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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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Monday, 13 February 2006
Other Matters: More Than The Vice President Shooting An Attorney
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Other Matters: More Than The Vice President Shooting An Attorney

Almost all the news, and the discussion of the news, and the meta-news (discussion of the discussion of the news), on Monday, February 13, was all about the Vice President and the hunting accident two days prior. (Covered here - an Elmer Fudd moment, perhaps.) Since this was the first vice president to actually shoot someone since Vice President Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton back in 1804 - Burr killed the guy, making Cheney seem somewhat an amateur - this naturally was almost the sole topic of the day.

There was an amazing White House press conference where questions were raised concerning all sorts of things - the president learning of the shooting Saturday night but not being told Cheney was the one whole pulled the trigger until the next day, the Vice President deciding to let the owner of the ranch where the shooting occurred leak the story to one local reporter Sunday morning, perhaps intending that no one find out, staff members brainstorming how to deal with it all but not telling the press secretary anything at all until late Sunday or early Monday, the Secret Service telling the local police, no, they could not talk to the Vice President about what happened, and Bush and Cheney apparent not talking to each other at all. This included Scott McClelland, the press secretary, mixing it up with David Gregory of NBC - Gregory: "Don't be a jerk to me personally when I'm asking you a serious question.'' It wasn't pretty.

Everyone seemed concerned about the reporting lag - and add to this Cheney didn't have the right stamp on his hunting license (seven dollars and he sent them a late check to cover that). And the third hunter involved? Pamela Willeford, our Ambassador to Switzerland. That prompted this, someone finding it odd that two men are out hunting with two women that are not their wives, and maybe this is the reason for the White House cover-up. Geez!

Look, the Vice President shot another man in the face with a shotgun. But it was a hunting accident, and no big deal. He'll be fine (that is, the big-gun Republican attorney who was shot will be fine, and he's joking about it now). These guys seem genuinely surprised people think this is a big news story. It is clear they didn't want to release it as news - let the owner of the ranch, Katherine Armstrong, speak to the press, if she wishes, but even she didn't really have to do that. One senses the White House was puzzled and a little angry that people think this is a big deal, and that it means anything at all. Cheney is saying nothing. It's nobody's business but his own (see this, the lyrics to the 1923 recording of Bessie Smith singing "Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do" - as that's the attitude). Is it nobody's business? Maybe.

Of course, many a wag has been saying the whole incident provides a new marketing slogan for the Democrats - "Join Us! We Don't Shoot Our Own!" Whatever.

In the long run, does any of this matter much? It may speak to character, insofar as what you do for fun, and what can happen when you do it, does say something about you. But then CNN recently hired a new commentator, Bill Bennett, the pious man who wrote The Book of Virtues and all the sequels, and who gambled away millions in Vegas and Atlantic City - "Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do."

Maybe this is a private matter, as the White House is implying.

But there are public matters. These may need a bit more spin. It's hard to say "it's just not your business" about these.

There's this, the Washington Post on Monday reporting on something slated for release on Wednesday - the eleven member Republican-only congressional committee's six hundred page report on how the government at all levels responded when Hurricane Katrina hit last fall, pretty much destroying New Orleans and flattening the Gulf Coast. If the Post hasn't been faked out the Bush administration's handling of the response will not get the usual praise from the "he can do no wrong" crowd. The Post: "Regarding Bush, the report found that 'earlier presidential involvement could have speeded the response' because he alone could have cut through all bureaucratic resistance." He was on vacation. He needed his rest? And they didn't think much of the "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees" line. Yep, they note that more than two days before Katrina hit the National Hurricane Center had warned there was an "extremely high probability" that New Orleans would be flooded, and that lots of people could die.

The Republicans are saying this? Well, you may want to tow the White House line, and reap the benefits of the Rove stamp of party approval, but then again, you might want to get reelected in November. They fear voters may have bullshit detectors that are starting to work again. Saying the magic words "9/11 changed everything" for all issues doesn't seem to do the trick.

There are a lot of things that need some major spin. That, and all sort of issues, noted in this list from Arianna Huffington. She notes that Republicans are getting restless and are picking on the president a tad. Heck, Cheney can't shoot them all.

There was Chuck Hagel, appearing on CNN's Late Edition on Sunday. He breaks with the administration on Iraq. He doesn't think things are going just fine over there - "In my opinion, three years in Iraq, things haven't gone the way the administration said and others said it was going to go. In fact, I think we're in more trouble today than we've ever been in Iraq."

Oh my! But he's an odd Republican, the maverick that McCain only pretends to be - see the New York Times Magazine profile the same day - "With a bluntness that seems habitual - and more than occasionally strikes fellow Republicans as disloyal - Senator Chuck Hagel started voicing skepticism about the Bush administration's fixation on Iraq as a place to fight the Global War on Terror more than half a year before the president gave the go-ahead for the assault."

He's "off the reservation" as they say. But if the ill-tempered and cranky Bob Novak is to believed here, senate leader Bill "Diagnose at a Distance" Frist is doing the same - "I would have probably put more troops in [Iraq] if the decision had been up to me." But then Frist wants to be the next president. He needs "cred." He needs to say such things. Well, President Bush can tell without any review which American citizen who should be locked up with no charges and no trail, but give Frist a videotape and he can tell you who is brain dead and who isn't.

This Iraq thing is where lots of loyalists are breaking rank. Huffington lists more - congressman Walter Jones, Brent Scowcroft (famously), Richard Mellon Scaife, the man who bankrolls the hard right, of all people, and Colin Powel's former chief of staff Larry Wilkerson.

Scowcroft and Wilkerson have been discussed in these pages before, but this does seem like a pattern. These are the "new" Republicans, or maybe the old ones returning. Can't shoot them all.

