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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, 3 October 2006
Choose Your Motivation - Anger, Hate, Grumpiness or Other
Topic: Perspective
Choose Your Motivation -
Anger, Hate, Grumpiness or Other
The ever-whimsical and always clever Garrison Keillor seems to have decided to discuss the Miracle Drug of Anger - "Raging against Republican hypocrisy is the tonic that keeps us old liberals forever young."

Is that so?

Of course you have to understand what lies at the base of this. As he writes from Missoula -
Twice in my life I have lived in rural paradises like Montana and I learned that contentment only goes so far and what I thrive on is irritation and dread. You need the city for that. 1) A guy walks down the avenue with his baseball cap backward on his head and you want to shake him until his contacts fall out. He is in his early 30s but still thinks of himself as an 8-year-old. He is Narcissus in sneakers. 2) People who, instead of saying, "That is so cool," say, "How cool is that?" A way of expressing enthusiasm without sounding enthusiastic. How dumb is that? 3) The man in the airport who is yelling to himself like an escaped lunatic and then I notice the dangly cellphone hanging off him. 4) Shrieky women in restaurants. You sit down and look at the menu and suddenly you're in a National Geographic special about orangutans, but it's not, it's just Girlfriends' Night Out, and they've had their first glass of merlot and gotten nice and loosened up and every 30 seconds there is an outburst of screeching. The alpha female shrieks and then they all do. 5) When I say "Thank you" to a younger person and he says, "No problem." That's a brushoff, not an acknowledgement. He is supposed to smile and say, "You're welcome." Or he could say, "It was my pleasure." A thank-you should not be brushed away like a housefly. You could be lying unconscious on the floor, your arms and legs twitching uncontrollably, and a paramedic puts the paddles on your chest (Stand back!!) and saves your life and you say, "Thank you, thank you, thank you, a thousand thank-yous," and he says, "No problem." How inappropriate is that?
Amusing. But the vivid examples overwhelm the main point. Perhaps it is true that many of us thrive on irritation and dread. It may be the curse of political junkies and policy wonks. Some things just get to you. Others shrug at the same news.

Here's Keillor -
Pick up a newspaper and read about Congress and you will find yourself yelling at walls and terrifying the cat. Last week, Congress moved to suspend habeas corpus, one thing that distinguishes a civil society from a police state. Reaction was muted.

Then the Party of Family Values was revealed to have protected a sexual predator in its midst until finally a reporter asked some pointed questions and the honorable gentleman resigned and ran off to recovery camp. This level of hypocrisy takes a person's breath away. You thought that Abramoff, Norquist, Reed and DeLay had established new lows, but the elevator is still descending.
Yeah, so it is. So what? Look at the great middle of us all - no one much seems to be that very bothered by it all. Go to work, pay the bills, get the kids off to school…

But he asks us to look at the bright side of the few thriving on irritation and dread -
The power of righteous vexation is what keeps so many old Democrats hanging on in nursing homes long past the time they should have kicked off. Ancient crones from FDR's time are still walking the halls, kept alive by anger at what has been done to our country. Old conservationists, feminists, grizzled veterans of the civil rights era fight off melanoma, emphysema, Montezuma, thanks to the miracle drug of anger.
That of course falls under the heading of cold comfort. It's no way to live. But then it is motivation of sorts. Keillor says it's time "to clean some clocks" and kick some butt.

That's easy to say, but what exactly are you going to do, write a letter to the editor of your local paper? He paraphrases Robert Frost - "The woods are lovely, dark and thick. But I have many butts to kick and some to poke and just one stick." Just having one stick seems to be the problem. The population of the United States just reached three hundred million. Like you matter?

So you take a representative day in the current implosion of those in power - say Tuesday, October 3 - and look at some of the news and try to figure out what anyone can do about any of it.

One -
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and former Attorney General John Ashcroft received the same CIA briefing about an imminent al-Qaida strike on an American target that was given to the White House two months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The State Department's disclosure Monday that the pair was briefed within a week after then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was told about the threat on July 10, 2001, raised new questions about what the Bush administration did in response, and about why so many officials have claimed they never received or don't remember the warning.

One official who helped to prepare the briefing, which included a PowerPoint presentation, described it as a "10 on a scale of 1 to 10" that "connected the dots" in earlier intelligence reports to present a stark warning that al-Qaida, which had already killed Americans in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and East Africa, was poised to strike again.
Analysis -
Richard Clarke was at the July 10, 2001 meeting.

It's confirmed now. Condi was warned. She ignored it.

Some people just have an instinct about danger, military matters and a need to pull the trigger. Some don't. Condi doesn't, yet she was our national security adviser, now secretary of state. Few people have been less qualified for such exalted situations. Blood is on her hands, though that blood is splattered across the Bush administration, with most of it resting on Bush himself.
Well, she said the administration never got any transition plan from the Clinton administration on dealing with terrorism generally and al Qaeda specifically. The 9/11 Commission says she got the plan, and it's on file - thirteen dense single-spaced pages. Copies are on file. She still maintains it never existed and doesn't exist. And her own records confirm the July 10, 2001 meeting - her office says so. The commission now says they were briefed on the meeting, they just forgot to put a note in the report about it. But they have Tenet's testimony about the meeting on file, and his PowerPoint slides. She still says there was no meeting - she would have remembered it. It's a bit bizarre. There's documentation, and there are her assertions. She seems to think you ought to believe her, not the available record. This seems to be a "faith-based" thing - if you believe in the administration and what it's doing the you believe her. It's a test of faith, and you don't want to be found wanting in faith, as they say. Or what you see here is The Triumph of Will, as in the famous film of the same name.

Two -
President Bush, on a campaign swing in the West, is arguing the Democratic Party is weak-kneed on national security and shouldn't be trusted to hold the reins of Congress.

"If you listen closely to some of the leaders of the Democratic Party, it sounds like - it sounds like - they think the best way to protect the American people is, wait until we're attacked again," Bush said Monday at a $360,000 fundraiser in Reno, Nevada, for state Secretary of State Dean Heller's congressional campaign.

Bush delivered the administration's oft-repeated claims about the Democrats as it struggles with persistent questions about a recent intelligence report that suggests the Iraq war has helped recruit more terrorists, and a new book, "State of Denial," by journalist Bob Woodward that contends Bush misled the country about the war.
The Democrats shouldn't be trusted to hold the reins of Congress comes under the general heading of "brass balls." One Democratic staffer said this - "The Republicans chose to protect Foley instead of those kids." One angry Republican, John Cole, said this - "Maybe if Foley had been hitting on a fetus, these folks would get it." The Republican congress is hardly in good shape at the moment. They look either useless, or rather evil. Take your pick. Trust, indeed. And yes, all sixteen of his sixteen intelligence agencies agreed the president's war of choice made things worse, not better. They are brass.

Three -
In the fine tradition of George W. Bush standing under the "Mission Accomplished" sign, or any one of the Katrina backdrops (where no expense was spared to bring power to an area for a photo op, and then just as quickly cut off), we now have the head of the NRCC, Tom Reynolds, using small prop children as set decoration in a press conference devoted to the topic of…yes, predatory online sexual solicitation of minors.
Tom Reynolds, the head of the National Republican Campaign Committee, one of the first to be told of what Mark Foley might have been up to with the sixteen-year-old male House pages, held a press conference about it in Buffalo, New York. His statement was clear - he told House Speaker Dennis Hastert about it so he did what he was supposed to do. Nothing was his fault. And he was more than willing to take questions, but the problem for reporters was that he held the press conference at a day care center, on stage surrounded by lots of little kids. The reporters asked him if the kids could leave, so they could ask question about the substance of the issues. He said no, they were his constituents, and they stayed, so ask your questions. The reporters were frustrated. You can read about it here at "Buffalo Geek" -
Reporter: Congressman, do you mind asking the children to leave the room so we can have a frank discussion of this, because it's an adult topic. It just doesn't seem appropriate to me.

Reynolds: I'll take your questions, but I'm not going to ask any of my supporters to leave.

Reporter: Who are the children, Congressman? Who are these children?

Reynolds: Pardon me?

Reporter: Who are these children?

Reynolds: Well, a number of them are from the community. There are several of the "thirty-something" set that are here and, uh, I've known them and I've known their children as they were born.

Reporter: Do you think it's appropriate for them to be listening to the subject matter though?

Reynolds: Sir, I'll be happy to answer your questions, I'm still, uh…
It was very clever. And it gives a news meaning to the term "human shields" of course. He did say the spare campaign money he received from Foley - the hundred thousand dollars - was clean money and he certainly wasn't going to donate to any charity like one that aided victims of child abuse. The money was for the Republican campaigns. And that was that. He's a very cool customer.

Could this make anyone angry?

