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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, 22 August 2006
Impulse, Intuition and Maturity
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Impulse, Intuition and Maturity
Something is up when the Associated Press, on Tuesday, August 22, runs something like this - a discussion of how "informality" is a reflection of President Bush's "style."

Maybe it was a slow news day, but it opens with this -
Stepping outside the boundaries of strict political and diplomatic protocol gets no more attention than when the president of the United States does it. And President Bush has been doing a lot of it recently.

He called Canada's prime minister by his first name, massaged German Chancellor Angela Merkel's shoulders and played tour guide to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi at Graceland, the Memphis home of Elvis Presley.

His biggest gaffe was that caught-on-tape moment at the G-8 Summit last month with British Prime Minister Tony Blair - the one that featured Bush cursing and talking with his mouth full before a microphone that was supposed to be off. That set off tut-tuts around the globe.
Indeed it did.

But a good guess at what got the ball rolling on the whole issue was this single paragraph in US News and World Reports' "Washington Whispers" column -
Animal House in the West Wing

He loves to cuss, gets a jolly when a mountain biker wipes out trying to keep up with him, and now we're learning that the first frat boy loves flatulence jokes. A top insider let that slip when explaining why President Bush is paranoid around women, always worried about his behavior. But he's still a funny, earthy guy who, for example, can't get enough of fart jokes. He's also known to cut a few for laughs, especially when greeting new young aides, but forget about getting people to gas about that.
There certainly was a lot of comment on that - the president cutting farts in formal settings to shock people. And he likes to see others wipe out when they try too keep up with him on his bicycle - he laughs when they get hurt. So he's informal and competitive, if you're a forgiving sort looking at all this. If you're not the forgiving sort, it's somewhere between embarrassing and alarming.

Digby over at Hullabaloo is not the forgiving sort, one wanting to let this pass (sorry for the pun), as he says this -
The president who claimed he would bring honor and dignity to the White House is apparently known for puerile fart jokes - and even emits them in the office to play jokes on his aides. Me, I much prefer a grown up president who privately has sex in the oval office than one who farts publicly. But that's just me.

But this is the part I find interesting and the little blurb doesn't elaborate at all: "A top insider let that slip when explaining why President Bush is paranoid around women, always worried about his behavior."

Forget the farting. What's with the paranoia around women? (There is apparently a clinical term for it called "gynophobia" which I've never heard of until today.) It's quite clear that he doesn't know how to behave around powerful women he doesn't control, judging from his inappropriate groping of the prime minister of Germany. And I've often wondered about his relationship to Rice, Hughes and Mieres - the office wives. Is he afraid that he's going to accidentally pass gas or use a bad word in front of these women or does he let fly with women he knows and is just paranoid around strange women? I'm genuinely curious. This is very weird for any sixty year old man, much less a highly successful politician.

He is such an immature person that I think it's entirely possible that he's still stuck in that pre-pubescent little boy state where girls are just "yucky." That's how his behavior comes off anyway. There's some frat boy stuff, to be sure, especially in his behavior with other men. But I'm thinking that when it comes to women, he's stuck even further back than that - cub scouts, maybe. Did mommy lock him in the closet or something?
Who knows? But the immaturity seems to have come up as an issue now, when it hasn't been noticed before.

As for the business with German Chancellor Angela Merkel a month ago - sneaking up behind her and giving her a quick shoulder rub - that was just spooky. She practically jumped out of skin - you can watch the video of that here. She tried to be a good sport but this was way out of bounds.

That mid-July trip was disaster in some ways. The president tried to keep things light - Israel has just bombed the Beirut airport and things were looking grim, so he kept talking about how his was looking forward the pig roast that evening. Folks take things so seriously.

Jon Stewart at the time had the key clip and made a comment (video here) -
REPORTER: "Does it concern you that the Beirut airport has been bombed, and do you see a risk of triggering a wider war? And on Iran, they have so far refused to respond. Is it now past the deadline, or do they still have more time to respond?"

PRESIDENT BUSH: "I thought you'd ask about the pig."

JON STEWART: "There you have it. Comedy stylings from President George W. Bush. He'll be playing at the White House in Washington DC for the next two and a half years. I'm sure it's a 200-drink minimum."
And the Merkel massage elicited comments like this -
Well, Dear Leader really showed his true colors at this year's G8 summit. He's like your drunk uncle at the family barbecue; insulting the neighbors, interrupting conversations, tripping over the pets, until finally he's puking loudly and violently in the yucca plant and calling his new wife a stupid bitch for letting him get too wasted.

First came the roast pig. And no, unfortunately, that doesn't mean that John Bolton got a sunburn or set himself on fire with his own overheated rhetoric. It just means that early in the conference, when confronted with a non-softball question about the situation in Israel and Lebanon, Uncle Dubya declared that he'd rather talk about the fact that he gets to carve up the roast pig they're having for dinner.

Watch the video … and pay special attention to the look on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's face. That's what, in my family, we call "smiling through your teeth", also known as "smiling to keep from screaming". Oh, Angela! It's going to get worse for you before it gets, well, even worse.

Then came a little tragedy that I call "Open Mic Night at the Summit", in which Uncle Fucker, not having learned his lesson from that incident where he called New York Times reporter a "major league asshole" while sitting at a live mic, sat chawing away (with his mouth open!) on a buttered roll, talking arrogant smack for ALL THE WORLD TO HEAR while Tony Blair tried in vain to discuss the looming crisis in the ME.

… The thing that strikes me the most about that clip is not the s-word, not his cavalier attitude toward a crisis where hundreds if not thousands of people are suffering and dying, and not his disgusting table manners, but rather his completely fatuous and dismissive body language when speaking to the leader of the only country of import who supported his now-failed invasion of Iraq. He won't even turn and look at Blair. If that was your coworker or business partner acting that way at a conference, wouldn't you seriously start thinking about finding another job? 'Course, that might be just what Tony Blair needs to be doing.

… The piece de la resistance came, however, when Chimpy interrupted a conversation between Chancellor Merkel and Romano Prodi, the new Italian Prime Minister, to give Merkel a rather ham-fisted impromptu shoulder rub, which clearly not only squicked her out, but also managed to piss her off … in which she seems to be giving vent to the same frustration that all Reality-Based Americans currently feel toward this shrugging, mugging, bumbling dickhead we call "Mr. President", i.e., "BACK THE FUCK OFF, YOU FUCKING IDIOT!"

… And of course, just like your shit-heel uncle waking up the day after the barbecue and declaring that it was a GREAT party, you know Resident Bush went back to Washington thinking he really showed those mealy-mouthed furriners who's The Boss, dammit. Who needs them and their stupid summits anyway? They can't even speak English, fer god's sake!

Gawd. Wake me in 2009, somebody. I don't know how much more of this kind of embarrassment and disgust I can take. No wonder our image is plummeting all over the globe! We're being represented and (supposedly) governed by a guy that can't not be a spoiled, childish rube long enough to effectively participate in a meeting of, oh, only the most powerful nations on the planet. That's just great. I am SOOOOO proud to be an American that I could just puke on my shoes. Whooo-hoooo.
And there was this -
Every woman will recognize the guy who sidles up and starts "casually" giving you a backrub without even looking at you, because he wants to preserve deniability in case you freak out. Like any practiced groper, Bush stares right past Merkel as she recoils from his touch.
People were not impressed. And now we have the story of the farting to embarrass people. Oh my.

Still the AP item was very kind, noting that while "four-letter expletives" or a shoulder massage of a co-worker of the opposite sex "could raise eyebrows in many office settings" (in many states you could lose your job, as those of us who have worked in corporate human resources know quite well), the president gets a pass from the big-time etiquette experts.

