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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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Monday, 9 October 2006
Starting the Week Off With a Bang
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Starting the Week Off With a Bang
Monday, October 9, dawned calmly out here in Los Angeles. There was no real sunrise - the dark and low marine layer of dense clouds just got progressively brighter, or at least less dark (the sun didn't come out until mid-afternoon). Sounds were muted all morning in the neighborhood. But the morning paper arrived with a thump at the doorstep and the face-up headline was alarming, and the news on the radio too, and a quick browse through the major news and commentary sites on the web showed more of the same - North Korea had tested a nuclear weapon, important people were saying Iraq was lost and Afghanistan had six months before it was lost too, a key presidential advisor was going to recommend we dramatically charge course on such things, the House page scandal was growing and not settling down, and new polls were showing the government was going to change drastically in the November elections. And war with Iran was surely coming. Other than that it was a quiet morning.

How did Thomas Hardy put it? The glebe cow drooled. You might know the Thomas Hardy poem where the explosions wake the dead in the church graveyard and they think it must be Judgment Day. God sets them straight -
No, it's gunnery practice out at sea.
Just as before you went below;
The world is as it used to be:

All nations striving strong to make
Red war yet redder. Mad as hatters
They do no more for Christés sake
Than you who are helpless in such matters.

That this is not the judgment-hour
For some of them's a blessed thing,
For if it were they'd have to scour
Hell's floor for so much threatening….

Ha, ha. It will be warmer when
I blow the trumpet (if indeed
I ever do; for you are men,
And rest eternal sorely need).
But there is no rest.

North Korea

North Korea announced Sunday night that it had detonated a nuclear device, making it the eighth country to conduct such a test. That was the big news. President George Bush then called for an "immediate response" (here) and was pushing South Korea, China, and Russia to consider sanctions. Later in the day the UN security Council vote thirteen to nothing to condemn the test, but the sanctions will have to be worked out.

This was some news, with this twist, Glenn Kessler reporting that senior members of the Bush administration, were really not all that shocked and appalled at North Korea's nuclear test. They'd been eagerly looking forward to it -
A number of senior U.S. officials have said privately that they would welcome a North Korean test, regarding it as a clarifying event that would forever end the debate within the Bush administration about whether to solve the problem through diplomacy or through tough actions designed to destabilize North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's grip on power.

... "This fundamentally changes the landscape now," one U.S. official said last night.
Yep, now no one can bitch about how they hate face-to-face diplomacy and don't do it. That's all moot now, isn't it?

Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly is not impressed -
Let's recap: The Bush/Cheney administration took a bad situation with Iraq and made it even worse. They've taken a bad situation with Iran and made it even worse (see here, here and here). They've taken a bad situation with North Korea and made it even worse (see Fred Kaplan here). At every step along the way, they've deliberately taken actions that cut off any possibility of solving our geopolitical problems with anything other than military force.

Once is a singular event. Twice might be a coincidence. But three times? That's a policy. Encouraging these "clarifying events" appears to be the main goal of the Bush administration. This is not the way to make America safer.
Ah, but it is a plan, for something or other.

Josh Marshall is more blunt -
For the US this is a strategic failure of the first order.

The origins of the failure are ones anyone familiar with the last six years in this country will readily recognize: chest-thumping followed by failure followed by cover-up and denial. The same story as Iraq. Even the same story as Foley.

North Korea's nuclear program has been a problem for US presidents going back to Reagan, and the conflict between North and South has been a key issue for US presidents going back to Truman. As recently as 1994, the US came far closer to war with North Korea than most Americans realize.

President Clinton eventually concluded a complicated and multipart agreement in which the North Koreans would suspend their production of plutonium in exchange for fuel oil, help building light water nuclear reactors (the kind that don't help making bombs) and a vague promise of diplomatic normalization.

President Bush came to office believing that Clinton's policy amounted to appeasement. Force and strength were the way to deal with North Korea, not a mix of force, diplomacy and aide. And with that premise, President Bush went about scuttling the 1994 agreement, using evidence that the North Koreans were pursuing uranium enrichment (another path to the bomb) as the final straw.

Remember the guiding policy of the early Bush years: Clinton did it=Bad, Bush=Not whatever Clinton did.

All diplomatic niceties aside, President Bush's idea was that the North Koreans would respond better to threats than Clinton's mix of carrots and sticks.

Then in the winter of 2002-3, as the US was preparing to invade Iraq, the North called Bush's bluff. And the president folded. Abjectly, utterly, even hilariously if the consequences weren't so grave and vast.

Threats are a potent force if you're willing to follow through on them. But he wasn't. The plutonium production plant, which had been shuttered since 1994, got unshuttered. And the bomb that exploded tonight was, if I understand this correctly, almost certainly the product of that plutonium uncorked almost four years ago.

So the President talked a good game, the North Koreans called his bluff and he folded. And since then, for all intents and purposes, and all the atmospherics to the contrary, he and his administration have done essentially nothing.

Indeed, from the moment of the initial cave, the White House began acting as though North Korea was already a nuclear power (something that was then not at all clear) to obscure the fact that the White House had chosen to twiddle its thumbs and look the other way as North Korea became a nuclear power. Like in Bush in Iraq and Hastert and Foley, the problem was left to smolder in cover-up and denial. Until now.

Hawks and Bush sycophants will claim that North Korea is an outlaw regime. And no one should romanticize or ignore the fact that it is one of the most repressive regimes in the world with a history of belligerence, terrorist bombing, missile proliferation and a lot else. They'll also claim that the North Koreans were breaking the spirit if not the letter of the 1994 agreement by pursuing a covert uranium enrichment program. And that's probably true too.

But facts are stubborn things.

The bomb-grade plutonium that was on ice from 1994 to 2002 is now actual bombs. Try as you might it is difficult to imagine a policy - any policy - which would have yielded a worse result than the one we will face Monday morning.

Talking tough is great if you can make it stick and back it up; it is always and necessarily cleaner and less compromising than sitting down and dealing with bad actors. Talking tough and then folding your cards doesn't just show weakness - it invites contempt. And that is what we have here.

The Bush-Cheney policy on North Korea was always what Fareed Zakaria once aptly called "a policy of cheap rhetoric and cheap shots." It failed. And after it failed President Bush couldn't come to grips with that failure and change course. He bounced irresolutely between the Powell and Cheney lines and basically ignored the whole problem hoping either that the problem would go away, that China would solve it for us and most of all that no one would notice.

Do you notice now?
Yeah, and it's a hell of a way to start the week.

So why didn't we do face-to-face talks with North Korea before it came to this? Donald Gregg, National Security Advisor for the first President Bush, George H. W. Bush, explains -
Why won't the Bush administration talk bilaterally and substantively with NK, as the Brits (and eventually the US) did with Libya? Because the Bush administration sees diplomacy as something to be engaged in with another country as a reward for that country's good behavior. They seem not to see diplomacy as a tool to be used with antagonistic countries or parties, that might bring about an improvement in the behavior of such entities, and a resolution to the issues that trouble us. Thus we do not talk to Iran, Syria, Hezbollah or North Korea. We only talk to our friends - a huge mistake.
That first president's Secretary of State had said just about the same thing just before the North Korean test -
"I believe in talking to your enemies," he said in an interview on the ABC News program "This Week," noting that he made 15 trips to Damascus, the Syrian capital, while serving Mr. Bush's father as secretary of state.

"It's got to be hard-nosed, it's got to be determined," Mr. Baker said. "You don't give away anything, but in my view, it's not appeasement to talk to your enemies."
But the son seems to have something to prove to the father, the man so many labeled as a wimp. You cannot be like Clinton or the old man. So here we are.

And by the way, the conservatives like to say turnaround in Libya was a result of the invasion of Iraq and George Bush's hardnosed foreign policy. Nope, it was old-fashioned negotiation, but we like our myths.

And too that Monday odd facts kept popping up, like this (BBC) - "The size of the bomb is uncertain. South Korean reports put it as low as 550 tons of destructive power but Russia said it was between five and 15 kilotons." And this (LA Times) - "One intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said U.S. intelligence agencies detected an explosive event in North Korea with a force of less than a kiloton. Historically, the types of devices used in initial nuclear tests have yielded several kilotons of force."

Kevin Drum here -
There's something peculiar here. A geology professor at Yale, Jeffrey Park, emails to tell me that the updated Richter magnitude for the North Korea event is 3.5, which he calls "mighty small for a crude nuke." And that's true: it suggests a very small yield. But the odd thing is that it's actually harder to build a 1 kiloton weapon than a 5 or 10 kiloton weapon, and it's unlikely North Korea has the expertise to do this.

Was this a failed test? A 10 kiloton nuke that fizzled? Not a nuke at all? (The North Koreans seemed unusually insistent that there was absolutely no release of radiation.) Or what?

I should add that Jeff, who's an old high school friend of mine, stresses that "My skepticism is not to be taken as a conclusion that North Korea is bluffing. A reliable detection of bomb-generated radionuclides would prove that they were not."

… I agree. There just seem to be several oddly suspicious things about the North Korean announcement.
Josh Marshall here -
No one seems willing to come out and say it yet. But it's really starting to look like that North Korean nuclear test didn't work. An unnamed intel official tells the Times that "We have assessed that the explosion in North Korea was a sub-kiloton explosion." I don't want to wade very far in at all on the technical details of evaluating this blast. I can't imagine a topic more distant from any expertise I have. But that would be really, really small for a nuclear blast.

Is it possible that the North Korean nuclear test was as big a failure as President Bush's nuclear policy?

… From what I can tell, the foreign press is entertaining the thought that this might have been a failed test more than the US press. The French Defense Minister has already said the meager yield suggests the test may have failed.
Ah, but the French are always messing with our heads. They told us the Iraq war was stupid, so what do they know?

Then there's Jane's Defense Weekly, a go-to source on such matters with this - if the initial reports of a .55 kT (half a kiloton) blast are correct "it would suggest that the test had been a 'pre- or post-detonation' event (ie a failure), as it had been anticipated that North Korea's first nuclear test would have a significantly higher yield."

One of Josh Marshall's readers puts it this way -
So the Bush approach to NK is all blustery talk and very little delivery department. The NK approach to weapons research is very little bang for all the bluff.

Do these two deserve each other or what?

In Karl's grand quest to dumb down expectations, we are left with two miserable failures hell bent on World War III. The only thing saving the planet is the only thing they succeed at - being incompetent.

Maybe Mark Foley should mediate a measuring of State Wangs to settle which fool is the victor.
Ouch! That last dig hurts.

And even conservative John Derbyshire at the National Review's "The Corner" says here, failure or not, it may be time for an updated foreign-policy doctrine to address the oncoming wave of nuclear proliferation - "The George W. Bush doctrine died in the alleys and groves of Iraq, and nobody else is likely to volunteer for the job of world nuke cop."

And at "The Carpetbagger Report" the folks there are just working on the spin that is sure to come - all this is Bill Clinton's fault. They offer a reminder - "When Bush took office, Colin Powell endorsed a continuation of the Clinton administration policy, but was quickly overruled (and rebuked) by the White House. Bush ended negotiations, scraped the Agreed Framework, called Kim Jung Il names, and gave up on having any kind of coherent policy whatsoever."

Actually, the definitive history of all that was covered by Fred Kaplan in the Washington Monthly in 2004 here, and he now offers North Korea Tested an Atom Bomb; Now What?, with the subhead, "Four potential scenarios - all bad."

That's cheery.

The setting -
The "international community" has a chance to behave as if the term were more than a polite or ironic euphemism. If there's a single national leader in the world who likes this new development, he hasn't said so. The U.N. Security Council quickly voted 13-0 to condemn the nuclear test. Several nonmembers have joined in the criticism. Now all we need is a next step - action.

This is nothing to shrug off. The combination of Kim Jong-il and a nuclear arsenal is a nightmare. It doesn't mean he's going to fire A-bombs at the United States or, for that matter, at South Korea or Japan. Kim may be a monster, but he's not suicidal; his top priority is the survival of his regime, and he must know that a nuclear attack would be followed by obliterating retaliation.

But what nuclear weapons do provide is cover for lesser sorts of aggression. The "club" of nuclear nations is a sort of mafia. The bomb provides protection, and thus a certain swagger, whether the other club members like it or not.

… Kim Jong-il - like his father, Kim Il-Sung, before him - has kept his tiny, impoverished country afloat all these decades precisely by stirring up trouble and provoking confrontation (to justify his totalitarian rule), then playing his bigger neighbors off one another (to keep the tensions from spinning out of control and into his borders). His quest for nukes was propelled by a desire for the ultimate protection, mainly against an American attack. But now that he has them, he can be expected to play his games of chicken more feistily - and with still more opportunities for miscalculation.
The possibilities -
First, Kim Jong-il could churn out more bombs and sell at least some of them to the highest bidders. North Korea is dreadfully short of resources; his scheme to counterfeit American money has run into roadblocks; nukes might be his new cash cow. During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, President Bush rallied domestic support by invoking the image of Saddam Hussein selling A-bombs to al-Qaida. It was a highly improbable scenario; even if Saddam had been building A-bombs, he would almost certainly have kept them under tight control. Kim, on the other hand, is a guerrilla-anarchist; he maintains his power not by trying to shape, or seek greater influence in, the international system but rather by throwing the system into a shambles. He's much less likely to have qualms about trading bombs for hard currency, regardless of the customer.

