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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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Sunday, 9 April 2006
Hot of the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements

Hot of the Virtual Press

Just Above Sunset logoThe new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is parent to this daily web log, is now online. This is Volume 4, Number 15 for the week of April 9, 2006.

This week it's six and six, and two more, and two extras. That is, six extended commentaries on current events, six pages filled with high-resolution photography, along with the weekly news of the weird and odd quotes, and something extra - links to two external pages of additional photographs.

The current events items cover the death penalty for the man who will die for what he didn't say that would have maybe caused things that didn't happen, the fall of that odd master politician from Texas that was the surprise early in the week, a mediation on the relationship of a form of drama known as farce to political events (the leak business and the immigration mess in the Senate), a discussion, a wide-ranging review of public nastiness and deceit, a column on the news items that didn't make it to the front pages, but may have been more important than what did, and this weekend breaking stories about our plans to nuke that bad guys, maybe.

The photography is Hollywood and more - images of the core of Hollywood where two major studios meet, and of a place called Hollywood Forever where the famous rest forever, a bit of illustrated history regarding the days when the labor wars meant blowing up buildings, a visual notes on the heart of Rock and Rock, Laurel Canyon, in the rain, and then the extra stuff - a Buddha and botanicals. It's been a busy week.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________

Fantasy and Avoidance
Instant Oblivion, Texas Style
Farce
Hypocrites, Thugs and the Ineffectual
Decisions: All the News That Fits, and Doesn't
Necessity: Sometimes You Have To Do What You Have To Do

Southern California Photography ______________________

Fan Stuff: The Movie Industry in One Block - Melrose at Bronson
Morbid Hollywood
History: The Labor Movement in Images
Laurel Canyon: Rock's Answer to Jazz Age Paris, in the Rain
Far East
Botanicals

The Weird: WEIRD, BIZARRE and UNUSUAL

Quotes for the week of April 9, 2006 - Illusions

Extra - At the daily Just Above Sunset Photography - ______________________

Getting Along (Life in Los Angeles)
Movie References: Superman in Southern California

Posted by Alan at 08:14 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Saturday, 8 April 2006
Necessity: Sometimes You Have To Do What You Have To Do
Topic: Local Issues

Necessity: Sometimes You Have To Do What You Have To Do

"I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there. In the fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there. In her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits, aflame with righteousness, did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great." - Alexis de Tocqueville

"Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks." - General "Buck" Turgidson (George C. Scott) in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

__

Saturday, April 8th, after the week's news cycle closed and the cable news networks went into "features" mode - Whatever will we do about our children and the perverts prowling MySpace?) - and as congress had gone home for two weeks of rest after doing not much of anything - no immigration reform bill in the Senate and no budget approved in the House - and as political junkies and policy wonks had settled down to watch a little baseball, or the Masters golf thing, or just decided to wash the car - a few things were being posted on the net by major publications, prior to their distribution on actual paper early Monday, for those who get their information the quaint way, by reading it on the printed page. The next week's news cycle begins sometime after midnight Monday, as everyone gets to play.

But times change and sometimes what will appear in print later raises some eyebrows as it hits the web.

There was a little item on the AFP wire that was one of those things that had some, those not following baseball or golf or washing the car, think something was up -
The administration of President George W. Bush is planning a massive bombing campaign against Iran, including use of bunker-buster nuclear bombs to destroy a key Iranian suspected nuclear weapons facility, The New Yorker magazine has reported in its April 17 issue.

The article by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh said that Bush and others in the White House have come to view Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a potential Adolf Hitler.

"That's the name they're using," the report quoted a former senior intelligence official as saying.

A senior unnamed Pentagon adviser is quoted in the article as saying that "this White House believes that the only way to solve the problem is to change the power structure in Iran, and that means war."

... The former intelligence officials depict planning as "enormous," "hectic" and "operational," Hersh writes.

... In recent weeks, the president has quietly initiated a series of talks on plans for Iran with a few key senators and members of the House of Representatives, including at least one Democrat, the report said.
Say what? You had to be paying attention. Wayne White, the former deputy director at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, had, a few days earlier, mentioned something - "In recent months I have grown increasingly concerned that the administration has been giving thought to a heavy dose of air strikes against Iran's nuclear sector without giving enough weight to the possible ramifications of such action."

But he didn't mention nukes. And there was, as noted elsewhere in the pages, Joseph Cirincione in Foreign Policy saying a whole bunch senior administration officials had made up their minds - we were going to war again, at least if you call bombing without the massive invasion part going to war.

But he didn't mention nukes either. That's what Seymour Hersh does here in the as yet to be distributed new issue of the New Yorker - we will bomb Iran, and we will use nukes. Maybe. It could be a disinformation plan - get a whole bunch of top guys to tell Hersh, off the record, that we're going to do this, and Iran will back down. Hersh does dig up the dirt and get things right. It'll scare them. They'll back down. So maybe Hersh is being used.

Or maybe not.

But there is an operational theory behind just doing it. It seems the military planning "was premised" on a belief that "a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government."

As theories go, that one is might seem to some to be a tad optimistic - humiliate their leaders with big explosions and nuclear fallout and the grateful masses will take over the joint and thank us. That might be a possible outcome. You never know. The people of Iraq don't seem particularly grateful at the moment, but then this could be different.

As for the details of the scheme, AFP reports this -
One of the options under consideration involves the possible use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, to insure the destruction of Iran's main centrifuge plant at Natanz, Hersh writes.

But the former senior intelligence official said the attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings inside the military, and some officers have talked about resigning after an attempt to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans in Iran failed, according to the report.

"There are very strong sentiments within the military against brandishing nuclear weapons against other countries," the magazine quotes the Pentagon adviser as saying.

The adviser warned that bombing Iran could provoke "a chain reaction" of attacks on American facilities and citizens throughout the world and might also reignite Hezbollah.

"If we go, the southern half of Iraq will light up like a candle," the adviser is quoted as telling The New Yorker.
Let's see, top military dudes argue that if we bomb we don't use nukes, they are told they're wrong, the decision has been made, and some are ready to resign as this seems beyond stupid. Someone says there could be a "a chain reaction" of terrorist attacks worldwide against anything American, and the south of Iraq will be a flooded with the Iranian Army and more newly enraged Shiites out to kills our guys. But that's shot down. That's negative thinking?

Digby at Hullabaloo here comments that this was pretty much inevitable -
It's hard to believe they think that they have the political latitude to do this. But then it was hard to believe they thought they had the political latitude to govern as if they had won landslide elections or that they could survive the 2004 election if no WMD were found in Iraq. But they did. In fact, they've had their biggest successes by pushing the envelope beyond the point anyone would have imagined. I do not put it past them to believe that they can do this and somehow revive their flagging popularity.
That's a little cynical. Maybe this has nothing to do with popularity and the upcoming mid-term elections where prospects for the Republicans look more dismal by the moment. Maybe it's just removing a threat.

How serious are they about making sure Iran does not get nuclear weapons.

Very, or not, as you see here, something from February 13, 2006 -
The unmasking of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson by White House officials in 2003 caused significant damage to U.S. national security and its ability to counter nuclear proliferation abroad, RAW STORY has learned.

According to current and former intelligence officials, Plame Wilson, who worked on the clandestine side of the CIA in the Directorate of Operations as a non-official cover (NOC) officer, was part of an operation tracking distribution and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction technology to and from Iran.
Iran? Oops. But her husband had been a bother.

John Cole, the disgruntled conservative, formerly a Bush supporter goes to the long Seymour Hersh article itself and offers this, a bit of commentary on the Hersh text -
Cole: People who already worry about the president's growing messiah complex won't get much encouragement:

Hersh: A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was "absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb" if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do "what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do," and "that saving Iran is going to be his legacy."