See Richard Einhorn here -
Dear Democratic candidate for Congress,

If your consultants don't take this story [1] and combine it with this one [2], then add numerous references to this unbelievably outrageous stunt [3] and urge you to flay the Republicans over their dangerous incompetence, their sheer inability to perceive reality, their malicious lies, and their unparalleled moral hypocrisy... If instead, your consultants insist that in the next month you ignore all these genuine gifts so you can re-emphasize prescription drugs or concerns over the economy, fire them immediately, sue them for fraud, then grab them by their throats, stick 'em in an empty room and force them to listen to the complete recorded works of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Over and over. For a week. No. Make it two weeks.
Well, along with being a political commentator, Einhorn is noted composer. You have to forgive him the Andrew Lloyd Webber crack, although as a nation we have now legalized torture, so it may be permissible. The score from "Cats" or "Phantom of the Opera" will do nicely.

But his anger is real. He does know the highly paid consultants will tell the Democrats to run on the economy and such, so they can entirely avoid the topics of values and being strong on terror, as they'll never win anything on those issues. And they'll buy it. He's frustrated. But that really is how things work.

You take the high road and don't deal with New Foley Instant Messages; Had Internet Sex While Awaiting House Vote - "Former Congressman Mark Foley (R-FL) interrupted a vote on the floor of the House in 2003 to engage in Internet sex with a high school student who had served as a congressional page."

And you ignore the press conference - NEW ADMISSIONS FROM FOLEY: HE GOT BOINKED BY AN UNNAMED PRIEST WHEN HE WAS 13 OR 14; HE'S GAY (NO!) BUT HE'S PROBABLY LYING ABOUT BEING AN ALCOHOLIC. Yeah, it's all self-righteous whining about how it all not really his fault at all. He's a victim too, damn it. Aren't we all?

So you let it all slide, and lose.

Nope, we don't want no Democratic congress. Dennis Hastert said so on the Rush Limbaugh show -
There were two pieces of paper out there, one that we knew about and we acted on; one that happened in 2003 we didn't know about, but somebody had it, and, you know, they're trying - and they drop it the last day of the session, you know, before we adjourn on an election year. Now, we took care of Mr. Foley. We found out about it, asked him to resign. He did resign. He's gone. We asked for an investigation. We've done that. We're trying to build better protections for these page programs.

But, you know, this is a political issue in itself, too, and what we've tried to do as the Republican Party is make a better economy, protect this country against terrorism - and we've worked at it ever since 9/11, worked with the president on it - and there are some people that try to tear us down. We are the insulation to protect this country, and if they get to me it looks like they could affect our election as well.
Any fool knows you don't mess with the insulation. Garrison Keillor is no doubt yelling at the walls and terrifying the cat.

But getting angry is a problem. As the law professor and Los Angeles Times columnist Rosa Brooks points out -
Are you a Bush hater, so blinded by "primal" loathing for the president that you automatically dismiss everything he says or does?

It's one of the far right's favorite weapons: If anyone criticizes the administration, brand them a Bush hater. The implication is that no sane or fair-minded person could be appalled by this administration's policies. Any criticism of Bush must be caused by what columnist Charles Krauthammer described as "contempt and disdain giving way to a hatred that is near pathological."
But she says the right has got it quite wrong -
I don't love George Bush, it's true. No matter how many times I urge myself to hate the sin but love the sinner, I just can't get there. But I don't hate Bush, either. I hope that he'll never personally experience any of the "alternative methods" of interrogation he's so willing to use on U.S. detainees; I hope he'll never lose a child to war; I hope he'll never experience the soul-sapping poverty to which his administration has abandoned so many Americans.

No, I don't hate George Bush.

But I sure hate what he's done to my country.

I hate the fact that Bush and the radicals in his administration play politics with patriotism, casting critics of misguided legislation on military commissions and wiretapping as "soft" on terrorism and telling us, as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld recently did, that "moral or intellectual confusion about who and what is right or wrong can weaken the ability of free societies to persevere."

… I hate the fact that after promising to unite us, this president has done his best to divide us. In Bush's America, there are real Americans and then there are the blue states … and the Democrats.

… I hate the fact that to Bush, having "values" seems to mean absolutist opposition to gay marriage and abortion and indifference to many forms of suffering. In Bush's America, preventing gay marriage is apparently more important than preventing cruel or degrading treatment of detainees, or helping the millions of Americans who struggle to make it from paycheck to paycheck.

… I hate the fact that Bush's reckless foreign policies have led many of our closest allies to regard this nation with contempt and fear. Increasingly, people around the world see the U.S. as a threat to global stability, not as a source of stability.

… I hate the fact that to Bush, the phrase "the buck stops here" is apparently as quaint as the Geneva Convention. He has yet to come clean about the degree to which he overstated the charge that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or on the lack of a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. In Bush's America, being president means never having to say you're sorry.
But other than that, things are fine. The item appeared on 29 September, before the Mark Foley business.

Then she said -
The United States is in trouble. The spread of militant Islamic extremism and WMD will pose dangers for decades to come, and global warming, disease and poverty are all serious threats. If we're going to respond to those threats, we need to pull together - and we need to stop letting the far right get away with dismissing all criticism of the Bush administration as irrational "hatred."
That gets harder every day. But then, as Garrison Keillor points out, at least Brooks will live a long life.

Had enough?

Posted by Alan at 22:24 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 3 October 2006 22:29 PDT home

Monday, 2 October 2006
Documenting Day Two of the Great Train Wreck
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Documenting Day Two of the Great Train Wreck
What They Are Saying was the train wreck as seen on its first day, the first day of October. The Republican Party and the whole of what the administration has been claiming about most everything for the last six years appeared to be coming off the rails, as they say.

The second day - Monday, October 2 - was more than variations on a theme. It moved beyond the pedophile business in the House, and who let it happen, got really odd with the Secretary of State caught flat-footed (in spite of her love of high-heel boots) saying things she really shouldn't have said, and confirming that in the months before the attacks of September 11, 2001, she was pretty much blowing off official warnings from the top intelligence people that something was going to happen - something not in the definitive commission report on the matter and not in the Disney it-was-all-Clinton's-fault movie - and got just bizarre with the majority leader of the Senate, Bill Frist, announcing he's seen Afghanistan and the Taliban just couldn't be defeated so maybe it was time to get realistic and just get them into the government over there and make the best of it, enraging all the "stay the course" folks on the right.

People can only handle so much news at one time. Three major stories undercutting those in power all at once just didn't seem fair. But then they all get blended together in people's minds - referring to the bulk of the adult population who are not political junkies or policy wonks. There may be a growing sense of "just throw out the bums." What Karl Rove calls the base - the third of the voters who will vote for anyone or anything George Bush wants - will hold firm, of course. The other two-thirds, slapped upside the head with one startling news story after another, may find the slaps really, really irritating. Enough is enough. And whatever wag said the Democrats should run on one simple campaign slogan - Had Enough? - is smiling. That works, or now it works.

Much of this may have to do with the new Bob Woodward book, State of Denial. This is about our "passive, impatient, sophomoric and intellectually incurious leader, presiding over a grossly dysfunctional war cabinet and given to an almost religious certainty that makes him disinclined to rethink or re-evaluate decisions he has made about the war." Of course it was one-tenth news and nine-tenths confirmation of what more and more people already knew, or suspected. It simply laid it all out in a compelling "insider" narrative, with scenes and amazing quotes no one but Woodward, with his access, could uncover. It does take some skill to distill the diffuse and disparate nuggets of events and public statements, and what he learned on his own, into something that makes sense of it all. No, wait. You cannot distill "nuggets" - bad metaphor. But he did a fairly good job of considering what had been said, what had happened, what he found out on his own, and working out what was actually going on. So choose your own metaphor for that and send it along.

Some of what Woodward lays out, not related to the three-part train wreck, could be considered secondary contributing factors to the sudden disintegration of the whole enterprise - the Bush presidency and one party rule of the nation for the last six years. That would be the sophomoric stuff, as Timothy Noah explains in Bush's Fart-Joke Legacy -
Bob Woodward reports in his new book, State of Denial, that President Bush loves to swap fart jokes with Karl Rove. Before a morning senior staff meeting in 2005, Woodward reports, Bush schemed to have Rove sit in a chair that triggered some sort of high-tech whoopee cushion activated by remote control. The prank was postponed in deference to news of the al Qaeda bombings in London. When the gag was carried out two weeks later, the room erupted in riotous laughter while Rove hunted down the culprit.

Perhaps you are puzzled that the president of the United States would embrace so eagerly a genre of humor that the typical male Homo sapiens stops finding irresistible around the age of 12. But Woodward is not the first to report on Bush's fondness for fart jokes, and Bush is not the first member of his family to display this particular affliction.
Yep, the fart jokes were discussed in these pages here six weeks ago, but not the family history of such humor, nor the long history of such humor.

