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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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Saturday, 8 July 2006
Kid Stuff: Delusion or Something
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Kid Stuff: Delusion or Something

Saturday, July 8, the New York Times ran an interesting item -
In his most detailed comments to date on the Supreme Court's rejection of his decision to put detainees on trial before military commissions, President Bush said Friday that the court had tacitly approved his use of the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

"It didn't say we couldn't have done - couldn't have made that decision, see?" Mr. Bush said at a news conference in Chicago. "They were silent on whether or not Guantánamo - whether or not we should have used Guantánamo. In other words, they accepted the use of Guantánamo, the decision I made."

Mr. Bush's remarks put a favorable spin on a ruling that has been widely interpreted as a rebuke of the administration's policies in the war on terror. The court, ruled broadly last week in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that military commissions were unauthorized by statute and violated international law.

The question of whether Mr. Bush had properly used Guantánamo Bay to house detainees was not at issue in the case. At issue was whether the president could unilaterally establish military commissions with rights different from those allowed at a court-martial to try detainees for war crimes.
There's more, but that's essentially it. The Supreme Court was ruling on something else entirely, but, you see, they were silent on whether the Guantánamo prison itself was illegal, and since they were silent, they obviously approved of it. Silence, even when the topic is something else entirely, is really approval. It's all how you look at it. So it's obvious that they think what "the decider" decided is fine, because, after all, he's the decider.

Is Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the Times mocking him, or just reporting?

There's been some interesting comment on this, like this from Digby at Hullabaloo -
Do you remember the term "Clinton fatigue?" You know, back when everybody was really, really tired of peace and prosperity and talking about oral sex? (You can understand why everyone wanted our long national nightmare to be over.)

It occurs to me that some conservatives, at least the educated ones, must be feeling some serious "Bush fatigue" about now. When they hear ignorant, puerile drivel like this come out of his mouth, some of them (a couple of them?) must look at the calendar and count the days until their personal nightmare is over.

I'm the decider, see. They accepted my decision, see.

Whenever he sounds this moronic I'm reminded that it's probably how it was explained to him. That "see" is the tip-off. He can't actually understand the decision and then go out and expect that people won't think he's a complete idiot for saying what he just said. He doesn't get it. Nobody can spin that badly, not even him.

As TBOGG put it, this is Bush's version of: "That chick at the bar? She's totally digging on me."
It does seem a bit absurd. Be he's the man we chose to lead us.

Then there's this from Jack Grant at The Moderate Voice -
In what twisted universe is it that the President of the United States has to be TOLD by the courts that an extra-legal prison that uses "stress positions" and other "coercive" means of interrogation is not only ill-advised in a war that depends more on image than on casualties but also completely contrary to the most fundamental of American values including the rule of law?

I wish I could say this type of "thinking" along with the willingness of many people to actually support it is incomprehensible to me, but it is not. It merely shows how some are willing to twist responsibility into a rationalization of "they didn't tell me not to" while others are willing to believe whatever their leader tells them. America is not the first nation to support this idiocy, but I had hoped we would be immune.
We're not.

Well, somewhere in the civil courts of Los Angeles Country someone ruled on a workplace injury case in Long Beach, and since they didn't say renters in the Hollywood part of Los Angeles could not keep pet goats, that must mean we can. They were silent on the matter. They didn't say we couldn't.

The problem is, of course, the whole matter is a little complicated, as David Ignatius explains in the Washington Post here -
The post- Hamdan debate involves some long-standing divisions within the administration over anti-terrorism policy. On one side are Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her advisers, who believe that Guantanamo has become a dangerous rallying point for anti-Americanism. On the other are conservative administration lawyers, led by Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, David Addington, who worry that any attempt to involve Congress or international lawyers in writing new rules would produce an unworkable legal mess that would endanger U.S. security. In the middle, seeking to resolve the issue over the next several weeks, are Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, and Joshua Bolten, the new White House chief of staff.

Bush's comments about closing Guantanamo suggest that he wants to turn a page. But as sometimes happens with this administration, the debate isn't over until it's over - and even then it isn't over. That was the case with the McCain amendment banning harsh interrogation. The president signed the law and then appended a signing statement saying that his executive power wasn't bound by such limits, then made a public statement indicating that despite the signing statement, he would follow the law. Confused? So is the CIA, which is said to have stopped interrogating terrorist suspects altogether until the rules are clarified.
You can see why the president wants to simplify things. The Supreme Court didn't say shut the place down, so it must be fine. Now maybe his own subordinates will stop arguing amongst themselves. You just need to follow the logic. The court said nothing, so they must approve. No ten-year-old gets away with such things with his or her parents - but you never told me I couldn't set my sister's hair on fire - but the idea is that this will fly with the American public. And, oddly enough, it probably will. Everyone loves the clever kid who can find a way out of just about everything. And it is pretty clever, in a junior high way. He's a pip.

But at the same time, some others aren't to pleased, as in this news breaking the same day (emphases added) -
In a sharply worded letter to President Bush in May, an important Congressional ally charged that the administration might have violated the law by failing to inform Congress of some secret intelligence programs and risked losing Republican support on national security matters.

The letter from Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, did not specify the intelligence activities that he believed had been hidden from Congress.
But Mr. Hoekstra, who was briefed on and supported the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program and the Treasury Department's tracking of international banking transactions, clearly was referring to programs that have not been publicly revealed.

… "I have learned of some alleged intelligence community activities about which our committee has not been briefed," Mr. Hoesktra wrote. "If these allegations are true, they may represent a breach of responsibility by the administration, a violation of the law, and, just as importantly, a direct affront to me and the members of this committee who have so ardently supported efforts to collect information on our enemies."

He added: "The U.S. Congress simply should not have to play Twenty Questions to get the information that it deserves under our Constitution."
It seems the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee doesn't like this "clever kid who hides things" routine much at all. And too, what haven't we found out about even more secret intelligence programs? There's more? Great.

But then, the man does keep us safe, as in this from Peter Alford in The Australian -
A top North Korean propagandist raised the threat of nuclear war yesterday as the fighting talk triggered by the isolated regime's missile launches got scarier than any disintegrating Taepodong-2.

Kim Myong-chol, a freelance propagandist for the Stalinist state, claimed North Korea would treat any country supporting UN sanctions against it - and that would definitely include Australia - as a nuclear missile target.

"Now the US is seeking sanctions for us doing nothing in violation of international law - this is outrageous," he said in Tokyo yesterday. "North Korea considers this an act of war and North Korea will launch a missile at any country that joins such a resolution."

Regarded as a trusted, though unofficial, international spokesman for Kim Jong-il's regime and with excellent Pyongyang access, Mr Kim also claimed every major US city was now targeted by nuclear-tipped warheads and could be destroyed within half an hour.
Oh yeah, it just keeps getting better.

And there's this -
"I'm afraid America has no sense of humor," said Mr Kim, who heads the Centre for Korean-American Peace north of Tokyo.

"Kim Jong-il has offered celebrations to the US and happy birthday to George Bush."

The missile firings were timed to coincide with American July 4 celebrations and a pre-emptive party for the US President, whose 60th birthday was yesterday.
Ah, it was a compliment and a celebration! That clears it all up.

The kids are running things.

Posted by Alan at 17:27 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Friday, 7 July 2006
Friday Follies: The World Turned Upside-Down
Topic: Reality-Based Woes

Friday Follies: The World Turned Upside-Down

Sometimes it's hard to keep it all straight, so just some notes on what happened as the week closed, Friday, July 07, 2006 -

Words

The president had a news conference, which he seems to be doing a bit more now, even if far less often than any president since the days before FDR. One senses he really resents having to explain himself to anyone, when Cheney and Rumsfeld and Rice do the work so he can get his four hours of exercise and ten hours of sleep each day. Let them do it. The evening before he and Laura has been interviewed by Larry King on CNN, and that was fine. Larry pitched softballs and it sometimes rose to the level of seriousness of, say, People Magazine. But most of it was fluff. How hard could the news conference be?