Cole: We've heard this song before, too many times to count. Bush supporters love to use terms like 'steadfast' and 'resolve' when they talk about their favorite president but they would fall over dead before admitting that those characteristics might have a downside. Gosh, ya think? A guy who famously doesn't study issues very deeply will inevitably make some boneheaded and even dangerous decisions. If 'resolve' keeps him from ever revisiting his boneheaded decisions then you end up with a net loss for everybody.

You might have wondered what happened to the neocons:

Hersh "This is much more than a nuclear issue," one high-ranking diplomat told me in Vienna. "That's just a rallying point, and there is still time to fix it. But the Administration believes it cannot be fixed unless they control the hearts and minds of Iran. The real issue is who is going to control the Middle East and its oil in the next ten years."

A senior Pentagon adviser on the war on terror expressed a similar view. "This White House believes that the only way to solve the problem is to change the power structure in Iran, and that means war."

Cole: Yep, still around. I don't give a shit what connotational baggage the term neocon has picked up over the years, this is their signature: spin stories about an imminent threat (paging Laurie Mylroie) to sell a war whose real goal is to strengthen America's global standing. Call it oil or geopolitical influence-building or whatever you want, these guys played the same song once already.

No-shit moments come up frequently:

Hersh: In recent weeks, the President has quietly initiated a series of talks on plans for Iran with a few key senators and members of Congress, including at least one Democrat [named Lieberman - ed. Just a guess.].

...The House member said that no one in the meetings "is really objecting" to the talk of war. "The people they're briefing are the same ones who led the charge on Iraq.

Cole: They consulted the same Congressmen who led the charge on Iraq, and nobody objected. No shit?

Hersh: Speaking of President Bush, the House member said, "The most worrisome thing is that this guy has a messianic vision."

Cole: If you're not worried about a nuclear-armed president with a messiah complex, a medieval concept of metaphysics and an insatiable war itch then you have to be kind of slow.

Speaking of nuclear:

Hersh: One of the military's initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites.

... The lack of reliable intelligence leaves military planners, given the goal of totally destroying the sites, little choice but to consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons. "Every other option, in the view of the nuclear weaponeers, would leave a gap.

... Late this winter, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sought to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans for Iran?without success, the former intelligence official said. "The White House said, 'Why are you challenging this? The option came from you.'"

... The Pentagon adviser on the war on terror confirmed that some in the Administration were looking seriously at this option, which he linked to a resurgence of interest in tactical nuclear weapons among Pentagon civilians and in policy circles. He called it "a juggernaut that has to be stopped."

Cole: Anybody who toys with using offensive nuclear weapons, unprovoked, has simply taken leave of his senses. If we can 'preempt' an attack with nuclear weapons, then by what logic can we criticize North Korea for doing the same to us? Because in some metaphysical sense America is 'good' and North Korea is 'evil?' Baloney. Any leadership willing to inflict collateral nuclear damages on a population that hasn't attacked them first has an extremely weak claim on metaphysical goodness. The only 'good' that a leader like that can claim harkens back to medieval nations of the living saint, the incorruptible figure whose beatitude makes any action good just by virtue of them doing it. When you think about it, for a president who paints the world in medieval tones of 'good' and 'evil' and allegedly takes commands from God the concept may not be that much of a stretch.

We have a bipartisan bunch here, so let's hear what people think about two basic questions. First, do you buy these revelations? Bear in mind that the people who pushed back against Hersh's Abu Ghraib reporting were forced to retreat from one trench (nothing bad happened) to the next (if anything bad happened it was only a few bad apples) to the next (Rumsfeld didn't personally order prisoner) until they had to contort themselves into ridiculous positions in order to avoid giving up entirely (e.g., it isn't really torture until an organ fails). Seymour Hersh has credibility that his closest parallels on the pro-war side, e.g. Judith Miller or Bob Woodward, don't.

Second, assume for now that the reporting is accurate and answer whether you're comfortable to have your major policymakers set themselves on a "crusade" for violent regime change in Iran, most likely employing tactical nuclear weapons. It might sound like a ridiculous question to most, but I expect at least a few to answer in the affirmative.
Ah well, this all could be a really highly coordinated press plant. Make the Iranians worry. Use Hersh. If so, it's masterful. And unlikely.

Will there be denials? Or a useful "no comment" to keep the Iranians worried?

But the idea? "Any leadership willing to inflict collateral nuclear damages on a population that hasn't attacked them first has an extremely weak claim on metaphysical goodness."

Howard Zinn, here, writing long before this story broke -
What is the idea of our moral superiority based on? Surely not on our behavior toward people in other parts of the world. Is it based on how well people in the United States live? The World Health Organization in 2000 ranked countries in terms of overall health performance, and the United States was thirty-seventh on the list, though it spends more per capita for health care than any other nation. One of five children in this, the richest country in the world, is born in poverty. There are more than forty countries that have better records on infant mortality. Cuba does better. And there is a sure sign of sickness in society when we lead the world in the number of people in prison - more than two million.

A more honest estimate of ourselves as a nation would prepare us all for the next barrage of lies that will accompany the next proposal to inflict our power on some other part of the world. It might also inspire us to create a different history for ourselves, by taking our country away from the liars and killers who govern it, and by rejecting nationalist arrogance, so that we can join the rest of the human race in the common cause of peace and justice.
Not likely. When Fox News picks up the Hersh item and tells us he's an alarmist but, then, we do have the right to defend ourselves and this is a pretty good idea, and CNN waffles and says it may or may not be true so let's not get all excited, but all the rest of the news and opinion media, in fear of appearing unpatriotic, agrees with Fox, and the Christian right welcomes the end days, it's off we go.

Ah, we'd never do such at thing.

Posted by Alan at 18:02 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 9 April 2006 07:52 PDT home

Friday, 7 April 2006
Decisions: All the News That Fits, and Doesn't
Topic: The Media

Decisions: All the News That Fits, and Doesn't

At the end of the week, Friday, April 7th, the news was buzzing with the "big stories" that, in effect, sucked all the air out of the room, or distracted people from all else. For those who follow national affairs there were two big issues that were more than enough to consider. And it's too bad that these two items crowded out some other things that perhaps deserve attention. But there's only so much space available in the media, and you just cannot pay attention to everything. So the two big items were "it."

So first those two, and then some other matters.

The first, obviously, was the news that broke the day before. Had the president actually been involved in some political scheme to trash the reputation of a critic, a scheme that involved his approving selective release of carefully chosen classified information to one influential reporter on the condition she tell no one where she got the scoop? Was he authorizing a secret press operation to counter someone who exposed that the administration had been, at best, a bit misleading about the reason we needed to go to war immediately, to preempt what was clearly going to happen if we didn't? Did he know this "what might happen" was unlikely, that the information he was getting about Iraq working on a nuclear weapon or two was somewhere between ambiguous and just bogus? It more and more looks like this was the case.

The detail of his legal authority to instantly and impulsively have one of his people show a reporter key paragraphs from a classified document probably isn't the issue. He can almost certainly do that. He has the authority.

And no one is saying he authorized his minion to reveal that the pesky critic's wife was a covert CIA agent and set up the whole junket that uncovered the weakness in his evidence for war. That's not being considered, although it's possible. But that would require that you believe the president, to impugn the character of a critic, would expose a secret agent, blow her operation to trace traffic in nuclear material on the black market, and put her informants at risk for their lives. That did happen, and really, no one is suggesting the president would stoop to that to trash someone who noted what the president was saying wasn't exactly so. Some believe the vice president would, as he's the man who told the senator from Maine, on the floor of the senate, to go fuck himself, and who shot his elderly hunting partner in the face. You get a reputation for being a bit blunt and a tad careless and people assume the worst.