The second possible consequence of a nuclear North Korea is the unleashing of a serious regional arms race. The Japanese have long had the technical know-how and the stash of plutonium to build atomic (or possibly even hydrogen) bombs. They've foresworn that route because of moral qualms stemming from their own militarism in World War II. They also cite their security arrangement with the United States. But it's an open question how long these 60-year-old qualms would endure in the face of a clear and present danger. Just last month, a Japanese think tank run by former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone published a study calling on the nation to "consider the nuclear option." North Korea's nuclear test can only fuel these temptations.

If Japan goes nuclear, the Chinese might decide that it's in their security interests to resume nuclear testing. China's moves could incite India to accelerate its nuclear program, which would almost certainly compel Pakistan to match that effort. The South Koreans, meanwhile, might feel they need their own bomb to deter any crazy ideas from their northern neighbor, which could push the cycle into still higher gear.

Third, it's a fair bet that the Iranians will be closely watching the coming weeks' events. If the world lets tiny, miscreant, destitute North Korea - the freaking Hermit Kingdom - get away with testing a nuke, then who will stop the oil-rich, leverage-loaded, modern-day Persian Empire from treading the same road?
Great, and then there's the possibility of sanctions not working, then escalation and war -
A plan of economic pressure or sanctions depends crucially on cooperation from China. Without Chinese food, fuel, and other forms of aid, Kim Jong-il's regime would soon crumble. And that's the problem: The Chinese don't want the regime to crumble, for their own security reasons. It's a delicate matter to punish Kim just enough to affect his actions but not enough to trigger his downfall. The question is whether pressure from other countries - or the Chinese leaders' own anger at Kim's defiance of their warnings not to test - will lead them to walk this line and decide whether such a balancing act is possible.

It may well be that, back in 2003, the Chinese took the lead in creating a diplomatic forum to solve the North Korean nuclear crisis because they thought the Bush administration was about to order a military strike. They relaxed their sense of urgency once they realized a strike wasn't imminent after all. (This theory is held not only by White House hawks but also by many outside specialists who have pushed for direct negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.)

It is therefore conceivable that, in light of Sunday's test, some White House officials are proposing, once again, to send signals of impending military action against North Korea - if just to unnerve Beijing into going along with sanctions. The danger, of course, is that such stratagems can spiral out of control: signals can be misread, threats can escalate to gunshots.
There's no good in any of this. As Kaplan says - "So, here we are. The two major powers in this confrontation are led by blunderers; the provocateur is a chronic miscalculator. It doesn't look good."

So the week began.

Iraq - Gone

So long ago Lyndon Johnson watched Walter Cronkite on CBS News say the obvious about the Vietnam War, and was said to have muttered, "When we lose Cronkite we've lost the war." And he gave up, and walked away from another term in office. He'd had it. He knew.

Fareed Zakaria, the international editor and big gun at Newsweek, is supposed to be fulfilling the Walter Cronkite now, or some folks wish it were so.

Zakaria over the weekend wrote this -
It is time to call an end to the tests, the six-month trials, the waiting and watching, and to recognize that the Iraqi government has failed. It is also time to face the terrible reality that America's mission in Iraq has substantially failed.

More waiting is unlikely to turn things around, nor will more troops.

… Nor will new American policies help. The reason that the Democrats seem to lack good, concrete suggestions on Iraq is that the Bush administration has actually been pursuing more-sensible policies for more than a year now, trying vainly to reverse many of its errors. But what might well have worked in 2003 is too little, too late in 2006.
And here's the wishful thinking from Kevin Drum -
This is a big deal. It's one thing to express retrospective misgivings about Iraq (as Peter Beinart has done) or to criticize the conduct of the war (as Tom Friedman has done), but it's quite another to finally admit that there's little more we can do and that we should come home. That's a difficult public step for someone who's a charter member of the conservative establishment, a man who supported the war and has been vocal ever since about the importance of getting Iraq right.

It's also nice to see Zakaria acknowledge the fact that it's understandable that Democrats don't have much of a positive agenda for Iraq. It's arguable whether the Iraq experiment could have worked under any circumstances, but it's undeniable that after three years of miscues there simply aren't any credible options left. You can't criticize Democrats for being unable to solve a problem that's no longer solvable.

Zakaria is a smart guy, but he's also a person who's good at putting his finger to the wind - and then getting credit for leading the way when he anticipates an imminent shift. That may be what's happening here. Sometimes all it takes is for one person to say something publicly in order to get everyone else to finally admit their own unspoken doubts. This may be the column that breaks the dam and makes withdrawal respectable among the center-right establishment.
And the widely-read Andrew Sullivan here -
I go back a long way with Fareed Zakaria and respect him enormously. He's a center-right realist, and he thinks the war is essentially over in Iraq and we have lost. I'm not there yet and willing to give the military one last try, if Rumsfeld is fired and a serious new plan for regaining control is unveiled. But if Fareed is giving in, you know it's beyond serious.

Maybe it is, but both discount Mister Fix-It.

That would be James A. Baker III.

Barry Schweid, the AP Diplomatic Writer, explains here -

James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state with a long-standing reputation of service to Republican presidents and the Bush family in particular, has joined a list of prominent Republicans raising questions about the administration's Iraq policy.

Co-chairman of a bipartisan commission studying what to do next in the war torn country, Baker said his panel is preparing to recommend that President Bush consider options other than his "stay-the-course" strategy in Iraq.

"Our commission believes that there are alternatives between the stated alternatives, the ones that are out there in the political debate, of stay the course and cut and run," the former secretary of state said.

Partisan critics of Democratic proposals to consider drawing down U.S. troops in Iraq at times call that kind of talk a "cut and run" strategy.
But they're going to reframe that. It's time for the administration to consider other alternatives in Iraq. You just call it something else.

Of course it's tricky -
Agreeing in part with Bush, Baker said "if we picked up and left right now" Iraq would be plunged into "the biggest civil war you've ever seen," with Turkey, Iran, Syria and other neighboring countries getting involved. But he made it clear that the commission would advise changes in U.S. strategy, nevertheless.

"We're going to come up, hopefully, with some recommendations that the Congress and the president and the country can look at," he said.
Of course the week before Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, the Republican dude from Virginia, returned from a trip to Iraq and said the war there was "drifting sideways" - if Iraqis do not make progress in three months to reduce ethnic fighting and bolster reconstruction efforts, congress would have to make "bold decisions." And Bush's first secretary of state, Colin Powell had said this - "Stay the course isn't a good enough answer, because to stay the course you have to have a finish line." Other Republicans are jumping on board, or jumping overboard if you want to look at it that way - Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and congressman Christopher Shays of Connecticut.

Well, Baker was a close adviser to Bush's father - White House chief of staff and then secretary of state - and helped the son with the Florida recount during the election of 2000. He fixed that. Why not this?

But Baker also said Sunday he would like "to take this thing out of politics" by delaying the release of any recommendations until after the elections, and possibly even until a new Congress takes office in January. The young American soldiers who will die in that intervening period are sort of collateral damage. But it will give the Republicans a small edge in the upcoming election. Of course their families will think it was worth it.

Some of the recommendations have, though, already leaked -
The Baker commission has grown increasingly interested in the idea of splitting the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish regions of Iraq as the only alternative to what Baker calls "cutting and running" or "staying the course" ...

His group will not advise "partition", but is believed to favor a division of the country that will devolve power and security to the regions, leaving a skeletal national government in Baghdad in charge of foreign affairs, border protection and the distribution of oil revenue.

The Iraqi government will be encouraged to hold a constitutional conference paving the way for greater devolution. Iran and Syria will be urged to back a regional settlement that could be brokered at an international conference.
So much for a new Iraq.

Michael Young at "Reason" says this -
Several ideas come to mind. First, far from being an alternative to "cutting and running", the plan seems an effort to prepare the ground for precisely that. How? Once the Kurds and the Shiites fully take in hand their security, the rationale goes, and they will do so once they have "states" to protect, then the U.S. can cut back its troop levels radically and pull out, or more likely withdraw to safe areas, probably to Kurdistan. But Washington's effective control over broad Iraqi policy would be largely over.

Second, the plan, whatever the denials that it is partition, is partition if it turns out as the article suggests. Nothing suggests a majority of Iraqis want partition, quite the contrary, or that this plan will resolve anything. In fact, it may lead to a new Yugoslavia-type situation, where communities fight over mixed areas. This time Baker won't be able to say "we have no dog in this fight" as he did when Yugoslavia collapsed. Historically, partitions have been terribly traumatic, whether in India, Korea, Vietnam, Cyprus, Palestine, and elsewhere, and it will very probably be the same in Iraq.

Third, is it really up to the U.S., after it screwed up postwar normalization in Iraq, to compound this with a plan that would only be perceived by Iraqis as a further effort to break them apart? Almost certainly this plan would be depicted by Iraqis and most Arabs as an effort to break up the Middle East into statelets to ensure that Israel remains strong, whatever the truth of that claim. At this stage, with everything that has gone on in the country, it seems far preferable to let the Iraqis decide their own future. The U.S. owes them patience and time to arrive at a solution by themselves.
Yep, the whole thing might make Iraqis feel as if they've been jerked around but good. This is not pretty. But Baker can fix anything. And he's being astonishingly blunt.

John Dickerson here wonders about that -
Baker is nothing if not a strategic thinker and a forward planner. He understands that two months from now, when the Study Group's plans are unveiled, he wants to look independent of the administration. Creating some distance from Bush now makes that more plausible. To sell the Study Group plan, he needs to be Jim Baker, truth-teller, not Jim Baker, political hack who helped Bush grab the election in Florida.

Coming so close to the election, Baker's comments were not politically helpful. But they may help Bush in the long run if the President is serious about staying in Iraq through the long, ugly slog ahead. If the core of the president's policies is going to survive after Election Day, he's going to need a new salesman. Bush has lost the country on Iraq, and he has lost his ability to convince the country that he's got a plan for victory. Baker may be just the man for the job of helping him win people over.

Utilizing Baker as an insider with the appearance of independence also presents Bush with an opportunity to change course. The president doesn't have to say he's following the Study Group's recommendations. He can claim the ideas were already under consideration - his approach when he yielded to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security after members of both parties had been calling for such a thing, In this case, the leader of the thoughtful and sober Study Group would serve to sprinkle legitimacy on a redirection of policy that Bush will inevitably take credit for.

Baker may also give some cover to Republicans running for re-election who are too timid to speak up. I'm not criticizing the president, but the Baker plan sounds intriguing, said the congressman as he backpedaled out of the room. This is essentially what John Warner did last week as he worried aloud about chaos in Iraq and pointed to the Baker plan as a possible solution if the situation doesn't change in two or three months. The Study Group plan, as Baker sketched it, would keep troops in Iraq for at least a year and might encourage administration officials to enter direct talks with countries like Iran and Syria. Baker has also talked about other options like increasing U.S. troop levels after the election, according to one source.

… There's a final benefit for Bush in Baker's plan. Woodward's title State of Denial renews the critique that the president is isolated from reality and criticism. If Bush ultimately accepts the findings of a Study Group led by James Baker, he won't be the boy in the bubble anymore.
Yeah, that's a winner. Right.

But there is the problem of redefining "cut and run" and all that. The problem is the volume setting on that has been rising, with the president hammering that "the Democratic party is the party of cut and run." He's saying it again and again, and it must be driving Baker crazy.

Dickerson again on that here -
The cut-and-run phrase is an effective political weapon. It's pithy and plays on the public perception that Democrats are weak on issues of national security. The Democrats also can't agree about what to do in Iraq, so they can't fight back effectively.

It is also a very dumb phrase. It diminishes the debate by suggesting all options are crystal clear. It poisons the dialogue by angering those reasonable Democrats in Congress who are searching for a middle ground and by freezing those Republicans who want to offer constructive criticism but can't for fear they'll be accused of wanting to cut and run. As one Republican congressman put it recently: "Reality has been suspended for a moment. Republicans cannot speak out publicly on this issue right now."

… the most important reason the president shouldn't use any formulation of the "cut and run" language is that withdrawing from Iraq is part of his strategy.

… [But] That's the whole point of the "cut and run" attack - to label all talk of withdrawal as weak appeasement. Democratic Sen. Carl Levin's proposal for a series of benchmark tests that would lead to withdrawal is not that different from administration policy in Iraq. But no Republican dares admit that in an election year, so they dish out a little more "cut and run" to lump all Democrats together. If Bush is successful, voters will find Levin indistinguishable from Rep. John Murtha who has called for a faster withdrawal and whose claim that "we've failed" in Iraq is politically not palatable for most Americans. In the hands of administration officials, withdrawal is a useful tool. Used by others, it is a tragic disaster.

… The sloppy political talk of "cut and run" limits Bush's options because he can't really ever make good on his threat to leave Iraq if he thinks its leaders aren't making the tough choices. Democrats would be well within their rights to call that cutting and running. Having used the term so recklessly to define all gradations of withdrawal, Bush invites opponents to use it just as recklessly to define his decision to start bringing troops home. Insurgents would find comfort in that debate and think they'd won. Jihadists will find any pretext and think they've prevailed even in the moment of their incineration, but the president and others dishing out the accusations of "cut and run" shouldn't be helping them.
But Baker will fix it all.

As for Afghanistan, see this - "The top NATO commander in Afghanistan warned Sunday that if the lives of Afghans don't improve within the next six months, a majority of them could switch their allegiance to the Taliban."

Have we lost both wars?

