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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Tuesday, 16 May 2006
Spinning Spinoza and Evil Albinos on a Slow News Day
Topic: The Media

Spinning Spinoza and Evil Albinos on a Slow News Day

Some days are just slow news days, and what we get is filigree - attaching lace and bows to the long legs of previous news stories, commenting on comments and waiting for the other shoe to drop, or some shoe to drop, or some story to break. Tuesday, May 16, 2006, was one of those days. Karl Rove wasn't indicted. The elected representatives in Iraq, even after five months, didn't form a new government. No top official resigned. The vice president didn't shoot anyone.

The news of the day? We found out that really was a 757 hitting the Pentagon almost four years ago, as in US Releases 9/11 Video Of Pentagon Jet Crash. Take THAT, all you conspiracy theorists. It wasn't a missile, or a bomb planted in the building that was part of a plot to outrage Americans so they'd be glad to get rid of Saddam Hussein in Iraq as even if he wasn't involved someone had to play and he was a nasty piece of work and would do nicely. Except the video shows nothing really definitive. The news shows ran the ten second clip endlessly. It would do.

Other non-news? One should note that here that Fidel Castro angrily denies what Forbes had reported. He says he is not a multimillionaire. He doesn't have eight hundred million anywhere. Good to know.

As for the other big stories? They were all follow-up.

The president's Monday evening address to the nation on dealing with illegal immigration (discussed here) was old news. The added detail for the day after was an item like this, Mexico threatening to sue over the proposed National Guard patrols on their border. This seems very odd. "If there is a real wave of rights abuses, if we see the National Guard starting to directly participate in detaining people ... we would immediately start filing lawsuits through our consulates," Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez said in an interview with a Mexico City radio station. Right. Otherwise the Senate proceeded with their immigration legislation, persisting in pursuing some sort of temporary worker program and a way for long-time illegal folk to do some sort of penance and become citizens. The House guys, who want to deport them all and build a giant wall, fumed, as did most every conservative writer in the country (a good roundup of that here). But this was not news, just news of fuming and maneuvering in reaction to news.

And the NSA telephone records scandal (discussed here) was getting its own filigree. Did USA Today get it all wrong? Could it be the government didn't have the call records for every telephone chat in America since late 2001? The was no data-mining pattern recognition effort going on, because they didn't really have the data? The president himself sort of admitted that's just what they were doing, and told everyone not to worry, it was for our own good and no one was actually listening to any calls. But then there was this -
Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp., facing consumer lawsuits seeking massive damages, have issued carefully worded denials of a report that they turned over millions of customers' calling records to a U.S. spy agency.

USA Today reported last week that the National Security Agency has had access to records of billions of domestic calls and collected tens of millions of telephone records from data provided by BellSouth, Verizon and AT&T Inc..

BellSouth and Verizon denied the part of the USA Today report that said the companies had received a contract from the NSA and that they turned over records. However, Verizon declined to comment on whether it provided access to the NSA.

"One of the most glaring and repeated falsehoods in the media reporting is the assertion that, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Verizon was approached by NSA and entered into an arrangement to provide the NSA with data from its customers' domestic calls,'' Verizon said in a statement on Tuesday.

However, "Verizon cannot and will not confirm or deny whether it has a relationship to the classified NSA program,'' the company said.

BellSouth said on Monday that "based on our review to date, we have confirmed no such contract exists and we have not provided bulk customer calling records to the NSA.'' A BellSouth spokesman was not immediately available for further comment.

AT&T has been more circumspect, saying it has an obligation to assist law enforcement and other government agencies but has refused to comment specifically on national security matters.

A company spokesman on Tuesday declined to comment about whether it provided the NSA access.
And Quest said they turned down the request from the NSA for phone records. It's very mysterious.

No it isn't. They turned over no data. There were no contracts for that. They just gave the NSA access to their truck lines and let the NSA guys gather the data themselves, and went out for coffee. USA Today is standing by their story. The only news here is shifting blame back to the feds, to keep out of legal problems with outraged customers. You can't sue the feds. Government of the people, by the people and for the people - you can't sue yourself after all.

And late on Tuesday, in a surprise reversal, the administration agreed to let the full Senate and House of Representatives intelligence committees review the domestic spying program. So more than just a few "key people" will get some information. That was always curious - saying they really, honestly, no kidding, actually briefed key legislators, but couldn't say who as that was classified information in and of itself.

Now it gets interesting. This is not big news, a seminal event that changes everything, nor is it a grand finale that wraps up everything - Nixon resign, LBJ says he's had enough. This is the muddled middle, where gauntlets are thrown down and we get sputtering outrage one way or the other. It is kind of fun, in an odd way. It's the middle of the news.

And the rest of the news on a slow day is filler, like Garrison Keillor getting off a a fine quip with lots of resonance, as it refers to so much -
Having been called names, one looks back at one's own angry outbursts over the years, and I recall having once referred to Republicans as "hairy-backed swamp developers, fundamentalist bullies, freelance racists, hobby cops, sweatshop tycoons, line jumpers, marsupial moms and aluminum-siding salesmen, misanthropic frat boys, ninja dittoheads, shrieking midgets, tax cheats, cheese merchants, cat stranglers, pill pushers, nihilists in golf pants, backed-up Baptists, the grand pooh-bahs of Percodan, mouth breathers, testosterone junkies and brownshirts in pinstripes." I look at those words now, and "cat stranglers" seems excessive to me. The number of cat stranglers in the ranks of the Republican Party is surely low, and that reference was hurtful to Republicans and to cat owners. I feel sheepish about it.
That's a classic. Just the thing for a slow news day.

How slow? Late in the day SALON.COM - the site of first-rate journalism, much intellectual depth and amazing detail, and all the reality-based stuff that so angers the neoconservatives and the administration they direct - runs a book review, of all things, at the top of their first page.

