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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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Thursday, 4 May 2006
Chickens, Coming Home, Roosting
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Chickens, Coming Home, Roosting

It seems the chickens are coming home to roost for the administration. At least they were on Thursday, May 4th, and that's as good an "old saying" as any. Here's a sampling of that day's returning chickens.

Chicken Number One: What You Said That You Really Didn't Say

It seems that our first lady, Laura Bush, in an interview on CNN with John King midweek, defended her husband, the current president, by telling King that everyone misunderstood - when the president gave that nationally televised speech under that "Mission Accomplished" banner on the Abraham Lincoln three years ago, he only meant that the mission of that particular aircraft carrier had been accomplished. She didn't see why people didn't get it, and thought he was saying we'd fixed the Iraq problem. Yes, we all misunderstood. There's a satiric and mildly clever rewrite of the actual speech with the hidden subtext we all missed here, but this is a minor thing. She holds no office and makes no decisions. Her husband is "the decider." He said so. He said that in the defense of defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, with all the recent calls for his ouster. No one else can decide he goes but "the decider" - and the designated decider decided he stays.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld does hold office, one to which he was appointed and confirmed by the Senate, and actually does make decisions - lots of them. And he says things on record. And what he has said about his decisions, and those of the vice president and his administration, was, on this particular Thursday, thrown back at him. Those particular chickens, his actual words, came home to roost.

The evening news shows, or two of them, led with the story, and it was all over cable news. Something extraordinary happened. A former CIA analyst, in a public forum, stood up, faced Rumsfeld, and said it sure looked he had been lying, and could he explain his words?

Laura Bush wasn't there to help out. He was alone on stage. The crowd hadn't been screened thoroughly enough. This wasn't supposed to happen. And forget chickens. Think deer - in the headlights. He was speechless for more than a moment.

For the record, the Associated Press account is here -
Protesters repeatedly interrupted Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld during a speech Thursday and one man, a former CIA analyst, accused him of lying about Iraq prewar intelligence in an unusually vociferous display of anti-war sentiment.

"Why did you lie to get us into a war that caused these kind of casualties and was not necessary?" asked Ray McGovern, the former analyst, during a question-and-answer session.

"I did not lie," shot back Rumsfeld, who waved off security guards ready to remove McGovern from the hall at the Southern Center for International Studies.
But they don't get into the substance, although they mention three other protesters were "escorted away by security as each interrupted Rumsfeld's speech by jumping up and shouting anti-war messages." And one woman, whose Army son had been killed in Iraq, asked some pointed questions about how she was supposed to raise her grandson now, but that was easy to handle - he said that was a tragic thing and referred her to the usual websites listing aid organizations.

The substantial stuff - you said it was certain that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and said you knew just where they were - was carried on the news shows, and in detail on "Countdown" on MSNBC.

There's a video clip of the exchange at Crooks and Liars here and a full transcript here, but it pretty much comes down to this -
Rumsfeld: appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there.

McGovern: You said you knew where they were.

Rumsfeld: I did not. I said I knew where suspect sites were and...

McGovern: You said you knew where they were. Tikrit, Baghdad, northeast, south, west of there. Those are your words.

Rumsfeld: My words - my words were that - no, no, wait a minute - wait a minute. Let him stay one second. Just a second....
So the Secret Service didn't drag the CIA guy out of the room, and Rumsfeld said he never really said what he actually said. MSNBC covered it and put the actual quotes on the screen, as did other news shows.

And this exchange was interesting -
McGovern: Well we're talking about lies and your allegation there was bulletproof evidence of ties between al Qaeda and Iraq.

Rumsfeld:: Zarqawi was in Baghdad during the prewar period. That is a fact.

McGovern: Zarqawi? He was in the north of Iraq in a place where Saddam Hussein had no rule. That's also...

Rumsfeld: He was also in Baghdad.

McGovern: Yes, when he needed to go to the hospital. Come on, these people aren't idiots. They know the story.
He really needed Laura Bush right then. She's good at saying these people who remember what was actually said really are idiots, in a very nice and non-threatening way.