Ah, that's all Iraq stuff. Old news. The action now is Iran. Will they get the bomb?

What, they've got the American military occupying the country directly to the west, a nuclear-armed Pakistan, our ally, directly to the east, and just over the horizon, nearly leaderless Israel with its two hundred nukes, a country that never signed on to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and we say they're a charter member of the Axis of Evil and we want regime change there. Why would they want the bomb? What are they worried about?

Ah, but what are we worried about?

New polling, Monday, February 13th -Bush's Approval Rating Drops To 39 Percent, with the subhead, "Americans are nervous about the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, but also worry about the ability of the United States and the United Nations to deal with the situation, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday suggests."

Yep, Iran says it is developing its nuclear program "to provide energy." The United States, France, England and Germany don't buy that. And last month Iran removed the monitoring seals from its equipment and said they'd do what they would, then the International Atomic Energy Agency voted to report Iran to the Security Council for possible sanctions - and Iran ended its cooperation with that agency and said it would begin uranium enrichment and stop snap inspections, even though they say there's a possibility of further negotiations.

This a bother, and Gallup asked folks what they thought - "they fear the Bush administration will be too quick to use military force if diplomacy fails, and at the same time are concerned the administration won't do enough to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons."

The general idea is people see "the bomb" being used against Israel, or us, directly by Iran or given to terrorists to do the same.

What to do? Unclear -
Sixty-eight percent of the respondents called for economic and diplomatic action to keep Iran away from atomic weapons, while only 9 percent called for military action.

Even if diplomacy were to fail, only 36 percent of those who responded to the survey thought military action would be called for, while 45 percent said it would not.

Respondents also put little faith in the United Nations, with 51 percent saying they were not confident that the international community could handle Iran.

Moreover, 69 percent said they were concerned that the Bush administration would be too quick to use military force, yet 67 percent were also concerned the United States wouldn't do enough to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
So the Republican loyalists turn on the president, and the general population gives the president low marks, and no indication of what to do to regain their trust.

Don't let Cheney near a shotgun.

And the hits keep coming - new details about the unmasking of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson by White House officials in 2003, maybe at the direction of the Vice President. What was she working on, undercover stuff trying to stop the bad guys from getting the bomb? Which bad guys, specifically? Iran. Oops.

Yep, we're in this pickle because, to prove something or other about her husband being a jerk about Saddam Hussein not really buying up yellowcake uranium ore in Niger, they destroyed her cover. Shoot a lawyer in the face, after shooting yourself in the foot.

This is not good. And this comes out the day after Republican senator George Allen, said, on Fox News of all places, it's time for a full investigation into whether Cheney and other Bush administration officials authorized Scooter Libby to leak classified information to reporters to try to justify the invasion of Iraq. That's here - "I don't think anybody should be releasing classified information - period - whether in the Congress, executive branch, or some underling in the bureaucracy."

George Allen, of course, like Bill Frist, would like to be the next president. He's polling well on that with the Republicans. He's establishing something here.

But then, George Allen has his worries, as Mackubin Thomas Owens notes here in the conservative National Review - James Webb is likely to run against Allen in the fall senate elections, and George Allen may not only not be a senator running for president soon, he may not be a senator at all.

Who's this James Webb? Owens -
Republicans should worry. Webb is an impressive man. He is a 1968 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. As a Marine officer in Vietnam, he led an infantry platoon and company, was wounded twice, and was awarded the Navy Cross (second only to the Medal of Honor as a recognition of valor) and the Silver Star. After he was medically retired from the Marine Corps, he attended Georgetown Law School and later served as counsel to the House Veterans Committee. He is the author of six novels, including Fields of Fire, the best novel there is about Vietnam. During the Reagan administration, he served as an assistant secretary of Defense and secretary of the Navy. Combine his virtues with the fact that Virginia is one of the few states where a conservative Democrat might win, and, if Webb prevails in the Democratic primary, Senator Allen is likely to be in for the fight of his life.

... Jim will be a formidable candidate. I already know a number of Virginia Republicans who are inclined to vote for him because of what they (rightly) perceive as his sterling character. It will be interesting to see what happens if he wins...
Reagan military big-wig drops out of the Republican Party, declares himself a Democrat, and runs against the bumbling son of the late eccentric Washington Redskins football coach? Owens says the Republicans can't afford to lose such people. They lost Webb.

Don't let Karl Rove near a shotgun.

Then there was, the week before the Cheney shotgun blast, the Conservative Political Action Conference that got wide coverage, mostly because Ann Coulter was ranting about "ragheads" wanting to take over the world and how she considered killing Bill Clinton herself but decided it would be bad for her career. (Quotes here.) Many reported on Bob Barr, who managed the impeachment of Bill Clinton, giving his little appeal -
"Are we losing our lodestar, which is the Bill of Rights?" Barr beseeched the several hundred conservatives at the Omni Shoreham in Woodley Park. "Are we in danger of putting allegiance to party ahead of allegiance to principle?"

Barr answered in the affirmative. "Do we truly remain a society that believes that ... every president must abide by the law of this country?" he posed. "I, as a conservative, say yes. I hope you as conservatives say yes."

But nobody said anything in the deathly quiet audience. Barr merited only polite applause when he finished, and one man, Richard Sorcinelli, booed him loudly. "I can't believe I'm in a conservative hall listening to him say [Bush] is off course trying to defend the United States," Sorcinelli fumed.
It was like that. A love-fest for the president.

But Huffington notes that wasn't entirely true. There were cracks in the armor, so to speak, or those who momentarily stepped away from the cult of personality. And the issue was immigration policy.