Laura Miller offers Everybody loves Spinoza - "Atheist Jew, champion of modernism, and kind and sociable man, the 17th century lens grinder who was "drunk on God" continues to win hearts and minds with his breathtaking philosophical vision."

Spinoza? Talk about your slow news days.

But it opens with this -
Bertrand Russell declared the 17th century lens grinder Baruch Spinoza to be "the noblest and most loveable of the great philosophers." To judge from several recent books, he's not alone in that opinion. The neurologist Antonio Damasio made the philosopher's thought a keystone of his 2003 book on emerging theories of emotion and consciousness, "Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain." In "Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity," philosophy professor and novelist Rebecca Goldstein declares herself to have loved Spinoza since the first time she heard him decried in the Orthodox yeshiva high school she attended as a girl. Matthew Stewart, a management consultant turned freelance historian of philosophy, makes Spinoza the supreme champion of modernism in his tale of intellectual rivalry, "The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza and the Fate of God in the Modern World." Even Einstein, when asked if he believed in God, replied, "I believe in Spinoza's God."

All this is strange, when you observe, as Goldstein does, that Spinoza's ideas, from the perspective of contemporary analytic philosophy ("the philosophic tradition toward which I gravitate"), are considered "not just unsubstantiated speculations, but highfalutin nonsense." Surveying Spinoza's view of existence, Russell declared "the whole of this metaphysic is impossible to accept; it is incompatible with modern logic and with scientific method." Stewart characterizes Spinoza's thought as exhibiting a forbiddingly "eerie self-sufficiency." And in his own time and for decades afterward, Spinoza was widely denounced as (according to one church leader) "that insane and evil man, who deserves to be covered with chains and whipped with a rod." Yet however obsolete, ridiculous or even blasphemous, Spinoza still speaks to modern thinkers with an immediacy no philosopher of his time can match.
Then the three books are discussed in detail, and even if it may be highfalutin nonsense, it's pretty cool.

Way, way into that we get the core -
Key to Spinoza's heresy was his monism, his belief that everything that exists is essentially a single thing, "nature" (that is, the infinite universe), and that this is identical with God. (As a girl, Goldstein was taught that Spinoza wickedly equated God with nature, when Jews and Christians agreed that God is supernatural, outside of nature, and a person.) Everything we experience - people, events, objects - is simply a "mode" of that single "Substance" or essence. Because God/Nature is infinite and we are finite, we perceive these things to be separate when they are not; all separate identities, including our own individuality, are merely an illusion or misperception. We perceive good and evil when neither really exists, from the perspective of God. The only way we can come to understand the true unity of the world is through the understanding of pure reason, which is integral to Substance in the same way that roundness is integral to a circle.

We can't fully grasp this - our minds aren't adequate to the task - but with a dash of intuition, we can glimpse it and experience Spinoza's notion of true happiness. We can then attain what Goldstein calls a "radical objectivity," a perspective that's outside of our own limited identity. This objectivity will enable us to see the insignificance of our own pains, pleasures and losses except insofar as they help or hinder our ability to reason. We will realize that a life of restraint and peaceful coexistence with our fellow man is exactly what will sustain us in this cause; self-interest and virtue will be revealed as identical. Finally, we will be able to regard with tranquility the fact that we are mortal, that our minds, like our bodies, are simply a mode of the great infinity of Substance, and will someday end.
Got it? No?

Don't worry. Just know the guy wasn't a Republican -
A Spinoza whose dearest goal is to overthrow theocracy and ensure the freedoms of a democratic secular state is certainly more appealing nowadays than the one who insists on his own weird, impersonal, indifferent "God" and the supremacy of reason over passion. But it seems more likely that Spinoza's quest to discover the nature of reality came first, and that it was the efforts of various religious authorities to squelch his questions and ideas that led him to conceive of the ideal of a secular, tolerant state.
So THAT'S what you get on a slow news day, co-opting Spinoza in the long argument with Bush-Cheney-Dobson-Frist-Scalia about that view that the secular is evil and must be destroyed. We've got Spinoza on our side. Great.

So you don't get this philosophy stuff? Fine. There's something for everyone.

On the same slow news day the Boston Globe reports here that the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation is ticked off - "The Da Vinci Code" will be "the 68th movie since 1960 to feature an evil albino."

You didn't know there was a National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation? You didn't notice all the evil albino villains in the movies? Yeah, Bo Radley in "To Kill a Mockingbird" turned out to be a hero and protector, but he was deeply strange. And what about that white-haired guy in the first "Lethal Weapon" movie trying his best to kill poor Mel Gibson. There may be something going on here. Now this new Ron Howard film, with hype beyond anything seen in ten years, based on a wildly popular crap novel, hits the screen - and it happens again. The Globe in on the case.

But it doesn't matter. The Cannes Film Festival is underway, and as we see here, at a screening for critics the day before its Cannes premier, Ron Howard's new film offended more than just the albinos from Hew Hampshire -
The Cannes audience clearly grew restless as the movie dragged on to two and a half hours and spun a long sequence of anticlimactic revelations.

"I kept thinking of the Energizer Bunny, because it kept going and going and going, and not in a good way," said James Rocchi, a film critic for CBS 5 television in San Francisco and the online outlet Cinematical. "Ron Howard makes handsome films. He doesn't make bad ones, but he doesn't make great ones."

One especially melodramatic line uttered by Hanks drew prolonged laughter and some catcalls, and the audience continued to titter for much of the film's remainder.

Some people walked out during the movie's closing minutes, though there were fewer departures than many Cannes movies provoke among harsh critics. When the credits rolled, there were a few whistles and hisses, and there was none of the scattered applause even bad movies sometimes receive at Cannes.

