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Consider:

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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Tuesday, 7 February 2006
Something Is Up: Odd Doings Across America, and Around the World
Topic: Dissent

Something Is Up: Odd Doings Across America, and Around the World

What to make of all this?

Dateline Charleston, West Virginia

So what's up on the banks of the Kanawha River in the capital city? More on the mining disasters?

No, Tuesday, February 7th Charleston became one more front in the political war, and this time it was a matter of who really supports the troops. Our here in Los Angeles a comedy writer recently offended the nation mightily, when, in the Los Angeles Times, he suggested that if you have decided this war was a bad idea, and was based on manipulation of facts (either lying outright or the self-delusion of the righteous, born-again and Texan), then all your mouthing off about supporting the troops was illogical, as they were cheerfully implementing a policy with which you disagree. (That was discussed in these pages here.) As "the war a bad idea" and "we were fooled" are majority opinion now, as all polls show, this upset a whole lot of people.

And the ante went up in West Virginia, when the Charleston Gazette-News published an odd story. Who reads that paper?

Well, in this interconnected world, where just about every newspaper is online and you can use Google or any other search engine to find what you seek by combinations of key words, people with definite views found this story about First Lieutenant William "Eddie" Rebrook IV, a West Point honors graduate. After four years of active duty, the last six month of that in Iraq, he was really badly wounded there in a roadside bombing a year ago. He left the Army because of that. He was discharged through Fort Hood in Texas.

What's the story? The Army said he owed them seven hundred dollars for "lost body armor." He said the medics pulled the armor off when he was wounded, to treat him, and the last time he saw the stuff he was, according to this story, "lying on a stretcher in Iraq, his arm shattered." He says they burned it so the bad guys wouldn't get it. The Army says there's no record of any of that, and as there was no body armor - he wasn't turning any in - that'd be seven hundred dollars. The News-Gazette says he "scrounged up the cash from his Army buddies and returned home to Charleston last Friday."

But his mother was ticked off - as in "soldiers who serve their country, those who put their lives on the line, deserve better - 'It's outrageous, ridiculous and unconscionable. I wanted to stand on a street corner and yell through a megaphone about this.'" Did she contact the News-Gazette reporter, Eric Eyre? Probably.

She was no doubt happy this story was picked up all over, as were the folks at the Charleston Gazette-News, although all the traffic on their website crashed their server a few times, and it's unlike this is anything more that a "one shot" and won't make them a major news source.

But it got really interesting when John Aravosis at his Americablog posted this from Washington, DC -
I've had it with the Bush administration. Enough is enough. Now they're charging US soldiers injured in Iraq for their lost body armor. Enough is enough. We liberal folk may disagree with the Bush administration over the reasons for going to war and over how they're fighting this war, but one thing you'd expect no disagreement over would be the treatment of our soldiers. They fight for their country and they deserve some respect in return. And that means not charging them for their body armor because someone blew them up on the battlefield.

That's it.

This soldier had to pay $700 for his armor, and now is out trying to find work. He has friends who have faced the same cruel, ridiculous policy. Let's finally raise some cash for these guys and show the Bush administration how compassion really works.

I'm serious. I've set up a special PayPal donation fund. If you click the button below and donate, it will be earmarked with a special code so I'll know it's for the body armor fund. All the money collected, ALL OF IT, will go the soldier who was forced to pay for his armor, and if we get more than $700, I'll give him that as well to help him get back on his feet (he's now unemployed, and he says he knows other soldiers who have faced the same problem, if he wants, he can reimburse his pals who also had to pay for their armor).

I'm pissed. Please help.
He got more than four thousand in the first two hours, from nearly two hundred people - twenty bucks was the average donation - and closed the drive when there was more than five thousand. He's going to call the guy - "I'm going to suggest it might be nice to share the money with other service members he knows have faced the same problem."

But the Charleston Gazette-News reported this -
Now, Rebrook is sending out résumés, trying to find a job. He plans to return to college to take a couple of pre-med classes and apply to medical school. He wants to be a doctor someday.

"From being an infantryman, I know what it?s like to hurt people," Rebrook said. "But now I?d like to help people."
Medical school will take more than five grand, but it's a start.

Of course, all this was followed by a lot of the left taunting the right - you guys have your yellow magnetic ribbons on your SUV's but we actually support the troops. So there!

Interesting. And go here for information on the dozen or more Iraq war veterans running for congress or the senate, as Democrats, opposing the administration.

Something is up.

Dateline NASA

Previously people were a bit upset when the New York Times reported this -
The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

The scientist, James E. Hansen, longtime director of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in an interview that officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews from journalists.
That, from Sunday. January 29, was discussed in detail in these pages here, but there is now a companion story.

That is the story of George Deutsch - the same George C. Deutsch who put Hansen in his place. He's twenty-four, and used to be an intern for the Bush-Cheney campaign. After the campaign they found him a slot as an information officer for NASA, not just riding herd on world famous climatologists, but also making sure the web designers were on track. And February 4 the New York Times reported this - he instructed a NASA web designer to add the word "theory" to every reference to the Big Bang -
The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."

It continued: "This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most."
It's religious issue? Whatever. The administration, of course, claims we are now in the post-Enlightenment era, having evolved (oops, wrong word) to the point where we see faith is as important as facts, or some such thing.

So who is this young man who now tells eminent scientists what is correct to publish? What is his background in science?

He has a degree in journalism from Texas A&M. That's it. Expect he doesn't (see this from February 7th) - he dropped out of college. He has no degree in anything. But he's the gatekeeper, making sure what is published by uppity scientists is accurate.

Well, it's not like Michael Brown at FEMA. No one died. It's only theoretical cosmology, after all. And global warming. If the State of Kansas can define science to include the supernatural, as they have regarding the teaching of evolution, religion gets inserted here of course.

Sigh.

We shall become a very odd country. The president in the State of the Union speech had some words on making sure America is always the technological leader in the world. Yeah, we'll design faith-based microchips.

The Times, by the way, follows up on George C. Deutsch, here, Wednesday, February 8, noting he resigned. His résumé did list "Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, Class of 2003" - so he lied. That university in Texas says he never completed the requirements for a degree. It's a federal crime to lie on a job application for a position in government, isn't it? Oops.

Not to worry. They'll find someone with a real degree to keep religion in science.

Dateline New Orleans

What does one make of this? -
Shortcomings in aid from the U.S. government are making New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin look to other nations for help in rebuilding his hurricane-damaged city.

Nagin, who has hosted a steady stream of foreign dignitaries since Hurricane Katrina hit in late August, says he may seek international assistance because U.S. aid has not been sufficient to get the city back on its feet.

"I know we had a little disappointment earlier with some signals we're getting from Washington but the international community may be able to fill the gap," Nagin said when a delegation of French government and business officials passed through on Friday to explore potential business partnerships.

Jordan's King Abdullah also visited New Orleans on Friday and Nagin said he would encourage foreign interests to help redevelop some of the areas hardest hit by the storm.

"France can take Treme. The king of Jordan can take the Lower Ninth Ward," he said, referring to two of the city's neighborhoods.
Some might see this as humiliating - "Being a charity case is not a pleasant experience" - but it's actually pretty cool. If the administration isn't that enthusiastic about rebuilding New Orleans (too black, too funky, too odd, and never "middle-American" in any way), then maybe it gets its eccentric cosmopolitan nature back when the French and Jordanians pitch in and rebuild it. And the mix will be even odder this time, driving the white-bread Republicans even further up the wall. It always was a mix of folks from everywhere - was there a few years ago for a nephew's wedding in Houma where the bride's family was originally Lebanese but had been there for generations in the shrimp business - and this will make things even more a mighty fine gumbo. Heck, the restaurant scene alone would be amazing. Bring it on. George can have dull Houston and glass-towered Dallas, and the fresh New Orleans will have a MonoPrix for every Wal-Mart. Cool.

