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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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Thursday, 21 July 2005

Topic: Breaking News

London Again: The Second-String Executes Badly

Small explosions Thursday morning in London hit three subway trains and a bus. There was one injury and no fatalities. NBC offers this summary:
Small explosions struck London's subway system and a bus at midday Thursday in a chilling but bloodless replay of the suicide bombings that killed 56 people two weeks ago.

NBC News has learned that British authorities told their U.S. counterparts that the backpacks used in Thursday's planned attacks and the explosives found in the backpacks are identical to those used in the July 7 attacks - evidence that strongly suggests the two sets of attacks were connected.

In Thursday's attack at lunch hour, Londoners were shocked and the capital disrupted, but no one was hurt.

However, information derived from police sources who have collected eyewitness accounts suggests that the attackers, who once again targeted three subway stations and a bus, intended to carry out suicide bombings and cause the kind of mayhem seen two weeks earlier, but failed because their detonators failed, NBC News has learned.

Earlier, Police Commissioner Ian Blair said forensic evidence collected from the crime scenes could provide a "significant break" in solving the case, and hours later police announced two arrests in connection with the latest attacks.
Late reports indicate those arrested were from Pakistan, or British citizens of Pakistani descent. Early reports were playing with the idea this may have been a "copycat" amateur thing, but it has become clear now that the original group is still active. The first-string players did the deed two weeks ago, and the second-string tried to replicate the original event - with a "we're still here and can do the same exact thing any time we want" message. Something went wrong. Whoever assembled the backpack bombs, with, it seems, a somewhat more powerful explosive this time, didn't read the instructions carefully enough, or perhaps the instructions were badly written. One assumes, if the British authorities don't break up the group with careful questioning and lots of probing investigation, there's probably the third, fourth, fifth and sixth layer of players. As they say in sports, one assumes these guys have a deep bench.

There was massive coverage on the news, but a bit less than on the 7th with the first bombs. Less surprise, fewer bleeding bodies, no death. It led all the newscasts, but there was room in the twenty-two minutes for other stories.

SLATE.COM runs a daily review of blog reaction - not very extensive but something - and has these notes:
Health care director David Kitchenham of Duenna Care Ltd. approves of the sparse media coverage. "Terrorism is a media fed fire, if it was not for the countless television channels then such actions would be futile," he writes. "Media may well be the capitalist's tool, but it is the terrorist's proffered weapon and they know how to use it." Christian blogger J. Marcus Xavier of Very Small Doses, on the other hand, is incensed by the mild response: "Has it totally escaped the notice of everyone that the only reason that there isn't another field of dead in London right now is that the people who orchestrated this thing screwed up? ... The prospect of having to live in a situation like Israel - where massive random orgies of death are a common occurrence - does not sit well with me at all."

Australian artist Toxicpurity of One Dog Said to the Other sneers, "Bloody amateurs. They not only deserve contempt for their sheer callousness, but also for being both inept and unimaginative." ThinkingMountain's John Pilger, an environmental management consultant, directs his contempt elsewhere: "Blair brought home to this country his and Bush's illegal, unprovoked and blood-soaked adventure in the Middle East. Were it not for his epic irresponsibility, the Londoners who died in the Tube and on the No 30 bus almost certainly would be alive today."
Yeah, well, regarding the point about media coverage, the day after the earlier London bombings Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit (very influential on the right) said this:
I bet if the media voluntarily stopped showing any pictures of all terror attacks, that the terror would stop. Thus ending the GWOT without a shot. This policy would be NO DIFFERENT than how they cover folks who run on to baseball fields: they do NOT show them on TV; they ignore them. Would the media ever put peace above their ratings/profits? Never.
Huh? Well, that's one idea, and the best response I saw was from Andrew Sullivan, who called it idiocy:
? I suppose I see the underlying point: that terror needs media oxygen to survive. But the notion that we should somehow not cover mass murder, or that it's equivalent to misbehavior at sporting events, or that the only reason for covering it is "ratings/profits" is nutty. People have a right to know what's going on in their own countries and around the world. If the mainstream media decided to stop reporting terror attacks, bloggers would fill the gap. Yesterday, for example, was remarkable for the first-hand accounts of terror we were able to read - within hours of the massacres - by citizen journalists. Would Glenn like to see them silenced? Yes, these events shouldn't be hyped; yes, they should be put in context. But this out-of-sight-out-of-mind mentality is a form of denial. The same goes for abuse and torture accusations. Instapundit won't actually link to credible accounts. By ignoring them, he somehow thinks they don't exist or will go away. They won't. Similarly, exposing the violence perpetrated by the Islamists is simply what the media does. Moreover, it doesn't always help the terrorists; it also hurts them. We need to see the atrocities these fanatics commit, however appalling, however vile. The job of the media, even in wartime, is to relay facts, not to skew coverage for purposes of morale.
Is the Bush administration listening? No?

As for who is to blame for what, after the first London bombings, Ken Livingston, the left-wing mayor of London ("Red Ken") surprised everyone with this:
This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful; it is not aimed at presidents or prime ministers; it was aimed at ordinary working class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christians, Hindu and Jew, young and old, indiscriminate attempt at slaughter irrespective of any considerations, of age, of class, of religion, whatever, that isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted faith, it's just indiscriminate attempt at mass murder, and we know what the objective is, they seek to divide London. They seek to turn Londoners against each other and Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack... I wish to speak through you directly, to those who came to London to claim lives, nothing you do, how many of us you kill will stop that flight to our cities where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another, whatever you do, how many you kill, you will fail.
And everyone cheered.