Noah notes this is not a Texas thing, but a patrician WASP thing -
A robust tradition of fart jokes exists within Anglo-Saxon culture, going back at least as far as Chaucer, and the fart joke holds a venerated place in English politics. Legend has it that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, once farted in the presence of Queen Elizabeth I, whereupon he went into exile for seven years. On his return, the queen reputedly greeted, "My lord, we had quite forgot the fart." The story is no likelier true than the oft-repeated claim that de Vere wrote Shakespeare's plays, but its persistence testifies to a certain fascination. In the early 17th century, a fart during debate in the House of Commons inspired a satirical poem called "The Parliament Fart." It enjoyed wide and enthusiastic circulation for the next half-century. James Joyce's Ulysses, which many consider the United Kingdom's greatest contribution to world literature in the 20th century, has been described - by one of its admirers - as "a giant fart joke" dressed up with "references to English literature and all kinds of obscure learning." (The word itself appears four times, according to Amazon's search engine.)

Turning to the Bush clan, we learn in Kitty Kelley's book The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty that New Yorker writer Brendan Gill was once a guest of George H.W. and Barbara Bush at their summer house in Kennebunkport, Maine. Stumbling through the place late at night in search of something to read, the only volume he could find was The Fart Book. (It was therefore likely in vain that Chairman Mao, attempting to shock Bush père when he was U.S. liaison to China, used a Chinese vulgarism that translated to "dog fart," according to Tom Wicker's George Herbert Walker Bush: A Penguin Life.)

The most flatuphilic Bush family member appears to be Jonathan J. Bush, brother to the 41st president and uncle to the 43rd. In 2003, Lloyd Grove of the New York Daily News reported that Jonathan J., a money manger in Connecticut, stockpiled remote-control fart machines (possibly the same model used against Karl Rove) and gave them away as a gag to friends and relatives.

… Describing his father, Sen. Prescott Bush of Connecticut, to the Washington Post in 1986, Jonathan J. Bush said: "I never heard him fart." What at the time seemed an aptly humorous way to describe the probity of the Bush family's political patriarch may now require reconsideration as an earnest expression of filial regret.
And on and on it goes. Noah provides links to all the source material, of course.

So there is a long tradition involved in all this, a family history, and everyone likes a good joke - but these are profoundly unserious people. Yes, the two words go together. And they all called Bill Clinton a crass, opportunistic hick, even if over-educated, extraordinarily well-informed and clever. He was trash, really.

But what do these people take seriously?

Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, the "Kos" of the widely-read Daily Kos, suggests it's Power Above Security -
We wonder how Republicans can keep throwing our nation's men and women in uniform - so many under the age of twenty - into the Iraq meat grinder without feeling something, anything at all. There's a disconnect that I had chalked up to simple elitism. Their kids weren't going to be dragged off that hellhole in the dessert anytime soon, so why should they care? Wars are for the unprivileged and voiceless to fight.

But the Foley scandal, and the inability of House Republicans to protect the teens in their own ranks, is positively mind-boggling. This isn't mere elitism at work. It is even worse than that.

What are the common threads here? Iraq has clearly become a political tool for the GOP, used to beat up Democrats as "weak" on "national security". Never mind the people who die on behalf of Rove's political talking points. And when a sexual predator endangers a safe Republican seat while threatening to cost the party a couple millions of dollars, what does the Republican leadership do? They cover it up. Power is everything. The lives of our soldiers and the well-being and safety of teenage House pages are all worth sacrificing in exchange for continued Republican dominance. What else will they sell out?

Everything.

There is nothing they won't sell out in the pursuit of power.

Nothing.
So Zúniga ties the war and the pedophile business in the House together. They may be profoundly unserious about governing and all that, but they are deadly serious about power. Those two words go together even better.

Tim Grieve offers a narrative of the House business here -
House Republicans responded to news that Mark Foley had a creepy interest in a sixteen-year-old page by talking among themselves and then asking Foley whether everything was copasetic. Republican Rep. Rodney Alexander contacts Republican House Speaker Hastert's office. Hastert's office tells Alexander's office to tell House Clerk Jeff Trandahl. Trandahl tells Republican Rep. John Shimkus, the chairman of the House Page Board. Shimkus doesn't tell Rep. Dale Kildee , the only Democrat on the House Page Board. So far as we can tell, he also fails to tell the House sergeant at arms, the law enforcement officer who sits on the House Page Board.

So what did Shimkus do? He says he took "immediate action" to investigate what he'd been told about Foley. And what was that "immediate action"? Shimkus and Trandahl ask Foley about the e-mail exchange. Foley says it's nothing. Shimkus and Trandahl tell him to leave the kid alone and to be mindful of his contacts with pages in the future.

End of story, case closed - except that somewhere along the way, Republican Congressional Campaign Committee chief Tom Reynolds tell Republican House Majority Leader Dennis Hastert about the email exchange. They don't do anything, either, and Hastert tells CNN this afternoon that, while he doesn't dispute that Reynolds told him about Foley, he honestly doesn't remember having had a conversation about it.

It reminds us of the time that Saddam Hussein insisted that he didn't have WMD, and the Republicans in Washington said, "Well, all right then," and got back to the business of fighting terrorism. Or the time that Bill Clinton said that he didn't have sex with that woman, Monica Lewinsky, and all those House GOPers took him at his word and dropped the matter right there.

Uh-huh.

… Maybe Shimkus and Trandahl and Reynolds and Hastert wouldn't have learned anything more if they'd performed something resembling an actual investigation after they received word of Foley's emails. But within a day after ABC News put them out on the Web, former pages began coming out of the woodwork with much more serious stories about Foley. Isn't it at least possible that Shimkus and Trandahl and Reynolds and Hastert would have heard about those stories sooner if they'd done even a little bit of probing? Didn't they have a moral obligation to try?
Maybe, but that depends on what's serious and what's not. The seat was safe and you don't mess with that.

But as the AP reports in analysis, now it's serious -
"I don't think this is so much about Foley as it is about the handling of this," Rick Davis, a Republican strategist, said Monday as the drama rocked the House GOP five weeks before midterm elections, much to Democrats' delight.

"The question becomes who's getting thrown overboard besides Foley to get this to go away," said Tony Fabrizio, another GOP consultant.

The six-term Florida congressman resigned abruptly on Friday after reports surfaced that he sent salacious electronic messages to teenage boys who had worked as House pages. The tawdry turn of events set off finger-pointing among House Republicans and overshadowed what the GOP had hoped would be a triumphant final work week highlighting the party's national security credentials before the campaign's homestretch.

Now, the Republican Party - already facing an unfriendly political environment and the fallout from a new book critical of President Bush's handling of the Iraq war - finds itself knocked even further off message and working to contain the political damage.
So Hastert goes on national television and denounces the sexually explicit instant messages Foley is accused of sending in 2003 to more than a few teenagers as "vile and repulsive" - but he and the House leaders didn't know about them until the instant messages surfaced in media reports the Friday before. Who would have thought the emails were the tip of the iceberg? Of course his staff and some Republicans in leadership, like Tom Reynolds, the chairman of the House campaign effort, for months had been aware of an "inappropriate" 2005 email exchange between Foley and a Louisiana teenager who once worked as a page. Reynolds said he told Hastert. Hastert says he doesn't recall the conversation but he doesn't dispute Reynolds' tale - it could be so. Majority Leader John Boehner too had known since spring that Foley had contacted the same kid, but a spokesman for Boehner said Boehner didn't know details of the contact. This might remind you of Condoleezza Rice testifying to the 9/11 Commission - "Who could have known terrorists would hijack airplanes and fly them into buildings?" It's the same sort of thing. There had been reports.

So now it's serious, as John Dickerson notes here -
The Mark Foley scandal has already accomplished two difficult feats: It has made a deeply unpopular Congress look even worse, and it has replaced Iraq and terrorism as Political Topic A. It's hardly the message-shift GOP leaders were looking for.

In the end, the political story may be that the ickiness of the disgraced congressman's Instant Messages swamps House Republicans. Who cares if GOP House leaders only saw hints of Foley's proclivities? Voters aren't sifting through the fine details. It's all too sickening. The judgment could be swift: Foley was a Republican, and the Republican leadership knew something, so out with the lot of them. If Democratic anger over this doesn't do in congressional Republicans, then disappointment and disillusionment at the whole sordid business will keep Republican voters home on Election Day.

Democrats would be happy with either outcome.

… It's clear that GOP leaders would like the political story to be about Mark Foley's unique sickness. The former congressman has done his best to help. First, he was really sick. Second, he resigned immediately and checked himself into rehab, citing both psychological and alcohol problems. He's literally taken himself out of the picture while at the same time enforcing the narrative that he was depraved but not part of a larger GOP problem.

That hasn't rescued the GOP leadership.

… Based on these e-mails, one of which asked for a young page's picture, GOP leaders met with Foley and told him to cut it out.

The question is whether Republican leaders were grossly negligent or clumsily stupid (great choice!). The former is a political disaster. The latter, less so. Clearly, they should have done more. Simply asking for a picture is beyond the pale. GOP leaders might not have done the right thing because they wanted to protect a safe GOP seat. But my reporting suggests for the moment that instead of being craven, they were just incompetent wimps. They knew Foley was gay and in the closet, and they just didn't want to get into whether he was following through on his flirting. When he explained that his e-mails were just a part of mentoring, they were probably relieved. Foley had given them an excuse they wanted to believe.