This news conference was supposed to be a big deal - it was in Chicago, not Washington, in some sort of attempt to connect with "the people" (not the policy wonks and overeducated thinkers) and escape the White House press corps with their feisty and embarrassing questions. And in a gesture of royal benevolence this time the president would allow the questions to come from the local press, not the big-time, large-newspaper, network and cable correspondents. This would be different.

But it wasn't. The questions were the same. What about North Korea, and what about Iraq, what about Iran and all the rest? No one asked about the Cubs, or farm subsidies. There was nothing about "the real concern of real folks." Or there really was, and his advisors had miscalculated. It seems they had been reading too much Carl Sandburg and that "hog butcher to the world" stuff, and thought that those in Chicago had other concerns. That must have been depressing.

The Associated Press covered the news conference here, but as it was the same questions, just from the wrong people, there's not much new.

The Osama bin Laden question was amusing - the New York Times had reported a few days earlier that the CIA had disbanded their secret unit to find the guy, and they had done that last year. What's up with that?

Tim Grieve puts what the president said in Chicago in perspective -
Sept. 17, 2001: George W. Bush is asked if he wants Osama bin Laden dead. "I want justice," he says. "There's an old poster out west, as I recall, that said, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.'"

March 13, 2002: At a press conference, Bush says that he doesn't know if bin Laden is dead or alive. "You know, I just don't spend that much time on him…. And I wouldn't necessarily say he's at the center of any command structure. And, again, I don't know where he is. I - I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him."

Oct. 13, 2004: "Gosh, I just don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. It's kind of one of those exaggerations."

Jan. 31, 2006: "Terrorists like bin Laden are serious about mass murder - and all of us must take their declared intentions seriously."

May 25, 2006: "I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner - you know, 'Wanted dead or alive,' that kind of talk. I think in certain parts of the world it was misinterpreted, and so I learned from that."

July 4, 2006: The New York Times reports that the CIA last year disbanded a secret unit assigned to track down bin Laden and his top lieutenants in an effort to focus on "regional trends rather than on specific organizations or individuals."

July 7, 2006: At a press conference in Chicago, Bush calls the Times report "just an incorrect story." "I mean, we got a - we're - we got a lot of assets looking for Osama bin Laden. So whatever you want to read in that story, it's just not true, period." Asked if he's still on the hunt for bin Laden, the president says: "Absolutely. No ands, ifs or buts. And in my judgment, it's just a matter of time, unless we stop looking. And we're not going to stop looking so long as I'm the president." Bush said he had announced regret over the "dead or alive" comment only because "my wife got on me for talking that way."
You can see why Cheney and Rumsfeld and Rice should be the ones doing the explaining. They're good with words, and people unfairly remember what you say, and these days can call up when and where you said it and to whom (the item above has links to that). And even his wife was on his case for that "dead or alive" comment. It's like words really mean something - or something like that. You can see that idea frustrates him.

But it was a day for frustration - "President Bush expressed frustration Friday with the slow pace of diplomacy in dealing with North Korea and Iran and prodded world leaders to send an unmistakable message condemning Pyongyang's long-range missile test."

Yeah, it's slow, and he hates that, and they use all those words. Drat.

And he is amazed by how odd it is -
"And it's, kind of - you know, it's kind of painful in a way for some to watch, because it takes a while to get people on the same page," Bush said. "Not everybody thinks the exact same way we think. Different words mean different things to different people. And the diplomatic processes can be slow and cumbersome."
But he has had an insight - that different words mean different things to different people. That's growth, even of most fourteen-year-olds figured that out long ago.

But then any sort of diplomacy is new to the administration, as their muscular "forward-leaning" policies have bumped up against reality - sometimes you just cannot bomb, or invade, or intimate, and refuse to talk at all. Sometimes you have to talk, and use words. He seems to hate that. But there you have it.

And things just aren't going well, as noted here - North Korea threatened on Friday to take "stronger physical actions" after Japan imposed sanctions in response to its missile tests this week, while the United States and Japan struggled to set out a unified diplomatic response to the launches.

Great.

And the tale of how we got into this pickle one where "we don't talk" and "words don't matter" really got us in trouble, as Eric Alterman recaps here, starting way back in the days when Colin Powell was Secretary of State, back as the administration settled in -
The tone of Powell's tenure was set early in the administration when he announced that he planned "to pick up where the Clinton administration had left off" in trying to secure the peace between North and South Korea, while negotiating with the North to prevent its acquisition of nuclear weaponry. The president not only repudiated his secretary of state in public, announcing, "We're not certain as to whether or not they're keeping all terms of all agreements," he did so during a joint appearance with South Korean president (and Nobel laureate) Kim Dae Jung, thereby humiliating his honored guest as well. A day later, Powell backpedaled. "The president forcefully made the point that we are undertaking a full review of our relationship with North Korea," Powell said. "There was some suggestion that imminent negotiations are about to begin - that is not the case." He later admitted to a group of journalists, "I got a little far forward on my skis." It would not be the last time.

As former ambassadors Morton Abramowitz and James Laney warned at the moment of Bush's carelessly worded "Axis of Evil" address, "Besides putting another knife in the diminishing South Korean president," the speech would likely cause "dangerous escalatory consequences [including] ? renewed tensions on the peninsula and continued export of missiles to the Mideast." North Korea called the Bush bluff, and the result, notes columnist Richard Cohen, was "a stumble, a fumble, an error compounded by a blooper. ? As appalling a display of diplomacy as anyone has seen since a shooting in Sarajevo turned into World War I."

Bush made a bad situation worse when, in a taped interview with Bob Woodward, he insisted, "I loathe Kim Jong Il!" waving his finger in the air. "I've got a visceral reaction to this guy, because he is starving his people." Bush also said that he wanted to "topple him," and that he considered the leader to be a "pygmy." Woodward wrote that the president had become so emotional while speaking about Kim Jong Il that "I thought he might jump up." Given what a frightful tinderbox the Koreas have become, Bush's ratcheting up of the hostile rhetoric could hardly have come at a worse time. In December 2002 the North Koreans shocked most of the world by ordering the three IAEA inspectors to leave the country, shutting down cameras monitoring the nuclear complex in Yongbyon and removing the IAEA seals in their nuclear facilities. The following month, Pyongyang announced it had withdrawn from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), restarted its small research reactor, and began removing spent nuclear fuel rods for likely reprocessing into weapons-grade plutonium. In October 2003, it announced that it had finished reprocessing spent fuel rods into plutonium and now possesses "nuclear deterrence" - another way of saying it has the bomb. No independent confirmation was available. Even including Iraq and Iran, the Korean peninsula is probably the single most dangerous and possibly unstable situation on Earth. As Jonathan Pollack, chairman of the Strategic Research Department of the Naval War College, observes, "If you wanted a case of imminent threat and danger, according to the principles enunciated in the National Security Strategy document, then North Korea is much more of a threat than Iraq ever was in the last few years."

