatever and then attempt to cover up the whatever with bumbling attempts at public relations, and when that doesn't work, attacks on the press for being unpatriotic.

As for impeachment, our friend Dick up in Rochester (too near Canada?) points out this ?
Something that came out in Clinton's circus was the really basic concept that an "impeachable offense" is pretty much what Congress says it is. Could be farting. Could be lying to the country. Could be not doing something.
Some of do remember that long discussion of just what are "high crimes and misdemeanors." I believe it all came down to the Republicans arguing Clinton lied under oath, with the intent to deceive. Didn't matter what he really did ? he lied on purpose under oath.

As for the impeachment proceedings against Nixon, things were clearer then. From our Wall Street Attorney, who studied constitutional law under Peter Rodino, who chaired the House committee charged with the impeachment proceedings back them -
The common theme in the two impeachments of the twentieth century is that both were based upon the invocation of executive privilege without merit.

Executive privilege can only be used in matters of national security. I believe that the USSC case on point is United States v Richard M. Nixon. (The exact citation unavailable on the commute back to New Jersey.)

Nixon invoked executive privilege claiming that to turn over the recordings made in his office to Rodino and his committee would somehow compromise national security. Clinton mistakenly invoked executive privilege based on the belief that his personal life was a matter of national security.

The difference between these two scenarios is that in the first instance Nixon had indeed, in authorizing and thus participating in several criminal acts including the break-in at the Watergate, engaged in high crimes and misdemeanors. Thus the use of executive privilege was used to cover-up certain high crimes and misdemeanors.

In Clinton's case, no law was broken until he used executive privilege and lied under oath to cover-up an affair he had with Monica Lewinsky.

In other words Nixon's use of executive privilege was yet another pattern or practice of criminal behavior - while Clinton had committed no impeachable offense until the cover-up itself.

The above was my basic argument to Rodino while in law school. He said he didn't like it, because he couldn't disagree with it!
Well, Bush may have lied, or not ? and intentionally misled the Congress, and taken the country into war on false pretenses ? or not. But he wasn't under oath, testifying to a court. That's the "get out of jail free" card, isn't it? It may have been his best judgment that the war was a fine idea ? and you don't consider a judgment call a crime. It's just a decision. There are no underlying crimes, as there were with Nixon.

And late in 1999 almost half the voters, and a bit more that half of the Supreme Court, decided Bush's judgment was what we would rely on in this sorry world. A mistake to give him that power? Maybe so, and maybe not. We have elections every four years.

As for what constitutional scholars have to say, one could glance through this -

The I-word
Ralph Nader says the Downing Street memo is grounds to debate the impeachment of the president. Four constitutional scholars weigh the issue.
Mark Tushnet, Jack Rakove, Michael J. Gerhardt and Cass Sunstein ? SALON.COM - June 9, 2005

Some excerpts ?

Mark Tushnet, Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Constitutional Law, Georgetown University Law Center
? I know something about the Constitution, not much about intelligence operations. So, I don't want to engage the factual claims about the meaning of the Downing Street memo. Let's assume that the memo accurately reports the facts and that a reasonable person could conclude that Bush administration officials lied so that they could lead the nation into a war with Iraq. Would those facts justify impeaching them?

On its face, that question is laughable - because the answer is so obviously yes. If we could ask any of the leaders of the movement to get the Constitution adopted, "Could a president be impeached for lying to the American people in order to get their support for a foreign war?" he would say, "Of course. That's exactly what the impeachment provision is all about."

Impeachment was designed as a mechanism for removing from office a person who had demonstrated the kind of political irresponsibility that seriously threatened the nation's political institutions --and whose continuation in office was so dangerous that waiting until the next election couldn't be tolerated. Why would anyone think that the kinds of misrepresentations Nader and DeLong believe the administration made shouldn't trigger the impeachment provision?