One is of course, Letitia Baldrige, President Kennedy's social secretary and now the expert on what's proper - "Part of it is he comes from Texas, and they don't stand on a lot of formality in that state - I think you get the Eastern kind of aristocrats, like the old days, they're always going to be more formal, they're always going to have a jacket on." She says it's not much different than Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson - both informal fellows.

Somehow it seems different.

And AP tracks down Paul Frazer, the former Canadian ambassador to the Czech and Slovak Republics, now a consultant in Washington. He's telling Canadians not to make too much of Bush addressing Prime Minister Stephen Harper as "Steve" earlier this summer. But he does say getting too "chummy" can confuse people - Canadians could get the wrong impression and think there's a special relationship. They might think Bush thinks Canada matters in some way. International politics isn't like that. There's the personal stuff. And then there's policy.

AP also talks with P.M. Forni, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and author of "Choosing Civility: The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct." He has a simple explanation - Bush is a baby boomer who "came of age when respect for authority was plummeting" and that explains it all. And Baldrige agrees, saying Bush is not so much breaking new ground as "echoing the casual mood of the times."

It's not what people expect, the both say, and it jars people.

Okay, maybe it's not a big deal. Maybe it's just a Texas thing - Lyndon Johnson showing reporters his surgery scar, or lifting the beagle up by the ears. The man could be crude. On the other hand he seemed an adult - and mean and ruthless one at time, and crude. But there wasn't the sniggering, nasty kid about him. He was "adult nasty." He twisted arms and made deals and got things done.

Well, we live in a different age and the baby boomers - Clinton and Bush - are sixty or thereabouts. The whole idea of "the gentleman" - quiet dignity and consideration of others, even if calculated - is so thirties and forties. Paul Henreid as Victor Laszlo in Casablanca and all that.

Or maybe that's eighteenth-century, Lord Chesterfield stuff - "Good breeding is the result of good sense, some good nature, and a little self-denial for the sake of others."

Or this - "Horse-play, romping, frequent and loud fits of laughter, jokes, and indiscriminate familiarity, will sink both merit and knowledge into a degree of contempt. They compose at most a merry fellow; and a merry fellow was never yet a respectable man."

Or this - "There is nothing that people bear more impatiently, or forgive less, than contempt: and an injury is much sooner forgotten than an insult."

Ah, those days are gone.

As for Jimmy Carter, he could be informal, but the also had that "Southern Gentleman" thing going for him - and he was no dummy, with his PhD and having commanded a nuclear submarine. He could be gracious and thoughtful, and kind. He just had a problem with being effective.

As for the current "farts are funny" occupant of the White House, none of that applies. Some find all this above funny, some alarming, but it's what we have.

For a deeper analysis of the actual issues that may be at play here, David G. Myers, a social psychologist at Hope College in Michigan, and author of Intuition: Its Powers and Perils, sees what happening as the result of a man who exclusively relies on his intuition, his hunches, his "gut" - and that's the root of all this.

He laid that out in the August 22nd Los Angeles Times here -
Say this much for President Bush: He is not deaf to the inner whispers of his intuition.

"I know there's no evidence that shows the death penalty has a deterrent effect," he reportedly said as Texas governor, "but I just feel in my gut it must be true."

Six years and two wars into his presidency, the president still relies on his gut instincts. His recent fly-in to Baghdad was, he explained to U.S. troops, "to look Prime Minister [Nouri] Maliki in the eyes - to determine whether or not he is as dedicated to a free Iraq as you are." The president's snap assessment? "I believe he is." He told Larry King in an interview last month: "If you make decisions based upon what you believe in your heart of hearts, you stay resolved."
Yep, you stay resolved, even if you're dead wrong.

But here's the deal -
For those disposed to follow their inner guide, today's pop psychology offers books on "intuitive healing," "intuitive learning," "intuitive managing," "intuitive trading" and much more.

So, when hiring and firing, fearing and risking, investing and gambling, should we follow Bush's example and tune down that analytical, linear, left-brained mind? Should we stop obsessing over logic and data and trust the force within?

Today's psychological science documents a vast intuitive mind. More than we realize, our thinking, memory and attitudes operate on two levels - conscious and unconscious - with the larger part operating automatically. We know more than we know we know.

Studies show that as we gain expertise, even reasoned judgments can become automatic. Rather than wend their way through a decision tree, experienced car mechanics and physicians will often, after a quick listen and look, diagnose problems. Chess masters intuitively know the right move. And Japanese chicken sexers use complex pattern recognition to separate newborn pullets and cockerels with near perfect accuracy.

Moreover, we're all experts when it comes to reading people's emotions.

… So, is our president smart to harness the powers of his intuition? Or should he, and we, be subjecting our hunches to scrutiny?
Well, no he's not smart to do that. Scrutiny is rather helpful, really.

Examples offered -
My geographical intuition tells me that Reno is east of Los Angeles and that Rome is south of New York. But I am wrong. "The first principle," said Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, "is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." In hundreds of experiments, people have greatly overestimated their eyewitness recollections, their interviewee assessments and their stock-picking talents. It's humbling to realize how often we misjudge and mispredict reality and then display "belief perseverance" when facing disconfirming information.

… Smoking kills 400,000 Americans a year, and carbon dioxide looks to be the biggest weapon of mass destruction, but terrorists frighten us more. We are told, but are unmoved by, statistics showing that the most dangerous part of air travel is the drive to the airport.
And to get to the Pacific you head southeast through the Panama Canal - look at a map. So intuition - automatic, effortless, unreasoned thinking - is more than overrated.

Note also - after meeting Vladimir Putin, Bush felt that he had him sized up - "I looked the man in the eye [and] I was able to get a sense of his soul." Oops. That didn't work out. Bush also told Bob Woodward that intuition was a real key to his decision to launch the Iraq thing - "I'm a gut player. I rely on my instincts."

Right, and now Iraq a mess and his intuition is silent - so we must keep doing what we're doing, or it'd be a bigger mess. And thus each presidential press conference seems to be a textbook display "belief perseverance" when facing disconfirming information. It seems we're all supposed to wait until his gut speaks again, if it will.

Myers' conclusion -
The president, like all of us, should check his intuitions against the facts. He can welcome the creative whispers of the unseen mind, but only as the beginning of inquiry. Smart thinking often begins with hunches but continues as one examines assumptions, evaluates evidence, invites critique and tests conclusions. As Proverbs says: "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool."

Now that wasn't a nice thing to say.

And I'm not sure any of that explains the public farting and the sneak-attack massage.

Well, you do what seems like a good idea at the time, and leave thinking of the actual consequences for the stuffy people who think too much. It's a hell of a way to run things, and now people are noting the damage it has done.

But there's no fixing it, for now.

Bush massages German Chancellor Angela Merkel's shoulders -

 

 

Mary Worth reacts -



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Additional note from Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, now in America - in Queens actually -

I am doubtful. Bush farts and suddenly everybody remembers that he was a boobie in Europe - a month ago? He fondled Angela and now the media remembers?

He can fart all he wants but he gets no respect here. He gives, if I may be blunt, nobel farters a bad name. If he keeps doing it we may be forced to stop. It would be a terrible thing but if it annoyed Bush in any way I would try to quit farting and ask everybody I know to quit too. If you want peace quit farting!

Well, we live in a different age and the baby boomers - Clinton and Bush - are sixty or thereabouts. The whole idea of "the gentleman" - quiet dignity and consideration of others, even if calculated - is so thirties and forties. Paul Henreid as Victor Laszlo in Casablanca and all that.