Bush had already undermined the extremely sensitive negotiations under way to bring the North Korean regime into the international system. When South Korean president (and Nobel laureate) Kim Dae Jung visited Washington six weeks after Bush took office, Bush humiliated both his guest and his own secretary of state by publicly repudiating the negotiations after both had just publicly endorsed them. (Powell had termed their continuation "a no-brainer.") One suspects the president's decision was motivated by a combination of unreflective machismo and a desire to provide military planners with an excuse to build a missile-defense system. But in doing so, he displayed a disturbing lack of familiarity with the details of the negotiations he purposely sabotaged. "We're not certain as to whether or not they're keeping all terms of all agreements," he said at the time. But at the time, these "agreements" numbered just one: the 1994 "Agreed Framework," which froze North Korea's enormous plutonium-processing program - one that was bigger, at the time, than those of Israel, India, and Pakistan combined - in exchange for economic aid. Bush aides were later forced to admit they could find no evidence to support the president's accusation. (A White House official tried to clear up the matter by explaining: "That's how the president speaks.")
In the heat of the moment, when now North Korea promises total war with the United States if we attack their facilities, it is easy to forget the fiasco above, where macho bluster blew away all the fancy-pants diplomacy that we were assured just didn't work - it hadn't worked and it wouldn't work. The evidence ran the other way, but there's the principle of the thing - you don't talk, you just do. And now we're in deep do-do (sorry).

Alterman deals in facts. We do have our thirty-seven thousand troops there. They have eleven thousand artillery guns, some possibly chemically tipped, within fifty miles of Seoul. Oh yeah, they have thirty-seven hundred tanks and seven hundred Soviet-built fighter jets, and all in all a million soldiers and seven million reserves, making them the fourth or fifth largest standing army on planet. This is a problem.

And now turning to words is a problem, ironically -
But choosing not to deal with the problem of North Korea presents the world with two profoundly worrying prospects. The first is that North Korea will make one of its bombs available to a party that would in fact like to use it - perhaps even al Qaeda. (U.S. weapons inspector David Kay claimed to discover a $10 million deal for just such a transfer between North Korea and Iraq, though the former kept the money and did not deliver the material, insisting that U.S. pressure made it impossible.) Second, a spiraling collapse of the regime could lead to a last-ditch attack on Seoul, with both conventional and nuclear weapons. As one U.S. official put it, toleration of a nuclear North Korea sends the same message to Iran that the invasion of Iraq sent to North Korea: "Get your nuclear weapons quickly, before the Americans do to you what they've done to Iraq, because North Korea shows once you get the weapons, you're immune."
We seem to have backed ourselves into a corner - can't act, and never believed in negotiating anything and in using words. And the alternative is? There is none.

Well there is one, as Alterman notes -
The Bush plan seems to be to persuade several key Asian countries that now provide cash and assistance to Pyongyang to turn off the taps and stand by as its people starve and the nation - with its nukes - implodes. But those upon whose cooperation the policy rests appear to have little inclination to support the plan. South Korea's population, like that of most of the world, has grown increasingly distrustful of the Bush administration's behavior and is far less eager to follow the U.S. lead. Its current president, Roh Moo Hyun, won his office by following the German pattern, with a campaign that stressed his independence from the United States and its martial declarations. The Chinese remain by far the North Koreans' most important trading partner, supplying for instance 70 percent of its crude oil needs and much of its foodstuffs. Its leadership has shown no interest in doing Bush's bidding or participating in a strategy that appears designed to create political change through mass starvation. And the last thing Japan wants to see is the collapse of the regime, thereby finding itself facing a nuclear-armed, unified Korea on its borders.

The obvious solution - both to the strategic problem and to the humanitarian crisis - is clearly some sort of negotiated buyout, along the lines that the Clinton administration began, but fumbled. Under the terms of that deal, North Korea was to freeze and eventually eliminate its nuclear program while the United States spearheaded an international effort to provide fuel and light-water (non-weapons-producing) nuclear reactors.
But then that would have been too "Bill Clinton." And the whole idea is you don't reward evil-doers, and you don't talk with them, unless you do, when no alternative is left. But you don't like it. You don't like it at all.

It was a bad day in Chicago.

Getting Voted off the Island

The political buzz as the week ended was all about the debate Thursday night in Connecticut, really. The August Democratic primary to decide who runs for the senate seat in November has people buzzing all over. Will Joe make it that far? And it goes like this -
A combative debate between Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman and challenger Ned Lamont has exposed Democratic Party fault lines on the Iraq war and set a harsh tone for next month's primary showdown.

Lieberman, a three-term senator and vice presidential nominee in 2000, emphasized his experience and bluntly dismissed Lamont as a political novice whose call for a timeline on withdrawing troops from Iraq was "dumb."

But Lamont, a millionaire businessman who has gained on Lieberman in the polls by portraying him as too supportive of President George W. Bush, attacked Lieberman as a knee-jerk cheerleader for the war.

Neither candidate delivered a knock-out blow in Thursday's debate, analysts said, but the campaign's focus on Iraq and Lieberman's plan to run as an independent in November's mid-term elections if he loses the August 8 primary have brought national attention to the contest.

? Lamont's criticism of Lieberman for his steadfast support of the war has made him a darling of left-wing Internet bloggers who have poured money and grass-roots muscle into his campaign.

? The debate's sometimes caustic exchanges mirrored the tough negative ads that both candidates are airing in the state, including one from Lamont combining images of Bush with audio from Lieberman that makes it seem like the president is speaking in Lieberman's voice.

? Analysts say Lieberman, who is more popular with Republicans and independents in Connecticut than with Democrats, would likely win the election as an independent even if he loses the primary.
Well he has the endorsement of Sean Hannity and Michelle Malkin and Hugh Hewitt and, of course, Ann Coulter. Joe has said no one, and certainly no Deomcrat, should undermine the credibility of the president - we're at war and that would help the enemy or whatever. Don't raise questions. A lot of folks want to just toss him out of the Democratic Party.

The even hit the local Los Angeles Times on July 7 with this editorial -
Democratic voters in Connecticut have the right to nominate the candidate of their choice. But it is more than a little disturbing for the longtime popular senator (and the party's 2000 nominee for vice president) to be targeted for defeat by national fundraisers based on his foreign policy views. There were principled people on both sides of the debate to go to war in Iraq. This page did not support the war, but it cannot cheer on liberal activists who run the risk of being guilty of the same sort of insistence on ideological purity that they deplore in Republicans.

The Democratic Party - the party of Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy - is a big enough tent to include voices on the conservative end of national security policy. Lieberman's views shouldn't trigger a nationwide jihad against him.
And that sets offthe famous political cartoonist "Tom Tomorrow" who says this -
Speaking as a Connecticut voter, I'm just awfully sorry to learn that these delicate Angelenos find it disturbing to witness democracy in action. The fact of the matter is, Lieberman is a pisspoor excuse for a Democrat, and that's saying a lot given that the Democrats themselves are mostly a pisspoor excuse for an opposition party. We sure as hell don't need a Democrat who plays kissy-face with the President, supporting everything from the nomination of Torturin' Al Gonzales ("I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt"), to this misbegotten war. A Democrat who suggests that rape victims who can't get proper medical care simply take a "short hike" to another hospital. Etc., etc. Look, I was prematurely anti-Lieberman - I was appalled when Gore chose him as a running mate in 2000, for chrissakes. This is absolutely not about a "single issue" for me - but even if it were, well, the war's a pretty goddamn big issue isn't it? Pretty much the defining issue of the day. And the Democratic voters of Connecticut have every right to say, this man simply does not represent my values - and to work to try to replace him. (Afterthought: if that resonates on a national level, great. But the decision is ultimately up to the voters of Connecticut, "nationwide jihad" notwithstanding.)

Anyway - and I say this with great affection, as a former longtime Californian - I'm not sure Connecticut voters really need to be lectured about appropriate political behavior by residents of a state in which a legitimately-elected governor was recalled and then replaced - out a field of candidates that also included a porn star, a down-on-his-luck former child actor, and Arianna Huffington - with an actor best known for playing a killer robot from the future.
Ouch.