No, the issue is whether the president was jerking the nation around, authorizing "special information" be slipped to their plant, the ace reporter at the New York Times. The press is all over this. They don't like to be jerked around. And they assume the American people don't much like it either, save for those who see the president as a clever rascal who knows how to get what he wants and admire him for fooling all the people who think they're so damned smart. Friday's polling shows that group, those who think the president is handling everything just fine, thank you, is now smaller than its ever been. And the polling was done before it came out that the president had authorized this press gambit with their ally at the Times.

In short, the sixty-four percent who now don't exactly think the president can be trusted, the seventy percent who think the country is going in the wrong direction on most everything, see this "show a few secret paragraphs to Judy" plan to "get" Joe Wilson as pretty crappy.

And Friday there was the inevitable press briefing. The president's spokesman, Scott McClelland, took the heat - "The White House tried today to quell the furor over the leaking of sensitive prewar intelligence on Iraq, as President Bush's spokesman insisted that the president had the authority to declassify and release information."

No denial that the president and vice president did tell their man to show a few key paragraphs of a classified document to Judy Miller of the Times. They did. But they were allowed to. And it was for the good of the country. They wanted the truth made public. And of course the questions were why they decided to do it this way instead of just declassifying stuff, as they did ten days later. Why go after this one critic in such a secret way? The response? Can't discuss it. Ongoing investigation. Wouldn't be prudent. But it was legal.

Of course that wasn't the question, but everyone knows the drill, how to handle a difficult question if you're a politician or represent one. You acknowledge the question - "That's a good question, Fred" - and then you answer the question Fred should have asked. That usually works. But this time it was losing its charm.

Trouble. As Andrew Sullivan puts it here - "The bottom line is that the president clearly used his prerogative to classify and declassify intelligence data to leak selectively to the press to give a misleading notion of what his own government believed about Saddam's WMDs before the war. He was personally involved; and he tasked his veep to coordinate it. The most plausible explanation is that the president believes grave national security prerogatives can be used for political purposes and/or that he had something embarrassing to hide. Bottom bottom line: we can't trust him to be fully honest with us on one of the bases on which he led us to war. That matters, doesn't it?"

Maybe. Many don't seem to care. What does it matter now?

But more folks in the middle of the road are sensing they've been jerked around, and we're in a war that cost the lives of a lot of our guys, and maimed ten times as many, and has the world against us, and has cost nearly a half a trillion now, and is going badly, and the deficits are a mile wide and ten deep. Even if they think we must slog on and make the best we can out of it, this sort of dicking around with classified information to "get" a guy who pointed out some problems just seems to stink. It's the kind of thing junior high school girls do, spread rumors the cute new girl is "loose." Those of us who have family who have served in Iraq expect better. It rankles to have spiteful children in charge of things. One expects that those in charge are, at times, straightforward, thoughtful and serious. Oh, and competent too. This sort of things doesn't help.

The second big story was this - "A carefully constructed compromise on immigration reform apparently fell apart in the Senate today after Democrats fended off conservative Republican efforts to amend the agreement and an effort to cut off debate failed by a lopsided vote."

As discussed elsewhere, this was dead in the water Wednesday night, Thursday morning there was a miraculous bipartisan compromise and lots of backslapping, and then it fell apart. The compromise was pretty strange - immediately departing those who had been here less than two year, those who been here more than two years and less than five have to play fines, learn English and pay back taxes, and those who have been here longer get to apply for citizenship, and pay back taxes if any. And there's no way to tell who's who. But the compromise didn't fail because it was wacky. The senators with angry constituents held that it wasn't punitive enough, and really amounted to amnesty, and these folks had to be punished and sent away, all of them. If they want to come back in, follow the damned rules. The argument that we need these folks for the economy to work - no one wants lettuce to cost three hundred dollars a head - didn't survive the righteous.

This is going nowhere, and it was other big story at the end of the week, probably for two reasons. The first is that congress Friday stared their two week Easter recess, and this confirms that congress is useless. The second is there will be more demonstrations now, with everyone angry. Nothing was resolved. Thus this story is a classic "big trouble because nothing happened" story. What didn't happen is the story, not what did.

What items were pushed for the main pages by all this sneaky stuff and discord?

Well, there was this -
A U.S. Marine was shot and killed allegedly by an Iraqi soldier at a base near the Syrian border, the U.S. said Friday. The Iraqi soldier was then wounded by another American Marine.

... "An Iraqi army soldier allegedly shot and killed the U.S. Marine on a coalition base" near Qaim, the statement said. "The Iraqi soldier was shot by another U.S. Marine."

The incident is under investigation and no further details were released, the statement said.

"Just as we as American military men and women trust one another with our lives, we also trust our Iraqi counterparts, and that trust has not wavered," the statement added. "We will not let this isolated incident deter us in our mission to train and mentor the Iraqi security forces as they progress toward independent operations to ensure the security of their nation."

The U.S. command also reported three other deaths among American troops.
That puts us at 2,349 members of our military dead, and this one is not a good sign, particularly since the president the day before said this, again -
On the security side, our goal, our mission is to let the Iraqis take the fight. And as I - I've always been saying, they stand up, we stand down. That means, we train the Iraqis to take the fight to those who want to disrupt their country.
It seems in this case one of them did. Perhaps it was just one crazy guy. Let's hope it's not a trend.

But this didn't get much play, save here on the web.

Nor did this on the State Department falling apart. "The US is sending diplomats into Iraq, but refusing to give them military protection. No wonder Foreign Service morale is collapsing." This is an investigative piece that's pretty amazing. We'll win hearts and mind if we pull troops out of really hot spots and send in low-level guys from State - the experts and career folks just won't do it - unarmed and unprotected. They'll make nice and everything will be cool. One more theory. And those who don't quit at the State Department may burn Condoleezza Rice in effigy. But it's not in the news. Makes you kind of miss Colin Powell, as much as he messed up. But the crew in charge is full of theories about how things should work and what will happen if you just try. They're optimists.

Theoretical idealism, assuming the best, is fine. It's fine for bull sessions in the college dorm. In the real world, if you're young and new to the State Department, it's a bit scary.

What about the older, more experienced diplomats?

Well, Friday there was this in a minor Associated Press story -
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad warned in an interview broadcast Friday that Iraq faces the possibility of sectarian civil war if efforts to build a national unity government do not succeed. He said such a conflict could affect the entire Middle East.

Khalilzad told the British Broadcasting Corp. that political contacts among Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders were improving, but that within the general population, "polarization along sectarian lines" was intensifying - in part due to the role of armed militias.

Khalilzad warned that "a sectarian war in Iraq" could draw in neighboring countries, "affecting the entire region."
Will Condoleezza Rice call him on the carpet and rip him a new one for being so negative?

Why would he be so negative?

Maybe it's things like this - "Three suicide bombers blew themselves up in a coordinated attack against worshippers at an influential Shiite mosque in the Iraqi capital Friday, killing at least 78 people and injuring 154."

This is the most deadly of such bombings so far, and the worst day in Iraq in a year. But then, there was the leak story. And the immigration issues. An incipient regional war in the Middle East, involving all the major nations in the area? That could be a bit of a problem. But then if you assume the "best case" really will happen, this ambassador is just undercutting the administration. Why does he still have his job? (Look hard at the daily commentary on the right and you see that question, his loyalty, has come up.)

And of course, with all this news there's no room for thinking about Iran.

As mentioned before in these pages, there was that thing in Foreign Policy, Joseph Cirincione, the nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment, saying this -
For months, I have told interviewers that no senior political or military official was seriously considering a military attack on Iran. In the last few weeks, I have changed my view. In part, this shift was triggered by colleagues with close ties to the Pentagon and the executive branch who have convinced me that some senior officials have already made up their minds: They want to hit Iran.
And Friday in the Financial Times of London we see this -
Iran has prepared a high-level delegation to hold wide-ranging talks with the US, but the Bush administration is resisting the agenda suggested by Tehran despite pressure from European allies to engage the Islamic republic, Iranian politicians have told the Financial Times.