Critics singled out co-star Ian McKellen, playing a wry Grail enthusiast who joins the search, as the movie's highlight, injecting hearty humor and delivering the most nuanced performance. Paul Bettany added a seething mix of tragic pathos and destructive zealousness as a monk assassin who carries out the slayings.

Bamigboye said all the actors were solid, but enthusiastically added, "I've got to tell you, Ian McKellen steals it. He slices all the crap away."
He slices all the crap away. Cool. The National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation will be pleased.

But Supreme Court Justice Scalia won't be. As a member of Opus Dei he probably relates to this story from AFP (the French guys) -
PARIS, May 16, 2006 (AFP) - The prelate of Opus Dei, the conservative Catholic lay organization depicted in Dan Brown's book "The Da Vinci Code," is praying for the author and the makers of the Hollywood blockbuster debuting in France this week, he said in an interview released Tuesday.

Spanish Bishop Javier Echevarria Rodriguez admitted he had not read the best-selling 2003 novel, in which Opus Dei is depicted as secretive and violent, but said its popularity pointed to a need in society for "transcendancy".

"I haven't read the book. I have a lot of commitments and I don't have time to waste on that kind of novel," he told the Wednesday edition of Catholic French daily La Croix.

"It is not attacks on Opus Dei that matter to me, but those who attack our lord and the Church," he added.

"I pray every day for the writer and also for the makers of the film for they may not realize that what they suggest is blasphemous and could hurt people."
Hey, it hurt the albinos.

Ah well, it was a slow news day.

Posted by Alan at 23:15 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 17 May 2006 09:07 PDT home

Hollywood Nympheas
Topic: Announcements

Hollywood Nymphéas

No political commentary today. Today was a day for visuals. For a bit of Monet on Sunset, here is Hollywood's Giverny, the lotus pools at Will Rogers Memorial Park on Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills, just across the street from the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Polo Lounge and all that - six photos and a wealth of botanical information and Hollywood trivia.

Posted by Alan at 20:25 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Monday, 15 May 2006
Pleasing Everyone, Pleasing No One
Topic: For policy wonks...

Pleasing Everyone, Pleasing No One

The week opened with some reframing - Monday, May 15, a speech by Karl Rove at the American Enterprise Institute where he explained the polling showing the president's approval rating at an all time low, and the overall disapproval rating (and the subsets by issue) sky high, was misleading. Why was that? That was because "people like him, they respect him, he's somebody they feel a connection with, but they're just sour right now on the war." The full quote is here, with the key polling data. The general idea was that this was sad, but such things happen - war is always hard and too many people are eventually wimps, and stupid too, as they allow their despair with the war to blind them what a wonderful job the wonderful man they like and respect is doing otherwise. That's one way of looking at it. Laura Bush the day before had said she just didn't believe the poll numbers (discussed here) - she's been on the road, at all the public events, and that disapproval is not what she saw. She was there. No one was so graceless as to mention each and every audience had been vetted, every time, and no one with a grudge or gripe got within ten miles of her, or her husband. She got a pass on her comments, including the one where she declared herself a feminist. It's not as if she's an elected official or policy maker or anything.

But the real reframing of issues was the president's Monday evening television address to the nation, in prime time during sweeps week (driving the major broadcast networks up the wall), where President Bush announced the solution to the immigration crisis, the crisis that comes up when major elections loom.

The context was important. The Republican-controlled House had passed a version of their solution - make being here without proper papers an aggravated felony, make any kind of aid to anyone you knew or should have known was an illegal immigrant a serious crime, even if you're a church offering no-questions-asked hot meals to the poor, and build a giant wall from the Gulf Coast of Texas down by Brownsville all the way west to the Pacific just south of San Diego. Send them all home. Seal the border. Punish them. The Republican-controlled Senate had almost worked out something quite different - send the most recently arrived home and let the others pay a fine and stay as guest workers, and let the long-timers with family, careers, who had been paying taxes and all the rest, become citizens after jumping through some specific hoops. The first version of that fell apart, but a new version will be discussed in the Senate soon. To become a law, the House and Senate must hammer out their differences and send the compromise legislation off to the president for his signature. That seems unlikely.

The president leans toward the way the Senate sees things, and looking at it generously he likes that approach on humanitarian and practical grounds. Looking at it cynically, he knows the corporations, including agribusiness, that bankroll the Republican Party, and are integrated into the Bush family, need cheap no-questions-asked labor, and you don't tick them off by sending it home. And looking at it politically, no one will be happy when lettuce costs three hundred dollars a head and you have to bus your own table at Spago or Denny's - and too you might need at least some of the Hispanic votes to hold onto the House and Senate, where, if you lose one or the other or both, the investigations begin and roll on for your final two years. You don't want to make "them" the bad guys.

The problem was obvious - the speech had to present something for everyone, while at the same time not really offending one side or the other. It was a classic exercise in offending the most people the least.

So just how do you do that? He'd be bold, and so he was, sort of. Too bold - getting in a helicopter in that cool jump suit, leaning out the side and machine gunning women and children in the Arizona desert for the ultimate photo-op - would be a bit over the top. He'd lose the moderates. The business folks would see their potential base of useful cheap labor rotting in the sun and the vultures getting the only advantage. Too cowardly - give those here amnesty and eventual citizenship and say to everyone that we need these folks and they'll be fine citizens so just chill - would drive the conservative "cultural values" core of the Republican Party to their gun cabinets for the revolution to overthrown their king. And there was Lou Dobbs on CNN with his nationally televised jihad to rid us of this plague - he'd buy the guillotine for the festivities.

So the obvious solution was to be moderately bold - throw each side a bone or two and hope for the best. Be very cautiously audacious.

So the major speech was quite odd. You can read a transcript here, or just look at the bullet points here (Associated Press) or here (CNN).