How It's All Playing in Peoria

The polling as of late Monday, October 9 -

PRESIDENTIAL APPROVAL RATINGS

New York Times - CBS here - 34%
ABC - Washington Post here - 39%
Gallup here - 37% (down from 44% last month)

HOUSE SPEAKER HASTERT AND PROVIDING COVER FOR A SEXUAL PREDATOR TO SAVE A SEAT IN THE HOUSE

See Survey USA here -

He should resign from congress: 45%
He should resign his leadership post but can stay in congress: 25%
He should stay in congress and should remain Speaker of the House: 26%

SOME GOOD NEWS

Republicans Stand To Benefit from Nuclear Test 'Fear Factor' - "Dennis Hastert, the Republican speaker in Congress, and John Boehner, the Republican majority leader, released statements soon after the North Korean nuclear test announcement. With only a month left to go for mid-term elections, Republicans see the nuclear test issue could bring back their dwindling popularity."

People will be frightened. That helps.

THE BACK-UP PLAN

Just a heads-up -
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Eisenhower and its accompanying strike force of cruiser, destroyer and attack submarine slipped their moorings and headed off for the Persian Gulf region on Oct. 2…

The Eisenhower strike force… is scheduled to arrive in the vicinity of Iran around October 21, at the same time as a second flotilla of minesweepers and other ships.

This build-up of naval power around the coast of Iran, according to some military sources, is in preparation for an air attack on Iran that would target not just Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities, but its entire military command and control system.

While such an attack could be expected to unleash a wave of military violence all over Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and elsewhere against American forces and interests and against oil wells, pipelines and loading facilities, as well as a mining of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, with a resulting skyrocketing of global oil prices, the real goal of this new war by the U.S. would be ensuring Republican control of the House and Senate.

It seems increasingly clear that the Republican Party is going to lose its grip on the House of Representatives, and that it may even lose control of the Senate, barring some dramatic October Surprise by the president. So far, the surprises have been working against Republicans, with the Foley sex scandal, the evidence that Abramoff's bribery reached right into the inner sanctum of the White House, and the deteriorating U.S. position in Iraq.

With the number of House seats reportedly "in play" now rising from 15 to 30 and now 50, President Bush is looking at the possibility of a blow out Nov. 7 that could see him facing a Democratic Congress bent on revenge for five six years of systematic abuse.

… This means that the worse things look for Republican chances in November, the greater the likelihood that a desperate President Bush will order a disastrous attack on Iran - one that would have the country enter into a third, even worse, war even as it is currently busy losing two others.
It's a plan. And it wasn't a good Monday.

Posted by Alan at 22:51 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 10 October 2006 08:25 PDT home

Sunday, 8 October 2006
The Economics of Information - The Dialog Continues
Topic: The Media
The Economics of Information - The Dialog Continues
In the new issue of Just Above Sunset, the magazine-format parent to this web log, you'll find a media column - Truth Telling and Its Difficulties. This is a discussion of those difficulties involving key readers, one of the founders of CNN and the man who teaches marketing to graduate students at a noted business school in upstate New York. And that is appropriate, as the difficulties seem to arise from the tension between the traditional obligation of a news organization to objectively inform Americans of what was going on in their world, and the reality that almost all news organizations are commercial enterprises - they are supposed to turn a profit, and that may inhibit some sorts of "informing" and falsely exaggerate others. You don't want to make your advertisers uncomfortable, after all. And you want to show you have a larger and more affluent audience than your competitors - so you do your best to please them and hang onto them.

So who better to discuss this than Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta - one of the guys who started CNN back in the early eighties, and whose wife is an executive there now - and a marketing expert who explains marketing concepts to graduate students?

The triggers there were the amazing commentary by Keith Olbermann on MSNBC on Thursday, October 5, that created quite a buzz, and the same day the parent company of the Los Angeles Times firing its publisher, who refused to continue the massive staff cuts there, saying getting rid of journalists might raise the profit margins but it would ruin the newspaper. The parent corporation, the Tribune Company, brought in their own cost-cutter from Chicago - Davis Hiller, a Harvard-trained lawyer and MBA, who, without any journalistic background, had been publisher of the Chicago Tribune.

The Olbermann item was a clear "the emperor has no clothes" rant, pointing out the obvious - the president is, on a number of matters, simply lying, and additionally, slandering anyone who disagrees with him. It was "what he said" versus the clear facts, but no one seemed to have the courage to just lay it all out. Perhaps Olbermann could do that because MSNBC has such a small market share - the risk of offending and having the advertising dollars flee just didn't matter that much. MSNBC is such a tiny part of NBC-Universal that losing a sponsor or two for a minor one-hour news show hardly matters to that entertainment giant.

As for the Los Angeles Times, a newspaper, of course, generates revenue through the sale of print advertising and subscriptions, and now online services. Think of it as a cash delivery system. That's its purpose, to deliver profit. The content before, after and around the advertising is of somewhat secondary importance - it's just the "hook" that gets people to buy the thing or subscribe. It only needs to be "good enough." The journalists here thus mistakenly thought they were more important than they actually were. At least that seems to be how the parent corporation sees things. There's talk of a mass exodus of those with experience and reputations and the big awards, and the new Tribune guy says he's fine with that. His job is to increase revenues, and if the paper becomes fluff - well, fluff sells. The decision has been made. It may just turn into a fat Penny Saver, with cool display ads, a fine comics section and celebrity gossip. Heck, the circulation will probably go up.

But the discussion didn't end there, as Michael O'Hare in Same Facts, then posted The Wayward Press - and just what is this "Baumol's cost disease" mentioned there?

What Michael O'Hare said -
The resignation of the LA Times' publisher in a spat with the paper's new owner, Tribune Corporation, over how profitable a newspaper should be and to what degree that profit should be attained by cutting its news staff, is probably too bad for the paper at the moment, but it's a symptom of a very big problem for everyone. Everyone, because even people who don't care to read the paper have to experience the government that a news-poor world entails.

The traditional business model of a paper newspaper, in which readers' attention is sold to advertisers by placing the ads next to news on a physical page, is broken. One fracture is a very broad withdrawal of public attention from anything that takes very long or much effort to engage with, from music to books and news; another is the IT-driven transformation of text from a product that can be denied to anyone who doesn't payfor a physical object to a practically non-excludible public good. Still another is a phenomenon not fully understood, which is the much greater difficulty advertisements have drawing attention on a computer screen than on a paper page, evidenced by the flashing ads that now pop up screaming for attention over content on newspaper web pages. And we may also be seeing an example of "Baumol's cost disease", the steady increase of the relative cost of products like expert, competent, writing (music performance, in his example) that can't take advantage of productivity improvements through technology.

There have always been lousy newspapers and only a few good ones; many of the former are no great loss except for local issues. But the LA Times is a great newspaper, well written and probing, with a wonderful tradition of "print it once and print it all" that has generated long, interesting, expensive stories that can help you understand a complicated issue or situation in one sitting. The usual recipes for providing cultural capital in the face of market failure, like government provision, are non-starters in this case: no-one wants Villaraigosa in this business, nor even a California State Department of Public Information, at least not as a newspaper. Some sort of very mechanistic public subsidy program might help keep 'papers' alive, but it won't make anyone read them.

This is not a problem that will be solved by twiddling some media outlet ownership legislation, nor by any other quick fix, and not solving it is simply not OK, as the last few years of public sector disasters indicate. I have no cheerful summary, nor clever policy recommendation to offer. We're in a lot of trouble here, and without a map.
Well, that's cheery. And Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, works on it -
I actually remember reading this James Surowiecki New Yorker piece (he writes an occasional column in "Talk of the Town" called "The Financial Page") a few years ago. It's sort of not totally clear to a civilian like me, but I think I get the general idea. Here's a clip:
Generally, productivity growth is a boon, but it creates problems for non-productive enterprises like classical music, education, and car repair: to keep luring talent, they have to increase wages, or else people eventually migrate to businesses that pay better. Instead of becoming nurses or mechanics, they become telecom engineers or machinists. That's why teachers are getting paid a lot more than they were twenty years ago. (The average salary for an associate college professor has risen almost seventy per cent since the early eighties, and that's if you adjust for inflation.) To pay those wages, schools and hospitals have to raise prices. The result is that in industries where productivity is flat costs and prices keep going up. Economists call this phenomenon "Baumol's cost disease," after William Baumol, the NYU economist who first made the diagnosis, using the Mozart analogy, in the sixties. As anyone with kids knows, cost disease is alive and well. A recent study by the economists Jack Triplett and Barry Bosworth demonstrates that among the service businesses that have been least productive in recent years you'll find education, insurance, health care, and entertainment. These are the ones that have seen steep price hikes.
The full column is here.
And the marketing expert in upstate New York confirms -
Rick's got it encapsulated.

To me the defining characteristics of "Cost Disease" are two fold -

1) it's service based, and 2) the service itself is the consumable.

The net result is costs always rise over time (with the natural "cost of capital" plus inflation over time) because the service is not subject to productivity gains we typically associate with technology, processes and systems efficiencies. The business that is trapped with Cost Disease is primarily salary-dependent.

Today a baseball game still takes eighteen players plus managers and still takes time duration of nine innings - same as in 1909.

If we are consuming the ball game and the activity of the 18+, then costs for staging the game can ONLY rise over decades. Hence changes in arbitration and trade rules, salaries and the emergence of "the Steinbrenner" not to mention evolution of advertising and sponsorship revenues to keep the game in stride with our economy one hundred years later.

Hope this hits the ball on the nose (a four-bagger?) for the "civilians" in the audience.

(The one parenthetical economic reference above to "Cost of Capital" refers to the very basic notion that as long as we charge interest to lend money, then the gains in the economy - the value we add by making products and services available - have to exceed that cost of borrowing in order to repay our debt - the fuel of the economy - PLUS make a profit so producers can eat! Hence - over the long run - and despite recessions - the value of the economy [and the stock market where food is dispensed to the owners of the production tools] WILL ALWAYS RISE over time! Hence the critical nature of the Cost of Borrowing or what economists refer to as the "Cost of Capital"!)

That may be too much.
Maybe so, and maybe not, as Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, notes -
I have to admit, I still don't get it.

Not that I don't believe in "cost disease," I just don't think it applies to purely "services" exclusively, as if there's a logical and understandable reason that prices go up on everything else. Why would "technological productivity advances" make prices go up? If anything, it should make them come down! You would think, especially with markets always growing as populations grow, everything might be a little cheaper, since there are more and more of us everyday to take advantage of those famous "economies of scale."

But no, it doesn't seem to happen that way. One of the mysteries that's always nagged me - and I suspect whoever comes up with the definitive answer to this will win a Nobel prize in Economics - is, why is it that a good-size metropolis of today can support only one or two daily newspapers, while that same city, in the mid-nineteenth century and with maybe half the population, had maybe five or six dailies?

Here's my guess as to why prices go up, in those industries that rely on service as well as those that don't: Prices go up because we all want more money.

And by "we all," I mean not only the salaried middle manager who would be absolutely shocked to go ten years without a raise, and the unionized employee who has yearly raises built into his contract, but also the owners who demand 7% higher profits next year than those of this year. We all want more money, whether we're the cellist in the quartet playing Mozart the exact same way we've been doing it for ten years, or the baseball player who gets roughly the same number of hits this year as three years ago, or the newspaper reporter who covers about the same number of stories this year as last, using about the same number of words. Behind every hunk of plastic and metal and edible morsel that we buy, there are scores of human beings, and all of them want a raise.

(By the way, if a "raise" is understood to mean "more money," what's the word for "less money"? There is no one word for that, simply because it hardly ever happens. The best we can come up with is "reduction in salary." I suspect the reason we tolerate three words for this instead of one is because the phrase is so seldom used, not very much total breath is wasted in saying it.)

To sum up: Prices go up because we all want more money, and where else are we going to get it but from one another?

But to relate back to the original topic - and I wish I could remember where I'd seen this recently (was it something the market man said in these exhanges, or maybe something I saw in the New York Times Book Review a week or so back?) - that it used to be recognized by all concerned that businessmen ran businesses with service to the community in mind, that every business had a public function to fulfill, and that no business had, at its sole purpose, to make money. Somewhere along the line, that changed, and businesses were taken over by people who either never fully understood this little tidbit of history, or just didn't care.

And so I conclude that the job of a newspaper is news. If the job of a newspaper were to make money, they'd call it a moneypaper, but hardly anybody would read it.
And it loops back to Keith Olbermann, oddly enough.

David Bauder of the Associated Press (a "television writer") on Sunday, October 8, covers the Olbermann business here -
Keith Olbermann's tipping point came on a tarmac in Los Angeles six weeks ago. While waiting for his plane to take off he read an account of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's speech before the American Legion equating Iraq War opponents to pre-World War II appeasers.

The next night, on Aug. 30, Olbermann ended his MSNBC "Countdown" show with a blistering retort, questioning both the interpretation of history and Rumsfeld's very understanding of what it means to be an American.

It was the first of now five extraordinarily harsh anti-Bush commentaries that have made Olbermann the latest media point-person in the nation's political divide.

"As a critic of the administration, I will be damned if you can get away with calling me the equivalent of a Nazi appeaser," Olbermann told The Associated Press. "No one has the right to say that about any free-speaking American in this country."

Since that first commentary, Olbermann's nightly audience has increased 69 percent, according to Nielsen Media Research. This past Monday 834,000 people tuned in, virtually double his season average and more than CNN competitors Paula Zahn and Nancy Grace. Cable kingpin and Olbermann nemesis Bill O'Reilly (two million viewers that night) stands in his way.
So the folks who follow the news business - the business side of it - recognize something is up here.

A nugget on corporate ownership of the news - "As dangerous as it can sometimes be for news, it is also our great protector," Olbermann said. "Because as long as you make them money, they don't care. This is not Rupert Murdoch. And even Rupert Murdoch puts 'Family Guy' on the air and 'The Simpsons,' that regularly criticize Fox News. There is some safety in the corporate structure that we probably could never have anticipated."