Texas governor Rick Perry - immigration is linked to national security - and he said this - "How can we fight this war on foreign fronts while leaving the front door to our nation vulnerable?" And the quite frightening Phyllis Schlafly here is reported to have said Bush's middle-ground ideas on dealing with the problems were "a bad mistake." And Tom Tancredo seems to have said the president was "out of step with his party."

Cheney's hunting mishap may be the least of the White House worries.

Well, every Republican is behind the president's proposed budget, except for Senator Charles Grassley here having a problem with eliminating the Social Security death benefit and cutting off payments to teenagers of the deceased - "I can't see how ending a pittance for widows and widowers, and modest benefits for kids who have lost a parent would be good policy decisions." And looking at all the cuts to healthcare and education Arlen Specter here calls them "scandalous." Huffington lists a few more - Maine's Olympia snow "disappointed and even surprised" and Bill Frist (again) unhappy. She even quotes Jonah Goldberg, who loves Bush, saying Bush is "spending money like a pimp with a week to live."

Spend too much, spend too little - you cannot win. Maybe Huffington is grasping at straws in seeing something is up with all this, the Bush presidency crumbling.

What's the opposition offering? Not much.

On the other hand, Michael Brown said some awful things about the administration the week before. The Abramoff stuff continues in the background. And there's that UN report on the way - "A draft report by UN Human Rights experts has demanded the closure of the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, and accuses the US of practices there amounting to torture."

If anyone in the White House invites you to go bird hunting in Texas, say thank you, but you just can't make it. This is not the time to hang around these guys. You don't want to stand next to someone with a gun who feels everyone has been picking on him. He may get weird.

Posted by Alan at 22:49 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 13 February 2006 22:59 PST home

Sunday, 12 February 2006
The Vice President: His Elmer Fudd Moment
Topic: Couldn't be so...

The Vice President: His Elmer Fudd Moment

Yes, you can just hear the hapless, bald, pudgy Elmer Fudd saying the words, "Be very, very quiet, I'm hunting wabbits." (Actually here you can hear the cartoon character say that - a WAV file you can download and with which you can play around, say attaching it to computer functions like opening Google or whatever.)

Sunday, February 12th, Vice President Cheney had his Elmer Fudd moment. It was all over the news wires, and the Associated Press account is here, reported by Nedra Pickler, who takes a lot of abuse, but not for her name. She's forever spinning her stories to make the administration look heroic and abused, and those who question it foolish and a tad sinister. But there's not much she can do with this one.

In short, Saturday Vice President Dick Cheney, on a bird hunting trip in Texas (he was after quail, not wabbits), accidentally shot a fellow hunter, a seventy-eight-year-old lawyer - sprayed him with shotgun pellets. They took the old coot to the hospital in an ambulance. The victim was Harry Whittington, "a millionaire attorney from Austin" - and a big time Republican donor. As of late Sunday was in stable condition in the intensive care unit of a Corpus Christi hospital.

But he's really okay -
"He is stable and doing well. It was almost like he was spending time with me in my living room," said hospital administrator Peter Banko, who visited Whittington.

Banko said Whittington was in the intensive care unit because his condition warrants it, but he didn't elaborate.
Say what? Something about that is odd. You get a shotgun blast in the face and chest at close range and that has got to smart some.

On the other hand, when George Bush was governor of Texas he named Whittington to the Texas Funeral Service Commission. Somehow it comes together.

This all happened on the Armstrong Ranch, owned by Katharine Armstrong. The Armstrong's are lobbyists, and among other things, are trying to get the government to test for Mad Cow Disease with their client's system, some Swiss process. Apparently the Swiss do more than banking, chocolate and coo-coo clocks.

There are comments all over the web, and here are some questions that come to mind.

1.) Was this staged, as a kind of symbolic thing? The man is tough and dangerous? He's just the kind of "just a little crazy" guy you want on your side?

2.) With the weekend's call, from both Democrats and (gasp!) Republicans, for an investigation - did Cheney really authorize Scooter Libby to leak highly classified information for political ends? - is Dick just grumpy? That story is here - Senator Allen, the right-wing son of the strange Redskins football coach (George Allen), said that on Fox News Sunday! Oh my. With this sort of thing in the air is Cheney lashing out indiscriminately?

3.) Does he have an animus for lawyers, seething just below the surface, that finally surfaced in violence? Think Patrick Fitzgerald.

4.) He's part of the crew that wanted to dismantle Social Security and gave us Medicare Plan B, with all the confused old folks pretty much unable to get their medications. Is he sending a message? When you reach your late seventies you're fair game? "Die, you old parasite on society!" Could be.

5.) Maybe he hates the Swiss. The Armstrong's want him to throw some government contacts at their Swiss clients. Maybe he was grumpy about that. The Swiss didn't send troops to Iraq to help us toss out Saddam and establish whatever it is we've established there. That might have ticked him off. Heck, the Swiss send troops to Rome to protect the damned pope! Not fair! But then, no, the Pope's Swiss Guard at the Vatican isn't supplied by the Swiss Army in some sort of military alliance, it's just a tradition that evolved over time. And anyway, the uniforms of the Vatican's Swiss Guard would not do in Iraq. How do you strap body armor under that stuff? And most of them aren't Swiss anyway.

This is all very curious.

Is Cheney liable in any way under Texas law? See this for a discussion of the relevant statutes, although the man who used to run Halliburton down in those parts is not going to be charged, of course. Not in Texas.

And note this, CNN quoting Katharine Armstrong saying it was the damned lawyer's fault - he snuck up on Cheney and startled him. He should have announced himself. His fault. And that adds to the myth of the toughness of administration. You don't mess with these guys, and you don't ever surprise them. Saddam knows now, and the leaders of Syria and Iran and North Korea and Venezuela should take this as a hint, one supposes.