Dateline Mexico City

Another story about immigration policy? Not at all.

The idea is this this -
Mexico and Cuba criticized the United States on Monday for demanding that the Sheraton Maria Isabel Hotel here order a group of Cuban officials, who were meeting last week with representatives of American oil companies, to check out of the hotel and leave the premises.

On Friday, the United States Treasury Department contacted the company that owns the Sheraton and warned them that they were violating federal laws against trading with Cuba by allowing the meeting to take place in their hotel.
What?

Here, from Jeanne at Body and Soul, is some commentary -
Cuban officials have been meeting with representatives of American oil companies to discuss developing oil fields off its coasts. Canadian, Chinese, Brazilian, and Spanish, Indian, and Norwegian companies have already signed exploration and services deals, but interest from companies like Exxon would have the added advantage of creating lobbyists against the trade embargo who have a bit more power and influence than most people against the trade embargo.

Here's where it gets really strange. The meetings were held in Mexico City, in an American-owned hotel. The Treasury Department contacted the company that owned the hotel and warned them that they were violating the Trading with the Enemy Act and the Cuban Democracy Act.

An agency of the American government is enforcing American law on Mexican soil. This is how we promote democracy in Cuba.

This administration has some real problems understanding the meaning of the word "democracy."
The hotel not only kicked the Cubans out, it sent their deposit to the Treasury Department!

I'm not sure precisely the name of the law that's violating, but I think the layman's term is theft.

The arrogance of this is mind-boggling. A country's sovereignty doesn't receive a moment's consideration. (Yeah, I know, what did I expect?)
Well, it is pretty odd, and as odd as the whole embargo on anything Cuban is concerned, most illuminating. Yes, there are a lot of solid Republican votes in the Cuban exile communities in south Florida - so no trade or travel ever with Cuba - but the OIL COMPANIES are being sneaky and doing an end run here. If you're a Republican, and especially if you're a Texas oilman Republican, this poses a dilemma - someone is going to be unhappy. If you break the embargo your oil friends love you, and the Cuban vote disappears. If you don't, Exxon-Mobile won't bankroll the next election campaign, and add to that they've got an army of natty lobbyists ready to call on everyone in congress.

It's kind of amusing. Exxon-Mobile is undermining our foreign policy, that trade and travel embargo that clearly will drive Castro from power one day. After almost fifty years it hasn't, but the concept is appealing. What do you call doing something that just doesn't work, over and over, believing it might work this next time? Yep.

As for the international issues, what are we doing stopping meetings of private firms in a foreign country? We can do that? And weren't Cuba and Mexico feuding not that long ago?

And then too, will we decimate that Alaska wildlife refuge for a few weeks worth of oil before we ever deal with Cuba?

Yeah, we'll show them.

Dateline Atlanta

Tuesday, February 7, was the funeral for Coretta Scott King, the wife of Martin Luther King. It was impressive - four presidents attended: Bush, Bush, Clinton and Carter. The current Bush said some nice things, as expected.

Unfortunately he was followed Reverend Joseph Lowery, former head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the group King one led. At eighty-four Lowery, as Frank James of the Chicago Tribune notes here, had nothing to lose, so he let it rip.

"How marvelous that presidents and governors have come to mourn and praise. But in the morning, will words become deeds that meet needs?"

James says he saw the president say something then to his wife. He knew what was coming. This happens when you don't get to screen the audience.

The eulogy was in verse, and just fine, until it turned - Lowery spoke of the departed and said, "She extended Martin's message against poverty, racism and war. She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions way afar. We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there."

A two-minute standing ovation. Bush looked uncomfortable.

That was followed by this: "But Coretta knew and we knew that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance, poverty abounds. For war billions more but no more for the poor."

More cheers, the day after the administration released the proposed budget - higher national security spending and cuts to most domestic programs.

Well, the next speaker was Bush's father, who knew Lowery from old battles over civil rights and domestics spending - "They used to send this guy to Washington and I kept score in the Oval Office desk. Lowery, 21 - Bush 3. It wasn't a fair fight." (See, son, the guy was going to scores some points so take it easy and don't do anything rash.)

Jimmy Carter was next. "It is always a temptation to forget that we worship the Prince of Peace." What was that supposed to mean? And the Carter brought up the way the Kings were targeted by the federal government in the sixties - "It was difficult for them personally with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated as they became the targets of secret government wiretapping and other surveillance and, as you know, her harassment by the FBI." What was that supposed to mean? Yeah, obvious isn't it.

But you don't want to get this younger Bush guy mad. He's one mean fellow. There may be trouble in the coming weeks.

The right was appalled of course. Samples - I am so very tired of Democrats turning serious occasions into opportunities to bash Bush, Less Than Zero Class ..., Can We Have Some Dignity, Please? - and there was Kate O'Beirne on Hardball (video here, with comments).

Black commentator Oliver Willis here - "I'm sure the cons will get all hot and bothered over this denunciation of Iraq at the Coretta Scott King funeral, but they really need to stop pretending that Dr. King and his wife were apolitical people. They were progressive activists fighting against the closed minds of conservatism."

Sometimes your staff doesn't get to screen the audience and script the event, and you find out what's going on outside the bubble. Score one for reality. Everyone is not happy.

Dateline London

Everyone is not happy? Surely the Brits are still with us?

Well, not exactly -
The British government will today publicly defy the United States by giving money for safe abortion services in developing countries to organisations that have been cut off from American funding.

Nearly 70,000 women and girls died last year because they went to back-street abortionists. Hundreds of thousands of others suffered serious injuries.

Critics of America's aid policy say some might have lived if the US had not withdrawn funding from clinics that provide safe services - or that simply tell women where to find them.
But they died pure? Or something. Since 2001 we've had that "global gag" rule - Bush proclaimed it. Any organization applying for US funds must sign an agreement not to counsel women on abortion - other than advising against it - and they cannot provide abortion services. Otherwise, no money, folks.

The Brits on Monday became the "founder donor" of a fund set up specifically "to attempt to replace the lost dollars - and increase safe abortion services."

The Department for International Development and International Planned Parenthood also published a supporting report - an estimated nineteen million women will risk the consequences of an unsafe abortion this year, and seventy thousand will die - thirteen percent of the half-million maternal deaths each year.

International Planned Parenthood Federation will get money now. But you don't want to get this younger Bush guy mad. He's one mean fellow. There may be trouble in the coming weeks.

Dateline Washington

To add to all this, people were still talking about the Monday hearings where the Attorney General defended secret warrantless spying on US citizens, without any oversight by any court or congress.

You got summaries like this -
What we did was legal, or, in our opinion, could have been legal. Since there are arguments on both sides, we will rely on our opinion. However, we won't let a court decide the question, because then we wouldn't be able to rely on our own opinion.

We won't answer hypothetical questions about what we can do legally or constitutionally. We also won't tell you what we've actually done or plan to do; hence every question you ask will about legality be in effect a hypothetical, and therefore we can refuse to answer it.
Close enough.

