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Consider:

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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Tuesday, 31 October 2006
Levels of Seriousness - Political Halloween
Topic: Perspective
Levels of Seriousness - Political Halloween
Okay, Tuesday, October 31, was Halloween, and here above Sunset we were all hiding. Down the hill they had the annual Halloween parade and party - most of West Hollywood closed, the streets blocked, and the crazies were out. West Hollywood is famous for such things, but dropping in once is enough. And streets are closed out here all the time. Coming up it's the Twentieth Century Fox folks with the new Bruce Willis film, "Live Free or Die Hard." That will be a pain, "shooting on the 105 Freeway and surrounding areas for three weekends in November. The movie involves explosions and pyrotechnics. The eastbound 105 will be completely closed on the first three weekends in November. Imperial Highway will be shut down most days, November 2-19." The first one of those shut down a lot of Century City on many a Sunday.

You get used to a certain level of craziness out here, and sometimes it spills out into the wider world - and sometimes it has very little to do with the movies. Out in Pasadena, home of the Rose Bowl and Cal Tech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratories (lots of intense and brilliant people working on the latest close-up photos just in from the surface of Mars), you'll find Pasadena City College - a rather fine commuter school with its left-wing radio station (KPCC) and a great student jazz band and whatnot. That's where the national crazy Halloween story started, the day before Halloween. John Kerry, the man who got the most votes for president in the 2004 election, was visiting. He was campaigning with California gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides - another Democrat who can't win for losing (no one can touch Arnold Schwarzenegger as he's one heroic movie star) - and messed up big time. He told the student crowd at Pasadena City College - "You know, education - if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

What? As Tim Grieve notes here, this blew open on Halloween with the White House saying Kerry insulted the troops and John Kerry insisting, "No, I insulted Bush."

It's all how you read the words. Kerry spokesman David Wade insisted the senator was referring to George W. Bush - "a president not exactly known for his intellectual curiosity or academic successes" - but no one on the right was buying that. The Republican National Committee said that Kerry, who volunteered for Vietnam after graduating from Yale, was belittling our troops now serving in Iraq. John McCain said Kerry's comments were "insensitive" and "ill-considered." White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said on Halloween that Kerry "not only owes an apology to those who are serving, but also to the families of those who have given their lives in this." And Snow said that Democratic candidates like Jim Webb and Tammy Duckworth should be asked whether they're in accord with Kerry's "absolute insult."

It seems Kerry was trying to say if Bush had actually been any kind of student and made a minimal effort at being smart, instead of mocking those who try either, we wouldn't be in the Iraq mess. But the man has a tin ear and just can't tell a joke - he messed up - bad timing, bad delivery. That's death out here. He'll never make it in Hollywood, especially if he cannot get it working in Pasadena. This town is unforgiving

And the Republicans needed an issue. Blaming the North Korea nuclear test and the 9/11 attacks - and the sluggish economy and most everything else - on Bill Clinton was getting thin. Flogging a president who has been out of office for six years for what's happening now was starting to look silly. Best to switch to the fellow who lost six years ago and has been fighting obscurity ever since. Normally he'd be ignored. But this was just a gift. That he's not running for anything and shunned by his own party didn't really matter. When you need a new scapegoat sometime you just get lucky. This would do.

There was damage control - a statement followed by a press conference -
If anyone thinks a veteran would criticize the more than 140,000 heroes serving in Iraq and not the president who got us stuck there, they're crazy. This is the classic G.O.P. playbook. I'm sick and tired of these despicable Republican attacks that always seem to come from those who never can be found to serve in war, but love to attack those who did.

I'm not going to be lectured by a stuffed suit White House mouthpiece standing behind a podium, or doughy Rush Limbaugh, who no doubt today will take a break from belittling Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's disease to start lying about me just as they have lied about Iraq . It disgusts me that these Republican hacks, who have never worn the uniform of our country lie and distort so blatantly and carelessly about those who have.

The people who owe our troops an apology are George W. Bush and Dick Cheney who misled America into war and have given us a Katrina foreign policy that has betrayed our ideals, killed and maimed our soldiers, and widened the terrorist threat instead of defeating it. These Republicans are afraid to debate veterans who live and breathe the concerns of our troops, not the empty slogans of an Administration that sent our brave troops to war without body armor.

Bottom line, these Republicans want to debate straw men because they're afraid to debate real men. And this time it won't work because we're going to stay in their face with the truth and deny them even a sliver of light for their distortions. No Democrat will be bullied by an administration that has a cut and run policy in Afghanistan and a stand still and lose strategy in Iraq.
That's all beside the point. The man tried to make a pointed joke and screwed it up. Unforgivable. You don't give a fifth-rate performance to a rough audience.