And this - "The purpose of this is to get people to think and supply the marketplace of ideas with something at every fruit stand, something of every variety," he said. "As an industry, only half the fruit stand has been open the last four years."

And there's this bit of marketing/programming/scheduling history -
Liberal activist Jeff Cohen is thrilled for Olbermann's success, but admits that it's bittersweet.

Cohen was a producer for Phil Donahue's failed talk show. Less than four years ago Donahue's show imploded primarily because MSNBC and its corporate owners were afraid to have a show seen as liberal or anti-Bush at a time those opinions were less popular, he said.

In his new book "Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media," Cohen alleges that NBC News forced Donahue to book more conservatives than liberals and eventually wanted one of the nation's best-known liberal media figures to imitate O'Reilly.

Same time as Olbermann, same channel.

That Olbermann has been permitted to do what he's doing is evidence that "the political zeitgeist has changed dramatically in four years, and especially (at) MSNBC," Cohen said.

While it's true a different political atmosphere has helped Olbermann, NBC News senior vice president Phil Griffin disputed Cohen's interpretation that politics doomed Donahue. While MSNBC could be faulted for giving up on Donahue too fast, the show never caught its rhythm and was extremely expensive, he said.

"People try to ascribe motives to us, that somehow we're trying to keep liberals off the air and it's all about ideology," Griffin said. "If you get ratings, there's no issue."
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, knows Griffin and adds this -
What gives me an ironic giggle as I read this is that, when I was working at CNN in Atlanta and Keith Olbermann was a sports reporter in CNN's New York bureau, Phil Griffin - who is now Keith's boss - was working for CNN Sports in Atlanta as, I think, a "VJ" (or "video journalist," an entry level job) or maybe a junior producer. He's a good guy, and I also agree with what he says here.

And yes, I do agree with what Olbermann says about the Nielsens - that they can, in some cases, protect dissent - and maybe I even agree with that thing he says about the fruit stand. But the problem with hiding behind the money is that there's no guarantee it will always be there, working on your side. In truth, I'm not so sure it doesn't tend to the favor conservatives, the evidence being that conservative radio talkers (e.g., Rush Limbaugh) never lack listeners, while the other side (e.g., Air America) goes begging. Political broadcasting seems to appeal most to angry conservatives, not non-confrontational liberals.

So if we're looking to greed to save the country from itself, we're definitely looking for salvation in all the wrong places. The best thing is to get behind a good strong principle, fight for it, then stick with it to the end.
Olbermann can lay out the truth, because there no real demand for it - he can get behind a good strong principle, fight for it, then stick with it to the end.  So what? And the Tribune folks can turn the Los Angeles Times into a Hollywood gossip rag. There's always a demand for that. So that's how it is.

__

Footnote:

Michael Kinsley, the former opinion editor for the Los Angeles Times (he was fired last year) says it's time to forget the Times. He has a suggestion. How About a National Tribune?

That goes something like this -
National-quality journalists who work for the L.A. Times, attracted by good salaries and great editors (first, John Carroll and now Dean Baquet), endure the frustration of not being read by the people they write about. If money keeps getting tighter and the paper's ambitions keep getting narrower, they will leave if they can, or won't come to work in L.A. in the first place. Then The Times will be an adequate provincial paper like the Chicago Tribune, and the tension of being prettier than the boss' daughter will be resolved.

… Journalists know how to stage a great hissy fit. And I'm not sure a fit was really called for in the initial staff reductions. On the editorial page (I can reveal, from the safety of hindsight) we initially had 15 people producing 21 editorials a week! So now cries that Tribune Co. has moved from cutting fat to cutting bone ring a bit hollow.

The other issue that ignited flames of self-righteousness in my colleagues was any attempt to integrate The Times into the Tribune chain, or to achieve economies of scale by sharing costs. This sensitivity seems especially shortsighted - first, because logic was completely on Tribune's side. (Why should one company be paying four or five reporters to cover the same one-person beat?) And second, because in any merger or pseudo-merger of Tribune papers, the Los Angeles Times would clearly come out on top.

In fact, there may be no better way to preserve The Times' role as a major newspaper (if that is of any interest to its owners). These days, on the one hand, thanks to the Internet, any newspaper can be a national newspaper. On the other hand, near universal availability of the New York Times print edition makes the traditional role of a regional paper like the Los Angeles Times superfluous.

But now imagine the Tribune chain as a single newspaper with separate editions in each of its cities. Call it the National Tribune. Or the papers could keep their separate identities, but carry a "Tribune" insert or wraparound with national and international news. This paper would start out with towering dominance in two of the nation's top three markets (Los Angeles and Chicago) and a solid position, via Newsday, in the largest (New York). It would even have a toehold in Washington (thanks to the Baltimore Sun). All this, and Orlando too.

Like the British papers, this new national paper could go after a demographic slice of the market instead of a geographical one. It could aim for the currently unoccupied sweet spot between USA Today and the New York Times, or it could take on the New York Times directly.

I assumed that Tribune Co. must have had something like this in mind when it paid a premium for the Times-Mirror papers. But apparently it had something else in mind, or nothing at all.

… Los Angeles is the capital of the increasingly dominant infotainment-media-celebrity complex. Broaden your scope to California generally and you can throw in high technology as well. The L.A. Times should be the diary of this capital. Often it is.

… I miss the Los Angeles Times. My very first day on the job, I attended the Page 1 meeting in the newsroom. There was a story about a transient who allegedly had broken into the home of a 91-year-old Hollywood screenwriter - author of "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" and later a blacklisted victim of the Red Scare - cut off his head, climbed over the back fence (head in hand), stabbed a neighbor to death, and was ultimately arrested at Paramount Studios, where guards recognized him from police photos shown on a TV they weren't supposed to be watching on the job.

What a story! But it didn't make the front page. It ran in the Metro section. I asked Carroll, "Gosh, who do you have to decapitate to make Page 1 around here?" Now we know.

Well, you can cover that, and people will read it. But that was covered in the pages here, Tuesday, 15 June 2004, in Embrace the Zeitgeist, with a picture and everything. And this is hardly the Los Angeles Times.

If the New York Times covers the capital of the economic world, and the Washington Post covers the capital of the political world, that leaves what? This?


Posted by Alan at 20:57 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 9 October 2006 08:02 PDT home

Friday, 6 October 2006
Truth Telling and Its Difficulties
Topic: The Media
Truth Telling and Its Difficulties
If you are not reading this using slow dial-up, go here and watch this video - video (Windows Media Player) or video (QuickTime). This is the commentary delivered on MSNBC by Keith Olbermann, Thursday, October 6 - where he does a pretty good job of channeling Edward R. Murrow in his glory days. It seems Olbermann took the movie seriously, and he signs off with the movie's title - "Good Night, and Good Luck." That was Murrow's signature.

Many think this is a must-see. It's an amazing callout - even if cynical and careful news folks may scoff. But calling bullshit what it is helps now and then. Television should do more of it. CNN maybe shouldn't, but this is refreshing. But then, maybe Olbermann here tries to hard. Maybe it's just pretentious - a cheap imitation of a long-dead honest man. Take a look.

Or see Dan Froomkin in a special to washingtonpost.com here -
The traditional media has been slow to come to grips with the American public's distrust and dislike of President Bush - sentiments clearly reflected in opinion polls dating back well over a year.

Almost alone among the network newscasters, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann is channeling that sensibility. Channeling it - and amplifying it.

In fact, the increasingly shrill Olbermann is fast becoming the Howard Beale of the anti-Bush era: He's mad as hell, and he's not going to take it anymore.

His newscast-ending "special comment" yesterday was a doozy.

At issue: The sorts of rhetorical excesses in Bush's campaign speeches recently handled (with kid gloves) by such mainstream journalists as McClatchy's Ron Hutcheson and The Washington Post's Peter Baker - and on which I've been harping for ages, most recently in my "Bush's Imaginary Foes" column. [Click on the Froomkin link for links to those.]

What apparently set off Olbermann in particular was when Bush recently described a vote against his warrantless wiretapping plan as being the same as saying "we don't think we ought to be listening to the conversations of terrorists" - and when Bush said of the Democratic leadership: "It sounds like they think the best way to protect the American people is - wait until we're attacked again."

Here's Olbermann yesterday: "The president doesn't just hear what he wants. He hears things that only he can hear.

"It defies belief that this president and his administration could continue to find new unexplored political gutters into which they could wallow. Yet they do.

"It is startling enough that such things could be said out loud by any president of this nation. Rhetorically, it is about an inch short of Mr. Bush accusing Democratic leaders, Democrats, the majority of Americans who disagree with his policies, of treason…

"No Democrat, sir, has ever said anything approaching the suggestion that the best means of self-defense is to 'wait until we're attacked again.'

"No critic, no commentator, no reluctant Republican in the Senate has ever said anything that any responsible person could even have exaggerated into the slander you spoke in Nevada on Monday night, nor the slander you spoke in California on Tuesday, nor the slander you spoke in Arizona on Wednesday … nor whatever is next …

"But tonight the stark question we must face is - why?

"Why has the ferocity of your venom against the Democrats now exceeded the ferocity of your venom against the terrorists?

"Why have you chosen to go down in history as the president who made things up?"
Powerful stuff, and the whole thing is appended below.

The reaction from the Just Above Sunset virtual salon - the small email discussion group that stretches from Hollywood to Paris - led to the underlying issues.

From the high-powered Wall Street attorney -
Actually this has become Olbermann's sign off and (since memory does not stretch back to Murrow's time for the majority of Americans) he presently owns it.

It should be further noted that his cadence and delivery are fairly faithful to that of Murrow's. It may be a cheap trick, but I suspect it is more passionate than that. It is a tribute to a man of impeccable honesty and integrity.
So there was a mixture of, perhaps, cheap theatricality, but an underlying passion for cutting through the crap.

From the internist in Boston - "I liked it too."

From Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
I like what he said, too, and I like that he said it, but I do wish he could have done it in less than 11 minutes and 10 seconds. Also, I sort of like how he said it, although sometimes he seemed to climb way too high up on the horse. But I do admire his guts for being one of the only people saying these things. Unfortunately, his words won't inflict the thunderous damage Murrow was capable of, especially in this day and age when anyone with an opinion is just dismissed as someone with an opinion.

What I wish is that one of the networks would take the points Olbermann makes and do a half-hour special that looks honestly at the facts - on whether the Constitution is under attack, and also on whether any Democrat in elected office has ever said any of the things that Bush claims they have. The fact that no news outlet is doing this is proof to me that none of them understand the function of a free press in a free society.
From the marketing professor at the business school in upstate New York, taking a break from his graduate students -
I WISH a credible Democrat - WORTHY of national leadership - would stand up and proclaim the emperor's no clothes for what they truly are! THAT's what we REALLY await!

But yes Rick, I agree the mainstream media have totally caved on responsible journalism issues.

Did people see the September 11 Koppel special on the Discovery Channel, where he's Programming Director now, his counter-programming the night ABC aired its 911 movie debacle? HE took on dilution of citizen's rights to privacy in the name of the witch-hunt on terror with a documentary followed by town meeting forum with respectable stage guests. MUCH better TV than ABC was offering that night!

THEN on night two of the ABC movie - you recall - ABC allowed themselves to be "movie interrupted" by Bush's speech at 9:00 (movie part deux ran 8-11). Charlie Gibson even stepped in - middle of the fiction - to segue to Bush live in the oval. I was never so disappointed in a seemingly credible news figure!

But he came out of the entertainment division to sit at his desk! My fault for putting trust in a likeable morning show guy with a Princeton education!

Smoke still burns here... see what you touch off with this Murrow piece?

I DID put Clooney's movie into my permanent home collection and forced my nineteen-year-old daughter to watch it!
Well, the issue seems to be truth-telling. So what is the function of a free press in a free society?

As for Olbermann - he was speaking on the least-watched of the three cable news networks. They'll try anything. But if one day they actually get a real audience, they'll also become a cash cow, and the parent corporation - NBC-Universal out here (the Canadian family, the Seagram folks, and the French, Vivendi, are out) - will want to milk that cow for all it's worth, and play it safe, and will shut him up.

There are trends. The same day Olbermann had been so bold the Tribune folks fired the publisher of the Los Angeles Times, as noted here. The message - the newspaper exists to generate money, and more each year, and while award winning journalism is nice, it's kind of beside the point -
Jeff Johnson, the publisher of The Los Angeles Times, was fired today after refusing last month to go along with cutbacks at his paper ordered by The Tribune Company.

The company asked Dean Baquet, the paper's editor, who had also resisted the cuts, to stay at The Los Angeles Times, and he has agreed to do so. Colleagues said he saw an opportunity to start fresh with a new publisher and to make his case for why the staff should not be cut back as much as Tribune has proposed. But one colleague noted that Mr. Baquet still retained the option to leave.

David D. Hiller, publisher of The Chicago Tribune, has been named as a replacement for Mr. Johnson.

Scott Smith, president of Tribune Publishing, based in Chicago, flew to Los Angeles and fired Mr. Johnson this morning.

"Jeff and I agreed that this change is best at this time because Tribune and Times executives need to be aligned on how to shape our future," Mr. Smith said in a statement.

In a memo to the staff this morning, Janet Clayton, an editor, wrote: "Sorry to tell you that we are told that Jeff Johnson is out as publisher of The Los Angeles Times."