Ah well, two weeks later he is now saying this (interview on UK Channel 4 reported in The Scotsman) about what's going on -
You've just had eighty years of western intervention into predominantly Arab lands because of the western need for oil. We've propped up unsavory governments, we've overthrown ones we didn't consider sympathetic.
And he goes on to suggest the bombers just might have been motivated by concrete grievances, rather than free-floating homicidal rage.

Tresy over at Corrente comments -
? Really? Ya think? Four Arab youths with apparently no history of even political involvement, let alone radical activities, happily strap on backpacks full of explosives to kill as many innocent civilians as they can, and you think there might be an articulable motive (however morally unjustified)?

Certainly Tony Blair wants such DoublePlus Ungood thinking rubbished out, and the sooner the better. Doing what struck me as an uncannily creepy impersonation of President Pinocchio on CBC Television, Blair blathered on about the bombers' unappeasable armageddonite fantasies while familiar spasmodic smirks flickered across his face, his jaw periodically jutting forward like a barroom drunk trying to pick a fight. Is this tic diagnostic of the compulsive liar generally, I wonder?

Somewhere I read that one sign of the delusional mind is the conviction that the laws of the universe don't apply. And what else is this dogged belief that Western actions have no negative reactions, than a denial of Newtonian physics? On Riggsveda's recommendation last week, I went out and bought a copy of Paul Williams Roberts' A War Against Truth. Among its many virtues (controlled outrage, verbal dexterity, caustic irony) one that I did not expect was its merciless recounting of the cynical betrayal of the Arab world by the Western powers after World War I (and one that continues to this day) - a story I, at least, knew only in general, if also unflattering terms. It was only then that I realized the larger actual scope of the book's title. Betrayed people have long memories.

A Canadian neighbor remarked to us the other night that during her years living in San Francisco in the late 80s, she was struck by how, even then, Americans still couldn't talk honestly to one another about Vietnam. I remarked that it looked like our collective neurosis was on its way to siring an offspring in Iraq. "Oh, but Iraq is even worse, because you have no idea how to get out."

As long as politicians can't even state the most elementary truths about the course they've set us on, that's not going to change.
And the bombing will continue. (And more of the same argument here from Patrick Cockburn.)

The counterargument is here:

The Neoconservative Convergence
Charles Krauthammer, The Wall Street Journal, Thursday, July 21, 2005

A few hours before the second set of London bombings he says this:
In Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world, the forces of democratic liberalization have emerged on the political stage in a way that was unimaginable just two years ago. They have been energized and emboldened by the Iraqi example and by American resolve.

? The Iraqi elections vindicated the two central propositions of the Bush doctrine. First, that the desire for freedom is indeed universal and not the private preserve of Westerners.

Second, that America is genuinely committed to democracy in and of itself. Contrary to the cynics, whether Arab, European or American, the U.S. did not go into Iraq for oil or hegemony but for liberation - a truth that on Jan. 30 even al-Jazeera had to televise.
And few hours later the bombers tried London again. They just don't see the truth? Guess not.

Posted by Alan at 19:24 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 21 July 2005 19:26 PDT home

Wednesday, 20 July 2005

Topic: Local Issues

Big Doings in Los Angeles: Hip is Out, Atheism In, and the Media is in Turmoil

Catapultam habeo. Isi pecuniam omnem mihi dabis, ad caput tuum saxum immane.
(I have a catapult. Give me all the money, or I will fling an enormous rock at your head.)

Ah, it always about the money. The editor of the Los Angeles Times resigned today. The Times' own coverage opens with this: "Editor John S. Carroll, who led the Los Angeles Times to thirteen Pulitzer Prizes in five years as the newspaper struggled with declining circulation, announced his retirement today and will be succeeded by Managing Editor Dean P. Baquet."
Things haven't been the same since the Tribune group - the Chicago Tribune and the Cubs - bought the paper.

The city is changing. Baquet is an African-American who grew up in New Orleans. Our new mayor, Antonia Villaraigosa, is Hispanic - his folks came from Mexico in the days before we had the current armed citizen vigilantes (the Minutemen) watching the border. It's back to the good old days of our mayor back in the 1860s - Joseph Mascrael (Don Jose), born in Marseille in 1816 and fluent in French and Spanish but unable to manage English at all. See this about him from the Consulat Général de France à Los Angeles - "… capitaine de navire, immigré en 1844, maraîcher installé au nord de l'actuel Gower Street à Hollywood, ouvre un grand magasin en 1849, maire de Los Angeles de 1865 à 1866." (See this - in English - about how French Los Angeles really was in the old days.) The city is back to its multicultural roots.

But back to the Times. Over at Editor and Publisher we get some inside information about the problems:
The Times has cut positions and delayed editorial initiatives because of revenue shortfalls. In May, the paper reported that average daily circulation for the six-month period ending March 31 declined 6.5 percent, compared with the previous year.

... in recent years, the paper has taken a financial drubbing. Even when it won five Pulitzer Prizes in 2004, the second-most ever for a single paper in one year, the accolades were somewhat overshadowed. Two months after the Pulitzer sweep, Tribune Co. announced mandated layoffs of 200 employees, with the Times bearing the brunt. One hundred and sixty jobs were eliminated at the paper, including 60 editorial positions. Two-thirds of the departing journalists took voluntary buyouts.

In addition, two Times-owned newspapers in the nearby Inland Empire were shut down, while the Times national edition folded on Dec. 31, 2004.