Mostly because we've been misled by our contemporary understanding of the words the Constitution uses to describe the preconditions for impeachment, having forgotten what those words meant when the Constitution was adopted. The Constitution says that the president and other civil officers, like the vice president and secretary of defense, can be impeached for treason, bribery or "other high crimes and misdemeanors."
Tushnet goes on to explain that today we think that these provisions refer only to criminal behavior. Wrong.

As he explains, to the writers of the constitution impeachment provisions referred to behavior that amounted to extraordinarily serious political misconduct - selling out the country to a foreign nation (treason), selling out the national interest for private gain (bribery), and similar political misconduct. He says "lying to the American people to gain support for a foreign adventure that they wouldn't otherwise endorse isn't even a close case." No problem. Do it.

But he mentions complications ? "? impeachment should be reserved for situations in which two conditions are met - unfitness as demonstrated by serious political misconduct, and a need to replace the president so urgent that we can't put up with waiting until the next election."

The urgency is the problem. Since the president's party has more than firm control of both the Senate and the House there really is no way to claim urgency. Both houses of congress see no need to replace Bush. Bottom line? "If you want to impeach the president, you're going to have to win elections. And, of course, if you can do that, you might not have to impeach the president anyway."

Jack Rakove, Coe Professor of History and American Studies, Stanford University
? Why would anyone even bother to make this argument? One would have to suspend oodles -- nay, caboodles -- of disbelief to imagine a scenario under which impeachment proceedings could even begin, much less make any headway in a Republican House. And even with impeachment, how could a two-thirds vote for conviction in the Senate possibly be mustered (or maybe the word is really "mustarded")?

But let's suspend our disbelief for a moment. Politically unrealistic as Nader has repeatedly demonstrated himself to be, an abstract case could be made for uttering the I-word with the current administration in mind. For one thing, the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 set the bar for "high crimes and misdemeanors" so low that any subsequent president could legitimately worry about this generally moribund provision of our Constitution being deployed against him whenever an opposition party controlling Congress found it convenient to do so.

For another, a decision to initiate a war that depended on the calculated misrepresentation of information on the scale alleged against this administration plausibly falls within the unspecified category of "high crimes and misdemeanors" that the framers of the Constitution belatedly added to their original list, limited to treason and bribery. The fact that this original deception was accompanied by a wholesale failure to plan for the occupation presumably compounds the case for impeachment.
But again, the problem is we elected who we elected.
Simply put, Americans know as much now about the defects in the administration's case for war as we did when we voted in November. True, some details have been added here and there. Additional months of insurgency and countless bombings have repeatedly confirmed how poorly our highest leaders planned for the aftermath of an initial battlefield victory. But the nation had as much information last fall as it needed to make an informed judgment about the rationale for war and the conduct of the occupation. And the challenger, John Kerry, certainly did the best he could to place these issues at the heart of his campaign. Even if large numbers of Bush supporters proved incapable of absorbing this information, their votes do not count any the less for having been cast in self-imposed ignorance.
Ah, we bought the product and it's no time now for buyer's remorse.
The great irony here is that the election system has generally worked much better than the framers envisioned, usually producing decisive and unchallengeable results. The Y2K election that installed George W. Bush in the presidency is, of course, one of a handful of notable exceptions to this rule. The last election, however, was not. An informed electorate made its choice, and for better or worse, we are stuck with the consequences.
So be it.

Michael J. Gerhardt, Professor of Law and Director of the Center on Legislative Studies, University of North Carolina Law School
? Those urging an impeachment inquiry against Bush undoubtedly consider the Downing Street memo akin to the Watergate tapes, which established President Nixon's direct involvement in obstructing justice. But any analogy to Watergate does not hold. Nor does it square with what we know about the impeachment process from the Constitution, its structure, and prior presidential impeachment attempts, including those against Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton.

First, impeachment requires proof of treason, bribery "or other high crimes or misdemeanors." "High crimes or misdemeanors" refer to breaches of the public trust and offenses against the state. While there was substantial disagreement about whether Clinton's misconduct formally qualified as an offense for which he could be properly impeached and removed from office, the case for Nixon's impeachment and removal is widely viewed as paradigmatic. His misconduct was bad, so bad that he resigned from office when it became clear that a majority of the House and at least two-thirds of the Senate were prepared, as required by the Constitution, to make it a basis for removing him from office.