But it was like that -
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy lost his patience during yesterday's Senate hearings on NSA wiretapping after Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said, for the umpteenth time, that he would not be able to answer a question because he didn't want to get into "operational details." "Oh, I'm sorry," Leahy said. "I forgot - you can't answer any questions that might be relevant." Leahy had seemed grouchy from the start. But after a marathon session that was long on theories of statutory interpretation and short on specifics about the wiretapping program itself - much less reliable assurances that the program is not being abused - it was hard not to sympathize with the senior senator from Vermont and detect in Gonzales' rote evasions and implacable smile a faint note of smugness.

Throughout the day, Gonzales did not stray from the explanations of the intelligence program already enunciated in the Justice Department's White Paper on the subject. The program targets terrorists and protects civil liberties. How does it select those targets, the senators wondered. Gonzales didn't want to get into specifics. How does it protect civil liberties? "There are guidelines, minimization procedures," he said vaguely. Could he make available those guidelines and procedures? Nope. "They're classified."

After outlining an expansive interpretation of presidential power, Gonzales suggested that in practice the best check on the executive is ... the executive. When questioned about what, if anything, the president could not do, he refused to get into "hypotheticals." The problem for the administration is that without specifics about targeting procedures and safeguards, any defense of the legality of the NSA's program is itself hypothetical. In a rare revealing moment, Gonzales said that the people who make the determination about whom to listen in on are "career professionals" at the NSA?eavesdroppers, in other words. They know better who should be targeted, he said - "certainly than any lawyer." But as Durbin pointed out, alluding to the Japanese internment camps set up during World War II, historically "career professionals" have made some pretty bad decisions about who presents a security threat. With the administration refusing to furnish Congress with any set of guidelines that eavesdroppers must adhere to, Gonzales' "trust us" assurances demand an inordinate amount of trust from Americans and from their elected representatives.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., conceded that the judiciary committee might not be the forum in which to discuss all the details of the spying program. But she pointed out that to date, the administration has not briefed the intelligence committee either. "You haven't let us ask the question, what is a link? What is an affiliate? How many people are covered?" she said. "What are the precise numbers? What happens to the data?" When asked about the legal standard that the NSA uses to determine when to listen in, Gonzales replied that the standard is probable cause but that he preferred the term "reasonable grounds." He glossed over the important difference between the two and when asked to clarify the semantic shift merely repeated that the standard is both.
And so it goes.

The day after the hearings, one of the senators who was upset, Russ Feingold, spoke from the senate floor with this -
The President was blunt. He said that he had authorized the NSA?s domestic spying program, and he made a number of misleading arguments to defend himself. His words got rousing applause from Republicans, and even some Democrats.

The President was blunt, so I will be blunt: This program is breaking the law, and this President is breaking the law. Not only that, he is misleading the American people in his efforts to justify this program.

How is that worthy of applause? Since when do we celebrate our commander in chief for violating our most basic freedoms, and misleading the American people in the process? When did we start to stand up and cheer for breaking the law?
There's much, much more. Everyone is not happy.

But there is humor. Feingold elsewhere put it this way - "This administration reacts to anyone who questions this illegal program by saying that those of us who demand the truth and stand up for our rights and freedoms somehow has a pre-9/11 world view. In fact, the President has a pre-1776 world view. Our government has three branches, not one. And no one, not even the President, is above the law."

Well, we'll see.

These guys play rough, as shown in the big political story of the day, from "Insight," the magazine of Reverend Moon's hyper-Republican newspaper, the Washington Times - Rove Counting Heads On The Senate Judiciary Committee. The gist of this is if you vote against the president on any of these NSA matters, or say the wrong things, and you'll be cut off from the party. No money. No support. You political career is over. There's a blacklist.

Worried about impeachment? That's what the item says. Probably just a warning. They can't do anything about the eight-four-year-old at the funeral (maybe), or do anything about the Brits, and who cares what Jimmy Carter says? But they can get the team working together.

But then six hours after the unfortunate words at the funeral, this -
Representative Heather A. Wilson of New Mexico, chairwoman of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligence, said in an interview that she had "serious concerns" about the surveillance program. By withholding information about its operations from many lawmakers, she said, the administration has deepened her apprehension about whom the agency is monitoring and why.

Ms. Wilson, who was a National Security Council aide in the administration of President Bush's father, is the first Republican on either the House's Intelligence Committee or the Senate's to call for a full Congressional investigation into the program, in which the NSA has been eavesdropping without warrants on the international communications of people inside the United States believed to have links with terrorists.
Something is up.

Posted by Alan at 23:30 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 8 February 2006 18:17 PST home

Monday, 6 February 2006
Question Time: The Attorney General Smiles
Topic: The Law

Question Time: The Attorney General Smiles

Each week should start off with a dramatic political event that sweeps all the other news off the table. Monday, February 6, 2006, we got that - a Watergate-style senate hearing with big issues, angry words, evasions, posturing - and, after the hearings, more of the same as the participants popped up on all the cable new talks shows with refinements of the big issues, angry words, evasions and posturing. The New York Times summary opened with this - "Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales told skeptical senators today that the Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping program is legal, constitutional and vital to national security in a time of terrorism."

They were skeptical (some of them, even some key Republicans). It didn't go that well, but it was a fine day for political junkies and folks who think about where this country is headed - full of heated exchanges about the constitution and the law and who has the power to decide what they mean, and who doesn't. These are core issues, and the event made up for the dreary big story from the previous evening, the Pittsburgh Steelers winning Super Bowl XL in Detroit. (Even those of us born and raised in Pittsburgh were forced to admit it was a sloppy game by two teams playing badly, with bad calls from the officials - not an XL game but more of a S.)

Of course there was other Monday news. The Cartoon Wars became even more intense and deadly, as the BBC reported Four Killed In Cartoon Protests. Yes, that's a terrible headline with a badly placed modifier, evoking the film "Who Framed Rodger Rabbit" and all that careening through Toontown - but this is serious stuff.

See Christopher Hitchens here and his "case for mocking religion" -
As it happens, the cartoons themselves are not very brilliant, or very mordant, either. But if Muslims do not want their alleged prophet identified with barbaric acts or adolescent fantasies, they should say publicly that random murder for virgins is not in their religion. And here one runs up against a curious reluctance. ... In fact, Sunni Muslim leaders can't even seem to condemn the blowing-up of Shiite mosques and funeral processions, which even I would describe as sacrilege.

... The question of "offensiveness" is easy to decide. First: Suppose that we all agreed to comport ourselves in order to avoid offending the believers? How could we ever be sure that we had taken enough precautions? On Saturday, I appeared on CNN, which was so terrified of reprisal that it "pixilated" the very cartoons that its viewers needed to see. And this ignoble fear in Atlanta, Ga., arose because of an illustration in a small Scandinavian newspaper of which nobody had ever heard before! Is it not clear, then, that those who are determined to be "offended" will discover a provocation somewhere? We cannot possibly adjust enough to please the fanatics, and it is degrading to make the attempt.
Hitchens, addressing all the threats of violence for what was published, argues civil society means that "free expression trumps the emotions of anyone to whom free expression might be inconvenient," and says it's "depressing to have to restate these obvious precepts," and of our government's tut-tut reaction says it's "positively outrageous that the administration should have discarded them at the very first sign of a fight."

On the other hand, a long item from Tristero at Hullabaloo argues this about the cartoons as a "statement" about the absolute rightness of free speech -
The events of the cartoon riots, in all their mad senselessness and fatal tragedy, reflect - epitomize - some of the worst but most virulently widespread presumptions of our time: the arrogance and shallowness of white boy moralizing; the maniacal self-destructive sense of sheer helplessness that descends into pointless murder, destruction, and horror.