The paper also took huge hits in circulation over the past two reporting periods. For the six months ending September 2004, daily circ slid 5.5% and Sunday dropped 6.3%. For the latest period, ending March 2005, daily copies decreased 6.4% and Sunday fell 7.9%. Total advertising revenue for the paper rose less than 1% in the second quarter of 2005.
Of course it didn't help that since April you would find not one advertisement for any General Motors product, or any display ad for any GM dealership, anywhere in the Times. The Pulitzer Prize winning car columnist Dan Neil on April 6 reviewed the new Pontiac G6 and said it was crap, and GM was producing crap, and said it colorfully. Oops. GM spent twenty million in the Times in 2004 and now....

But see this - "To my editors' everlasting credit, there hasn't been even a hint of reproval. As a public relations move, I think it's fair to say GM's ad-pulling did them more harm than good. My estimate is that perhaps two million or so people read the article than would have otherwise and the debate on GM's woes has been given another good public chewing. And I have been transformed from cranky columnist to St. George slaying the dragon." (The orginal G6 review is here and Neil is often mentioned in these pages as in this item and this item.)

His editor, John Carroll, may have paid the price for those dead dragons.

In any event, Kevin Roderick at LA Observed is covering the Times story - he used to work there - and he lists some first reactions.

Of course this is a local story of limited interest, but it is about the press and money and editorial decisions. What you cover and how you cover it can cost you. It's a mini-version of what was covered here earlier in News Notes: Non-Stories. Same thing.

Of course, the Times writers can be contrarians, as in this:

If it's hip and trendy, they're not interested
In an age saturated with microtrends, some people are turning their backs on cool.
Christian M. Chensvold, July 20, 2005

This may be more subversive than attacking General Motors, as after the requisite human interest anecdotal introduction (meet Melinda Wilferd), you get this:
The hypnosis of hipsterism is entrenched among many of L.A.'s urban sophisticates, especially those who work in the trend-driven industries of media, music and fashion. But for many twenty-, thirty- and fortysomethings, the appeal of being cool and edgy is rapidly deteriorating. "The last identity you would want to claim now is a hipster," says John Leland, author of "Hip: The History." "It's the worst of insults."

Just what is hip has become nebulous in a digital age of microtrends, when a cultural blip goes from underground to overexposed in one season. Likewise, the original concept of hip as something outside the purview of the mainstream has been replaced by the hipstream: mainstream cool packaged by corporate marketing departments.

The inevitable backlash - not against the bohemian veritas but the sycophantic consumer of cool - is well underway.

"The whole point of being hip in the pure sense of the word is to essentially be oblivious to it," says Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. "Now the only thing you can describe a hipster as being is a 'hipster' in quotation marks. Almost by definition a hipster is a wannabe."
This backlash could destroy my neighborhood!

Chensvold too goes on to detail how hard it is to keep up with what's in and what not - and how people are just walking away from the whole concept of being on top of things. "So if everybody's hip, then let's be unhip, and indeed, what a very hip idea. Some people are just fed up with the whole enterprise."

The end of Los Angeles as we know it!

And note this from the world of New York hip:
Any hip community eventually becomes a parody of itself, says Robert Lanham, author of "The Hipster Handbook" (2002), which many perceived as a marketing gimmick put out by corporate media but which was, in fact, a skewering of Williamsburg hipsters by the 34-year-old humorist and co-founder of freewilliamsburg.com, a neighborhood blog and culture guide.

Lanham's follow-up, last year's "Food Court Druids, Cherohonkees, and Other Creatures Unique to the Republic," takes the parody a step further and includes a chapter on "cryptsters," or aging hipsters. "There's also this new breed of pseudo-bohemians or fauxhemians," says the author, "a facade of hipsters trying to play the bohemian role, but their parents are paying their rent."

Dropping out of the hipster scene has made Bernbaum use his time in more personally fulfilling ways, he says. "And it's a lot cheaper." The downside is that he's floating in social limbo. "The youth of New York is geared toward hipster things. I've just withdrawn from the people I didn't feel it was worth my time hanging out with. But I haven't really found an alternate world of people."
Well, Hollywood has always a parody of itself. In fact, the Just Above Sunset staff car for five years - the black Mercedes SLK convertible - was officially known as The Ironymobile. Its replacement, the Mini Cooper, has its own irony built in too. (Watch this movie and you'll see.)

What's the alternative to the useless hip (or would that be Tragically Hip) here in Los Angeles? The Times recommends Adrienne Crew's LA Brain Terrain with its calendars of literary, cultural, scientific and political events around town. And this:
In hipster and media-driven Los Angeles, it's easy to forget that most Angelenos ages 25 to 40 don't wear checkered Vans with distressed blazers or go to downtown gallery openings or Echo Park dive bars.

Craigslist.org, once an underground website for hipsters seeking jobs and apartments, now boasts an activities section packed with people seeking irony-free social connections in such humdrum activities as chess, badminton, lacrosse, foreign language study, outrigger canoeing and the Hermosa Beach Lawn Bowling Club.

Best get involved now, before they become hip.
Well, that posits the idea that there is such a thing as an irony-free social connection. In Los Angeles? Really? And wouldn't lawn bowling down in Hermosa Beach be rife with irony, layers and layers of it?

Oh well.

But the Times is not just subversive on social matters - the requisite level of hip posturing needed to thrive here. They are on the story of atheists uniting to mount some kind of resistance to the evangelical, fundamentalist Christian fervor sweeping America. They actually write about such people!

