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"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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Wednesday, 3 May 2006
No Fried Moussaoui: News, Reaction and Embedded Comment
Topic: Breaking News

No Fried Moussaoui: News, Reaction and Embedded Comment

There was only one big news story on Wednesday, May 3, 2006, and that was reported succinctly for the next morning's papers - Jury Rejects Death Sentence for Moussaoui -
Al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui will spend the rest of his life in a maximum security prison for his role in the Sept. 11 attacks after a federal jury rejected the government's four-year quest to secure his execution for the deadliest terrorist strike on U.S. soil.

After weeks of listening to harrowing testimony from 9/11 family members, hearing heartbreaking emergency calls and watching painful footage of victims jumping to their deaths, the anonymous jury of nine men and three women methodically deliberated for 41 hours over seven days before reaching its verdict yesterday.

Jurors carefully went over each question on a 42-page verdict form that gave only a few clues to their thoughts and reasoning. In the end, though, the form indicated that prosecutors could not surmount the main obstacle hanging over their case from the start: Moussaoui did not hijack anything Sept. 11, 2001, because he was sitting in jail.

The panel could not decide unanimously that Moussaoui caused the nearly 3,000 deaths, nor could it agree that he committed his crimes "in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner." Three jurors took it upon themselves to write that Moussaoui had "limited knowledge of the 9/11 attack plans."

"The jury seemed to be saying that he is a bit player, someone at the periphery," said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at the Rand Corp. "It boils down to someone whose hands were not drenched in blood."

As the verdict was announced in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Moussaoui rolled his eyes and looked glum. But he yelled, "America, you lost... I won!" as he was escorted back to jail. Family members of Sept. 11 victims, who had long awaited this day, showed little visible reaction in the courtroom's third row.
So he'll spend his days from now until he dies in that super-maximum security prison in Florence Colorado, near Denver, in solitary confinement.

And the four-year quest to have this guy executed, legally and all, not just taking him out back and beating him to death, and which seemed like a slam dunk, didn't work out. Of course when George Tenant was running the CIA he said the WMD proof was a slam dunk too. The administration is having one long run of bad breaks.

And of course the whole "quest" was set up to prove a number of things - that all the stuff about our secret prisons and holding people for years and years without charges, incommunicado, and holding some people we tell no one about, and all the business about "enhanced interrogations" that sure looks a lot like what everyone else in the world calls torture, and what happened at Abu Ghraib and at Guantánamo, and at Bagram and elsewhere, and those more than ninety "detainees" who might have known something and up and died on us while being questioned... well, this was to prove that we could play by the rules with the worst of the worst. All that other stuff really wasn't what we were about, really. So this guy wouldn't die mysteriously in custody as his organs failed. We'd get a jury of twelve to agree he should die, and prove we are neither sadistic nor lawless, at least in this case.

Additionally this was "red meat" politically. Every day since September 11, 2001, the administration had beat the drum - we should be very afraid, and should be very angry, except when we were told to just act normal and go shopping or visit Disneyworld with the kids. So deep-seated fear and blinding anger were "appropriate" - and, luckily, they had just what was needed to deal with those two overwhelming feelings - and told us anyone who loved this country had to feel fear and anger deeply, and anyone who was into thinking things through, and not that into "feelings" in and of themselves, hated America.

The answer to what we were told we were feeling? They'd help us with the fear by going after the "evil ones" to keep us safe, and we'd be glad to pay for the effort, and keep them in office, and they'd satisfy our anger and the ever-escalating craving for some sort of justice or vengeance that goes with anger - no one else could. They said that was obvious.

So getting permission to execute this guy, by the rules, would have been a two-for-one success. We'd prove to the world we are neither sadistic nor lawless, and win over the people who like thinking things through and playing by the rules - but too, this guy would die, proving the anger and fear from the other sort of folks, those who think careful thinking is stupid and rules now useless in this sorry world, could be relieved because the administration really knew what it was doing - getting the bad guys. They'd get their dead bad guy. The others would get a fancy pants trial, and what could they say to that?

Good plan. And this jury screwed it up -
Some legal experts agreed that the case, and especially the jury's reluctance to impose a death sentence, had brought out the best of American justice, despite the complications. "No one can accuse this of being a kangaroo court or say Moussaoui was railroaded," Hoffman said.

But others said the verdict showed that the government had wasted years and millions of taxpayer dollars pursuing Moussaoui when prosecutors could have settled for a life sentence several years ago.
Now no one's happy.

And you get this -
Jurors yesterday concluded unanimously that prosecutors had proved most of the aggravating factors, including that Moussaoui showed no remorse and that the Sept. 11 attacks caused vast damage in New York and Washington. Their reaction to the mitigating factors varied widely. Nine jurors agreed with the defense that Moussaoui's dysfunctional early childhood and abusive father were mitigating, but none found that executing Moussaoui would make him a martyr. No jurors agreed with the defense that a sentence of life in prison would be a greater punishment.
In short, he really was a bad man, but a nut-case, and almost certainly a wannabe who wasn't even in on most of what he said he was doing.

The administration spent four years going after the wrong guy. This fellow was a clown, a thoroughly evil clown, but a clown nonetheless. Save the death penalty for someone who actually did something.

Yep. This guy was convicted for what he didn't say, that, if he had said it to the feds, might have prevented the attacks almost four years ago, if the feds had done what they might have done, maybe (discussed previously here). Granted, the guys who did things are dead, but those who directed them to do what they did, and say so, like that elusive Osama bin Laden, can't be found for some reason.

So you spend four years trying to get the guy who just wished he had been in on the action but really wasn't? The legal strategy was odd - seeking the death penalty for the hypothetical - and the political calculation, one plotter is as good as any other and this guy will do, even odder.

What did the expect?


The reaction was immediate, like this from Roger Ailes (not the Roger Ailes who runs Fox News), predicting the "we want blood" side would be unhappy -
So Zacarias Moussaoui, a loathsome man who likely would have participated in the 9/11 attacks but didn't have much, if anything, to do with them, but claimed he did, will be in prison for the rest of his life. And he won't be executed either.

Watch the wingnutosphere for demands for jury reform, elucidations of the President's Constitutional power to summarily execute criminal defendants regardless of judicial advisory opinions, Palovian droolings of the word dhimmitude and the home addresses and phone numbers of the jurors.
Would some very angry patriot use Google and find the addresses and phone numbers of the jurors and post them, so we'd get news stories of the jurors getting picked off by snipers, one by one, by those who love America and what it stands for? Michelle Malkin, one of the most influential writers on the right, recently, after the students up in Santa Cruz gave military recruiters a hard time, posted the home phone numbers of the students, and they did get death threats (discussed previously here). And she refused to take the numbers down, because everything has consequences, and some people don't like her, and such things happen.

Jury duty has its dangers. And we're supposed to be afraid of the bad guys, and supposed to be very angry. It could happen. We'll see.

So how upset are people with all this? There's this at Cold Fury -
This nation has now officially lost its way. We can't find the strength to fight a war wholeheartedly, as if victory mattered to us less than being thought well of by a viper's nest of cheap hoods, fainthearted Eurotrash Milquetoasts, and two-bit grifters; to be unequivocally proud of our country's history and its unique achievements; to allow ourselves to believe that we're in the right in a war we didn't initiate; to call treason by its right name; to boldly recognize and name our enemies; or to execute a plain-guilty terrorist who had planned to assist in the murder of thousands of us, via an act of war that has no parallel in the modern age for its sheer nihilistic savagery.

We are defeated.

This perfidious decision will be a bleak reminder to every strong, patriotic American for a very long time to come of the mindless decay that festers within our country, as Moussaoui's victorious partners in crime stage attack after attack to force our spineless "leaders" to release him. Hostages will be taken, embassies assaulted, innocent civilians attacked, all in support of this newly-created jailhouse hero - and we will do nothing of consequence in retaliation.

As for its impact on broader matters, we will lose the War on Terror (we're barely fighting it anyway, as the biggest and most notable consequence of our enervated Iran policy remains simple inertia), and we in our pathetic cowardice deserve to; as such, we never should have even attempted to fight back against our attackers in the first place. Our soldiers should be brought immediately home from the far-flung hellholes to which we've mistakenly sent them, with our abjectest apologies for daring to presume that their countrymen possessed the guts and the will to see the mission through. We conservatarians should join with liberals and demand that our "leaders" beg our Islamist conquerors for clemency immediately, and pray that we'll be allowed to live out our remaining time with some small shred of self-deceptive dignity intact.

Liberals will no doubt be delighted with the weakness and lack of resolve shown here, and will find plenty of progressivist rationalizations for praising the "humanity" and "forgiveness" shown by this sickening miscarriage of justice. For the rest of us, it's a black day indeed.
Wow. All that is now going to happen - and we should just give up and kill the lights and strike the America set, because this guy gets life without parole in solitary, not death from chemicals? This four-year-long fear and anger tactic has worked wonders. Karl Rove knows what he's doing.

And too there's this at Nice Doggie -
All over the world, terrorists let out a sigh of relief, knowing that you can go to America, conspire to murder 3,000 innocent civilians, and still live out your days in greater comfort and luxury than their caves could ever afford them.

As Moussaoui was led away after the verdict, he shouted: "America, you lost!"

He's right, in a bigger sense than just the outcome of his trial where he was essentially pardoned for the murder of 3,000 innocents. We've lost our way. We've lost our will and ability to fight to WIN. We've lost our faith in ourselves and our belief in the righteousness of our cause. We've lost sight of the fact that this is a war that was forced upon us, a war fought by savages that deserve no consideration, no quarter and no mercy, a war that will not be won with kiddy gloves and a war that will not end until WE finish it, by whatever means necessary.

But at least we can tell ourselves over and over again that "we're so much better than them" when we're attacked the next time.
Damn those savages. What can you do? No one wants to wipe out the savages any more.

But comfort and luxury in Colorado? Maybe he knows something about the Florence facility no one else is revealing?

Dahlia Lithwick, the lawyer who is a senior editor for the Washington Post's SLATE.COM, in Complex Martyr, is just puzzled, and reviews the case out here in California where one Hamid Hayat was just convicted of offering material aid to al Qaeda.