A senior Iranian official, Mohammad Nahavandian, has flown to Washington to "lobby" over the issue, according to a top Iranian adviser outside the US. However, the Iranian mission to the United Nations insisted he was in Washington on private business.

Iran's willingness to engage the US on Iraq, regional security and the nuclear issue, is believed to have the approval of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It represents the most serious attempt by the Islamic republic to reach out to the US since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

But the White House insisted on Thursday that its own offer of talks with Iran, extended several months ago by Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Baghdad, was limited to the subject of Iraq.

... The Bush administration is resisting pressure from its European allies to engage Iran directly over its alleged nuclear weapons programme rather than leave negotiations to the EU3 of France, Germany and the UK. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, raised this issue with Mr Hadley this week, and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is understood to have spoken about it with President George W. Bush.
We don't talk. We threaten. As in this -
... Nicholas Burns, under secretary of state, yesterday accused Iran of being "expansionist", "a central banker of terrorism" and directing attacks on US citizens.

Last week, the UN Security Council issued a mildly worded presidential statement calling on Iran to resume its suspension of fuel cycle development. Russia blocked tougher language. John Bolton, US ambassador to the UN, told reporters yesterday the next diplomatic step was to pass a legally binding "chapter seven" resolution requiring Iran to suspend its nuclear programme.
This is not looking good, but not exactly in the news, or at least not getting top billing. We've just talking nuclear war here.

Fred Kaplan here in Slate, in a detail analysis, calls it "A Global Game of Chicken."

The central idea -
The growling and brandishing have grown intense lately, in part because of the U.N. Security Council statement, passed by consensus on March 29, giving Iran 30 days to suspend its enrichment of uranium. Or else what? It's unclear. Sanctions would ordinarily be the sequel to such a declaration; but Russia and China have said, for now, that they won't support sanctions.

So, the Bush administration is sending signals - to the Iranians but also to the Russians, Chinese, and Europeans - that it might enforce the deadline in its own, more forceful manner if the Security Council goes wobbly. And the Iranians are sending signals back that they have their own array of options and therefore won't succumb to pressure.

That's the game of chicken. Two cars speed toward each other, head-on, late at night. There are three possible outcomes. One driver gets nervous and veers away at the last second; he loses. Both drivers veer away; the game's a draw. They both keep zooming straight ahead; everybody dies. Back in the early '60s, the flamboyant nuclear strategist Herman Kahn wrote that one way to win at chicken was to detach the steering wheel and wave it out of the window; the other driver, seeing you can't pull off the road, will be forced to do so himself. The dreadful thing about the current showdown between America and Iran is that both drivers seem to be unscrewing their steering wheels; they're girding themselves so firmly in their positions - the Americans saying Iran's enrichment is an intolerable threat to security, the Iranians saying it's an absolute ingredient of national integrity - that backing down is a course neither is willing to take.

There's another dangerous thing about chicken. One or both drivers might intend to veer off, but they know they don't have to until the last second. They might accelerate, to step up the pressure, as the cars approach each other; miscalculations - of time, distance, and intentions - could ensue; a collision could happen by accident.
That's about it.

Is there a way out of this?

Maybe -
Christopher Hitchens has suggested in these pages that Bush go to Tehran, with a full package of inducements to join the world, in the same spirit that Nixon went to China. In the long run, this may have a better chance than military strikes of turning the country in the right direction.

It's unpleasant, but is there any choice? It's worth emphasizing that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon now, nor is it likely to for at least three years. A U.S. military attack would unleash a wider war - which might be acceptable if it snuffed out Iran's nuclear program, but by most estimates it would merely set the program back a few years. Meanwhile, it would only stiffen popular support for Iran's fundamentalist leadership and alienate the vast majority of Iran's population, which for now holds a favorable view of America.

Would a diplomatic initiative be productive? Maybe not. But a military strike might be completely counterproductive: It would probably impede, but not halt, Iran's nuclear program; it would enflame anti-American terrorism; and it would strengthen Iran's regime.
A surprise "come join the world" Bush trip to Iran? Fat chance. He doesn't think that way. And it seems we don't want him to. That's why we reelected him.

So what else got short shrift in the news?

Well, as Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly reminds us, President Bush believes he has the right to eavesdrop on calls between the United States and foreign countries at his sole discretion - without a warrant, without probable cause, and regardless of the requirements of federal law.

Can he do the same for domestics calls? Drum reminds us the head of the NSA, General Michael Hayden, said yes they could, any calls at all, but they decided, themselves, "that's where we've decided to draw that balance between security and liberty." Nothing could stop them from listening to every call from everyone to anyone, no law, not the useless fourth amendment or any of that stuff, but being the good guys they are, the felt that would be wrong. (The discussion is here.)

But they seem to be rethinking that -
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales left open the possibility yesterday that President Bush could order warrantless wiretaps on telephone calls occurring solely within the United States - a move that would dramatically expand the reach of a controversial National Security Agency surveillance program.

... "I'm not going to rule it out," Gonzales said.

... Gonzales previously testified in the Senate that Bush had considered including purely domestic communications in the NSA spying program, but he said the idea was rejected in part because of fears of a public outcry.
Now they feel things have changed? There'd be no outcry now if they admitted they have been listening to everyone's calls and reading their email and all the rest? Maybe so. There so much other news that the idea that they're be "no outcry" could be spot on. This became a minor story this week.

It's amazing what slips by when there's only so much room for the news, and only so many things one can deal with simultaneously. And there's a political advantage in that.

__

A Footnote on Editorial Decisions

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, wondered why this item was never mentioned in these pages, what he calls the story of "Miss American Horseface's reportedly being accused of voter fraud in Florida."

Yes, the acerbic banshee of the right, Ann Coulter, who calls liberals traitors, calls for the assassination of certain Supreme Court Justices, for the New York Times building in Manhattan to be blown up (her way of kidding around) allegedly faked her address and voted in the wrong precinct for some reason, and is in big trouble.

Rick asks - "Is this a case of me missing the item, or of you not knowing about it, or of you just taking the high road?"

The reply -
Is it taking the high road when you have been following the story since it first surfaced last week and just don't find it that interesting or important? March 27th she was out here and spoke in a two-way thing, sort of a debate, with Al Franken, up on Mulholland at that big Jewish University just east of the 405, and from everything I've read on that (didn't pop for the fifty bucks to drive up and watch) she was her usual appalling self, and no one much cared. She just doesn't matter anymore. The Time Magazine cover last year was when she peaked, and since then no one much cares about what she thinks, and she's slid from anyone's consideration. She's dropped to a third-string sub on the right side of things. Time Magazine helped her jump the shark? Something like that.

Discussing this would be like writing something on Pete Rose's current thoughts on off-track betting. So she screwed up - and is still a self-righteous voice for outrageous but silly crap. Yeah, yeah. Who cares? She's on Fox News less and less, actually almost never now. The right has moved on. And Al Franken now knows she's not a draw and cannot be used as a foil for pulling in a ticket-buying audience.

Fame is short in America. She had her run. This story is now a mere curiosity.

Harriet-the-Cat and I had an editorial meeting or two. This item got spiked. No room for it. Low priority.
Rick -
This is indeed good news! I've been so overwhelmed recently, I hadn't even noticed her fall, even as I was never quite sure what was propping her up in the first place. In fact, I only heard about her election problems early this week, I think on Franken's show when he held a lackluster contest that invited suggestions on what her community service should be.

In conclusion, I must commend you both on your sound editorial judgment - assuming, that is, that Harriet wasn't urging that the decision go the other way.
Nope. Harriet agreed. There's only room for so much news.