? The Downing Street memo tells us nothing we did not know before its publication, and it has hardly mobilized the requisite support in the House for impeaching and in the Senate for convicting the president for misleading the nation into war.

Yet the framers never suggested impeachment and removal were appropriate to address political leaders' mistaken judgments. Indeed, the Senate's acquittal of President Andrew Johnson, by the slimmest of margins, has been understood as signifying the Senate's judgment that a president may not be removed for mistaken policy or constitutional judgments. If presidents could be removed for their mistakes, we would have a very different kind of government than the one we do have.

? The Downing Street memo does not establish Bush's bad faith. He has repeatedly denied misleading the American people. More importantly, the president's reelection was based in part on the American people's rejecting the charge that he had misled the country in the run-up to the Iraq invasion.

? The case for impeaching Bush cannot be made. Manipulating the impeachment process to undo electoral outcomes with which one disagrees is not the American way. The American way is putting your case before the American people as best you can, and accepting the results as graciously as possible.
He didn't act in bad faith. And he may be inarticulate, dim-witted, mean-spirited if not sadistic, and have little if any judgment, but Bush is the man we chose. Or close enough.

Cass Sunstein, Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor of Jurisprudence, Law School and Department of Political Science, University of Chicago
It is clear that those who impeached Clinton were really motivated by their obsessive disapproval of him and his presidency. At a minimum, they hoped to damage him politically, so as to weaken his presidency and the next Democratic nominee as well. They succeeded beyond their hopes. Without the impeachment, it's a good bet that Vice President Gore would have been elected in 2000.

But Democrats shouldn't return the favor. Let's suppose that Bush did mislead the country. For the last year and more, it has been argued, plausibly, that the White House "hyped" the war effort by exaggerating its information about the actual threat from Saddam Hussein. Of course this is a legitimate and quite serious political complaint. And because the complaint involves official behavior, it is at least in the general domain of the impeachable (as Clinton's misconduct was not). Nonetheless, exaggerating a foreign threat, even intentionally, is hardly a legitimate basis for impeachment.

Little is added by the Downing Street memo.

? Is the president of the United States to be impeachable because Britain's foreign secretary believed, in 2002, that Saddam was less capable of using weapons of mass destruction than Libya, North Korea or Iran? Is the president impeachable because of an interpretation of his motivations by the chief of a British intelligence agency?

? At the very worst, Bush was committed, early on and for multiple reasons, to using force to remove a brutal dictator from office, and he hyped and distorted the evidence to convince the American public of the need for imminent military action. (In my own view, by the way, Bush believed in good faith that Saddam posed a genuine threat to American security, partly because of Saddam's willingness to support terror, partly because of Saddam's own military goals.)

Compare the behavior of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in World War II, who secretly and unlawfully transferred arms - including more than 20,000 airplanes - to England. Roosevelt deceived both Congress and the American public about what he was doing. It would have been preposterous to claim that Roosevelt thereby committed an impeachable offense.

So too for Bush. In any four-year period, the nation's leader is highly likely to deceive the public on a serious matter at least once --sometimes inadvertently, sometimes for legitimate reasons, sometimes for illegitimate ones. Of course presidents should not exaggerate evidence, and it's perfectly proper to ask whether Bush got us into war under false pretenses. But there isn't anything close to a sufficient basis for impeachment.

It's obvious that the call for impeachment of Bush is impractical; it's simply a nonstarter, a publicity stunt, reality-free television. But it's also an irresponsible and even nutty idea in principle - the lunatic left imitating the lunatic right. Can we talk about something else instead?
Yeah, that really is a good idea.