A Time of Doubt for Atheists
With the religious making inroads in popular culture and politics, nonbelievers yearn for higher power in Washington.
Gina Piccalo, July 18, 2005

The set-up:
It's been years, decades even, since the Almighty was so hot.

The evidence is everywhere. President Bush rallied the faithful to hold on to the White House. A book by an Orange County preacher extolling God's purpose in our lives stays a bestseller for more than two years. And Hollywood, frequently seen as a den of iniquity, is courting a more spiritual audience in movies and TV.

Faith is the new must-have, evident when a major leaguer points skyward after his base hit, when a movie star credits the Big Guy for his Oscar, when the Justice Department backs the display of the Ten Commandments at two state capitols, and when it defends the Salvation Army's requirement that employees embrace Jesus Christ.

So where does that leave the fraction of Americans who define themselves as godless? Although the percentage of Americans who claim no religion is about 14%, less than a quarter of them identify themselves as atheists, according to recent polls.
Yes, indeed. Where does all this leave this tiny minority?

The item spends some time with Stuart Bechman, co-president of Atheists United, a local affiliate of Atheist Alliance International who compares things now to the McCarthy era and is calling for unity. And that's hard!
Atheists aren't by nature of one mind. There's a godless organization for every wrinkle of nonbelief - the prayer-never-hurt-anyone, live-and-let-live atheists; the prove-the-God-fearing-world-wrong, keep-America-secular atheists; and the contrarian I-don't-believe-in-God-but-don't-call-me-an-atheist atheists.

Fear, however, is a great motivator, and politically active atheists know that they need an advocate in government to be heard. Unfortunately, as one activist noted, most politicians are as eager to align with the godless ranks as they are to lobby for pedophiles. Hence the need for an image makeover.
Ah, it comes down to PR of course - stress integrity, patriotism and respect for the faithful while staying true to a commitment to the separation of church and state.

We also learn that the first godless march on Washington drew thousands in fall 2002, and a few months later the Godless Americans Political Action Committee was formed. And this Veterans Day, so-called foxhole atheists (servicemen and women who are nonbelievers) will be honored in the capital.

And there is this:
Mynga Futrell and Paul Geisert of Sacramento hope to change that with a new name and an online community. They founded the Brights' Net (the-brights.net) in 2003 to create a place for people who share "a worldview free from supernatural and mystical elements." They chose the term "brights" because, unlike "godless," "atheist" and "nonbeliever," it did not define them in religious terms. By creating this label, Futrell and Geisert hope to "level the playing field" and recast members of their community as independent thinkers who celebrate knowledge without identifying themselves as vociferous anti-theists.

They want to build a large, influential community, similar to MoveOn.org, to sway public opinion. So far, they say, there are Brights in more than 115 countries.

"There's this tremendous feeling of being a second-class citizen when you know you're patriotic and working for all kinds of good things for the country, and yet you're ranked with the pedophiles," Futrell says. "You have to have political influence in order to get cultural change of any kind."
Works for me.

But what is the Times up to, offending General Motors, telling people in Hollywood they don't need to be hip, and explaining that there are still, in our midst, atheists, whoa aren't evil and may not even be pedophiles?

Circulation is down, advertising is down, and the do these sorts of things? The new editor, Dean Baquet, had his work cut out for him.

Posted by Alan at 19:44 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 20 July 2005 20:01 PDT home


Topic: World View

Rush to Judge: Reactions to the US Issues from Our Man in Paris

In reaction to what we posted on the news of Bush nominating Roberts to the open Supreme Court seat, and how that news pushed all the "leak" scandal news, and news of Iraq, out of the media, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, sends along a post:

From dirty old Europe, filthy Paris, on Wednesday, 20 July:

Editor of Just Above Sunset: I'm with the editors of the legal site Talk Left in deciding to hold off - "I'd like to know more about him before I make up my mind. I don't think it helps that liberal groups are coming out swinging so soon. It has the appearance that they would oppose anyone Bush would nominate."

Editor of MetropoleParis: What can be so wrong about opposing anybody Bush nominates? It's what the rubes do to dems. Bush isn't going to nominate a civil rights liberal, is he? "It's obvious we're going to get a conservative Supreme Court nominee. Bush is President and the Senate is Republican-dominated."

Christopher Hitchens in Rove Rage: "Joseph Wilson comes before us as a man whose word is effectively worthless."

Editor of MetropoleParis: Was Hitchens in Africa? He's as good as calling Wilson a liar. Then he goes on to say that the law Rove may have broken is stupid and silly. Is he an anarchist? Is he a Godless Un-American?

Hitchens: "In the same way, the carefully phrased yet indistinct statement of the 9/11 Commission that Saddam had no proven 'operational' relationship with al-Qaida has mutated lazily into the belief that there were no contacts or exchanges at all, which the commission by no means asserts and which in any case by no means possesses the merit of being true."

Editor of MetropoleParis: All the words following 'al-Qaida' above are Hitchens' personal fantasy. He is 'energetically mutating' the facts. The whole Wilson affair is a load of 'shoot-the-messanger' disinformation. It's in the same toilet with 'John Kerry is a coward.'

Editor of Just Above Sunset: The real mess, as Frank Rich argued over the weekend in the New York Times, is that "This case is about Iraq, not Niger."

Frank Rich: "The real victims are the American people, not the Wilsons. The real culprit - [...] - is not Mr. Rove but the gang that sent American sons and daughters to war on trumped-up grounds and in so doing diverted finite resources, human and otherwise, from fighting the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11."