Quiet Dignity

You probably won't believe that I was 'on the spot' again last night in the right place at the right time, but I was. Just thinking of what I did yesterday nearly makes me blush, but about 21:00 I was being 'gentlemanly' for a few minutes in this Latino bar-restaurant in Queens having an outrageously delicious dessert when I noticed the Mets were playing - against the Saint Louis Cardinals? - in Shea Stadium, on a big, wide-screen TV hanging over the bar. It looked bad for the home team. Near the end with the Cards leading and pitchers and batters having ho-hum innings. Yeah, well, there was this little suspense, over just when or who would snap the world's turn out of the routine. Close-up on the pitch, fastball on express, drilling past the batter into the catcher's mitt, the umpire throws out the out fingers. While the telephoto lens is focused there, we see behind home plate, Bill Clinton - this is a true story, exclusive to JAS! - yawning, eyelids at half-mast. Another pitch, another unswung strike, and Bill is sinking deeper into his seat, eyes glazed. Then there is a brief flurry, Mets get a runner on first, bottom of the ninth, one run behind the Cards. Bill Clinton is passed out! Delgado steps up with his moustache and big hard bat, just a little harder than the Card's pitcher and blasts a fast one - that Delgado socks fair and square, right out to some fence - I saw it the other night - some 400 yards from home plate - yeah, so, it knocks the two runs in, Mets win, everybody up leaping, cheering, Bill Clinton completely forgotten - gawd, maybe he's slumped on the floor, covered in peanut shells, hot dog wrappers... in quiet dignity, tuckered out from his busy day as ex-president.

The is exclusive to JAS because Bill snoozing was clipped from the Channel 11 sports news report, shown later on TV-news about 22:50 last night. They showed Bill awake and alert, enjoying the football game.

- Ric
Received in Hollywood Wednesday, August 23, 8:00 am Pacific Time -

Posted by Alan at 20:55 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 23 August 2006 09:17 PDT home

Monday, 21 August 2006
The Hedgehog Is Back
Topic: Couldn't be so...
The Hedgehog Is Back
Note that Monday, August 21, brought us The Armor of God Pajama Set -
The Armor Of God PJ's were inspired by a mother reading Ephesians 6:10-18 every night to her daughter to give her a safe and secure feeling in the dark. As they read the scriptures, they put on each spiritual and powerful piece of the Armor of God to keep them safe and peaceful while they slept. At that moment, God gave me the idea how wonderful it would be if all children could have the opportunity to put on a pair of pajamas that symbolized the Armor of God for the same purpose… that with their belief in Jesus and His protection they will feel safe and secure during the night as they sleep. As they dress in the mornings, they should replace them with the spiritual Armor of God to protect them in their daily activities.
If you click on the link, you'll see two cute little blond kids looking like happy little Crusaders - with the Knight of the Cross thing mid-chest - and you seem to get a soft and cuddly shield with the set. Cool. The cloud effects at the top of the page are nice. Make of it what you will. We live in strange times.

As for the real crusader, Monday, August 21, brought the administration new poll numbers - "Just 35 percent of 1,033 adults polled say they favor the war in Iraq; 61 percent say they oppose it - the highest opposition noted in any CNN poll since the conflict began more than three years ago."

Send in the kids in their new pajamas? That may be all that's left to do. Sixty-one percent of us now have no idea what this war is about, although the president's approval rating rose to forty-two percent in this one. But it may be an outlier - an AP poll just had him at thirty-three percent (here) and all the others are in the mid-thirties, even Fox News.

But the forty-two percent approval here has some nasty detail for the White House. The president himself is in the doghouse -
Most Americans (54 percent) don't consider him honest, most (54 percent) don't think he shares their values and most (58 percent) say he does not inspire confidence.

Bush's stand on the issues is also problematic, with more than half (57 percent) of Americans saying they disagree with him on the issues they care about.
No one trusts him? That's what this seems to indicate - and in generic congressional polling, Democrats poll fifty-two to the Republicans' forty-three percent. Oh my, things may be shifting.

And he's not the only one is trouble. There's George Felix Allen. As discussed last week here, he made some unfortunate comments, and now the "macaca" has hit the fan as we see here -
In an election for the United States Senate in Virginia today, 8/21/06, incumbent Republican George Allen edges Democrat challenger James Webb 48% to 45%, according to an exclusive SurveyUSA poll conducted for WUSA-TV Washington DC.

Since an identical SurveyUSA poll released 6/28/06, Allen has lost 8 points and Webb has gained 8 points. Allen's lead has shrunk from 19 points to 3 points.
Drat, as they say. And as the voters of Virginia are beginning to wonder about the guy, lists like this must have them even more puzzled - bills he has introduced in the UN Senate for which he could find no co-sponsor -
41. S.3288 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on handheld electronic can openers. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

42. S.3289 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on electric knives. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

43. S.3290 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on toaster ovens with single-slot traditional toaster opening on top of oven. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

44. S.3291 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on ice shavers. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

45. S.3292 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on dual-press sandwich makers with floating upper lid and lock. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

46. S.3293 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on electric drink mixers with tilt mixing heads and two-speed motors. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

47. S.3294 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on electric juice extractors greater than 300 watts but less than 400 watts. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

48. S.3295 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on electric juice extractors not less than 800 watts. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

49. S.3296 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on open-top electric indoor grills. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

50. S.3297 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on electric coffee grinders. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

51. S.3298 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on electric percolators. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

52. S.3299 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on automatic drip coffeemakers other than those with clocks. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

53. S.3300 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on automatic drip coffeemakers with electronic clocks. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

54. S.3301 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on electronic under-the-cabinet mounting electric can openers. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

55. S.3303 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on food slicers and shredders with top-mounted motors and replaceable mixing bowls. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)
It may not be the racist stuff that sinks him - there are enough good ol' boys and he could squeak though - but he seems to have a thing with small household appliances. He's a strange man. Actually he appears to be in the pocket of some odd appliance manufacturers - Ronco and the like. You get you campaign money where you can get it.

Senator John Kerry laid into him about calling what he though was a young Indian immigrant a "macaca" - saying, in essence, welcome to America you dark-skinned loser - with this -
Welcome to our America, where immigration is a source of pride and not a punch line. Welcome to a politics where a young Indian American born in Fairfax Virginia can tell a US Senator: "I'm just as American as you are." And welcome to Virginia where it's clear some Republicans need reminding about the "truths" a real Virginian-Thomas Jefferson - wrote were "self evident" two hundred thirty years ago. And if you ever want a test of whether Republicans are ashamed of George Allen or just embarrassed by him, it comes on November 7th when we have a chance to say "welcome to the United States Senate - to his Democratic opponent, Jim Webb."
And Kerry didn't even mention the automatic drip coffeemakers, other than those with clocks.

And there was a curious slap-down of another sort the same day, courtesy of The Observer (UK), reporting here that some British officials fear they were forced to act too hastily in the arrest of the guys who wanted to blow up all the airplanes bound for America - they and may not have enough evidence to properly charge all suspects. Two of the two dozen men arrested have already been released without being charged.

It's the Americans, who need to talk tough to prove to the voters that the administration really is keeping everyone safe -
The British security services, MI5 and MI6, are understood to be dismayed that a number of sensitive details surrounding the alleged plot - including an FBI estimate that as many as 50 people were involved - were leaked to the media.