Mr. Baquet and Mr. Johnson last month said publicly in the pages of their newspaper that they would not draw up a budget plan for cuts that Tribune, based in Chicago, had ordered. They included increasing the paper's profits by 7 percent, or about $17 million.
A newspaper, of course, generates revenue through the sale of print advertising and subscriptions, and now online services. Think of it as a cash delivery system. That's its purpose, to deliver profit. The content before, after and around the advertising is of somewhat secondary importance - it's just the "hook" that gets people buy the thing or subscribe. It only needs to be "good enough." The journalists thus mistakenly thought they were more important than they actually were. At least that seems to be how the parent corporation sees things.

This was mentioned last week in the item Truthiness, where the rumors were that the Tribune folks were going to sell of the Times and their other newspapers and go private. Billionaire Ron Burkle, business leader Eli Broad and Hollywood mogul David Geffen were each interested, and the cost cutting thing was at the core - whole swaths of folks are gone, and the current editors were standing up to the parent company. They just didn'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, didn'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. But it seems the shoe dropped.

The marketing professor at the business school in upstate New York put it nicely - "There had been wind of privatizing the Times again, but alas - money-speak wins once again. Send in a new body from corporate!"

That's about it. But didn't Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, say that no news outlet now seems to understand the function of a free press in a free society? If it is not what the Tribune folks claim, to make money for the shareholders, what is the function of a free press in a free society? Perhaps he should write a piece on that.

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, who was one of the guys who started CNN back in the eighties and whose wife is an executive there now, thinks not -
I'm not sure that what I would say deserves a whole column. It seems so obvious to me that I have a hard time finding the words without repeating myself, or at least saying what I've said over and over, here and elsewhere:

When I started my career in journalism (1968), television news didn't make money, but that was actually a good thing. The business was still coasting along on the fumes exhaled only decades earlier by the founders of broadcasting in our country (namely William Paley and David Sarnoff), who all but proclaimed that nobody should begrudge our making millions from use of the public radio frequencies, just as long as we never let the commercial dollar overwhelm what everyone saw as a "public trust" - objectively informing Americans of what was going on in their world.

That all changed years later with their descendants realized that they actually could (and, therefore, should) make money off of news after all. I think you're right about MSNBC, that things might be different if those people were actually making huge bucks, since too much money seems to be the thing that sullies everything else. But maybe CNN shouldn't do this, you think? I disagree. For one thing, doing the right thing for once might cause such a public fuss that more people might actually tune in to see what's going on.

The Los Angeles Times situation is a good case in point - except that, unlike the Paley-Sarnoff case, it doesn't involve publicly-granted broadcast licenses. The problem with that newspaper is not that it doesn't make money - as was discussed in exchanges last week, newspapers have always made money. It's my understanding (from the public radio show "Market Place" last night) that the Times has been averaging a healthy 25% profit; the problem is that the Tribune is used to its papers turning closer to 35%.

Also, like so many other companies these days, Tribune stockholders are not expecting a 7% increase in actual profits just this year, but for every year hereafter. The local Times management has argued that doing this hurts the quality of its news coverage and does not serve the community; the bosses at Tribune say "either take orders, or take off."

I think the people and leaders of Los Angeles should kick up a stink and complain that we don't need some Chicago outfit coming here to set up a money-printing machine at the community's expense, and then send all the money back to Chicago. I wish the locals would start a boycott of the paper until Tribune stops being so greedy and starts taking the local needs more seriously. It might not work but it might just focus America's attention on how it is losing its soul.

I know it's not a good idea that they pull the paper's business license, but maybe someone else out there, someone with a good conscience and a willingness to survive on profit margins as "low" as 25% - after all, don't most successful businesses aim for about 10% - anyway, I wish someone would start a new paper out there and hire away all the good folks from the out-of-town rag.

But to reiterate my original point up top, the real bottom line is that there is a job to be done in informing citizens about how their leadership is threatening the Constitution, and it's a job that nobody seems to be doing.

Well, there's no money in it.

And there is no point in linking to all the items out here on the Los Angeles Times thing - there are far too many - but it looks like most of the top folks will be quitting, going to other papers and magazines. There's talk of a mass exodus of those with experience and reputations and the big awards, and the new Tribune guy says he's fine with that. His job is to increase revenues, and if the paper becomes fluff - well, fluff sells. The decision has been made. It may just turn into a fat Penny Saver, with cool display ads, a fine comics section and celebrity gossip. Heck, the circulation will probably go up.

Where do we go to find some source that provides information on what our leadership is doing - information that hasn't been neutered or hidden or sanitized or slanted, if it's there at all, by those watching the profit margin and making sure it's growing? There's Olbermann with his tiny audience, scheduled against Bill O'Reilly on Fox News, and no much else - just corporate news subsidiaries trying to make enough of a margin so the parent organization doesn't pull the plug entirely.

It's like it's London in 1727 again - the year of Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Gay's Beggar's Opera and Pope's Essay on Man. You have to turn to the satirists to get a sense of what's really going on, and that may be a shame.

Of course, some of it is rather good, as in this, a video clip from Jon Stewart's Daily Show on Comedy Central.

It gets down to the basics. What exactly is the president's job? This is a devastating string of clips of the president explaining, without much comment, except for some logical questions as to what does the man mean when he says his job is to explain to the people what his job is, and "my job is to do my job." It's laugh out loud funny, and really depressing.

Yeah, Swift was like that too.

Click on the link and take a look, and then note what Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, says -

Assuming the conservatives are right in thinking that government should be operated more like a business, and then we hire somebody and for the next six years he spends more time telling you what he thinks his job is than he does actually doing his job, shouldn't we have the right to fire him? You know, give him a parachute and a script about his "wanting to spend more time with his family," then just gently shove him off the plane?

I mean, I've worked with dudes like this. They bring him in like he's the golden boy who's going to save the company, then he screws up everything he gets involved in, then gabs us all to death at the water cooler! No one has the nerve to tell him the real score, but that doesn't matter because he's not listening anyway. There's an old saying that "time wounds all heels," but you know that truism won't kick in until after we've all totally lost our sanity, because this loser has two years left on his contract! Can't management just offer him an early buy-out so we can get a head-start with his inevitable replacement?

Or maybe, to put it in showbiz terms, we should have just subcontracted the presidency out to one of the TV networks, so if he didn't grab the ratings, they could have cancelled him after 13 weeks.
Of course that's not how things work.

And as for the Los Angeles Times changing, see this - the guy they brought in from the parent company is buddies with Ken Starr, Chief Justice Roberts and worked for Reagan, devising the current conservative agenda. More than money is speaking. And he has a new toy.

John Amato and Mark Groubert - "Last night David Hiller, from the Chicago Tribune came into town to replace Jeffrey Johnson and Times Editor Dean Baquet because they 'publicly opposed a corporate demand for a stringent cost-cutting plan last month.' In other words they were fired. Johnson would not bow down to the right wing Chicago Tribune."

The Chicago Tribune is right wing? No one pays attention out here.

They seem suspicious of this from the front page story in the Times -
His background has been varied, including a stint as law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, two years at the Reagan Justice Department (where his colleagues included current Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani …
Yeah, the man worked with the new Chief Justice and for Reagan's Department of Justice back in the eighties. And he co-wrote the famous Reese Memorandum that put laid out Ronald Reagan's most conservative agenda, like immigration proposals that were rejected - the internment of illegal immigrants after Carter left office. And he worked with Ken Starr on getting Bill Clinton good. But that was a long time ago. He's here to make this paper make a lot more money. This will not turn into the west coast version of Reverend Moon's Washington Times. It won't sell. This isn't Chicago. We'll get Paris Hilton stories, box-office returns, and guacamole recipes.

And some of us will watch Keith Olbermann and Jon Stewart.

___

Addendum:

What started this whole conversation -
A Special Comment About Lying
Keith Olbermann on the Difference Between Terrorists and Critics
SPECIAL COMMENT by Keith Olbermann, Anchor, 'Countdown' MSNBC

While the leadership in Congress has self-destructed over the revelations of an unmatched, and unrelieved, march through a cesspool ...

While the leadership inside the White House has self-destructed over the revelations of a book with a glowing red cover ...

The president of the United States - unbowed, undeterred and unconnected to reality - has continued his extraordinary trek through our country rooting out the enemies of freedom: the Democrats.

Yesterday at a fundraiser for an Arizona congressman, Mr. Bush claimed, quote, "177 of the opposition party said, 'You know, we don't think we ought to be listening to the conversations of terrorists.'"

The hell they did.

One hundred seventy-seven Democrats opposed the president's seizure of another part of the Constitution.

Not even the White House press office could actually name a single Democrat who had ever said the government shouldn't be listening to the conversations of terrorists.

President Bush hears what he wants.

Tuesday, at another fundraiser in California, he had said, "Democrats take a law enforcement approach to terrorism. That means America will wait until we're attacked again before we respond."

Mr. Bush fabricated that, too.

And evidently he has begun to fancy himself as a mind reader.

"If you listen closely to some of the leaders of the Democratic Party," the president said at another fundraiser Monday in Nevada, "it sounds like they think the best way to protect the American people is — wait until we're attacked again."

The president doesn't just hear what he wants.

He hears things that only he can hear.

It defies belief that this president and his administration could continue to find new unexplored political gutters into which they could wallow.

Yet they do.

It is startling enough that such things could be said out loud by any president of this nation.

Rhetorically, it is about an inch short of Mr. Bush accusing Democratic leaders, Democrats, the majority of Americans who disagree with his policies of treason.

But it is the context that truly makes the head spin.

Just 25 days ago, on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, this same man spoke to this nation and insisted, "We must put aside our differences and work together to meet the test that history has given us." Mr. Bush, this is a test you have already failed.

If your commitment to "put aside differences and work together" is replaced in the span of just three weeks by claiming your political opponents prefer to wait to see this country attacked again, and by spewing fabrications about what they've said, then the questions your critics need to be asking are no longer about your policies.

They are, instead, solemn and even terrible questions, about your fitness to fulfill the responsibilities of your office.

No Democrat, sir, has ever said anything approaching the suggestion that the best means of self-defense is to "wait until we're attacked again."

No critic, no commentator, no reluctant Republican in the Senate has ever said anything that any responsible person could even have exaggerated into the slander you spoke in Nevada on Monday night, nor the slander you spoke in California on Tuesday, nor the slander you spoke in Arizona on Wednesday ... nor whatever is next.

You have dishonored your party, sir; you have dishonored your supporters; you have dishonored yourself.

But tonight the stark question we must face is - why?

Why has the ferocity of your venom against the Democrats now exceeded the ferocity of your venom against the terrorists?

Why have you chosen to go down in history as the president who made things up?

In less than one month you have gone from a flawed call to unity to this clarion call to hatred of Americans, by Americans.

If this is not simply the most shameless example of the rhetoric of political hackery, then it would have to be the cry of a leader crumbling under the weight of his own lies.

We have, of course, survived all manner of political hackery, of every shape, size and party. We will have to suffer it, for as long as the Republic stands.

But the premise of a president who comes across as a compulsive liar is nothing less than terrifying.

A president who since 9/11 will not listen, is not listening - and thanks to Bob Woodward's most recent account - evidently has never listened.

A president who since 9/11 so hates or fears other Americans that he accuses them of advocating deliberate inaction in the face of the enemy.

A president who since 9/11 has savaged the very freedoms he claims to be protecting from attack - attack by terrorists, or by Democrats, or by both - it is now impossible to find a consistent thread of logic as to who Mr. Bush believes the enemy is.

But if we know one thing for certain about Mr. Bush, it is this: This president - in his bullying of the Senate last month and in his slandering of the Democrats this month — has shown us that he believes whoever the enemies are, they are hiding themselves inside a dangerous cloak called the Constitution of the United States of America.

How often do we find priceless truth in the unlikeliest of places?

I tonight quote not Jefferson nor Voltaire, but Cigar Aficionado Magazine.

On Sept. 11th, 2003, the editor of that publication interviewed General Tommy Franks, at that point, just retired from his post as commander-in-chief of U.S. Central Command - of Cent-Com.

And amid his quaint defenses of the then-nagging absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or the continuing freedom of Osama bin Laden, General Franks said some of the most profound words of this generation.

He spoke of "the worst thing that can happen" to this country:

First, quoting, a "massive casualty-producing event somewhere in the Western World - it may be in the United States of America."

Then, the general continued, "the Western World, the free world, loses what it cherishes most, and that is freedom and liberty we've seen for a couple of hundred years, in this grand experiment that we call democracy."

It was this super-patriotic warrior's fear that we would lose that most cherished liberty, because of another attack, one - again quoting General Franks - "that causes our population to question our own Constitution and to begin to militarize our country in order to avoid a repeat of another mass-casualty-producing event. Which, in fact, then begins to potentially unravel the fabric of our Constitution."

And here we are, the fabric of our Constitution being unraveled, anyway.

Habeus corpus neutered; the rights of self-defense now as malleable and impermanent as clay; a president stifling all critics by every means available and, when he runs out of those, by simply lying about what they said or felt.

And all this, even without the dreaded attack.

General Franks, like all of us, loves this country, and believes not just in its values, but in its continuity.

He has been trained to look for threats to that continuity from without.

He has, perhaps been as naïve as the rest of us, in failing to keep close enough vigil on the threats to that continuity from within.

Secretary of State Rice first cannot remember urgent cautionary meetings with counterterrorism officials before 9/11. Then within hours of this lie, her spokesman confirms the meetings in question. Then she dismisses those meetings as nothing new — yet insists she wanted the same cautions expressed to Secretaries Ashcroft and Rumsfeld.

Mr. Rumsfeld, meantime, has been unable to accept the most logical and simple influence of the most noble and neutral of advisers. He and his employer insist they rely on the "generals in the field." But dozens of those generals have now come forward to say how their words, their experiences, have been ignored.