Well, maybe the Democrats are falling into a "negativity trap" as John Dickerson suggests here, or maybe the man from the Greenwich Town Council might be a better choice than the darling of Fox News who tells Democrats to stop ragging on the president, and that things are getting better every day in Iraq, and that rock lyrics should be censored, and we may yet find those weapons of mass destruction. Yeah, he marched with the Civil Rights folks in the sixties and opposed the Vietnam War. That was then. This is now. "Remember what I was like" only goes so far.

The debate itself was full of local issues, but this captures the anger -
Still, for those of us outside The Land Of Steady Habits, there was a little too much about the Greenwich Town Council and submarine bases and who said what when and to whom. But there was one quote that didn't come up, and it's the only quote that should matter to those of us outside Connecticut. It's this one:

"It's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge he'll be commander-in-chief for three more years," the senator said. "We undermine the President's credibility at our nation's peril."

You may recognize that final sentence as the soft outer frontier of the rhetoric that ends up in a place where newspeople are accused of treason and where roam free the eliminationist fantasies of the lunatic right. It's where we find "reasonable" people treating John Yoo's authoritarian delusions as though they had something to do with America. I couldn't care less if Ned Lamont once took a Republican stand on water rates. I saw enough last night to know he'd never say anything like that.
If Joe loses the primary he will run as an independent. He may get buried. The new opposition campaign slogan really is "Had enough?" The results are coming in.

But to be fair and balanced, there is a parallel to all this on the right. The conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan was denounced this week by all the major commentators on that side of things. Sullivan is a lifelong Republican and on board with it all, against abortion, affirmative action, in favor of massive tax cuts and the smallest possible government. But this week all said he was not a conservative at all. The problem is he thinks torture is wrong and we shouldn't do it, and he's troubled by the president claiming no rules apply to the executive branch at all, and all this Christianization of the government. He's a bad boy (and he's gay). He's been voted off the island.

And at his website he posts this letter he received from one of his readers -
Actually, I don't consider you a conservative anymore either, for the same reasons I don't consider myself one anymore. In this day, in this country, to be a conservative is to buy into a program of relativism and deconstructionism (scientific knowledge in evolution and climate science is just one "perspective" or is totally unreliable because scientists are a bunch of liberals and science is just a political agenda). To be a conservative is to believe that good government rests on the personal character and godliness of an unshackled executive, not on the time-tested processes and institutions of democracy. To be a conservative is to let your worst enemies dictate your moral values. To be a conservative is to believe that insufficiently conservative judges are enemies of America and should be eliminated or marginalized as illegitimate.

Above all, to be a conservative is to use the power of the government to Christianize Americans and the US government to the greatest extent possible.

Andrew, today liberals are the better defenders of the Enlightenment. Conservatives are the enemies of the enlightenment. So you want to cut entitlements? Pardon my French, but big fucking deal. You want to cut entitlements because you have weighed the evidence of their effectiveness and found it lacking. You're still part of the democratic machine and you still respect democratic reasoning.

Conservatives aren't as quaintly obsessed with evidence and balancing costs and benefits as you are. They want to cut benefits on principle, no matter what. They want to slash taxes as a first principle, expensive wars and basic human decency be damned. They are not rational decision makers in the sense that they distinguish between effective and ineffective programs. The slash taxes, period - no thinking required.
And - this isn't a minor point - they don't actually cut entitlements. They expand them. So there goes that argument.

My choice - and yours - is to join up with a reality-based community that trusts expertise, democratic processes, and established institutions and makes fact-based decisions (these days called liberals), or to join up with a community of relativistic mystics who are not open to reason or persuasion, distrust democracy, reject standards of behavior because they believe themselves to be inherently godly, and have no use for traditional democratic institutions. These tradition-despising relativistic mystics we call conservatives.

Andrew, you and I have much more in common with the liberals. Because they're more conservative.
Cool, and amusing. Everything is moving around.

What?

There is no category for this.

It seems General George Patton was very fond of something called "Country Captain Chicken" and someone suggested that might make a good MRE (meals-ready-to-eat) thing for our troops in combat. Field rations can be dismal, and Patton might be onto something.

But then it gets odd -
So MRE-makers cooked up a prototype of the dish and tested it with soldiers. The Joes liked it. At first. "Our war-fighters gave it a thumbs up; it scored very high," Gerald Darsch, the Defense Department's director of combat feeding, told me. "But, within several years, it began to rate on the low end."

What happened? Country Captain Chicken got a reputation... "Country Captain Chicken," a young specialist told me, "will make you gay."

... For the record, the Army says the soldiers of the 101st were mistaken. "I don't think the currants we put in Country Captain Chicken have any metabolic effect that would change your preference, sexually," Darsch claims.
Oh. But it's gone now.

What?

There is a category for this - trouble. The item hit the press Friday, July 7, and goes like this - "A decade after the Pentagon declared a zero-tolerance policy for racist hate groups, recruiting shortfalls caused by the war in Iraq have allowed 'large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists' to infiltrate the military, according to a watchdog organization."

The Army is on this, as they know this is trouble, and the Aryan Nation and Nazi graffiti in Baghdad are starting to cause a bit of trouble. This is not what they want, and they're taking it seriously. They'll get these guys out. But when you need all the bodies you can get, it did happen that these guys seemed good enough, and weren't.

One reaction was this from Digby at Hullabaloo -
Well now, this certainly does explain a few things, doesn't it?

I'm not sure there's anything more stupid than hiring a bunch of neo-Nazi's to occupy a foreign country. But it is par for the course with the Bush administration.

The thing is that it doesn't take much to push people over the line in these stressful situations anyway. Racism is clearly rampant among the Americans already. It's obvious in this sophomoric Ali Baba/Hadji bullshit they talk all the time. I'm not even sure that it isn't part of every war to a certain extent. It's primitive stuff.

I definitely believe that racism lies at the heart of why many people supported a war against a country that had not committed any crime against ours - and why they don't care if there were any WMD or any other justification. One dead Arab's as good as another dead Arab. It didn't matter which Arab country we invaded as long as we invaded one and fucked some of "those people" up.

But regardless of the strain of racism that already exists in that war zone, putting white supremacists in their midst and allowing them to spew their Nazi propaganda among those frustrated, frightened, bored soldiers is a recipe for disaster. Instead of the sort of common tribal hatred you might see in any dangerous warlike environment, you suddenly have someone providing a whole philosophy and intellectual structure for it. It's the perfect recruiting ground for white supremacy and gives certain types permission to act out their violent fantasies against those they already consider racially inferior. And they are also training them to think of it in ways that are very dangerous when they come back to the US.

I don't know if these any of these atrocities we've recently heard about are related, but I wouldn't be surprised. And frankly, the way this administration has conducted their war so far, I also wouldn't be surprised if they haven't loosened the rules on this on purpose. I'm sure they think skinheads are tough guys. And we know how the chickenhawks love the tough guys.
Well, maybe. The rules may have been loosened on purpose in Washington for this, or it may be something no one thought about until too late. But the Army will have none of it. You need discipline and loyalty and fairness in the ranks, and the officer in my family, the Lieutenant Colonel who has been there and back, who I saw graduate from West Point, would put and end to this real fast, no matter who set it up. Any good officer would. On the other hand, the minority soldiers themselves might just make it real hard for the Aryan tough guys in the unit. You fight together, and for each other. Calling your buddy in the field ghetto trash or wetback crap might be counterproductive. You might find yourself alone at a bad time and place. This is self-correcting.