The first cautiously audacious step? Make an admission that no one expects. Say things are actually going badly, all the more effective because people know you just never do that. So say, flat out, that the United States "does not have complete control of its borders and millions of people who have sneaked across the border have stayed in this country, living in the shadows of society." If the president is somehow charged with protecting the border (it's part of his job as commander-in-chief), that's saying that over the last six years you screwed up. Ah ha! - the conservative "cultural values" core of the Republican Party will say, "finally, we're getting somewhere." So they feel a bit better.

The second cautiously audacious step? Say you're sending in the troops to fix it - the federal government will pay for up to six thousand National Guard troops to be deployed to the southern border (the Canadians are no problem). But you're only funding them. They'll be under the command of the state governors, not Bush or Rumsfeld. And by the way, these National Guard units will not be directly involved in "law enforcement activities" (avoiding any pesky posse comitatus issues) - the border patrol will do that stuff. And the National Guard units won't even be armed - they'll be gathering intelligence and building fences and patrolling roads, not involved in "the apprehension and detention of illegal immigrants." We're talking logistics and administration. So you send in the troops, sort of. And they will serve in two-week rotations - each year that means 156,000 troops could be sent down south. And you hope no one asks where they come from, since forty percent of our guys in Iraq and Afghanistan are Guard or Reserves, and there's a hurricane season coming, and floods in New England, and the Guard gets a whole lot of assignments. But you sent the troops to the rescue, sort of.

The third cautiously audacious step? For the other side, particularly the business who love that cheap labor, you suggest a temporary worker program - foreign workers could enter the United States for jobs for a limited period of time. But they're required to return to their home countries when their time is up, or the job is over. And actually, this is pretty clever. They don't really stay here, and the party that depots them is actually not the government - it's the employer. The company says the job is done and they are the ones deporting the used-up worker. So business gets tossed a bone, and it sounds somewhat humane (these people need work), but it's not like they stay, so the red-meat Republicans get something too.

The fourth cautiously audacious step? Dazzle everyone's eyes with something bright and shiny - high technology. Say employers must "be held to account for their employees." Yeah, you're cracking down on businesses that hire people without really caring if they're here illegally. So the proposal is a tamper-proof identification card for every legal foreign worker. This helps the law enforcement folks and leaves the nasty employers with no excuse at all for violating the law. Biometric information and digital fingerprints. That's the ticket. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge - the cards won't be ready for a few years, if ever, so if your carpet factory in North Carolina is full of these illegal folks working hard, you can rest easy. And as for building that big wall, say you're going to build a "virtual wall" with video cameras and unmanned drones watching everything from the sky, and motion detection gizmos in the cactus. The red-meat Republicans may buy into that. It does sound pretty neat. And it buys time - these things take years to work out and the "we're working on it, almost ready" line works wonders. People love technology.

The fifth cautiously audacious step? Redefine amnesty - "I believe that illegal immigrants who have roots in our country and want to stay should have to pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law, to pay their taxes, to learn English and to work in a job for a number of years. People who meet these conditions should be able to apply for citizenship but approval would not be automatic, and they will have to wait in line behind those who played by the rules and followed the law. What I have just described is not amnesty; it is a way for those who have broken the law to pay their debt to society and demonstrate the character that makes a good citizen." Well, if it were pure amnesty there wouldn't be a penalty. Right. That one may not fool anyone.

The sixth cautiously audacious step? Play the cultural purity card - the "social values" crowd loves that. Say Americans "are bound together by our shared ideals, an appreciation of our history, respect for the flag we fly and an ability to speak and write the English language. English is also the key to unlocking the opportunity of America." No homemade tacos and burritos. These people have to go to Taco Bell like normal Americans, and order in English. They have to act like good white folks. We all forgot our cultural roots. They should too.

So did the president hit the sweet spot? He specifically called on Congress to pass a "comprehensive" immigration reform bill, one "that addresses all elements of the immigration problem in order to achieve a solution."

He punted. This is going nowhere.

The Democrats trotted out Senator Durbin to reply. No problem with the troop idea, but he didn't see where we'd find the Guard troops given how stretched thin things are these days. And he suggested this array of dreams wasn't exactly leadership. But then why should he say anything that harsh? The whole thing was directed to the warring factions in the Republican Party (and Lou Dobbs). Why get involved? Let them have at each other.

Here is a good summary from Kevin Drum -
The immigration speech seemed like it was mostly just the same 'ol same 'ol. Nickel version: Beef up the borders with troops and high tech wizardry but insist that it's not "militarization"; start up a guest worker program that's not called a guest worker program; introduce an amnesty program but insist that it's not an amnesty program (it's not, it's not, it's not!); and crack down on employers who employ illegal immigrants while pretending that they're actually victims of highly sophisticated fraud rather than willing coconspirators aided and abetted by the business wing of the Republican Party.

Actually, I don't really have anything against most of this stuff. Bush's position on immigration seems surprisingly reasonable to me. But it's still kind of fun watching him bob and weave and choose his words with such delicate care in order to avoid the first fully televised political suicide in history, courtesy of the wingnut base he's spent his life pandering to.
Pithy, no?

As for all this as seen from Mexico, the issue may be William Howard Taft.

What? See this -
Mexicans chafed Monday at the notion that President Bush wants to send National Guard troops to help enforce the U.S.-Mexico border, even as President Vicente Fox tried to downplay the seriousness of the move.

Many said the Guard troops could do little to stop determined migrants from finding unguarded places to cross the 2,000-mile border. Neither would the Guard do anything to solve the deeper issues behind the migration, they said.

Some were offended at a "militarization" they thought more appropriate for the border between openly hostile countries and feared that troops could become a permanent presence redefining the U.S.-Mexico relationship.

"It's worrying," said Arturo Solis, an immigrant rights activist in Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas. "The bad thing is that the American government is insisting on confusing immigration with a criminal problem."