But something is up. Jane Hamsher comments here -
I don't want to draw conclusions that are too broad based on too little information, but there does seem to be a day of reckoning on the horizon. Between Harry Taylor's questions put to George Bush, Stephen Colbert's appearance before the White House Press Corps and now Ray McGovern's public accusations against Donald Rumsfeld, the simmering public feelings of frustration do seem to be bubbling up and directly confronting those responsible for the current sad state of affairs even within their tightly controlled, canned public appearances.
And she quotes Marc Lord saying this, something about a revolution in progress -
Step three in progression to outright revolution is granting or withholding support of a regime. The foremost expression of that development is that the grantors and withholders start duking it out publicly. The withholders start to shame their fellows who are complicit in supporting the regime and make it clear that they will be publicly humiliated, followed by progressively worse fates.

Noam Chomsky addressed West Point on April 21st. Steven Colbert openly mocked the preznit the next weekend. ... This is the humiliation phase.
Noam Chomsky spoke at West Point? What? But then, if "duking it out" is a sign of revolution, and in this case it's the CIA in a fistfight with the administration, then something really is up

And Hampsher points to this, discussion of the fellow, unnamed for security reasons, who was a former colleague of Valerie Plame at the CIA and, like her, assigned to counter-proliferation in the Middle East. He's now suing the head of the CIA, Porter Goss, and a few others there. He said thy fired him because he refused to falsify information on Iraq before the war.

Hampsher sums up the suit. The fellow is claiming that "he followed all the appropriate channels to get his information out, but that his information was suppressed and he was both harassed and terminated for his efforts."

This may be more complicated and there may be lots of other issues involved, but Hampsher notes this was referenced by the Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter James Risen last August here -
In a lawsuit filed in federal court here in December, the former C.I.A. officer, whose name remains secret, said that the informant told him that Iraq's uranium enrichment program had ended years earlier and that centrifuge components from the scuttled program were available for examination and even purchase.

... His information on the Iraqi nuclear program, described as coming from a significant source, would have arrived at a time when the C.I.A. was starting to reconsider whether Iraq had revived its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. The agency's conclusion that this was happening, eventually made public by the Bush administration in 2002 as part of its rationale for war, has since been found to be incorrect.
There are lots of news details at the links. But what's interesting about this particular "John Doe" is this -
The first time Doe was required to bury intelligence was in 2000, before Bush was inaugurated and probably before he was (s)elected. Which reminds me that the Niger embassy in Rome was burgled (and therefore the plot to forge the Niger documents was presumably in place) in early January 2001, before Bush was inaugurated. In other words, they've been setting up their Neocon moves since before Bush was put into office.
This may be tin-foil-hat territory but Hampsher notes the two of the officers in the CIA's Counter Proliferation Division, Plame and this man, both "most closely involved with ascertaining just who in the Middle East has what kind of WMD had their careers ruined, and in the process, their ability to provide accurate information that might prevent war."

Oh well, maybe the suit is bogus, and, even if it isn't, this is just a coincidence. But part of figuring out what's going on in the world, and then dealing with it in a sensible way, is seeing patterns. That's now called "connecting the dots" and is supposed to be good thing if you can do it. This is mighty odd.

And what was said about how we had to go to war immediately, all those words, are in the air. The chickens came home. They're roosting.

Chicken Number Two: The Law Is What I Say It Is

The week began with this, a Boston Globe analysis covering how President Bush has "quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office."

That is discussed in these pages as one of the Tuesday Tidbits, and on Tuesday it seemed that this was not something really new, but something the press had finally decided to notice as the president's poll numbers were astonishingly low and it was a target of opportunity, and thus it was time for these seven hundred and fifty particular chickens to come home and roost, and no one would do anything about it. Senator Feingold has introduced a "letter of censure" he thought the Senate ought to send down the street to the president, but that had been thoroughly buried by the senate Republicans, with the cooperation of all but three leading Democrats. They other Democrats got scared - focus groups or consultants warned them off.