The most widely-read fellow on the left, Kos, has this to say -
Man, there are times when this stuff is more ridiculous than anything a fiction writer or satirist could ever dream up.

So John Kerry mangles a sentence in a public appearance, and the right-wing smear machine and its traditional media enablers are apoplectic. I mean, John Kerry is a, um, junior senator not running for reelection! And he's, um, a war hero who hates the troops! And um, we hate him because he's John Kerry!

Trust me, I haven't been shy to pile on Kerry when warranted, but what a load of bullshit this is. And showing that he has learned from his Swiftboating days, Kerry hit back hard…

Kerry has nothing to apologize for. The people who have turned their backs on the troops do. And even though this ridiculousness will lead the evening news, fact is, we should embrace the opportunity to remind Americans how Republicans rally to the "troops" defense only when it suits their own cynical political ends.
Too late - the damage is done. Now everyone will accept that the war is going well, we're winning decisively, and no mistakes were made about anything at all.

Maybe that'll happen. One commenter at the Kos site notes on MSNBC's Hardball show, host Chris Matthews said flat out that reading the full transcript of the Pasadena thing it's clear that Kerry was insulting the president, not the troops. A big time Republican, Dick Armey, was on at the time and essentially agreed and they both laughed about how funny it was that the White House and the whole Republican party was feigning mock outrage. As the Brit kids say in the Harry Potter books - brilliant.

Kos -
If Republicans want to debate who supports the troops more, let's have that debate. I'd love to talk about nothing else than Iraq for the next week.

And for the rest of you who think this is the end of the world - stop being afraid of your own shadow. Just stop it. Fight or get out of the kitchen. It will get hotter than even this.
Of course it will get hotter. And Halloween day it got hotter -
A Democratic activist who verbally confronted U.S. Sen. George Allen at a campaign rally in Charlottesville yesterday was shoved, put into a headlock and thrown against a window by three men wearing Allen stickers, according to a widely disseminated video of the incident.
The CNN video of that is here, another here, and a series of stills here.

The fellow is a political writer - and an ex-Marine. He wasn't heckling. He waited until after the speech and asked nasty questions. As you see he wasn't violent or even raising his voice. Allen's goons took him down. He was disrespectful. Senator Allen said such things happen - no big deal.

This may have been staged, or pre-planned. It does send a message to voters - George Bush may be too much of a wimp when it comes to the press, so elect me and Helen Thomas and David Gregory will get bounced around real good if they ask uppity questions. It kind of reaches out to the authoritarian-minded Americans who are sick of people complaining and making trouble. It's a bit of a message.

Mike Stark, the fellow who was roughed up, doesn't get it -
My name is Mike Stark. I am a law student at the University of Virginia, a marine, and a citizen journalist. Earlier today at a public event, I was attempting to ask Senator Allen a question about his sealed divorce record and his arrest in the 1970s, both of which are in the public domain. His people assaulted me, put me in a headlock, and wrestled me to the ground. Video footage is available here, from an NBC affiliate.

I demand that Senator Allen fire the staffers who beat up a constituent attempting to use his constitutional right to petition his government. I also want to know why Senator Allen would want his staffers to assault someone asking questions about matters of public record in the heat of a political campaign. Why are his divorce records sealed? Why was he arrested in the 1970s? And why did his campaign batter me when I asked him about these questions.

George Allen defends his support of the Iraq war by saying that our troops are defending the ideals America stands for. Indeed, he says our troops are defending our very freedom. What kind of country is it when a Senator's constituent is assaulted for asking difficult and uncomfortable questions? What freedoms do we have left? Maybe we need to bring the troops home so that they can fight for freedom at George Allen's campaign events. Demanding accountability should not be an offense worthy of assault.

I will be pressing charges against George Allen and his surrogates later today. George Allen, at any time, could have stopped the fray. All he had to do was say, "This is not how my campaign is run. Take your hands off that man." He could have ignored my questions. Instead he and his thugs chose violence. I spent four years in the Marine Corps. I'll be damned if I'll let my country be taken from me by thugs that are afraid of taking responsibility for themselves.

It just isn't the America I know and love. Somebody needs to take a stand against those that would bully and intimidate their fellow citizens. That stand begins right here, right now.
Yeah, yeah - well, times are changing. The price you pay for asking questions is going up. Anyone in Austria in 1938 would know that. This fellow doesn't get it.

Here and there a few people will be outraged by this incident, and a bit more widely some others may feel somehow uncomfortable about it. The political calculation seems to be that most of America is pretty fed up with politics and the election news from all over, and this will appeal to them. People should just shut up and not make trouble. George Allen's stock just rose.