The reports from that jury room had this drama -
The angry racist foreman who was lobbying to "hang" the defendant from the get-go; the overly "sensitive" minorities who took umbrage at the foreman's suggestion that all Arabs look alike; the blatant violations of the rules against jurors learning of the case in the media; and the unremitting whining about the toll this jury service was taking on everyone's physical health, with clinical symptoms ranging from one juror's stress-related "drinking and overeating" to migraines.
That jury was more than a tad dysfunctional, but not this Moussaoui jury -
The jury unanimously found two of three key aggravating factors to be true: that Moussaoui "knowingly created a grave risk of death" for innocent victims beyond just those who perished on Sept. 11, and that he committed his acts with "substantial planning." But in refusing to find what seemed the most obvious of the aggravating factors, that he "committed his crimes in an 'especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner'," or that Moussaoui - in jail on 9/11 - was responsible for nearly 3,000 deaths, the jurors seemed to be acknowledging that while Moussaoui wanted 9/11 to happen, wanted many more innocents to die, and that he plotted and planned for a future 9/11, he wasn't sufficiently central to this particular plot to be credited, or killed, for its hideousness.

And that's the message we can also glean from the jury's findings of mitigating factors - revealing that three separate jurors believed Moussaoui had "limited knowledge of the 9/11 attack plans" and three believed he played a minor role.

In the end, the only real link between the acknowledged fact that Moussaoui was a terrorist who was willing to die in a suicide attack and the actual attacks of 9/11 existed in the minds of the prosecution. And, at the last minute, these links sprang to life in the fantasy world of the terrorist himself, who cooked up a strange Forrest Gump plot - starring himself and Richard Reid - that the judge herself considered to be hooey and that even the prosecutors didn't believe.

This case was about a conspiracy, about some factual connection, however attenuated, between Zacarias Moussaoui's jihadi heart and the events of 9/11. And although the government has steadfastly stood by its legal claim that it was enough for Moussaoui to have wanted to be on those planes on 9/11, enough for him to have delighted as those planes went down, the jurors recognized this afternoon that a conspiracy to aid in a terror plot requires more than just a bad heart, and more than mere willingness to participate in the next one.
So the government didn't get their scapegoat, and it seems this jury was "more subtle, and more courageous, than the prosecution itself."

Maybe they just think too much, and not reacting "from the gut" as you're supposed to, and as the president boasts he himself does. It's that damned nuance again.

Lithwick ends with this - "These jurors understood that for this country to kill a terrorist for his ideas, hopes, and dreams is not much different than the terrorist's desire to come here and kill us for ours."

That's far too subtle, even if it is true.

But how did the president himself react?

With this -
President Bush said Wednesday the verdict rejecting the death penalty for al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui "represents the end of this case but not an end to the fight against terror."

Without commenting directly on the jury's decision, Bush declared, "Evil will not have the final say. This great nation will prevail."

A parsing of that from one of the writers at Hullabaloo -
I have absolutely no idea what Bush is talking about.

Who ever implied that the "fight against terror" would "end" with the sentencing of Moussaoui? And what does a man receiving life imprisonment have to do with "evil" having the final say, or not having the final say? And how did evil have the penultimate say here? And what's this about prevailing? Prevail against what? A man spending the rest of his life behind bars? The future of the United States is somehow called into question by the verdict? What on earth is Bush talking about?

Okay, I'm exaggerating. I do think I understand the remarks. Bush is saying to his fans - one of out three Americans, even now, can you fucking believe it? - that he thinks the jury was infested with liberals and they let him off the hook; Zac should be whacked.

But really, that interpretation doesn't begin to do justice to the extremely weird way in which he said it - a fusion of mealy-mouthed Biz Speak, government double-talk, and American fundamentalist claptrap. And it's just as important that Bush left things out, like, for example, a mention of the actual decision - life imprisonment. I'm sure you guys can find numerous other subtleties, but these will do for starters.
But it is the liberals, damn their eyes, as some early eighteenth century captain of the British Navy would put it. But no one talks like that anymore. You find comments like this over at Red State, where one Thomas Crown modernizes the wording -
I repeat: Should the entire American Left fall over dead tomorrow, I would rejoice, and order pizza to celebrate. They are not my countrymen; they are animals who happen to walk upright and make noises that approximate speech. They are below human. I look forward to seeing each and every one in Hell.
Of course, the president couldn't get away with saying something like that. But he and his crew have managed to get folks to feel that way, which explains who's in power, at the moment.

Oddly enough, some feel rather rosy at what happened, like this defense attorney, on the road, who offers this -
I just got to my destination. When the driver turned on the radio in the car leaving the airport, I asked about Moussaoui. He told me the jury came back with life and I shouted "Yes!" and threw my arm up in the air. I proceeded to tell him for the next 20 minutes how proud I was of the defense team in this case and what they had to work against - not only the investment of the country in a death verdict to retaliate against someone for 9/11 - but their own client who hated them and not only wouldn't assist them, but tried to sabotage them at every turn. Their dedication and professionalism is astounding. I've read every public filing in the case and they did such an incredible job for this crazy, bumbling holy warrior.

I then launched into a lecture about what was facing Moussaoui when he got to Supermax in Florence, where he will spend the rest of his days. Then we listened to the news and I heard that Moussaoui's words after the verdict were something like "America Lost, I Won" and I said to the driver, "He'll eat those words when he gets to Florence." It's not called Alcatraz of the Rockies for nothing. Without lawyers visiting him and sending him pleadings to read, and with virtually no human contact, lights shining on 24/7 as his every move in his tiny, windowless cell is monitored (at least for the first few months), he'll realize he got the short end of the stick pretty quickly.

Had he only cooperated with his lawyers, and not insisted on pleading guilty, perhaps his trial could have been about whether he was a co-conspirator in 9/11 and therefore legally responsible for it. Al Qaeda abandoned him years ago, he doesn't even have them any more. And any hope of martyrdom went down the drain with the life verdict. He will become a footnote in the history of 9/11.

One more thought. This is not a victory for America. Moussaoui had no role in 9/11. Cheering on al Qaeda and hoping they succeed - and celebrating when they did - does not make one a co-conspirator.

The scorecard remains: Al Qaeda: 3,000 killed on 9/11. Number of responsible persons brought to justice: None.

Where is Osama? Bush still can't find him.
So the guy got what he deserved, and perhaps the day will come when we go after the real bad guys, not the whacked-out jerks who love them.

This was a PR disaster for the administration. It might actually get people thinking. It's dangerous with they do that.

Posted by Alan at 22:35 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 5 May 2006 14:02 PDT home

Tuesday, 2 May 2006
The Day After: Tuesday Tidbits
Topic: Couldn't be so...

The Day After: Tuesday Tidbits

Markers for noting where we all were on Tuesday, May 2, 2006, the day after May Day, or International Workers Day, or whatever. In these pages there is coverage, with fourteen photos, of the massive marches in Los Angeles here, and Our Man in Paris (sometimes), Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, covers a very rainy May Day in Paris, with photos, here.

As an historical marker, it should be noted that the day was also the third anniversary of the president delivering his address at dusk on the deck of that aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, off the coast of San Diego. He had flown to the ship in the co-pilot seat of an SB-3 Viking jet for a real carrier landing, and stepped out in his flight suit, doing the Tom Cruise in "Top Gun" thing. They had turned the ship into the setting sun to so that when he was in his suit and tie and delivered his speech under a banner that read "Mission Accomplished," the lighting was just right. He declared that "major combat operations" in Iraq had ended - "In the battle of Iraq the United States and our allies have prevailed."

The media went wild and themselves declared he had hit a home run, or something, and all his critics would hang their heads in shame. (For a review of all that see this.)

Times change. What was the mother of all photos ops now seems to have been just stupid, or a least a tad premature.

There was a ton of commentary May Day in the press on the irony of it all, on the press strategy and the planners who thought this was a wise idea, and on the idea the man had no idea what he was doing.

Of the all the commentary, this from Tim Grieve, sums it up -
… Just before the war began, a reporter asked Bush what he could say to assure Americans that he wasn't leading them into another Vietnam. "That's a great question," the president said. "Our mission is clear in Iraq. Should we have to go in, our mission is very clear: disarmament. And in order to disarm, it would mean regime change. I'm confident we'll be able to achieve that objective, in a way that minimizes the loss of life. No doubt there's risks in any military operation; I know that. But it's very clear what we intend to do. And our mission won't change. Our mission is precisely what I just stated."

But if the mission was "disarmament," that mission was accomplished before the first U.S. soldier died. Three years into the war, there's still no proof that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. What there is, increasingly, is proof that the president and his men knew that Saddam didn't have WMD but pressed ahead with their plan for war anyway. So what was the mission when Bush said "go"? What is the mission three years later? And how is that mission worth more than $300 billion and 2,400 American lives?

These are questions one might have asked the president today, if in fact he had been taking any. At the White House, Bush played host to Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice, squeezing every last drop of press out of the dog-and-pony show that began last week when Rumsfeld and Rice met up in Baghdad for a synchronized surprise visit. Bush said it was important that they'd gone. "I thought it was very important for both secretaries to go firsthand, to be there with the leadership to say we're supporting them," Bush said. "It's very important for these two senior officials to sit down with these new folks and say, you have our support and we want you to succeed."

Important for U.S. public opinion? Maybe. Important for the Iraqis? Apparently not. After Rice and Rumsfeld left Baghdad, Iraqi politicians trying to make something out of their government said the joint visit was more hindrance then help. "We didn't invite them," said a Shiite legislator close to the new prime minister. "It would be more appropriate if they would leave us alone," said a senior Kurdish legislator. "Rice's trip to Iraq at this critical time is just another desperate move by the Americans to try to impose themselves on our new government," said another Shiite legislator. "They have lost their influence."

That is not all we have lost. The soldiers are gone. The money is gone. America's place in the world, its image, its power - they're all diminished. Americans' faith in their government is shot: Only 9 percent think it was "mission accomplished" back in May 2003, and only 40 percent believe that the mission in Iraq - whatever it is - will ever be accomplished now.
And that is followed by a discussion of the statements Colin Powell made over the weekend, saying that Rumsfeld and the president made "grave errors" at the beginning of the war, and he told them they needed more troops than they were planning to use, just to stabilize the place - "They were anticipating a different kind of aftermath of the fall in Baghdad. It turned out to be not exactly as they had anticipated."