But the press has some power, or they follow the ever-changing zeitgeist for profit and fame, and two days later the same Boston Globe reporter reported this -
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, accusing the White House of ''very blatant encroachment" on congressional authority, said yesterday he will hold an oversight hearing into President Bush's assertion that he has the power to bypass more than 750 laws enacted over the past five years.

''There is some need for some oversight by Congress to assert its authority here," Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said in an interview. ''What's the point of having a statute if ... the president can cherry-pick what he likes and what he doesn't like?"

Specter said he plans to hold the hearing in June. He said he intends to call administration officials to explain and defend the president's claims of authority, as well to invite constitutional scholars to testify on whether Bush has overstepped the boundaries of his power.
What changed? He suddenly noticed the chickens had come home and were roosting - so why not? He can follow the ever-changing zeitgeist for profit and fame too.

And note this from the Globe -
Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman, said via e-mail that if Specter calls a hearing, ''by all means we will ensure he has the information he needs." She pointed out that other presidents dating to the 19th century have ''on occasion" issued statements that raise constitutional concerns about provisions in new laws.

But while previous presidents did occasionally challenge provisions in laws while signing them, legal scholars say, the frequency and breadth of Bush's use of that power are unprecedented.

Bush is also the first president in modern history who has never vetoed a bill, an act that gives public notice that he is rejecting a law and can be overridden by Congress. Instead, Bush has used signing statements to declare that he can bypass numerous provisions in new laws.
Now that's odd. The Globe reporter dutifully transcribed for us the administrations official take on the real issue and gave it to us, then told us it, looking at the facts, that it was pretty much bullshit. The last time reporters did such a thing - matching statements against the actual facts - was well before September 11, 2001, the day that "changed everything," and most obviously changed what was supposed to be the roll of the press, from reporting to patriotic cheerleading. Things have changed again?

And it's not just the press. Maybe the Senate has changed, and even a Republican like Arlen Specter can move beyond fawning worship of those who parade their manliness (or craven cowardice when dealing with them) and get back to doing what's in the job description. On the other side of the aisle you would, of course, expect the ever-smiling and ambitious Senator Happy Joe "Flashing Teeth" Biden, of Delaware, to propose an amendment to the emergency spending bill of the month - the next hundred billion or more off-budget (a supplemental appropriation), to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for repairing hurricane damage - that would prevent the administration from using funds from the Iraq part of the bill for construction of permanent bases in Iraq. The "decider" is supposed to decide such things. But odd things are happening, the Republican-controlled Senate actually approved the amendment.

Everyone sees the chickens have returned.

Chicken Number Three: It's Not 1918 in Montana Anymore

Remember the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 that went away and came back in a new form as the First World War was something we joined in, to get the bad guys of the time?

It seems that in the middle of this particular odd week they "went away" again, in a way, unless the current administration revives them to closed down the New York Times and Washington Post for revealing stuff we do that's illegal by our laws and the under the international treaties we've signed.

In Montana, Governor Brian Schweitzer signed a pardon for the seventy-eight people who had been convicted under that state's version of the laws -
Montana's sedition laws served as a model for the federal sedition laws also passed in 1918. Other states had such laws, but none was more vigorous in pressing them than Montana.

Remarks that were labeled seditious - in one case, the observation, "This is a rich man's war" in a saloon - carried fines approaching $20,000 and sentences of up to 20 years in jail.

Martin Wehinger told a group of Teamsters, "We had no business sticking our nose in there, and we should get licked for doing so." He served 18 months in Deer Lodge State Penitentiary.

A hundred fifty people were charged under the laws in 1918 and 1919. Forty men and one woman served time in state prison. One man was pardoned in the 1920s after it was discovered that witnesses had lied at his trial.
Schweitzer is going the opposite way of President Bush, and seems to be saying Bush just isn't anything like a real cowboy, even if he is from Texas - "Neighbor informing on neighbor - this isn't the American way, it isn't the Montana way, it isn't the cowboy way."