The ultimate judgment of this affair may be that it's just more dumb behavior by Republican leaders, and that may be enough to help Democrats with the midterm election, especially if this incident is seen as the final insult.
And that seems to be the way it's heading - what was minor is now "serious."

It was this serious -
Straining to hold the party together five weeks from Election Day amid unfolding revelations about the case, Mr. Hastert and his leadership team held a conference call with House Republicans on Monday night and heard blunt advice and criticism from participants who pressed for further action to reassure voters.

"This is a political problem, and we need to step up and do something dramatic," Representative Ray LaHood of Illinois said afterward, adding that he had proposed abolishing the Congressional page program.

… Federal agents on Monday began contacting men who were in the Congressional page program in recent years, said government officials briefed on the matter, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the inquiry.

… At the White House, Tony Snow, President Bush's press secretary, initially characterized the scandal as "naughty e-mails," drawing a blistering response from Democrats who said his words suggested that Republicans did not understand the gravity of the situation.

… Mr. Hastert defended the Republicans' handling of a parent's complaint last year about communication from Mr. Foley to the parent's teenage son. But he acknowledged that the e-mail inquiring about the boy's well being and requesting a photo was potentially troubling.

"I think that raised a red flag, raised a red flag with the kid, raised a red flag with the parents," said Mr. Hastert, who repeated that he could not recall learning of the messages before news of them broke last week. But the speaker said he and others had been "duped" by Mr. Foley, who when questioned about the e-mail said it was an innocent effort to make sure that the young man, who was from Louisiana, had made it through Hurricane Katrina.

Representative John Shimkus, Republican of Illinois, and the House clerk, Jeff Trandahl, instructed Mr. Foley to break off any contact with the former page. At the time, Republicans did not purse the matter further, considering the case closed. "Would have, could have, should have," Mr. Hastert said, responding to questions about whether Republicans should have done more.

… Across the country, in competitive and noncompetitive races, Democrats seized on an issue that they said was resonating with voters. In an effort coordinated in Washington by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party's candidates urged their Republican opponents to call for the resignation of Mr. Hastert and other leaders.

In Indiana, Baron Hill, a Democratic candidate for a House seat, asked the incumbent, Representative Mike Sodrel, a first-term Republican, to reject any financial contributions from the national party. In North Carolina, where Representative Robin Hayes, a Republican, is engaged in a tough campaign fight, the state Democratic Party issued a statement asking, "Who does Robin Hayes stand up for - Mark Foley and the Republican House leadership or under-age children?"
Oh my. It really is a train wreck.

Note here you'll find the video of über-Democrat Paul Begala and über-Republican Bay Buchanan on CNN's Situation Room, Monday, October 2, agreeing. Begala - "If somebody said that to my kid they will deal with a law firm Smith and Wesson. It's going to my 12-gauge." Pat Buchanan's sister will not defend Hastert and the rest - she rakes them over the coals. They seem to be reacting as parents, not party functionaries. How odd.

It really was hard to see how Hastert can possibly remain as Speaker when people like far right Michael Reagan are demanding his resignation. Even Michelle "We were right to lock up our Japs and we should look up our Muslims too!" Malkin was ripping the Republicans, including Tony Snow, who are "inclined to pooh-pooh Foley's behavior and carry on about Barney Frank instead." She posts an email from a reader in Oklahoma who agrees with her and who said that he forbade his daughter to accept an offer to be a page because he "wouldn't expose her to those people." The reader also says - "If this crap continues we the people are going to have to take matters in our own hands." And there's more such stuff from the right here, here and here. They will vote Democratic, as the Republicans have abandoned all of the "principles" that got them so excited in the first place. Amazing.

Then there's the case of Matt Drudge, claiming this was all a set-up - oversexed nasty kids trying to trap a good man (see this) - but that seems to be an outlier. No one was impressed with that thinking.

All this almost made people forget the Woodward book and that curious July 10, 2001 meeting where George Tenet and his counterterrorism chief Cofer Black call for an emegency face-to-face with then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. They are "hair on fire" upset. They think al Qaeda is going to attack soon. She blows them off.

See Peter Rundlet, a Counsel to the 9/11 Commission, here saying the 9/11 Commission was never told about this meeting. And he concludes - "At a minimum, the withholding of information about this meeting is an outrage. Very possibly, someone committed a crime. And worst of all, they failed to stop the plot." But Rice didn't think it was important, or so Woodward says.

Monday, October 2, she says it may have never happened -
Rice said she cannot recall then-CIA chief George Tenet warning her of an impending al-Qaida attack in the United States, as a new book claims he did two months before the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. "What I am quite certain of is that I would remember if I was told, as this account apparently says, that there was about to be an attack in the United States, and the idea that I would somehow have ignored that I find incomprehensible," Rice said.
Then there's this a few hours later -
A review of White House records has determined that George J. Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, did brief Condoleezza Rice and other top officials on July 10, 2001, about the looming threat from Al Qaeda, a State Department spokesman said Monday.

The account by Sean McCormack came hours after Ms. Rice, the secretary of state, told reporters aboard her airplane that she did not recall the specific meeting on July 10, 2001, noting that she had met repeatedly with Mr. Tenet that summer about terrorist threats. Ms. Rice, the national security adviser at the time, said it was "incomprehensible" she ignored dire terrorist threats two months before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mr. McCormack also said records show that the Sept. 11 commission was informed about the meeting, a fact that former intelligence officials and members of the commission confirmed on Monday.

When details of the meeting emerged last week in a new book by Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, Bush administration officials questioned Mr. Woodward's reporting.

Now, after several days, both current and former Bush administration officials have confirmed parts of Mr. Woodward's account.

Officials now agree that on July 10, 2001, Mr. Tenet and his counterterrorism deputy, J. Cofer Black, were so alarmed about an impending Al Qaeda attack that they demanded an emergency meeting at the White House with Ms. Rice and her National Security Council staff.
Or as Duncan Black puts it -
So, Rice briefed that an attack was coming. A month later the president is briefed that an attack was coming. He tells the briefer that he's covered his ass. A month later an attack happens. And Rice magically forgets all this stuff.
Cute. These are not serious people.

Well, they ARE serious about fighting terrorism, except for this - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Calls for Efforts to Bring Taliban into Afghan Government - which says something about the famed Republican toughness on national security

It's quite simple -
QALAT, Afghanistan U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Monday that the Afghan guerrilla war can never be won militarily and called for efforts to bring the Taliban and their supporters into the Afghan government.

The Tennessee Republican said he had learned from briefings that Taliban fighters were too numerous and had too much popular support to be defeated by military means.

"You need to bring them into a more transparent type of government," Frist said during a brief visit to a U.S. and Romanian military base in the southern Taliban stronghold of Qalat. "And if that's accomplished we'll be successful."
And he's not alone -
Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican from Florida accompanying Frist, said negotiating with the Taliban was not "out of the question" but that fighters who refused to join the political process would have to be defeated.

"A political solution is how it's all going to be solved," he said.
Cheney must have called Frist on the satellite phone, as Frist then backs off a little.

Too late - the train wreck continues, with Michelle Malkin and her folks with items like this -
If we're going to do this, just pull everyone out. Don't lend an imprimatur of legitimacy to it by shepherding these medieval savages into a U.S.-backed government. Pull out, admit defeat, and let the Taliban take back the country through force. Then we can really and truly be back to September 10, 2001. Minus a skyscraper or two.
And at the far right Ace of Spades, this -
Goodbye GOP.

Perhaps we should make peace with Zawahiri as well? Let's negotiate, and see what terms we can get as good dhimmis.

The hell with the lot of them.

… I don't need the goddamned Republican Party in power to sign "peace" deals with terrorists. I can get that easily enough from the Democratic Party. I've supported these vacuous, cowardly, inept, corrupt idiots for one reason - to fight terrorists.

If they want to sign peace deals with them, that's their decision. I and others can make another decision. The country may move in this direction, but we hardly have to endorse the decision by voting in favor of Quislings.

At least the Democrats talk tough about sending more troops to Afghanistan and killing Taliban fighters and capturing bin Laden.

If that really is no longer a GOP priority, then I am no longer a member of the GOP.

You stupid jagoffs [sic]. You've done just about everything possible to lose this election; it's only the base - ever hopeful and ever self-deluding - that's kept you from your goal.

Was governing too much a chore for you? Was it too distracting, taking you away from fundraisers and fucking Congressional pages?

The Democrats have complained for years the GOP wasn't serious enough about defeating Al Qaeda and the Taliban, that it was too focused on Iraq. Congratulations - you just took a talking point and made it an established fact.

Well, enjoy your minority status. The rest of us will try to rebuild to the extent we can a party that actually sees ending the Taliban and Al Qaeda as somewhat more critical than ending internet poker.

More... I had hoped that the GOP's fear of losing power had shook them out of their moronic, corrupt stupor. I thought July and August were enough to send them a message.

I guess not. They don't learn easy.

It will, in fact, take an electoral drubbing to make them understand.