And, of course, inherent in the Pentagon's war-making functions is the regulation of presidential war lust.

Enacting that regulation should include everything up to symbolically wrestling the Chief Executive to the floor.

Yet - and it is Pentagon transcripts that now tell us this - evidently Mr. Rumsfeld's strongest check on Mr. Bush's ambitions, was to get somebody to excise the phrase "Mission Accomplished" out of the infamous Air Force Carrier speech of May 1st, 2003, even while the same empty words hung on a banner over the President's shoulder.

And the vice president is a chilling figure, still unable, it seems, to accept the conclusions of his own party's leaders in the Senate, that the foundations of his public position, are made out of sand.

There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

But he still says so.

There was no link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaida.

But he still says so.

And thus, gripping firmly these figments of his own imagination, Mr. Cheney lives on, in defiance, and spreads - around him and before him - darkness, like some contagion of fear.

They are never wrong, and they never regret - admirable in a French torch singer, cataclysmic in an American leader.

Thus, the sickening attempt to blame the Foley scandal on the negligence of others or "the Clinton era" - even though the Foley scandal began before the Lewinsky scandal.

Thus, last month's enraged attacks on this administration's predecessors, about Osama bin Laden—a projection of their own negligence in the immediate months before 9/11.

Thus, the terrifying attempt to hamstring the fundament of our freedom - the Constitution - a triumph for al Qaida, for which the terrorists could not hope to achieve with a hundred 9/11's.

And thus, worst of all perhaps, these newest lies by President Bush about Democrats choosing to await another attack and not listen to the conversations of terrorists.

It is the terror and the guilt within your own heart, Mr. Bush, that you redirect at others who simply wish for you to temper your certainty with counsel.

It is the failure and the incompetence within your own memory, Mr. Bush, that leads you to demonize those who might merely quote to you the pleadings of Oliver Cromwell: "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."

It is not the Democrats whose inaction in the face of the enemy you fear, Sir.

It is your own - before 9/11 - and (and you alone know this), perhaps afterwards.

Mr. President, these new lies go to the heart of what it is that you truly wish to preserve.

It is not our freedom, nor our country - your actions against the Constitution give irrefutable proof of that.

You want to preserve a political party's power. And obviously you'll sell this country out, to do it.

These are lies about the Democrats - piled atop lies about Iraq - which were piled atop lies about your preparations for al Qaeda.

To you, perhaps, they feel like the weight of a million centuries - as crushing, as immovable.

They are not.

If you add more lies to them, you cannot free yourself, and us, from them.

But if you stop - if you stop fabricating quotes, and building straw-men, and inspiring those around you to do the same - you may yet liberate yourself and this nation.

Please, sir, do not throw this country's principles away because your lies have made it such that you can no longer differentiate between the terrorists and the critics.

Copyright © 2006 MSNBC Interactive

A star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the northeast corner of Hollywood and Vine (Bob Hope Square) -

Edward R. Murrow's star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the northeast corner of Hollywood and Vine (Bob Hope Square)


Posted by Alan at 20:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 7 October 2006 06:38 PDT home

Thursday, 5 October 2006
Taking Personal Responsibility
Topic: Political Theory
Taking Personal Responsibility
Okay, the Republicans are the party of personal responsibility. Everyone should take personal responsibility for his or her own life and stop whining. We're all optimistic "can do" folks who create our own lives and create wealth and are independent, not relying or some mommy-government keep us out of trouble, or we should be. It's called character. People should have character.

This was starkly argued in the whole business about Social Security reform back in 2005 - the new idea there being people should be given a framework in which to create their own safety net to keep them from starving when they retire, or fall on hard times. That would be government sponsored investment plans - we'd all, on our own, deal with an investment house and the feds would make sure they were reputable and playing by a few basic rules. As noted early in 2005, conservatives had long argued that any pooling of resources for the common good, especially when it is not voluntary (some never wanted to join Social Security) does more harm than good - it strips away any sense of personal responsibility people should have. It is just bad for the country. Of course the program has done some good, but the cost to the nation's character is far too high. FDR was evil - his plan corrupted America. A thirty-five percent poverty rate for folks over sixty-five, we on the other side argued, is bad for the country, and we wanted, if anything, to just improve the existing program. And we argued the nation's "character" is also shown by everyone chipping in and making sure old folks don't starve in the streets - that's too high of a cost the other way. But then people will, we were told, think of themselves as victims, and think they're entitled to freeload off those who work hard and take care of their own families. That turned out with no change to what we had, and a lot of large investment houses disappointed - with no glut of new clients.

But the idea persists. The party in power, and the Bush administration, are not whiners like the Democrats. They have character - they say what the mean and mean what they say, and are never swayed by the opinions of others, or by what others say are the facts. And they take responsibility for their actions. They role-model for the rest of us what we should be, challenging us to stand up for ourselves. And it is, of course, a great sales pitch. Who wouldn't want to be so self-assured and independent?

The role-modeling is the problem. There were no WMD in Iraq, and ridding the world of Iraq's WMD was the prime reason for the War? We're told "but everyone thought there were" and too that "the CIA messed up" - so it wasn't their fault it all worked out as it did. Everyone made the same mistake - so you cannot blame them, really. The Blix inspections and the intelligence agencies of our allies said otherwise, but we are supposed to forget that, and most do - the well-established concept of them doing the bold and responsible thing overriding the facts of the matter. And the 9/11 attacks - Condoleezza Rice says no one could have imagined terrorists would fly airplanes into buildings (even if there are documents on file that she had that said that might well happen), and no one could see this coming (even with that Presidential Daily Briefing a few week before the attacks, "Ben Laden Determined to Attack Within America"), and no one warned her (the meeting about that she said never happened did, as her own folks pointed out), so it's hardly her fault. The Hurricane Katrina business - the president said no one thought the levees would fail (then the videotape of him being briefed that they would, where he says not a word), so it's not his fault the response was late and inadequate.

But those who admire the President persist - Bush and his party are the people who have character, and take personal responsibility. Whatever went wrong is somehow, in the end, Bill Clinton's fault - he may have been smart as a whip and known the details of all this issues he faced, and all the implications of what he did and said, but he had no character. Character matters.

Thursday, October 5, we got another cycle of this, at the congressional level. House Speaker Dennis Hastert finally made his definitive statement on the fact that that congressman who resigned, Mark Foley, had been hitting on the sixteen-year-old House pages for years and nothing had been done about it, until it got so damned public. Hastert stood up and said he took full responsibility for the screw up, except he hadn't really known about it, and it all happened because of the new-fangled internet and instant messages, and maybe George Soros and the Democrats were behind it - but he was a real man, so he'd take responsibility and there'd be investigations. So it wasn't his fault at all, AND he was taking personal responsibility. And he certainly won't resign, no matter who says he should. What a guy!

Actually, it was a bit unusual. Michael O'Hare at "Same Facts" lays out the usual steps involved -
(1) Search up the hierarchy of command until you reach the level at which the affair in question is a small enough part of someone's overall duties that that particular failure does not justify resignation. If necessary, keep going up to the top.

(2) Trot that person out to wring hands, "accept full responsibility" and say "the buck stops here". Take care, however, to suppress any inference that the current disaster says anything about the boss', or the organization's overall performance or competence; he can bear any number of "last straws" as long as they arrive one by one and fall off his back quickly.

(3) Make it clear that at this level, accepting responsibility for this (relatively) small matter obviously doesn't entail any actual action by, or consequences for, the official. At lower levels, of course, consequences don't apply because the top guy has vacuumed up all responsibility (see (1) above).

(4) Throw one junior player over the rail so the sharks have something to eat. If someone is already at the rail, pop a geolocator in his pocket to guide the sharks. Blow smoke from the "thorough investigation" machine.

(5) (Bush administration refinement) Give an intermediate level player who has completely botched the operation a "heckuva job" medal. Remarkably, this can actually be the same person used in (4) with careful timing.
It didn't work out exactly like that, but it came close enough -
The House ethics committee approved nearly four dozen subpoenas Thursday as its investigation of a page sex scandal sprang to life with a promise by its leaders to go "wherever the evidence leads us."

Speaker Dennis Hastert said he accepted responsibility for any earlier failures to investigate complaints of inappropriate behavior by Rep. Mark Foley (news, bio, voting record) toward teenage male pages. But he resisted pressure to step down.

"Ultimately ... the buck stops here," the Republican speaker said, borrowing the famous phrase of a Democratic president, Harry Truman.

Hastert held to his assertion that he did not know about Foley's e-mails and instant messages to former pages until the scandal broke last week. In the past several days, several Republican lawmakers and staff members said they were aware of the messages. Democrats were not notified.
The ethics committee promised to finish its investigation in weeks, not months, but it was unclear whether that would happen before the election a month away. Most cynically think this just delays things until after everyone votes - then we'll know what really happened, and who knew what and who hid what to save Republican seats, and whatever bad stuff comes out will be harmless.

That evening President Bush called Hastert and expressed his support. White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino explained - "The president thanked him for going out and making a clear public statement that said the House leadership takes responsibility and is accountable. He said he appreciated that when they got the information, they swiftly took action making clear that Rep. Foley should step down and promptly requested a Department of Justice investigation. And he expressed his support for the speaker."

Hastert had made himself clear - "Could we have done it better? Could the page board have handled it better? In retrospect, probably yes. But at the time what we knew and what we acted upon was what we had."

That's expressing regret for not knowing much as taking personal responsibility. It seems that will have to do. The president is satisfied.

So the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct - the ethics committee - is investigating potential violations of House rules, and the Justice Department starts its criminal investigation. The fellow who told reporters that he had talked three years ago with top aides to Hastert about Foley's conduct with pages had already met with the FBI. The AP item in the ink above has the details of who gets a subpoena. There are lots of folks who will. This will take time. And the ethics committee will have no outsiders - the House can handle investigating itself quite nicely, thank you.

The snark site Wonkette offers this summary of the Hastert press conference - "You'll pry the speaker's gavel from my cold, dead fat hands."

Josh Marshall offers this -
One of the many funny things about Denny Hastert's silly lies about Democrats being responsible for his scandal is this: is this really their position? If the Democrats would have just focused on the real issues instead of blowing the whistle on our caucus pedophilia, we could have gone back to the real business of passing laws and molesting teenagers! Let's focus on the people's business! Oh, and also our funny business. If it weren't for George Soros I could be cranking out a few good IMs right now!
The personal responsibility thing is being met with skepticism, in spite of the president's enthusiasm.

And the polling on the matter was dismal, in spite of the president's enthusiasm. It seems here (Rasmussen), sixty-one percent of Americans believe that House Republican leaders have been protecting Foley for "several years." Only twenty-one percent believe that they learned of his problems only last week. So this looks bad. Then there was the generic congressional ballot question - would you prefer to vote for a Democrat or a Republican in November - and forty-seven percent said "Democrat" and only thirty-four percent said "Republican." That's a thirteen point spread - in August eight percentage points.

Nice words from the president may not help much. After the "State of Denial" book from Bob Woodward hitting the street the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll had his approval rating down three points to thirty-nine percent, and new polls from AP-Ipsos and Pew had him at a steady and dismal thirty-eight and thirty-seven percent, respectively. (Those polls are here and here.) He can say what he wants. It might not matter.

And this seems to be a bit larger problem than it seemed, as reported here -
Three more former congressional pages have come forward to reveal what they call "sexual approaches" over the Internet from former Congressman Mark Foley.

The pages served in the classes of 1998, 2000 and 2002. They independently approached ABC News after the Foley resignation through the Brian Ross & the Investigative Team's tip line on ABCNews.com. None wanted their names used because of the sensitive nature of the communications.

"I was seventeen years old and just returned to [my home state] when Foley began to e-mail me, asking if I had ever seen my page roommates naked and how big their penises were," said the page in the 2002 class.

The former page also said Foley told him that if he happened to be in Washington, D.C., he could stay at Foley's home if he "would engage in oral sex" with Foley.
So more pages, and far too much information. Hastert didn't close this out with his Truman buck-stop-here news conference. But it was a nice try.

Andrew Sullivan, the disgruntled gay conservative writer, says this -
Three other pages describe Foley's online predation. The GOP is going to have to find another angle to deflect this. They've tried blaming the MSM [mainstream media]; they've tried blaming Clinton; they've tried to turn all the victims into pranksters. It's been a worthy display. But in the end they may have to take ... responsibility. Remember that? It used to be a conservative value.
It still is a conservative value. It's just more a theoretical or ideal value. They're working on implementation, but it's hard work.

As for the prank business that Sullivan mentions, that was the big scoop Matt Drudge came up with Thursday, October 5, here - "According to two people close to former congressional page Jordan Edmund, the now famous lurid AOL Instant Message exchanges that led to the resignation of Mark Foley were part of an online prank that by mistake got into the hands of…" - and so on and so forth.

Well, Drudge is the man who broke the Monica Lewinsky story, so he was once right for all the pasta he throws at the wall, but no one is buying this. But he did try, and it was immediately picked up on all the right-wing blogs. And that led to this -
The FBI is investigating a possible threat against the north Louisiana teenager who was on the receiving end of suggestive e-mails from disgraced former Rep. Mark Foley, a Louisiana congressman said Tuesday.

Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, said Tuesday that the young man's life wasn't threatened, "but close to it."

"There are people out there who feel like he is the one who (accused) Foley," Alexander said. "There are some bloggers out there who sent him some ugly stuff."
The Christian values people are playing hardball. Folks should shut up, if they know what's good for them. Pages shouldn't mess with the party of God.