The Usual

The big news Friday, July 7, was this -
A terrorist plot to flood lower Manhattan by attacking train tunnels under the Hudson River used by tens of thousands of commuters was thwarted before the conspirators could travel to the United States, authorities said Friday.

Eight suspects - including an al-Qaida loyalist arrested in Lebanon and two others in custody elsewhere - had hoped to pull off the attack in October or November, federal officials said. But federal investigators working with their counterparts in six other countries intervened. The other five suspects remained at large.

"It was never a concern that this would actually be executed," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in Boston. "We were, as I say, all over this."
Caught it early, or really, before there was an "it." Why now? Just a reminder. It was the main news all day. It served its purpose.

Posted by Alan at 23:44 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 7 July 2006 23:48 PDT home

Thursday, 6 July 2006
Story Telling: Notes on Current Events
Topic: Perspective

Story Telling: Notes on Current Events

America paused for the Fourth of July, or the public did, but world events spun on, and much happened. By the time everyone was back at work for a day or so it was time to think about it all. What to make of it?

Of course no commentator could resist what happened on the Fourth - you got to link "the rockets' red glare" line with the amazingly successful launch of the space shuttle after a two-year pause (chat up that national pride in our twenty-five-year-old technological wizardry) with, a few hours later, North Korea test firing seven missiles, one of them a long range gizmo that when operational could reach Hawaii or Alaska, or maybe Seattle or northern California. That one broke up or was "self-destructed" after forty-two seconds, falling in many pieces into the Sea of Japan. This rocket stuff is hard. It's even hard for us, and we're a real country, not some Mississippi-sized dirt poor backwater ruled by an egomaniacal oddball who tolerates no questions regarding his judgment. Well, we're a big country, and the major power in the world, able to do amazing things with our machines, even if our leader does have some similar but less pronounced odd traits.

The Fourth was, in any event, all about rockets. And it closed on an ominous note of threat - if the North Koreans can ever get that thing to work (doubtful), and if they have a nuclear weapon as they claim (never tested one and now one wonders about their bragging), and if they can overcome all the technical issues in reducing its size so it would fit on the tip of the big missile that doesn't work (decades of hard work for a country with first-rate technology), then we're in trouble, and it's worse for Japan, and far worse for our ally and supplier of cheap and reliable automobiles, South Korea, where we now have thirty thousand of our own troops. This is serious, sort of.

The response from our administration was muted - the world should get together and do something. Condemnation? Sanctions? Who knows? We haven't asked the UN or anyone at all, like Tony Blair, to agree that it would be wise to invade the country, toss out the government and bring in some exiles to run one that is more to our liking. Been there, done that, and it has its limitations.

So now what? Do we stress the threat, or if that's not going to fly (literally) do we emphasize the instability of the man in charge of that odd nation, or do we point out the incompetence and say this is serious, but not much of a worry and mock them? There was no talk of preemptive strikes to remove the threat, save for the few on the far right in love with whack-a-mole foreign policy - bomb anything in the world that looks suspicious and remove any government that looks at us sideways (diplomacy reduced to a single element, regime change). What do we want? It's puzzling, and very odd.

The real problem is, of course, that although they will probably never get the ICBM (the Taepodong-2) working, they will continue to sell the short range scud things to anyone with cash in hand, and you can put all sorts of nasty things on the tips of those - chemical agents and biological weapons. And the ones they keep can easily reach South Korea and parts of Japan. And too they may never have the competence to develop a nuclear weapon in a usable form, small enough to move out of the test area, but they do seem to have more and more plutonium in usable form, and they can sell that to anyone who might like some and does have the technology to do something with it. But that's the elephant in the room. No one is saying much about that. It's too scary, and the rocket thing is more dramatic. And we get to say, "See, we actually think diplomacy is a good idea, so stop busting our chops about the Iraq thing."

There's a lot of political theater going on here, and the real threat, and the best response, seem to be hidden.

But then political theater is what we do best. Thursday, July 6, was just another day in Baghdad, as noted here - a car bomber kills twelve and wounds forty-one as the day begins. This is the usual now, but we're told progress is being made (in passive voice of course, where who is making the progress is not given). Rod Nordland, Newsweek's chief foreign correspondent and their former Baghdad bureau chief, says not to worry, conditions in Iraq are "much worse" than they're described in the media over here. We're being had, or it's political theater or something. That's the implication in the interview he gives to Foreign Policy (here). As he explains, the administration does a "great job of managing the news" - and now the military has begun to crack down on embedded reporters. So we're getting the good news, or as good as can be reported -
Before a journalist is allowed to go on an embed now, [the military] check[s] the work you have done previously. They want to know your slant on a story - they use the word "slant" - what you intend to write, and what you have written from embed trips before. If they don't like what you have done before, they refuse to take you. There are cases where individual reporters have been blacklisted because the military wasn't happy with the work they had done on embed.
Still, there only so much you can control, and reporters "get out among the Iraqi public a whole lot more than almost any American official, certainly more than military officials do." Bummer.

So it's obvious there's only so much the administration and the military can do to stage manage this -
It is certainly hard to hide the fact that in the third year of this war, Iraqis are only getting electricity for about 5 to 10 percent of the day. Living conditions have gotten so much worse, violence is at an even higher tempo, and the country is on the verge of civil war. The administration has been successful to the extent that most Americans are not aware of just how dire it is and how little progress has been made. They keep talking about how the Iraqi army is doing much better and taking over responsibilities, but for the most part that's not true.
Oh. Now what?

Is it this bad? Here's an overall assessment from Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly, thinking about North Korea business and the muddled response, and then about everything -
But that's really just a single piece of a broader, and even more remarkable turn of events: the Bush administration literally seems to have no foreign policy at all anymore. They have no serious plan for Iraq, no plan for Iran, no plan for North Korea, no plan for democracy promotion, no plan for anything. With the neocons on the outs, Condoleezza Rice at the State Department, and Dick Cheney continuing to drift into an alternate universe at the OVP [Office of the Vice President], the Bush administration seems completely at sea. There's virtually no ideological coherency to their foreign policy that I can discern, and no credible follow-up on what little coherency is left. As near as I can tell, George Bush has learned that "There's evil in the world and we're going to stand up to it" isn't really adequate as a foreign policy for a superpower but is unable to figure out anything better to replace it with. So he spins his wheels, waiting for 2009. Unfortunately, the rest of us are left spinning with him.
That may be a bit too dismal, but consider other issues at play.

The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin gives a different overview -
In his second inaugural address, President Bush spoke extravagantly about dedicating the United States to bringing liberty to every corner of the globe.

He made the measure of a president's foreign legacy clear as could be: "From the viewpoint of centuries, the questions that come to us are narrowed and few. Did our generation advance the cause of freedom? And did our character bring credit to that cause?"

And he expressed confidence that the answers to those questions would be in the affirmative: "America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world, and to all the inhabitants thereof. Renewed in our strength -- tested, but not weary -- we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom."

But signs are that the foreign policy legacy Bush will leave behind could be a world in greater disarray than he found it.
And what's the evidence of that?

Of course there's the president saying there will be no significant pull-out of our troops from Iraq while he's president (here) - that's the next president's problem, not his.

And here the Post's Michael Abramowitz and Robin Wright seem to agree with Drum at the Washington Monthly -
From deteriorating security in Afghanistan and Somalia to mayhem in the Middle East, confrontation with Iran and eroding relations with Russia, the White House suddenly sees crisis in every direction.

North Korea's long-range missile test Tuesday, although unsuccessful, was another reminder of the bleak foreign policy landscape that faces President Bush even outside of Iraq. Few foreign policy experts foresee the reclusive Stalinist state giving up the nuclear weapons it appears to have acquired, making it another in a long list of world problems that threaten to cloud the closing years of the Bush administration, according to foreign policy experts in both parties.