Posted by Alan at 23:05 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 8 April 2006 06:42 PDT home

Thursday, 6 April 2006
Hypocrites, Thugs and the Ineffectual
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Hypocrites, Thugs and the Ineffectual

Thursdays is photography day for the weekly Just Above Sunset, and the daily Just Above Sunset Photography, and Thursday, April 6th was the same - off to document Hollywood stuff, Paramount Studios down on Melrose, and more of old Hollywood, the dead celebrities at Hollywood Forever Memorial Park. There really is such a place, honest - it's a massive cemetery behind Paramount's back lot. Those photos will be along soon. Douglas Fairbanks and Junior's thing is quite impressive, as is Cecil B. DeMille's site, but then he founded Paramount so that makes sense. I missed Mel Blanc, Don Adams and Peter Lorre. There was too much to cover. And there were botanicals to shot on the grounds. Then there was the process of editing the eighty shots - discarding the silly and out of focus, and modifying what was cool for web posting. This took many hours. And while "engaged in the visual" it seemed all hell broke loose on the national front. The political world kind of exploded.

What happened? Well, there was this (Pete Yost, Associated Press) -
President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney authorized Cheney's top aide to launch a counterattack of leaks against administration critics on Iraq by feeding intelligence information to reporters, according to court papers citing the aide's testimony in the CIA leak case.

In a court filing, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald stopped short of accusing Cheney of authorizing his chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, to leak the CIA identity of Valerie Plame.

But the prosecutor, detailing the evidence he has gathered, raised the possibility that the vice president was trying to use Plame's CIA employment to discredit her husband, administration critic Joseph Wilson. Cheney, according to an indictment against Libby, knew that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA as early as June 12, 2003, more than a month before that fact turned up in a column by Robert Novak.

Fitzgerald quoted Libby as saying he was authorized to tell New York Times reporter Judith Miller that Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure" uranium. Fitzgerald said Libby told him it "was the only time he recalled in his government experience when he disclosed a document to a reporter that was effectively declassified by virtue of the president's authorization that it be disclosed."

The process was so secretive that other Cabinet-level officials did not know about it, according to the court papers, which point to Bush and Cheney as setting in motion a leak campaign to the press that ended in Plame's blown cover.
What? When all this started the president played dumb, and said he hated when people leaked classified stuff, to make themselves seem more important, or for political reasons, or for even more nefarious reasons (treasonously helping our enemies for financial gain or because the personal leaking information just wants us to fail). He said anyone who was leaking classified stuff would be fired. He wanted to get to the bottom of this leak of a CIA operative's name.

And now? It seems this Libby fellow testified under oath that the president himself authorized Libby to show Judith Miller of the New York Times some highly classified stuff so she would dutifully write it up in the newspaper. Saddam was after uranium in Africa, and those aluminum tubes really were just the thing for the centrifuges that create fissile material for bombs.

The kicker was the document in Libby's hot little hands, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), said they really weren't sure about the Africa thing, and both the State Department and the folks in the Energy Department said those aluminum tubes just couldn't be for nuclear enrichment work. Libby seems to have been under instructions to not leak that part to Miller, the useful and willing tool who loved scoops, and, as seems obvious now, wanted this war and was working on using the Times, without the knowledge of its editors, to make sure it happened.

The problem is Libby make have chatted a bit too much and mentioned that the wife of the skeptic, who was publicly saying the Africa tale was silly, worked for the CIA and may have set up her husband's investigative trip to Africa to get him out of the house or give him something to do, so he must be full of shit.

Most curious. The White House was in major defensive mode, which means attack the critics (the best defense is a massive attack, and all that). And the whole "get Wilson" thing, no matter what the cost to the CIA and one of its agents, was being orchestrated by Bush and Cheney. That does seem to be the implication.

And as Yost at the AP drying outs it - "Libby's testimony puts the president and the vice president in the awkward position of authorizing leaks. Both men have long said they abhor such practices, so much so that the administration has put in motion criminal investigations at their behest to hunt down leakers."

Yep, they have the Justice Department going after whoever let the cat out of the bag about the NSA warrantless domestic surveillance program. They want to prosecute whoever leaked word of the secret prison system we run, where people just disappear, never to be seen again, so they just pretty much never existed. They hate leaks.

Yost compiles the reaction from the loyal opposition (although the conservative right doubts their loyalty, and patriotism, and sometimes their sanity).

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid - "President Bush must fully disclose his participation in the selective leaking of classified information. The American people must know the truth."

Dick Durbin, the Democratic senator from Illinois, on the Senate floor - "The president and the vice president must be held accountable, accountable for misleading the American people, accountable for the disclosure of classified material for political purposes. It is as serious as it gets in this democracy."

Yeah, yeah. The beleaguered spokesman for the president, Scott McClellan said the White House "would have no comment on the investigation." You don't comment on ongoing investigations, of course. Phew. And of course, the attorney general, slick Alberto Gonzales, said the president has the "inherent authority to decide who should have classified information."

Other details? We're told, according to Fitzgerald's court filing, Cheney, in a conversation with Libby, expressed concerns on whether a CIA-sponsored trip to the African nation of Niger by Wilson "was legitimate or whether it was in effect a junket set up by Mr. Wilson's wife."

So you see why Libby might have mentioned that to Miller. And Yost notes that the Fitzgerald item has this - when Wilson's thing was published in the press, ironically in Miller's own New York Times in July of 2003, that piece was viewed in the office of vice president as a direct attack on the credibility of the vice president, and the president, on a matter of signal importance: the rationale for the war in Iraq."

They were upset. They had their own plant at the Times to create a furor for war, and now this guy in the same paper was messing everything up, so he had to be taken down, using, it would seem, anything that worked. Libby asked Cheney if he really could dump more carefully selected classified information on Miller, and Cheney said he could - the president approved.

You do what you must. It seems Libby was still freaked. He testified he ran the whole thing by David Addington, the counsel to the vice president, "whom defendant considered to be an expert in national security law, and Mr. Addington opined that presidential authorization to publicly disclose a document amounted to a declassification of the document."

Libby doesn't want to go to jail. "They told it was okay." That's the defense.

And it probably was okay, legally. The president can decide to make some things public. His call. It just looks bad, given what had been said before. (And the editors at the Times must have been wondering whose newspaper it really was, as they were getting jerked around, as they later discovered, and fired Miller.)

John Dickerson is the chief political correspondent at SLATE.COM, the electronic opinion magazine owned by the Washington Post, and he has a good rundown with the fitting title - We've Found the Leaker in the White House! It's the President.

The key there? This -
The press corps - and bloggers - will likely compile a yards-long list of occasions when the president has denounced leaking, but it's worth asking the philosophical question: Can the president even be a leaker? For a leak to be real, it has to be unsanctioned. Once a piece of secret information gets unwrapped (by the president no less), it's not a leak, it's part of a communications strategy. It's national policy. So, maybe he's not a leaker.

But he is certainly a hypocrite. It's one thing to declassify information; it's another thing to present information to a reporter as though it were classified to preserve the shadow authenticity that comes with a leak. Bush wanted to have the information out there but not have to account for it or explain it.

All presidents engage in this hypocrisy, but Bush has made it Texas-sized by putting on such a show about leaks during his time in office. He's done everything short of forming a Department of Anti-Leaking.
And now this.

Oh well, those who trust him will find some way out of this conundrum. Those who don't will be unhappy, but not surprised - the president and vice president cooked up, or at least approved the details of a political smear campaign to "get" someone who made them look bad, using carefully managed classified information and their plant in the premier newspaper in the country. So what else is new?

The fallout?

CNN's senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, here -
I think is it very damaging for the president to be seen here to have come out after his political enemies by authorizing - no crime - by authorizing the leak of classified information from the National Intelligence Estimate.

Again, we don't know what classified information that was, it's only described in the special prosecutor's report as certain information, key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate, relevant portions that were aimed at discrediting the published views of Ambassador Wilson, who criticized the administration's intelligence-gathering efforts.

