Notes on how things seem to me from out here in Hollywood... As seen from Just Above Sunset
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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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Sunday, 12 March 2006
The way things seem from out here in Hollywood...
Topic: Announcements

The way things seem from out here in Hollywood...

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format parent to this daily web log, is now online. This is Volume 4, Number 11 for the week of March 12, 2006 - filled with new material.

This week there are four extended commentaries on the past week. In general terms there's a discussion what we can generally believe to be true and what is just "truthiness" - and, yes, the study how we know what we know is epistemology. And, with everyone on the national stage spinning events this way or that, there's discussion of just what winning in that business is. And things sure seem like 1973 in a whole lot of ways. And at the end of the week, political bummers, with an assessment of the way things are going, from the Dubai business to an amazing array of what sure seem like scandals.

And there's one of those infrequent arts columns - a cult book from 1939 becomes a movie with major stars and all that, but why?

Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, this week offers us a photo essay on the opening night at the big art exhibit at the Pompidou Center in Paris, and yes, the new show is all about Los Angeles.

Bob Patterson is back, way back. The World's Laziest Journalist has been spending a lot of time in 1943 for some reason, and the Book Wrangler offers a list.

Photography this week - the amazing Korean bell and pagoda at the harbor, scenic lighthouses (yes, we have those here), a bit of Italy here in the land of the wealthy who live at the coast, special botanical shots, and a week after the Oscar business, some really inside stuff.

Quotes this week? Nonsense.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ______________________

Political Epistemology: When the facts aren't enough...
Winning: Reading the Tea Leaves
Edgy Times (kind of like the seventies)
The State of Play: Things Collapsing and the Old Woman Uses the D-Word

In These Times ______________________

LA Revisited: Back to the Obscure Thirties

The International Desk ______________________

Our Man in Paris: What's LA Smell?

Bob Patterson ______________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Time Travel Courtesy of Time Magazine
Book Wrangler: Recommended Without Comment

Southern California Photography ______________________

At Angels Gate: The Korean Bell of Friendship and Bell Pavilion, Angels Gate Park, San Pedro
Lighthouses
Italianate: Statuary at Malaga Cove Plaza
Botanicals
Oscar Day: The Obscure Inside Scoop

Quotes for the week of March 12, 2006 - Nonsense

Posted by Alan at 18:44 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Saturday, 11 March 2006
LA Revisited: Back to the Obscure Thirties
Topic: Local Issues

LA Revisited: Back to the Obscure Thirties

What this about? Nostalgia? For the middle of the Depression? For the middle of the Depression here in Los Angeles when the major studios were pumping out those white-telephone fantasies, the streets were filled with the homeless and hopeless, and the "Grapes of Wrath" dustbowl refugees were rolling in from Oklahoma only to find not much here? There's something in the air that fuels a return to those days?

The new film "Ask the Dust" opened in limited release March 10th (basics here) - Colin Farrell, Salma Hayek, Donald Sutherland, written and directed by Robert Towne. "An ambitious young man (Farrell), sick of his intolerant Colorado hometown, moves to Los Angeles to become a novelist. As his writing career takes off, he becomes obsessed with a Mexican barmaid (Hayek). It's based on a cult-classic book by noir great John Fante."

John Fante? Well, he was born in Colorado in 1909 and began writing out here in 1929 - a few decades of short stories, novels and screenplays. But he's not a household name.

On the other hand, Ask the Dust is his semi-autobiographical coming of age novel set here and does have a noir following. It was first published in 1939 and you might think of it as an anti-Gatsby, written while the man who wrote The Great Gatsby more than a decade earlier, with all its sad glitter, was drinking himself to death right here on Laurel Avenue, a few doors down the street, sickened of many things, including Hollywood. Ask the Dust is about the other side of this town - the grit.

Amazon is offering the June 1980 paperback edition (and offers a link to the front cover, the back cover, and an excerpt). And they quote from the preface by Charles Bukowski - "Then one day I pulled a book down and opened it, and there it was. I stood for a moment, reading. Then like a man who had found gold in the city dump, I carried the book to a table. The lines rolled easily across the page, there was a flow. Each line had its own energy and was followed by another like it. The very substance of each line gave the page a form, a feeling of something carved into it. And here, at last, was a man who was not afraid of emotion. The humor and the pain were intermixed with a superb simplicity ... that book was a wild and enormous miracle to me."

John Fante died in 1983. Bukowski loved the book. But who else was reading it?

Robert Towne was. As in this - "In the Robert Towne-directed adaptation of John Fante's Depression Era novel, Hayek will play the fiery Mexican beauty Camilla who hopes to rise above her station by marrying a wealthy American. That is complicated by meeting Arturo Bandini (Farrell), a first-generation Italian hoping to land a writing career and a blue-eyed blonde on his arm." (A trailer for the movie is here.) That link, at the Internet Movie Database leads to only one comment, which offers this - " Relying on the powerful performances of his cast, the film depends mostly on the background of Los Angeles as the magnificent city of dreams and ambition where lonely souls collide day after day."

Yeah, yeah. Everyone says that. "Crash" won best picture this year.

But what about the book? How did this one become a movie?

In this industry town, the Los Angeles Times explains, but the item was not in the entertainment or business pages. David L. Ulin, book editor of the Times covered it this week in the Friday book column.

See An L.A. Story, And Its Author's Too - John Fante's 1939 novel revealed a city in survival mode, a fertile setting for a writer of a similar mind. - Los Angeles Times - March 10, 2006

There he calls the book one of the "ur-texts of Los Angeles literature" - after almost seventy years still offering "a vivid portrait of the city's life." He says it's seminal, framing a new sensibility, "by turns cynical and innocent, full of rage and hope and desperation, much like Los Angeles."

Of course it was published in 1939, the same year as Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep and Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust. It was a big year for cynicism.

Ulin quotes the opening line - "One night I was sitting on my bed in my hotel room on Bunker Hill down in the very middle of Los Angeles. It was an important night in my life, because I had to make a decision about the hotel. Either I paid up or I got out: that was what the note said, the note the landlady had put under my door. A great problem, deserving acute attention. I solved it by turning out the lights and going to bed."

Yep, this is a Los Angeles "in which glam and glitter are not just distant but nonexistent, and it is enough merely to survive."

It now an old theme. And here the hero "falls in love with a Mexican waitress, whom he can't have and (perhaps) doesn't really want. He is casually brutal, to her and to others, and yet his redemption lies in his ability to recognize - if not mitigate - this propensity within himself."