... the events on the Korean Peninsula underscored how the administration has lost the initiative it once possessed on foreign policy in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, leaving at risk the central Bush aspiration of democracy-building around the world.

They also showed how the huge commitment of resources and time on Iraq - and the attendant falloff in international support for the United States - has limited the administration's flexibility in handling new world crises.
The New York Times (David E. Sanger) piles on -
The Bush administration has tried to ignore North Korea, then, reluctantly, to engage it, and then to squeeze its bankers in a manner intended to make the country's leader, Kim Jong Il, personally feel the pinch.

Yet none of these steps in the past six years has worked. So now, after a barrage of missile launchings by North Korea, President Bush and his national security advisers found themselves on Wednesday facing what one close aide described as an array of "familiar bad choices."

... [the big question is ]whether the president is prepared to leave office in 2009 without constraining an unpredictable dictator who boasts about having a nuclear arsenal.

... Another alternative for Mr. Bush would be take a hard line that might risk an escalation of the half-century-old confrontation between the United States and North Korea. But such a tack is now complicated by the widespread assumption that even if the North does not have the ability to launch a nuclear weapon, it now probably possesses enough extra nuclear fuel that it may be tempted to sell some to a terrorist group or another state.
Oh that.

And the Los Angeles Times out here is noting that even the South Koreans aren't too happy - "'The United States is a paper tiger,' said Song Yong-sun, a military expert who serves in South Korea's National Assembly as part of the conservative opposition party. Referring to the North Korean leader, she added, 'Kim Jong Il knows very well that Bush isn't going to do anything to punish him.'"

But the Post's Dana Milbank finds some comedy in all the theatrics -
When the going on the Korean Peninsula gets tough, the tough go on a doughnut run.

President Bush, making his first public remarks since North Korea test-fired seven missiles in open defiance of the United States, boarded his motorcade yesterday for an unannounced trip to a doughnut shop in Alexandria - to talk about immigration.

... After interpreting every gesture of Saddam Hussein as a casus belli, a changed Bush administration is taking the opposite approach with Kim Jong Il. Officials were determined not to give the little man with the big missile the attention he craves.
Mmmm, doughnuts, as Homer Simpson would say.

The political theater gets more and more absurd. What are we to believe about the grand plan and how it's going? Are we to worry, or not worry? Is there a plan, or should we also have a doughnut and relax?

And what about the other leg of the Axis if Evil, Iran? What's the plan there? According to this in "perhaps the biggest foreign policy shift" of his presidency, the man at the top reversed course last month on his approach - agreeing to join talks with the Iranian government on the condition that it suspended its uranium enrichment. Yeah, yeah, but lots of people think this was a sham - setting up conditions they wouldn't accept so we could say that they were refusing to deal with us and it was time to bomb the snot out of them so they'd never have any weapons of this sort (and maybe their people would rise up and welcome us with sweets and flowers as we fly in a bunch of exiles to run the place).

The weekend before the Fourth Seymour Hersh was doing it again in the New Yorker with this, saying this reversal of course was really "an unspoken threat: the U.S. Strategic Command, supported by the Air Force, has been drawing up plans, at the President's direction, for a major bombing campaign in Iran."

Hersh has a track record of exposing what's really going on, from that village in Vietnam and the massacre to Abu Ghraib. And this time it's stuff like this -
Inside the Pentagon, senior commanders have increasingly challenged the President's plans, according to active-duty and retired officers and officials. The generals and admirals have told the Administration that the bombing campaign will probably not succeed in destroying Iran's nuclear program. They have also warned that an attack could lead to serious economic, political, and military consequences for the United States.

... In late April, the military leadership, headed by General Pace, achieved a major victory when the White House dropped its insistence that the plan for a bombing campaign include the possible use of a nuclear device to destroy Iran's uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz, nearly two hundred miles south of Tehran. ... "Bush and Cheney were dead serious about the nuclear planning," [a] former senior intelligence official told me." And Pace stood up to them. Then the world came back: "O.K., the nuclear option is politically unacceptable."
This is big stuff, released on a bad weekend for news, and overwhelmed by the North Korea business. We plan to bomb the snot out of them, no matter what anyone thinks, and no matter what we're saying on the record, but the generals at least got the nuclear strikes off the table.

That's interesting political theater - the generals stop the crazies. You could shop that one out here in Hollywood.

But then, it's an elections year, and some crazy stuff is bound to come up, like this in the Miami Herald -
A wide-ranging report on U.S. policies toward Cuba's possible transition to democracy was officially presented to President Bush at a meeting Wednesday of the White House's National Security Council.

The report by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, co-chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Cuban-American Secretary of Commerce, Carlos Gutierrez, makes recommendations to hasten the end of the island's communist government and assist the transition.

An early draft obtained last week by The Miami Herald included recommendations to create an $80 million fund to support democracy on the island, launch a diplomatic initiative to undermine Venezuela's backing of Castro and tighten the enforcement of the economic embargo against Cuba.
What? We're going after Cuba and Venezuela, because we need something to do? A bit more foreign intervention, because the American public will eat it up? We know how they should run their countries?

See Reuters here -
Two senior Cuban officials charged on Wednesday that a report on the communist nation delivered to the Bush administration's National Security Council amounted to a blueprint for an Iraq-style regime change in the Caribbean.

... The first chapter, entitled 'Hastening the End of the Castro Dictatorship: Transition not Succession,' includes a separate 'classified annex' of recommended actions.

"You can't accomplish what they propose without an invasion, without a war.

... This plan implies a U.S. military invasion of Cuba, a direct U.S. intervention," said Bruno Rodriquez, First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs.
But it worked so well in Iraq? Something about this is very odd.

It's not like these guys have learned nothing. You just have to keep doing this invade, remove the government, occupy until the exiles you bring in take over, until you get it right. The concept isn't wrong because it hasn't worked yet. The idea is it could, theoretically, and you keep trying no matter how many times it fails, because you know it should work. You could shop that one out here in Hollywood too - a major motion picture with the working title "American Quixote - To Dream the Impossible Dream."

So what is the American Dream now - to subvert other governments or overthrow them outright, to release the hidden American on everyone all around the world?

Christopher Dickey, in American Dream, American Nightmare writing from Paris is the latest issue of Newsweek -
I spent the early morning yesterday in my Paris apartment re-reading George Orwell's long essay, "Notes on Nationalism." It was written in 1945, but seemed the right thing for this year's Fourth of July when so many expressions of nationalism are in the air: the relatively benign World Cup competition, the blood-soaked tension between the Palestinians and Israelis and the ferocious violence of the war in Iraq.

Orwell wrote that nationalism is partly "the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects." He said it's not to be confused with patriotism, which Orwell defined as "devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force upon other people."

July 4, I would argue, is a patriotic holiday in just that sense-a true celebration of so much that makes the United States of America unique. It's the party thrown by a nation of immigrants to mark the creation of something new on the face of the earth, a society devoted not to the past but to the future - the incredibly elegant vision of "certain inalienable rights" to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

That's what the flags and the fireworks, the anthems, the civilians with hands on hearts, the soldiers at attention and saluting, the embassy receptions, and, yeah, not a few mind-bending beer-drinking binges, are most often about. I think most of us know in our hearts that the more we live up to our particular way of life, the more attractive it will be to others and the more they are likely to use its ideals to better their own lives. That's worth saluting, for sure, and raising a glass, too.