He was out to get his political enemy, to discredit Joe Wilson. And he did it by authorizing intelligence information to be leaked. I think most Americans would say that's a very dangerous and very foolish thing to do.
You think? And after CNN runs a clip of a congressman and the attorney general having at it earlier in the day, where the attorney general has to admit the president could play games with classified information to "get" people he thinks have made him look bad, but this president, even though he hypothetically could do that, just never would, Schneider says this -
I think where this does him damage is, on the one issue, the one characteristic that has always been his strong suit, Americans have for the most part considered Bush to be honest and trustworthy. That is really the thing that got him elected, at least by the Electoral College, in the year 2000.

In January 2001, when he first took office, 64 percent of Americans thought he was honest and trustworthy. President Clinton's ratings were down in the 20s. That contrast was very important for President Bush. But now, questions - or serious questions are being raised, is he really honest and trustworthy? Does he level with the American people?

You just heard the congressman say he was leaking political - sensitive intelligence information apparently for political reasons, political reasons, not national security reasons. And that, I think, is going to be very difficult to explain.
You think?

Digby at Hullabaloo with this - "This is not an honest administration and the idea of trusting that they are limiting their illegal national security activity only to "terrorists" is ludicrous, whether it's the NSA spying, Guantánamo, war profiteering or anything else."

But there are defenders of all this. Go here for a video clip from Fox News. Brit Hume is reporting on all this, notices the stock headline in the onscreen graphic, "Bush Authorized Leaks," and demands it be taken down. It is. The whole newsroom - staff, cameramen, technical folks - stand up and cheer. Fascinating.

Hume's point was that the president cannot "leak" classified information. He's the man in charge. When he says this should be given to someone, the "this" is automatically then not classified at all. So what's the big deal?

The logic? It's this (Andrew Sullivan) - "The president's self-defense at this point must be that if he, the president, decides to leak classified information, like the NIE assessment, then, by definition, it isn't a classified leak. POTUS gets to decide what is and isn't classified. And so he cannot commit the wrong or crime he decries in others. He can break no secrets because the secrets are his to break. He is above the law because, in terms of executive privilege, he is the law."

It's a mess. Claiming the authority to ignore laws with those signing statements, and the NSA spying argument that as commander-in-chief his battle field decision cannot be questioned, and he gets to define the battlefield and when we're at war and when not, has created some problems. When we reelected him did we sign up for this? Should we have known we were choosing a new theory of government for the nation. Probably.

But now there are second thoughts as the ramifications of the vote become clear. No one is impressed, and the poll number will drop like a rock now. One thinks of the title of that odd novel, Less Than Zero.

So what should the administration do now? Ask for more tax cuts? Invade Iran?

Well, the president spent the same day talking up the war on terrorism, or terror, or evil, or whatever it is. He gave the boilerplate speech one more time, this time in North Carolina. We're doing fine. We'll win. People may think the whole thing is making things worse and costing us too much for too little, but he says he knows he's right about all this, and he'd have never gotten us into anything as costly and deadly as what he has got us into if he didn't feel it was right, no matter what people think. He's resolved. Be impressed.

But then, as you see in this video clip, someone wasn't buying.

Did this actually happen? A man stood up and had some thoughts to share -
Q: You never stop talking about freedom, and I appreciate that. But while I listen to you talk about freedom, I see you assert your right to tap my telephone, to arrest me and hold me without charges, to try to preclude me from breathing clean air and drinking clean water and eating safe food. If I were a woman, you'd like to restrict my opportunity to make a choice and decision about whether I can abort a pregnancy on my own behalf. You are -

THE PRESIDENT: I'm not your favorite guy. Go ahead. (Laughter and applause.) Go on, what's your question?

Q: Okay, I don't have a question. What I wanted to say to you is that I - in my lifetime, I have never felt more ashamed of, nor more frightened by my leadership in Washington, including the presidency, by the Senate, and -

AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Booo!

THE PRESIDENT: No, wait a sec - let him speak.

Q: And I would hope - I feel like despite your rhetoric, that compassion and common sense have been left far behind during your administration, and I would hope from time to time that you have the humility and the grace to be ashamed of yourself inside yourself. ...
And you see in the clip (or in the White House transcript here) the president saying he's not ashamed of anything he's ever done, and on all these topics he's just right, and always has been, no matter what the law says or any expert or the world or the economy and whatnot. He's resolved. Be impressed.

This is going nowhere. How can you discuss things with the man? What's the line from the movie? "I'm smart; you're dumb. I'm big; you're little. And there's nothing you can do about it."

There's something in the air like that, as documented here. Tom Delay announced he's quitting the House and won't run for office again. His supporters, in an email, plan a parting shot. The email is from Delay's now grumpy campaign manager. He wants to have some fun, now that he's got to find something else to do with himself. He gathers a group of Delay fans and they crash a campaign appearance by the man who is running for Delay's seat, the Democrat who would have perhaps defeated Delay, had Delay not dropped out. They cannot do anything for DeLay now, but they can do some symbolic street theater. They blast the air horn so the guy cannot speak. They rough-up a sixty-nine year old woman pretty good. They push around a guy with a toddler in his arms. The link has a bit of video, and links to the still photos.

That's how the game is played these days. The old woman may press assault charges, but she wasn't seriously hurt, and there is the freedom of speech and assembly defense. The expression of political opinion is protected. And expression can take many forms.

The left says the current Republicans are a bunch of thugs. Maybe. Or maybe they're just enthusiastic, with great "resolve." And manly. Check out the evidence. Who's to say? When, in 2000, a bunch of Bush supporters busted into a Florida precinct and trashed the place, stopped the recount of the votes, the conservative columnist David Brooks, now with the New York Times, said it was a harmless "bourgeois riot," and kind of funny. This may be, in his eyes, and in the eyes of Fox News and the rest, the same sort of thing. Maybe.

Consider it a bookend to the North Carolina speech.

What else happened on the same day? The Senate pulled off a miraculous bipartisan compromise on changing the immigration laws. They tossed out the thing the Senate Judiciary Committee came up with and came up with this -
Under the Senate agreement, illegal immigrants who have lived in the United States for five years or more, about 7 million people, would eventually be granted citizenship if they remained employed, underwent background checks, paid fines and back taxes and learned English.

Illegal immigrants who have lived here for two to five years, about three million people, would have to travel to a United States border crossing and apply for a temporary work visa. They would be eligible for permanent residency and citizenship over time, but they would have to wait several years longer for it.

Illegal immigrants who have been here less than two years, about 1 million people, would be required to leave the country altogether. They could apply for spots in the temporary worker program, but they would not be guaranteed positions.
The obvious political problem is this would have to be reconciled with House bill, the one that made being here illegally, no matter how long you'd been here, an "aggravated felony" that would get you immediately deported, and made offering any kind of aid at any time to someone who was here illegally, or you should have know was here illegally, a felony also, and called for building a giant wall across the US-Mexican border. No reconciliation seems possible.

Then there's the simple problem of reality with the Senate compromise. There are more than eleven million people here illegally. Hey, there's no record of when they came! They didn't check in! How can you tell which to jam in the long line of freight cars, shackled and stacked like cordwood, headed for the border, from the middle group you're going to fine and eventually accept, from the third group who you say may be okay after all? What records do you use? Does everyone get a hearing, a chance to dig up secondary evidence to prove they fall into one of the latter two categories - old telephone bills, store receipts and just what? We'll need five and a half million bureaucrats to do the Kafka thing and hear all the cases. Those who can gin up false documents, nicely aged, will get rich.

It doesn't matter. The whole thing fell apart the same evening. Those in the Senate who liked the House bill, as it would play well with their angry constituents, tried adding amendments that would make this a plan where bad people would pay for breaking the rules, and the supporters of the president, who himself likes the idea of guest workers who may become citizens, were having none of it, and the Democrats, doing the liberal "let's not be racists" thing, held things up. It's dead.