He's conflicted - he sees the 1933 Long Beach earthquake as divine retribution for his sins -
There is, of course, something solipsistic about reading a natural disaster through a personal filter, as if the Earth itself were little more than a megaphone for God. Yet paradoxically, this becomes one of the novel's charms, the unrelenting way Fante reveals Bandini, and, by extension, himself.

Whatever else "Ask the Dust" is, it is a piece of autobiographical fiction, the author's life transformed into myth. It is acri de Coeur, an expression of self in the face of indifference, the indifference of the world. For all Bandini's crowing ("Here I am, folks. Take a look at a great writer! Notice my eyes, folks. The eyes of a great writer. Notice my jaw, folks. The jaw of a great writer. Look at those hands, folks. The hands that created 'The Little Dog Laughed' and 'The Long Lost Hills' "), he is adrift in the universe, just like everyone.

"It crept upon me," Fante writes, "the restlessness, the loneliness ... the world seemed a myth, a transparent plane, and all things upon it were here for only a little while; all of us, Bandini, and Hackmuth and Camilla and Vera, all of us were here for a little while, and then we were somewhere else; we were not alive at all; we approached living, but we never achieved it. We were going to die. Everybody was going to die. Even you, Arturo, even you must die."

This is a universal moment in which the physical yields to the metaphysical and we stare down mortality as if it were the barrel of a gun.
My, it does sound like the flip side of Gatsby. But not on the north coast of Long Island with the mansions. And here we have a profoundly unsympathetic and self-absorbed hero, brutal and full of bluster. No Gatsby charm here. It's an LA thing.

Ulin doesn't think much of the film, as Fante, "is presenting us with a three-dimensional portrait, made all the more profound by his willingness to portray Bandini as unsympathetic and self-absorbed. Regrettably, it is precisely this quality that is missing from the film adaptation of the novel, in which writer-director Robert Towne backs away from Bandini's complex mix of arrogance and insecurity in favor of a lukewarm love story that sentimentalizes the character and his relationship with the waitress Camilla, one of the most scabrous affairs in literature."

Well, Hollywood is like that.

But what's with romanticizing the back end of town during the Great Depression? This film based on a minor novel was green-lighted by any number of marketing people, and funds were released for its production. These things cost real money. Someone decided people would pay to see a tale of someone self-absorbed and confused, with a pumped-up but shaky ego, trying to make sense of a world in economic ruin. And there's even a major earthquake. The marketing people must know something about the current zeitgeist. This is not a good sign.

Posted by Alan at 16:22 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 11 March 2006 16:31 PST home

Friday, 10 March 2006
The State of Play: Things Collapsing and the Old Woman Uses the D-Word
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

The State of Play: Things Collapsing and the Old Woman Uses the D-Word

Stormy sunset in Hollywood, Friday, March 10, 2006Friday, March 10th, as the sun sinks slowly in the west... well, on that particular day that didn't happen here in Los Angeles. Sure, the sun went down, but no one saw it. Dark clouds rolling in off the Pacific, rain on the way, shadowing a weekend of gloom - snow levels down to two thousand feet, just above Pasadena, warnings of mudslides where last year's fires stripped the hills, a cold wind from the north and, of course, the freeways perpetually jammed. All we need in an earthquake, but no one can yet predict those, so all we were told was that it would be a good weekend to stay home, or at least do something indoors. Snow had shut state Highway 58 through Tehachapi Friday morning - a potent Alaska storm blowing into the Los Angeles Basin - the California Highway Patrol closed the Grapevine, the high point of Interstate 5 leaving Los Angeles northward, early Friday morning - snow and hazardous conditions. They reopened it a few hours later. We're told Saturday will be the worst - but James DePreist conducts the LA Philharmonic in William Schuman's "New England Triptych" and Beethoven's "Emperor" piano concerto and Bartók's concerto for orchestra, down at Disney Hall in the afternoon, and in the evening Pharaoh Sanders will be down at the Jazz Bakery in Venice. Screw the beach.

Gloom. Seemed pervasive. Almost national.

This was the day after Dubai Ports World said they'd sell their management contacts for operations at six key US ports to "an American entity" - but no one knows who, and people are whispering Halliburton. After the 62-2 vote in the House Appropriations Committee to craft legislation blocking the deal and attach it to the bill funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and funding extra money for hurricane relief down New Orleans way, the hand-writing was on the wall. Something had to be done. The president said he would veto any bill to which they attached such a prohibition, and the Republican congress said something like "bring it on."

What's going on? Taylor Marsh here argues that while the Democrats been leading on the port issue from the start (really?) also this was "a head-on collision "between the president and "his rubber stamping subjects" - the Republicans who control Congress decided it was "more important to take cover" than back the boss. Still the idea is "collapse" really is the operative word on so many issues where the Republicans are involved - "while they've been kissing the king's ring, Democrats have taken the lead on national security. It's shaken the rubber stampers to their core."

Well, there has been a shift in something, maybe not a "collapse," but a change.

The White House is not happy, saying this sends the wrong message. We "need moderate" allies in the Arab world, like the United Arab Emirates, "to win the global war on terrorism."

Of course, we've befuddled and offended almost all our traditional allies. And the "coalition of the willing" always seemed a motley crew - the Brits, a few Italians and small contingents from Australia and Japan (no combat role for the Japanese as their constitution forbids it - only support and logistics), all the way down to a handful of folks from Fiji. The idea that the White House knows how to build effective alliances and, from their deep well of sage diplomatic comprehension, is lecturing congress on the niceties of the same is amusing, or something.

At the end of the week even the previously pro-Bush folks were sighing a strained "whatever." He can say anything he likes. They face voters in November, who, after being fed a four-year diet of we're-all-going-to-die scenarios of what would happen without George at the rudder, are saying this smells. The idea of a firm owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates managing the movement of cargo in and out of our ports just "feels" wrong. Hey, you play on their feelings, fear and anger, and what did you think the reaction to this would be?

"Trust me" - after the WMD weren't there (and after that joking skit about it at the Nation Press Club dinner where the president looked for them under pillows and behind curtains and got big laughs), after the admission that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the three-thousand dead at the World Trade Center and Pentagon, after the videotapes showing the president was warned about the drowning of New Orleans after he said he wasn't, after this, after that - feels a lots like Nixon in the seventies saying "I am not a crook." Sure, you want to trust your president. But you don't want to be jerked around. When someone with something to propose that seems a little odd is reduced to saying "trust me" and little more (maybe "it's kind of complicated and you probably don't have the real experience to understand the idea") you don't trust them. It's human nature. And when you've been burned before...

But it gets even more complicated. The president is "troubled" by what just happened. We could lose a key ally. We could lose jobs - they might not buy Boeing but go with Airbus and all that. A new round of trade talks between the United States and the United Arab Emirates was postponed. This was important!