Posted by Alan at 16:28 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 10 June 2005 16:51 PDT home

Thursday, 9 June 2005

Topic: Photos

Late Afternoon Light and the Strangeness of Southern California

A day away from current events – working with new photographs – and you will find forty-three of them at Late Afternoon Light and the Strangeness of Southern California in a new album.

These are from the odder places at the beach, from Wednesday, June 8, almost all after 5:30 in the afternoon, when the light starts to get long. Venice Beach and inland from Venice Beach. It can be strange out here.

A selection of these in higher resolution with more detail will appear in Just Above Sunset, the parent site to this web log, on Sunday. These in this album were snapped on the way to the media softball game Bob Patterson insisted we cover, and we did, here. Newspaper and magazine writers, even for the major publications, don't do softball well, but Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, got an invitation and, since Montparnasse in Paris is a long way from Venice Beach, we covered the event for him. The photos are amusing.

But the really odd stuff?

Jonathon Borofsky's "Ballerina Clown" (1989) - the Renaissance Building at Rose and Main


































Giant Binoculars 1985-1991, Claus Oldenburg ? Giant binocular shape incorporated into the Chiat/Day Building - architect Frank Gehry ? and the interior of the binoculars forms a conference room. Main Street, Venice (five shots in the ablum)

























Malibu as seen from Venice Beach










Looking the other way? Sailboats...


Posted by Alan at 18:27 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 9 June 2005 18:35 PDT home

Wednesday, 8 June 2005

Topic: The Media

"If you make the headline big enough…"

Charles Foster Kane's famous journalism advice comes to mind when a columnist is assigned to write up a report about a Los Angeles softball game for a colleague in Paris, when the event turns out to be less than insignificant. If we dash off a story and post it, then it will be a part of the continuing unfolding saga of the growth of Internet journalism, just because it appears.

It all started a few days previously when one of the Paris based Just Above Sunset correspondents, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, received an e-mail invitation to participate in a softball game being held by mediabistro.com in Venice California. He, in turn, forwarded the information to the Los Angeles office, so that either or both of the LA based JAS staff members could act as Ric's proxy at the event for industry insiders.

Journalists are more prone to act as observers than as participants, so the writer and photographer considered the event more of an assignment than an opportunity to display softball talent. Perhaps that personality trait among those who toil as journalists also explains why many of the folks who expressed an interest in the event failed to show up at the listed start time.

After some confusion as to which of the baseball fields was the one for this particular group was resolved, a MediaBistro representative began to get waivers signed and encourage some warm up batting practice and tossing the ball around the infield.

Covering the event as if it were a legitimate story was an absurd prospect, so while the JAS lensman snapped some images, the writer chatted with members of the slowly growing group. A columnist for the Los Angeles Times, a fellow with a New York Times baseball shirt, and a young man who had covered the recent Big Lebowski event in Downey for Giant magazine were among the dozen or so folks who showed up.

Drinks at a location in Santa Monica were an added incentive and perhaps if the JAS news team had not been under intense deadline pressure (yeah, right!) and stayed longer, there would be a much longer and more detailed roster of the various folks who shared their story with the inquiring Internet writer.

Dividing the ten participants into two competing teams seemed to be a logistics challenge of insurmountable proportions. The temperature was falling and a wind was sending the audience scurrying for their jackets, when the JAS photographer, who also happens to be the publication's beloved editor and publisher, noted that the hour was getting late and that he wanted to get back to our respective cubicles so that the story could be pumped out and the back shop could have ample time to prepare it without going into overtime pay.

Recent Just Above Sunset assignments have included a ride in a restored B-17 (photos here, here and here), a tour of a top notch auto museum (photos here), and a walking tour of the Venice (California) canals (see this and this), but a seasoned journalism veteran knows that not every assignment can be one that will get mentioned in the writer's autobiography, so we followed our leader's signal and wrapped it up and headed for the computer.

In the old days when many journalists were part scalawags, we would have spiced up the report by adding fictional embellishments (everyone who missed the event will be hoping that some world famous media mogul in the LA area didn't show up and hand out assignments like candy) but in the current atmosphere of scrupulously factual reporting, the editor will not sanction any such disingenuous creative endeavors.