It was a good day to miss the news and take pictures.

Posted by Alan at 23:05 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 6 April 2006 23:11 PDT home

Wednesday, 5 April 2006
Farce
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Farce

There was this guy in graduate school, Phil, who had a thing for a minor subset of stage literature, the farce -
The word farce derives from Old French, meaning 'stuff' or 'stuffing' and may have originated in the comic interludes of medieval French religious plays serving as light-hearted stuffing in between more serious drama. Historically, the term meant a literary or artistic production of little merit.

Farce is a type of comedy that uses absurd and highly improbable events in the plot. Situations are humorous because of their ludicrous and often ridiculous nature. The choice of setting is a key factor in farce, as the protagonist is sometimes at odds with the environment. Often the central character in a farce does not (or should not) belong in the place of the action...
Think of the Astaire-Rodgers musicals of the thirties, or if you're literary minded (and into Beatles trivia), Joe Orton's "What the Butler Saw" - or the French classics from Feydeau like "A Flea in Her Ear." It's an acquired taste.

Well, Phil was working on his second PhD - having done early eighteenth century British literature (Pope) he was about to dive into the Victorians. But he loved farce. He'd go on and on about Feydeau and such. Maybe this was because he liked the unlikely. He was a prematurely gray courtly fellow from eastern Tennessee with one of those Shelby Foote accents, and both a fine French horn player in the local orchestras and a semi-pro baseball player (he was a catcher who could hit a curve). He knew the absurd. He could chat about the best French horn player of all time, Dennis Brain, and his favorite obscure baseball players from the thirties with odd names, like Jesus McFarland, all in one seemingly coherent conversation. The world amused him.

And he drew you into the absurdity. There was his second wedding, to the daughter of the head of personnel at the UN, a catered affair at a country estate near West Point. The bride's father was Chinese, and, oddly, a big fan of Mark Twain - but late that evening, when he wanted to make a point about a passage in Huck Finn he realized he had left his copy in Addis Ababa the week before. The FBI had guys out on the road all day taking pictures with telephoto lenses. Phil's world was like that. The day after the wedding we all drove down to the Village for the day, and at a Chinese restaurant the bride's father and Phil got into a long discussion of five different Chinese dialects, and his father-in-law kidded with the waiters in each. What?

Where is Phil now? No idea. He visited out here once in the eighties, then disappeared.

His perspective, that wry bemusement mixed with intense curiosity, kept us all sane. That would be useful, when, these days, it does seem hard to be amused in any way by improbable events in the world, and the protagonist in the White House sometimes, or most of the time, at odds with the environment at hand.

The environment at hand?

Wednesday, April 5th that would be this from Baghdad - "The Ministry of Displacement and Migration is preparing an emergency plan to assist Palestinians living in Iraq, many of whom have been the victims of violence or have received recent death threats, according to ministry official Farhan Obaid."

What? There are Palestinians living in Iraq? That complicates things. These of course are Sunnis, and there's been a bit of rape and murder. The situation there is not exactly stable. There's no government in Iraq yet, but plenty of militias with grudges. And these folks want out. But they have no way to get visas for Jordan or whatever. There's no government to issue those. So we now have refugee camps on the borders with starving Palestinians.

What's our position on the Palestinians. Oh yeah, they had a free and democratic election in the Palestinian territories and they elected Hamas, the wrong guys, so we cut off all aid so the new government would sink. What do well tell squabbling would-be leaders in Iraq now to do about this new situation with the local Palestinians, aside from sending so food to the camps on the borders? They don't listen to us anyway, so it hardly matters.

This democracy stuff is not only hard work, it's full of odd ironies. We'd better side with the Palestinians here, even if they vote the wrong way.

The Middle East seems to be splitting into the rising Shiite bloc, Iraq and Iran, and the Sunni bloc of most all other nations in the region, including Turkey. And the Kurds are, for the most part, Sunni. We cannot play favorites as the regional religious war shapes up. We can tell all parties to lighten up - after all, in America the Lutherans don't take up arms against the Methodists, and no one is killing Catholics (the KKK gave that up in the late nineteenth century). What's the problem.

We got rid of the bad guy, the oppressive murderous tyrant Saddam Hussein, and gave them democracy, and they voted. That was supposed to fix things. But it's now a farce without the humor.

But were we serious about democracy, really? The same day the Washington Post reports we say we are, but it seems we're not that serious, as in this -
While President Bush vows to transform Iraq into a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, his administration has been scaling back funding for the main organizations trying to carry out his vision by building democratic institutions such as political parties and civil society groups.

The administration has included limited new money for traditional democracy promotion in budget requests to Congress. Some organizations face funding cutoffs this month, while others struggle to stretch resources through the summer. The shortfall threatens projects that teach Iraqis how to create and sustain political parties, think tanks, human rights groups, independent media outlets, trade unions and other elements of democratic society....

Among the projects facing closure is the Iraq Civil Society and Media Program, funded by USAID and run by America's Development Foundation and the International Research & Exchanges Board. The program has established four civil society resource centers around the country, conducted hundreds of workshops and forums, and trained thousands of government officials in transparency and accountability. It also helped Iraqis set up the National Iraqi News Agency, the first independent news agency in the Arab world.

The program was supposed to run at least through June 2007 but without $15 million more, it will have to close this summer.

Officials at the White House, the State Department, the Office of Management and Budget and USAID were contacted for comment in recent days, but none would speak on the record. In response to a request for comment, USAID sent promotional documents hailing past accomplishments in Iraq, such as sponsoring town hall meetings, training election monitors, and distributing pamphlets, posters and publications explaining voting and the new constitution.
We did what we did. The tense is past perfect, as you see. They voted. They have a "democracy." Case closed. Why do more?

Of course it's short sighted, and there was comment all over on the news that we just stopped funding for "the frills." One comment out there is this -
BushCo's shifting rationale for the Iraq invasion would be amusing if it weren't so deadly serious. When the twin demons of WMD and Saddam's ties to al-Qaeda were proven to be fabrications, the administration eventually found its way to "bringing democracy" to the people of Iraq as the primary reason for the invasion.

... Yes, the Myth of the Purple Finger strikes again. Produce enough pamphlets and posters on the wonders of voting and democracy will surely follow.

Obviously the security concerns on the ground in Iraq require the bulk of U.S. expenditures, and one could argue that without security democracy cannot flourish. Arguing in that vein leads to the inevitable conclusion that democracy in Iraq is a casualty of the poor planning and poor execution of BushCo in conducting this war. I can imagine many Iraqis thinking that if this is democracy, they'd just as soon have none of it.
Yep, this would be amusing if it weren't so deadly serious. Farce without the humor.

But there is the overwhelming evidence that the whole "democracy" thing was a sham anyway. The best review of the actual evidence is from Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly here.

To simplify matters what he lays out matters, here, for the fun of it, cast as a court sort of thing.

EXHIBIT 1: In his campaign for the presidency that ended with that odd business in Florida in January 2000, George Bush repeatedly said the United States should never do nation building, and promoting democracy in other places in the world wasn't a high priority. The documentation is here, but many remember the words with needing their recollections refreshed.

EXHIBIT 2: After the attacks of September 2001 this didn't change. We got the talk of WMD in Iraq and the al Qaeda connection, but next to nothing on "promoting democracy." As late at the 2003 State of the Union speech (here) there were over a thousand word on Iraq and democracy was not mention at all, even once (as Drum did the word search). And at about the same time Paul Wolfowitz gave the famous interview on the "real" goals of the war. He didn't mention anything about establishing democracy as a regional model at all.