So much for the Patriot Act, and as for the House Republicans on immigration - build the giant wall to keep the beaners out and make anyone here without permission automatically guilty of an aggravated felony - and as for the president, angry that there's that version of the national anthem in Spanish going around - he's not lining up with any of that either -
Schweitzer said he felt a personal connection to those caught up in the hysteria of the time. His grandparents came to Montana in 1909.

"They worked hard and kept their heads down. My grandmother never did learn to speak English," Schweitzer said. "It was a time when Germans were forced out of their houses and onto the streets, made to kiss the American flag and sing the national anthem in English."
He doesn't think people should do that? He sees the chickens coming home to roost. Things have changed.

When the comedian Bill Maher said the wrong thing on air in late 2001 - that the guys crashing the airplanes into our building were certainly vile, evil people, but calling them cowards seemed self-serving - he lost his job at ABC and the president's press secretary at the time said people now should "watch what they say." Those days have past. It's chicken power.

On the other hand, there's this -
A Senate panel approved a measure on Thursday that would change the Constitution to let Congress ban burning of the American flag, setting up an election-year debate over a perennial hot-button issue.

The measure passed the Senate Judiciary constitution subcommittee by a vote of 6 to 3. It must pass the Senate by a two-thirds majority and win the support of at least 38 states within seven years before it takes effect.
Well, it always comes up, and with all the other issues people care about - the war, their jobs, health insurance, the price of gasoline, if whether, when the next hurricane or earthquake hits, their tax dollars, all that money sent in over all the long years, gets them any help at all - the Republicans had to do something about the chickens.

Chicken Number Four: But We're Helping You People, Even If You're Not Evangelical Christians Yet

You have to love this - the chairman of the Republican Party was actually booed at an American Jewish Committee event over comments on Iraq. What did he say? He said we've done really well in Iraq, because, after all, Iraq "posed less of a challenge now than under Saddam Hussein."

It was that "less of a challenge" thing. As the CIA guy said to Rumsfeld - "Come on, these people aren't idiots."

Damned chickens. Should have thought about what'd happen once we "won" the thing. Now what?

And then there's this (emphasis added) -
Mehlman was otherwise politely received when he spoke Tuesday at the AJ Committee's 100th anniversary celebrations in Washington, and he got warm applause when he said the Bush administration would not tolerate an Iranian nuclear bomb and always would stand by Israel.

The room burst into applause, however, when AJ Committee board member Edith Everett asked Mehlman to "take a message" to President Bush to stop linking Israel and Iran.

"It does not help Israel and it does not help American Jews to appear to be stimulators of any action against Iran," Everett said.
Yep, these people aren't idiots. Damned chickens coming home.

Chicken Number Five: The Real Bad Guys? What Bad Guys

Okay, it's over. That Moussaoui fellow, the minor whack-job wannabe who wouldn't incriminate himself to the FBI and was charged with being the one person who could have prevented the attacks of September 11, 2001, had he only done so, and if the feds had miraculously done what they had never been able to do, is going to jail for the rest of his life, and he he won't be executed for what he didn't say.

Fine. It doesn't matter. His punishment is a matter of degree, and there's some disagreement on what degree was appropriate. But it's case closed. Move on.

That's easy. What does it matter, really?

But some people, now that's that is over, got to thinking.

One is the Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff, on Chris Matthews' show (video here), connecting some dots, or looking at what's really going on.

From Mark Kleiman, our UCLA public policy professor, a summary of the dots here -
1. When Moussaoui was captured, there was some thought that he was centrally involved in the 9-11 plot.

2. Later it was discovered that he wasn't.

3. It was decided to put him on trial anyway, because we needed someone to try.

4. The central plotters (other than bin Laden) are all in U.S. custody, but they haven't been tried and won't be tried.

5. Top people on the President's staff (Gonzales) and the Vice President's staff (Addington) decided to authorize waterboarding and related methods of "aggressive interrogation" as applied to the top plotters.

6. Having tortured them, the Administration can't now put them on trial without having their defense lawyers put the facts about their maltreatment on the official record.
Now there are some big chickens coming home to roost. It seems we weren't supposed to remember the other guys.