But then ABC reports this - "The White House asked Dubai Ports World, a company owned by the United Arab Emirates, to give up its management stake in U.S. ports, to save President Bush from the politically difficult position of vetoing a key piece of legislation to protect America's ports..."

It seems Karl Rove had a heart-to heart with the president. Rove is, after all, the president's chief political advisor, and sometimes called Bush's Brain. (James Moore, the co-author of that book, is now on the federal 'no fly' list and thus no doing lectures, readings or book signing, except very locally, so you can trust Rove.) It is a solution of sorts.

But then which is it? This deal was important to the "war on terrorism" and important to the economy. So you call the long-time family friends who run the joint overt there and tell them to save your butt and pull out?

You want the terrorists to win? You want America to lose jobs?

This is a tad confusing. It just adds another subtle layer of skepticism to the multi-layered pervasive grumpiness of even your own supporters.

Not that it matters. Things are still bad.

Late Friday - House To Vote On Ports Despite Company Promise - they want to go on record saying this was astoundingly dumb idea and legislate that no foreign government own any company that manages the ports, or any key part of the country's infrastructure. They won't let it go.

And the week runs down to a Friday of bad news. New polls, AP-Ipsos here - "More and more people, particularly Republicans, disapprove of President Bush's performance, question his character and no longer consider him a strong leader against terrorism, according to an AP-Ipsos poll documenting one of the bleakest points of his presidency."

Approval rating at thirty-seven percent, the lowest of this presidency for this polling method - and thirty-six percent approval of the handling domestic stuff - and only forty-three percent approval on foreign policy and terrorism. Bummer.

And the Washington Post here chatted with Republicans running for office in November. They fear this president will be "more albatross than advantage." It's mostly the Dubai business and "a perception of weakness that has liberated Republicans who once would never have dared" to cross the White House. Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio said you have "no political capital" left. Bummer times two.

Business Week says here that the Dubai thing seems like "the thread that could unravel" everything on the agenda. They quote Frank Luntz, the hard-right polling guy even NBC fired to being too much of a Bush cheerleader saying this - "It's an electoral disaster. This is potent because it legitimizes all the Democratic attacks of the past three years that the President isn't paying attention." Bummer times three.

Ah, the Wall Street Journal wouldn't end the week with a downer, would they? Well, yes - this congress may start questioning the details of those requests for defense funding. "Deficit pressures, scandals involving defense contracts, congressional unease with administration bookkeeping for war costs" seem to have them spooked. That and the low poll numbers "are combining to end defense spending's status as the budget's sacred cow." Bummer times four.

Other business folks? Over at Bloomberg News there's this about "deteriorating relations" between the White House and "fellow Republicans," something abuut the Dubai business "underscoring a perception of incompetence stemming from the government's response to Hurricane Katrina." Even the strange senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum is quoted as saying that that the administration "didn't handle this very well." And he's not handling his own stuff that well himself. Bummer times five.

[Note: Tim Grieve at SALON.COM provided pointers to these items here in his "War Room" roundup. Highly recommended.]

What to do with all this gloom? Say strong leaders have deep convictions that aren't shaken by what anyone else thinks. That's what makes you so good at what you do. Reuters covers that here, but you had to see it on television to get a sense of the noble snarl that went with the words. "You see, a real leader..." Amazing.

One thinks of that quip from Mark Twain - "I am not one of those who in expressing opinions confine themselves to facts." Or this - "He speaks to the audience as if they're idiots. I think the reason he does that is because that's the way these issues were explained to him."

But maybe it's not just him. Thursday Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee. Iraq seem to be on the verge of, or in, a sectarian civil war, and, given that eighty percent of us think that is so, as the polls show, committee members pressed him again and again on what the plan is for dealing with that. Can a full-scale civil war be prevented somehow, and if not, as seems to be the case, what do we do - stand back, choose sides (which side and why>), get out, call in other Arab countries, protect what and abandon what? What is the plan? Rumsfeld - "The plan is to prevent a civil war, and to the extent one were to occur, to have the, from a security standpoint, have the Iraqi security forces deal with it to the extent they're able to."

That's it. Let them handle it. No big deal. It'll be fine. Or not. But it's not our problem, trust me. So he too speaks to the audience as if they're idiots.

Is anyone fed up with this? Note the letter here - a veteran turns in his medals -
... I return enclosed the symbols of my years of service: the shoulder boards of my rank and my Naval Aviator's wings.

Until your administration, I believed it was inconceivable that the United States would ever initiate an aggressive and preemptive war against a country that posed no threat to us. Until your administration, I thought it was impossible for our nation to take hundreds of persons into custody without provable charges of any kind, and to "disappear" them into holes like Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram. Until your administration, in my wildest legal fantasy I could not imagine a U.S. Attorney General seeking to justify torture or a President first stating his intent to veto an anti-torture law, and then adding a "signing statement" that he intends to ignore such law as he sees fit. I do not want these things done in my name.

As a citizen, a patriot, a parent and grandparent, a lawyer and law teacher I am left with such a feeling of loss and helplessness. I think of myself as a good American and I ask myself what can I do when I see the face of evil? Illegal and immoral war, torture and confinement for life without trial have never been part of our Constitutional tradition. But my vote has become meaningless because I live in a safe district drawn by your political party. My congressman is unresponsive to my concerns because his time is filled with lobbyists' largess. Protests are limited to your "free speech zones," out of sight of the parade. Even speaking openly is to risk being labeled un-American, pro-terrorist or anti-troops. And I am a disciplined pacifist, so any violent act is out of the question.

Nevertheless, to remain silent is to let you think I approve or support your actions. I do not. So, I am saddened to give up my wings and bars. They were hard won and my parents and wife were as proud as I was when I earned them over forty years ago. But I hate the torture and death you have caused more than I value their symbolism. Giving them up makes me cry for my beloved country.
But the lawyer and law teacher here knows this is pointless. And he didn't even mention this - "In the first action of its kind, a federal jury found Thursday that a private security company bilked the U.S.-led government in Iraq out of millions of dollars." Custer Battles - shell companies, fake invoices and stolen forklifts - it all adds up. And it'll cost them ten million now.

And the war goes on, as described by a visitor here in a quick email from Baghdad -
Getting here was far less complicated than I had imagined, but with 48 hours of life on the Tigris under my belt, I feel blessed with the marvelous array of experiences this city offers. Multiple encounters with white Toyota Landcruisers filled with black outfitted AK-47 totting Interior Ministry irregulars (a/k/a death squads), even more encounters with US and South African security contractors, which are even more threatening - each of these is enough to stop your heart. According to some here, the US contractors are the dumbest and the South Africans the meanest - what a hierarchy.