As I see it, both the decision to commission and publish the cartoons and the riots that followed simply defy comprehension not because one couldn't predict the consequences but because one could, with depressing ease. Unless they come to their senses, the white do-gooders are gonna get us all killed in their crusades. And the recipients of all this do-gooding are gonna do the exact same thing when their fury at the do-gooders is cynically stoked and channeled into senseless destructiveness and murder.

In short, no more cartoon riots. No more cartoon editors. No more cartoon evil cavemen. And no more cartoon American administrations. It's time not to listen to what our gut says, it's time to give it some Alka-Seltzer and get it to shut up so we can think.
And on and on it goes.

There was other news - Bush Proposes $2.77 Trillion Budget, with the subhead "More money sought for defense, cuts in most other areas..." That's the plan. Big boosts for defense spending - and cutbacks for education and Medicare and programs for the poor and for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and for all the other stuff for the unlucky and "irresponsible." And Bush insists that current and upcoming tax cuts for the very wealthy be made permanent. The consensus seems this one will be hard to get through congress. Some of the unlucky, and many who earn less than five hundred grand a year, actually vote - and this may look, to them, like a plan somewhere between mean-spirited wrong-headed nastiness and sheer madness. Congressmen and some Senators face the voters late in the year, and even with clever gerrymandering and electronic voting machines they sense potential trouble. Will this fly? In the House, Tom DeLay is no longer around to twist arms, and, in the Senate, Bill Frist lost his mojo a long time ago. It's a story in the making.

And Iran is still there, seemingly on its way to building nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) late the week before referred Iran to UN Security Commission for some sort of action. Iran tossed them out, shut off all monitoring, dropped out of the nonproliferation treaties, and threatened sanctions, and we said diplomacy was necessary but suggested military action was possible. (Sounds familiar.) Wesley Clark explains here what the military action would look like - over four thousand precision bombings as all the sites are so scattered, and, where the sites are co-located with hospitals and schools, the insertion of special-ops teams on the ground for even more precision. No invasion. Norman Solomon here explains what happens next - regional war or worse - and says, given who's in charge here, and there, that'll happen. It's another story in the making.

The immediate story was the Senate hearing.

Of course, to set the stage properly for that, one should note this from Newsweek hit the wires over the weekend before Monday's print distribution, just a little something from the administration, specifically the Justice Department -
Steven Bradbury, acting head of the department's Office of Legal Counsel, went to a closed-door Senate intelligence committee meeting last week to defend President George W. Bush's surveillance program. During the briefing, said administration and Capitol Hill officials (who declined to be identified because the session was private), California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Bradbury questions about the extent of presidential powers to fight Al Qaeda; could Bush, for instance, order the killing of a Qaeda suspect known to be on U.S. soil? Bradbury replied that he believed Bush could indeed do this, at least in certain circumstances.

... A Justice Department official, who asked not to be ID'd because of the sensitive subject, said Bradbury's remarks were made during an "academic discussion" of theoretical contingencies. In real life, the official said, the highest priority of those hunting a terrorist on U.S. soil would be to capture that person alive and interrogate him. At a public intel-committee hearing, Feinstein was told by intel czar John Negroponte and FBI chief Robert Mueller that they were unaware of any case in which a U.S. agency was authorized to kill a Qaeda-linked person on U.S. soil. Tasia Scolinos, a Justice Department spokeswoman, told NEWSWEEK: "Mr. Bradbury's meeting was an informal, off-the-record briefing about the legal analysis behind the president's terrorist-surveillance program. He was not presenting the legal views of the Justice Department on hypothetical scenarios outside of the terrorist-surveillance program."
Ah, theoretical contingencies.

You see, the Justice Department and the administration claims the president has the authority to declare citizens "enemy combatants" with no appeal of that declaration (you can't claim a mistake has been made), to hold them without charges or council for as long as the Justice Department and the administration deem necessary, and to hold them with no communication with anyone, and never have a trial or hearing of any kind - and neither the courts or congress can object, as this in one of the plenary powers a president has in time of war, or in this case, in time of what everyone seems to think is pretty much the same as a war, given that "authorization of force" to deal with terrorism almost five years ago. Close enough. Now on the president's word alone, citizens can be selected and killed, as due process would not apply? So says the Justice Department's acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel. Theoretically.

See this - "...lettres de cachet were letters signed by the king of France, countersigned by one of his ministers, and closed with the royal seal, or cachet. They contained orders directly from the king, often to enforce arbitrary actions and judgments that could not be appealed." It's a fourteenth century French thing, but really made useful by Louis XVI - but then they had that revolution. But then Napoleon brought them back. Then on April 3, 1814, they were gone again. So was he.

They're back - and you didn't think these guys in Washington liked anything French.

Also to set the stage, the day before the Gonzales hearing on the NSA program, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter, the Republican from Pennsylania set to run the hearing went wild (sort of), saying the administration's legal justifications for its warrantless spying program have been "strained and unrealistic" - so far. And he opened the hearing (see here) with the idea the administration may have violated federal law's "forceful and blanket prohibition against any electronic surveillance without a court order."

Well, CNN covered the hearing fairly - who said what - and Emily Bazelon offers Cowardly Lions: Congress talks tough to Gonzales - and then turns and runs.

The hearing was odd.

Gonzales said what everyone expected - congress cannot override a president's battlefield decisions, as the constitution says the president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, so what he did was legal, as all the world is a battlefield now, even Akron and Tulsa one assumes, and anyway, congress told him to act as commander-in-chief of the armed forces when they overwhelmingly passed that "authorization of force" thing a few years back. So it's all "legal and reasonable." That was the whole of what Gonzales had to say - and no, congress could not have access to the administration's internal legal findings that this was how things were.

Case closed? Hardly.

Gonzales got hammered. No, the "authorization of force" in no way posited all the world is a battlefield now, including here at home - the administration asked for that and it was denied. Gonzales smiled. Everyone knows (he assumes) all the world is a battlefield now, including here at home.

Gonzales was asked why not use the existing law and get the warrants. He smiled - takes too much time, and not relevant anyway.

Why not ask for a change in the law if the NSA was using new techniques not covered in the 1978 law as amended so many times. He smiled. The law was not applicable here.

Why not inform congress of what was up, as required by law? He smiled. The law was not applicable here, and they really did inform a few people - not the ones listed in the law, but close enough.

Senator Leary - "No man is above the Law." Gonzales smiled - as that obviously depends on how you read the constitution.

Senator Kennedy said that Democrats and Republicans are "united in their desire to keep Americans safe" but suggested if it turns out that this warrantless spying program is ruled illegal - if a court is forced to throw out evidence against an accused terrorist because it was obtained unlawfully - then wouldn't we all be less safe? The question was blunt - "What if you're wrong?" Kennedy didn't mention it but two defendants actually charged with crimes last week filed motions for suppression of evidence based on the claim that the evidence was obtained illegally by the NSA sweeps. Gonzales smiled he said the administration wasn't wrong.

Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter - "There are a lot of people who think you're wrong. What do you have to lose if you're right?"

Gonzales - "Obviously we would consider and are always considering methods of fighting the war effectively against al Qaeda."

That's an answer?