So let the enlightening begin.
It almost as if those in power cannot help themselves. Everything turns out wrong.

But Bill Montgomery thinks something is up -
First the Pakistanis cut a truce deal with Al Qaeda and its tribal allies in the frontier territories, and now Frist and his sidekick Mel Martinez fly to Kabul and float this trial balloon.

Something big is up. Who knows? Maybe Dr. K doing his Nixon-goes-to-China thing.

But it's awfully hard to believe the Rovians are actually going to try to sell a negotiated settlement with the Taliban and/or Al Qaeda to the American public - not even after the election and certainly not as some sort of October surprise/political miracle weapon.

What would come next? A state visit from Bin Laden?

More likely, this is part of some half-hearted, fumbling effort to peel away the Taliban "moderates" and "bring them into the process," like the attempt to bring the Sunni into the big tent in Iraq - a ploy which, we now know, almost worked too well.

Either way, I think we can take a guess at the larger motive: To shore up (or at least simmer down) the Afghanistan front in advance of the attack on Iran.

… And now the Brits - "British troops battling the Taliban are to withdraw from one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan after agreeing a secret deal with the local people. It has now been agreed the troops will quietly pull out of Musa Qala in return for the Taliban doing the same."

My, this seems to be quite the day for cutting and running.
Okay, but the president WILL sign that bill outlawing internet gambling. It probably won't stop the train wreck.

What next?

Posted by Alan at 23:20 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 3 October 2006 11:23 PDT home

Sunday, 1 October 2006
What They Are Saying
Topic: Couldn't be so...
What They Are Saying
It seems a shame not to open the week with what looks like a train wreck, even if it's just a political one. But this item will be brief as the flu, or the bad cold, or whatever it is, is worsening. So let's just see what the buzz opening the week is.

First up is Digby - it seems there's no rhyme or reason to how one chooses a pseudonym - over a Hullabaloo (on the other hand the site name makes some sense) with this list -
  • A new book by the official court scribe describes an administration so inept, unorganized and incoherent that if most people were aware of the details, the president's fear campaign would blow back hard against him. If the terrorists really are coming to kill us in our beds any day now, then we are in deep shit with these guys in charge.
  • We have more news this week-end that Karl Rove and the white house were actively and personally involved in all the Jack Abramoff congressional corruption scandals which feature ripping off taxpayers of many millions of dollars.
  • It turns out that Bush fired Colin Powell.
  • The intelligence community agree that the invasion of Iraq super-charged the extremist jihadist movement and is fuelling terrorism far more quickly and broadly than we would have had to deal with otherwise.
  • We have officially sanctioned torture and the repeal of habeas corpus - at the least competent president in history's discretion.
That's some list of Republican scandals, enough to bring them down, maybe. And Digby notes that "if we lived in a nation that wasn't completely dysfunctional," the unlisted scandal - the Republican congressman from Florida resigning after the mildly salacious emails and then the rather sick instant messages to a sixteen-year-old male page were revealed - wouldn't be at the top of the list of scandals that have been revealed in the last week in September. But that's the top scandal.

As Digby phrases it - "Lord Almighty, it looks like we got us a gen-you-wine Republican sex scandal. And it's a doozy, isn't it? Maybe people will notice that something is seriously rotten under GOP rule now."

Or maybe not, as this is the assessment we're offered -
… it looks like Mark Foley's raunchy emails are going to be the scandal that may just bring it home for November. They made their puritanical, moralizing bed, now their going to have to roll around in the muck and the mire they made it with. Let's let 'er rip.

First of all, Mark Foley is clearly one exceptionally screwed up dude. A semi-closeted gay Republican whose signature issue is online sex predators and missing kids sending sexually explicit IM's to congressional pages is one of the most blatant act of self-immolation I've ever seen.

But that's not the real scandal, is it? While I'm sure the religious right will make the same charges about "gayness" they always do when their institutional leaders turn out to be hypocrites and chickenhawks (in all senses of the word), Foley's unsavory habit of hitting on teenagers who worked at the capital and the GOP leadership's truly disgusting propensity to cover it up at all costs is the issue.
Of course, Sunday, October 1, George Will mentioned "Elmer Gantry" on the ABC political show This Week, and the idea here is that the book "perfectly describes "the modern Republican moralists who've been kicking us in the teeth with their alleged family values for the past couple of decades." And that has to do with this famous line from the book - "He had, in fact, got everything from the church and Sunday School, except, perhaps, any longing whatever for decency and kindness and reason."

Digby -
The politicians of the modern Republican Party are a bunch of Elmer Gantry's who sold a lot of Americans a bill of goods for a long, long time. I don't know if their supporters are ready to hear it, but I have to believe that if the leadership of the GOP congress allowing one of their own to sexually prey on sixteen-year-old male pages doesn't wake them up, nothing will. I am not sanguine.

No, there's no reason to be sanguine. Somehow this will be all Bill Clinton's fault. Watch for that.

Actually, that is underway - Brit Hume on Fox News -

It is very serious misbehavior on the part of Congressman Foley, whether it stems from arrogance or just weakness of the human flesh is another question. It's probably worth noting that there's a difference between the two parties on these issues. Inappropriate behavior towards subordinates didn't cost Gerry Studds his Democratic seat in Massachusetts, nor Barney Frank his. Nor did inappropriate behavior toward a subordinate even cost Bill Clinton his standing within the Democratic Party, even though indirectly he was impeached for it. Mark Foley found out about this, was found out to have done this, and he's out of office and in total disgrace in his party.
Republicans will take care of this because they are the "values" people - but Democrats still like Bill Clinton, because they have no values. And that proves… something, but it's a bit unclear.

But they aren't exactly taking care of this. They're doing the finger-point at each other. When the whole thing blew up and the man resigned, Majority Leader John Boehner - the man who replaced the indicted Tom DeLay - said he had told the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, about the problem last year and Hastert, who long ago was a high school boys' wrestling coach, had said he'd take care of it. Hastert did the no-you-didn't and Boehner did the yes-I-did. They talked and Friday night, September 29, Boehner called the Washington Post and told them to change their coverage - maybe he hadn't told Hastert. He didn't really remember. Right - and there's a handy timeline here of all they events, and the many players. It's not pretty. Hume should study it.

Next up - Greg Saunders at the site This Modern World, run by the political cartoonist Tom Tomorrow (great pseudonym) with The Scandal That Dare Not Speak Its Name -
By now, you probably know about Rep Mark Foley stepping down after being revealed to be a sexual predator. Foley wasn't just caught sending creepy emails to underage boy(s), but some sexually explicit IMs. [ABC News has them in full here] You've also probably heard last night's revelation that some members of the House leadership were aware of the emails (at least) for almost a year and did nothing about it. But unless you've been glued to your computer all day, you may have missed all of the twists and turns the scandal has taken today. It's every man for himself as the GOP leadership is pointing fingers at each other.
And so it is, and Josh Marshall (real name) over at Talking Points Memo, who have been covering all the twists and turnd in great detail, sums it up with this -
I've been at this blog racket for almost six years. And usually you've got to really pore over the details to find the inconsistencies and contradictions. So I'm not sure I've ever seen this big a train wreck where leaders at the highest eschelons of power repeatedly fib, contradict each other and change their stories so quickly. It's mendacity as performance art; you can see the story unravel in real time.

… These fibs and turnabouts amount to a whole far larger than the sum of its parts. Even the most cynical politicians carefully vet their stories to assure that they cannot easily be contradicted by other credible personages. When you see Majority Leaders and Speakers and Committee chairs calling each other liars in public you know that the underlying story is very bad, that the system of coordination and hierarchy has broken down and that each player believes he's in a fight for his life.
Saunders -
As well they should be. Their careers are probably over at a minimum. There may be legal liability as well. And depending on how deep the cover-up goes, this could very well bring down the entire GOP with them. People who vote on "moral values" probably aren't going to like the fact that their party leaders have been covering up for a guy who asked an underage boy to "get a ruler and measure it for me." This is a milder form of the same sickness that brought down Cardinal Bernard Law and it'll bring down any Republican who sat on this information as well. As it should.
But it won't, even if now the FBI is involved. And Hastert called for that, but then there's this - the FBI is supposed to investigate ABC's sources and see if they can find any Democratic Party or liberal interest group involvement in the IM leaks.

It's just too bizarre. And the other items on the original list are for more important in the great scheme of things (assuming there is one). But it could be a tipping point. Seeming small events do sometimes cause large events to occur - Sarajevo, 1914.

On the right, John Miller at The Corner, the blog of the arch-conservative National Review, with this -
The news that House Republican leaders may have known about disgraced former congressman Mark Foley's behavior as early as several months ago is dynamite.

... If House Republican leaders really did avert their gaze from a problem they knew about, however, Foley could become the new Jack Abramoff. Except that whereas the details of Abramoff's were always a bit complicated for the public to follow closely, the accusations now leveled at Foley are much simpler and more appalling. Foley is on the verge of becoming the poster child of a party that is concerned about little more than preserving its power.
One the left (or mildly left), Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly, with this -
I think he's right. Even my eyes glaze over a bit when I try to remember everything that was going on with Jack Abramoff or even Duke Cunningham. But Foley? That's easy. He was preying on teenage pages, and the Republican leadership looked the other way and allowed it to continue for nearly a year. It doesn't get much easier than that.