Oops. The president had no comment on what Powell said, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who a National Security Advisor at the time, said she didn't remember him saying that. And, as Grieve notes, the new White House chief of staff, Josh Bolten, was telling Fox News this - "I don't think we need to change, but we do need to refresh and reenergize."

Oh. That'll help.

But what about the day after?

Marker One for Tuesday, May 2 - Managing the Message

Well, no more aircraft carrier extravaganzas. And as Jack Shafer notes here, more than a few critics of this administration see "a lockdown on and manipulation of information the likes of which we've not seen since the Nixon administration."

That's about this -
  • The establishment of a White House press office that not only doesn't say anything but doesn't know anything.

  • A mania for secrecy that has resulted, most recently, in the secret reclassification of declassified documents in the National Archives.

  • The deliberate sowing of official disinformation about Iraq and the Iraq war.

  • The tightening of FOIA restrictions.

  • The production of video "news releases" that look like news but are government propaganda ("In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting.").

  • And more, including, but not limited to, a laundry list of slights; pundits on the take (Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher, and Michael McManus); gross insults (Chief of Staff Andrew Card telling The New Yorker, "I don't believe [the press has] a check-and-balance function"); and other provocations (for example, a vice president who has removed himself from the information grid) directed at the press.
Well, it's a strategy, and Shafer explains it, and its disadvantages -
... the Bushies ambition was to "decertify" the press from its modern role as purveyor of news and portray it as just another special interest. ? Bush's preference for "unfiltered" news, received directly from his staff, is well-known. Disciplined and silent, as The New Yorker's Ken Auletta put it, the administration has factored the press corps out of the equation.

The upsides of filling the president's tanks with unfiltered and blunting the press corps are obvious. Limit the flow of information to the press - and the public - and you temporarily blind your critics and political foes, freeing you to execute your policies unimpeded. As journalist Ron Suskind told Boehlert, "For [Republicans], essentially the way to handle the press is the same as how to handle the federal government; you starve the beast."

The downsides are less obvious. A starved press corps doesn't necessarily wither away. In fact, a Machiavellian case for feeding the press corps with stories - even stories that reflect negatively on the administration - can be made. If properly fed such "scoops," they will remain under the control of their feeders, which is what happened to the press corps orbiting Henry Kissinger during the Nixon-Ford administrations. Starve them and they may well go prospecting for news in the vast bureaucracy where White House feeders aren't in control. The recent clandestine CIA prisons and NSA surveillance scoops by the Washington Post and New York Times illustrate the limits of White House control on information: Other, non-White House parts of the bureaucracy rebelled against Bush. Viewed from this end of the telescope, Bush secrecy "caused" the Post and Times scoops and may well cause many more, no matter who gets fired or prosecuted.

Another downside: As information theory instructs us, it's never in the interests of a totalitarian regime to completely eliminate debate over - and knowledge of - controversial policies. Unless an administration is infallible - and Pope George W.'s certainly isn't - it benefits from testing its policy ideas in some fashion with its critics, or even its allies, before deploying them. Public debate helps an administration build support for its plans, permits it to see the weaknesses of and retrofit its strategies, and if need be, abandon the ideas. Machiavellians might logically desire secret prisons for their enemies, but will they if the press discovers the prisons - which is to be expected - and the stories cause international incidents that outweigh the benefits of operating them? Right now, the political damage may seem slight. But combine the prison story with the NSA account, and add a third such revelation (these things always come in threes), and even Sean Hannity will abandon his lame-duck president. (Come to think of it, if the press is so cowed, where did the prisons and NSA stories come from?)

The hermetically closed universe in which the Bush administration operates contains the seeds of its own destruction. But that doesn't mean reporters and others can't nurture that germination and flowering.
What to say of all this? Shafer is onto something. Saying the press is just one more special interest with its own axe to grind, and shouldn't be trusted, ticks them off, and they dig up more facts, and then you have to say the facts are biased, and that can get quite surreal really fast, and make a comedian and satirist like Steven Colbert a star, but there's more on that a the bottom of the column.

Marker Two for Tuesday, May 2 - Managing the Next War Differently

In the futures market, the one where you buy futures based on current events, at the end of the day after May Day, those investing in the outcome that the United States would be launching a preemptive war on Iran by the end of the year were ahead, at fifty-two percent (which you can track that here. If you believe in the collective wisdom of the market, and many do, as was discussed in these pages here way back in August 2003, then the growing consensus is that we'll have this new war before the next New Years Eve.

Will we manage this one differently?

Stuff like this was all over the web Tuesday - "We need to shut them up once and for all and my proposal is controversial but it is no doubt effective: use nukes to turn Tehran into a parking lot. ? Liberals will squeal like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs but I don't care - we need to attack sooner rather than later."

That is from someone who uses the name "Right Thinking Girl" but she's not alone, as Shelby Steele had the same in a column in the Wall Street Journal that everyone on the right was quoting. His basic argument is something changed since after WWII and we have been fighting wars since then with one hand tied behind our backs, trying to be precise in our bombing and careful in our ground actions, attempting to be the good guys. He's rather fond of General Sherman's March to the Sea in the late Civil War, where he leveled everything in sight and tried his best to make Georgia uninhabitable for generations. He was a real man and all that. We just don't use enough force.

Why has this happened? His theory is this is just "white guilt" and that's stupid. Why are we all hung up on our racist past and out to prove we don't want to subjugate dark folks? We do fight wars against dark folks, but it's war, damn it, and not an exercise in public relations. That's why we don't win.

No, that's not a distortion -
Certainly since Vietnam, America has increasingly practiced a policy of minimalism and restraint in war. And now this unacknowledged policy, which always makes a space for the enemy, has us in another long and rather passionless war against a weak enemy.

Why this new minimalism in war?

It began, I believe, in a late-20th-century event that transformed the world more profoundly than the collapse of communism: the world-wide collapse of white supremacy as a source of moral authority, political legitimacy and even sovereignty.

The collapse of white supremacy - and the resulting white guilt - introduced a new mechanism of power into the world: stigmatization with the evil of the Western past. And this stigmatization is power because it affects the terms of legitimacy for Western nations and for their actions in the world. In Iraq, America is fighting as much for the legitimacy of its war effort as for victory in war. In fact, legitimacy may be the more important goal.

If a military victory makes us look like an imperialist nation bent on occupying and raping the resources of a poor brown nation, then victory would mean less because it would have no legitimacy. Europe would scorn. Conversely, if America suffered a military loss in Iraq but in so doing dispelled the imperialist stigma, the loss would be seen as a necessary sacrifice made to restore our nation's legitimacy. Europe's halls of internationalism would suddenly open to us.
Now that's interesting. We foolishly abandoned "white supremacy as a source of moral authority, political legitimacy and even sovereignty."

We'll see if the White House is as white as its name and takes up this argument.

He's brave enough to advance the idea, and the Wall Street Journal is brave enough to print it. Is he tiring to call the White House's bluff and daring them to just come out and agree with him?

Maybe so -
Today words like "power" and "victory" are so stigmatized with Western sin that, in many quarters, it is politically incorrect even to utter them. For the West, "might" can never be right. And victory, when won by the West against a Third World enemy, is always oppression. But, in reality, military victory is also the victory of one idea and the defeat of another. Only American victory in Iraq defeats the idea of Islamic extremism. But in today's atmosphere of Western contrition, it is impolitic to say so.

... This is a fact that must be integrated into our public life - absorbed as new history - so that America can once again feel the moral authority to seriously tackle its most profound problems. Then, if we decide to go to war, it can be with enough ferocity to win.

... compassionate conservatism, whatever you think of the concept domestically, clearly shouldn't extend to war - and there are times when the international equivalent of Sherman's march through the South would, in the long run, save American soldier's lives and foreshorten the conflict.

Which is why there are times when we really should turn off the "smart" bombs and show our seriousness by putting the world on notice that, when we believe the situation calls for it, we are willing to ignore the inevitable bad press and the howls of protest from human rights groups, and exhibit a show of strength and military professionalism that is politically disinterested and tactically thorough and lethal.

Of course, no one wishes to see innocent civilians die (only the unserious make the claim that those who support what they consider to be a necessary war somehow luxuriate in collateral deaths). But at the same time, from a practical standpoint, there is nothing wrong with fighting a war as if it is a war - and sometimes the only way to disabuse the enemy of the notion that we are constrained by a moral calculus that makes little sense in urban combat situations is to refuse to show the kind of restraint they have come to anticipate and count on.
A riposte from Glenn Greenwald here -
Looking at the bright side of this deranged rhetoric, it is, in a sense, refreshing to see that many of these war supporters, in their great frustration, are finally relinquishing their solemn concern for the Iraqi people and the tearful inspiration caused by the Purple Fingers. Instead, they are now just calling for some good old-fashioned carpet bombings and mass killings.

... Does it really have to be said that the reason we can't carpet bomb Iraq and "win the war" is because we are supposedly there to build Iraq, not to destroy it? Let's review a few basic, undisputed facts about our current occupation of Iraq - undisputed because the administration itself acknowledges them. Once our original, predominant justification for our invasion disappeared - that would be the whole bit about WMDs - the only one we had left, the one we have since trumpeted over and over, is that we are there in order to improve that country, to enhance our reputation in the region, and to win "hearts and minds."

... According to the President, we're going to win because the terrorists bring suffering and destruction to Iraq and we don't. So they will like us and hate the terrorists and will soon be our "partner for peace." Advocating that we act more the way the President says Al Qaeda is acting - by bombing more and killing more civilians - doesn't seem all that compatible with those goals.

We are not there to conquer territory or drive the Iraqi government into forced surrender and submission.

... Escalating the use of military force in Iraq by indiscriminately killing civilians and eradicating whole cities would contradict every single statement we have made about why we are there, what we want to achieve, and what our plan is in that region. We're not refraining from those acts because of white guilt or a fear of what European diplomats will say about us. We're refraining from them because the wholesale indiscriminate slaughter of thousands or tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis - all because we have grown impatient and annoyed with our pet little democracy-building project and just want to bomb the whole place into submission - would be both morally reprehensible and, from the perspective of our own interests, an indescribably stupid thing to do.