FBI sources confirmed to The Observer that the bureau had been ordered to stop briefing at the request of the British authorities. "The shutters have come down," a bureau source said. "We have been told not to discuss the case any more."
So the Brits told the FBI to just shut up. "You blokes are just messing everything up" It seems they want to stop the bad guys lock them up for a long tim, convicting them on solid evidence, by the rules - while we want to make sure the November elections don't result in the wrong sort of Americans controlling congress. Of course this is all a matter of which you think is more important. Kudos to the FBI for defying the White House and, well, shutting up.

But wait! There's more. And it's also from the UK.

There's this -
The alliance between George Bush and Tony Blair is in danger after it was revealed that the Prime Minister believes the President has "let him down badly" over the Middle East crisis.

A senior Downing Street source said that, privately, Mr Blair broadly agrees with John Prescott, who said Mr Bush's record on the issue was "crap."

The source said: "We all feel badly let down by Bush. We thought we had persuaded him to take the Israel-Palestine situation seriously, but we were wrong. How can anyone have faith in a man of such low intellect?"

Blair had famously said, before the war, that a major reason he was on board with the thing was he had been assured by George Bush that the approach was not just "go get Saddam," but comprehensive and far-sighted, as the American government knew a core issue in the region was the Israel-Palestine issue and that would be addressed, and dealt with thoroughly.

It wasn't, and Tony and his boys seem to be miffed - and you get the added insult that they think our president was just too stupid to figure out the Israel-Palestine was more than a little important. It's not the he didn't keep his word. He was too dumb to understand the problem at all. And this is closest and pretty much only ally.

Given all this, while Laura was perhaps ordering her husband an Armor of God pajama set to make him feel safe and peaceful while he slept, the president went on the offensive against all the bad news and held a very rare press conference.

It was surprise - unscheduled and certainly unexpected.

The transcript is here, and the pretext of the event was to urge, publicly, that certain nations stop farting around and actually supply some of the fifteen thousand troops for the UN force that is supposed to flood southern Lebanon, with the Lebanese army, and keep the peace, after the thirty days of war that killed a lot of folks and proved a lot of nothing, and destroyed Lebanon's infrastructure and set their economy back thirty years. The European Union has just put off considering the matter - troubled that what the troops were supposed to do was never clearly defined in the UN resolution - and things were heating up again. It was a bit of scolding the wimps and cowards who wanted details and rules for what to do and what not to do. That's not how we operate. What's the problem? You just go in and do things. Like we did in Iraq.

Then it was question time and that led to Iraq. The government of Israel may fall as the Prime Minister, Olmert, is taking a lot of heat for a war that accomplished nothing, got a lot of people killed, and made Israel look, in the eyes of most of the world, like idiots for doing the "shock and awe" thing rather than the usual measured response, mixed with clever diplomacy. A massive war for no good purpose that didn't work is the issue.

Here it's not and you got thing like this -

The strategy is to help the Iraqi people achieve the objectives and dreams which is a democratic society. That's the strategy. The tactics - now - either you say yes it's important we stay there and get it done or we leave. We're not leaving so long as I'm the president. That would be a huge mistake. It would send an unbelievably you know terrible signal to reformers across the region. It would say we've abandoned our desire to change the conditions that create terror.
That's it - at least 884 more days of more of the same. He knows the objectives and dreams of Iraqi people - and they are not the dreams of the Sunni and Shi'a factions, or the Kurds, who really don't want independence. He know what they really want. And we'll get "it" done - whatever it is. That's a bit unclear, as is how he really knows the underlying truth about who wants what. But the whole idea is that this war will change the conditions that create terror. Somehow.

And will not leave as long is he is president - this is not Israel where the people have a say. Screw the poll results.

Over at a UCLA Law Department faculty blog there was a lively discussion of what he really meant - some arguing that the president must have been saying, in effect, "we're not leaving prematurely, so long as I'm President" - rather than a flat statement that we're not leaving, period. See Orin Kerr here, after watching the tape of the thing over and over, saying it was pretty unambiguous. The president is the decider. The decision has been made. Deal with it. We're staying. There are certain signals you cannot send.

As for the whole idea is that this war will change the conditions that create terror, that may be debatable, given London, twice, Madrid, Bali and Casablanca. But the presidnet did add this warning, quoting General Abazaid - "If we leave [Iraq] before the mission is done the terrorists will follow us here."

They will? Well, they're already all over and Iraq doesn't seem to be an issue for them.

And Digby at Hullabaloo adds this -
I would normally say we should use logic and reason by pointing out that all the terrorists aren't in Iraq - as the foiled British plot recently showed - so being in Iraq can't prevent terrorists who are elsewhere from coming over here.

But that's too complicated. When a Republican says "if we leave Iraq before the mission is done the terrorists will follow us here" the Democrat should reply, "Well, unlike the Republicans, I won't let 'em in."

Democrats get too fine with this stuff. Trash talk is trash talk and they should just throw it back in their faces.
It did seem to be trash talk. You're not supposed to think about it. You're supposed to cheer.

And he got serious - he said the United States would lose "our soul as a nation" if it gave up on the Iraq war now. You see, it would be a "disaster" if our troops left before the new Iraqi government can control the country. Most think they never will be able to control the country, at least not this crew. But our very souls depend on it. Those are high stakes. One wonders who believes such things. Do we lose our souls if we stay another decade trying to hold the place together?

And is this any way to talk about a cost-benefit thing? We stay, things get worse. We leave, things get worse. We've put ourselves in a lose-lose situation, by choice. What can we salvage?

But that's not how we think about such things any longer.

In these pages, see, from December 21, 2003 - Hedgehogs and Foxes - a discussion of Isaiah Berlin's The Hedgehog and the Fox (1953). That was a look at the conflicts at that time - on which way we proceed, and whether we reelect, or actually elect, our current leaders for another four years coming down to a vote between people who are stuck in brutal simplifications, and those who enjoy unsettling complexity. One side will say the other is making simple things needlessly complex. The other side will say their opponents are foolishly ignoring the real complexity of the world, of the economy, of the environment. The hedgehogs will face off against the foxes. As Berlin put it - "There is a line among the fragments of the Greek poet Archilochus which says: 'The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.'"

Here we are again - "The strategy is to help the Iraqi people achieve the objectives and dreams which is a democratic society. … We're not leaving so long as I'm the president. That would be a huge mistake."

Bill Montgomery - Monday, August 21, 2006 - with this -
When Berlin divided writers and thinkers (which leaves Shrub out) and human beings in general (I suppose we have to include him) into two categories - the hedgehogs and the foxes - he didn't mean for either label to be taken pejoratively. After all, his list of hedgehogs included Dante, Plato, Dostoevsky and Proust, while Shakespeare, Aristotle and Erasmus were among his foxes.

What Berlin meant, I think, is that hedgehogs try to integrate all of their experiences and thoughts into a single, overarching concept of life and their place in it, while foxes, as he put it, have ideas about the world "without… seeking to fit them into, or exclude them from, any one unchanging, all-embracing, sometimes self-contradictory and incomplete, at times fanatical, unitary inner vision."

At this point, I would say Shrub is acting like a hedgehog on hallucinogens. His one big integrative idea - exporting American-style "democracy" to Iraq at the point of a gun - has proven fatally, disastrously wrong, but he can't let go of it, because it's the only idea he's got. He's fully vested in it, like a '90s e-trader who decided to throw caution to the wind, empty his retirement account and bet it all on pets.com.

I think if Shrub were ever forced to let go of his vision, his one big idea, it would not only crush his fragile ego, it would leave him completely incapable of making any sense at all out of his presidency, out of America's role in the Middle East, out of the universe.