Ah well, hunting accidents just like this happen all the time, especially with quail hunting. The birds get flushed and suddenly blast up from the ground.

Will Rumsfeld defend him saying, once again, "Stuff happens?"

But drop the Elmer Fudd comparison (the hapless hunter). Switch to Teddy Kennedy -
The accident occurred Saturday at a ranch in south Texas where the vice president and several companions were hunting quail. It was not reported publicly by the vice president's office for nearly 24 hours, and then only after it was reported locally by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times on its Web site Sunday.
The vice president's office did not tell reporters about the accident Saturday "because they were deferring to Armstrong to handle the announcement of what happened on her property." And Ted was eventually going to tell the police Mary Jo was dead.

Mary Jo Kopechne. Chappaquiddick. Keep things quiet for as long as you can. And don't drive with Ted. And don't hunt with Dick.

This will, of course, come to little - Whittington will no doubt survive, and he's lucky he didn't lose an eye or anything.

But there will be comments, as the cartoonist Tom Tomorrow notes -
Two Quick Predictions

1. Dick Cheney's new nickname will now be "Deadeye Dick."

2. The Bush Administration will evermore be known as "The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight."
The late night comics are going to have a fine time.

Other considerations:

A tidbit from the Dallas papers - there have been other mistakes, by the boss himself -
In 1994, when he was running for governor against then-incumbent Ann Richards, Mr. Bush went dove hunting for the cameras in Hockley, northwest of Houston, and shot what he thought was a dove. The one bird he did hit turned out to be the protected killdeer. He reported the incident to the local game warden and paid a $130 fine.
Oops, endangered species. Stuff happens.

But it shouldn't happen, as in this from Pittsburgh - WTAE ran a letter from the Humane Society, December 9, 2003 -
Monday's hunting trip to Pennsylvania by Vice President Dick Cheney in which he reportedly shot more than 70 stocked pheasants and an unknown number of mallard ducks at an exclusive private club places a spotlight on an increasingly popular and deplorable form of hunting, in which birds are pen-reared and released to be shot in large numbers by patrons. The ethics of these hunts are called into question by rank-and-file sportsmen, who hunt animals in their native habitat and do not shoot confined or pen-raised animals that cannot escape.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported today that 500 farm-raised pheasants were released yesterday morning at the Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier Township for the benefit of Cheney's 10-person hunting party. The group killed at least 417 of the birds, illustrating the unsporting nature of canned hunts. The party also shot an unknown number of captive mallards in the afternoon.

"This wasn't a hunting ground. It was an open-air abattoir, and the vice president should be ashamed to have patronized this operation and then slaughtered so many animals," states Wayne Pacelle, a senior vice president of The Humane Society of the United States. "If the Vice President and his friends wanted to sharpen their shooting skills, they could have shot skeet or clay, not resorted to the slaughter of more than 400 creatures planted right in front of them as animated targets."
Yep, it's not exactly hunting. You get a whole lot of helpless living things confined in an area and kill them all. That's what you do for fun and relaxation - and as a foreign policy, it seems. It relieves the stress. It's a "man thing."

At least Scalia hunts duck in the wild, and takes Cheney along on the trips, with the major oil companies picking up the tab (discussed in these pages here) - to show Dick the difference between the judicial (play fair, sort of) and administrative (kill the pesky and trapped helpless)?

But you certainly don't kill endangered species, and you don't blast a major donor in the face with your shotgun. It looks bad.

The week started of badly for the administration, unless the media play this as a manly thing. Life is dangerous (quails?) and stuff happens and you tough it out.

Posted by Alan at 22:19 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 12 February 2006 22:29 PST home

Heavy Stuff - But Then, Old Cars, Surfers, Folk Art And Such Make Up For The Bad
Topic: Announcements

Heavy Stuff - But Then, Old Cars, Surfers, Folk Art And Such Make Up For The Bad

The new issue of Just Above Sunset - Volume 4, Number 7 for the week of Sunday, February 12, 2006 - is now posted and available. This is the weekly magazine-format parent site to this daily web log.

This week in current events you'll find five commentaries on the week's events, but the events number far more than five, as the week started with the Attorney General testifying how some laws really cannot be followed, and it went on from there. The odd events kept compounding, from NASA being reigned in by those who want them to be more religious, New Orleans asking for foreign aid, everyone upset about the King funeral, indicted Tom Delay getting a plum job controlling the budget of the Justice Department, terrorist nuns in Florida (not really), new odd news out of Guantánamo, and a famous guy turned away by US customs, and generally an overload off too much "say what?" to handle. It's all here. These five correct and extend what was first posted here. It was a very odd week.

On the other hand, there are always those old cars, as Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, visits Rétromobile there and sends cool pictures.

Bob Patterson, as that journalist, has more than a few things to say about electronic voting machines, and as the Book Wrangler, a few things to say about the rich, in quotes. As a bonus he sends a page of photographs, Super Bowl Sunday with the local Cobra Club, not the Steelers - there are always those old cars.

As it's the middle of winter the Southern California photography this week is from the beach, Venice Beach - surfers and lovers and jugglers, surreal murals, the connection to an old Orson Wells film, and some botanicals.

Quotes? People say the oddest things about value and truth and all that.