Senator Russ Feingold had another axe to grind. Last year during Gonzales' confirmation hearing he asked Gonzales, directly, whether Gonzales believed that the president has the power "to authorize warrantless searches of Americans' homes and wiretaps of their conversations in violation of the criminal and foreign intelligence surveillance statutes of this country." Gonzales shrugged off the question then as "hypothetical" - but obviously Gonzales knew that was just what was going on at the time. Russ was not pleased - so he asked about that

Gonzales said, now, that of course the president had authorized "warrantless wiretaps" - but since he hadn't done anything "in violation of the criminal and foreign intelligence surveillance statutes of this country," asking about the power to engage in such a violation had been in fact a "hypothetical" question back then - and he told the truth then, and he was telling it now.

The guy is good.

Next was Lindsey Graham, Republican, South Carolina - if the administration thought congress somehow or other "implicitly" authorized warrantless intelligence work when it adopted that use-of-force authorization way back when, next time you guys ask for one you may not get it, as that was not what congress authorized - and anyway, where are the boundaries here - does the Constitution also allow the president to ignore that new McCain law that prohibits the United States from engaging in torture? Gonzales smiled - torture wasn't the topic, was it?

And on it went. The full transcript is at the Washington Post site, in two parts, here and here, if you really need more detail.

The best part needs to been seen, however. That would be here (Windows Media Player) and here (QuickTime). As things were getting underway, Senator Feingold said he wanted Gonzales be put under oath. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, good Arlen Specter, said it wan't necessary. You could trust the guy. Feingold insisted. Gonzales said he had no problem testifying under oath. Specter no oath, period - and it's not the decision of the witness - as HE was chairman. Feingold forced a vote, and lost - all Democrats voting for the testimony to be under oath, and all Republicans voting against that idea. The Democrats lost - they are the minority party, after all.

This was somewhat academic. False testimony to congress is against the law - very bad - but then, it's not the same as perjury (lying under oath) - which is really, really bad.

Specter - "This is really not a very good way to begin this hearing." No kidding.

The whole event might strike some, on one side of the national debate, as absurd, and on the other side, more than a tad ominous.

From that other side, note this from Digby at Hullabaloo (go there for links to all the supporting documentation) -
I'm beginning to wonder if the Democrats might not have some information that the administration has done domestic surveillance without a warrant. They keep asking. Pointedly. And Gonzales keeps saying that he isn't "comfortable" acknowledging the question.

It is indisputable that the administration has engaged in surveillance of political groups. We know this. It has been verified. We also know that they believe that political dissent gives aid and comfort to the enemy. The president says so himself.

Therefore, it is entirely reasonable to suspect that this administration would use this illegal surveillance program for purposes other than that to which they have admitted, particularly since they consider political dissent to be bordering on treason. This is, remember, an administration that has made a fetish of the politics of personal destruction. The gathering of "oppo research" is the life's blood of their political strategy and it goes all the way back to the Big Kahuna.

... Remember: Watergate was about bugging the Democratic National Committee. The "3rd rate burglary" was to replace an illegal bug that had been planted on the telephones of prominent Democrats.

The lesson of Watergate for the chagrined Republicans was that they needed to be more forceful in assuming executive power and they needed to be more sophisticated about their campaign espionage. This is what they've done.

Anybody who even dreams that these guys are not using all their government power to spy on political enemies is being willfully naive. It is what they do. It is the essence of their political style. This is Nixon's Republican party and they have finally achieved a perfect ability to carry out his vision of political governance: L'etat C'est Moi. If the president does it that means it's not illegal.
What's with the Louis XVI stuff? Is everyone seeing that now? But he has a point.

The there is this - you letthe firemen in when the house is burning but that's not what we have here now -
Taking the most extreme powers granted under emergency conditions - and interpreting even those powers as extremely as possible - the current administration has undertaken a vast backfill operation. On 9/11, they jumped to the very bottom of the civil liberties-limitation ravine and have systematically shored up, over the past four-and-a-half years what I'm now thinking of as Operation Backfill. For example, in the past few days I've run across repeated accounts of how they considered shooting down Flight 93 on the fateful day. Well, if we were willing to do that, the reasoning seems to go, what's wrong with torture, surveillance, killing without trial an individual suspected of plotting terror? Isn't granting the administration the right to shoot down a plane with a majority of innocent civilians aboard evidence enough that we can undertake namby-pamby warrantless surveillance? In other words, we already turned over, in our panic after 9/11, the right to do anything - anything - to protect us. Any objections we make now to lesser violations than loss of life (which we implicitly agreed to), the administration intimates, are silly.

Aside from continuing actions that are appropriate during an emergency - an attack happening this very minute - there's been a dilution and spreading of definitional terms on the proverbial slippery slope as well, making the slope not only steeper, but wider. Consider how we've gone from discussing a foreign terrorist piloting a plane to foreigners suspected of actively planning to pilot a plane to foreigners vaguely wishing they could pilot a plane into a landmark. And notice too the smudge between foreign and domestic, as well as the intentional blur from known terrorist to suspected terrorist to anyone who aids a terrorist to anyone who is "affiliated" with a terrorist (with "affiliation" totally defined by the executive branch), and from Al Qaeda to Al Qaeda enablers to Al Qaeda affiliates to people who mighta sorta kinda agree with Al Qaeda to American citizens who don't agree that the proper response to Al Qaeda's attack was invading Iraq (like Quakers).

What we are faced with is, as numerous observers have pointed out, is a perpetual, never-ending war, kind of a general war declared on "bad stuff" - bad people who think bad thoughts about America. This is declared to be an emergency situation, and one that will obviously never end because people will always resent and have bad feelings about the most powerful nation on earth, and thus the crisis is deemed - conveniently for the executive branch - eternal.

In short, this administration wants to argue that we will never, ever, ever be in a rational, analytical prevention phase, but more of one in which an arson unit is trying to come up with detection and preventive standards while the roof is raging on fire above their heads.

I'm not buying it.

Someone's got to tell Mr. Bush the fire's out and that what this country needs more than boogeyman visuals from its attorney general are firm, well-reasoned, coordinated, legal policies to ensure we don't catch fire again. Don't like the surveillance restrictions in FISA, Mr. Attorney General? Well, now's as good a time as any to offer calm rationalizations in front of the cameras of this country, using old, verifiable, truthful instances (the Brooklyn Bridge plot doesn't fly, Mr. Gonzales) or clear-cut, specific hypotheticals in which these "backfilled" rights violations should be legalized to spare us an attack. Then we can have a national conversation about what rights we're willing to give up in the trade-off for personal security. Simply relying on crisis-granted powers - and even those considered by most legal scholars as illegal - is not selling me.
This writer isn't buying it any longer. The question is, will more and more people not buy into the-sky-is-falling don't-think run presentation of the world right now? We'll see. There will be another day of hearings in a week or so. We'll see who's as unflappable as Gonzales.

As for Gonzales, he may be facing a post-post 9/11 world, not the world of 1784 in Versailles. This was a hard sell. If so, he should be glad he wasn't under oath.

Posted by Alan at 22:35 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 6 February 2006 22:44 PST home

Sunday, 5 February 2006
Documenting the Madness
Topic: Announcements

Documenting the Madness

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format parent to this daily web log, was posted online an hour or two before the sun came up here in Hollywood. This is Volume 4, Number 6 for the week of Sunday, February 5, 2006 - a balance of commentary and images - five detailed analyses of the major news events of week just gone by, and five pages of unusual images of Los Angeles and Hollywood.