So now he's imitating the hedgehog as literally as any human being can - he's rolled himself up into a defensive ball, spines out. He has nothing useful to say and absolutely no strategy beyond hunkering down and passively defying reality. Which leaves the generals and the troops no choice but to hunker down with him.

The next two and a half years are going to be very long ones.
Well, we chose the guy, and now we have a hedgehog on hallucinogens. But he probably has his neat new Armor of God pajamas.

This is not looking good.

On the other hand there's this -
A Bipartisan commission quietly started work last spring with a mandate to help the Bush administration rethink its policy toward the war.

… [W]hat makes this particular commission hard to dismiss is that it is led by perhaps the one man who might be able to break through the tight phalanx of senior officials who advise the president and filter his information. That person is the former secretary of state, Republican insider, and consigliere of the Bush family, James A. Baker III.
Who knew? And the item ends with this -
"The object of our policy has to be to get our little white asses out of there as soon as possible," another working-group participant told me. To do that, he said, Baker must confront the president "like the way a family confronts an alcoholic. You bring everyone in, and you say, 'Look, my friend, it's time to change.'"
That's most curious. Everyone knows it's time to do something.

Running simple-minded, short-tempered, underachieving alcoholic seemed like a good idea at the time - he would be a useful front, and it was joke on the Democrats with their candidates who served with distinction in wars and wrote books and spoke different languages. It just didn't work out. And the real powers behind things - Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle and the rest, and their cheering pundits, Kristol and the rest - were themselves drunk on odd theories others had laughed at before, and they wanted their moment to shine. The experiment must be shut down.

And Baker's motivation, or mandate -
"… he wants a ceasefire in American politics," a member of one of the commission's working groups told me. Specifically, he said, if the Democrats win back one or both houses of Congress in November, they would unleash a series of investigative hearings on Iraq, the war on terrorism, and civil liberties that could fatally weaken the administration and remove the last props of political support for the war, setting the stage for a potential Republican electoral disaster in 2008.

… "I guess there are people in the [Republican] party, on the Hill and in the White House, who see a political train wreck coming, and they've called in Baker to try to reroute the train."
There's a more complete discuss of all this here - nasty and angry - but the commission is real. It just may be too late to reroute this particular train.

Buy maybe if Laura gives him the new PJ's he'll go quietly.

Posted by Alan at 22:36 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 21 August 2006 22:39 PDT home

Sunday, 20 August 2006
Hot Off the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements
Hot Off the Virtual Press
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 34, for the week of August 20, 2006.Click here to go there...

This week, six extended commentaries on current events - on whether can you win a war after the fact by saying you won, and a detailed review of the very odd race-baiting scandal in Virginia (the senator said what?), the argument for abolishing August as really bad things happen in August, a review of the big dispute in conservative circles on God and their view of politics, extensive notes on the big legal story of the month (and the one that is silly), and some notes on what politicians do when they cannot use logic to argue they should be reelected. In short, the usual.

The International Desk lights up again this week, unexpectedly - Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, is in New York, in Queens and Manhattan, with words and great photos.

The local photography this week covers some really spiffy architecture from Hollywood's Golden Age, and on the other end of things, the shocking pink walls of the world famous home of Trashy Lingerie. Throw in some nightmare faces and odd murals and you'll get a feel for this end of the world, and for automotive buffs, there's one of those ultimate California cars to round things out. Then take two pages of botanicals and one abstract and you'll be fine.

Our Texas friend is back with more of the weird, of course, and the quotes this week are on winning - but not the usual ones.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________________

Winners and Losers
Race: A Minor Incident Turns Major as People Put Two and Two Together
The Dog Days: Everything Turns Sour in the Heat
Conservatism: What's God Got To Do With It?
Two Cases: What Legal Matters are Hot, and What Legal Matters Are Not
Weekend Note: Making Sense of Things

The International Desk ______________________________

Our Man in Paris: New York, Water Taxi Beach, Long Island City, Queens (and More)

Southern California Photography ______________________________

Architecture: Fine Living in Hollywood's Golden Age
Color: Pink Trashy Walls
Faces
A Bicycle: A California Bird
Cars
Botanicals: Hibiscus
Light: Adventures in Backlighting
One Shot

The Weird: WEIRD, BIZARRE and UNUSUAL
Quotes for the week of August 20, 2006 - Are We Winning?

All that took some time of course. Commentary here will resume tomorrow - Monday, August 21, 2006 - the birthday of Count Basie (1904) and Aubrey Beardsley (1872).

Posted by Alan at 19:46 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Saturday, 19 August 2006
Weekend Note: Making Sense of Things
Topic: Political Theory
Weekend Note: Making Sense of Things
Okay, the week ended with the president making some remarks to the press. He had met with his top people at Camp David to discuss the economy, a summit on how well things were going and how to convince the American people - whose real wages had been flat or worse for five years, unless they were top executives, and who were being pressure by ever increasing costs for healthcare and gasoline (to get to the jobs they were afraid of losing as this and that moved offshore) - that things were going just fine, and they'd get theirs sooner or late, so to speak. Many are afraid they will.

But the three wars kept coming up in the questions - the first war in Afghanistan that seems to be heating up again, the second in Iraq where things are quickly disintegrating and here's trouble on the Kurdish-Turkey border now, and the recent war in Lebanon.

The third, where the president had earlier declared Israel had won a stunning victory over Hezbollah, was the issue. No one else in the world saw it that way, not even the Israelis, where the government might fall as most think nothing was accomplished in the month-long dismantling of Lebanon - Hezbollah is doing just fine. They didn't think they'd won.

This called for some explaining, so the president said this -
The first reaction, of course, of Hezbollah and its supporters is, declare victory. I guess I would have done the same thing if I were them. But sometimes it takes people a while to come to the sober realization of what forces create stability and which don't. Hezbollah is a force of instability.
On a Friday afternoon before a long weekend no reporter was going to point out that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has previously said this -
For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East - and we achieved neither. Now, we are taking a different course.

As mentioned in these pages, that seemed odd, saying instability is a good thing and, as she said later when we did our best to block any immediate cease-fire in the Lebanon war, this was the "birth pages" of a new Middle East, so the war was good in a lot of ways. The president had followed her lead and said much the same thing - the previous stability in the region had just made people frustrated, so they flew airplanes into three of our most iconic buildings, so we needed to shake things up and, logically, there'd be no more of that. It made little sense, but the press likes to give him the benefit of the doubt - just report what he says and don't smirk. Let the readers and viewers make of it what they will.

But these Friday remarks were funhouse stuff. Instability is good. Got it. But Hezbollah was and is a force for instability and that is, of course, bad, really bad. But Hezbollah lost the war, really, which is good, so Hezbollah can't be a force for instability any longer. That's really good. Yeah! But then we wanted instability, actually. That's how things change for the better. But then…

Just where is this going?

Bill Montgomery comments here - "The bottom line, which an odd member of the punditburo might even reach one of these days, is that this is an administration that no longer makes any sense at all - not even on the most formal, semiotic level."

Well, the public makes sense of things as best they can, and perhaps doesn't expect anything like sense for the leadership we have. After a while you just throw up your hands and give up.

The public decides what it thinks is going on, and what matters, on its own, as in this -

A Pew Research Center poll released Thursday found "no evidence that terrorism is weighing heavily on voters - just 2 percent cite that as the issue they most want to hear candidates discuss, far fewer than the number mentioning education, gas prices, or health care." The center continued: "And while roughly a third of Americans (35 percent) say they are very concerned that if Democrats gain control of Congress, they will weaken terrorist defenses, even more (46 percent) express great concern that Republicans will involve the U.S. in too many overseas military missions if the GOP keeps its congressional majorities."
So it doesn't matter what's said on the lawn at Camp David - things cost a lot more than ever, the pay is effectively lower, and they worry all the guys in power now are just cooking up more wars.