To sit and listen to people who have spent the last three years piously lecturing us on the need to stand with "the Iraqi people," who justified our invasion of that country on the ground that we want to give them a better system of government because we must make Muslims like us more, now insist that what we need to do is bomb them with greater force and less precision is really rather vile - but highly instructive. The masks are coming off. No more poetic tributes to democracy or all that sentimental whining about "hearts and minds." It's time to shed our unwarranted white guilt, really stretch our legs and let our hair down, and just keep bombing and bombing until we kill enough of them and win. Shelby Steele deserves some sort of award for triggering that refreshingly honest outburst.
Or maybe Steele was just plugging his new book, White Guilt, published the day before the Wall Street Journal item. In any event, the right side of the web was humming with praise for what was finally said in the Journal, and the left side was appalled.

So the marker for the day was that on this particular Tuesday the masks did come off, and this next war, maybe with nukes, will perhaps be justified in a new way.

And note this - the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, and the six-ship Enterprise Strike Group, left port Tuesday for the Middle East. They have the nukes.

Marker Three for Tuesday, May 2 - "No one likes me, everybody hates me - guess I'll go eat worms."

Two new polls - USA Today / Gallup here, with the president's approval rating down two point in the last two weeks, the thirty-four percent, the lowest he's ever been. And it shows the majority disapproves of a few specifics too - the way he's handling Iraq, the economy, foreign affairs, immigration, energy and terrorism. And more than half also say these characteristics don't apply to the president - "picks good people for key leadership positions," is "honest and trustworthy," "shares your values," "cares about people like you," and "can manage the government effectively."

CBS News here shows him at thirty-three percent, the lowest he's ever been there too. The detail - seventy-four percent - and fifty-six percent of the Republicans surveyed - disapprove of the way Bush is handling rising gas prices. Sixty-four percent disapprove of the way Bush is handling the war in Iraq. Fuifty-eight disapprove of the way he's handling the economy. Overall, seventy-one percent think the United States is headed in the wrong direction - that's two points worse than the results they measured right after Hurricane Katrina.


Andrew Sullivan here -
Both Gallup and CBS now have Bush at all-time lows in approval numbers; and the ratings for the GOP appear to be way below the water-line for November. Things can change. But I have a feeling that Bush has now become Carterized. It is very hard to see how he can regain his footing at this late stage. After six years or so, the public knows who you are; and they have come to a judgment. With the economy now booming, who can imagine where his polling might be headed if his reckless fiscal policies bring disaster sooner rather than later?

Ironically, his main hope might be Iraq. It's possible that things will improve - and any halfway decent outcome will seem like good news given the recent past. The NYT had a helpful piece today on a place where things are going right. Maliki may exceed expectations. I sure hope he does. On Maliki, Bush's future hinges. And it's not much within the White House's control.
This conservative fellow says George Bush has morphed into Jimmy Carter? That's cold.

There are some instructive line charts from Jonathan Schwartz here - a month by month comparison shows the Nixon line and the Bush line, on both the approval numbers and the disapproval numbers, pretty much match up. The Nixon lines end at his resignation. Bush will stay for almost three more years. But at least Schwartz is not talking about Jimmy Carter.

You could hear the new polls discussed all day on the talking head shows, with a few saying even a war with Iran won't fix this, as no one will rally round this guy now - "After six years or so, the public knows who you are; and they have come to a judgment." Even if it were the right thing to do it would not help him. Some of us saw Howard Fineman on MSNBC saying the only thing that could help, possibly, is some devastating natural disaster - an even bigger hurricane or an earthquake out here that destroys Los Angeles - and the government does a wonderful job and proves what happened with New Orleans and the Gulf Coast taught them something and they fixed everything. That's a big "and" of course.

So another marker for the day was that on this particular Tuesday the consensus was there's no hope - the man who leads us is not trusted on much of anything, and there's no way to fix it.

But who knows? What's that old line from the cartoon show about the moose and the squirrel? "Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!"

We'll see.

Marker Four for Tuesday, May 2 - The Ultimate Screw-Up

It's that Valerie Plame (Wilson) thing again, the CIA woman whose cover was blown during the effort to do something about her husband, who had said, in the New York Times, that he had no idea why the president said, in his State of the Union address to congress just before the war started, that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium in Africa. The vice president had asked the CIA to check it out, the CIA sent him, and he found the whole thing was just not so, and he reported back to the CIA, and assumed they told they vice president.

So the fun began, and stories were planted in the press that his wife set up the trip to get him out of the house or whatever. The collateral damage was that her cover as a CIA agent was blown, but no one is 'fessing up to that, as that's a bit of a no-no. The defenders of the administration say there was no real damage, and she wasn't really a secret agent, or that if she had been one as court documents now lay out, she wasn't working on anything important. No one is complaining, even if the original calls for an investigation came from the CIA itself. Everyone knows they are incompetents and crybabies, and always working to thwart the noble efforts of the president, who is fighting evil for us. That's why we paid Ahmed Chalabi and his group of exiles for the real information on what Saddam was up to. The CIA is useless, and Porter Goss will fix it by purging all the people there who have it out for the president.

It seems the CIA is fighting back, and leaking to MSNBC. And their sucker punch has to do with the upcoming war we will launch against Iran this time. They tell MSNBC that she was working on trying to stop nuclear material and know-how from getting into Iran, and when she was exposed and had to resign, they had to roll up her operation. So know, if we want to know how soon Iran can build a working nuclear weapon, and what they have and what their resources really are, that's going to be a whole lot harder. Blowing her cover blinded us when we most needed to see.

Her real assignment was a rumor floating around, as here, but on May Day David Schuster of MSNBC here says that people in the CIA, or had been in the CIA at the time, were telling him the Plame woman was working on the Iranian nuclear threat when the White House blew her cover in the summer of 2003.

There was an uproar, as the defenders of the administration said this was the liberal press out to "get" the president on more time - these were "unnamed intelligence sources" who were making these claims. No names. So it was lying cowards who said this, afraid to come out and say such things in the light of day. Or MSNBC made it all up.

Case closed.

But on Tuesday, May 2nd, MSNBC was having none of that. They trotted out one of their sources (video here), Rand Beers, who went on record - "You know for a fact that firstly, the people who work there could be undercover agents working in that office or people on the agent's side of the CIA. And secondly, the issues were among the two most important issues the CIA was working on."

The next move is on the right. How do you deal with that? On Tuesday Senator Frank Lautenberg called on CIA Director Porter Goss to provide the Senate with a "national security damage assessment" based on all this - "If this report is true, the disclosure of her identity has caused harm to our national security."

The same day, this - "Iran's first target would be Israel in any response to a US attack, a Revolutionary Guards commander said Tuesday, reinforcing the Iranian president's past call for Israel to be 'wiped off the map.'"

Oh, and note this -
Ahmed Chalabi, the man who helped provide cooked intelligence on Iraq to the Pentagon and the New York Times in the lead-up to war, is once again being engaged in US policy decisions, current and former intelligence officials say.

According to two former high level counterintelligence officials, one former senior counterterrorist official and another intelligence officer, Chalabi is acting as broker between the US Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Iranian officials in what are now stalled diplomatic efforts between the US and Iran.
Well, he may lie to us for his own reasons, but at least he's not CIA.

And just for old time's sake, note this, Turkey has denied us access to its bases for an air attack on Iran, even though we promised to provide them with their very own nuclear reactor - "Turkey's refusal to comply with the US request was another indication of the growing tension between the two nations, which, according to Gul, have not 'seen a single day of positive stability since the Islamic party was elected to power [in 2002].'" As you remember, we tried to get them in with the Iraq war, but they felt insulted by the bribes, and then got angry when we pressured their generals to agree to let us use their airspace, ignoring their own civilian government.

This is not going well. Marker of the day? We're going into this war more blindly and foolishly than the last time.

And even that one has more and more odd consequences, like this from CBS 2 in Chicago -
Graffiti painted by Chicago gangs is showing up in Iraq.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports the graffiti shows the increasing gang activity in the Army.

Military leaders are concerned some soldiers may be supplying gangs at home.

Some gangs encourage their members to join the Army to learn urban warfare techniques and teach other members.

Chicago police have reportedly seen evidence of gangs getting help from soldiers, and the FBI visited Army bases to check into gang activity.
Oh great.

Marker Five for Tuesday, May 2 - Angry Sportswriters

This is very odd, Peter King in Sports Illustrated saying this from New Orleans, and he's not talking about the Saints -
What I saw was a national disgrace. An inexcusable, irresponsible, borderline criminal national disgrace. I am ashamed of this country for the inaction I saw everywhere.

I mentioned my outrage to the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, on Thursday. He shook his head and said, "Tell me about it.'' Disgust dripped from his voice.

What are we doing in this country?

... How can we let an area like the Lower Ninth Ward sit there, on the eve of another hurricane season, with nothing being done to either bulldoze the place and start over, or rebuild? How can Congress sit on billions of looming aid and not release it for this area?

I can't help but think that if this were Los Angeles or New York, that 500 percent more money - and concern - would have flooded into this place. And I can't help but think that if the idiots who let the levees down here go to seed had simply been doing their jobs, we'd never have been in this mess in the first place - in New Orleans, at least. Other than former FEMA director Michael Brown, are you telling me that no others are paying for this with their jobs? Whatever happened to responsibility?

Am I ticked off? Damn right I'm ticked off. If you're breathing, you should be morally outraged.

Katrina fatigue? Hah! More Katrina news! Give me more! Give it to me every day on the front page!

Every day until Washington realizes there's a disaster here every bit as urgent as anything happening in this world today - fighting terrorism, combating the nuclear threat in Iran. I'm not in any way a political animal, but all you have to be is an occasionally thinking American to be sickened by the conditions I saw.
Well, the word on Fox News and the other right-side outlets was people were just tired of hearing about the whole thing, so you see what's up here.

But Sports Illustrated? That deserves a marker of its own.

Marker Six for Tuesday, May 2 - The 750

According to this, a Boston Globe analysis, President Bush has "quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office."

Someone is keeping count of those presidential signing statements. It's not just him signing away the prohibition against torture in "the prohibition against torture" Congress passed last year, and that business about the Patriot Act, where he signed the law that he must provide information for congress so they'd know what's going on, and added a statement he'd not do that if he decided maybe he shouldn't. It seems there are 748 more examples.

Someone not only finally noticed. They did a count - the president has declared himself free to ignore all sorts of laws - "military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, 'whistle-blower' protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research."