Editor of MetropoleParis: The nutshell. Not Wilson and not Rove, but the 'GANG' who cooked up the phony war. Still, Rove is still a member of this gang. (The list of CIA operatives - all 'former?' All fired or retired?)

Editor of MetropoleParis regarding London:
Meanwhile, across the pond - is anybody following the Brit story about the identification of the London bombers? Isn't it kind of odd how the bombers left enough traces to be able to track them back to Leeds fairly quickly? Is this how a mysteriously masterminded operation happens? These clowns, like four boy scouts, simply arrive in London together - with return tickets! - with bombs in backpacks. Then set three off simultaneously, practically on-camera?

It'll all a bit too pat, too tidy, except for the bus bomb. Also, there's too many wits around who don't think these guys were like that. What's happened to the so-called chemist who was bounced in Cairo? Can't the Brit cops afford to pay the ransom? Maybe they don't want to because the guy is clean.

The bad news is that we are supposed to believe a band of yahoos in Leeds just got together with some fertilizer and happened to decide to bomb London's public transport one fine morning. It could have been any group of disaffected suburban youths according to the theory. London's 25,000 video cameras were no dissuasion nor were all the transport police, all the spooks and all the cops. Public transport is an indefensible target.

But compared to repetitive suicide truck bombers in Baghdad, the score was low. I mean, they could have hit some place where there was a big concentration of people - like the WTC - but they settled for the relatively small number in a subway wagon. Minimum training, minimum bombs, minimum objective? Was it a test?

If so, they could start a radical transport union and hold random strikes to hang up even more people more often.

But this isn't how Britain runs these days. One of my correspondents wrote to say that there are no longer any unemployed in the UK. They are all 'job-seekers' now, and they are far from few.
Ah, to clarify one matter, see this: "CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - Egypt said Tuesday that a detained chemist wanted by Britain for questioning about the London bombings had no links to the July 7 attacks or to al-Qaida. …"

But as for the rest? It is a mystery. Were these London bombings a training run, or some sort of amateur operation? Just what is going on?

As for unemployment, here we're doing something like the Brits. Our unemployment rate is down to five percent - but that counts only those who have filed for unemployment benefits. It doesn't count those who never filed, or those for whom the benefits have expired, or those who just gave up looking for work. The homeless sleeping in the vacant buildings or under the freeway ramps are not unemployed, per se. They're homeless. Different thing. Those with no more benefits, living on savings or family funds or whatever, are also not unemployed – they've "left the workforce." (When you give up you don't count - and that helps the statistics.) What's called "workforce participation" - the percent of those who could be working and actually are working - is at a record low of sixty-six percent. Real wages, adjusted for inflation, have been flat or declining for four or more years. But the unemployment rate is just fine.

Everything is just fine.

Posted by Alan at 14:27 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Tuesday, 19 July 2005

Topic: Breaking News

SCOTUS: Let the fun begin! ('Here come da judge, here come da judge!')

Early Tuesday evening in Los Angeles:

Bush Nominates Judge John C. Roberts
Deb Riechmann, Associated Press, Tuesday, July 19, 2005 - 4:45 pm Pacific Time

The link here is to the AP wire on the topic, so the versions change. More than an hour before the announcement there was this:
President Bush chose federal appeals court judge John G. Roberts Jr. on Tuesday as his first nominee for the Supreme Court, selecting a rock solid conservative whose nomination could trigger a tumultuous battle over the direction of the nation's highest court, a senior administration official said.

Bush offered the position to Roberts in a telephone call at 12:35 p.m. after a luncheon with the visiting prime minister of Australia, John Howard. He was to announce it later with a flourish in a nationally broadcast speech to the nation.

Roberts has been on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since June 2003 after being picked for that seat by Bush.

Advocacy groups on the right say that Roberts, a 50-year-old native of Buffalo, N.Y., who attended Harvard Law School, is a bright judge with strong conservative credentials he burnished in the administrations of former Presidents Bush and Reagan. While he has been a federal judge for just a little more than two years, legal experts say that whatever experience he lacks on the bench is offset by his many years arguing cases before the Supreme Court.

Liberal groups, however, say Roberts has taken positions in cases involving free speech and religious liberty that endanger those rights. Abortion rights groups allege that Roberts is hostile to women's reproductive freedom and cite a brief he co-wrote in 1990 that suggested the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 high court decision that legalized abortion.
And over an hour after the announcement the opening way this:
President Bush named federal appeals judge John G. Roberts Jr. on Tuesday to fill the first Supreme Court vacancy in a decade, delighting Republicans and unsettling Democrats by picking a young jurist of impeccably conservative credentials. …
Well, the core of the Republican Party was a bit slow to be delighted. As I heard on the cable shows in the background, out in Colorado Springs, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, the gatekeeper of Republican values (evangelical Christian rule of the avenging American Jesus), took an hour to think about whether this was a good thing, then gave his stamp of approval. The left is not yet jumping up and down in anger, although they need an hour or two.
"The president has chosen someone with suitable legal credentials, but that is not the end of our inquiry," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Referring to planned hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Reid said, "I will not prejudge this nomination. I look forward to learning more about Judge Roberts."

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Democrats would want to probe Roberts' views to see whether he holds "mainstream values."
And so it begins.

Want to know more about the guy? See this history of his legal career and views or this one. ScotusBlog now has another blog devoted to nominations to the court, where you can read the criminal law opinions the guy has written. The text of his 2003 confirmation hearings can be found in PDF format here and here, if you get off on such things.