Today I witnessed - from a safe distance - my first car-bomb. Then went back to read reports of 13 judicially sanctioned executions, 32 extrajudicial killings discovered, 50 bodyguards taken hostage ... Westerners talk about their hotels not in terms of spa amenities and availability of Starbucks, but based on the number of blast walls between the building and the street. So imagine where on earth people would think the arrival of a massive sandstorm was a blessing. I was amused to see Condi and Rumsfeld on TV - carried live on a local TV feed. I watched it in a crowded lobby. I'll just say the reaction of those around me was derisive - no difference in that between the locals and the Americans, all of whom (except me and the journos) seem to be DOD contractors. Possibly they're even right about the use of the term "civil war." If that evokes memories of Spain in the 30's or America in the 1860's it would be misleading. What's going on here is something very different from that. It's more a communal disintegration. But 48 hours doesn't turn one into an expert.
The reaction of those around me was derisive? Must have been Rumsfeld explain how we'd handle a civil war there, if it ever came to that, which it won't.

Well, some may be derisive, but one White House aide told Jim Hoagland of the Post (here) that most people know we need one strong leader who is above the law and isn't afraid to do what's necessary - the NSA warrantless surveillance program, those torture-like Guantánamo things, the secret renditions. The public is with that concept -
The powers of the presidency have been eroded and usurped to the breaking point. We are engaged in a new kind of war that cannot be fought by old methods. It can only be directed by a strong executive who alone is not subject to the conflicting pressures that legislators or judges face. The public understands and supports that unpleasant reality, whatever the media and intellectuals say.
That might call for a bit more polling. Is that what we signed up for? Is that what we think is necessary? It'd be nice to know. But it is the working assumption.

But what about the old woman using the d-word, which would be, in this case, "dictatorship."

Some Cindy Sheehan wannabe nutcase? Not exactly. And she used the word at least twice.

This would be former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, life-long Republican, appointed to the court by Ronald Reagan. Now that's she no longer on the bench she can let her frustrations out, and she let it rip in speech at Georgetown University.

It was the lead Friday evening on MSNBC's Countdown, but seems to have not made too many waves. No transcript or audio or video, just what an NPR report heard as noted here (emphases added) -
Nina Totenberg: In an unusually forceful and forthright speech, O'Connor said that attacks on the judiciary by some Republican leaders pose a direct threat to our constitutional freedoms. O;Connor began by conceding that courts do have the power to make presidents or the Congress or governors, as she put it "really, really angry." But, she continued, if we don't make them mad some of the time we probably aren't doing our jobs as judges, and our effectiveness, she said, is premised on the notion that we won't be subject to retaliation for our judicial acts. The nation's founders wrote repeatedly, she said, that without an independent judiciary to protect individual rights from the other branches of government those rights and privileges would amount to nothing. But, said O'Connor, as the founding fathers knew statutes and constitutions don't protect judicial independence, people do.

And then she took aim at former House GOP leader Tom DeLay. She didn't name him, but she quoted his attacks on the courts at a meeting of the conservative Christian group Justice Sunday last year when DeLay took out after the courts for rulings on abortions, prayer and the Terri Schiavo case. This, said O'Connor, was after the federal courts had applied Congress' onetime only statute about Schiavo as it was written. Not, said O'Connor, as the congressman might have wished it were written. This response to this flagrant display of judicial restraint, said O'Connor, her voice dripping with sarcasm, was that the congressman blasted the courts.

It gets worse, she said, noting that death threats against judges are increasing. It doesn't help, she said, when a high-profile senator suggests there may be a connection between violence against judges and decisions that the senator disagrees with. She didn't name him, but it was Texas senator John Cornyn who made that statement, after a Georgia judge was murdered in the courtroom and the family of a federal judge in Illinois murdered in the judge's home. O'Connor observed that there have been a lot of suggestions lately for so-called judicial reforms, recommendations for the massive impeachment of judges, stripping the courts of jurisdiction and cutting judicial budgets to punish offending judges. Any of these might be debatable, she said, as long as they are not retaliation for decisions that political leaders disagree with.

I, said O'Connor, am against judicial reforms driven by nakedly partisan reasoning. Pointing to the experiences of developing countries and former communist countries where interference with an independent judiciary has allowed dictatorship to flourish, O'Connor said we must be ever-vigilant against those who would strongarm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies. It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, she said, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.
What was that about? NBC reports that at the Friday big Republican meeting in Memphis, when asked, the eight who would be president in 2008 generally said this was silly - she's retired and no one now cares a bit what she thinks.

Kerry was "swift-boated" and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was just "Sheehaned."

It's just an odd warning to add to the end-of-week gloom.

Oh yes, minor gloom at the end of the week. The Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton, resigned. What?

She told the Denver Post here there aren't any problems - she just wants to "go home for a while." The Rocky Mountain News here says her name had come up in the Jack Abramoff business. MSNBC here says he sent money her way to get the right things for his clients.

From the Denver Post -
Norton cleared her top deputy, former lobbyist J. Steven Griles, after her inspector general said his conduct showed that the department's ethics system was "a train wreck waiting to happen." Griles is now under investigation for allegations that he did the bidding of convicted Indian casino lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Norton is still supporting him.
And this -
Abramoff's tribal clients donated $50,000 to a conservative environmental group founded by Norton, hoping to win face time with the Secretary. They eventually did.

Former DeLay deputy chief of staff Tony Rudy helped Abramoff arrange a meeting with Norton, and within months, the lobbyist's clients were making huge contributions to the environmental group Norton started, the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy.

Norton's BLM director Kathleen Clarke remained after apparently violating her recusals from a Utah land-swap that investigators said would have shortchanged the federal government. Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said the deal involved a "jaw-dropping ... apparent cover-up" within Norton's department.
AP and Reuters are digging deeper. Next week should be interesting. She did so want to open up that Alaska wilderness land to oil drilling, as she had been a lobbyist for the oil and mining industries for a all those years. She got tangled up with Jack. Oh well.

Even more minor but gloom still?

There's this -
When Claude Allen, President Bush's longtime domestic-policy adviser, resigned suddenly on Feb. 9, it baffled administration critics and fans. The White House claimed that Allen was leaving to spend more time with his family, while the Washington Times speculated that the 45-year-old aide, a noted social conservative, might have quit to protest a new Pentagon policy about military chaplains. Allen himself never publicly explained the reason for his departure.