And Kleiman adds another chicken coming home - "... if the plotters were tried in civilian courts rather than by military tribunals, it would be almost impossible to convict them, since not only would evidence obtained under duress be excluded, but so would anything learned as a result. So the government would have to prove, with respect to each piece of evidence, that it hadn't been obtained, directly or indirectly, as a result of torture."

So "the major plotters aren't being tried in order to cover up decisions made at the very top of the Bush Administration. Instead, the government tried to send a bit player to the death chamber, and the jury refused to go along."

Yeah, it's that old law of unintended consequences, the one about the chickens coming home to roost.

New Yorker Siva Vaidhyanathan puts it another way here -
What gets me - what I don't understand - is why millions of my fellow American citizens, led by the families of those who lost loved ones in the attacks, are not banging down the doors of the Justice Department to bring to justice those who really did mastermind the killings of 3,000 of my neighbors. Their memory still hangs heavy in the air of my city. And we wonder why our government seems all too willing to put on a show trial of a sad peripheral character instead of pursuing real justice and - I admit it - satisfying vengeance.

Somewhere in a secret prison sits Khalid Sheik Mohammad, the mastermind of the attacks. Our government could bring him to trial either here in the United States or in the Hague. It could use the trial to demonstrate not only the terrible hatred that drives Al Qaeda to murder so many innocents around the world. It could use a trial to reveal the depth and breadth of the ideological threat that we face in coming years. It could show how we can avoid such vulnerability in the future. A Khalid Sheik Mohammad conviction would be deeply meaningful and satisfying.

Best of all, it could demonstrate to the world that despite so much recent evidence to the contrary, the United States is a nation of laws and its governmental agents are not above either our laws or international laws. They whole world thinks we have given up on the concept of justice. We could use a decent trial to show otherwise.

The reason we have not done this may be very disturbing: in our haste to be brutal and stupid, we almost certainly tortured Mohammad, rendering him unconvictable in any decent court in any decent country. We have also held him and hundreds more for more than three years without counsel, without facing charges, without a chance to respond to accusations, and without even allowing their families to know that they are in custody.

So basically, we are unable to try the real killer, even though we know who he is and we have him in custody.

Why stop there? Why are Americans not demanding that this administration pursue and capture Osama bin Laden? Or Ayman al-Zawahiri? Why are we letting these guys continue to murder innocent people and inspire hatred against the entire world?

In recent years the Justice Department has created a small series of meaningless show trials. Those young men from Lackawanna, New York? They were dupes who let their religious fervor and a manipulative adult take them to Pakistan to fight against India. They never did fight against India or anyone else. Yet now they are serving prison terms in the United States because they saw no way out but to plea. And John Walker Lindh? Please. He's the biggest threat to my life and liberty? These folks a bad people who broke (unconstitutional) laws. But their trials seem to be counted among this administration's greatest victories.
The law of unintended consequences, the chickens coming home to roost. Maybe the one big show trial was a bad idea. As with overthrowing Saddam in Baghdad, no one seems to have thought about what would happen next. You get people consumed with thinking about one trial and, odds are they'll think of another. Oops.

Random Chickens: Immigration and Globalization

In the same Siva Vaidhyanathan column there are a number of "letters to the editor" on these other topics that cover other unintended consequences, and they are worth note -
Name: Ruth Alice Anderson
Hometown: Portland, OR

First, I doubt Kariyn Kinsey knows the provenance of all of her ancestors for 200 years. Secondly, the virtues and hard work of her ancestors don't imbue her with virtue; they imbue her with privilege that she mistakes for virtue. On the other hand, I agree with her that Congress has poorly served the working class -- failing to increase the minimum wage, giving our hard-earned tax dollars away to corporations and to themselves. She is perfectly correct, but to focus that anger on immigrants is a classic example of kicking down. The agents of harm (Congress) are more powerful than her, so she kicks down at the least powerful people in the nation. It would be more effective is she would stand in solidarity with immigrant workers to demand they receive the same worker rights that the rest of us enjoy. If that were true, corporations could not so readily exploit them and the wage gap that makes them so appealing to capital would begin to narrow.
Worker solidarity, not factionalism, is the only way to build the power of working people. Unity, not factionalism, is strength. It's instructive to see how perfectly the right uses wedges like immigration to drive people like Karolyn who should never stand with the right on anything straight into their arms. They understand that sadly enough, hate and anger are more powerful than hope and understanding in moving voters.