Our Paris based colleague will be glad to know that in a week where the Hollywood press covered the premieres of Batman and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, no stars turned up at the Venice ballpark and no opportunities to string the story to Time or Le Monde were missed.

The constant patrolling of Los Angeles, by the JAS news team, searching for fascinating and amusing facets of life in Hollywood, will continue.

- Bob Patterson ? Venice, California - Wednesday, June 08, 2005

__

Journalists? Do you know these people?





















































Posted by Alan at 22:02 PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 8 June 2005 22:11 PDT home


Topic: The Media

A Shift in the Wind? - How is the press doing these days?

Seymour Hersh in the current New Yorker in Watergate Days notes way back in "those days" Woodward and Bernstein "were operating in a democracy in which they were accountable to a Constitution and to a citizenry that held its leaders to a high standard of morality and integrity. That is the legacy of Watergate."

So how is the press doing these days? Does this "legacy of Watergate" live on?

Well, someone finally asked Bush about the Downing Street memo – at Tuesday's Press conference. And Bush publicly said: "The facts were not being fixed, in any shape or form at all." As you recall, the memo was the British government's notes on how to deal with what was happening in Washington in July of 2003 and contained the line - "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, though military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." At the time, we were saying we didn't want war, that we were working on a diplomatic resolution. Ah, the Brits misunderstood.

But at least someone finally asked, on June 7 – even if memo was made public on the first day in May. A bit of a gap – but there was the runaway bride and Michael Jackson to deal with.

Paul McLeary in the Columbia Journalism Review provides a review of the delay in Downing Street Memo - a Slow Fire Shows Flickers of Life -
Given the number of fluff pieces running in major newspapers and on television news, it's exasperating to watch a story that might actually be important (and there aren't many) slowly wind its way aimlessly through the media, never quite building up the head of steam necessary to burst onto front pages.

? coverage of the memo in the American media had been almost non-existent, as opposed to the British media, which was battering Tony Blair about the head with it pretty handily in the run-up to elections there.

Since then, coverage of the memo and the questions about the cooking of intelligence it raises have stayed off the front pages, despite the fact that liberal bloggers have been throwing fits on a daily basis over the lack of major media coverage.

But now something seems to have changed, however slightly, in the story of the story.
What changed? Tim Russert, interviewed Republican National Committee chief Ken Mehlman on "Meet the Press." (Discussed previously here.) And on Sunday, the new public editor of the New York Times, Byron Calame, made reference to the paper's lack of coverage of the issue. And McLeary notes that starting Tuesday -
? we've seen a relative explosion of coverage of the memo, with the New York Times and Washington Post throwing their hat into the ring. The Times ran a piece looking at Tony Blair's visit to Washington, noting that yesterday's meeting between Bush and Blair would be their first since "the disclosure last month of a memo written by a foreign policy aide to Mr. Blair in 2002 that reported ... that the White House was fixing its 'intelligence and facts' about the threat from Saddam Hussein 'around the policy' of removing him from power through military action."

Not exactly in-depth coverage, but it captures the essence of the memo well enough, and we'll take what we can get.
It will do. And if you got to McLeary's item you'll find kinks to new coverage all over the place. Not a Watergate flood of stories, but it will do.

And the jury is still considering whether Michael Jackson is or is not a pervert, so it's something to report. Filler? One newsreader's filler is another's top story.

Eric Alterman over at MSNBC notes other stirrings of a press reporting what a hunkered-down administration doesn't want reported. His list?

Bush's Unofficial Official Secrets Act: How the Justice Department Has Pushed to Criminalize The Disclosure of Non-Security Related Government Information - this is John Dean in Find Law explaining the new rules that keep information from citizens. Stuff that should be kept secret? Not exactly. Yes, that is the same John Dean from Watergate days, Nixon's personal attorney who blew the whistle (or one of the whistles) ? and he's now out here in Los Angeles doing the same sort of thing.