The commentary covers the major events that swirled around the State of the Union speech, and the war of the t-shirts, and then there was the war of the cartoons, as Danish embassies around the world are now being torched. And there were a few other things where the inflexible meet the puzzled, and no one is happy. Dive in and you'll see.

The images? Old Hollywood in all its seedy glory, the secular oddball movie location next to the Catholic church where Bing Crosby got married, the park where Ricky Nelson wrote fifties rock songs under the bust of Rudolph Valentino, the giant factory built to look like a thirties ocean liner, and some startling botanical shots.

Bob Patterson is back, showing how the past informs the present in very odd ways, and, as the Book Wrangler, offering incredibly practical advice to writers who are serious about getting published.

There are three new photo albums on the Links and Recommendations page, supplementing this week's regular collection.

The quotes this week? What does keep us from thinking clearly?

Note: The International Desk is dark this week. Ric Erickson, Our Man is Paris, is deep in the rebuilding of his own website, MetropoleParis, and Our Man in London, Mike McCahill, is busy writing for The Scotsman. Our man in Tel-Aviv may check in one of these weeks.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ______________________

Paying Attention: Thirteen Ways of Looking at the News (with apologies to Wallace Stevens)
On Consistency: Sometimes truculent rigidity masquerading as intellectual seriousness just gets you in trouble...
Light Fog: Making Much of Nothing (the State of the Union Speech)
Getting Serious: The War of the Shirts (and other matters)
Cartoon Wars: The Sacred and the Profane

Bob Patterson ______________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Those Who Forget The Past ... Might Overlook A Great Topic For Their Next Column
Book Wrangler: The Easiest Part Of Selling What You Write, Is Writing It!

Southern California Photography ______________________

Gritty Hollywood
Hollywood Landmarks: Worldly and Otherworldly
The Good Ship Coca-Cola
A Resting Place: De Longpre Park
Botanicals: Groundhog Day Blooms

Quotes of the week of February 5, 2006 - Let's think this through...

Links and Recommendations: Three New Photo Albums

One of the photographs - differing opinion on what's important, at the Corner of Selma and Cosmo in Hollywood, Thursday, February 2nd -



Posted by Alan at 13:13 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Saturday, 4 February 2006
Hollywood Landmarks - Worldly and Otherworldly
Topic: Photos

Hollywood Landmarks - Worldly and Otherworldly

When the national and world news gets too burdensome it's always best to explore the neighborhood here and take some pictures. Here's an odd pairing, just down the street. Three shots below, and there are sixteen shots in this online album.

This is what you'll see.

As photographed Thursday, February 2, 2006, Crossroads of the World (6671 Sunset Boulevard - Robert V. Derrah) - built as "the world's first modern shopping center" in 1936 - Streamline Moderne, Spanish Colonial, Tudor, Moorish and French Provincial styles, all mixed together. It's listed on National Register of Historic Places. In the 1993 film "Indecent Proposal" Demi Moore worked in a real estate office here. It plays its part in the 1997 film noir "L.A. Confidential" - Danny DeVito worked for a tabloid in one of the offices. It's in many other films. It's very odd. It's kind of a cruise ship and kind of not.

Next door is The Church of the Blessed Sacrament (6657 Sunset Boulevard - Beezer Brothers, architects, 1928) - the first Catholic Church in the Hollywood area (1904), and the parish church for Irene Dunne and Loretta Young, where Bing Crosby married his first wife (Dixie Lee) in September 1930. The funeral of Carole Lombard's fiancé Russ Columbo was held here in 1934 - pallbearers Bing Crosby, Gilbert Roland and Zeppo Marx. A bit back an episode of the television series ER was filmed here, with guest star James Cromwell as a bishop.

This is an odd place.

The Jesuits were here first -









































Crossroads of the World - Establishing Shot













































Crossroads of the World - Nautical Detail





Posted by Alan at 16:02 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 4 February 2006 16:06 PST home

Friday, 3 February 2006
Cartoon Wars: The Sacred and the Profane
Topic: The Media

Cartoon Wars: The Sacred and the Profane

Obviously it is hard to write about "The Sacred and the Profane" (not the book) from Just Above Sunset in Hollywood, given local events like this - Lee Tamahori, the fellow from New Zealand who directed the James Bond movie "Die Another Day," was arrested on January 8th in a Hollywood prostitution sting while dressed in drag - but the news just hit the wires this week, as the charges came up in a criminal complaint filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court. (Reporters still scan those.) Tamahori approached an undercover policeman while wearing women's clothes and smiled broadly, as it were. The charges are agreeing to engage in an act of prostitution and unlawfully loitering on Hollywood's Santa Monica Boulevard.

What a world... and that's just down the hill, somewhere between the area the police used to call boy's town and the odd little theater district.

Of course, there are redeeming local stories of directors, as we see here - on January 26th, just up the hill, less that a mile from here, one of them did a good thing. That day, young Joaquin Phoenix, just after he got a best actor Oscar nomination for "Walk the Line" - in which he plays the late Johnny Cash, and even signs the songs himself - crashed his car on Lookout Mountain Road, just off Laurel Canyon. He says he lost his brakes, swerved to avoid another car, and well, his car went up the hillside and he ended up inside, a bit upside down. Oops.

Now Joaquin Phoenix is thirty-one, famous, rich and a big star - so you'd think he'd be able to afford a good car. Be that as it may, first on the scene, helping him from the car, was a local resident, Werner Herzog, the German director. The Los Angeles Times item quotes Joaquin Phoenix - "I remember this knocking on the passenger window. There was this German voice saying, 'Just relax.' I said to myself, 'That's Werner Herzog!' There's something so calming and beautiful about Werner Herzog's voice." Very odd. Herzog helped him out of the wreck and just faded away. The Times does not tell us if Herzog was in drag - but they do remind us Herzog just won Best Documentary down at the Directors Guild for his film "Grizzly Man." (The Directors Guild is a block away, and looks like this - and to the west is the Viper Room, Johnny Depp's club, where Joaquin's brother, River Phoenix, died of a drug overdose some years back - the chalk lines on the sidewalk are still there.)

This is a strange place, and far from the heartland, specifically far from Bennett, out in Colorado, where we get this - parents up in arms because of Gounod's "Faust."

What?

It seems the new schoolmarm - actually an elementary school music teacher - showed the kids clips from a thirty-three-year-old PBS thing called "Who's Afraid of Opera" - specifically Dame Joan Sutherland and three puppet "friends" discussing Gounod's "Faust." Bad move - "Any adult with common sense would not think that video was appropriate for a young person to see. I'm not sure it's appropriate for a high school student." You see, Faust sells his soul to the devil, and as one parent says, "I think it glorifies Satan in some way."

So there. The new schoolmarm sent a letter of apology to all elementary school parents in Bennett. She tells the Denver Post - "I was definitely not sensitive to the conservative nature of the community, and I've learned that. However, from what has been said about me, that I'm a Satan worshipper, my character, I can't believe all of this. My intention was just to expose the kids to opera."

She's leaving town after the school year.

She might be comfortable out here - this community doesn't exactly have "a conservative nature," and has a pretty good opera company. But then again, out here we have this other German voice saying, "Just relax..." - and that'd be our governor, Arnold Shwarzenegger, not Werner Herzog.

So, just what should upset us, and what should we just let slide as not our business?