Perhaps the Republicans should be worried, if the polls are right - which they say they say just cannot be.

But if the polls are right, something must change. Otherwise they're gone, swept out of power.

What must be done? See Digby at Hullabaloo with Jungle Drums.

This is a long item on the only thing to do now is play the race card, and it's argued convincingly.

Way back when, at the time of Hurricane Katrina, he had written this -
There's one other little way to gin up base conservative voters that we can already see developing on the shout fest and gasbags shows. But this is one that the leakers know very well mustn't be mentioned to writers for Time magazine. They are already dusting off their old tried and true southern strategy manual and after more than 40 years it's like a favorite old song - they just started regurgitating their coded talking points without missing a beat. They'll need to. This happened deep in Red territory.

On This Weak, George Will basically said that the problem in New Orleans is that blacks fuck too much. Or rather, the problem of the "underclass" can be traced to so many "out of wedlock births." I think it's pretty clear he wasn't suggesting that abortions be made available to poor women. (If Bill Clinton thought he neutralized that line with welfare reform, he was sadly mistaken.) As far as the right is concerned, it's all about that old racist boogeyman "dependency." Last night on the McLaughlin Group, Pat Buchanan was foaming at the mouth about "the welfare state." He was in his element, getting his "we're gonna take our cities block by block" Pitchfork Pat mojo back. These are code words. They aren't about class - although they will certainly claim that's what they're talking about. These are code words for blacks.

… Immigration had already reared its ugly head out of nowhere, and now this. I believe the Republicans already see the elections of 06 and 08 as an opportunity to revert to a tried and true code saturated "law 'n order" strategy. The War on Terrorism has been losing its juice for sometime - and Iraq is nothing but an embarrassment now. It's time to go back to what works.

For those who think that we are in a post racist world because George W. Bush appointed blacks to his cabinet, think again. The modern Republican Party was built on the back of an enduring national divide on the issue of race. George Bush may not personally be racist (or more likely not know he's racist) but the party he leads has depended on it for many years. The coded language that signals tribal ID has obscured it, but don't kid yourselves. It is a party that became dominant by exploiting the deep cultural fault of the Mason-Dixon Line.
And the current item adds this -
… then there's Senator George Felix "Macaca" Allen. He's just a stone racist, but I think it's worth noting nonetheless that he knew he could play the race card among his supporters in "the real world" of Virginia. You didn't have to know what "macaca" meant to know what he was saying (and I would guess that more than a few of his supporters know very well what it meant.) His face in that video shows a barely leashed anger, the tight smile, the sarcastic edge - and his supporters all got the point, laughing and tittering at his nasty little aside. Nobody has asked what purpose it served for Allen to point out this guy videotaping the event in the first place. I assume Allen's supporters thought he was with the campaign not with Webb, and even if they did I doubt they would have thought much about it. But Allen, either out of personal pique or political calculation (or both) brought this lone dark-skinned person to the attention of his audience and identified him with the opposition. He did that for a reason and I suspect it's because the word has gone forth that race is on the table in this election. (The fact that he's even more brain-dead than Bush is what did him in - he pulled it on a guy who was videotaping him. Jesus.)

This is happening because the Republicans are on the run and they have to pull out all the stops to GOTV [get out the vote]. Mostly, however, I think it's an attempt to neutralize Katrina. Let's face it, there is nothing the Republicans can do to improve their image when it comes to their performance last September. It was a national disgrace and we are going to relive the whole awful scene in living color on the first anniversary. Their only hope is to stoke enough under-the-radar racial resentment to mitigate the damage. I suspect they have been thinking about this for the past year and carefully laying out all the little racist signposts we've been seeing over the past few months.

Katrina remains very damaging for Republicans unless they can find some way to kick in the racist lizard brain. They are very good at tickling the primitive, tribal side of human nature - in fact, that's all they are good at. Subtly and not so subtly playing the race card is one of their specialties and I think it's pretty much all they have left in their hand to play this time out. (Immigration is another racial card for this cycle although I think it's really aimed at '08.)

… And it remains to be seen whether they can find a way to touch once again that deep, unexamined part of the American psyche that Katrina revealed - not hatred, but fear of African Americans. Fear, after all, is the GOP's stock in trade.

I doubt it will work. I think we have come too far for racism of that kind to last beyond a single moment. It reared its hideous head briefly during the crisis but I don't think Rove can bring it back with standard racist appeals. His problem is that it's all he's got.

Keep your eyes open, though, for signs of this phenomenon. It's clear to me that this is the GOP subtext of the election. It's quite amazing when you think about it. Bush ran as the Republican who was beyond racial politics, known for his outreach to Hispanics and African Americans. But when it comes down to it, racism is really the heart and soul of the modern Republican party, the essence of their electoral strategy and the underlying sentiment that drives their appeals to "tradition" and "religion." We'll see if they can crank up the old macaca machine and make it work for them one more time.
So when things don't make sense, or cannot be explained without some rolling their eyes, some smirking, some laughing out loud - and most just walking away and thinking it might be time for a new leadership team - you play the last thing you've got, the last card in your hand.

Will the Ace of Spades slapped on the table win the hand this time? It seems it's all they've got.

Posted by Alan at 17:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 19 August 2006 17:50 PDT home

Friday, 18 August 2006
Two Cases: What Legal Matters are Hot, and What Legal Matters Are Not
Topic: The Law
Two Cases: What Legal Matters are Hot, and What Legal Matters Are Not
As we out here in Hollywood all know, Americans are fascinated by the law, even if in an odd way. The old Perry Mason show is long gone but Dick Wolff became a very rich man with "Law and Order" and its spin-offs. That's a mini-industry out here, propelling various actors and actresses to fame and fortune they never expected, and made the late Jerry Orbach a hero with the real-life cops on the streets of New York where it is filmed. That's more than the role as the tight-assed father in Dirty Dancing ever did for him. Sam Watterson retired from real acting to play the district attorney in the series, trying to prove this and that to a puzzled jury each week, and Senator Fred Thompson retired from politics to play his boss. Who needs Washington? The general rule seems to be play a lawyer and argue your case, and become a star - Spencer Tracy as Clarence Darrow in "Inherit the Wind" to Tom Cruise (before he went all scientology) as the conflicted JAG lawyer in "A Few Good Men" and all the rest. Folks eat it up. They watch.

And then there's the real world. There's the nasty Nancy Grace on CNN Headline News saying who is really guilty in real cases, and why, and a there's whole cable channel - Court TV - for those who need this sort of thing all day, all the time. From OJ to Michael Jackson, we all tune in to the case of the day, or at least many do - more than enough viewers to sell the advertising slots at a fine rate.

So what were the big cases that fascinated folks in the middle of August, 2006?

Just glancing at the news, the winner, by maybe a ten to one margin, was this - "The breakthrough arrest of a suspect in the long-unsolved murder of six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey started to look distinctly shaky yesterday, as legal experts and former investigators in the case poked holes in the confession of expatriate schoolteacher John Mark Karr and even Colorado prosecutors said they were proceeding cautiously."