One constitutional lawyer sees it this way -
It is not uncommon for a President to refrain from executing a law which he believes, and states, is unconstitutional. Other Presidents have invoked that doctrine, although Bush has done so far more aggressively and frequently. But what is uncommon - what is entirely unprecedented - is that the administration's theories of its own power arrogate unto itself not just the right to refrain from enforcing such laws, but to act in violation of those laws, to engage in the very conduct which those laws criminalize, and they do so secretly and deceitfully, after signing the law and pretending that they are engaged in the democratic process. That is why the President has never bothered to veto a law - why bother to veto laws when you have the power to violate them at will?
Well, yes.

The marker for the day after May Day?

This - "Three leading Democratic senators blasted President Bush Monday for having claimed he has the authority to defy more than 750 statutes enacted since he took office, saying that the president's legal theories are wrong and that he must obey the law."

Good luck with that. The man is busy.

Marker Seven for Tuesday, May 2 - One More Time, and Even the Brits Do It Better

Okay, this has been covered a lot in these pages, most recently here, the issue with out healthcare system versus those of Canada, France the UK, which seem a bit more fair and whole lot more efficient - decent healthcare at a lower cost and all that.

Now what?

The marker is a Washington Post item here that reports on a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Via Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly (here) we see the JAMA thing is about the study of health outcomes for our system and the UK system for people between fifty-five and sixty-four, and it wasn't flakey ? "They controlled for race by studying only non-Hispanic whites. They controlled for obesity. They controlled for income. They controlled for education. They controlled for everything they could think of."

From the Post -
"At every point in the social hierarchy there is more illness in the United States than in England and the differences are really dramatic," said study co-author Dr. Michael Marmot, an epidemiologist at University College London in England.

... The upper crust in both countries was healthier than middle-class and low-income people in the same country. But richer Americans' health status resembled the health of the low-income British.
Yeah, but they have bad teeth. But this is pretty startling. Rich Americans do as well as "low income" Brits? What's up with that?

Drum -
The researchers are careful to say that their study doesn't prove that Britain's healthcare system is better than America's - something that would be nearly impossible to demonstrate conclusively with a study like this in any case. But that's not the point. The point is that it's obviously not worse even though the British spend about half as much as we do per capita.

So here's the deal: under the British system, you don't have to worry about which doctors your HMO allows you to see. You don't have to worry about losing coverage if you get laid off. You don't have to worry about being unable to get a new job because you have a pre-existing condition. You don't have to worry about being bankrupted if you contract a serious chronic illness. And large corporations don't have to worry about going out of business because of spiraling healthcare obligations.

And the result of all this? Healthcare that's as good as ours and delivered for about half the cost. Under a national healthcare system, when you get sick, all you have to worry about is getting well. Explain to me again why we're afraid of this?
Who knows? Something about personal freedom? What else is there to say?

There's a very wonky back and forth on the whole matter from Ezra Klein here, with bar charts and everything, and the data are clear -
We spend around twice what any other country does per capita, and we see very little, if any gain, from the added expense. Indeed, there's an interesting thought experiment as to how much better their outcomes would be if they pumped up their per capita spending to match ours. Meanwhile, they cover all of their citizens ... while we have a population of 46 million uninsured, and another 15 or so million underinsured. 20,000 Americans die every year because they lack health insurance, and many more perish because they forego care that turns out to be necessary.
But wait. There's more.

If you go here you will find a detailed discussion of the Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act (S.1955), the "Enzi Bill" which is supposed to "expand health care access and reduce costs through the creation of small business health plans and through modernization of the health insurance marketplace."

It does some of that, but it does more. It makes what's legally covered by all health a "lowest common denominator" affair. All the state regulations would now be scrapped.

No one would be required to offer these as they are now -
Ohio: alcoholism treatment, cervical cancer screening, contraceptives, emergency services, infertility treatment, mammography screening, mental health (general), off-label drug use, and well child care.

California: alcoholism treatment, AIDS vaccine, blood lead screening, bone density screening, cervical cancer screening, clinical trials, colorectal screening, contraceptives, dental anesthesia, diabetic supplies and education, drug abuse treatment, emergency services, home health care, hospice care, infertility treatment, mammography screening, maternity, mental health parity, metabolic disorders/PKU, minimum mastectomy stay, off- label drug use, orthotics/prosthetics, prostate cancer screening, second medical/surgical opinion, and well-child care.

Florida: Alcoholism treatment, ambulance transportation, ambulatory surgery, bone marrow transplants, bone density screening, cleft palate, dental anesthesia, diabetes supplies and education, emergency services, home health care, mammography screening, mental health (general), metabolic disorders/PKU, minimum mastectomy stay, off-label drug use, prosthetics, TMJ Disorders, and well-child care.
We get uniformity, and reform with much-reduced coverage, depending on where you live. Make it all like the Ozarks? Seems so.

We're going backwards. Makes you wish you were British.

The marker is for a hidden issue that won't go away, buried in all the war news.

Marker Eight for Tuesday, May 2 - It's a Gas!

People really seem upset by the high gas prices. What to do? Switch to electrics cars? Burn fry grease from McDonalds? Ethanol from corn or something that grows fast? The president is pushing for hydrogen powered cars and trucks. What's the answer?

From Michael O'Hare of the Public Policy School at UCLA, you might not like the answer (emphases added) -
I don't know where to start with this stuff.

Hydrogen is not a fuel, and neither is electricity. There's no mine for either of them; if people start plugging in cars into the wall, power plants of all kinds will just rev up faster and longer, and the marginal electricity is made from natural gas, a fossil fuel that's only somewhat less greenhousy than oil, though a lot less than coal. These cars have to haul an enormous stack of heavy batteries around, and half the energy that goes into the power plant is lost in the transmission and generation system anyway. "Clean coal" doesn't mean "coal that doesn't cause global warming," it means less pollution of every other kind: coal, clean or not, is the worst greenhouse fuel until we figure out how to capture all the stack gas and put it somewhere (this is called carbon sequestration, and it's a very long-term, daunting, technological road at this point).

As a piece of social policy, one has to wonder about the wisdom of slapping a big tax on the only people who are providing any of this oil we want so badly. One doesn't even have to wonder about the whole concept of all the schemes to make oil less expensive; did the demand curve for petroleum suddenly tilt the other way while we weren't looking? One more time, what's the logic of subsidizing domestic production and exploration: is there some prize for being the first country to use up its petroleum?

When I did wind tunnel research on how tall buildings affect the street-level winds around them, the architects always asked whether some sort of canopy over the door would help, and we had to explain that the wind is very big, and so is the building, so anything that would change the way the wind blows also has to be very big. The oil system is very big, and poking at it with tiny instruments like deposits to the strategic oil reserve, or rushing to slurp out the two years' worth of oil imports in ANWR, are not going to make any important difference. Actually, no bullet is silver, even though we desperately want to think wind power, or biofuels, or nuclear, or turning off the lights more carefully, will "solve" the energy crisis. Lots of these will be incrementally helpful, but none of them is as big as the oil flow we've become habituated to, and every one has a really sobering social price of one kind or another.

Petroleum is not like solar energy. Fossil fuels are a stock, not a flow, of sunlight that was stored up over millions of years when no-one needed to drive kids to the soccer game. We've had a nice century drawing down that bank account, and it's over. Maybe, as Rick says, not right away, but soon. "Soon" in policy earthquake terms is a few decades. There's lots of coal, but if we start really playing that game with current technology (that is, burning it into CO2 that goes into the air), a lot if it will be used up (for example) keeping Europeans warm in a subarctic climate when the Gulf Stream stops. Of course the beach will be much easier to drive to as it moves inland.

What will make a difference is to use a lot less, and using less oil means real behavioral change on a broad, retail level. It absolutely doesn't mean making gasoline cheaper! We're talking about things like living in smaller houses, close enough together to get people out on their feet and bicycles, and into trains and trams. Of course this has all sorts of quality-of-life payoffs in my view, but it's a hard sell to a society that treats "get in my big car alone, drive where I'm going at 60 mph, and park free when I get there" as some sort of basic moral right. Still, I cannot understand a family that would rather have a house and a big yard that Mom and Dad don't play with their kids in because they're on the road commuting three hours a day, than an apartment with a playground nearby that the family can actually occupy and enjoy each other in.

We should be talking about paying a lot of taxes to pay for things like transit and community swimming pools where we can enjoy our neighbors, instead of the thousands of backyard pools that have no-one in them almost all the time, and community soccer fields instead of the ridiculous little patches of green that are useless once the kids are school age. We should be talking about having less stuff, and less house that needs to be filled up with it, and more shopping for it locally, on our feet, with a little wheely shopping cart instead of an SUV. What could possibly make up for having less stuff, though? Well, how about listening to more music and making more of it ourselves? And dinner with friends who come on the bus and don't have to find a parking place is a pretty low-impact, high-quality life experience.

We're not talking about those things, though; we're talking (praying, actually) about making it not so, please. Our politics have a long, toxic tradition of candidates' and voters' mutual infantilization. The politicians treat an election, or an office, as the worst thing one can lose, and promise to fix everything with a trick that won't require any actual work by us; we vote for people who tell us fairy tales that would excuse us from any heavy lifting if they were true, and excuse us from confronting downers and grownup responsibilities if we pretend to believe. This game is being played at a really frenzied level around gas prices, and the mix of ignorance and plain mendacity both parties are wallowing in is - this is really amazing - neck and neck with the immigration performance in the theater next door.
What he proposes sounds French doesn't it?

But the marker for this particular day is this "Nine states have sued the administration of President George W. Bush for lenient automotive fuel economy standards that they say worsen an energy crunch and contribute to air pollution and climate change."

Force us to have more efficient cars, for our own good? Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The problem is the sinking ship, and learning to swim.

Marker Nine for Tuesday, May 2 - He said WHAT?

It should be noted that four days later there was still a buzz about what happened the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner the previous Saturday night. Stephen Colbert was asked to give the closing address, and he's a dangerous comedian. He broke the rules, which seem to be do light-hearted kidding and make no one uncomfortable and he was out for blood, as here -
Colbert is not just another comedian with barbed punch lines and a racy vocabulary. He is a guerrilla fighter, a master of the old-world art of irony. For Colbert, the punch line is just the addendum. The joke is in the setup. The meat of his act is not in his barbs but his character - the dry idiot, "Stephen Colbert," god-fearing pitchman, patriotic American, red-blooded pundit and champion of "truthiness." "I'm a simple man with a simple mind," the deadpan Colbert announced at the dinner. "I hold a simple set of beliefs that I live by. Number one, I believe in America. I believe it exists. My gut tells me I live there."