But even if you can threaten and intimidate any other pages from saying anything about what happened to them, you have this -
As the scandal over former congressman Mark Foley entered its sixth day, one Republican warned that there may even be further disclosures involving other politicians. "People are very, very concerned," said Representative Ray LaHood, an Illinois Republican. "They think there are going to be more disclosures."
Other politicians, not other pages? This is not looking good.

And Fox News reports here on an internal Republican poll - they know they will now lose an additional ten seats in the House over this, and could, if their figures are right, lose fifty seats. The poll is based on the decision that Hastert does not resign as Speaker - that he stays, as seems to be the party decision, and doesn't just quit.

Sullivan, again, comments here -
And if he quits? Maybe they didn't ask that question. One aspect of this is worth further noting. The base of the GOP has been fed homophobia and gay-baiting for years now. It was partly how Rove won Ohio and the presidency. Gay-hating is integral to their machine. Now, the very homophobia these people stoked and used is suddenly turning back on them.

Part of me is distressed that the GOP could lose not because of spending recklessness, corruption, torture, big government, pork, and a hideously botched war ... but because of a sex scandal which doesn't even have (so far as we know) any actual sex. But part of me also sees the karmic payback here. They rode this tiger; now it's turning on them. And it's dinner time.
But there's a twist - the evangelical fundamentalist Republican strategist Tony Perkins has a new line - the Foley cover up was perpetrated by a secret cabal of gay GOP House members and staffers, or so he said on CBS here. Josh Marsall had already assumed this was the plan Karl Rove had - fire up the base by letting them decide it was a gay conspiracy.

David Corn, the Washington editor of The Nation and co-author of Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, says he has already been given a copy of a list that's circulating in Washington, but he's not going to play that Rove game.

But there's something there, as Bill Montgomery explains in The Lavender Bund -
In my day (the '80s) we didn't have a list, but the gay GOP underground in DC did have a name, one that as far as I know the members invented for themselves: the Lavender Bund. That ironic sensibility, you know.

It was common knowledge, at least among the journalists I drank with, that certain mid-level Reagan appointees were bundists, as were some of the rising young studs in Gingrich's House insurgent movement, and a rather larger number of the conservative foot soldiers in the think tanks and on K Street. Some of the names have since appeared in print, some haven't. On the whole, though, the bund has been fairly successful at keeping the closet door closed. When the Washington Times (which wasn't exactly butch central itself) started poking around in the political and sexual dealings of lobbyist Craig Spence in the summer of 1989, the episode was hushed up fairly quickly - making it something of a role model for the strange story of Jeff/Jim Gannon/Guckert. If it wasn't for the gay press, which decided a few years ago that it was OK, or even obligatory, to out gay GOP politicians who vote against the community's interests, the closet would probably be even more crowded than it currently is.

I didn't hang with religious conservatives when I was in Washington, and I certainly don't today, but it was definitely my impression that the poobahs of the fundamentalist movement were just as aware as us reporters that the Lavender Bund existed, but tacitly, if uncomfortably, accepted it as one of the unfortunate realities of coalition politics -- or, as it's now called, "transactional lobbying."

But here's the thing: Their Biblically literate (and literal) followers don't know it, and probably aren't too happy to learn that GOP actually stands for Gays Obscured but Protected. I think that's one reason why another post-Foley conservative talking point - that the House leadership didn't crack down on him because it was afraid of appearing homophobic - was quickly recalled. Sensitivity on that score isn't exactly a Christian fundamentalist selling point.

Which is also why claiming there is some kind of secret gay cabal within the Republican Party that successfully protected Foley and sabotaged any effort to "clean up" the House is about the worst GOP defense I can possibly imagine. The fact that Perkins is trying to peddle the theory himself is more likely a sign that the fundamentalist high command realizes its own credibility is in mortal danger. Like everybody else involved, they need a scapegoat.

Of course, that doesn't mean some individual GOP politicos aren't also spreading the story to try to save their own worthless hides. But I can't believe the party propaganda machine itself would run with it. They're not that stupid.

On the other hand, if I were the ruthless, Machiavellian leader I wish the Democrats had, I'd be doing my best to subtly spread the meme far and wide. Because while the conspiracy angle is pure bunkum (unless trying to survive in an officially homophobic party qualifies as a conspiracy, in which case Anne Frank was also a conspirator), the Lavender Bund's existence is obviously real. And the longer this story goes on, and the more that comes to light about the delicate compromise that has allowed the bund and the American Taliban to coexist on Capitol Hill for going on three decades now, the more likely it is that the Republican Party, or the Christian fundamentalist movement, or both, will be turned into pillars of salt come November.
Who'd have guessed? They need these guys, which won't go down well with the base.

In any event, Hastert had taken responsibility. Poor guy. Luckily, like the rest of them, he just not any good at it.

Oh, and the same day that Hastert took personal responsibility, Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit to Baghdad, and told the leaders of that shaky government there that the whole thing was a mess, and it certainly wasn't our fault, so they'd better get their act together. See this clip of Wolf Blitzer and Michael Ware (in Baghdad) discussing this on CNN's Situation Room here -
Blitzer: At this point, she comes in for a few hours, a day or whatever. Into Iraq, she immediately goes to the very secure green zone. Does she really see what's happening inside Iraq? Does she leave there with a better appreciation of either the sectarian violence or the insurgency?

Ware: Of course not, Wolf. I mean you could just imagine the umbrella of security that encases someone like the Secretary of State. But I mean going to from the airport which is its own self-contained little bubble. To the green zone which is the ultimate bubble here in Iraq, I mean, U.S. Officials and contractors and all manner of people will come into six to twelve months in Iraq. But never leave the green zone. They don't know even what it's like to walk an Iraqi street. Certainly not without the shroud of heavily-armed American soldiers about them. They don't know what it's like to go to someone's home and sit and talk with them. To shop in the markets. To have blackouts. To not have water. To have the queue for benzene. Secretary Rice is so far from that reality that she couldn't possibly hope to understand it. Certainly not from fleeting visits to an artificial bubble like the green zone, Wolf?
But she tells them their country, or some reason or other, is a mess and they need to fix it NOW. They needed to take personal responsibility for this. They were no doubt too polite to argue who was responsible for what, really.

The set-up of this very public visit was obvious - when this is really gone and cannot be recovered, it won't be OUR fault. It will be their fault.

She's not much good at the responsibility thing either. But she does know it's important.

Somehow it's only important for the other folks. It's kind of an inside joke, or so it would seem.

Posted by Alan at 22:56 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 6 October 2006 06:25 PDT home

Wednesday, 4 October 2006
Getting Serious - Deciding Which Farce Matters More
Topic: Perspective
Getting Serious - Deciding Which Farce Matters More
Wednesday, October 4, 2006 - it's just a spot in time. The Republican train wreck got even worse -
House Speaker Dennis Hastert's political support showed signs of cracking on Wednesday as Republicans fled an election-year scandal spawned by steamy computer messages from former Rep. Mark Foley to teenage male pages.

At the same time, Foley's former chief of staff said in an Associated Press interview that he first warned Hastert's aides more than three years ago that Foley's behavior toward pages was troublesome. That was long before GOP leaders acknowledged learning of the problem.

Kirk Fordham, who was Foley's top aide until January 2004, said he had "more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest level of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene" several years ago.

Fordham resigned Wednesday as staff chief for another lawmaker caught up in the scandal, New York Rep. Thomas Reynolds, the House GOP campaign chief who says he alerted Hastert to concerns about Foley last spring.

The aide's claim drew a swift, unequivocal denial from Hastert's chief of staff. "What Kirk Fordham said did not happen," Scott Palmer said through a spokesman.
Okay, then. This Kirk Fordham fellow was the same guy who told ABC's Brian Ross - the man who does the legwork and broke the story - that if Ross would keep the really nasty IM messages secret he'd give Ross an exclusive on the Foley resignation. The seat could be saved. The election mattered. Ross said no.

Fordham worked for Thomas Reynolds, the fellow who held his press conference surrounded by cute children so no one could ask "adult" questions (discussed here), and Fordham used to work for Foley. Reynolds line was he did what he was supposed to do - "I told my supervisor about the problem" - so it wasn't his fault. And he fired Fordham for trying to keep ABC from reporting what it had, which Fordham says now he never did. And Hastert said that Reynolds may actually have told him about the problem, but he didn't really remember.

Fordham looked like the bad guy. And now this - Fordham flat-out says he told he told Hastert and his staff there was a problem, and he didn't tell them a year ago, but three years ago. Hastert says he's lying.

It's hard to keep it all straight. It's kind of like a Three Stooges skit. But the concept is easy. There was a problem - a congressman hitting on the young male pages - and nothing was done about it. Two guys - Reynolds and Fordham - say they told the guy who was supposed to handle it, Hastert, all about it. But those two now are at odds. Hastert said the be that as it may, he really didn't know how serious it all was - he didn't know about the IM messages - and anyway, he had one of his staff tell Foley to cut it out with the friendly letters. It wasn't his fault. He only had some suspicious letters and he really did have his people tell the fellow to stop that nonsense. He assumed the nonsense had stopped. That's logical. You see someone doing something really suspicious, so you have your people tell them to stop, so they obviously stop. He feels "duped" and wronged, and doesn't think anyone should be picking on him, of all people. And anyway, the kid's parents had told him to keep it quiet. As a thoughtful guy, what else could he do? (Anyone who has ever been in management is rolling their eyes right here.)

And all day Wednesday came tales of pages as far back as 1995 being warned about the ominously friendly Foley.

Hastert thus looks foolish - out of everything, unaware of his surroundings, or perhaps complicit.

The defenders of Hastert trotted out their arguments - it's the kids fault, they're oversexed these days (Matt Drudge), it's Bill Clinton's fault with the example Clinton set with Monica Lewinsky (Sean Hannity saying we should remember Lewinsky herself was just nineteen when she first met Clinton, even if the record shows she was twenty-two), the Wall Street Journal saying the problem is gay men, they're all like that, and what was Hastert to do? Joe Lieberman, who broke with his party over the Lewinsky business and excoriated Clinton on the floor of the Senate, said Hastert should not be forced to resign - this is not the time for partisan bickering. It's not that big a deal. (If Rumsfeld goes everyone says Lieberman is next in line for Secretary of Defense, and he's no dummy.)

But the Three Stooges skit rolled on, sucking in more players, just like the old short films with their pie fights. Congressman Roy Blunt of Missouri, third-ranking House leader, "pointedly" (AP's word) told reporters he would have handled the matter differently than the speaker, had he known of it - "I think I could have given some good advice here, which is, you have to be curious, you have to ask all the questions you can think of. You absolutely can't decide not to look into activities because one individual's parents don't want you to."

Republican congressman Ron Lewis of Kentucky, in a tight re-election race, suddenly canceled an invitation for Hastert to join him at a fundraiser the following week - ""I'm taking the speaker's words at face value. I have no reason to doubt him. But until this is cleared up, I want to know the facts. If anyone in our leadership has done anything wrong, then I will be the first in line to condemn it."

Ron Bonjean, Hastert's spokesman, said everyone should relax - the entire issue had been referred to the House ethics committee - "We fully expect that the bipartisan panel will do what it needs to do to investigate this matter and protect the integrity of the House." House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said fine - Hastert and the rest of the GOP leadership should be "immediately questioned under oath." She thinks "the children, their parents, the public, and our colleagues deserve answers, and those who covered up Mark Foley's behavior must be held accountable."

Congresswoman Deborah Pryce - chair of the House Republican caucus - asked the House clerk and to investigate rumors that Foley, while intoxicated, had once tried to enter the page residence hall but was stopped by Capitol Police. One of the officials in the House clerk's office, who spoke "on condition of anonymity," said the clerk's office had long ago forwarded complaints about Foley to Foley's staff.

The Justice Department ordered House officials to "preserve all records" related to Foley's electronic correspondence with teenagers, and one law enforcement official said FBI agents have begun interviewing participants in the House page program. Of course such a request for "record preservation" is often followed by search warrants and subpoenas, followed by a criminal investigation. Separately, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement had fired up a preliminary inquiry.

By the end of this one day Hastert was still saying he would not resign, not at all. If he did that then the terrorists would have won, as he had explained to Rush Limbaugh.

So maybe it moved from the Three Stooges into Feydeau territory, from slapstick to farce. Heck, maybe the late Joe Orton somehow wrote this farce, in the manner of his famous farce - "What the Butler Saw." Orton was gay, after all.

The high-powered Wall Street attorney who sometimes contributes to these pages (like here) called that Wednesday on his way out of Manhattan. All his diehard Republican friends, the Bush supporters (there are many of those on Wall Street and in the corporate executive suites), were in despair - come November the party that had made things so good for them would lose the House and Senate. This may be a farce, but it just wasn't funny. These clowns had ruined everything. At least that was the water cooler talk - but these are not the types to hang around water coolers, so you have to imagine a quite different setting. Think fine scotch.

But what's not really funny is something else entirely. It's a different farce. And it's not really funny at all.

At the same time the new Three Stooges were poking each other in the eyes, you'd find stories like this -
An entire police brigade in Baghdad has been suspended and its commander placed under arrest on charges of aiding sectarian death squads that have carried out mass kidnappings.

The Eighth Brigade of the 2nd National Police Battalion, which has more than 800 uniformed officers in western Baghdad, was stepped down a day after armed men in official uniforms herded off 14 shopkeepers from central Baghdad, and two days after 24 workers were abducted from a meat processing plant in the capital.

"The brigade's past performance does not demonstrate the level of professionalism sought by the Ministry of the Interior," Major General William Caldwell said. "It was realized that removing them would, in fact, enhance security.