This scandal may not expose systemic corruption the way the Abramoff scandal did, but it has plenty of legs. It involves sex, it involves cover-ups, it involves powerful players turning on each other to protect their own skins, and it involves lots of documentary evidence. Unlike the Abramoff scandal, this one is going to get covered in People magazine and the National Inquirer. It may finally be the GOP's Waterloo.
We shall see. When you don't have real political discourse on policy issues - oppose what's in place and you're somewhere between intellectually and morally confused (Rumsfeld) or a traitor (Ann Coulter) - posturing about illicit sex will do. People love to talk about that. It's a "real" issue for a change. Is that cynical? Wake up.

As for the other matters, Bob Woodward sat down with Mike Wallace on the Sunday, October 1, broadcast of CBS's 60 Minutes to discuss his new book, State of Denial. The transcript and streaming video are here - the Bush administration is so convinced that what they're doing in Iraq is right that they refuse to acknowledge the reality on the ground, and they refuse to level with the American people. Yawn.

As the New York Times summarizes here -
In Bob Woodward's highly anticipated new book, "State of Denial," President Bush emerges as a passive, impatient, sophomoric and intellectually incurious leader, presiding over a grossly dysfunctional war cabinet and given to an almost religious certainty that makes him disinclined to rethink or re-evaluate decisions he has made about the war. It's a portrait that stands in stark contrast to the laudatory one Mr. Woodward drew in "Bush at War," his 2002 book, which depicted the president - in terms that the White House press office itself has purveyed - as a judicious, resolute leader, blessed with the "vision thing" his father was accused of lacking and firmly in control of the ship of state.
But where's the sex?

On the other hand, the book is bad news for the White House - particularly because it reveals a July 10, 2001 meeting where George Tenet and his counterterrorism chief Cofer Black call for a meeting with then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. They think al Qaeda is going to attack soon. She blows them off. See Peter Rundlet, a Counsel to the 9/11 Commission, here, saying the Commission was never told about this meeting. And he concludes - "At a minimum, the withholding of information about this meeting is an outrage. Very possibly, someone committed a crime. And worst of all, they failed to stop the plot." They didn't think it was important.

It's getting interesting. And Bush fired Colin Powell, he didn't resign willingly? What's that about?

That's the new book about him, written with him, part of which was released here. He's not happy, he knows he was used and abused, and the details in this one are as devastating as anything in the Woodward book. More will follow on that as its publication date nears.

There's only one countermove to all this coming down - a war with Iran a week before the election. That's to only thing that will divert the public's attention.

But consider what Matthew Yglesias says here -
I would have thought this was simply obvious, but a few people at dinner thought it might be useful to make the point plainly. The Bush administration is considering airstrikes against Iran. Some people think the decision has already been made to do it. Most people think this isn't totally clear, but some folks inside the government want strikes and may win the fight. The options being seriously considered all involve, basically, launching a surprise attack. This means, among other things, a war without any serious basis in domestic or international law. No UN resolution, no congressional resolution, just an order from the President to the relevant military assets. There'll be vague gestures in the direction of this or that - the crew that's argued the 9/11 Resolution repealed FISA and the 4th Amendment will argue that it authorized just about anything - but basically they'll just be making shit up which isn't at the end of the day, a novel situation for them to be in.

The War Powers Act states that "The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces." Meaning, in other words, that simply launching an attack on Iran would be illegal. Dick Cheney has, however, argued for decades that the War Powers Act is unconstitutional, so this isn't going to stop them. You'll be able to file an after-the-fact lawsuit, if you like, but that's not going to have much practical impact.
But at least you won't have sex on your mind.

Posted by Alan at 23:14 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 2 October 2006 08:50 PDT home

Hot Off the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements
Hot Off the Virtual Press
The commentary here may be sparse for a bit.  Your editor has the flu. But 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 40 for the week of October 1, 2006.Click here to go there...

This week there are five extended essays on current events - in detail and in depth and explained below - three columns from Ric Erickson, Our Man in Paris (two with photos) - and seventeen pages of startling Southern California photography, which would be more architecture from Hollywood's Golden Age, the Route 66 car show and its madness, the Sunset Strip and much better botanical shots - there's a lot here.

And there are the weekly diversions - quotes on what to do about the facts, and the weekly dose of the weird from our friend in Texas.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________________

Intelligence - Reality Takes a Holiday - Do the facts really show what they seem to show? People disagree.

Paying Attention - Short Term, Long Term - What's news and what's not, depending on your attention span…

Watching the Barometer - Political storms on the horizon…

The Big Day - Some might argue that Thursday, September 28, 2006, was a defining day in American history, and you don't get those too often. This may have been one.

Truthiness - A Dialog on the Facts of the Matter - What readers are saying about what you can believe and why…

The International Desk ______________________________

Our Man in Paris is Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis. This week offers three columns from that city.

The first is In the Old Country - the news from Paris in the manner of the 'Letter from Paris' the late Janet Flanner used to write for the New Yorker. Ric is just back in Paris after a month in New York, oddly enough. Over here we're all arguing about the war - and just what is the reality of the situation. There? He explains.

The second concerns music - A True Beatles Story - and more, Coltrane, and that Varda woman.

The third - All the Moaning, All the Woe - the Auto Salon - covers the Mondial de l'Auto - the international automobile show underway there now, and he snapped shots of some very odd cars.

Southern California Photography ______________________________

Hollywood Architecture - The North Harper Avenue Historic District Amazing Machines - Things to Do On a Sunday Afternoon in Hollywood, like dropping by the Second Annual Route 66 Highway of Dreams Charity Car Show Sunset Strip Images
Botanicals - Extreme Roses

Diversions ______________________________

Quotes for the Week: The Problem with the Facts
Weird, Bizarre and Unusual: Even More from Our Friend in Texas

Posted by Alan at 19:14 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 1 October 2006 19:16 PDT home

Friday, 29 September 2006
A Dialog on the Facts of the Matter
Topic: Reality-Based Woes
A Dialog on the Facts of the Matter
Set-Up

It all started when Reality Takes a Holiday was first posted on the web log, Monday, September 25 - the first of a few posts discussing the leaks about the long-delayed National Intelligence Estimate ("Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States") that was all over the news. But the item was mostly about who controls what we think of as reality, ranging into a discussion of what the retired generals were saying about Rumsfeld and all that. There seems to be a great deal of difference as to what the basic facts are in these matters. And the public gets whipsawed back and forth.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said this - "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." Well, some say he said that, but who knows? Still, that's the issue now. We've stopped arguing about our opinions. Now we are about who has the facts right. In fact (no irony intended), there's a political website edited by Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at UCLA, called Same Facts, and that has the Moynihan quote right up there in the masthead. The mission there seems to be to get the basic facts straight in the ongoing national dialog, but it's an uphill battle. We live in the age of spin, what Stephen Colbert has coined "truthiness" - the quality by which a person claims to know something intuitively, instinctively, or "from the gut" without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or actual facts. You see, Colbert sought to critique the tendency to rely upon "truthiness" and its use as an appeal to emotion and tool of rhetoric in contemporary socio-political discourse. He particularly applied it to President Bush's modus operandi in nominating Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court and in deciding to invade Iraq as well as the rationale behind Wikipedia.

But of course that definition itself is from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia anyone can edit, on the presumption that one can build a really amazing body of facts about everything if everyone joins in. But that hasn't worked out that very well, even if folks really do want to know what's what in this world. People pop things into Wikipedia that just aren't facts, but seem plausible. Someone says this or that is a fact, but everyone has an agenda, or they might be confused, or they might be flat-out wrong.

So, given that National Intelligence Estimate, is it a fact that the Iraq war has had the opposite effect of its stated purpose, and of the rationale now presented to us for "staying the course" - the idea of changing nothing and simply fighting on? All sixteen of our national intelligence agencies say so - the war has created a whole lot more terrorists (something about dismantling and then occupying a Middle East country for four years, for reasons that all turned out to be false, making the locals, and others, angry), and created a practical terrorist training ground where there was none before, where all sorts of better and better roadside bombs can be perfected and all that.

But the president says this is not so - "You do not create terrorism by fighting terrorism." His gut tells him so - everyone else is naïve, and buying into the enemy's propaganda (which doesn't say much about his own CIA and all).

See Michael O'Hare at Same Facts -
If you fight floods by constraining the river with levees, you create floods.

If you fight infection with shotgun dispersion of antibiotics, you create more, worse, infections by resistant bugs.

If you fight forest fires by putting out every fire, you create really big fires.

If you fight crime in poor minority neighborhoods by sending white cops in to break heads, you create crime.

If you fight misbehavior in children by beating them with a belt, you create misbehavior.