Well, it had sex, and dead child, and a pervert. Karr was arrested in Thailand on Wednesday and was paraded before reporters. He claimed he was with the kid when she died in the basement of her family home in Boulder in 1996 and that her death "was a horrible accident for which he took responsibility." The Thai officials said he had admitted drugging her and having sex with her before she died, but then that just didn't match the autopsy results - no drugs or alcohol in her system. The former Denver prosecutor said "this confession seemed delusional" and added - "He looked like a drugged-out Lee Harvey Oswald." The Thai immigration police backed off - he had only told them whole encounter was "a blur." Sorry about that.

The case is ten years old. The mother, once a suspect, and who dressed the kid like a little hooker and entered her in beauty contests, died a while back. And the case is not very significant in the greater scheme of things. Outside the family, whatever happened is, really, nobody's business. It's certainly a bad business, but means little. It's just titillating and slightly freighting entertainment for those whose lives are a bit dull. If you live a life of "quiet desperation" it's best to import some nasty stuff you can safely contemplate, as it has nothing to do. It fills the time.

The loser, by ten to one, receiving far less coverage, was this - a federal judge ordered all entities to stop participating in warrantless surveillance because the National Security Administration's program is unconstitutional. The president had to stop that stuff - it violates First and Fourth Amendments by monitoring communications without warrants and "interfering with the ability of journalists and scholars to do their jobs." She ordered an immediate halt to it all. You want to tap phones and read email? Get a damned warrant, just like it says in the constitute, and use the system set up by law in 1978 for such things. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor up Detroit (US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan) was blunt - although she dismissed the argument that data-mining should be subject to obtaining warrants, saying perhaps those could not be discussed without revealing state secrets. The administration had boasted about the phone and email business, and said they had the right to break the law and ignore the constitution. They hadn't said anything about data-mining, so maybe that was off limits to the plaintiffs - secret stuff.

But the thrust of the matter was clear - listen all you want, go after the bad guys, but follow the law. If you're dealing with US citizens, the rules are you get a warrant. It's kind of a no-brainer. Do your job, but don't jerk us all around, saying the law just doesn't matter any longer.

This is not sexy, and it's not titillating stuff, but it kind of does matter to everyone. If laws don't matter any longer we're in a world of hurt, unless you implicitly trust the authorities in power. Some do. Some don't.

An this decision is the first ruling by any court on the legality of the NSA program - one that was secret until it was revealed, so to speak, last December by the New York Times. And it rejected every single argument the administration made to defend its "right" to eavesdrop without warrants. And too the court also rejected the administration's claim that mere "adjudication by the court "of the legality of this NSA program would risk the disclosure of "state secrets." They say that all the time about stuff they don't want reviewed in any court (see this). But that didn't fly here. They'd already talked about it quite enough, and no more details were actually necessary.

The decision has already been appealed by the administration to the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals, conservative-leaning some say, and the parties have agreed that the Michigan District Court's order will be stayed until September 7 - it won't be enforced. We'll see what happens then.

But to be clear about what this decision means and what it does not mean - it does not prohibit eavesdropping on terrorists. It prohibits illegal eavesdropping in violation of the clear law in the matter. The White House is saying this is a real blow to the administration's efforts to fight terrorism (see this press release), but doesn't explain how the law was getting in their way. They seem to assume everyone knows it was.

But just what does everyone know? Some perspective is in order. But where do you go for that?

There is Erwin Chemerinsky. He's been at Duke since July 2004, but spent twenty-one years out here, not in Hollywood but at the University of Southern California Law School - a professor of Public Interest Law, Legal Ethics, and Political Science. His four textbooks are standard. In April 2005, was named by Legal Affairs as one of "the top 20 legal thinkers in America." There's also the 2003 President's Award from the Criminal Courts Bar Association. the 2003 Freedom of Information Award form the Society for Professional Journalists, the 2001 Community Service Award from the Anti-Defamation League, the 2001 Clarence Darrow Award from the People's College of Law. Take that Spencer Tracy. And he's argued the big cases - Van Orden v. Perry (a challenge to a Texas Ten Commandments monument) and Tory v. Cochran (a First Amendment case concerning the permissibility of injunctive relief as a remedy in defamation cases), and in the Supreme Court Scheidler v. National Organization for Women (suit for injunction to stop violent protests of reproductive health care facilities) in November 2005. He testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the hearings of Samuel Alito for confirmation to the Supreme Court in January 2006. He might know something.

And he says this -
The Constitution is the winner in Thursday's decision by a federal judge in Detroit to invalidate the National Security Agency's program of warrantless wiretapping. The Bill of Rights is a constant reminder that the ends do not justify some means. Surely, there would be less crime and more safety if the police could search anyone's person or property, at any time, without a level of suspicion that meets the legal definition of probable cause. But a society that values privacy and dignity does not accord the police such authority, even when the objective is fighting terrorism.

Judge Anna Diggs Taylor followed basic constitutional principles in ruling that the NSA must not engage in warrantless electronic surveillance. The core requirement of the Fourth Amendment is that, subject to narrow exceptions, police searches and wiretaps must be authorized by a warrant issued by a judge and based on probable cause. The framers of the Constitution were deeply distrustful of executive power and wanted to make sure that searches and arrests were authorized by a neutral magistrate.

Federal statutes reaffirm this by requiring the government to obtain a warrant when it engages in wiretapping. Under these laws, the government usually goes to federal district court for the required warrant. Or, if the person it wants to listen in on is thought to be acting at the direction of a foreign power, then the government goes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The law is explicit: The government must follow one of these two procedures before engaging in electronic surveillance.
That's clear. Why was there even an argument about it? The administration decided against meeting the requirements for a warrant and probable cause mandated by the Constitution and specific federal statutes. The judge had little choice here. The president has no such power.

But here's the problem -
Under the Bush administration's argument, federal law enforcement could seemingly go into anyone's home, at any time, without a warrant by claiming that it might better catch terrorists. There is simply no obvious stopping point, and that's what makes the president's claim of broad executive power so alarming. Nor is there any reason to believe that warrantless wiretapping is needed to protect national security. The administration could have gone to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves more than 99 percent of all government requests for warrants. Under the procedures of that court, it even could have gotten the warrant after the surveillance had been done.
But they didn't. The obvious question is why. Put on your tin-foil hat and work on that a bit.

Chemerinsky goes over the argument that the Joint Resolution Authorizing the Use of Military Force, that authorized the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and notes the Supreme Court shot that down in the Guantánamo case (Hamdan v. Rumsfeld) - it did not provided the necessary authority for it to set up those special military commissions to try the folks there and could be taken to override specific statutes and treaties. The thing gave the president permission to use troops and take military actions - it said nothing about special military commissions, and it this case, it said nothing about eavesdropping electronically on US citizens. Neither is military force. That's kind of obvious.

As for the flak coming down now -
Judge Taylor's ruling has been criticized because it did not offer a full explanation for why the NSA's warrantless eavesdropping is unconstitutional. And the judge herself has been derided for overstepping the judiciary's proper role. But critics would have objected to Taylor's opinion no matter how it was written. As for the notion that the judge went too far, it is precisely the role of the federal courts to interpret the Constitution and to determine if it has been violated.
She was just doing her job.

And he offers this perspective -
The most important thing to keep in mind, in weighing Judge Taylor's ruling against the government's arguments, is that no administration in memory, and perhaps none ever in American history, has so frequently claimed that it can ignore the Constitution, as well as federal statutes and ratified treaties, to pursue important goals. Lawyers for the Bush administration have argued that the government can engage in torture in violation of federal statutes and treaties in the name of national security. They have claimed the power to detain American citizens as enemy combatants without complying with the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments. They have argued that the administration can ignore federal statutes and the Geneva Conventions in imprisoning individuals indefinitely in Guantanamo.