And there are links to two new photo albums.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ______________________

Question Time: The Attorney General Smiles
Something Is Up: Odd Doings Across America, and Around the World
Connecting Dots: They're Laughing at Us
Stay Away: Visa, Don't Leave Home Without It (Or Don't Leave Home)
Overload: Hoping You Cannot Attend To It All

The International Desk ______________________

Our Man in Paris: The Scene at Rétromobile

Bob Patterson ______________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Democracy: Is it Time to call a Corpsman or the Chaplain?
Book Wrangler: Ennui anyway you want it ...
Cobras: Cruising on Super Bowl Sunday

Southern California Photography ______________________

The Edge of the Pacific
The Surreal Beach: Walls and Folk Art, Venice Beach, California
On Location: Touch of Evil
Botanicals: A Beach Trio

Quotes for the week of February 12, 2006 - Value and Truth and All That
Links and Recommendations: Two New Photo Albums
Click here to go directly there:

The Photo Albums ______________________

The Edge of the Pacific - as photographed Thursday, February 9, 2006, the very edge of the Pacific, at Venice Beach. The Santa Ana winds are blowing in off the desert and on the sand it's in the eighties just before noon. Late morning the shops are just opening, the dancing rollerblade folks aren't there yet, but the surfers have been out there in dawn, and the surf isn't bad. (Sixteen shots.)

Walls and Folk Art, Venice Beach, California - murals, architectural detail and general oddness, photographed Thursday, February 9, 2006, at Venice Beach. Tourists flock here for the madness on the strand - skaters and oddballs and Muscle Beach and all the little shops and strange food and loud music. Here are the details they often ignore. (Thirty shots.)

Note, on the day of the great Manhattan-Boston blizzard it's in the mid-eighties out here, full sun, light breezes. This morning Venice Beach, only ten or twelve miles west of Hollywood, looked just like this (below), expect this was snapped last Thursday. The weather here doesn't fluctuate a great deal. It's mighty fine.



Posted by Alan at 14:51 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 12 February 2006 14:54 PST home

Saturday, 11 February 2006
Overload: Hoping You Cannot Attend To It All

Overload: Hoping You Cannot Attend To It All

Consider the major news stories now in play.

Ex-CIA Official Faults Use of Data on Iraq, with a summary from Editor and Publisher here. This is not just some low-level flunky speaking out. This is the man who for five years prepared the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) for the president, now retired and teaching at Georgetown University. He makes three points - in the run-up to the war the intelligence was "cherry-picked" for items that would justify invading and occupying Iraq, ignoring intelligence that argued Iraq was contained "in a box" and no real threat and the ever more intrusive inspections were doing the job of keeping a lid on things, and the connection between Saddam Hussein and his government with al Qaeda was wholly manufactured as everyone in the intelligence community knew there just wasn't one, and all the intelligence reports that our post-victory presence would cause big trouble, and some sort of uprising without a quick and massive Marshall Plan sort of effort to restore basic services were discarded. On the third point, the first request for an intelligence assessment of just what was happening on the ground there was made one full year after the fall of Baghdad.

Paper: White House Knew About Levees Early, with a summary from Editor and Publisher here. The New York Times finds documentation that the administration knew, a few hours after Hurricane Katrina hit last fall after midnight on a Saturday, that the levees broke, New Orleans was going under, and a hundred thousand people had no way out. The president said he had no idea until late Monday, the head of homeland security said he found out sometime Tuesday. The president continued his vacation with planned rallies and speeches and didn't get around to dealing with it until late in the week. The news services knew, and covered it all, and anyone who watched the news knew. It was embarrassing, but, and things sun out of control and people died, the official line was, "But we didn't know." It seems they did. And this was followed by hearings where the head of FEMA, Michael Brown, who was forced to resign, testified he had actually being telling the White House and Homeland Security what was happening, but got nowhere, as in Ex-FEMA chief blasts White House over Katrina, Ex-Katrina Chief 'Warned White House Of Imminent Danger' and Brownie's revenge. They didn't know? He said that "was baloney" - since he wasn't dealing with "terrorism" he and his agency got put off. In fact, FEMA was being quietly defunded and disregarded as it wasn't a priority in the new system. Believe him? He recounted just who he spoke to and when, and there's been no dispute from the White House.

But you have to love this -
Brown says that White House Chief of Staff Andy Card rebuffed his efforts to solicit more help from the White House, ordering him to work through the "chain of command" instead. That chain ran through Chertoff and the DHS bureaucracy, Brown said. "We've done a great job as Republicans of establishing more and more bureaucracy," Brown told Maine Sen. Susan Collins.

Brown said that he cried in his hotel room during the early days of Katrina, frustrated by the failure of the federal government to deliver the help he knew it was capable of providing. Asked whether the Bush administration was making him the fall guy for Katrina, Brown said, "I certainly feel abandoned." As for the president, Brown said: "Unfortunately, he called me 'Brownie' at the wrong time. Thanks a lot, sir."
The whiner twists the knife.

The lobbying scandal? McClellan Confronted With Abramoff Emails. The White House says the president hardly knew the chief bad guy, Jack Abramoff. A whole bunch of emails surface with Abramoff chatting abiout how well they knew each other, and about meetings. The White House spokesman, McClellan, has a job no one would want. He repeated the lWhite House line, and would say no more - ongoing investigations and all that.

The scandal about outing the CIA spy, that Plame woman? Waas's New Scoop: Cheney 'Authorized' Libby to Leak Classified Information - Murray Waas finds the portion of the record where former chief-of-staff to Vice President Cheney, Scooter Libby, under indictment for misleading the investigation as to who "outed" the woman, said the vice president had actually authorized him to leak classified information to the press to discredit those who questioned what the White House was saying. He revealed the identity of a CIA agent, burned her contacts, and ended her career, because there was a general policy to leak classified information when politically necessary? That's an interesting defense. Administrations do that, of course, and it's not precisely illegal, just, as the Wall Street Journal put it, a little "sleazy." They did release parts of the classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) when that was useful to build support for the war. Scooter, in an "oops" moment, thought burning a spy whose husband said uncomfortable things in public was the same sort of thing. He was just enthusiastic? That's a fascinating defense.