… "The forces in the unit have not put their full allegiance to the Government of Iraq and gave their allegiance to others."
So the "stay the course" and "as they stand up we'll stand down" seems to be a bit of a farce too.

Watch this clip - Michael Ware on CNN reporting from Baghdad. There are independent death squads, sectarian death squads, death squads supported by various government ministries, ministries that rent their uniforms for the evening to the highest bidding death squad - every man for himself. Which death squads do we fight, and which do we let slide as those we support in power are using them to take care of other bad guys, and keep in power in all the chaos? We need to be very careful. And matters seem to be getting worse.

And this is just depressing -
The morgue itself is believed to be controlled by the same Shiite militia blamed for many of the killings: the Mahdi Army, founded and led by anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

The takeover began after the last election in December when Sadr's political faction was given control of the Ministry of Health. The U.S. military has documented how Sadr's Mahdi Army has turned morgues and hospitals into places where death squads operate freely.

The chilling details are spelled out in an intelligence report seen by CBS News. Among some of the details of the report are:
  • Sunni patients are being murdered; some are dragged from their beds.
  • The militia is keeping hostages inside some hospitals, where they are tortured and executed.
  • They're using ambulances to transport hostages and illegal weapons, and even to help their fighters escape from U.S. forces.
… More than 80 percent of the original doctors and staff where she works are gone, replaced by Shia supporters of the Mahdi Army.
And we made things better? Well, Saddam is gone.

But there was that famous Pottery Barn Rule - you break it, you own it - even if the Pottery Barn people say they don’t really have such a rule. That was what former Secretary of State Colin Powell said to George Bush before we invaded and occupied Iraq. He may have been onto something, even if they laughed at him and eventually fired him.

The same Wednesday during a lecture in Minneapolis he finally stopped being the good soldier, keeping quiet and not weighing in on what was above his pay grade. He's out of that whole system now anyway, and he spoke up -
In Iraq, "staying the course isn't good enough because a course has to have an end," Powell said. In the U.S. today, a challenge the war poses is a question of whether an essential "bond of trust that must exist within a nation... has been shaken," he said. The extent of the damage to trust will be measured in the November elections, he said.
In short, the United States and allies cannot resolve the current sectarian violence in Iraq, and everyone knows it. And they'll vote on that knowledge. The administration has forfeited our trust.

Maybe, or maybe not. Much can happen in the next four weeks.

Bet there is the evidence, as it were, as reported here in the Los Angeles Times -
Two months after a security crackdown began in the capital, U.S. military deaths appear to be rising, even as fatalities among Iraqi security forces have fallen, U.S. military sources and analysts said.

The U.S. military Tuesday revised to eight its count of American deaths in the capital on Monday, the highest daily toll in a month. In September, 74 U.S. troops died nationwide, about a third of them in Baghdad, according to the military.
We lost twenty-one soldiers Saturday to Tuesday, but that's understandable - "Observers also noted recent statements by Al Qaeda in Iraq that reveal a strategy to redirect its attacks from Iraqi troops to U.S. forces."

But it's not just them, and there is death everywhere -
... although Al Qaeda is the most virulently anti-American insurgent force in the country, it is by no means the only one. The Sunni Arab insurgency is composed of many elements, including former members of Saddam Hussein's toppled regime. Iraq's national security advisor, Mowaffak Rubaie, said last month that 80% of the insurgency was made up of local fighters.

The latest casualties come as the U.S. military's focus has shifted from a broad, national counterinsurgency effort to suppressing sectarian fighting in Baghdad.

The rising number of U.S. fatalities is dwarfed by the tally of violent Iraqi deaths, which in July and August reached the highest point since 2003: more than 5,000 in Baghdad alone, according to the United Nations. The Iraqi government is planning to release September's death toll this week.

The high number of slain civilians, many of whom were Sunni Arab victims of Shiite death squads, suggests that U.S. forces eventually may have to take on Shiite militias as vigorously as they have fought insurgents - a prospect that probably would lead to even more American deaths.

"As long as they are fighting the Sunni insurgents, you don't have a problem with the Shiites," said Anthony Cordesman, a Washington-based military analyst. "But the minute they try to deal with the overall sectarian violence - you can't do that without coming into occasional conflict with sectarian and ethnic elements who are not insurgents and not terrorists. These are things that don't offer easy choices to make."

The U.S. military has not released data on the number of attacks against Americans by Shiite fighters, but anecdotal evidence suggests that they may be rising.

"We've seen attacks by various groups of extremists on both sides of the equation," Army spokesman Johnson said.

A senior U.S. military official said last month that Shiite militias were obtaining high-quality bombs from Iran that were occasionally used against U.S. and British troops.

U.S. forces have been met with heavy resistance during occasional raids on Shiite militia strongholds such as Sadr City, a poor Baghdad neighborhood named for the father of anti-U.S. cleric and Al Mahdi militia founder Muqtada Sadr. On Sunday, U.S. forces engaged in a shootout with militiamen as they attempted to detain a suspected death-squad leader.

U.S. officials have complained that Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, a Shiite, has blocked a more concerted effort to combat militias in Shiite neighborhoods.

On Tuesday, U.S. military sources said that U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, which has operational control of ground forces in Baghdad, canceled a planned raid on a national police station. The predominantly Shiite police brigade is suspected of kidnapping 26 Sunni Arabs from a Baghdad meat processing plant Sunday. Most of the abductees have been found dead.

Mohammed Daini, a Sunni Arab legislator, said that warrants were issued Tuesday for 15 members of the police brigade but that 12 of them fled before they could be detained.

Meanwhile, police said they found 15 bodies in Baghdad on Tuesday, most of them bearing bullet wounds and signs of torture. Attacks killed at least 12 Iraqis in the capital, and two in Kirkuk.
So we may have to fight them all, while they work on killing each other, and us. Great.

One appropriate reaction might be this from Digby at Hullabaloo, who originally pointed to these news items -
Jesus oh Jesus. What are we doing in the middle of that hell? (Why did Bush create that hell?) Every day, they find piles of dead bodies that have been tortured and beheaded!

This is a nightmare.

I'm firmly in favor of beating the shit out of the Republicans with this disgusting Foley thing or Woodward's book or whatever. This world desperately needs someone to put some brakes on Bush and Cheney. But, really, no matter what happens now, what they have done to Iraq is so huge, so horrible, so fundamentally immoral I don't know what the United States can ever do to make it right. We invaded a country that was under political repression and turned it into a chaotic bloodbath in which neighbor is killing and torturing neighbor.
So it's a matter of picking your farces - some are on a whole different level.

The contention here is that we had no need to invade Iraq - these guys just wanted to prove their manhood. And at the center is Cheney -
In "A World Transformed," the memoir that he and Bush senior published in 1998, [Brent] Scowcroft makes it clear that while all Bush senior's top advisers had different perspectives, the fundamental division lay between Defense Secretary Richard Cheney and everyone else. By his account, and by those of others in the administration, Cheney never trusted Gorbachev. In 1989 Cheney maintained that Gorbachev's reforms were largely cosmetic and that, rather than engage with the Soviet leader, the US should stand firm and keep up cold war pressures. In September 1991 Cheney argued that the administration should take measures to speed the breakup of the Soviet Union - even at the risk of encouraging violence and incurring long-term Russian hostility. He opposed the idea, which originated with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell, that the US should withdraw its tactical nuclear weapons from Europe and South Korea. As a part of the preparations for the Gulf War he asked Powell for a study on how small nuclear weapons might be used against Iraqi troops in the desert.
Well, he's in charge.

And elsewhere Digby says this -
I'm really beginning to resent all those people who say Bush really is smart, he's just incurious. No. He's clearly an idiot and an arrogant, immature idiot at that. He's been manipulated by a bunch of wily, evil men with competing agendas creating lawlessness, chaos and incoherence in our government.

Over the last six years when we watched Bush shift uncomfortably and babble incomprehensibly in response to complicated questions, when we saw him lash out at anyone who dared to question his judgment or his authority, when we observed him humiliating those around him, we weren't hallucinating and it wasn't an act. This intellectually deficient, petulant man-child was exactly what he appeared to be - and his inept, arrogant administration is a perfect reflection of him.

What you see is what you get. And here's another shocking revelation from Woodward's book:
One of the more troubling subplots running through "State of Denial" involves Prince Bandar, the long-time Saudi ambassador to the United States. By Woodward's account, when then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush decided to run for president, his worried father enlisted Bandar, an old family friend, to tutor the son on foreign policy. When Bandar arrived in Austin, the younger Bush blithely observed that while he had lots of ideas about domestic policies he didn't have a clue about foreign affairs. The Saudi took him under his wing, but he proved a trying pupil, who addressed his mentor as "asshole" and "smart aleck." (Perhaps this is how hereditary princelings affectionately address each other?) At one point, the younger Bush peevishly demanded to know why he needed "to care about North Korea." Bandar pointed out that, if he became president, he would have 35,000 American troops sitting on the DMZ.

Oh, right....

Later, with a Bush back in the White House, Bandar bullied the president into explicitly endorsing a two-state solution to the Israeli-conflict by threatening a total cutoff of Saudi support for U.S. policies. (Bush may never have played poker, but Bandar obviously has.) In another instance, the Saudi prince imperiously demanded - and, worse, obtained - two CIA officials to accompany him on a wild goose chase to Pakistan, where he hoped to kill Bin Laden. During a meeting in the Oval Office, according to Woodward, Bush personally thanked Bandar because the Saudis had flooded the world oil market and kept prices down in the run-up to the 2004 general election.

You don't have to be Michael Moore to find all this unsettling. Equally disquieting, Woodward's source for all this has to be Bandar or one of his intimates, acting at the Saudi's behest. What that suggests is that, after decades of arduously cultivating the Bush family, one of the shrewdest operators on the world stage has written off George W. Bush.
Yes, I do find it somewhat disquieting to know that our president needed to be told why he should care about North Korea. But then, we all pretty much knew he wasn't exactly well informed on world affairs before he was elected, didn't we? He was quizzed on that radio show and mumbled and sputtered like a 6th grader, showing that he didn't even have rudimentary knowledge of foreign affairs. But everyone said it was snobbish to complain, that it wasn't necessary for a president to have none 'o that book smarts because he would have all these grown-up around him. Like these: "Vice President Cheney is described as a man so determined to find proof that his claim about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was accurate that, in the summer of 2003, his aides were calling the chief weapons inspector, David Kay, with specific satellite coordinates as the sites of possible caches. None resulted in any finds."

… That well-known kook was the grey eminence who was supposed to wisely guide Junior through the difficult decisions he would have to make as president. (We also thought Daddy Bush would be a prominent advisor, but Junior couldn't take the competition. Nutballs only needed apply.)

As for the Bandar stuff, I also have to admit that it's a little unsettling that dimwit Junior was being tutored in foreign affairs by the ambassador of Saudi Arabia in the first place. It's even more disconcerting that the little princelings were concocting harebrained schemes to sneak Bandar into Pakistan to get bin Laden when the administration had already shown they had no particular interest in doing it. But then terrorism has never really been taken seriously by this administration. They wanted a war like Uncle Dick Nixon's or Daddy's, only they'd do it much, much better than those old poops ever did.

Honestly, when all the smoke has cleared (if it ever does) I think the overriding lesson we can take from all this is that when someone looks and acts incredibly stupid or incredibly crazy they probably shouldn't be elected president and vice president of the United States. Perhaps this is the insight that could heal the red-blue divide once and for all.
Well, that's a matter of learning from experience versus not admitting you goofed. Voters are funny about such things.

And while all eyes are on the Foley business Iraq is going down the tubes, we had lost nineteen soldiers in Iraq this month, and it was only the fourth day of the month, and the Iraqi government had to pull a brigade of around seven hundred policemen that have possible ties to death squads.

More CNN video of Michael Ware in Baghdad, later the same Wednesday, on the Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, saying this -
Listen, Wolf, this is the way to put it in a nutshell. If the U.S. continues its policy and operations as they are now, the situation will worsen and the enemies of the U.S., Principally al Qaeda and Iran will continue to strengthen. There are a number of options that are presented to Washington at the moment. They are the do this or they don't do this. They either need to get serious about the battle here on the ground. Physically against al Qaeda or in the insurgency. And commit the troops that the commanders need. Or they need to look for alternative solutions. At the end of the day, what they are fighting is potential by most of this country to be consumed bay Shi'a led government with other parts of the government left as western al Qaeda desert training camps and facilities. To avoid that, something radical has to be done. That's the consensus. So Colin Powell is right. Staying the course will only further strengthen America's enemies, Wolf?"
Yeah, like Wolf Blitzer can say anything to that?

Well, we will either follow the Republican motto - "Stay the Course" - or double-down, as they say in Las Vegas.

That would be this, as Arthur Silber sees it -
We should always remember one further fact: those in the administration who drive our foreign policy have always wanted and intended to attack Iran. That was the big target from the very beginning. The question of timing is a separate one. From their perspective, and if they think such an attack would ensure continuing Republican control of Congress, why not do it in the next month? Two for the price of one, and all that… and never mind the possibly tens or hundreds of thousands dead, and possibly even more if the mayhem rapidly spirals out of control. Never mind that the United States would forever brand itself as one of most destructive, contemptible, damnable nations in history, engaging in murderous, aggressive war whenever the whim strikes it.
Well, it would end all the talk about Foley and Iraq. One nuclear war to take care of evil folk trumps two farces.

You just have to decide which topic here deserves the most consideration.

Posted by Alan at 22:26 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 5 October 2006 09:35 PDT home

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