And the Washington Post still breaks stories ?

Details on Boeing Deal Sought
Senators Raise Questions About White House Involvement
Mike Allen - Wednesday, June 8, 2005; Page A19
Senators urged the Pentagon's inspector general yesterday to release more information about the involvement of White House officials and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in an aborted $30 billion air-tanker deal that exposed gaping holes in the government's controls on large purchases. ?
Yeah, the White House is bailing out Boeing ? whose new tanker design doesn't even meet specs - while bitching about European subsidies to Airbus. The senators ask ? and the Post has dug up embarrassing memos. Not exactly Watergate stuff, but something. Page A19 may be appropriate.

And the Post is also on this ?

New Worlds To Censor
Adam Thierer - Tuesday, June 7, 2005; Page A23
A troubling shift is underway in how lawmakers censor media in this country. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), chairmen of the Senate and House commerce committees, as well as Kevin Martin, the new head of the Federal Communications Commission, are proposing to broaden federal broadcast "indecency" regulations to cover cable and satellite television. And a separate measure recently introduced in the Senate would regulate "excessively violent" programming, not just in broadcasting but on cable and satellite service as well.
Oh, not a big issue outside the blogs ? but these guys like to shut things down. Limiting what folks can watch, or listen to, even if they pay for it, seems to part of a hard Jones these Republican right guys have. The Post is troubled. The impulse to shut down disturbing things is hard to resist, when you can.

And in USA TODAY of all places you'll find a long item on the tradition of low-level grunts being punished for military policies implemented by higher-ups who get promoted. It used to be such articles were the standard stuff of the left, and such contentions denounced as treason by the hard right. It the whole "a few bad apples" business. But when USA TODAY starts up with such stuff? Oh my!

And the New York Times offers a bit of its own investigative reporting ?

Bush Aide Softened Greenhouse Gas Links to Global Warming
Andrew C. Revkin - June 8, 2005
A White House official who once led the oil industry's fight against limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming, according to internal documents.

In handwritten notes on drafts of several reports issued in 2002 and 2003, the official, Philip A. Cooney, removed or adjusted descriptions of climate research that government scientists and their supervisors, including some senior Bush administration officials, had already approved. In many cases, the changes appeared in the final reports. ?
Yeah, so what else is new? But they dug it up.

Even the conservative John Cole is upset - "Sometimes I wake up and read the papers and just want to scream."

Ah. Good. His reaction? ? "Do they think this is a school project, and all they have to do is fool the teacher and climate change won't be an issue? I don't want junk science or unfounded claims going forward, either, but it is becoming pretty clear to me that faith-based governance simply means that anything you don't like or anything that might require a change in your policy position should be ignored or labeled 'junk science.'"

Maybe the press is doing its job.

Hey, even in Albany, New York the press is doing its job, as Steve Lovelady notes here -
Our attention has been called to a substantive Albany Times-Union piece by reporter Brendan Lyons, in which retired FBI agent Paul Daly reveals that, in a sense, Deep Throat was a clandestine group of four baritones -- not just W. Mark Felt, but also three of his deputies: Richard Long, chief of the FBI's white-collar crimes section during Watergate; Robert G. Kunkel, agent-in-charge of the Washington field office, which led the Watergate investigation; and Charles Bates, who was assistant director of the FBI's criminal investigative division.

The four saw themselves, the Times-Union notes, not as disgruntled mavericks, but as a clandestine group in a high-stakes fight to the death with a White House that was itself trying desperately to rein in the FBI's Watergate investigation. The four met regularly to compare notes and to decide what new tidbits to feed out to the public -- with Bob Woodward and the Washington Post selected as their weapon of choice -- so as to illustrate just how deep the rot ran.

Looked at this way, the enterprise takes on a new light, one neither noble nor venal. What it was, was office politics at a very high level, employed by powerful bureaucrats intent upon preserving not just their ongoing investigation but also their agency's very independence.