The spying scandal, with NSA tapping calls, reading emails and scanning web logs of US citizens without warrants from the special, secret court set up to expedite warrants so they could do just that? Chief FISA Judge Warned About Misuse Of NSA Spy Data. The Washington Post gets hold of evidence that what they are up to was really out of bounds and, even from this "we approve most everything" court, they were on shaky grounds, at best. Even these amazing accommodating judges were getting cold feet. That doesn't sound good.

The Republicans, in the wake of the Tom DeLay indictments and the ongoing lobbying scandal, elect a new house leader to make things all better, but he had a little problem - House Majority Leader's Landlord Is A Lobbyist. The new guy in charge rents his DC apartment from one of the questionable lobbyists. Ah well. Minor stuff.

And mentioned elsewhere -

Republican Who Oversees NSA Calls for Wiretap Inquiry - straight-shooting staunch Republican (also up for reelection in November) says something is amiss. There a bit of that going around in the parts of the party that haven't joined the Bush "cult of personality."

There's the new, proposed Bush budget. Bush's Budget Tricks - Time magazine notes the numbers don't add up and some of the usual tables are simply missing (forward impact on deficit, for one). And there's this - privatizing and eventually eliminating Social Security, that the president just couldn't sell to the country last year, in now part of the proposed budget (along with some new things like eliminating the death benefit for those who lose their spouse, and no aid for kids who've lost their parent if the kids drop out of school). Cute.

And the gem - Tom DeLay to Oversee Justice Department - when Duke Cunningham had to resign for taking over two million in bribes, the house leadership gave the open seat on the Appropriations Committee to DeLay. Amazing.

What to make of all this?

Peter Daou here comments that "each of these stories constitutes a full-blown crisis that would have caused a massive firestorm for any other administration."

But that's not happening, as he notes just a "cursory glance" at the online editions of national papers and news outlets as well as a scan of the major cable news nets "would lead you to believe that the most important piece of news today is that a British man accused of killing his wife and child will return to the US to face trial."

Well, that's news too, as was the Michael Jackson trial last summer. But Daou is contending Bush's political opponents "are unwitting partners in a macabre dance with this administration," where all these political stories just die. Only a few people followed them, while "political leaders who ought to be putting a stop to the madness are frozen in focus-grouped fear" and the Bush supporters just smile.

The effect? -
This half-decade tsunami of scandals has had the intended effect: overload the senses, short circuit the outrage, dizzy the opposition. How many times have Bush's opponents simply thrown their hands up in disgust, overwhelmed by the enormity of the administration's over-reach? How many times have bloggers railed against reporters for going about the business of burying scandals and muddying waters? How many times have Americans watched in amazement as a missing girl in Aruba receives weeks of blanket coverage while lies that led to war and law-breaking at the highest levels of government get a yawn from the media?

From a purely sensory perspective, it's natural to chase the flak. We're conditioned to respond to incoming fire. It's reflexive. But when the fire is coming from all sides, and coming relentlessly, the urge is to stop defending and curl up and give up. This is a process the Cheneys and Roves of this world understand all too well. It's no accident that the scandals get more and more outrageous - after all, the whole point is to have the opposition frantically racing around, chasing stories, distracted and exhausted, wearing itself out like a kitten in a catnip-doused, mouse-filled room.

The amazing thing is that so many of Bush's opponents continue to play along. The sheer inability to put on blinders and drive one scandal home, to take it to its ultimate conclusion, is a failing of magnificent proportions. ...
Well, yes, the opposition lacks focus. And so? "Bush and his team count on the opposition's lack of focus, joyfully handing them more catnip."

And then we get just the odd stories - a foiled al Qaeda attack on Los Angeles! But four years ago. And it probably isn't even true, just some idea being tossed around and abandoned. And Bush got the name of the building wrong. It's the Library Tower, not the Liberty Tower (photo here here from 2003). They call it that because it looms above the downtown public library, but anyway it's now the US Bank building. Much has been made of our new mayor being miffed at not being told Bush was going say anything about this, but he's also miffed Bush will not meet with him after two requests. Scheduling conflicts, he was told. But he's a Democrat, and Hispanic without being a Cuban from south Florida. Ah well.

Were folks impressed with the revelation of stooping these nefarious people? Hardly. Is it proof warrantless spying on US citizens does real good? That's illogical because the "planning" took place in Indonesia. But folks don't think too carefully. Is it proof the Patriot Act should be made permanent? No, not related - but it might help sway some people, as general fear overrides logic. Is it proof we really can work with our allies? They like us in Indonesia?

It was just a crass move for the rubes. But good for one day's amusement.

As for getting the name of the building wrong, a little Freudian speculation - he was not thinking of a "library" getting blown up (his wife was a librarian so he couldn't) and used the word "liberty" as he's got a Jones for blowing up civil liberties. No, too facile.

But as Peter Daou writes, the sheer number of scandals makes it almost impossible for the press and the public to see any of them clearly, or separate the spin for what's really happening. The Los Angeles story was "Los Angeles Didn't Blow Up!" - and that can run any day of the week. It didn't blow up today either. Is that because of what the government has done? Maybe. Is that because the city makes all bars close by two in the morning? Is that because no penguins have massed in Santa Monica on the beach because it's too warm for them? Why does something "not happen?" It's a classic problem in formal logic, and the basis of many a bad joke.

As for seeing clearly, there is too much noise for much of that. The press is overwhelmed at the selection of possible stories, and has to sell ad space anyway. More news from Aruba.