News today may shed light on the mystery of Allen's resignation. According to the Montgomery County Police Department, Allen was arrested yesterday and charged in a felony theft and a felony theft scheme. According to a department press release, Allen conducted approximately 25 fraudulent "refunds" in Target and Hecht's stores in Maryland. On Jan. 2, a Target employee apprehended Allen after observing him receive a refund for merchandise he had not purchased. Target then contacted the Montgomery County Police. According to a source familiar with the case, Target and the police had been observing Allen since October 2005.

Allen is charged with practicing a form of shoplifting called "refund fraud."
Target? Shoplifting? The man who led the government effort to replace science-based sex education with teaching that only abstinence prevents AIDS? That guy? The former aid to Senator Jesse Helms, both of who just hate gay folks? The guy who opposed health insurance for children of the working poor because the program involved covered abortion services for rape and incest victims under the age of eighteen? (Details here.) Yep, that guy.

Even more minor but gloom still?

There's also this -
Faith Hill and Tim McGraw - two stars who usually stay out of politics - blasted the Hurricane Katrina cleanup effort, with Hill calling the slow progress in Louisiana and Mississippi "embarrassing" and "humiliating."

The country music artists - who are natives of the storm-ravaged states - were at times close to tears, and clearly angry when the subject of Katrina came up during a news conference today. They had met with reporters in Nashville to promote their upcoming Soul2Soul II Tour, but when asked about the hurricane cleanup, the stars pulled no punches.

"To me, there's a lot of politics being played and a lot of people trying to put people in bad positions in order to further their agendas," McGraw, a 38-year-old native of Delhi, La., said after ABC News Radio's Dan Gordon asked about Katrina.

"When you have people dying because they're poor and black or poor and white, or because of whatever they are - if that's a number on a political scale - then that is the most wrong thing. That erases everything that's great about our country."

McGraw specifically criticized President Bush. "There's no reason why someone can't go down there who's supposed to be the leader of the free world ... and say, 'I'm giving you a job to do and I'm not leaving here until it's done. And you're held accountable, and you're held accountable, and you're held accountable.

"'This is what I've given you to do, and if it's not done by the time I get back on my plane, then you're fired and someone else will be in your place...'"

Hill, who grew up in Jackson, Miss., echoed those sentiments. So overwhelmed, she uncharacteristically unleashed an epithet, calling the situation, "Bull[shit]."

"It is a huge, huge problem and it's embarrassing," she said.

"I fear for our country if we can't handle our people [during] a natural disaster. And I can't stand to see it. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out point A to point B. . . . And they can't even skip from point A to point B. "It's just screwed up."
It's no longer the Dixie Chicks. Damn. Lost the Country and Western idols. Bummer.

Host and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough on MSNBC as the week ended - "The lack of leadership in Washington, D.C., is sickening. If you look at what Republicans did-promised to do in 1994, when they took control of Congress, and see how they've been acting over the past three or four years, the biggest debt and deficit ever. They are irresponsible and reckless on so many levels. I'm embarrassed right now to be a Republican. It's a disgrace because of the lack of leadership."

There's a link to the transcript and video here. Bummer.

Paul Krugman in the Friday New York Times here on such things -
Never mind; better late than never. We should welcome the recent epiphanies by conservative commentators who have finally realized that the Bush administration isn't trustworthy. But we should guard against a conventional wisdom that seems to be taking hold in some quarters, which says there's something praiseworthy about having initially been taken in by Mr. Bush's deceptions, even though the administration's mendacity was obvious from the beginning.

According to this view, if you're a former Bush supporter who now says, as Mr. Bartlett did at the Cato event, that "the administration lies about budget numbers," you're a brave truth-teller. But if you've been saying that since the early days of the Bush administration, you were unpleasantly shrill.

Similarly, if you're a former worshipful admirer of George W. Bush who now says, as Mr. Sullivan did at Cato, that "the people in this administration have no principles," you're taking a courageous stand. If you said the same thing back when Mr. Bush had an 80 percent approval rating, you were blinded by Bush-hatred.

And if you're a former hawk who now concedes that the administration exaggerated the threat from Iraq, you're to be applauded for your open-mindedness. But if you warned three years ago that the administration was hyping the case for war, you were a conspiracy theorist.

The truth is that everything the new wave of Bush critics has to say was obvious long ago to any commentator who was willing to look at the facts.
But as he said, better late than never.

Friday the 10th was gloomy in Los Angeles. It looks like a gloomy weekend. It must be gloomy in DC too.

Stormy sunset in Hollywood, Friday, March 10, 2006

Posted by Alan at 22:14 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 10 March 2006 22:18 PST home

Thursday, 9 March 2006
Our Man in Paris: What's LA Smell?

Our Man in Paris: What's LA Smell?
Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, attends the opening of "Los Angeles 1955-1985" at the Pompidou Center in, of course, Paris. Three more of Ric's photos follow the text, and some items from the Los Angeles Times on the show. This is the week Los Angeles made the big time, or something. The original text of this item can be found at MetropoleParis here in a quite different format.

Rainy Paris street, Wednesday, March 8, 2006What's LA Smell?

Paris, Wednesday, March 8 - Did I say it is raining? Before I went out I popped an eye out the window to see if the windshield wipers were wiping on the cars swimming past down below. If they were not, it was not raining. But we are having changeable weather and by the time I arrived on the sidewalk it was raining. At the corner of the building it was like a North Sea gale.

I wouldn't try to say it never rains in Paris, but for the past dozen years it hasn't rained much. This year seems to be trying to catch up, possibly because of the drought. Next thing you know we will be having the flood of the century. If it wasn't for the rain and the snow in the far off Alps, we'd be aces.

Anyway, while it was raining I hopped on the Métro and rode through dry tunnels down to Les Halles, where I realized that I'd made a mistake. Les Halles in rush hour is always a mistake. By the time I got out of that jam I knew I should have got off one stop before, at Chatelet, and walked the extra block. As it was I walked two extra blocks underground in le maze des Halles.

Then it was, still raining, as I skipped over to, head down, to the Pompidou culture factory to see the Los Angeles exhibition that had its opening night free drinks binge Tuesday. I was on this case in January when Gary De la Rosa was here for his annual forget-LA visit, and Tomoko sent me an email yesterday saying he's back, and the plan was to meet in the Pompidou, and there I was, damp but on time.

The Pompidou is a big thing. I didn't know where I was supposed to meet Tomoko and Gary, with his free tickets, so I bought a ticket at full price because I forgot to take the welfare card I don't have, and there's no discount for beauty or age. Going in I got all three ticket-takers to electro-flash the ticket, but it blew no gaskets.