Well, what should upset us is cartoons. The Muslim world is up in arms at what the Danes published, and the Pentagon is outraged at what the Washington Post published. No one outside that tiny town in high plains of Colorado seems to be mad at the nineteenth-century French composer Charles Gounod, although much of his music is somewhere between pedestrian and silly. Everyone else is argry about cartoons.

Go figure.

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, has been sending items on the Danish mess, as the French became involved. And it's a very odd story - provocative cartoons in the Danish and Norwegian papers depicting the Prophet Muhammad provoking rage in the Muslim world. What's up with that?

Well, Islamic law, based on clerics' interpretation of the Koran and the sayings of the prophet, forbids any depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, even positive ones, to prevent idolatry. We have this or that plaster Jesus, hyper-realistic with blood and all that (see Mel Gibson) or abstracted in some way, above the alter of every church. It's a reminder of Christ's suffering and all that, while these folks think such things are just plain wrong - it cheapens it all (see the plastic Jesus on the dashboard).

And too, Denmark, Holland and Netherlands are a hot spot, particularly after the murder of the Dutch documentary filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in 2004, and the subsequent trial and conviction with the defendant being quite blandly unrepentant - this particular Van Gogh insulted Islam and the Prophet, and he'd slit the guy's throat again gladly. There was much discussion of how we can get along with such people. (Full background here, and this Van Gogh, oddly enough, was a descendant of the brother of the famous painter.)

This controversy didn't just come out of the blue. Note here, the drawings were commissioned by the Jyllands-Posten (Jutland Post) to accompany an article on self-censorship and freedom - and a deliberate challenge to Muslim insistence that their religious feelings must be given special consideration. It seems Danish writer Kåre Bluitgen was unable failed to find any artists willing to illustrate his children's book about Mohammed - they all worried about violent attacks by extremist Muslims. Theo Van Gogh was on their minds. So the paper, on its own, commissioned some folks to do some drawings - forty artists were invited to give their interpretation on of how Mohammed may have looked. Twelve (brave, foolish, broke?) members of the Danish editorial cartoonists union responded. And the paper published the article and the commissioned drawings September 30th of last year. This may have been a bad move.

See this for a continually updated detailed account of the whole mess. The cartoons can been seen here - but they come down to this:
- The face of Muhammad as a part of the Islamic star and crescent symbol. His right eye the star, the crescent surrounds his beard and face.

- The most controversial drawing shows Muhammad with a bomb in his turban, with a lit fuse and the Islamic creed written on the bomb.

- Muhammad standing with a halo in the shape of a crescent moon.

- An abstract drawing of crescent moons and Stars of David, and a poem on oppression of women "Profet! Med kuk og knald i låget som holder kvinder under åget!". In English the poem could be read as: "Prophet! daft and dumb, keeping woman under thumb"

- Muhammad as a peaceful wanderer, in the desert, at sunset. There is a donkey in the background.

- One shows a nervous caricaturist, shakingly drawing Muhammad while looking over his shoulder.

- Two angry Muslims charge forward with sabres and bombs, while Muhammad addresses them with: "Rolig, venner, når alt kommer til alt er det jo bare en tegning lavet af en vantro sønderjyde" (loosely, "Relax guys, it's just a drawing made by some infidel South Jutlander". The reference is to a common Danish expression for a person from the middle of nowhere.)

- An Asian-looking boy in front of a blackboard, pointing to the Farsi chalkings, which translate into "the editorial team of Jyllands-Posten is a bunch of reactionary provocateurs". The boy is labelled "Mohammed, Valby school, 7.A", implying that this Muhammed is a second-generation immigrant to Denmark rather than the man Muslims believe was a prophet. On his shirt is written "Fremtiden" (the future). According to the editor of Jyllands Posten, he didn't know what was written on the blackboard before it was published.

- Another drawing shows an angry Muhammad with a short sabre and a black bar censoring his eyes. He is flanked by two women in niqaabs, having only their eyes visible.

- Muhammad standing on a cloud, greeting dead suicide bombers with "Stop Stop vi er løbet tør for Jomfruer!" ("Stop, stop, we have run out of virgins!"), an allusion to the promised reward to martyrs.

- Another shows Kåre Bluitgen, wearing a turban with the proverbial orange dropping into it, with the inscription "Publicity stunt". In his hand is a stick drawing of Muhammad. An "orange in the turban" is a Danish proverb meaning "a stroke of luck."
That's it.

See? That wasn't so bad. But it was bad enough.

The paper said this -
The modern, secular society is rejected by some Muslims. They demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their own religious feelings.

It is incompatible with contemporary democracy and freedom of speech, where you must be ready to put up with insults, mockery and ridicule.

It is certainly not always equally attractive and nice to look at, and it does not mean that religious feelings should be made fun of at any price, but that is less important in this context. [...] we are on our way to a slippery slope where no one can tell how the self-censorship will end.
And it seems some folks across Europe agreed. As Ric reported from Paris, France Soir, published them, in a sort of free press solidarity move. The publisher fired the editor over that, but then the publisher is half-Egyptian, even if a good Catholic Frenchman. The always left Libération, founded by Jean-Paul Sartre, posted them as background information for a series of articles. It was the controversy of the week. Le Monde is here (in French), saying this is really about threatening those who want to discuss and debate the intersection of fundamentalism and politics, the clash between freedom and faith. (Has anyone ever mentioned the French love to debate big topics?)

In any event, Le Monde posted this cartoon, full of that trademark French ironic wit - the words say "I must not draw Muhammad."





















But then by the end of the week, this had good global, as Associated Press reports here - "a swell of protests across the Muslim world" Friday - Britain, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Palestinian areas - demonstrators demanding revenge against Denmark and death for those they accuse of "defaming Islam's holiest figure." In Sudan, some demonstrators urged al Qaeda to target Denmark. Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller called Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and said the Danish government "cannot accept an assault against Islam" - but that's according to Abbas' office. The Danes may not cave. And Abbas just lost that election to the Hamas folks and has to look good.

But in Palestinian you had your prayers for a boycott of Danish and European goods and for severing of diplomatic ties, with lots of burning the Danish flag and calling for vengeance - chants of "Bin Laden our beloved, Denmark must be blown up." So the foreign diplomats, aid workers and journalists began pulling out of Palestinian areas Thursday - kidnapping threats.

In Iraq demonstrators burned Danish journalists in effigy and set fire to boxes of Danish cheese. Mmmmm, toasted cheese... But get this - Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said the publication of the drawings was a "horrific action" - but then his website referred to "misguided and oppressive" segments of the Muslim community whose actions "projected a distorted and dark image of the faith of justice, love and brotherhood." (We're not so bad?)

That might depend on your point of view. Go here for pictures of the demonstrations in London - the signs read "Butcher Those Who Mock Islam" and "Exterminate Those Who Mock Islam" and "Be Prepared for the Real Holocaust." So much for the faith of justice, love and brotherhood.

And Andrew Sullivan here points out the irony - "... these people have a right to say these things - the very right they are trying to deny others with the threat of violence." Yeah, well... they're angry.

Sullivan also says this -
European countries would be in a stronger position to defend press freedom if they practiced it more often. There's a bill in the British parliament right now to make offending people's religion a legal offense. Germany bans depictions of the swastika and makes Holocaust-denial a crime. One reason I love America is its First Amendment. I suspect it has something to do with the more moderate Muslim population in the United States, compared with Europe's. Once you start censoring people, you have to deal with the problem of double-standards. If you defend free speech in every case, you're on firmer ground.
But that's not the way it's going.