Will an opposition party really form and help out. Digby at Hullabaloo says no, maybe you just have to trust layers -
... our two party tradition provides for very little real power to be invested in an opposition party on its own - the rules have been devised for bipartisan compromise. When you have a very disciplined majority (even if only with a slight numerical advantage) the minority party can be virtually shut out of government, as in a parliamentary system. We have little experience with this kind of government and without the open floor debate and partisan press that exists in other systems, this makes for very lopsided power structure.

The structural political imbalance, the media cacophony and the overwhelming numbers of crises and scandals both large and small have virtually paralyzed this country's ability to deal with the very serious constitutional crisis that is developing over the president's assertion of unlimited executive and war making powers. I think the law is our only backstop on this. It's appearing more and more that we are going to have to ask certain lawyers, cops and judges who understand that their duty to their country is bigger than their duty to this president to step up.
Maybe. The next round of NSA hearings may bring some of them in front of the cameras.

They also might help with some comments on that report from law professor Mark Denbeaux, with attorney Joshua Denbeaux, counsel to two of the detainees at our Cuban prison at Guantánamo Bay - heavy on statistics, reporting more than half of the 517 detainees there are not accused of hostile acts - they're mainly unlucky. (See Connecting Dots this week.) Only a small minority of them had anything to do with Al Qaeda, and the Administration's assurances regarding who it was who was detained there were fundamentally false.

Note John Henke here -
This is why we have due process. This is why we have transparency. This is why a free people who want to remain that way ought to insist we apply due process and transparency even to suspected terrorists. Instead, we've largely stood by while the Bush administration has run roughshod over innocent people; while the Bush administration detained innocent civilians and lawful combatants, and abused them into false confessions. And then that administration had the temerity to say that legislation removing legal recourse by those people "reaffirm[s] the values we share as a Nation and our commitment to the rule of law" ...

Remember: the people who told us that the detainees at Guantánamo Bay were all Taliban, captured on the battlefield or otherwise terrorists are the same people who swear, really, that the domestic surveillance program is "solely for intercepting communications of suspected al Qaeda members or related terrorist groups."
So, the press is overwhelmed, the public anesthetized and busy with tabloid stories, the political opposition neutered and useless, so bring on the attorneys? Maybe.

Some folks wouldn't mind - Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings with this -
I have spent my life loving this country for its values, among them the right not to be tossed in jail at the whim of some ruler, but to be guaranteed the right to live free from searches, wiretapping, surveillance, and arrest unless some official could convince a judge that there was probable cause to believe that I had committed a crime. I could scarcely believe it when Padilla was locked up: I was as shocked as I would have been had Bush asserted the right to ban Lutheranism, or to close down the New York Times. It was such a complete betrayal of our country's core values that it took my breath away.

I feel the same way about the NSA story.
Yep, and those two items, quoted by the attorney Glenn Greenwald here, in an article called "Why All This Matters," ends with this - "If someone isn't opposed to these things and isn't willing to fight against them, it's hard for me to see how someone can claim to believe in the values and traditions of this country."

Yeah, but we're all busy, overwhelmed and confused. It's overload.

Posted by Alan at 16:21 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 11 February 2006 16:24 PST home

Friday, 10 February 2006
Our Man In Paris: Visa, Don't Leave Home Without It (Or Don't Leave Home)
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Our Man In Paris: Visa, Don't Leave Home Without It (Or Don't Leave Home)

You had to assume this item from Reuters on February 9th would get some play in Paris - the French anti-globalization activist José Bové just got the Farley Mowat treatment. He was denied entry into the United States. As you recall, in April 1985 the Canadian nature writer Farley Mowat - Never Cry Wolf (which Disney later made into an odd little film) - was barred from entering the US ever again (discussed in these pages here). A bit of indignation over the Mowat case in both the United States and Canada played a part in a major revision of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 - in 1990. Most curious. Naturalist? Communist? Whatever. Think of Mowat as a beta version of José Bové.

What is it with these "nature people" that gets us all upset? They seem to be tagged as dangerous. Well, although both Bové and Mowat smoke pipes (danger of second-hand smoke), Bové is the far more dangerous - he doesn't just denounce globalization and junk food, he had a hand a hand tearing apart a French McDonalds restaurant (six weeks in jail in 2003, and yes, they do have those over there). He got a four-month prison sentence last November for destroying a field of genetically modified corn in southern France (he makes cheese near Roquefort, even if he went to UC Berkeley). Hong Kong wouldn't let him last December when the WTO met there. Unlike Mowat, he does things. (Yes, writing amazing books is doing things, but no one reads books anymore, even while eating alone in McDonalds.)

Here's what Reuters reports (without diacritical marks) -
French farmer Jose Bove, a prominent protester against genetically modified food and agricultural free trade, has been denied entry into the United States, officials of an event he was due to address said on Thursday.

Bove arrived at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport with a valid U.S. entry visa on Wednesday afternoon but was detained for several hours and later returned to Paris, according to William Kramer, a spokesman for the conference.
So instead of speaking at the conference Thursday and Friday, he was on the red-eye back to CDG. That conference, organized by Cornell University's Global Labor Institute among others, was "Global Companies - Global Unions - Global Research - Global Campaigns."

Does that sound subversive?

The conference people called Immigration and Homeland Security, and told Reuters this was "ridiculous" and "illegal" and a violation of free speech. But he is French, isn't he? Reuters reports they couldn't get any comment from Immigration.

They should have called Monsanto, as what was on the agenda for Friday was Bové's address - "The Struggle Against Monsanto in Europe." Monsanto makes all those genetically modified seeds. They have the lobbyists in Washington.

Reuters quotes Sean Sweeney, director of Cornell's Global Labor Institute - "This speaks volumes about where the United States is in terms of free speech."

Not exactly. It says more about old line, the business of America is business. His entry visa may have been valid, but Monsanto matters more.