It is the role of the federal courts to say no to such actions. Judge Taylor did exactly that on Thursday. Now it's up to the federal court of appeals and the Supreme Court to back her up.
We'll see what happens. Suddenly Joe Lieberman's breaking with his party to support the nominations of Alito and Roberts matters more now.

But what does this guy know? In a smug and nasty editorial here the Washington Post says the ruling just wasn't sufficiently thoughtful. The warrantless wiretapping program "exists on ever-more uncertain legal ground" but this ruling was "neither careful nor scholarly, and it is hard-hitting only in the sense that a bludgeon is hard-hitting." Maybe something you need a bludgeon?

The Wall Street Journal just gets hysterical here - they accuse this judge of gunning for a "Civil Libertarian of the Year" award and then complain that voters will have no way to hold her accountable for "any Americans who might die as a result" of her ruling. And she was appointed by Jimmy Carter way back when (1979) and she's black. She must have an agenda and doesn't care of we all die. Damned liberals.

Then there's this in the National Review - "Virtually every intelligence agency in the world is pursuing al Qaeda operatives and intercepting their communications. In Judge Taylor's perfect world, only the US - the primary target of al Qaeda - would be forbidden to do so." Of course that's not what the ruling said - the intercepts were not forbidden at all - but they have to feed their readers that red meat.

And there was Rush Limbaugh with this - "Make no mistake: this enemy is all over this country. It's all over the world, and this same type of surveillance program that was used by Bill Clinton and a number of other presidents, nobody beefed about it, nobody complained about it. This is liberals, ladies and gentlemen. This is leftists."

Clinton never ordered the warrantless wiretapping of Americans' telephone calls. There was that warrantless search of Aldrich Ames' home, a search that occurred before FISA was amended to require warrants for physical searches. But what's the point of arguing?

Friday, August 18, the president himself spoke, saying it was really naïve to believe in these special time he should follow the law, with this - "I would say that those who herald this decision simply do not understand the nature of the world in which we live." Sure the fancy-pants lawyers and people who read books know the law and the constitution, but he knows the real world. He has no use for such things. Of course he's banking on the cowboy thing - people don't like thinkers and readers, they like doers who cut through all the crap. And that may work. It's worked for six years.

And who's arguing against that? Glenn Greenwald, the attorney and best-selling author of How Would a Patriot Act? - he worked at the New York firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz and left to co-found the law firm of Greenwald Christoph & Holland, now Greenwald-Christoph. He has litigated cases with constitutional issues, but then he's openly gay and splits his time between Brazil and New York City - because only Brazil, and not the United States, recognizes his same-sex relationship with his Brazilian partner as the basis for emigration. Are you going to trust that sort of fellow?

Still he says this -
This ruling … has critical implications for the administration's efforts to change the law so as to legalize its warrantless eavesdropping activities. Sen. Arlen Specter, working in collaboration with the White House, has introduced legislation that would effectively eliminate all restrictions on the president's power to eavesdrop on Americans. That bill would make the process of obtaining warrants optional, rather than mandatory, and it would all but kill off judicial challenges to the legality of the president's eavesdropping.

But the court's ruling today strongly suggests that the Specter bill would be just as unconstitutional as the president's current eavesdropping program. This is because the court found warrantless eavesdropping generally to be a violation of the Fourth and First Amendments. Thus, Congress cannot authorize warrantless eavesdropping via legislation - Congress cannot authorize activities that are unconstitutional - which would preclude enforcement of the Specter bill.

Still, commentators of every ideological stripe have quickly agreed that this opinion is argumentatively weak and thus vulnerable on appeal with respect to several critical issues. The court, for instance, barely explains why warrantless eavesdropping violates the Fourth Amendment, and its discussion of why such eavesdropping violates the First Amendment borders on the incoherent. And with respect to the most difficult hurdle the plaintiffs faced - whether they have "standing" to challenge the NSA program in light of their inability to prove that their conversations were monitored - the court made the best case it could as to why the plaintiffs should be allowed to proceed, but it relied on reasoning that is far from decisive.

Nonetheless, the political significance of this decision cannot be denied. The first federal court ever to rule on the administration's NSA program has ruled that it violates the constitutional rights of Americans in several respects, and that it violates criminal law.

And in so holding, the court eloquently and powerfully rejected the Bush administration's claims of unchecked executive power in the area of national security. The court observed that "it was never the intent of the Framers to give the President such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights ... We must always be mindful that '[w]hen the President takes official action, the Court has the authority to determine whether he has acted within the law.' Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 703 (1997)."

Ever since the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration has insisted that nothing can restrict the president's decisions in any way with regard to national security, including laws enacted by the coequal branch of government, the Congress. Such a theory is wholly alien to the most fundamental principles that have defined this country since its founding. The court's decision today reaffirms that even in times of war, the president is bound by the rule of law and constrained by the protections guaranteed to Americans by the Bill of Rights. And that the Bush administration simply has no justification for acting outside the parameters of the law.
Well, if that writing is a little too dense, watch CNN's Jack Cafferty here be a little more succinct - the man broke the law, on purpose, and told us he did -
You know Wolf, it seems like were having this discussion about this judge's ruling sort of in the abstract, as if there's no precedent for what the judge decided. The judge in effect upheld the ruling of the FISA court which says that 'if you want to wiretap phones you need a warrant to do so'. The court was created by Congress in 1978 I think it was and the law of the land says, "Get a warrant". The actions of the administration have ignored the law of the land in that regard. So it's not a discussion in the abstract. It's not hypothetical. There are laws on the books against what the administration is doing and it's about time someone said it out loud.

This Federal district judge ruled today President Bush is breaking the law by spying on people, in this country, without a warrant. The judge said the President is violating the First Amendment to the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act FISA, passed by Congress 1978, specifically to prevent this kind of abuse of power. It was being done before. That's why the FISA court was created in the first place.

So what does this mean? It means President Bush violated his oath of office, among other things, when he swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States. It means he's been lying to us about the program since it started, when tells us there's nothing illegal about what he's doing. A court has ruled it is illegal. And it means a 75 year old black female judge in Michigan has finally stepped in and done the job that Congress is supposed to do, namely oversight of the executive branch of government. But the gov… but the Congress is controlled by Republicans. They are controlled by the President, and they have done nothing in the way of oversight.
If someone would do their job it might be impeachment time?

See Glenn Greenwald here -
… judicial decisions are starting to emerge which come close to branding the conduct of Bush officials as criminal. FISA is a criminal law. The administration has been violating that law on purpose, with no good excuse. Government officials who violate the criminal law deserve to be - and are required to be - held accountable just like any other citizens who violate the law. That is a basic, and critically important, principle in our system of government. These are not abstract legalistic questions being decided. They amount to rulings that our highest government officials have been systematically breaking the law - criminal laws - in numerous ways. And no country which lives under the rule of law can allow that to happen with impunity.
My, my, things are heating up. And conspiracy theorists wonder if Karl Rove worked with the Thai police on the timing of the arrest and confession of that strange man in Bangkok. That got most of the press. But no, that's just a lucky coincidence.

What's going to happen? We'll pay attention to the odd man who may have killed the little tarted-up beauty queen ten years ago, but may not have done that at all. It's even more scandalous that the noseless Michael Jackson and the little boys. We have our priorities. Everyone lives in Hollywood.

__

Reference:

The ruling on the NSA program is here and the stayed injunction stopping it here. Both are in PDF format - you'll Adobe Acrobat Reader, or an equivalent, to review them. A few regular readers are attorneys. These might be of interest.

Posted by Alan at 22:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 18 August 2006 22:32 PDT home

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