The move reminded some historians of 1913, when President William Taft sent troops to the Texas border. Mexico was in the midst of a chaotic revolution, and Taft was warning Mexican generals and rebels not to harm U.S. interests south of the border.

At the time, there was no real threat to American soil, but the U.S. public was clamoring for action, said Lorenzo Meyer, a prominent historian at the Colegio de Mexico.

"It sounds very familiar," Meyer said. "Taft said, 'No, no, no, this is not an unfriendly move. We just want to make sure that nothing happens at the border.' But it sent a signal that a peaceful border was being regarded as dangerous."
Yeah, and the New Mexico National Guard helped track down Pancho Villa in 1916.

A brief comment at Martini Republic sums it up - "Putting troops on the border will alienate one of our few remaining friends in the world. By treating terrorism as a state v. state military problem, when nearly all other nations treat it as a cultural problem, we've blown just about every friend we ever had."

And the Guardian (UK) noticed something else - "In addition to the national guard, which will play a supporting role to the border patrol forces, the plan unveiled by Mr Bush last night calls for an increase in detention centres for illegal immigrants."

More jails. Oh yeah, that.

Well, the hard-line side of the Republican Party is on a rampage, and part of the deport-them-all community says deporting these twelve million or so men women and children is still the best idea -
Not only will it work, but one can easily estimate how long it would take. If it took the Germans less than four years to rid themselves of 6 million Jews, many of whom spoke German and were fully integrated into German society, it couldn't possibly take more than eight years to deport 12 million illegal aliens, many of whom don't speak English and are not integrated into American society.
Right.

See Digby here on this Karl Rove strategy, as the speech may have been his calculation to get the party back together and keep control of congress in November -
Immigration may get his base out in the fall, and the issue may make this a closer election than we'd like. But history shows these immigration fevers come and go. Losing any hope of the Hispanic vote with a bunch of Nazi talk about "ridding the country of its problems" is the end of the whole enchilada. The Republicans cannot be a majority if they lose the Hispanics. Rove knows this better than anyone - and it's got him dancing on the head of a pin unable to please anyone.

That is one atomic wedgie he's feeling right now. But hey, when he and his pals decided to exploit racial fears way back when, they consolidated a bunch of people under their tent who have a proclivity for unpleasant behavior toward those of other cultures and races. They are demanding that their party kick some dark hued ass, preferably close enough to home where they can really enjoy it.
Live by the sword, die by the sword. The Republican Southern Strategy of long ago - assimilate all the racists you can find and get them to abandon the party of LBJ and the Civil Rights Act for your side - seems to have drawn in folks who wax nostalgic about boxcars, stuffed full of men, woman and children, heading for the border.

And they're angry. You will find here a discussion of all the conservative voices saying Bush should be impeached for his failure to stop the "Mexican invasion" and protect our nation's borders.

Given the dynamics here, this speech was about the best that could be done. Things are not going well for the White House.

__

Footnote: What You Missed While We Worried About the Huddled Masses Streaming North

There was that whole thing late last week when we found the government had amassed a huge database of pretty nearly all telephone calls made in America since late 2001 - who called whom and for how long, but not what was said. That was discussed here. The idea is some fancy pattern recognition software will reveal plots by those who want to kill us all. As a few have said, this is like looking for a needle in a haystack, by building the world's largest haystack. It's very odd. And many, like Tim Grieve here, pointed out we have no way of knowing what the government is doing with the information once it has it.

Monday, May 15, we got a hint here - ABC News reporters Brian Ross and Richard Esposito say they've been told by a senior federal law enforcement official that the government is tracking their telephone calls in order to identify their confidential sources. The official told them: "It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick."

Ross and Esposito say they don't know whether the government got information about their calls through the ginat NSA database program or some other way, but they say that the Bush administration has a motive for learning about the people with whom they've talked - "Our reports on the CIA's secret prisons in Romania and Poland were known to have upset CIA officials."

Yep. And this -"People questioned by the FBI about leaks of intelligence information say the CIA was also disturbed by ABC News reports that revealed the use of CIA predator missiles inside Pakistan."

Ross and Esposito say they don't think the content of their calls is being monitored, but "a pattern of phone calls from a reporter" could reveal the identity of confidential sources.

That'll shut down the press.

Late in the day, the FBI confirmed, but said it wasn't the NSA database they used. The Patriot Act did just fine -
The FBI acknowledged late Monday that it is increasingly seeking reporters' phone records in leak investigations.

"It used to be very hard and complicated to do this, but it no longer is in the Bush administration," said a senior federal official.

... Officials say the FBI makes extensive use of a new provision of the Patriot Act which allows agents to seek information with what are called National Security Letters (NSL).

The NSLs are a version of an administrative subpoena and are not signed by a judge. Under the law, a phone company receiving a NSL for phone records must provide them and may not divulge to the customer that the records have been given to the government.
No warrant, no oversight, so here what was supposed to be used to shortcut everything and get the terrorists is being used to get those who report what's politically embarrassing, and just lies, and illegal. Criticism is terrorism.

The pattern, according to Josh Marshall, here -
I think part of the issue for many people on the administration's various forms of surveillance is not just that some of activities seem to be illegal or unconstitutional on their face. I think many people are probably willing to be open-minded, for better or worse, on pushing the constitutional envelope. But given the people in charge of the executive branch today, you just can't have any confidence that these tools will be restricted to targeting terrorists. Start grabbing up phone records to data-mine for terrorists and then the tools are just too tempting for your leak investigations. Once you do that, why not just keep an eye on your critics too? After all, they're the ones most likely to get the leaks, right? So, same difference. The folks around the president don't recognize any real distinctions among those they consider enemies. So we'd be foolish to think they wouldn't bring these tools to bear on all of them. Once you set aside the law as your guide for action and view the president's will as a source of legitimacy in itself, then everything becomes possible and justifiable.
And see Digby here -
The key here, I think, is to recognize that they will say that monitoring the communications of the press or political opponents is for the sake of national security. This is what comes of seeing your fellow Americans and political opponents as "enemies" to be eliminated. There is no logical or emotional leap to make between spying on terrorists in Dubai and spying on war protesters in Dubuque and spying on reporters in DC. It's the natural result of this Manichean mindset that openly touts a "with us or against us" philosophy and sees political dissent as acts of treason.