See this from Reuters - "Mona Omar Attia, Egypt's ambassador to Denmark, said after a meeting with Rasmussen that she was satisfied with the position of the Danish government but noted the prime minister had said he could not interfere with the press. 'This means the whole story will continue and that we are back to square one again. The government of Denmark has to do something to appease the Muslim world,' Attia said."

Egypt's ambassador to Denmark is saying the Danes just have to get their press under control. They should only write the right things, as defined by... the prophet?

Seems odd. The Danes are saying that's not how they see role of the press. The government doesn't tell the press what is proper to report. That's not how it's done.

Well, our government disagrees, as we see here -
The United States backed Muslims on Friday against European newspapers that printed caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad in a move that could help America's battered image in the Islamic world.

Inserting itself into a dispute that has become a lightning rod for anti-European sentiment across the Muslim world, the United States sided with Muslims outraged that the publications put press freedom over respect for religion.

"These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims," State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said in answer to a question.

"We all fully recognize and respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable."
Okay then, you think you're reporting on an issue, and those you report on say that's not reporting on an issue at all - that's inciting hatred!

There's a problem here. Anyone who is subject to a press piece can use that dodge. You see it all the time played out on Fox News with O'Reilly and Hannity - the left suggests the president's war may have been a tactical and strategic blunder of the first order, for reasons X, Y and Z (with footnotes), and there may be some other alternatives, but then the left is told they are just seething with irrational hatred for George Bush and the probably hate America too, and they probably think al Qaeda should take over the world. Huh? The international issue right now is a page of cartoons, of all things. But like "the war on Christians and Christmas" asking that the giant Ten Commandments granite thing and the "Jesus Rules" stuff be removed from public courthouse, or saying Happy Holidays in December, what seems neutral or, in the case of the cartoons, analytical, becomes an attack on this religion or that. It's most curious.

One man's "incitement to hatred" in another man's discussion of pros and cons. Who gets to define which it is?

So US publications have not republished the cartoons. The European press has.

And the governments? "The US response contrasted with European governments, which have tended to acknowledge the tension between free speech and respect for religion but have generally accepted the newspapers' rights to print the cartoons."

There's load of irony here that hardly needs explaining. The rest of the world doesn't understand what a "free press" is all about, and we do, because we self-censor out of fear and government pressure? It seems odd to be shown up by the Europeans on this First Amendment stuff. That used to be our pride and joy. Oh well. Times change.

The State Department says its reaction "was a strong statement in support of Muslims around the world. It's a reflection of the concern felt by millions of Muslims and I think it will be appreciated." So they hope. "It is support for an understanding that with freedom comes responsibility." (We'll keep our press in line because we're really scared of you guys.)

Stephen Zunes, a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, is saying the United States was responsible for creating far more anger in the Muslim world because of its invasion of Iraq - "The United States is the last nation that should caution against unnecessarily inflaming sentiments in the Muslim world."

It's a mess.

More detail?

There's this -
It's possible to regard the cartoon crisis as either a strategic disaster or boon for the War on Terror. The argument for it being a disaster is the assertion that in the war against extremists it is necessary to win over the moderates. And even if winning them over is impossible one may still be capable of keeping them neutral or indifferent; but at all events to avoid raising the Muslim masses in an emotional war against the West. The Danish cartoon crisis has managed to ignite what the Bush administration hoped to avoid from the beginning: turning the War on Terror into a War with Islam. Now an incident arising from a relatively obscure newspaper in Denmark has forced a choice between the most deeply held of all Western values, freedom of speech, with the cherished strategic goal of keeping the Muslim "street" aboard in the War on Terror.
And from Budapest, from Zsofia Szilagyi, political analyst and director of the Human Rights Film Foundation, Publishing Those Cartoons Was A Mistake -
In our networked world, existing societal and political tensions can be inflamed instantly through the transfer of messages from one cultural context to another. Media messages, films and art works cannot be addressed to a specific cultural group - traditional borders of culture and nation no longer exist.

Whether we like it or not, now we all effectively live next door to one another. This raises the stakes in the century-old debate on how to strike a balance between individual and collective press freedom rights.

The central question in this debate is as simple as it is difficult. What is more important for the democratic advancement of a society - to ensure the freedom of expression of all its citizens (within the limits marked by law) or to protect the collective interests of society?
We're so interconnected now we have to watch what we say very, very, very carefully now?

Also see this, a collection of what Arab journalists are saying - "If Denmark has tried to teach Arabs and Muslims a lesson in respect for the country's constitution and its laws, I believe it did not succeed in choosing the right issue. The justification that one must respect the constitution that guarantees freedom of opinion and expression, including the freedom to denigrate others, was not appropriate - this is the trap that Denmark fell into."

There's no understanding of the editorial cartoon here - the freedom to denigrate others is what that's all about. It may be the genre.

Then there's this -


























That, from Tom Toles, ran in the Washington Post on 29 January and then this -
Military leaders angrily denounced as "beyond tasteless" a Washington Post editorial cartoon featuring a likeness of a severely wounded soldier and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld as an attending doctor who says, "I'm listing your condition as 'battle hardened.'"

... It reflected the view of some that Bush administration officials do not recognize that U.S. forces are being worn out by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last month, in response to a Pentagon-commissioned report that said the Army was stretched so thin that it had become a "thin green line," Rumsfeld said the war-fighting experience had made U.S. troops "battle hardened" - stronger rather than weaker.

In a letter to the Post signed by Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani Jr., the vice chairman, as well as the chiefs of the four military services, they blasted the cartoon as "a callous depiction of those who have volunteered to defend this nation and as a result have suffered traumatic and life-altering wounds."

"We believe you owe the men and women and their families who so selflessly serve our country the decency to not make light of their tremendous physical sacrifices," they wrote, while adding that the newspaper is "free to address any topic, including the state of readiness of today's armed forces."
Tome wasn't playing nice. But guys, that's not his job.

Even Rumsfeld got it right -
He recalled that editorial cartoonists had made "vicious" attacks on President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II and had published "perfectly terrible" cartoons about President Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War.

"That's the way it is here," Rumsfeld said. "It comes with the territory, I guess is all I can say."
So lighten up. Rumsfeld himself famously said democracy can be messy.

Toles - "I certainly never intended it to be in any way a personal attack on, or a derogatory comment on, the service or sacrifice of American soldiers."

Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt - "While I certainly can understand the strong feelings, I took it to be a cartoon about the state of the Army and not one intended to demean wounded soldiers."

One man's "incitement to hatred" in another man's vivid discussion of pros and cons. Who gets to define which it is?

Tom Toles' editorial cartoons are here, with an archive. You decide if he should be reined in.

So we had the Cindy Sheehan t-shirt wars, and the war of the cartoons. Each may seem silly in some way, but somehow, people are touchy, and the issues are larger than the initial event.

And in the meantime, there was another memo - a two-hour pre-Iraq war meeting between President Bush and British Prime Minister Blair - two months before the war the two agree they'll invade no matter what the inspectors find or what the UN decides. You have to love the part where Bush considers painting some of our planes with UN markings and that nice robin's egg blue, and making sure Saddam's guys shoot them down, so the UN will want revenge and let us bomb the crap out of Baghdad.

And in the meantime, there was another poll - 53 percent of respondents to a new Gallup thing saying the Bush administration "deliberately misled the American public about whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction." Times change.

The editorial cartoonists are sharpening their pencils on these last two, unless they shouldn't.




Posted by Alan at 20:52 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 5 February 2006 07:07 PST home

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