Then I took the escalator to the 6th floor. It is actually about a dozen escalators and it takes about two days but there's was fine view of a soaking Paris, gray and fleeting golden with rain, Tour Eiffel stabbing the horizon, take a photo, buy a postcard. There are other sights to see and it's worth the admission price, since the lookout on top of Samaritaine closed. [Editor's Note - see Ric's photo coverage of that in these pages in Taps for Samaritaine, July 12, 2005.]

I found the LA expo at the end of a long corridor, and then Tomoko found me, and asked, "Where's Gary?" for not the first time this year. She also got in for free because she brought her welfare card. We flashed our tickets at the flasheuse and trawled the exhibition.

This went along fine until I decided to ask if I could take some photos to go along with this piece. There are royalties concerned, the museum might want to collect something, the artists certainly, and most important, never on the 'Net, the short answer was 'non.' As the conversation moved into its 2nd hour and displaced from inside to the entry, Tomoko came past, saying she was going to park herself someplace.

In the entry I took the only legal photo. Then Gary arrived, with one of my club members who is not Tomoko but Linda. Gary said he arrived from Los Angeles Tuesday night, with a pass to the drinks uproar, but they wouldn't let him in because it was past his bedtime. He put up a fuss, for an hour - honest - he told me! - then he was overcome with jetlag.

I started with the expo again. Gary had to read all the little tickets on everything so I quickly got ahead of him. The expo is called 'Los Angeles 1955-1985, etc etc.' I began to realize it is really different. LA is something smelly. There was this thing of Ketchup bottles, blood, black gunk. I thought, maybe it's ripe.

Another sign said, "NAHSBOF," which is a new word for 'sneeze' in German. There were fine photos, like the one for the poster all over Paris, shot by Dennis Hopper in 1961. Further on, after much other odd stuff, another message said, "A hell if there ever was one," attributed to Alexis Smith, in 1982. Art in LA has the talkies.

My day, rain and all, was made complete by the fine piece that was a chicken in a small but elaborate coffin, titled 'Blink's Coffin.' Nearby there was a map showing the location of Blink's coffin in the LA cemetery. For fans of French the translation was not a big hurdle, with La version originale de Blinky le poulet sympa, 1978.

This reminded me that it was news time, which meant that I was hungry. Outside it having become night, wet, slick, glistening, and the yellow lights were lit and glittering in the puddles. I skipped Les Halles and caught the Métro at Chatelet's Opportune hole, the underground looking grimly like St. Pauli on a wet day in Hamburg.

This LA show - is worth a visit, if you like strange stuff than smells, and it continues until July 17, which is a Monday I bet. Open from 11am to 9pm daily except Tuesdays, and on Thursdays late until 11pm. At the Centre Georges Pompidou, Place Georges Pompidou, Paris 4. Métro: Rambuteau. InfoTel.: 01 44 78 12 33.

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... but there's was fine view of a soaking Paris, gray and fleeting golden with rain, Tour Eiffel stabbing the horizon, take a photo, buy a postcard.

The Eiffel Tower from the Pompidou Center in Paris, Wednesday, March 8, 2006

















In the entry I took the only legal photo...

The opening of the opening of 'Los Angeles 1955-1985 at the Pompidou Center in Paris, Wednesday, March 8, 2006

















Did I say it is raining?

Rain seen from the top floors of the Pompidou Center in Paris, Wednesday, March 8, 2006

















Photos and Text, Copyright © 2006 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

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The Local Review

Angels in the City of Light
Los Angeles artists find a like-minded audience in Paris as their work is chronicled in a major show at the Pompidou.
Geraldine Baum - Los Angeles Times - March 10, 2006
PARIS - There are probably no two cities with less in common than Paris and Los Angeles. But in spite of that, and perhaps because of it, Parisians this week embraced with a passion - yes, with a kiss on each cheek! - a generation of Los Angeles artists and their work.

The French turned out by the thousands in a cold rain for the opening night of a new exhibition, "Los Angeles 1955-85," at the Centre Pompidou. They were fawning and gushing even as they admitted they knew little of the place that produced the artists and their creations.

"I love it," said Valentine Gautier, a young Frenchwoman, as she listened to an older African American poet in the packed first gallery of the Pompidou. Wanda Coleman, the noted L.A. poet, had spontaneously broken into verse as she stood in front of Ed Kienholz's brutal assemblage about abortion, "The Illegal Operation." The French stood in rapt attention, listening earnestly as Coleman's warrior voice boomed...
And so on and so forth.

Ric's comment -
On a rainy night, the night following the vernissage, Wednesday to be precise - there were hardly 'thousands' ogling the LA exhibit. There was no line, no waiting, and it was easy to circulate within the expo.

If I were to say how it struck me, I'd say LA as presented by these artists, is a small, self-conscious burg. Little folks doing their little LA things. This is not to say that many pieces were not amusing - a good sign - they don't take themselves too seriously - but there were not, unless I overlooked them somehow - there were no big pieces, no grand visions. A room-sized white panel fringed with blue neon was hardly engrossing or thought-provoking. Where the hell is Ed Roth?

What Gary wanted, tried to make happen - show the barrio artists, your taggers, the wild hombres with the pure colors, the sultry senoritas with the red fingernails - nowhere, not to be seen in this LA show. Maybe Gary will get his homies together; it will take some time - but they are already booked for Madrid.
From the Times -
Elisabeth Lebovici, art critic for the newspaper Libération, said it will be an effort to get the French from A to Z because they simply don't know L.A.'s history. "There are beautiful pieces, but it's odd to see so much about a place I know so little about." She had just perused works that made reference to the Watts riots. "I heard about those Berkeley riots," she said, confusing her California towns, "but I can't tell you anything about them.

"For me," Lebovici added, "this is like going to the Louvre of L.A."
Whatever.

From the Los Angeles Times, February 25, 2006 -
In an official expression of support for the arts, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa held a media conference Friday at the Caltrans downtown headquarters to celebrate landmark exhibitions of Los Angeles contemporary art and architecture coming soon to Paris.

"Los Angeles 1955-1985," featuring about 350 works by 87 artists, and "Morphosis," exploring a prominent architectural firm's work, will open March 8 at France's Pompidou Center.

"This is a transformational milestone that will establish Los Angeles as a leading artistic and cultural capital," Villaraigosa told an audience of artists and representatives from museums and art schools. "Los Angeles" will track the art scene's coming-of-age in a sprawling survey. "Morphosis" - to appear at L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art in 2007 - will present recent projects of the group whose founder, Thom Mayne, won the 2005 Pritzker Prize and designed the Caltrans building.