I'm with the editors of the legal site Talk Left in deciding to hold off -
? it's too soon to start opposing Judge John G. Roberts. Most of us knew nothing about him before tonight. He's only been a Judge for two years. Before that he was deputy solicitor general. The legal arguments he made while working for the Government or as a corporate lawyer may or may not reflect his personal values, or how he would rule as a Supreme Court Justice.

I'd like to know more about him before I make up my mind. I don't think it helps that liberal groups are coming out swinging so soon. It has the appearance that they would oppose anyone Bush would nominate.

It's obvious we're going to get a conservative Supreme Court nominee. Bush is President and the Senate is Republican-dominated. For now, I'm just happy it wasn't a rabid right-winger like Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen, Edith Jones (not to be confused with Edith Clement, who probably would have been okay,) Ted Olson or one of the Fourth Circuit judges that were reportedly under consideration.

I'm more worried about Bush's second pick, the one he will make when Chief Justice Rehnquist retires, when his key aides may be out from under the gun of, or already indicted by, Fitzgerald's grand jury.

I do not want to fall into the Administration's trap of getting so distracted by this judicial nomination that I don't pay attention to other injustices of the Administration, like the war in Iraq, the detainees, military tribunals, the potential abolition of habeas corpus in death cases, and Rove Gate, to name a few.
And it's not like the other news is going away, even if all else will be sparsely reported. This could be a good, juicy fight and our news media, chasing the advertising bucks, does not multi-task much. Our press is more hedgehog than fox - in fact, Fox News ought to be called Hedgehog News (see Hedgehogs and Foxes from December 21, 2003 in these pages).

But what of the Rove business? I wrote to my friends Monday evening that I was getting sick of the Karl Rove business and I'd get back to it later. Christopher Hitchens wrote Monday on how awful Wilson and his wife are - and how Rove had no choice but to attack. Whatever. So what? One can comment to speculation and opinion, but to what end? What's the point of saying - "Look! Bullshit!" - as there are no new facts, or just little ones?

Hitchens in Rove Rage: The Poverty of our Current Scandal argues that Saddam Hussein certainly was trying to buy uranium and only fools believe otherwise. And he ends with this:
Joseph Wilson comes before us as a man whose word is effectively worthless. What do you do, if you work for the Bush administration, when a man of such quality is being lionized by an anti-war press? Well, you can fold your tent and let them print the legend. Or you can say that the word of a mediocre political malcontent who is at a loose end, and who is picking up side work from a wife who works at the anti-regime-change CIA, may not be as "objective" as it looks. I dare say that more than one supporter of regime change took this option. I would certainly have done so as a reporter if I had known.

OK, then, how do the opponents of regime change in Iraq make my last sentence into a statement of criminal intent and national-security endangerment? By citing the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982. This law, which is one of the most repressive and absurd pieces of legislation on our statute book, was a panicky attempt by the right to silence whistle-blowers at the CIA. In a rough effort to make it congruent with freedom of information and the First Amendment (after all, the United States managed to get through the Second World War and most of the Cold War without such a law), it sets a fairly high bar. You must knowingly wish to expose the cover of a CIA officer who you understand may be harmed as a result. It seems quite clear that nobody has broken even that arbitrary element of this silly law.

But the coverage of this non-storm in an un-teacup has gone far beyond the fantasy of a Rovean hidden hand. Supposedly responsible journalists are now writing as if there was never any problem with Saddam's attempt to acquire yellowcake (or his regime's now-proven concealment of a nuclear centrifuge, or his regime's now-proven attempt to buy long-range missiles off the shelf from North Korea as late as March 2003). In the same way, the carefully phrased yet indistinct statement of the 9/11 Commission that Saddam had no proven "operational" relationship with al-Qaida has mutated lazily into the belief that there were no contacts or exchanges at all, which the commission by no means asserts and which in any case by no means possesses the merit of being true. The CIA got everything wrong before 9/11, and thereafter. It was conditioned by its own culture to see no evil. It regularly leaked - see any of Bob Woodward's narratives - against the administration. Now it, and its partisans and publicity-famished husband-and-wife teams, want to imprison or depose people who leak back at it. No, thanks. ?
Unpacking that it comes down to the CIA being anti-regime-change fools and cowards who couldn't see the truth. Yeah, yeah.

The argument is flawed? Josh Marshall, after reviewing Hitchens' questionable citations of evidence, one by one, writes this -
But why mess with preliminaries? The Iraq Survey Group more or less owned Iraq for more than a year, had access to all the evidence leading up the war, all the evidence in Iraq, all the scientists arrested by the US military, everything we've learned since the war. ? the ISG concluded that Saddam's regime had not sought uranium either at home or abroad since 1991, period.

What else is there to say?
Oh, lots - but why bother?

The White House has a political problem that is more immediate. Karl, and now Scooter, may be in deep trouble.

Tom Noah in his continuing Rove Death Watch comments, as do so many others, on the president's change of position, from "anyone who was involved" is so fired to "anyone who is indicted" is so fired, to "anyone who is found guilty and convicted" is so fired. Whatever. It's become a joke. And the polls show only a quarter of the people now think the White House is cooperating in getting this straightened out. It's a mess.

Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly has a cool analysis of how the came to be such a big deal, in Nukes and the Base - "So why did the White House go nuts? What were they so scared of that they went into full-blown smear-and-destroy mode?"
? the White House political operation wasn't lashing out just because of Joe Wilson. They were lashing out because they believed their political lives depended on their own supporters continuing to believe that Saddam had been actively working on a nuke program. Without that belief, they'd lose support within their own base even if they eventually found evidence of chem and bio programs.