But American nationalism, unlike American patriotism, is different - and dangerous.
Dangerous? He quotes Orwell on nationalism, who defines it as identifying your country, or you way of seeing the world, and your very identity - "placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests." The nationalist's thoughts "always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations. ... Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception." So patriotism is essentially about ideas and pride, while nationalism is about something lese entirely. Orwell - "Political and military commentators, like astrologers, can survive almost any mistake, because their more devoted followers do not look to them for an appraisal of the facts but for the stimulation of nationalistic loyalties."

We're there -
All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage-torture, the use of hostages, forced labor, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians-which does not change its moral color when committed by 'our' side.

... The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.
Yep, Orwell is onto something. We're definitely there and so are the Israelis this week, and everyone else, as Dickey notes -
Is Israel's current strategy of crippling the rudimentary infrastructure of Gaza, forcing one million people to suffer for the kidnapping of one Israeli soldier, in any way proportional? No, nor humane, nor very relevant to winning his release. But it fits into a nationalist narrative that says the only way to deal with Palestinians is to hand them one humiliating collective defeat after another. Is a Muslim fanatic's slaughter of innocent Israelis at a night club an act of heroic martyrdom? What about the denial of the Holocaust by Iran's president? The only way to justify such talk is with the particularly cruel know-nothingism of our times.

There are certainly patriotic Israelis and Palestinians who do realize that they have to allow for each other's fears and each other's pride. But patriotism is in short supply on both sides, and nationalism is rampant. Orwell would have understood.
It's a distinction between two different things that has been lost.

As for Americans and their values, which may not be transcendent, Dickey says this -
We are, yes, very materialistic. You could see that in the long list of corporate sponsors for yesterday's July 4 reception at the American ambassador's residence in Paris. But much more importantly, you can hear materialism in the way we talk about almost everything, from the family we have, to the faith we have, the house we have, the cars and diplomas and the jobs we have. We pushed westward because we wanted to have land, which was almost free, and we wanted to have the freedom to forget whatever histories bound us to the past. Ours has become a society based on "having" in a way that's almost indistinguishable from "the American dream," or indeed, "the pursuit of happiness." There's no need to apologize. That's what makes us who we are.

But in much of the old world, people do not "have" families; they belong to families, which belong sometimes to clans and tribes (the extended families we inevitably describe in pejorative terms). Those families belong to a land and a faith-and a history of that land and faith-that may go back thousands of years. Their patriotism is in their blood, not just their hopes, and so is their nationalism.

As we saw in the Balkans in the 1990s, this history-driven, blood-driven nationalism can become brutally racist and explosively xenophobic: we belong, you do not. In Africa, the forces of tribally based nationalism constantly threaten the future of a continent where most national borders were drawn by foreigners. In Iraq, well, we Americans have helped tear apart a state that now shudders at the brink of utter failure in the face of ever-strengthening sectarian and racial nationalisms.

What does not help in the process of encouraging peace (because no one is going to "bring" peace), is the notion that we Americans can apply our nationalist vision to people who never chose to participate in our immigrant aspirations to begin with: people who feel safer, stronger and saner in their worlds of belonging than in our world of having. When we make that mistake, threatening to the core their sense of who they are, all we do is invite hatred.

"The pursuit of happiness" is, indeed, what the Fourth of July is all about, and I'd like to see that wonderfully vague and evocative principle accepted universally as an inalienable right. But let's never imagine that the pursuit of happiness is, everywhere, the same as the pursuit of the American dream. That's something we can share, but never impose.
There's a lesson here. Don't read Orwell in Paris.

Oh yes, there was other news - in the middle of all this Ken Lay died of a heart attack. What's to say?

See Mimi Swartz, the executive editor of Texas Monthly and co-author of Power Failure, the Inside Story of the Collapse of Enron with this -
After watching him self-immolate on the witness stand, I was sure that Ken Lay, Enron's former CEO who died early this morning, had lost for good one of the skills that made him famous and successful - an unerring sense of PR. It was a gift that saw him through his early years at Enron but then seemed to vanish as the company imploded and the legal case against him proceeded to its Shakespearean end. As has been often noted in the press, Lay was so bad on the witness stand - testy, arrogant, imperious, and that was with his own lawyers - that many believe that he not only did himself in but also took former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling down with him. Now it appears that in death he has redeemed himself, at least as far as spinning his own story is concerned.

Lay was always a cipher to those who knew there must be more to the man than his public persona as a folksy, jovial optimist - the one who, after the guilty verdict, insisted that God was on his side and would watch over him during this difficult time. (Was he an idiot or a crook? I repeatedly asked myself this as the Enron story unfolded.) Here in Houston, Texas, he always managed to inspire more ambivalence than his co-defendant Skilling. Before Enron's collapse, Lay lived lavishly - renting a yacht called the Amnesia for a special-occasion cruise, paying tens of thousands to reserve just the right ski trip months ahead of time - but he still managed to keep his reputation as Mr. Houston, raising money for good causes like the United Way, nudging the Greater Houston Partnership toward modernity, and forging compromises between local feuding fiefdoms.

Few managed to catch sight of any arrogance in company business deals, except some grumbling energy competitors, who never figured out how he maintained the public mien of a devout small-town mayor who only wanted the best for everyone. That crackling, semistentorian voice still tinged with his Missouri accent; that politician-like memory for personal details; his penchant to do the right thing, which he sometimes demonstrated with an African-American minister or two in tow (the latter he was still doing at trial) - these were qualities and gifts and shrewd choices that made it hard for locals to see Ken Lay as a bad guy. That is until prosecutor John Hueston plastered Lay's American Express bills on an overhead projector for all the world to see.

The guilty verdict seemed to settle things around here, temporarily, at least.

... Now, the news of Lay's death will, most likely, give credence to his latest identity - that of corporate martyr. Questions about a potential suicide were all over talk radio this morning, as well as crazier theories, like one that the Bush administration was responsible for his death and one that he had faked his own demise.

... So, Lay manages to pass into history as a semitragic figure instead of a laughingstock - the family man, devoted husband, and all-around good guy he always claimed to be.

... Nice going, Kenny boy, is all I can say.
You could shop that one out here in Hollywood too. It's all theater.

Of course it's hard to remember the four basic plots of all movies that they refer to out here in Hollywood. It may be seven. Or it may be just one - boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back (add whatever details you'd like, but that's it). Too there's the noble loner rescues the hapless, cowardly townsfolk (or some variation) and rides off into the sunset. High Noon. That's two. And there's the weak person through seemingly impossible troubles discovers his or her inner strength and triumphs. Luke Skywalker. Frodo Baggins. You sometimes can weave that into the first two. You get the idea. There are only so many plots to go around.

It's the same in politics, as Stephen Denning, notes here -
What's the story that the new leaders will need to communicate? In broad outline, we know what it will be, both for Democrats and Republicans, since as Robert Reich has explained, there are only four stories in American politics:

The Triumphant Individual - This is the familiar tale of the little guy who works hard, takes risks, believes in himself, and eventually gains wealth, fame, and honor. Although the Democrats, given their alliance with labor, used to own this story, the Republicans took it over by offering lower taxes. After six years of profligate spending, that won't win this argument much longer. The winning narrative for both Republicans and Democrats must recognize that without resolving the crises in health and education, the economic future is bleak and there will be no triumphant individual.

The Benevolent Community - "I have a dream," said Martin Luther King Jr and JFK asked us what we could do for our country. Democrats used to own this issue until they became associated with failed poverty programs and handouts for the poor. Now Republicans are also in trouble as Katrina showed the unattractive reality of "compassionate conservatism" at home and the trashing of our allies has left America despised abroad. The winning narrative for both Democrats and Republicans here must obviously re-establish competence in coping with poverty and deprivation at home, while rekindling a spirit of internationalism abroad to solve global problems.