As the media conference evolved into an L.A.-Paris love fest, Scott Stover, head of the Pompidou Foundation, announced plans to base the support group's American branch in Los Angeles.
See also -

L.A.'s so aujourd'hui
Paris puts up 30 years of Southern California art history - or at least one interpretation.
Suzanne Muchnic - Los Angeles Times - February 26, 2006


Posted by Alan at 19:21 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 10 March 2006 10:36 PST home

Wednesday, 8 March 2006
Edgy Times (kind of like the seventies)
Topic: Making Use of History

Edgy Times (kind of like the seventies)

Are there periods of relative calm in public life, and other times that are just edgy - when things seems to be spinning out of control? Or are all times edgy, and looking back from a safe distance of a few years takes the edge, or edges, or edginess, off some seemingly crucial events, while the actually crucial events only become obvious by contrast? Driving up the mountains above Asheville in western North Carolina and hearing the news, back in Watergate days, late October 1973, that Nixon had told the Justice Department to fire Archibald Cox and no one would do that, and Elliot Richardson resigned as he just wouldn't do it, then his second in command did the same, and finally Robert Bork did the deed - the Saturday Night Massacre as they called it - well, that seemed a big deal even as it happened, a sure sign things were spinning out of control. The world seemed odd at that time - Nixon had been to China the previous year and surprised everyone, and a two years earlier those students had been gunned down at Kent State. We lived in the world of big events, and 1973 was a pip - OPEC doubled the price of oil and we waited in line for hours to fill the tank, an October war in Israel (Egypt and Syria attacked Israel and got creamed), Allende assassinated in Chile, the Roe v Wade decision, Spiro Agnew resigning. Interesting times. The American Indian Movement (AIM) seized Wounded Knee in South Dakota. And the Sidney opera house opened, and they finished the Sears Tower in Chicago. Quite a year.

Then there was Ford, then Carter, then Reagan, the first Bush, then Clinton - and those years had their big events of course, the first Gulf War, but somehow those years seem, in retrospect, not quite as dramatic somehow. Carter fighting off the killer rabbit, Reagan claiming he ended the cold war all by himself, and his wacky Star Wars plan, and then the Bill and Monica scandal just don't cut it.

But we finally got someone to shake things up in the old Nixon style. We got someone in the White House, who, once again, seems to get a kick out of shaking things up - kicking things down, breaking all the rules or simply ignoring them, shaking up the world order just to see what will happen, maybe something good. You never know. We've waged our first elective war, justifying it with evidence no one in the world much believed and which turned out to be false, we occupy a foreign country the we cannot seem to reassemble to our liking, the economy is now run on loans from foreign countries and we care barely service the interest on the bonds, the rich get tax breaks and the poor and unlucky get reductions in aid, we lose a major city to a hurricane and nothing much is being rebuilt, and the president's legal team says he really don't have to follow the law - the courts now have no jurisdiction there and whatever laws the congress passes or checks it tries are, well, just plain unconstitutional. It's like old times.

Or maybe year or two from now this will all seem minor stuff, as the Brits say, small beer. But maybe not.

What probably started this "let's kick open the hornets' nest and see what happens" way of running the government was a "big concept" thing, when the president, after the events of September 2001 in New York and Washington, laid it all out. There was an "axis of evil" - and we were the center of good - godly, wronged, and angry. You were either with us or against us. And we, representing "the good" (it wasn't anyone else, except maybe the Brits - or maybe just Tony Blair - and most certainly not France), were here on earth to fight "evil" - and we'd do that by making selected counties into democracies with free-market unregulated economies, even if it took war to do that, and even if they ended up resisting us after we arrived. Things would change. The world would be transformed.

Most of the world was at best befuddled by all this, and many appalled, and those asked to declare whether they were evil or good, one or the other, right now, resentful if not angry. But we had a mission.

Watching the speech where this was laid out before us as our new national purpose was a 1973 moment. Something had shifted, big time. Bush will not go down in history as a caretaker president. He gets points for changing everything - if you get points for any big change, whether or not it's brilliant or boneheaded, as long as it's a change. Future historians can do that assessment.

But how is this all going? All we have are "spots in time" - not any long view.

The spot to consider is Wednesday, March 8, 2006.

We Fight the Axis Powers

As mentioned in these pages last week (here) the conservative commentator George Will finally, like William F. Buckley and Francis Fukuyama the same week, said the three countries in the president's axis of evil were cleary "more dangerous than they were when that phrase was coined in 2002." The backers of the "big concept" were abandoning the concept. It was a stupid idea, really. Oops.

And on the "spot in time" considered here the evidence is becoming clearer. Iran warned that it will cause the United States "harm and pain" if we succeed in winning sanctions against the country for its nuclear program. (Details here.) But what alternative do we have? Our whole military is a bit busy. Diplomacy is it. Of course Vice President Cheney is saying we really could blow up all their nuclear facilities, and just might, and might get rid of their government if they tick us off any more than they already have (details here) - but who believes him? Bluster. If we had the resources and the will to do that, which we don't, the diplomatic blowback would be messy and a regional war likely, and the majority of the folks stateside think the war to get the guy who was behind 9/11 and who had those WMD to set up a model Jeffersonian Wal-Mart democracy in Iraq was a really, really, really bad idea. Bu then the same day here we see even diplomacy, those Security Council sanctions, is a dead end - one of the permanent members of the Security Council, Russia, says no sanctions, no nothing. They'll veto any of that. This "spot in time" is a disaster, a stop-dead problem with no solution.

The same day North Korea test fired two short-range missiles - a test of its own nuclear program. We see here White House press secretary Scott McClellan saying these tests confirm that North Korea's missile program is "a concern that poses a threat to the region and the larger international community." So those six-country talks to stop the country's nuclear program that stalled out a long time ago need to start up again. We still won't talk to them one-on-one. That would reward bad behavior and all that. What else can we do? Right.

As for Iraq, Associated Press here has the summary for this spot in time. Our ambassador there says we've open a "Pandora's box" - we removed the repressive monster who held the place together through fear and murder, and now the Sunnis are fighting the Shiites openly, private armies are at each other and you've got your al Qaeda operatives blowing things up to make things even worse. And here William Odom, director of the National Security Agency under Reagan, says Iraq may end up looking like Vietnam. But then, really, it's actually worse this time around - "Vietnam did not have the devastating effects on US power that Iraq is already having."

Ah, that's all general stuff. What about specifics of the day?

There's this in the Washington Post -
The bodies of 23 men who had been strangled or shot were found in two locations in Baghdad Wednesday morning, with 18 discovered aboard an abandoned bus in a predominantly Sunni area of the capital, police and the U.S. military said... The discovery of executed people - sometimes from an entire family, often with their hands bound, their mouths gagged and shot in the head - has become commonplace.
Commonplace? Could this be so? It depends on who you believe.