In Karl Rove's world, the base is sacred, and nukes were the key to their support. Joe Wilson threatened to open a crack in that support, and that's why he had to be destroyed.
Perhaps so. That works, but it doesn't fix anything.

The real mess, as Frank Rich argued over the weekend in the New York Times, is that This case is about Iraq, not Niger. -
The real victims are the American people, not the Wilsons. The real culprit - the big enchilada, to borrow a 1973 John Ehrlichman phrase from the Nixon tapes - is not Mr. Rove but the gang that sent American sons and daughters to war on trumped-up grounds and in so doing diverted finite resources, human and otherwise, from fighting the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. That's why the stakes are so high: this scandal is about the unmasking of an ill-conceived war, not the unmasking of a CIA operative who posed for Vanity Fair.

So put aside Mr. Wilson's February 2002 trip to Africa. The plot that matters starts a month later, in March, and its omniscient author is Dick Cheney. It was Mr. Cheney (on CNN) who planted the idea that Saddam was "actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time." The vice president went on to repeat this charge in May on "Meet the Press," in three speeches in August and on "Meet the Press" yet again in September. Along the way the frightening word "uranium" was thrown into the mix.
Well, maybe it is really about the whole war.

It was a good time to change subjects and get this Supreme Court nomination to the top of the news mix. After all, there is mounting evidence that the special prosecutor has Rove clearly committing perjury, if nothing else. (See this and this.) Ari Fleischer seems to be involved (see this). And on it goes.

And late Tuesday a group of eleven former intelligence officers delivered a letter to the Republican and Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate on the Plame case. They're pissed, and end with this:
Our friends and colleagues have difficult jobs gathering the intelligence, which helps, for example, to prevent terrorist attacks against Americans at home and abroad. They sometimes face great personal risk and must spend long hours away from family and friends. They serve because they love this country and are committed to protecting it from threats from abroad and to defending the principles of liberty and freedom. They do not expect public acknowledgement for their work, but they do expect and deserve their government?s protection of their covert status.

For the good of our country, we ask you to please stand up for every man and woman who works for the U.S. intelligence community and help protect their ability to live their cover.
And who are these guys?

Larry C. Johnson, former Analyst, CIA
JOINED BY:
Mr. Brent Cavan, former Analyst, CIA
Mr. Vince Cannistraro, former Case Officer, CIA
Mr. Michael Grimaldi, former Analyst, CIA
Mr. Mel Goodman, former senior Analyst, CIA
Col. W. Patrick Lang (US Army retired), former Director, Defense Humint Services, DIA
Mr. David MacMichael, former senior estimates officer, National Intelligence Council, CIA
Mr. James Marcinkowski, former Case Officer, CIA
Mr. Ray McGovern, former senior Analyst and PDB Briefer, CIA
Mr. Jim Smith, former Case Officer, CIA
Mr. William C. Wagner, former Case Officer, CIA

Geez. So let's talk about Judge Roberts.

Posted by Alan at 21:13 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 19 July 2005 21:18 PDT home

Monday, 18 July 2005

Topic: For policy wonks...

News Notes: Non-Stories

Those of us who are kind of news hounds are well aware that the new media does not exactly multi-task. There's usually one big story. The rest is secondary.

Because reporting the news is, almost entirely, a commercial venture, anyone who mans an assignment desk is constantly making decisions on what should be covered. Is any given story what people really want to know about? Yes? Then you cover it is all its juicy details, and cover it in such a way that, if television, viewers don't change channels to see Tiger Woods triumphant, or what's up with Lance Armstrong or the Mets, or which of the luscious "Desperate Housewives" this week inadvertently finds herself stark naked in the front year in the middle of the afternoon. (Something one hardly ever sees out here, oddly enough.) If radio, one covers things scattershot in short bursts, because folks in their cars seldom want more than a headline and a few follow-on sentences ("Give Us Twenty-Two Minutes and We'll Give You the World") - and the same principle applies. If it's not what they want to hear - terse nuggets of what's happing here and there - then there's always Janis Joplin on the oldies station. (Those who listen to NPR seem to be the exception, willing to hang on through "backgrounders" and extended essays.)

In any event, you must hold your audience, on the presumption that your ratings will then be healthy enough that you can charge good money for open advertising slots in prime time. You can guarantee that so many millions will be tuned in when you break for something about the virtues of their particular product or service. Of course, now and then you gamble and report something odd you think is going to be news, or so you hope, and you get a scoop on your competition.

But, for the most part, you know what your audience wants, and it is your job, as a public service, to give them that, and make a few bucks doing so. Thus endless coverage of Michael Jackson's trial, and this missing attractive white woman or that - and of the next hurricane, as folks want to see all the details of that, even if they live in Ames, Iowa. Monday, July 18, Larry King on CNN did a full hour on the late Princess Diana's sons - how they're doing now in their twenties and all they're facing and so on. His ratings for this show were, of course, wonderful, or so one assumes. Of deep importance in the grand scheme of things? No. But millions tuned in.

What may seem to you to be news - matters that are of historic or social importance - does not matter as much as what your audience wants to know about. The news folks don't choose the news. The market does.

Exceptions?

Maybe you can create a new market by reporting something people don't yet know they want to know - just as creative marketing can create a new need people didn't know they had, like the need in the seventies for the water in the toilets to be blue (some folks felt obliged to have their toilet water blue because otherwise their visitors would think less of them). The Washington Post back in the seventies "created a need" for folks to know about Nixon and the Watergate cover-up. There was no market for that, but they created one. Very clever.

As Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, says, it's always a balance - between what should be reported in a democracy (people really need to know this), and what people want to hear about (people really want to know that).

Thus these days it's Karl Rove all the time - folks seem to get off on the leader in trouble and embarrassed (or at least defensive), or they get off on being angry at those who doubt him. That will do until the president nominates someone to the Supreme Court - and then we get a lots of different fussing and fighting. (Remember Anita Hill and the Coke can and the pubic hair?) We had a new hurricane, but unless it hits Texas there's no ratings bump there. The young, pretty red-state white woman is still missing is Aruba - all those odd folks speaking Dutch, even the scary young black guys! - but nothing is happening! The suicide bombings in Iraq get worse and worse - now a hundred dead at a clip - but reporting that in any depth doesn't sell advertising slots any longer. It's not "news" - as that's just what happens (the new normal).

Much of this was covered last weekend here in One Man's News Is Another Man's Tedium - which was in some ways a laundry list of possibly important things happening that were NOT news. Possibly important things. News. Often two different things.

There you would find mention of a July 7 item from the BBC reporting our new puppet government in Iraq entered into an agreement with Iran for troop training.
Former enemies Iran and Iraq say they will launch broad military co-operation including training Iraqi armed forces.

"It's a new chapter in our relations with Iraq," said Iranian Defence Minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani." ...
Yes, indeed, Iran is one of the members of the Axis of Evil, and we're almost ready to do something like bombing the hell out of them if the continue trying to finish up a nuclear bomb or two. So we liberate Iraq to bring them western-style free-market capitalism and some form of democracy, and they start off with a military pact with the worst of the bad guys?

As I asked then, we fought this war for what? Wasn't for the WMD (oops), and the flypaper-will-keep-us-safe thing is looking shakier by the day (but is was London, after all, and not Chicago, or even Peoria, that was bombed), and it seems spreading democracy will have to wait until the constant suicide and remote-controlled bombings stop. (Think about that - we created a battlefield over there so we wouldn't have one here, but at the same time we saying we're bringing the folks there peace and security so the place will no longer be a battlefield - so you can do both at the same time?)

The question raised with the BBC item? Did we fight this war to install a government there that will join up with Iran in all sorts of military agreements? We created, possibly, a new client state of the worst-of-the worst, Iran?

What?

Well, this is not news, as in this is not covered in the news here much. We've got Rove and Bush, and the Aruba girl, and some other matters, including the British princes' growing pains, so this one will be hard to sell. There's only so much you can cover.

But it is curious, as Bill Montgomery points out over at Whiskey Bar in an item he titles Ayatollah You So.

He opens with two items from papers in the Middle East. From the Gulf Times he finds this from July 18:
Iranian President Mohamed Khatami yesterday hailed a "turning point" in relations with Baghdad as Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari made a historic visit to Tehran aimed at strengthening ties after decades of enmity . . . Jaafari, who took refuge in Iran during the rule of Saddam Hussain, visited the tomb of Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini yesterday, and paid homage by laying a wreath of flowers.
You read that right. Flowers at the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini. Who? Ayatollah Khomeini - hostages in Iran - Carter couldn't get them out - freed the day Reagan took office - Ayatollah Khomeini our biggest enemy at the time.

Then this in the Tehran Times of July 19:
Al-Jaafari, for his part, expressed pleasure over his meeting with Ayatollah Khamenei. He called the late Imam Khomeini the key to the victory of the Islamic Revolution, adding, "We hope to eliminate the dark pages Saddam caused in Iran-Iraq ties and open a new chapter in brotherly ties between the two nations."
Montgomery comments:
Now I personally don't blame al-Jaafari for cuddling up to the Iranians - if I were in his shoes I'd do exactly the same thing. But laying flowers on the tomb of the Ayatollah Khomeini is rubbing it in pretty thick, especially when the Great Satan is keeping his chair warm for him back in Baghdad. Couldn't he have used FTD?

I guess not. A quick look at the history of al-Jaafari's Dawa Party will tell you why.

It would be interesting to see what kind of reaction al-Jaafari's little Tehran tete-a-tete would cause here in Great Satan Central, if it got 1/20th the coverage of Karl Rove's pimply ass. How would the folks back home feel if they knew their sons and daughters were getting limbs blown off so that Iraqi politicians could jaunt off to Tehran and say warm and fuzzy things about the crazy old man who gave us the Iranian hostage crisis? [my emphasis]

And what kind of surrealist cover story would the GOP propaganda machine come up with to convince the Fox News audience that fighting and dying to keep Khomeini lovers in power is really a good thing?
Well, one assumes the comment that Rove has a pimply ass is just an angry insult, but were some news organization have actual footage of same, now THAT would be a news story. The fact that the government we brought into existence - to replace that of the former guy now in jail and awaiting trial - is aligning itself who Iran, who we have been told since the days just after 9/11 is just as bad (same axis) is not news?

But it is news on the BBC and in the Middle-East media. Why is that? Different news market? Perhaps it's just knowing your customer.

Can anyone create a "need" for this story, at least for those of us who have friends and relatives fighting there now for some reason - whatever it is? There could be a market there. You could create one.

Probably not. It will turn to news when the two countries, Iran and Iraq, join forces and tell us to get out, they have a nuclear bomb or two, and they take hostages again. Now it's not news, just the starting point of possible news. We'll get to it later.

Posted by Alan at 21:58 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 18 July 2005 22:02 PDT home

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