Name: Jack
Hometown: Washington, D.C.

To Ms. Kinsey from Utah -

I don't even want to get into a debate about the immigration problem as it is today, since most people have made up their minds as is. However, I would like to point something out to you in something you said, and something I have heard repeated over and over. "My family immigrated here legally, and they can too." Prior to 1875, immigration was the problem of individual states.
Most of the new immigrants did not have passports, and all of the inspections were done here in the US. So, a person got on a ship hoping that they wouldn't be turned around at the port when they arrived. In 1875, the Supreme Court decided that immigration should be under the federal government. That is when Ellis Island came into being. However, the same still held true, that the potential immigrant got on board and was questioned once they got to New York. It was only between 1917 - 1924 that the US Government started issuing visas to enter the US at Embassies overseas. And the current laws for immigration didn't really go into effect until 1952. What I am trying to say is this: Your relatives did the exact same thing these illegals did. Your relatives came to this country with no paper saying they could come. They just showed up and hoped they could get in. Try to remember that when worrying about the illegals "trying to take over this country."

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT

I am beyond sick of the ... the "benefits" of globalization. To best understand this, we need to return to the basics. Global capitalism is a race to the bottom, because costs are what kill in business. We see all of this now as corporations move their labor, and any pollution-producing manufacturing, to those places with the lowest costs (read: least regulation). This is not because they are evil, but because they are in COMPETITION. There is no international mechanism - hell, we don't at this point even have a NATIONAL mechanism - to control corporate behavior, so these entities are free to go and to do whatever costs them the least and makes them the most. There is no way the average human being will benefit from unrestricted global corporate capitalism (... in other words, it will NOT be "done right", because corporations, with profit as motive, control the process, not governments that putatively have the public good as the goal). The entire world will look and be like the stockyards of Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle."

Further, one dire consequence of this vaunted "globalization" is that this nation hemorrhages wealth (to the current tune of about three-quarters of a TRILLION dollars every year) to nations which used to send us their money. This is why the middle class is vanishing before our eyes, and why two people must work to try to maintain that middle-class lifestyle that a single wage-earner could provide back when we had a positive trade balance. Liberal immigration policy will not only not help any of this, it is grossly unfair. If we use Mexico as an example, my view is that I want those coming here illegally for "better opportunity" to stay in their own country and FIX IT! Make it a nation that can and does take care of its citizens by providing opportunities for them to live decently. We don't want them coming here to piggy-back on all the sacrifices that have been made for us by our ancestors - they need to find their own Jefferson and Madison, their own Susan Anthony and, yes, Caesar Chavez. If they do not have the gumption to stand against their own government, we do not need them here for that reason either - we have our own government that is sorely in need of its citizens standing up to it!
Geez, raise some issues to get votes and then people think about the issues. That wasn't supposed to happen. It seems the chickens are coming home to roost for the administration, "big time."



For a view of the basic miscalculation that underlies all this, you might note Michael Shaw here discussing delayed moral development -
... To understand "delayed" moral development, you need only look at the way this country has been governed over the past five years. For example, you find a lot of black-and-white thinking, such as "good" versus "bad" and "us" versus "them"; a preoccupation with authority and obedience; and dramatic, self-centered acts mostly rationalized after the fact.

Delayed moral advancement tends to go hand-in-hand with the lower rungs of emotional maturity. In kids trapped in adult bodies, you tend to see silliness substituting for wit; awkwardness in the place of poise; passion masquerading as love; aggression covering for strength; and rituals standing in for originality.
That'll do. The adults are having none of it.

Posted by Alan at 23:42 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 5 May 2006 07:27 PDT home

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

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