Then he turned to the president of the United States, who sat tight-lipped just a few feet away. "I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound - with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world."

It was Colbert's crowning moment. His imitation of the quintessential GOP talking head - Bill O'Reilly meets Scott McClellan - uncovered the inner workings of the ever-cheapening discourse that passes for political debate. He reversed and flattened the meaning of the words he spoke. It's a tactic that the cultural critic Greil Marcus once called the "critical negation that would make it self-evident to everyone that the world is not as it seems." Colbert's jokes attacked not just Bush's policies, but the whole drama and language of American politics, the phony demonstration of strength, unity and vision. "The greatest thing about this man is he's steady," Colbert continued, in a nod to George W. Bush. "You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday."

It's not just that Colbert's jokes were hitting their mark. We already know that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that the generals hate Rumsfeld, or that Fox News lists to the right. Those cracks are old and boring. What Colbert did was expose the whole official, patriotic, right-wing, press-bashing discourse as a sham, as more "truthiness" than truth.
And no one much laughed, and the president was furious.

And it was very French -
In the late 1960s, the Situationists in France called such ironic mockery "détournement," a word that roughly translates to "abduction" or "embezzlement." It was considered a revolutionary act, helping to channel the frustration of the Paris student riots of 1968. They co-opted and altered famous paintings, newspapers, books and documentary films, seeking subversive ideas in the found objects of popular culture. "Plagiarism is necessary," wrote Guy Debord, the famed Situationist, referring to his strategy of mockery and semiotic inversion. "Progress demands it. Staying close to an author's phrasing, plagiarism exploits his expressions, erases false ideas, replaces them with correct ideas."

But nearly half a century later, the ideas of the French, as evidenced by our "Freedom fries," have not found a welcome reception in Washington. The city is still not ready for Colbert. The depth of his attack caused bewilderment on the face of the president and some of the press, who, like myopic fish, are used to ignoring the water that sustains them. Laura Bush did not shake his hand.

Political Washington is accustomed to more direct attacks that follow the rules.
The rules are simple. There's one rule. Don't rock the boat.

And Colbert didn't spare the press -
But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works. The president makes decisions, he's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Put them through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know fiction.
No wonder the press said little about this, and the New York Times didn't mention his name in their write-up of the evening.

"Because really, what incentive do these people have to answer your questions, after all? I mean, nothing satisfies you. Everybody asks for personnel changes. So the White House has personnel changes. Then you write they're just rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic. First of all, that is a terrible metaphor. This ships not sinking. This administration is soaring. If anything, they are rearranging the deck chairs on The Hindenburg."

The transcript is here and you can watch the whole thing here.

This is an interesting comment - "What they got was an ass-ripping by a man who could barely contain his disgust with his surroundings. It's a fierce performance, but it's not great comedy."

Maybe it wasn't comedy. No one thought Jonathan Swift was "funny" and "nice" in the first quarter of the eighteenth century. This was something else.

And the buzz rolls on, and should be noted.

Posted by Alan at 23:24 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 3 May 2006 06:30 PDT home

Monday, 1 May 2006
On the Scene: May Day in Los Angeles
Topic: Breaking News

On the Scene: May Day in Los Angeles

May Day, Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, young men celebrating 'A Day Without Immigrants' to demonstrate the importance of immigrants to the US economy"Immigrants and their supporters were gathering in cities across the country today for demonstrations and an economic boycott intended to show the impact the workers have on the nation's economy… The demonstrations took many forms and included people from a disparate number of countries, many of them in Latin America, but also from Asia and other parts of the world." – New York Times, Nationwide Immigrant Rallies Are Under Way, Monday, May 1, 2006

Hundreds of thousands gathered across the whole country on this Monday to celebrate "A Day Without Immigrants" - to demonstrate the importance of immigrants to our economy. As has been discussed elsewhere in these pages, the Senate is considering a bill that attempts to increase border security and offers citizenship to certain illegal immigrants, and the House has already passed a bill that would erect a giant fence on the border and would make illegal immigrants felons, and make those that help them in any way, even with shelter and medical assistance, or even a hot meal, criminals also. Our local Catholic archbishop, Roger Mahoney, has led protests of the House bill, the president sides with the Senate, while the "social conservatives" and "values" folks side with the House, and Lou Dobbs on CNN is waging a daily one-man jihad against anything but arresting and deporting the perhaps twelve million immigrants here without papers, and building that wall. The issue is hot. And people have taken to the streets.

Monday, May Day of 2006, there were massive marches in Los Angeles, one downtown in the morning, and a second took place in the evening. Between those two there was a massive march along Wilshire Boulevard, from MacArthur Park west to La Brea (site of the famous Tar Pits). That began at four in the afternoon, so the kids could stay in school and join in after classes.

These photographs are from the center of it all, Wilshire and Western, around three in the afternoon, as the crowds were gathering, the news crews were everywhere doing their "live remotes," and the police were rolling in - in their Crown Victoria squad cars, on motorcycles, and even on bicycles. There were closing off Wilshire Boulevard, the busiest urban corridor in the world.

But they knew this was not a hostile situation. The mood was downright genial and surprisingly welcoming. Folks mugged for the camera, people wanted to talk and share food, and everyone was actually happy.

This was a demonstration that seemed to be in support of the idea that there are millions now who, with great difficulty, made their way here to work and make something of themselves, and to support the families they loved, and participate in the American Dream, whatever that is. Yes, they did not follow the rules, but they do work hard, and seem in love with this country - and this May Day they and their supports wanted to point out the twelve million illegal immigrants are an important part of the economy, and would like a chance to become "legal" and not be branded as felons and sent away. They believe in this country, and are willing to start at the very bottom of the system. But they want you to know they really do want to be here, and participating in making this place better. It was oddly patriotic. The marchers all wore white shirts (no threat) and almost every flag was an American flag. There wasn't one Mexican flag anywhere, but there might have been later.

The police gathered in small groups and you could overhear them talking about their own families, or last night's amazing Lakers playoff win in the last microsecond of overtime, or trading notes on which mirrored sunglasses were the coolest (really, three of them did). The police on bicycles rode by in groups of fifteen or twenty, waving to the crowd and now and then trying to play tunes with their special whistles, which didn't work all that well, but made everyone laugh. This was going to be just basic crowd control, with a cooperative and pleasant crowd. No trouble - just lots of people.

Here's a shot of some of them.

May Day, Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, showing the flag on 'A Day Without Immigrants' to demonstrate the importance of immigrants to the US economy

And not everyone was from Mexico and parts south.

May Day, Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, others in the crowd at 'A Day Without Immigrants' to demonstrate the importance of immigrants to the US economy

May Day, Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, others in the crowd at 'A Day Without Immigrants' to demonstrate the importance of immigrants to the US economy

A little bit of the patriotism -

May Day, Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, showing the flag on 'A Day Without Immigrants' to demonstrate the importance of immigrants to the US economy

Note the Anglo guy in the background. He's not happy at all.

May Day, Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, showing the flag on 'A Day Without Immigrants' to demonstrate the importance of immigrants to the US economy

The press -

May Day, Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, the press covering 'A Day Without Immigrants' to demonstrate the importance of immigrants to the US economy

May Day, Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, the press covering 'A Day Without Immigrants' to demonstrate the importance of immigrants to the US economy

Police presence -

May Day, Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, the press covering 'A Day Without Immigrants' to demonstrate the importance of immigrants to the US economy

May Day, Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, the bike police at 'A Day Without Immigrants' to demonstrate the importance of immigrants to the US economy

May Day, Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, police at 'A Day Without Immigrants' to demonstrate the importance of immigrants to the US economy

Businesses were closed, and a rare shot of Wilshire Boulevard absolutely empty in the middle of a Monday afternoon -

May Day, Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, closed for 'A Day Without Immigrants' Monday, May 1, 2006

May Day, Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, closed for 'A Day Without Immigrants' Monday, May 1, 2006

For a bit of history see The Roots of May Day, from Nelson Lichtenstein, posted at SLATE.COM the same say. Lichtenstein is a professor of history up the coast at UC Santa Barbara, where he directs the Center for Work, Labor, and Democracy.

Here's a bit of what he has to say -

... These May Day demonstrations and boycotts return the American protest tradition to its turn-of-the-20th-century ethnic proletarian origins - a time when, in the United States as well as in much of Europe, the quest for citizenship and equal rights was inherent in the fight for higher wages, stronger unions, and more political power for the working class.

Because today's marches are on a workday, they recall the mass strikes and marches that turned workers out of factories that convulsed America in the decades after the great railway strike of 1877, the first national work stoppage in the United States. Asserting their citizenship against the autocracy embodied by the big railroad corporations, the Irish and Germans of Baltimore and Pittsburgh burned roundhouses and fought off state militia in a revolt that frightened both the rail barons and the federal government. Hence the 19th-century construction of all those center-city National Guard armories, with rifle slits designed to target unruly crowds. The protesters wanted not only higher pay and a recognized trade union but a new birth of egalitarian freedom. Indeed, May Day itself, as an international workers holiday, arose out of a May 1, 1886, Chicago strike for the eight-hour workday. The fight for leisure - clearly lost today - was a great unifying aspiration of the immigrant workers movement a century ago with its slogan, "eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, eight hours for what we will."

The largest mobilization of immigrant workers in U.S. history occurred in 1919, when President Woodrow Wilson's rhetorical celebration of self-determination and "industrial democracy," or self-rule at the workplace, echoed across steel districts from Homestead, Pa., to Gary, Ind. Strike organizers printed their handbills in 15 different languages. Immigrant churches and working-class lodge halls served as soup kitchens. The strikers called the mounted police "Cossacks." All these eruptions, which would successfully Americanize millions of immigrants in the 1930s, blended trade unionism, ethnic self-consciousness, and the demand for full citizenship. That unity proved essential for a long season of New Deal hegemony. And that's why this spring's awakening of a new generation of immigrant working-class half-citizens holds such promise for liberals.