Conservatives have been selling the idea of "the enemy within" for many decades. It's what they do. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger ... rationalized their spying on the press and dissenters as necessary to plug national security leaks. Likewise, the Bush administration will have no problem doing it either.

I personally wouldn't support giving Gandhi and Jesus Christ the unfettered power to spy on Americans. But allowing these people to do it is unfathomable.
And a conservative voice here -
I am - and continue to be - a strong supporter of the President and his administration, but the crusade against reporters who publish stories based on leaks has got to stop. If they want to find the leakers and punish them, so be it. People who violate their oaths and the laws about government secrecy ought to be in jail. But not the reporters. They're simply doing what they're supposed to do - keeping us all informed. That's their job. And it's an important one because only an informed population can prevent a government from drifting inexorably towards tyranny.

... But there is no question the aggressive pursuit of information from and about reporters can do irreparable harm. Enough is enough. Really. It's time for these stutteringly stupid tactics to stop and those conducting these investigations to behave like responsible adults, not five year olds with a playground grudge.

... We can debate the merits of the news that's being broken - and we should. But we can't debate the necessity of having a press that's free to break the stories. And having reporters believe the government is cataloguing their calls or that they are facing jail anytime they write something that might be secret is the opposite of the kind of freedom that we need.
This is interesting. Reporting without telephones? Face to face, or email or instant messaging, until that's monitoring. Then?

Note to self: Chat with the older expatriate Russians in the apartment building here in Hollywood and ask them about how one found out what was really happing back in the Stalin days. The techniques may soon be useful again.

Posted by Alan at 23:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 16 May 2006 07:04 PDT home

Sunday, 14 May 2006
Hot of the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements

Hot of the Virtual Press

Click here to go there...
No blogging Sunday. All that is elsewhere. The 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 20 for the week of May 14, 2006.

A whole lot has been happening, and the week that just passed deserves some comment, so there you will find six extended commentaries. The first is what to make of the man form the NSA who has been nominated to head the CIA - the acronyms fly and his position on many matters is examined, with reference to famous cartoon characters. There's an item on trends, and as the woman said it the movie, "fasten your seat belt, it's going to be a bumpy ride." And do we have a new royal family now that George has said his brother Jeb would make a fine president? There historical precedents are examined. Of course all the voices on the newly revealed giant government database of every phone call made since late 2001 are noted, and the issues detangled. And there's a collection of odd political facts and figures, showing one can have fun with numbers. Finally, for policy wonks and those who think big, there's an item on ways of looking at the social contract - how we behave and how we expect others to behave, and what we expect of the government we fund.

There are three Hollywood items - a movie premier, an odd history of the corner down the hill (and all the celebrities and the riot there), and a bit of France on Sunset Boulevard.

The "pure photography" pages cover the oddest of LA signs down on Melrose Avenue, and some very odd walls there, and there are three pages of intense botanical shots this week.

Of course our friend from Texas provides the weekly array of the weird. And the quotes this week? The Wisest Fool of the Past Fifty Years. It was his birthday.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________

The CIA Gamble: The No-Nonsense, Blue-Collar General from Pittsburgh
Storm Warnings
Tautology and Royalty
Telephone Records: Surprise! Making a List, and Checking it Twice
Facts and Figures: Fun with Numbers
The Social Contract: Will the Leviathan Survive All This?

Hollywood Matters ______________________

On the Scene: Another Day in Hollywood
The Eye: Looking Down on Ghosts
Cultural Dislocations

Southern California Photography ______________________

Ominous Signs
A Collection of Walls
Les Fleurs du Mal
Harsh Botanicals
Easy on the Eyes



The Weird: WEIRD, BIZARRE and UNUSUAL
Quotes for the week of May 14, 2006 - The Wisest Fool of the Past Fifty Years

Posted by Alan at 20:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Saturday, 13 May 2006
The Social Contract: Will The Leviathan Survive All This?
Topic: Making Use of History

The Social Contract: Will The Leviathan Survive All This?

Elsewhere, in Tautology and Royalty, in comparing this administration's view of the powers of the executive branch, particularly the view that the president has certain plenary powers that permit him to disregard laws the legislative branch enacts and rulings on those laws from the judiciary at any level, a lot of British history was condensed into a paragraph or two on all that really didn't work out very well for the folks across the pond. Charles I actually lost his head over those kind of claims. And mixed up in that all was a brief mention of Thomas Hobbes and his startling book "The Leviathan" - people are nasty and the world awful and we really need a strong government as life is "nasty, mean, brutish and short."

As political theory goes, that's one end of the spectrum, superceding the ideas floating around before the glum Hobbes penned his famous treatise - all the stuff about how without government we'd all be fine, as people are naturally good (see "Candide" and the like). The middle ground may be what John Locke was pushing in 1798 or so, that we're neither naturally good nor naturally bad, just "blank slates" - the tabula rasa business.

Which of these basic views you take really does, of course, determine what you think the "social contract" should be. That's not just late night dorm room bull session stuff. Which you think is true has to do with everyday life, with what you expect from your government, from the local cop with his radar gun catching speeders all the way up to the federal government, with FEMA and the people at the airport telling you to take off your shoes and empty your pockets, to the folks who run up massive debt and start wars and say we should trust them. You may not actually vote, few do, but you live in the contract you imagine, paying your taxes and perhaps sending someone in the family off to Iraq or Afghanistan for a few tours, hoping he or she makes it back alive and whole.