In the Post elsewhere the same day there's this -
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld today presented an upbeat report of the conflict in Iraq and said he agrees with the commander of the U.S.-led coalition, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., that the news media has exaggerated the number of civilian casualties in the conflict.
It's not all that bad, you see.

And late in the day AP ran this -
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Gunmen wearing commando uniforms of the Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry on Wednesday stormed an Iraqi security company that relied heavily on Sunni ex-military men from the Saddam regime, spiriting away 50 hostages. The ministry denied involvement and called the operation a "terrorist act." ...
Just another day, or special "spot in time?" Who knows?

As for this new national purpose, our mission, the day too brought unwelcome ambiguity as, late in the evening, there was this - US To Hand Over Detainees Despite Torture Concerns (Reuters) -
Despite accusing countries such as Jordan and Egypt on Wednesday of torturing detainees, the United States said it will keep sending suspected militants to foreign prisons if governments pledge not to abuse them.

Human rights groups said the policy was illegal because the United States could have little faith in the governments' promises and knew there was a high risk of torture, especially after detailing widespread prisoner abuse in an annual report.

They also said U.S. credibility in criticizing human rights abuses was damaged because the report highlighted incommunicado detentions abroad without acknowledging Washington also uses the illegal practice in its war on terror.

In Jordan, detainees were beaten, deprived of sleep and left hanging in the air, and, in Egypt, there were many credible allegations of security forces abusing prisoners last year, the State Department said in a worldwide evaluation of rights abuses.

But Washington, which sometimes captures terrorism suspects abroad and sends them to prisons in their native countries, only does so after winning assurances they will not be abused, the report's main author, Assistant Secretary of State Barry Lowenkron, said.

"We do not send detainees to countries if we believe that they will be subjected to torture," he said. "If we get the guarantees that they will not be mistreated, they go home."
There are more details at the link, but you get the idea. We know these countries torture prisoners, but we'll send folks there, because they say, this time, they won't. What's the problem? Don't you trust them? Don't you trust us?

The trust thing has become more of a problem. They don't get it.

Diversions or Big Deals?

This new national purpose, our mission, may not be the big news. The congress has is busy on other things - blocking any hearings into the administration secretly spying on citizens here at home without warrants (here), and deciding if the folks from Dubai are harmless or not (here). Those may be big stories. They may be secondary. Looking back on the day several decades from now will make it possible to determine which it is. Hard to tell.

The president? Well, after the AP got hold of those videotapes where he was told New Orleans was going under when he later said no one told him, it was time to ignore the Axis of Evil and how all that was going and do a visit. So he did. AFP runs this - Bush Urges Congress To Act On New Orleans Aid. The headline is fine. He said that. Fox, CNN and MSNBC carried the New Orleans speech live. AFP doesn't capture the tone. He was saying none of this was his fault. Congress is letting everyone down, not him. Yep, nothing much is fixed and not much panned. But it's not his fault. He cares. You just can't trust the congress to care about the American people like he cares. He was really flogging that. It's a hard sell these days.

But he has a plan. He just issued an Executive Order, a shiny and glittering new one, directing the Department of Homeland Security to establish program to get Faith-Based church folks to do the planning and coordinating of disaster relief. It's pretty much saying that if no one trusts him or FEMA or Homeland Security when terrible things happen, and if, as he says, congress is useless, well then fine - the churches really should do what used to be expected of the government. You know countries run by clerics are more responsible and effective, and more caring, than those run by elected officials.

Supply your own sarcastic comment here, and mention Iran and the mullahs. Or read The Church of The Flying Spaghetti Monster Will Save You From Terrorist Attack.

Ah well, they are managing to keep the economy sputtering along, and some folks are doing well. It's sort of under control, except for this - "The Treasury Department has started drawing from the civil service pension fund to avoid hitting the $8.2 trillion national debt limit. The move to tap the pension fund follows last month's decision to suspend investments in a retirement savings plan held by government employees."

The future will take care of itself? Use the funds today? Maybe these folks won't live long enough to draw pensions or retirement. Think positive. The invisible hand will fix everything.

Actually, looking back on this one day from decades in the future, that may be the big story, as they then try to figure out how it came to breadlines and people starving in the streets and America as a third-world nation.

Or late in the day will this be the big story historians note as a turning point? Defying Bush, House Panel Votes to Block Port Deal - "The House Appropriations Committee defied President Bush this evening, voting overwhelmingly to scuttle a deal giving a Dubai company control of some major seaport operations without awaiting the outcome of a 45-day review of potential security risks."

The vote was sixty something to two. This is the day he lost his ability to govern? Could be. But it's too soon to tell. He may pull some rabbit out of his hat to make this work. On the other hand, Harriet Miers. He had to have her bow out.

Oh heck. It's just a blip. And second one, but he'll be fine. Historians will ignore it.

The day also gave us what could be a big story - the publication of the Vanity Fair piece on Jack Abramoff here (PDF format) a series of interviews with David Margolick. Abramoff says just who was on the take, accepting bribes for voting as instructed. And all those Republican who said the never met him, or hardly knew him? He covers that.
On President Bush: President Bush, who claims not to remember having his picture taken with Abramoff. According to Abramoff, at one time, the president joked with Abramoff about his weight lifting past: "What are you benching, buff guy?"

On former Rove deputy Ken Mehlman: According to documents obtained by Vanity Fair, Mehlman exchanged email with Abramoff, and did him political favors (such as preventing Clinton administration alumnus Allen Stayman from keeping a State Department job), had Sabbath dinner at Abramoff's house, and offered to pick up Abramoff's tab at Signatures, Abramoff's own restaurant.

Tom DeLay: Abramoff has "admired Tom DeLay and his family from the first meeting with him," he tells Margolick. "We would sit and talk about the Bible. We would sit and talk about opera. We would sit and talk about golf," Abramoff recalls. "I mean, we talked about philosophy and politics."

On Newt Gingrich: Newt Gingrich, whose spokesman Rick Tyler tells Margolick that "Before [Abramoff's] picture appeared on TV and in the newspapers, Newt wouldn't have known him if he fell across him. He hadn't seen him in 10 years." Abramoff says "I have more pictures of [Newt] than I have of my wife."
And so on and so forth - "You're really no one in this town unless you haven't met me."

Opera and the Bible? Curious.

Well, it's not the Pentagon Papers. It's not the damning Nixon tapes that forced Nixon from office. This decade's equivalent? We shall see.

But somehow it's like old times.

Posted by Alan at 23:12 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 8 March 2006 23:26 PST home

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