The last of these great labor-strike demonstrations came in 1947. On an April workday, the United Automobile Workers flooded Detroit's Cadillac Square with more than a quarter million of its members to protest congressional enactment of the Taft-Hartley Act, which curbed union strike power and disqualified radicals from labor leadership. Most laborites called Taft-Hartley a "slave labor law." Then as now, the leaders of the demonstration were divided over tactics. The left, and not just those oriented toward the Communists, wanted to shut down the factories so that American unions could deploy, as one top UAW officer put it, "the kind of political power which is most effective in Europe." More cautious unionists, led by UAW President Walter Reuther, sought a huge demonstration but one that began only after workers clocked out for the day. Capitalizing on these internal divisions, and on the early Cold War hostility to labor radicalism and political insurgency, the auto companies took their pound of flesh. They fired key militants and cut off the tradition of white, working-class strike demonstrations in industrial cities for the rest of the 20th century.

For our generation, as for the one before it, the idea that we might change the conditions of work life and the structure of politics has seemed either radical fantasy or Parisian self-indulgence. Celebrations of May Day, the holiday that embodies that imagined link, have been consigned to the most self-conscious and marginal radicals. In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed May 1 "Law Day" so as to snuff out any proletarian embers that might have continued to smolder through the Cold War.

The 1960s civil rights and anti-war movements kept their distance from workplace actions, which became the province of an increasingly stolid and constrained trade unionism. The protests of that era were almost always held on weekends. The 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech, took place on a sweltering Saturday afternoon. There were plenty of protest signs paid for by the union movement, but no factories shut down that day. The same is true of the big anti-war marches, and American feminists and gay-rights advocates have continued that tradition. The linkage between workplace protest and civil engagement has been broken - one reason that the boycotts and work stoppages today seem so novel and controversial.

When weekday work stoppages did take place, their marginality, and even alienation, from mainstream America was revealing. Arab workers put down their tools in June 1967 to protest U.S. support of Israel in the midst of the Six Day War. Millions of black workers left work when they learned of MLK's assassination on April 4, 1968, but black power efforts to use the strike to build a radical movement on the assembly lines largely failed in Detroit a year later. Today's marches and boycotts are restoring to May Day something of its old civic meaning and working-class glory. Even some of the most viciously anti-union employers of Latino labor, like Perdue, Cargill, and Tyson Foods, kept their factories closed. As in the crucial struggles that began more than a century ago, today's marches have forged a link among working-class aspiration, celebrations of ethnic identity, and insistence on full American citizenship. It's an explosive combination. And it could revive and reshape liberal politics in our time.
Perhaps so. So consider this image.

May Day, Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, showing the flag on 'A Day Without Immigrants' to demonstrate the importance of immigrants to the US economy

Posted by Alan at 20:31 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 1 May 2006 20:52 PDT home

Sunday, 30 April 2006
Hot of the Virtual Press

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 18 for the week of April 30, 2006.

This week you will find six extended commentaries on current events, with notes on the disintegration in Washington as the week began, then, for adults, the new hot book on a sensible, reality-based way to respond to that. There is a detailed bit of meta-political analysis, which would be observations not so much on current events, but on what people observe about current events, which is one level higher, or lower, or something. Then there's an item on whose story is getting out there, and why, and there's an account of Friday's hot stories - arrests, drugs and sex and even Watergate, again, and Darfur and Iran being more than difficult, and more. And there's an item on what happens when the American Dream bumps up against economic data, and it's not pretty.

Curiosities this week? Our man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, tells us Chicagoans can always eat foie gras in Paris, and there some amazing Hollywood history, related to Rochester, up in New York.

The photography this week? Seven pages of the unusual out here, signs in Hollywood - not what you'd see in Peoria - and some very picturesque wrecked ships, and some intense red façades, and some nature (birds and bees, actually), snazzy palm tree shots suitable for framing, and some really flashy close-up botanicals.

There's a big helping of the weird from Texas, of course, and the quotes are from the master, Samuel Johnson, ones you may not have encountered.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________

Damage Assessment: The Great Unraveling, or Something
What Adults Do
Policy: The conceptual flaw in the "intimidation model" for getting what you want...
Truth and Authenticity: More on the Power of Narrative
A Friday Flurry: Could It Be That We're Now Living in the Only Banana Republic Armed with Nuclear Weapons?
Economics: The American Dream and the Economic Facts of Life

Curiosities ______________________

Our Man in Paris: Chicagoans Can Eat Foie Gras In Paris
Hollywood Notes: Off the beaten path...

Southern California Photography ______________________

Signage: Displays in Hollywood
Abstracts: Just Patterns from Hollywood Boulevard
Blue: Nautical Shots of a Sort
Red: Doors and Posters
Nature: The Birds and the Bees
Botanicals: Hot Ice

Quotes for the week of April 23, 2006 - Sam's Club

Posted by Alan at 18:44 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 29 April 2006
Economics: The American Dream and the Economic Facts of Life
Topic: The Economy

Economics: The American Dream and the Economic Facts of Life

In these pages back in late August, 2003, there was a dialog concerning economic issues, as a few conservative friends out here had said some things about what was dysfunctional in our economy.

It was pretty standard Reagan economics, and it ran something like this -

First, there was the great economic Satan - FDR's social policies to get us out of the Great Depression failed miserably. The idea was, and is, all those spending programs to get people into any kind of work - the WPA and all that, and starting up the Social Security Program - made people believe the world, or at least the government, owes them something. These policies and programs took away their initiative and made them into whining "victims" who always expect a bail-out and don't want to actually do anything. FDR is thus the most evil of American presidents, as his policies pretty much destroyed the character of the "frontier" American who was, previous to this, a self-reliant self-starter who, when he saw a problem, fixed it himself and didn't expect some paternalistic government to save his butt. The only thing that saved America is that FDR realized all this crap wasn't working and got us into World War II when we didn't actually have to fight. He finally figured it out - getting in was the only way to cover the total failure of his economic policies. You might have heard that here and there.

And most of us have heard a conservative friend say this of the current Social Security Program, where people have had part of the wages set aside during all their working lives to cover rent and food and such when they retire - "I don't see why my tax dollars should pay for someone else's retirement when they didn't have the brains to set aside money for their old age. Why should I pay because they were just stupid?"

This of course is based on the idea that the funds available after the next decade or two won't cover the contractual obligation to cover the monthly check to the retiree. The demographics are the problem - aging folks who live longer. FDR didn't see that one coming.

Another is the more rarely heard, "Why should I pay for your kids' schooling?" The idea there is that if you choose to have children you should take the responsibility, the personal responsibility, to acquire sufficient money to pay for their education, or school them at home. Why are you turning to the government to provide what you are too lazy or too cheap to provide for your own children? Why do insist on using MY money to educate YOUR kids? The education of your children is your responsibly - there should be no government funding for any of it, and no standards imposed by any government bureaucrats at any level. It's your responsibility and as such, the government has no business regulating it, or even considering it as an issue. And public schools are a dismal failure anyway, as all can see. And over the last three years the calls for home schooling have increased, but oddly enough, not based on any economic argument but rather on a religious one - home schooling will keep the kids from those who undermine the revealed and literal truth of the Bible with evolutionary biology, and the geology that supports it, and the math and chemistry that support the geology (the deeply and sincerely religious who also understand the concept of metaphor, and don't confuse it with the literal, have less problem with publicly funded general education). The number of private Christian academies has exploded, of course.

But the religious issue aside, for now, the Reagan argument has won the public. As he tersely put it, government isn't the answer to anything, it's the problem. And thus the general idea has been that the government should tax as little as possible, provide only essential services - national defense and road repair and such - and get otherwise get out of everyone's lives. And pretty standard laissez-faire economic policy follows, where unfettered business competes to provide goods and services, driving price down and quality up, and no one much gets any support from the government, so no one plays the victim and everyone works hard and everyone achieves what they can. Reagan was fond of mocking "welfare queens" - with their Cadillac sedans, popping chocolates and watching soap operas, when they weren't popping out babies so their welfare check would get bigger.

Sure, there was the not so hidden racism in his comments, but that was beside the point, as Reagan himself was far too genial for sustained racial hatred. He just did little bursts of that. The bigger concept, now ascendant, was the rages-to-riches Horatio Alger view of the American Dream - anyone could be successful without handouts from the government, or support services that provided "special assistance." All you had to do is "take personal responsibility" (and quit whining) and get off you fat, pampered ass and make something of yourself. He had done something like that himself, and so all his supporters and followers said they had. That was the ticket - make something of yourself, and do it yourself. That's what responsible people do. No racism involved.

This of course ties into the long-standing Republican opposition to everything associated with civil rights legislation - from opposing segregation until it was inevitable to affirmative action and all the other anti-discrimination legislation. They were troubled at being called racists, and they had a point. The modern Republican Party, not the Republican Party of Lincoln, operates from a philosophic and economic place where race is simply irrelevant - in a free market an employer should be able to hire whomever he or she wants, for any reason, a landlord should be able to rent his own property to whomever he wishes, for whatever reason, and so on. The government has no business in any of that. And there are, after all, examples of blacks and Hispanics who, in the past, made something of themselves by just working hard and using their brains and talents. These were proof of the ideas - these people took personal responsibility, ignored the slights and abuses, and became successful. Those who didn't? They didn't have the right attitude, that sunny all-American positive outlook.

So that's what we believe. Work hard, be positive, and you can achieve anything.

Then there are the facts of the matter.

Our economy, under this model, directed by a president who considers himself a self-made man, in spite of his life of privilege and power and being the son of a former president, is humming along. Cutting taxes for the wealthy who hold substantial capital, and taxing corporations at the lowest rate in history, seems to have produced results.

On the last Friday of the month there was this from Reuters -
The U.S. economy grew at its fastest rate in 2-1/2 years during the first quarter on strong spending and investment, while moderate price rises reinforced hopes for a pause in U.S. interest rate rises this summer.

Gross domestic product grew at a 4.8 percent annual rate in the January-March quarter, the Commerce Department said on Friday, more than twice the fourth quarter's 1.7 percent rate.

It was the best quarterly GDP performance since a 7.2 percent spurt in the third quarter of 2003.

"This rapid growth is another sign that our economy is on the fast track," President George W. Bush told reporters. Growth is expected to moderate as the year wears on, giving the Federal Reserve room to pause in its rate-rise campaign.
That sounds great, except later in the item we get this -
Separately, the Labor Department said employment costs measuring what employers pay in wages and benefits rose at the slowest pace in seven years during the first quarter, which should temper concerns about potential wage-induced inflation.