If you fight AIDS by attacking the CIA for inventing it, you get more AIDS.

If you fight impiety and unbelief by berating the congregation for being so small, you create more impiety.

I think the president may be mistaken.
But he says he's not mistaken at all. The intelligence agencies all have their so-called "facts," but he is appealing to what's under those facts - the gut feeling that this is a war, and you fight wars by, well, fighting.

What should you believe? What are the facts here?

In September 2001 we were attacked by an organization of fundamentalist religious madmen, if you will, who had been given refuge in Afghanistan. Three thousand people died. Everyone called it an act of war, and it was just like Pearl Harbor, or worse. So we went to war, and we're still at war, and you win wars by fighting. That's what the president knows, viscerally - in his viscera of course, and that would be his gut.

But then note Richard Reeves here -
Actually, 9/11 was mass murder, and it should have been treated as mainly a challenge for the police and intelligence services. Interpreting the 9/11 attacks as an act of war demanding military reprisal has only helped up the ante of violence throughout the world.

In other words, declaring "War on Terror" was a mistake. A big one. Hurt and angry, we overreacted to 9/11. Leaving aside, for the moment, the invasion of Iraq, which history, in 2031 or 2131, is likely to judge as one of the stupidest presidential decisions of all time, we would have been wiser to treat 9/11 as a crime rather than an attack.
So it is a "fact" that those attacks were an act of war, or were they a crime, mass murder of the worst sort? It depends on how you see things. We may have started with the wrong "fact" - although seeing things as "war" was more than understandable at the time.

Reeves -
I did not think at the time that declaring undeclared war in 2001 was a mistake. That day in September, I was just another guy trying to get into Manhattan to find my family. It was impossible. If someone had asked me then, as I sat in fifty-mile-long line of stopped cars, I might have been for using nuclear weapons to retaliate. But the history of the past five years has persuaded me that we should have concentrated our power and money, whatever it took, to find the people who did it and treat them as common criminals of the worst kind.

Instead, we fell into a well-laid trap: We declared war on Islam. We did exactly what the terrorists wanted. Osama bin Laden and his ilk were dedicated to re-starting the Crusades, hoping to provoke a running war between the evangelical modernity of the West and the more zealous faith of many, millions, of Muslims. And they did it, helped by our righteous anger.

I don't just mean that we are losing in Iraq. Personally, I don't think it matters whether we leave that sad country today or in ten years. We have been defeated there by our own arrogance and ignorance.
But we do have this war, so that's moot. Now what? And what is the public to believe?

Staring with the presumption, perhaps foolish, that we are not spectators in all this but actually actors - we vote and elect people to do for us what we think they should - we have here a prescription for paralysis. No one can agree on the basic facts of the matter at hand, so what can you really do about anything?

The Dialog

Okay, the facts are in dispute and people - left and right - feel both angry and powerless.

And in reaction to the "Reality Takes A Holiday" item, one reader sent this comment along -
I found myself mentally composing an Op Ed piece about citizen impotence, and realized I didn't know enough about the two concepts that kept ringing around in my head: impeachment and no-confidence motions. Since I am at my desk at work, and supposed to be working, I resorted to Wikipedia to get a quick glimpse at their definitions.

Regarding no-confidence, I got a single sentence that confirmed what I suspected: "In presidential systems, the legislature may occasionally pass motions of no confidence, as was done against United States Secretary of State Dean Acheson in the 1950s, but these motions are of symbolic effect only."

Then, I continued in Wikipedia to impeachment, and was struck by the last sentence excerpted and copied here -
In the constitutions of several countries, impeachment is the first of two stages in a specific process for a legislative body to remove a government official without that official's agreement.

Impeachment occurs rarely enough for many in a country to misunderstand its nature. A typical misconception is to confuse it with involuntary removal from office; in fact it is only the legal statement of charges, paralleling an indictment in criminal law. An official who is impeached faces a second legislative vote (whether by the same body or another), which determines conviction, or failure to convict, on the charges embodied by the impeachment. Most constitutions require a supermajority to convict. George W. Bush must be impeached per a decree from God.
Of course, being Wikipedia, someone could edit it out soon, but as of ten minutes ago, it was there.

It's gone now, but Wikipedia is like that. People mess with the facts. They add their own "facts." That's one of the dangers of relying on Wikipedia.

But that was worth sharing with the Just Above Sunset community - the online salon, as it were - the small email forum where a lots of ideas get batted about.

Of course one friend from Canada had to chime in - "Dangers? Looks spot-on to me!"

Then there was this from our high school student in New Jersey - "At school when ever we do research papers the teacher always warns us against Wikipedia. Anyone could add information to that site. It's kind of depressing so many people rely on a source made up of information from totally unreliable sources."

Another reader -

Condi and Karl do the writing.

But then I just came across an editorial - "Insulting Bush Helps Our Enemies" - and I think to myself, Gosh, am I to blame for endangering America? Over my first cup of coffee, it strikes me that if the headline's true, well then his handlers "shudda taut about it" before they PUT HIM in HARM's WAY!

Now we're the guilty ones... hah!
To which Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, adds this -
"Insulting Bush Helps Our Enemies"

I do not believe that news headlines should take political sides, even though I do happen to agree with both assertions found in this headline:

(a) Yes, Bush certainly is insulting, and
(b) Yes, he certainly does help our enemies.
Then from the New Jersey high school -
I agree that headlines ought to not take political stances, but I think it is unrealistic to expect a newspaper to be totally neutral because everyone has their own opinion. Also headlines that display a strong opinion are more likely to sell then those that are neutral due to the fact that those which are displaying an opinion usually have more exciting headlines.
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, to central New Jersey -
I should mention I was being at least partly tongue-in-cheek when I said that I don't think headlines should take sides; I am ashamed to confess that I was mostly just using that line to set up the joke.

True, people have opinions, but I tend to be more trusting of news outlets that don't. The argument that objectivity, being impossible, should not even be strived for is usually put forth these days by "truth relativists," most of them cynical conservatives who don't believe in anything they hear anyway.

And the "whatever sells" argument, which has become all the rage in recent years when "serving the public interest" has taken a back seat to "enhancing shareholder value," doesn't work for someone like me who started in the news business forty years ago, back when informing the public was more important than "beating the street."

In fact, I'm not so rigid as to deny a newspaper the right to decide however it wants to tell its readers what's going on in the world, or even how to sell itself, but I will say that I certainly wouldn't buy, nor do I subscribe to, any newspaper that would sink so low as to try to get me to agree with it by the way it reports the news.

Not that I believe there ought to be a law against subjective news reportage; I just don't personally find it credible, and I try whenever possible to avoid wasting my time by reading or listening to it.
From the New Jersey high school -
I should try being less cynical when looking at news sources. One day in my IPLE class (Institute for Political and Legal Education) we talked about how the media and other news sources affect people and how its role has changed over time - it was pretty interesting.
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
You're probably not really cynical per se. Maybe skeptical? I think of skepticism as cynicism's non-sociopathic cousin. Witness your healthy skepticism of Wikipedia. I myself went in a month or so back and edited their article on CNN, correcting what they said were the network's original bureaus. I was right, of course - I was there in 1980, helping to get them up and feeding video to Atlanta - but still can't help being suspicious of a medium that anyone out here can edit, almost with impunity.

Yep, news sources certainly have changed since this "new media" wave hit our shores. I like the quote I heard recently from an editor at (I think it was) the Sacramento Bee, who said something to the effect that, "Sure, we're still the gatekeepers, but apparently somebody went and knocked down the walls, and everyone's running right around us."
That prompted a question from New Jersey - "I'm trying to figure out what caused the change in the media - was it sudden or gradual - and why did it happen?"

At this point the high-respected professor of marketing from a highly respected graduate school of business in upstate New York laid it all out -
Why the change in media?

Follow the money!

Public ownership of media corporations and a general financially-based cynicism that grew in the 1990's especially, as too many Wall Streeters became heroes of the Quarterly earnings machinery, resulted in a distortion where corporations began to believe (or operate as if they believed) that earnings was the Mission of a corporation - which it ISN'T. This from a business school prof, mind you. Profit SHOULD be a Strategic Measure of success and NOT the purpose of the firm. The Purpose of a firm USED to be seen as fulfilling a consumer (aka social) need. IF a business doesn't fulfill a need it doesn't profit, and thus doesn't survive. So profits should be a metric or indicator but not a PURPOSE.

MBA students - and we've trained too many with too little context for Liberal Arts Decision Making - have been led to believe that maximizing profits in the short run is equivalent to maximizing profit in the long run. But privately held companies, that don't NEED to pay out larger and larger profits every three months, are inclined NOT take cash out of the system in excessive amounts. When the key decision-maker is also the primary beneficiary (stockholder, stakeholder) then appropriate short-term sacrifices are made when long-term gains require serious investment. Quarterly payouts take a backseat to smart long-term maneuvering in the marketplace, and to even greater profits in the long run.