The recent business with domestic spying may make you think about such things. First there was the executive order from the president, renewed again and again, ordering the NSA to monitor the communications of particular American citizens, in America, and to disregard the law requiring a warrant to do such thing, and the special FISA court set up to issue such warrants. The president and his attorneys argue that this is legal, as everyone had previously misunderstood the constitution and the roles of the three branches, and assume that the public will be fine with it, as life is "nasty, mean, brutish and short" - and there are lots of bad guys out to kill us. People buy the Hobbes view, or so they assume, or hope. Then USA Today reveals how the targets for that secret warrantless spying were selected - a previously secret NSA database of the call records of every telephone call in America placed since late 2001, except for the calls made by the customers of Quest, the telecommunications company that refused to participate. And to be clear, the records were sold to the NSA, for profit, and not provided as a public service or any such thing. Add that both programs were run for six years by General Michael Hayden, at the top of the NSA. The head of the CIA was abruptly shown the door and the president nominated Hayden to move over there and continue.

What do you make of this?

Some are more than wary. Others, maybe most Americans , as Bill Montgomery points out here, in a long discussion of Thomas Hobbes and "Leviathan," are fine with this, as we seem to have an accepted social contract "that owes a lot to Thomas Hobbes" -
In exchange for the economic security that corporations provide - a degree of shelter from an anarchic global market - we willingly, if grudgingly (at least in my case) give up a hefty share of our freedom and an even bigger chunk of our privacy. Having made that bargain, we're not really in a good position to object if the company proves more intrusive than we expected, for as Hobbes says, "he that complaineth of injury by his sovereign complaineth of that which he is the author and therefore ought not to accuse any man but himself."

This also seems to be the intuitive position of many Americans when it comes to the new cyber-surveillance state. By giving up their privacy and - potentially - their civil liberties in exchange for a degree of protection (real or imaginary) from terrorism, they've sacrificed items that apparently are of only marginal value to them for something more important - their belief that the organization is looking out for them.

We can argue all we want that the deal is a sham, that any sense of security is an illusion, and that having gobbled up their privacy and some of their liberty, Leviathan will only come looking for more, because that's all it knows how to do. But an awfully large number of our fellow citizens have already decided, or have been conditioned to believe, that it's better to be subjects and let others make the hard decisions for them. After all, the organization must have its reasons.

Of course, this potentially sets the scene for the next loop in the downward spiral towards a full-fledged police state. If and when the next terrorist attack comes, the natural response of the national security bureaucracy (and its legal camp followers) will be to insist the tragedy never would have happened if it had been given access to all the data it wanted, all the money it needed, and all the investigative powers it demanded. It'll be the fighting-with-one-hand-tied-behind-our-back argument, re-imported from Iraq. And who's going to say no when another major American landmark is a smoldering ruin?

Leviathan, in other words, is almost free of any restraint, save the arbitrary limits - such as they may be - set by the Cheney administration or, perhaps more importantly, by custom and habit.
The creature doesn't know all the things it can do, but only because it hasn't tried to do them yet. But it's starting to figure this out, and it's going to take more than an election and a few corruption probes to make it back down. Having entrusted their security and their liberties to the beast, Leviathan's subjects will be lucky not to wind up like Jonah, lodged in its belly.
Montgomery fears the whale, which is more than the administration and any one or two corporations - it's a self-actualizing interrelated system of that and more. And most people are "instinctively" fine with it.

The first polling after the USA Today story seemed to bear that out. Thursday night the Washington Post conducted a flash poll (small sample and wide margin of error) and came up with this - "63 percent of Americans said they found the NSA program to be an acceptable way to investigate terrorism."

But Frank Luntz, the man who polls everything political, and was let go by NBC after it became more than obvious that he stacked things toward the administration's view, and the was shown to make most of his money by being paid by the Republican Party, was saying things like this - "There is a very fine line between national security and personal oppression. The public is prepared to accept a degree of intelligence intervention but this may have crossed the line. I think a majority of Americans will be opposed to this."

We're not all Hobbes fans?

Then Newsweek did a careful poll - that had a meaningful sample size with a more acceptable margin of error. The results shifted -
A majority of Americans polled, 53 percent, believe that reports that the NSA has been secretly collecting the phone records of U.S. citizens since the 9/11 terrorist attacks to create a database of calls goes too far in invading people's privacy, according to the new Newsweek Poll, while 41 percent feel it is a necessary tool to combat terrorism. In light of this news and other actions by the Bush-Cheney administration, 57 percent of Americans say they have gone too far in expanding presidential power, while only 38 percent say they have not.

Only 35 percent of Americans approve of the way the president is handling his job-down one percentage point since the last Newsweek Poll. Seventy-one percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time, an all time high in the Newsweek Poll, while only 23 percent are satisfied. When asked how history will view George W. Bush, an overwhelming 50 percent of Americans polled said he will be viewed as a below average president. Since his re-election in 2004, 47 percent feel his performance has stayed the same, while 48 percent feel it has gotten worse.
What a difference a day makes, as does doubling the sample size to the statistical minimum for reasonable accuracy (1007 respondents this time) - and fifty-three percent think this "invades privacy" way too much, and fifty-seven percent think the White House has gone too far in expanding presidential power.

Montgomery needn't worry. We're not all Hobbes fans. Locke is cool. Voltaire and Rousseau will do.

As a subset of this, Jane Hamsher here details the views of Richard Morin, the guy who set up the Post flash poll. He doesn't ask questions that "make him mad" and may be a pro-Republican shill, or his last name should be spelled correctly.