And things are getting tighter. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 - as revised in 1990 - has be trumped by Homeland Security with its TSA and the NSA listening to everything, and reading all the emails and blogs, and all the rest. (Reading blogs? Note a logon here - 06 Feb, Mon, 08:20:53 CIFAGB01.CIFA.MIL - this is the military domain - Counterintelligence Field Activity - so if you've logged onto the latest issue of Just Above Sunset they've opened a file on you too! Everyone wave!)

So how tight are things getting?

From Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis (and born in Canada) -
PARIS, Friday, February 10, 2006 - As it so happens I will get to test the efficiency of the NSA watchdogs myself on Tuesday, 21 March when I am scheduled to arrive at JFK for a three week stay in the city. Especially since last night, when I watched a documentary on Arte-TV about how farmers in India are killing themselves because they've been ruined by using Monsanto's genetically modified seeds. Too bad Bové won't be there in person to spread the gloom.

In the Reuters story you may have noticed that Bové traveled to the United States after getting a visitors' visa. New Homeland Security rules call for passports containing biometric information, but the French don't produce these yet. As a citizen of a country in the visa-waiver program he must either have the new passport or get a visa. Most French, when confronted with this hurdle, change their destinations, perhaps going to Cuba instead. To get a visa all French travelers must apply to the US Consulate in Paris. Finally, even with a valid visa, costing about a hundred dollars, a traveler may still be refused entry.

Citizens of Mexico and Canada do not require visas. Neither country is in the visa-waiver program. Canadian authorities strongly advise Canadians to carry passports for their visits to the United States even though they are not legally necessary. According to the Canadian consulate in Paris the new 'e-Passport' is now available to comply with new US regulations. Application can be made in Paris but it takes a month for Ottawa to produce the high-tech travel document.

The deadline for the new passports was set late last year by the United States, and then the deadline was extended to the end of 2006 because nobody can comply. In theory the old style non-biometric but machine-readable passports are still acceptable for travel to the United States - which should mean that French travelers do not require visas for US visits.

My Canadian passport was therefore valid, but would have expired less than six months after my return from this upcoming visit. The United States effectively declares that all passports are invalid if they expire less than six months after a traveler leaves the United States. My Irish passport is valid until 2009 but I can't use it because it is handmade and looks fake. Another US rule says that new passports issued after a certain date are useless, so a visa is required. But the Irish are exempt from the visa-waiver program, like Mexicans and Canadians. Joseph Heller called it, 'Catch-22.'

Final Canadian government advice for travelers to the United States - 'Switchblade knives are prohibited, except those owned by persons with only one arm.'

En garde!
Will Ric get to the Big Apple, with that attitude? With the NSA logging the emails from Hollywood to Paris and back? With CIFA.MIL reading these words?

We'll see.

Ric also pointed to this item the same day from Nina Bernstein in the New York Times -
One is a second grader in Manhattan. Over the protests of his American mother, immigration officials have been trying to deport him ever since he returned from a brief visit to his native Canada without the right visa. Another is an Irish professor of literature invited to teach at the University of Pennsylvania last month. He was handcuffed at the Philadelphia airport, strip-searched, jailed overnight and sent back to Europe to correct an omission in his travel papers.

Then there are the seven Tibetan monks who were visiting Omaha two weeks ago. After their church sponsor abruptly withdrew its support, their religious visas were revoked and a dozen immigration officers in riot gear showed up to arrest them.

The details in these cases vary, as do the technical visa infractions committed by each of the foreigners. But they all testify to a larger issue looming on the front lines of immigration enforcement: how low-level gatekeepers and prosecutors in the customs and immigration system are using their growing discretionary power over travelers who pose no security risk.

Officials of the Department of Homeland Security have acknowledged that intensified efforts to keep out terrorists since the 9/11 attacks have sometimes led to the heavy-handed treatment of foreigners whose only offense was an inadvertent paperwork error or being caught in a bureaucratic tangle. In memos issued in 2004 and 2005, agency officials encouraged officers to use discretion and legal shortcuts to resolve such cases quickly, saving resources for more important tasks and showing the world a more welcoming face.

But immigration lawyers say the effort is not working. ...
It would seem not. The professor, John McCourt, a James Joyce specialist at the University of Trieste in Italy, arrived at Philadelphia International and he was soon off in handcuffs to the Montgomery County jail, along with another one they caught, Kerstin Spitzl, "a pregnant German woman who says that immigration officers abruptly canceled her visa, insisting that she was planning to violate its terms by working." She says that wasn't her intention, but people can change their minds, right?

Note this:
In Italy, Professor McCourt quickly fixed his paperwork at the American consulate in Florence, and returned to start his classes at Penn a week late. But in New York last week, where he spoke at Fordham University on "Joyce and Judaism," he said his experience had confirmed his European friends' worst fears about America.

"At the moment, America is easy to hate," he said, "So people say, 'That does it for me. I'm not going to risk that happening.'"
And so it goes. Of Kelly Klundt, the pregnant German woman, a spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection, which is also part of Homeland Security, said the workload is heavy and "there are unfortunately going to be a few instances that do not demonstrate perfect discretion."

Who wants perfect discretion? Common sense would be nice.

But then, for those of us who live here there are other worries.

Remember the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798? (If not, the refresher is here.) Note this - a nurse working for the Veterans Administration in New Mexico is under investigation for sedition, after writing a letter that said some critical things about the war in Iraq, and about the federal response to Katrina. She was displeased. The letter is here, your basic grumpy letter to the editor. But they thought she wrote it on government time, on her government computer at the VA offices, thus the sedition thing. They seized the computer and it seems she didn't write it on the government's dime, so they're deciding what to do.

People want visas to visit here?

Posted by Alan at 17:38 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 10 February 2006 17:41 PST home

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