But there is calm, reasoned questioning. It's just useless -
Sen. Hillary Clinton delivered what they call a "major policy address" at the Council on Foreign Relations this afternoon, and it proved that, against an administration of misplaced conviction and shallow ideology, clichés are wisdom and conventional thinking can be profound.

Few of Sen. Clinton's pronouncements would stun a classroom of freshman poli-sci majors. That U.S. foreign policy needs "bipartisan consensus" and "nonpartisan competence"; that, in an "increasingly interdependent world," we must remain "internationalists" and "realists"; that "patient diplomacy, backed up by American strength, informed by American values," is just the ticket. Who could dispute such truisms?

The stunning thing is that the president of the United States and his top advisers do dispute them in their rhetoric and their policies. Hence their blithe disregard of expertise (military, economic, and otherwise), their harrumphing unilateralism, their exaggerated assumptions about American power, their dismissal of negotiations as a game for weaklings (and negotiations with bad guys as appeasement).
But she said it so nicely no one wanted to beat her up.

That's from Fred Kaplan who spends some time pointing out banal truisms now seem radical, but then, "when President Bush reduces the sectarian complexities of Iraq to a struggle between the forces of terror and the ordinary people who just want a decent life, he seems utterly incurious about the composition of those people or what they might consider a decent life - and genuinely unaware of the connection between their society's upheaval and the war that he brought on."

So in that context what Clinton proposes makes the administration very, very, angry. She's suggesting what seems kind of obvious -
1) Press the Iraqi government to get serious about internal reconciliation, and present real consequences for their failure to do so. One possible approach, she said, might be to establish an oil trust, the revenue of which would be equitably shared by all Iraqis, thus placating Sunni discontent and demonstrating that America has no ambitions for their oil. 2) Convene an international conference of all parties in the region, including Iran and Syria. 3) Begin a "phased re-deployment" of U.S. troops, leaving behind only enough for support and training Iraq's own military.
And that makes her one of the "cut and run" people who want the terrorists to win, of course. At least it's a policy. It would be nice to have one.

What else? More troops in Afghanistan, and direct talks with Tehran, if just to find out who's really running things over there. As Kaplan notes on the latter - "President Bush declines, leaving such things to the British, French, and Germans, saying that the Iranians know what we want if they want to strike up a conversation." On North Korea, said she was real happy that that the North Koreans agreed on Halloween morning, after extensive diplomatic pressure from China, to return to the six-party talks in Beijing. But she complained that the Bush administration "has spent six years dangling neither sticks nor carrots in its dealings with the admittedly horrid Kim Jong-il."

Kaplan says of all this (and there are a few other items) -
In certain Democratic circles, the cry has gone out for presidential candidates and party honchos to articulate grand ideas, especially in foreign policy - bright new strategies for the 21st century and the post-post-Cold War world. But if there's one lesson of the George W. Bush era (and it is an era - has any six-year span ever seemed longer?), it's that grand ideas are the ones that most often get you in trouble. There are plenty of good ideas - sound ideas out there in the realms of history, shrewd analysis, and common sense. It might be enough simply to call for candidates who are smart, skeptical, and rooted in reality.
So forget John Kerry's screw up, and George Allen's demonstration of how things should really work in America. These are all minor matters. We need some big, obvious fixes, even if banal and a tad boring.

Why? Consider what Lieutenant General William E. Odom (retired) - a senior fellow at the wildly conservative Hudson Institute and a professor at Yale University - had to say on Halloween -
Our leaders do not act because their reputations are at stake. The public does not force them to act because it is blinded by the president's conjured set of illusions: that we are reducing terrorism by fighting in Iraq; creating democracy there; preventing the spread of nuclear weapons; making Israel more secure; not allowing our fallen soldiers to have died in vain; and others.

But reality can no longer be avoided. It is beyond U.S. power to prevent bloody sectarian violence in Iraq, the growing influence of Iran throughout the region, the probable spread of Sunni-Shiite strife to neighboring Arab states, the eventual rise to power of the anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr or some other anti-American leader in Baghdad, and the spread of instability beyond Iraq. All of these things and more became unavoidable the day that U.S. forces invaded.

These realities get worse every day that our forces remain in Iraq. They can't be wished away by clever diplomacy or by leaving our forces in Iraq for several more years.

The administration could recognize that a rapid withdrawal is the only way to overcome our strategic paralysis, though that appears unlikely, notwithstanding election-eve changes in White House rhetoric. Congress could force a stock-taking. Failing this, the public will sooner or later see through all of the White House's double talk and compel a radical policy change. The price for delay, however, will be more lives lost in vain - the only thing worse than the lives already lost in vain.
And he makes the case for getting out in three months. And he argues as Clinton did - the same points, generally.