? Kudos to Lyons and the Times-Union for a nuanced piece of reporting that goes well beyond just rehashing everyone's favorite movie. And for finding a local source who puts a new perspective on one of the biggest national stories of the past half-century.
Yep ? and cool on two levels. Felt wasn't alone ? there were more like him, whatever their motivations, and even in Albany you get good reporting. Of course Steve Lovelady adds that Harry Rosenfeld, editor-at-large and columnist for the Times-Union, was city editor of the Washington Post in the early 1970's and was in charge of its day-to-day Watergate coverage. Not only the legacy lives on, so do the players.

So what is the administration to do if the press does its job?

Here's an idea.

Torture's Part of the Territory
Naomi Klein, Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2005

She sets the scene -
Brace yourself for a flood of gruesome new torture snapshots. Last week, a federal judge ordered the Defense Department to release dozens of additional photographs and videotapes depicting prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.

The photographs will elicit what has become a predictable response: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will claim to be shocked and will assure us that action is already being taken to prevent such abuses from happening again. But imagine, for a moment, if events followed a different script. Imagine if Rumsfeld responded like Col. Mathieu in "Battle of Algiers," Gillo Pontecorvo's famed 1965 film about the National Liberation Front's attempt to liberate Algeria from French colonial rule. In one of the film's key scenes, Mathieu finds himself in a situation familiar to top officials in the Bush administration: He is being grilled by a room filled with journalists about allegations that French paratroopers are torturing Algerian prisoners.

Based on real-life French commander Gen. Jacques Massus, Mathieu neither denies the abuse nor claims that those responsible will be punished. Instead, he flips the tables on the scandalized reporters, most of whom work for newspapers that overwhelmingly support France's continued occupation of Algeria. Torture "isn't the problem," he says calmly. "The problem is the FLN wants to throw us out of Algeria and we want to stay?. It's my turn to ask a question. Should France stay in Algeria? If your answer is still yes, then you must accept all the consequences."

His point, as relevant in Iraq today as it was in Algeria in 1957, is that there is no nice, humanitarian way to occupy a nation against the will of its people. Those who support such an occupation don't have the right to morally separate themselves from the brutality it requires. ?
Her suggestion? Well, you could tell it like it is.
When the next batch of photographs from Abu Ghraib appear, many Americans will be morally outraged, and rightly so. But perhaps some brave official will take a lesson from Col. Mathieu and dare to turn the tables: Should the United States stay in Iraq? If your answer is still yes, then you must accept all the consequences.
Now there's an idea. Don't do the whole "a few bad apples" tap dance. Just say, "Yeah, well, this is what we're doing, and if you have a problem with it write your damned congressman, or vote in an election now and then."

Oh, we'll get the tap dance.

And we will too get the old "the press is evil" number as Tom Tomorrow, the political cartoonist with the funny pseudonym, explains here -
? one of the major debate strategies of the right is to find any inconsistency in a story and use it to discredit the entire story. Given the inherent fallibility of human beings, this is a pretty easy task - there's always going to be some detail that somebody got wrong, some mistaken detail in an otherwise true story. Or, at the very least, there will be an inexact turn of phrase or metaphor (a word like "gulag", say) which can be seized upon to channel attention away from the issue itself.
Go read his example of the current debate over how many "detainees" in our chain of hold-'em-without-charges facilities died under our very focused questioning. Was it two, thirty-seven, one hundred? Is the press accurate? The number one hundred is floating around.
? but since the Army itself "only" officially acknowledges 37 deaths, then, well, clearly the entire thing is just 'nother fiction promulgated by the Lying Liberal Media. And the righties can go back to pretending that the worst allegation of abuse anyone anywhere has made was about Korans in toilets. Oh, and that one night at Abu Ghraib when everyone took those photos, but the guilty have been punished and we've put all that behind us now. Next subject please.
Heck, it works. Or it has worked so far.

But maybe there is a change in the air.

Posted by Alan at 15:34 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 8 June 2005 15:48 PDT home

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