Its Employment Cost Index rose 0.6 percent in the first quarter, down from a 0.8 percent rise in the fourth quarter and well short of the 0.9 percent gain that had been forecast.

Financial markets on Friday faced an avalanche of data - not all of it strong - including a University of Michigan survey showing the consumer sentiment index slipped to 87.4 in April from 88.9 in March. In addition, a Chicago Purchasing Managers Index fell to 57.2 in April from 60.4 in March.
In short, business is great, and wages and benefits aren't. So for those who aren't in executive management, or shareholders, hard work gets you what, exactly?

In an item printed in anticipation of Friday report, the New York Times noted this -
In the most recent CBS News poll, conducted last month, 55 percent of respondents rated the economy as good, even though 66 percent of Americans said the country was on the wrong track. In 23 years of polling by CBS, only once - in late 2005 - did a higher percentage of people say the country was on the wrong track.
That's interesting. People aren't dumb. They know the general economy is doing just fine, and it's not doing them much good.

The Times tosses in this -
Spending by upper-income families appears to be driving much of the economy's growth. The average hourly wage for rank-and-file workers - who make up roughly 80 percent of the work force - has fallen by 5 cents in the last four years, to $16.49, after inflation is taken into account.
Eighty percent of the work force has lower wages now, and they know it. Heck, it's hard not to notice, and with gas prices skyrocketing it's getting worse.

Curiously, the new White House chief-of-staff, Josh Bolten, has his new five point recovery plan to boost the standing of his boss, the president. One of the five points is "brag more" - specifically about the economy. The plan is to hit all the business shows and get the talking heads talking even more about how well the economy is doing. Brit Hume on Fox News is always bemoaning how people are so dumb saying the economy is bad in all the polls, when they just don't see how strong the economy really is, based on the data anyone can see.

Of course it's a matter of perspective, and a bit of an 80-20 thing. Perhaps this Bolten should be bragging to the eighty percent, as they are the ones being polled. But then, bragging becomes difficult.

By way of Political Affairs, an openly Marxist magazine, here, they reprint an item from the Labor Research Association - the folks who provide research and educational services for trade unions. So consider the source.

On the other hand, the item cites data from Mercer Consulting and PricewaterhouseCooper's Saratoga Institute, and those of us with long years in the business work know Mercer and Saratoga and have dealt with them. They're basic consulting and research firms with no political axe to grind. They're in business to make money by figuring out what's going on.

The item opens with this -
The new spike in oil and gasoline prices is the last nail in the coffin for workers who hoped to see any real improvement in wages this year. Inflation for 2006 is likely to remain in the 3.4 percent to 3.8 percent range, wiping out average wage increases of 3.0 percent to 3.5 percent and leaving workers with less purchasing power.

Over the past five years, as gasoline prices have steadily increased, profits for U.S. oil production and refinery companies have jumped by an average of more than 30 percent per year, according to the Fortune 500 list released in April.

Revenues per worker are highest in the oil industry, where the top pipeline company pulls in $15.6 million per employee. Exxon Mobil generates $4.1 million in revenues for every worker.

New data released by a number of different sources demonstrate that the rise in profits and the decline in real wages extend well beyond the oil industry.
And those data?

It's not pretty.

"New data on salaries for exempt employees from Mercer Consulting shows that pay for salaried workers at 350 large companies barely kept pace with inflation in 2005" - planned salary increases for salaried employees average 3.5 percent for 2006, "which means that their gains will be obliterated by higher consumer prices."

Production workers? "New data on salaries for exempt employees from Mercer Consulting shows that pay for salaried workers at 350 large companies barely kept pace with inflation in 2005. Planned salary increases for salaried employees average 3.5 percent for 2006, which means that their gains will be obliterated by higher consumer prices."

Corporate profits? "As wage increases for exempt employees fell to 3.4 percent in 2004 among the 350 companies studied by Mercer, profits at those companies rose 23 percent. In 2005, the average salary increase of 3.6 percent for exempt employees was wiped out by the 3.4 percent increase inflation, but profits rose 13 percent."

The CEO guys? " the same 350 companies saw their salary and bonus jump 14.5 percent in 2004 and 7.1 percent in 2005. This does not include their stock grants and other long-term incentives that add millions to their pay packages and represent more than 60 percent of total CEO compensation."

What the worker provides? "The new 2006 Fortune 500 list of the largest companies reveals that median revenues per employee for the Fortune 500 hit $400,000 in 2005, up from $300,000 in 2003 and 2004." And this - "Corporate profits per full-time equivalent employee jumped 190.7 percent from 2001 to 2004."

General employment? There's lot of data, but this jumps out - "Overall, the Fortune 500 increased their number of employees by just 2 percent in 2005, but revenues rose 10.2 percent and profits jumped 18.8 percent."

So for the eighty percent, who work hard and take personal responsibility for their own success, they get... well, they get not much for it, actually.

There may be something wrong with the Reagan model, the current version of the American Dream. Bragging may not help much, nor mocking the "losers" with their "bad attitude," telling them their lack of success is really their own personal fault.

People are catching on. The polls show it. They look in their wallets and figure out those Horatio Alger stories were fiction, after all. You don't base economic policy on a series of turn of the century short novels for readers in their early teens. But we have done that.

But wait. There's more.

That would be this from Reuters -
America may still think of itself as the land of opportunity, but the chances of living a rags-to-riches life are a lot lower than elsewhere in the world, according to a new study published on Wednesday.

The likelihood that a child born into a poor family will make it into the top five percent is just one percent, according to "Understanding Mobility in America," a study by economist Tom Hertz from American University.

By contrast, a child born rich had a 22 percent chance of being rich as an adult, he said.

"In other words, the chances of getting rich are about 20 times higher if you are born rich than if you are born in a low-income family," he told an audience at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank sponsoring the work.

He also found the United States had one of the lowest levels of inter-generational mobility in the wealthy world, on a par with Britain but way behind most of Europe.

"Consider a rich and poor family in the United States and a similar pair of families in Denmark, and ask how much of the difference in the parents' incomes would be transmitted, on average, to their grandchildren," Hertz said.

"In the United States this would be 22 percent; in Denmark it would be two percent," he said.
Oh. So that part of the story wasn't true either.

Maybe the methodology was wrong, as this was sponsored by "a liberal think-tank."

No - "The research was based on a panel of over 4,000 children, whose parents' income were observed in 1968, and whose income as adults was reviewed again in 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1999. The survey did not include immigrants, who were not captured in the original data pool. Millions of immigrants work in the U.S, many illegally, earnings much higher salaries than they could get back home."

And Reuters quotes Bhashkar Mazumder, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, an expert in this field - "This debunks the myth of America as the land of opportunity, but it doesn't tell us what to do to fix it."

No, it doesn't. It's just data.

And there was the survey for the New York Times last year they mention - the one that found that eighty percent of those polled believed that it was possible to start out poor, work hard and become rich, compared with less than sixty percent back in 1983. The Reagan view of the American Dream not only persists, it is growing to overwhelming proportions.

The facts run the other way. There's a collision coming.

So what's the problem?

This -
Hertz examined channels transmitting income across generations and identified education as the single largest factor, explaining 30 percent of the income-correlation, in an argument to boost public access to universities.

Breaking the survey down by race spotlighted this as the next most powerful force to explain why the poor stay poor.

On average, 47 percent of poor families remain poor. But within this, 32 percent of whites stay poor while the figure for blacks is 63 percent.

It works the other way as well, with only 3 percent of blacks making it from the bottom quarter of the income ladder to the top quarter, versus 14 percent of whites.

"Part of the reason mobility is so low in America is that race still makes a difference in economic life," he said.
So race isn't irrelevant, and maybe undermining public education might be a bad idea?

That seems to be the implication. The modern Republican Party is on the other side.

The full study is here, if you're interested.

Ezra Klein here covers some interesting comparisons Reuters doesn't cover - our peculiar "American lack of fatalism, the belief in opportunity and mobility" -
When asked if people get rewarded for their effort, 61 percent of Americans agreed, versus 49 percent of Canadians, 33 percent of the British, and 23 percent of the French (weirdly, the Philippines wins this one, with 63 percent agreeing). But of all these societies (save the Philippines), America is one of the least mobile, which is to say the least dependent on hard work rather than social station. In Denmark, the relationship between your parent's income and yours is 15% percent or so. In Canada, it's 19% percent. In France, it's 41 percent. And in America, it's 47 percent. The only country more hidebound and hierarchal is ... England (50 percent), also the country most closely approximating the American economic model.

As it is, if you're born in the lowest income quintile, you have a 1 percent chance of reaching the top 5 percent. If you're born rich, you've a 22 percent shot at remaining there. For the middle class, hard work and productivity have begun to count far less. In 2003 and 2004, years when the GDP saw strong growth, the median household was no more upwardly mobile than in 1990-91, during a deep recession. Think about that for a second: Inequality has reached such a height that the average household is actually worse off during today's expansion than yesterday's recession.

There's been a serious increase in downward mobility, too, with only 13 percent of families seeing a $20,000 (in real terms) loss during the 1990-91 recession, while nearly 17 percent experienced such a drop during the 2003-04 expansion. By contrast, households in the top 10 percent have seen a reduction in downward mobility during the same period. And while it used to be the case that you could combat stagnation through hard work, even that's dying out. Households where the adults worked more than 40 hours a week were able, during 1990-91 and 1997-98, to translate their labor into upward mobility. Now, the correlation has disappeared. Americans may believe that hard work ends up offering great rewards, but the data shows that that's simply not the case. Remember that next time you hear some conservative flack - maybe one named Tony Snow? - trumpeting the economy's underreported strength. Why should folks appreciate a muscle-bound economy if it's using those biceps to pummel the working class?
That's good question, but the more interesting question is whether there will be a shift in the core support for the Republican Party, the "values voters." Yes, those in power do the work of Jesus, and they'll keep the gays and the swarthy ones away, and unlike the Democrats these guys will start a major war with any other nation on earth that looks at us funny, but then, when you've worked hard and been positive and asked no one for anything, and you're down to you last dollar no matter how hard you work, and you can't afford the gas to get to work, maybe you start humming Woodie Guthrie songs. Things can change.

Posted by Alan at 18:01 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 29 April 2006 18:09 PDT home

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