But Montgomery, in another item, suggests he's not concerned with the polls, as he says this -
The whole point of having civil liberties is that they are not supposed to be subject to a majority veto. Hobbes may not have believed in natural rights, but our founders did. And their opponents, the anti-Federalists, were even more zealous about restraining the powers of the federal superstate, which is why they forced the Federalists to write the Bill of Rights directly into the Constitution.

It defeats the purpose of having a 4th Amendment if its validity is entirely dependent on breaking 50% in the latest poll. It would be nice to have "the people" on our side in this debate, and obviously a lot of them are, even if Doherty's plurality still prefers Leviathan's crushing embrace. But some things are wrong just because they're wrong - not because a temporary majority (or even a permanent one) thinks they're wrong.

... We can't do anything about how a corrupt, oligarchic system works (or rather, doesn't work) but we can at least stop accepting the other side's terms for the debate. What the government is doing is illegal and un-American, and that would still be true if the polls showed 99% support - in fact, it would be even more true.
Still, it is nice to know that what people see as the "social contract" - how they behave and how they expect others to behave, and what they expect of the government they fund - is not all that Hobbes-like, or not entirely so.

What will people make of things like this coming out after the news cycle closed down for the weekend -
In the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney and his top legal adviser argued that the National Security Agency should intercept purely domestic telephone calls and e-mail messages without warrants in the hunt for terrorists, according to two senior intelligence officials.

But N.S.A. lawyers, trained in the agency's strict rules against domestic spying and reluctant to approve any eavesdropping without warrants, insisted that it should be limited to communications into and out of the country, said the officials, who were granted anonymity to discuss the debate inside the Bush administration late in 2001.
And there's this little bit, referencing Richard Addington, now Cheney's chief-of-staff as his former chief-of-staff is under felony indictment and had to resign. One of the anonymous sources explains the talk going on at the time -
If people suspected of links to Al Qaeda made calls inside the United States, the vice president and Mr. Addington thought eavesdropping without warrants "could be done and should be done," one of them said. He added: "That's not what the N.S.A. lawyers think."
Hobbes lives, but others know the law and suggest it matters. They lost, but at least someone spoke up.

And as for speaking up, see this - New Jersey lawyers Bruce Afran and Carl Mayer filed suit Friday in Manhattan federal court against Verizon for contracting with the Government to provide it with customer phone records. They are "contemplating additional suits" against AT&T and Bell South. And it's nasty -
Orin Kerr, a former federal prosecutor and assistant professor at George Washington University, said his reading of the relevant statutes put the phone companies at risk for at least $1,000 per person whose records they disclosed without a court order.

"This is not a happy day for the general counsels" of the phone companies, he said. "If you have a class action involving 10 million Americans, that's 10 million times $1,000 - that's 10 billion."
Ouch. For the legal details, see this discussion of the relevant statutes and how this could be real trouble. But that's for lawyers. Short version? The leviathan has been harpooned. Shift from Hobbes to Melville - will the New Jersey "Ahabs" be pulled under by the Great White Whale that just cannot be conquered? (No, don't think of Cheney in a Speedo.)

But the other Great White Whale may have been harpooned and actually go under.

Friday this - "Within the last week, Karl Rove told President Bush and Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, as well as a few other high level administration officials, that he will be indicted in the CIA leak case and will immediately resign his White House job."

That's from a real journalist, Jason Leopold, who has actual sources inside the White House. There are lots of details. The planning for a post-Rove administration is underway, as is a spin strategy to assert that the removal of Bush's Brain really makes no difference at all.

Saturday the same reporter has this, Patrick Fitzgerald met with Karl Rove's lawyers Friday -
During the course of that meeting, Fitzgerald served attorneys for former Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove with an indictment charging the embattled White House official with perjury and lying to investigators related to his role in the CIA leak case, and instructed one of the attorneys to tell Rove that he has 24 hours to get his affairs in order, high level sources with direct knowledge of the meeting said Saturday morning.

... It was still unknown Saturday whether Fitzgerald charged Rove with a more serious obstruction of justice charge. Sources close to the case said Friday that it appeared very likely that an obstruction charge against Rove would be included with charges of perjury and lying to investigators.

An announcement by Fitzgerald is expected to come this week, sources close to the case said. However, the day and time is unknown.
There's a discussion of this by a prominent defense attorney here - given that the meeting lasted fifteen hours it must have been complex plea bargaining that probably failed. He will go under, or so it seems. (No, don't think of Karl Rove in a Speedo.)

As for Vice President Cheney, late Friday Fitzgerald filed a new pleading in the case. That's here with an analyses here, and this exhibit, and that's a copy of Joseph Wilson's now famous July 6, 2003 New York Times op-ed item with Cheney's handwritten scribbled notes in the column.

This is trouble, as Michael Isikoff explains in the upcoming Newsweek here -
It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for Cheney's own notes to be made public. The notes -apparently obtained as a result of a grand jury subpoena - would appear to make Cheney an even more central witness than had been previously thought in the criminal probe.

... Fitzgerald first alleged that Cheney had questioned whether Wilson's trip was a "junket" in a court filing last month. In that filing, Fitzgerald also asserted that the vice president, acting with the approval of President Bush, had authorized Libby to disclose portions of the classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq to rebut some of Wilson's claims.

... Fitzgerald in his court filing indicated he plans to introduce a copy of Cheney's annotated version of the Wilson column to show the vice president's interest in the circumstances surrounding Wilson's trip was an important matter to Libby that week and explains many of his actions.
The prime mover, the real Great White, may be the central planner in punishing the man who embarrassed him, and maybe inadvertently, or purposefully, blowing the guy's wife's CIA cover, which outraged the CIA and blinded us about what Iran was up to with their nuclear program. That's interesting.

Will the leviathan survive all this?

Posted by Alan at 19:07 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 15 May 2006 08:17 PDT home

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