The Mob at the Gates used to be the Nazis and then the Soviet evil empire. Now it's terrorists, against whom we must maintain vigilance, lest diabolical forces overwhelm us. In recent times, Republicans have owned this story, but as disillusion with Iraq deepens and broadens, both Republicans and Democrats will have to recognize that the war on terror has been a war in error, and will need to wind down the misguided adventure in Iraq, sooner rather than later, so that energies and resources can refocused on real enemies.

The Rot at the Top - Since the other three stories are usually so similar for both parties, the "rot at the top" story is usually the pivotal one in leading to change. With Richard Nixon, it was political malfeasance. With George H.W. Bush, it was economic incompetence. With Clinton, it was personal immorality. Now Democrats have abundant evidence that Republicans embody a culture of incompetence and corruption, while Republicans try to paint Democrats as divided, effete, liberal, pro-gay and anti-marriage and opposed to God.
As you see, those in charge now have mastered the first and third plots. On the second and fourth they're vulnerable.

As noted here long ago, Americans want to be told "the real story" - with a narrative already provided to make it all fit together from crisis to resolution. And of course we also require a denouement - to be told what the story means to the next election or whatever. And such a denouement is thus a teaser for the next episode. Stay tuned. (See Tell Me a Story from May 29, 2003.) Our minds are conditioned to see things in narrative terms.

So we get political theater. The narratives play out.

Posted by Alan at 18:38 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 7 July 2006 06:14 PDT home

Wednesday, 5 July 2006
American Values
Topic: Photos

American Values

Some shots from the 2006 Fourth of July parade in Rancho Bernardo, about twenty miles north of San Diego, inland. This was "Duke" Cunningham's congressional district, the congressman now serving time for accepting almost two and a half million in bribes - for government contracts, CIA and military. Those contractors implicated in the scandal, Mitchell Wade and Brent Wilkes, are based in the adjoining town, Poway. The former number three at the CIA, now resigned, Dusty Foggo, is a local too. When Duncan Hunter rolled by in the parade - he's chairman of the House Armed Services Committee - he leaned out of his white convertible and asked us if we were all registered Republicans. Everyone cheered. It's that kind of place.

Up the road is Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps headquarters and training center on the west coast. It's massive. They sent folks down for the parade. I was there with the family, including my nephew, the Major in the Army out at Fort Irwin, at the National Training Center (NTC) - back from Iraq, again, he and the others are devising the training for those about to there, or Afghanistan. He's a good man, and a good officer. We talk a lot about what you would expect. Birthdays and holidays we give each other books that get us talking more.

All in all, the parade was pretty impressive, in an odd sort of way. All seventy-four photos will be posted in an album soon. That's geek work. It's in process.

Below, Abe Lincoln and Duncan Hunter. Compare and contrast.

Abe Lincoln at Rancho Bernardo parade, 4 July 2006



Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, at Rancho Bernardo parade, 4 July 2006



Marines -

Marines at Rancho Bernardo parade, 4 July 2006



Marines at Rancho Bernardo parade, 4 July 2006



Marines at Rancho Bernardo parade, 4 July 2006



Veterans -

Veterans at Rancho Bernardo parade, 4 July 2006



Veterans at Rancho Bernardo parade, 4 July 2006



Veterans at Rancho Bernardo parade, 4 July 2006



The parade -

Rancho Bernardo parade, 4 July 2006





Posted by Alan at 21:52 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 6 July 2006 07:00 PDT home

Our Man in Paris: Bonjour Tristesse
Topic: Breaking News

Our Man in Paris: Bonjour Tristesse
Wednesday, July 5, 2006, France beats Portugal 1-0 and will play Italy for the World Cup this weekend. The tournament is a big deal, only every four years, and France has only won once before, in 1998 when they hosted it. Now they can win it all again. And what was the scene like in Paris? Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, lets us know in his latest letter from Paris.

Paris, Wednesday, July 5 - This is a historic day. Overnight the temperature dumped from over 30 to a reasonable 26 degrees - after dumping some hailstones the size of Great Auk eggs on unwary residents of southern France - and it is the 60th birthday of France's great gift to funky western mankind - the bikini.

Just think of all the things we wouldn't have if there weren't any bikinis. We wouldn't have dads on beaches and we wouldn't have moms frantically dieting after all those Easter Auk eggs they ate. And, by no means finally, your favorite French wouldn't be as famous as they are, for being cheeky. They would just be small, dark folks clad in itchy wool swimsuits, reeking of garlic.

Between football celebrations I have been watching TV-films on Arte. They have an Israeli series which shows, I am glad to learn, that Israel is a very weird place not anything like your average cheesy French village or oily truck-stop in South Dakota.

You say, 'so what?' You say, 'what else is new?' According to the TV-film I saw last night people who used to be policemen look after imported young ladies from the Ukraine and when they wear out they sell them for a discount to Egyptian spa owners. As unlikely as its theme, even unlikelier the happy end when the policeman learns to swim and the Tel Aviv goon squad nabs the bad guys and all the young ladies get a free trip to America - where they wanted to go in the first place.

But tonight is different because Spike Lee is in Munich to see his friend Thierry Henry playing for France in the semi-finals of the World Cup against Portugal. This city has opened the Parc des Princes and put a big screen up there, adding it to the free one in the Stade Charlety, and another one somewhere in the 16th.

Meanwhile Nicolas Sarkozy has declined to go and see Spike Lee in Munich because he has to stay in town to manage the spontaneous victory celebration on the Champs-Elysées right after the win by the (a) Allez les Vieux or the (b) Portuguese tigers.

Last Saturday night the Portuguese celebrating on the Champs-Elysées were impressive - more than 10 percent of the Portuguese in the world live in France, mostly around Paris - and after I saw the hosting Mannschaft get whacked last night by the Italians who were playing not much more energetically than when they soft-shoed the Americans into losing - I figure no matter who wins tonight, they are going to fix the Italians in Munich on Saturday, and Spike Lee will be there to see Thierry Henry hold the silver pot.

Caf? au Ch?teau, Paris 14th - the local Portuguese watch France defeat Portugal to advance to the World Cup championship gameOoops, that kind of gives it away. Tonight I went to see the Portuguese win at the Café au Château, a nearby mini-version of Porto right here in the 14th. All is very quiet on the streets here during a match and you could hear cats shedding as I neared the café, when about half a block short, a huge cheer or moan sounded. It sounded like a bomb in the stillness, coming as it did from the 700 nearest open windows.

It is not a big café and its TV is not large and it was holding at least 20 more than the legal limit as well as having a fair number sprawled around the terrace, some wearing team shirts. Due to the TV's location it could be seen from the terrace, the far end of the bar, or by short people. Since I wasn't even there I did not know that Zizou popped in a goal somehow - that was the moan I heard.

I never got close enough to the TV to get the score so I didn't know if I was consorting with winners or losers until this dude told me he studies bugs, insects. This was his way commenting on my photos - I was studying bugs? I told him, no. I didn't tell him I was doing it for Hollywood. These folks were going to be depressed enough.

The Portuguese will not be driving their cute honeys wrapped in green and red flags around the Champs-Elysées tonight. They will be home alone listening to old Fado records. Tomorrow they will wake up feeling slightly soggy and after a strong nip or two they will settle into rooting for Les Bleus, these old French dudes who have some new therapist who has put some young Turk spark into their legs.

Do I intend to be on the Champs-Elysées on Saturday night when France beats Italy? Does the Pope do mass? Isn't Spike Lee rooting for the French? Besides, TV-news says the Bleus have a new theme song, and they are going to sing it in public for the first time when they get their hands on that old silver pot again. Allez!

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


Posted by Alan at 18:58 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 5 July 2006 18:58 PDT home

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