The fallacy - in my humble opinion - of where the financial logic breaks down is in financial modeling. The models themselves (Capital Asset Pricing Model, Derivatives models, etc) are elegant and SHOULD actually fulfill the short term long term promise. HOWEVER - and here you can blame the accountants - LOL - the models DON'T work perfectly in reality because people (those accountants) CAN'T PREDICT THE FUTURE ACCURATELY. If people could foresee the future and put in highly accurate future data, then the financial models would indeed work perfectly and Wall Street would be vindicated. But we don't know the future. And the human condition within businesses means that we will ALWAYS forecast to the rosy scenario - we don't tell our boss the dirty downside - we forecast in ways that exaggerate the upside - for how else would we SELL OUR PROJECTS to decision makers? If we could foresee the unforeseen consequences of our current actions (which invariably are more costly than we can estimate BEFORE those new problems arise) we'd have perfect financial scenarios and short run would actually equal long-run best interests. (See the work of Peter Senge for interesting concepts about unforeseen consequences!)

This is a very convoluted way to say that in the 1990's greed took over America in ways that had been held in check in earlier times. We've always had greed but it hasn't been this institutionalized since... the 1880's maybe, before modern labor law was enacted to protect the worker. Here I might rely on others with deeper historical resources. But I'll guess industrial revolution was the last instance of unchecked greed at level equivalent to today. Needless to say, as money becomes king, content (in media in this case) takes back seat, and we get publishers who as a rule forsake balanced journalism in the name of increasing market share among greedy readers - more interested in shock value than newsworthiness of their news. I mean look at the OJ phenomenon and everything that has come since.

Greed has replaced human sensitivity as a social dynamic - and we can then begin to argue that the style of media itself continues to reinforce cynical world views. It's a vicious cycle. There's an interesting corollary in Wal-Mart playing upon our collective greed to support its lower price - always lower price - strategy (which often is NOT the case - they aren't ALWAYS the lowest retail price in town for all goods they sell, but they OWN that position in your head - the Power of Advertising!) And the way they can continually meet your demand for lower prices is to pay workers relative wages that are unsustainable - the old joke that as more and more people work for Wal-Mart, more and more can't afford to shop anywhere else, and at some point can't even to afford to shop at Wal-Mart. No joke. It's THEIR cost model! Where do all the profits go, you ask? To every investment fund that owns Wal-Mart stock. Venture a guess at how many Wal-Mart employees are invested in stocks! Does Wal-Mart have a retirement fund for employees? It doesn't have adequate health care coverage!

So we lose the middle class in America - day by day. The middle class that automation (and Henry Ford) built. The suburbs, the public school systems, the telephone and highway infrastructures of America - ALL affordable because of a huge middle class with disposable income - extra wealth beyond the bare necessities, and able to pay taxes. America's secret as a success story IS the middle class. The life and freedoms and luxuries we enjoy in the US are all here on the backs of the middle class. And it's going away - and going away by design as more and more money gets pushed upwards to fewer and fewer of the haves. It's not your grandfather's America anymore. Or your father's. Or your father's media. Or your father's politics.

Is it too late? Like global warming, is there a tipping point beyond which we're moving where the sins of our constant (quarterly) consumption can no longer be rectified even if we try? I trust not. I trust we're in a deep pendulum swing. And your generation will have grown up in this world of constant change - indeed accelerating change - with skills and attributes that will allow you collectively to snatch us from this path to some new direction - and with new sense of destiny and accomplishment.

And if not - well then we hand the baton to China. We've a run for a couple hundred years. Next...

Here's to picking up the challenge. All you need is a dream... and the determination not to let 'em get you down (Didn't Bono write a song like that? Kinda). You'll be in good company. I've got a daughter determined to contribute in a better way. Here's to pendulum swings!
Now THERE'S a dose of reality.

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
With the possible exception of that stuff on financial modeling (which I didn't understand), I by and large agree with this take.

It's not that newspapers make a better profit margin than they did thirty years ago or so. In fact, I think margins for the owners have always been good and haven't changed much. What has changed are the owners themselves, along with new attitudes of what must be done to maintain those profits. Newspapers used to be largely owned by families and closely held companies controlled by those families, but I'm pretty sure they've mostly been taken over public corporations.

Please, nobody stop me from telling this story if they've already heard me say it, but when I went to work for Ted Turner in 1980, he owned about 87% of his company; by the time I left in 1985, he had given up voting control to his major backers, Time-Warner and TCI, and it was downhill for CNN ever since. Unlike in the days when that crazy drunken sailor was making all the decisions, huge mutual funds and pension funds now call the shots, and the reason I know these people care less about CNN showing us the world as they do about showing shareholders the money is this: All of my own money is in mutual funds, and if my fund doesn't perform, I find another one.

So it's the schmoe-on-the-street like me who really doesn't care about the way companies do business as much as how much money they can get out of whatever it is the companies do. In fact, corporate ownership has become at least one area where I think too much democracy can be a bad thing.
The marketing man -
That's very interesting twist of the screw! Irony into which to sink your teeth! And a solid argument against privatizing social security!
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
Hmm. Maybe so, although probably not the best one I can think of.

To me, to "privatize" a "public" program means to "abolish" it. Do we really want to do that, we should ask ourselves (but often don't)? No, wait, someone suggests, we're not really "abolishing" the program, we're just "personalizing" it, giving Americans the chance to realizing a higher return on it! It's part of the "ownership society" thing, in which we do for ourselves instead of expecting government to do for us!

But the problem with what I'm sure Bush and his minion think of as an innovative and neat idea is that it takes both the "social" and the "security" out of "Social Security," which citizens seemed to sense, and which I hope is why the effort died.
Our high-school friend really started something here (and had better not tell his teachers). On the other hand, in his next paper he can quote the unpublished observations of a noted marketing expert, and one of the founders of CNN. Things have changed for this generation.

And the topics here didn't really drift. We're all just trying to get the facts straight. That's what we're supposed to do - be informed citizens.

If only it weren't so tricky.

___

Footnote:

On media and following the money, the local story out here is the Los Angeles Times, as the AP, on Friday, September 29, explains here -
Barely three months after the demise of Knight Ridder Inc., the same pressures that forced the storied newspaper publisher out of existence are shaking the foundations of another media empire.

But as Tribune Co. considers a potentially drastic makeover amid impatience on Wall Street, declining circulation and other issues, the third-largest U.S. newspaper company isn't necessarily facing a wholesale dismantlement or sell-off within the next few months.

The pressure on Tribune to act is intense, though. Tribune signaled a week ago its intent to make big changes, and CEO Dennis FitzSimons says all options are on the table.

While an outright sale of the company, as happened with Knight Ridder, may not be likely, several partial breakup scenarios are starting to emerge, ones the company will have to consider before investors force action.

The Los Angeles Times and other prize jewels all will be studied for what selling them would do to the company's stock, tax bills and future, even though FitzSimons insists the Times isn't for sale.

Tribune underscored its commitment to a significant overhaul on Thursday, saying it has hired Merrill Lynch and Citigroup as financial advisers and retained Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom as legal counsel for its independent board committee reviewing strategic options.
But out here, ever since the Tribune folks took over the Los Angeles Times. they been on the cost cutting thing - whole swaths of folks are gone, and the current editors are standing up to the parent company. They just don't want to fire any more reporters to improve the bottom line. What's the point? And the founders of the paper, the Chandler family, holding the biggest block of Tribune stock, doesn't want the newspaper turned into an empty shell. The Chandlers sold Times-Mirror, the parent company of the Los Angeles Times, to Tribune in 2000 and have three board seats.

The situation -
The Chicago Tribune last week cited unidentified sources as saying the company's preferred solution is to spin off many of its two dozen TV stations, sell several smaller papers among its eleven dailies and take the rest of the company private in a leveraged buyout.

That outcome, however, hinges on lots of buyers stepping forward with big checks at a time when the newspaper industry is under siege from Internet competition for its readers and advertising dollars. Other questions also hang over local television stations.

Tribune insisted until recently that such marquee assets as the Cubs or its Tribune Tower headquarters building were untouchable, as were businesses in its three major markets of Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. But many think that has changed as the stock continues to languish.

So far, the only reported inquiries into Tribune properties to have surfaced publicly in the last week are for smaller Tribune papers: The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa. and three Connecticut dailies - The Hartford Court, the Advocate of Stamford and the Greenwich Time.

Billionaire Ron Burkle, business leader Eli Broad and Hollywood mogul David Geffen have voiced interest in the Los Angeles Times, but no formal offer is said to have been made. A spokeswoman for Geffen's office declined comment and Burkle and Broad did not return phone calls.
It's not like the paper is worthless. These guys will take a steady twenty percent return and the chance to do the Citizen Kane thing. Or is that Ted Turner? In any event, there'd be no corporate owners demanding double-digit year-to-year growth. You'd just being putting out a reasonably good newspaper, respected around the world, and making reasonable money, no matter what the Chicago Cubs lose or how things are going in Allentown or Hartford.

We'll see how this plays out.

Posted by Alan at 22:07 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 29 September 2006 22:31 PDT home

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