EXHIBIT 3: The plan all along was to get rid of Saddam Hussein, fly in Ahmed Chalabi and his long-exiled-in-America group and make them the government there, and immediately drop troop levels to no more than thirty thousand on the ground. (See this.) Of course Wolfowitz and Chalabi had been at the University of Chicago long ago, and we were paying the Chalabi shadow government-in-exile big bucks for "intelligence" that we decided was better than what the CIA and State came up with. We thought, or Vice President Cheney thought, that this would work out. It seems it didn't occur to anyone that Chalabi might have his own powewr agenda and be jerking us around. In any event, the plan actually had not one thing to do with democracy.

EXHIBIT 4: When that didn't work out we stumbled along, putting off any elections (they weren't ready was the line at the time), and then Ayatollah Ali Sistani made a fuss and said there'd be big trouble if we didn't allow elections. We resisted (see this from November 2003), but we had to give in. Drum doesn't put it this way, but we were shamed into allowing elections. We clearly didn't want them, as all kinds of things might happen, with the "wrong sorts" winning. Yes, we grudgingly told the UN to handle the voting (see this), and wouldn't you know, Ahmed Chalabi returned-from-decades-in-America-to-run-the-joint crowd didn't get enough votes for even one seat in the new parliament.

Drum adds this -
What's more, in the surrounding regions, Bush has shown himself to be exactly the type of realist he supposedly derides. Hamas won elections in Palestine and he immediately tried to undermine them. Egypt held sham elections and got nothing more than a bit of mild tut-tutting. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia remain our closest allies.

And now this. A man who is supposedly passionate about democracy can't rouse himself to bother funding it. Instead the money is going into security.

These decisions may or may not be defensible, but they are plainly not the decisions of a man dedicated to spreading democracy - and the fact that he repeatedly says otherwise doesn't change this. So once and for all, can we please stop hearing about democracy promotion as a central goal of the Bush administration? It's just a slogan and nothing more.
Case closed. It's farce, without the humor, as the protagonist in the White House is sometimes, or most of the time, at odds with the environment at hand, stumbling through another door on stage, as the audience laughs uproariously, or not, as he says things ironically at odds with the real events.

Well, we as a nation elected him to a second term, so this really is what we wanted, right?

We love situational irony.

So we must love this.

2003 - "Everyone who invests in the stock market and receives dividend income - especially seniors - will benefit from elimination of the double taxation on dividends. About half of all dividend income goes to America's seniors, who often rely on those checks for a steady source of retirement income."

Tom DeLay twisted arms. That was passed.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006 -
Americans with annual incomes of $1 million or more, about one-tenth of 1 percent all taxpayers, reaped 43 percent of all the savings on investment taxes in 2003.... The analyses show that more than 70 percent of the tax savings on investment income went to the top 2 percent, about 2.6 million taxpayers.

By contrast, few taxpayers with modest incomes benefited because most of them who own stocks held them in retirement accounts, which are not eligible for the investment income tax cuts. Money in these accounts is not taxed until withdrawal, when the higher rates on wages apply.
Ha, ha. The joke's on us. (That excludes readers who earn more than a million dollars a year, as those readers received additional tax refunds of a half-million each year, on average, under the new system.)

Don't bitch about this. More than half the nation voted for just this. And it is funny, kind of a droit du seigneur (or Droit de Cuissage), without the sex.

The rich are very different from us, as Fitzgerald said to Hemingway. You remember Hemingway's reply.

And some things are funny, maybe, with the sex, as in the big scandal of Wednesday, April 5th - "The deputy press secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was put on leave and his security clearance suspended on Wednesday after being arrested on charges of using the Internet to try to seduce a 14-year-old girl, an official said."

If you'll pardon the innuendo, they caught him red-handed. He's a jerk. And he's not fighting extradition to the controlling jurisdiction, Florida.

An anomaly? Perhaps.

But there's this, the former head of Operation Predator, the national program to target child sex predators, Frank Figueroa, was special agent in charge of the Tampa office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the law enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security at the time of his arrest. His arrest? He dropped his pants and shorts in a food court at a Florida mall and put on a show for a sixteen-year-old girl, who wished he really hadn't, getting himself all excited with stroking himself and all. Wednesday, April 5, 2006, he had his day in court. He pleaded no contest.

It seems Michael Brown wasn't the only one frustrated at the Department of Homeland Security.

There's not much to say here. This may be beyond farce. Both the one arrest and the other "no contest" plea on the same day. Heads are exploding on the righteous Christian Bush-is-our-Jesus right. The man who listens to God and does His will has some odd people working for him. Once again the protagonist in the White House is sometimes, or most of the time, at odds with the environment at hand, stumbling though another door on stage, as the audience laughs uproariously, or not, as he says things ironically at odds with the real events.

And this not long after Claude Allen, President Bush's longtime domestic-policy adviser, is caught shoplifting, which causes his resignation (see Slate here and Just Above Sunset here).

Yep, beyond farce. The farce will be how the religious right defends the two perverts and the shoplifter, to maintain the godliness of the Bush administration. That'll be a good show.

But then, the bad guys have their problems too, as the Los Angeles Times reports the same day here -
To hear Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed tell it, Osama bin Laden was a meddling boss whose indiscretion and poor judgment threatened to derail the terrorist attacks.

He also saddled Mohammed with at least four would-be hijackers who the ringleader thought were ill-equipped for the job. And he carelessly dropped hints about the imminent attacks, violating Mohammed's cardinal rule against discussing the suicide hijacking plot.

... Mohammed describes a terrorist outfit fraught with the same conflicts and petty animosities that plague many American corporations. Mohammed describes himself in particular as having to fend off a chairman of the board who insists on micromanaging despite not knowing what he was doing.
This was a good read with the morning coffee out here in Hollywood, smoking a pipe or two while the cat sat in the window and watched the rain. Another farce, and for those of us with decades of such experience in the world of systems management (or any sort of management, of course), all too familiar. The Times ran it in the A section. They run Dilbert (sort of management Feydeau) in the D section, the business pages. They could have run them together.

The Times also runs a ton on the immigration debate. That's big here, but the best of the day was from Jacob Weisberg in Slate with this, arguing that whole business is a farce and we don't really need an immigration reform bill at all. The whole this is a farce? It seems so.

Key points -
... why not pass no immigration bill at all? The status quo of American immigration is certainly flawed. We are turning a blind eye to widespread lawbreaking and probably driving down low-end wages, at least to some degree. On the other hand, the system works in its way. The most motivated, tenacious, and enterprising immigrants, who are therefore the most economically desirable, find a way around the barriers we erect. Once here, they help our economy sustain a high rate of growth and subsidize our Social Security system. In return, those who choose to stay have a chance to create better lives for their children. Do we really want to put an end to this deal?

America always has tolerated, and probably always must tolerate, such flawed-but-functional arrangements when it comes to immigration. Our country was built by people who did not wait for engraved invitations. New arrivals draw hostility from native-born workers with whom they compete for jobs, even though the native-born can usually recount immigrant family sagas themselves. As a result, the national attitude toward immigration is marked by ambivalence. We need their muscle. We admire their pluck and sacrifice. At the same time, we object to having to compete with them, we resent their differences, and we doubt their commitment to our values. Our immigration policies will never be fully rational because our feelings about a process so central to the American experience remain contradictory.
He recommends some tinkering, but what's the problem? Accept the ambiguities. Relax.

The whole thing is a good read. There's a whole lot of posturing going on, just as in Orton or Feydeau, although he's not doing the literary thing.

But we insist on farce, as in the other big story of the day, this - "'Today' show host Katie Couric announced her departure from NBC on Wednesday to join rival CBS News and become the first sole woman anchor of a major US network evening newscast."

So long Edward R, Murrow, and so long Walter Cronkite. We now get perky and light. Journalistic farce for our times.

And so it goes. No, that was another newsman.

Enough

I wish Phil were still around.

Posted by Alan at 23:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 6 April 2006 06:08 PDT home

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