That's because things like this are going on (a summary of the Halloween Iraq news from Mark Kleiman at UCLA -
It's over.

The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld strategy for Iraq is now obviously a dead letter.

In a showdown between the U.S. Army and the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr, the Prime Minister of Iraq sided with Moqtada, and we are obeying his orders and backing down. PM al-Maliki thinks the presence of U.S. forces in Iraqi cities is fueling violence, and he'd like to see them withdrawn to bases in the countryside.

Let's review the bidding:

1. The Mahdi Army, Moqtada al-Sadr's private militia - the same outfit that we fought house-to-house in Najaf - kidnapped an Iraqi-born U.S. soldier a week ago.

2. Moqtada is a minister Moqtada's nominee is health minister in the Iraqi government, and his party is one of the three that make up the ruling coalition.

3. In response, our troops invested Sadr City, the huge Shi'a slum where Moqtada has his power base, looking for the kidnapped soldier and for one of Moqtada's lieutenants, suspected of organizing the snatch. They set up roadblocks that made travel difficult both within Sadr City and between that area and the rest of Baghdad.

That's the situation as of the weekend.

Yesterday:

4. Moqtada complained, and threatened unspecified but drastic consequences. The Mahdi Army cordoned off Sadr City, completely isolating it.

5. Without any advance warning to the U.S., al-Maliki ordered that the roadblocks be taken down.

6. The roadblocks are coming down.

Of course when the head of a sovereign government gives orders about U.S. military actions in his country, we have no option but to comply. But why should our troops keep dying to prop up a government that won't stop its own political allies from kidnapping them?

Nor, it turns out, does that government want to be propped up the way we're currently trying to do it: Al-Maliki has said he believes that the continued presence of American forces in Iraq's population centers is partly behind the surge in violence.

Duhhhhh ... right. But of course Bush's friends call any Democrat who says that a coward, if not a traitor.

And note also al-Maliki's proposed solution: The speedy withdrawal of American forces from Iraqi cities to U.S. bases in the country.

And of course if we were to do that, we wouldn't need 150,000 troops in Iraq.
And all that is just numbering the sequential events in this news item. They told us to back off, and what can we do?

Here's one idea from Gary Kamiya, apologize -
Americans are feeling many emotions about Iraq these days. There's anger. There's sadness. There's despair, and vindication, and fear. But largely forgotten is the quietest, but most necessary, emotion of all: shame.

When we chose to invade Iraq, we made ourselves morally responsible for the consequences. This was not a debt we wanted to think about. And until the last few weeks, it was possible to repress it, by clinging to the hope that things would somehow turn out OK. That hope has now been dashed. Whether we stay or leave, Iraq is not going to be OK. And all we can do is watch as the deadly consequences of our folly, our rashness, our stupid self-righteousness, our inexcusable imperial hubris are visited on thousands of men, women and children - only a minuscule fraction of them those "terrorists" we were supposedly attacking.

We have turned Iraq into hell. In Iraq today, death can come from anywhere, for any reason or no reason. You can be killed because you belonged to the wrong sect, because you were seen talking to an American, because someone wants your car, because you wore shorts, because you were selling ice, because you drove too close to a U.S. checkpoint, because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There is an old Arab proverb: "Better a thousand days of tyranny than one day of anarchy." It is not an inspiring sentiment, but perhaps there is a reason for it.

… This is the shadow we now live under because of Iraq. We did it. We can't undo it. And we will never be able to make up for what we've done.

Our guilt would be somewhat mitigated, or at least easier to deal with, if there had been any real reason for this war. All wars are terrible, but some are justifiable. This was not. It was a frivolous war, perhaps the most abstract, pulled-out-of-thin-air war ever launched by a world power. It was dreamed up by hollow men who had never experienced war themselves, who made the decision as if playing a board game, and were supported by people who convinced themselves that the world was a board game.

To be sure, some war supporters had good intentions. But that does not exonerate them. If you start a war for no reason, you have to be right about the outcome. You don't have the option of being wrong.

The war supporters' good intentions were to get rid of Saddam Hussein, one of the great monsters of our time, and improve the miserable lives of the Iraqi people. These were laudable sentiments. I was bitterly opposed to the war, but I allowed myself to celebrate the moment when he fell. I thought it was inhumane and dogmatic not to celebrate the downfall of such a dreadful dictator, even though I feared what would happen next. But it turns out that I was wrong to celebrate.

… Whether you agreed with the war or not, once it started America incurred a moral responsibility to the Iraqis.

… What can we do about this? We have no vocabulary for it, no moral compass. What do you do when you have incurred a debt so great it can never be repaid?

In 1997, after a Jordanian soldier killed seven Israeli schoolgirls who were visiting a nature reserve, the late King Hussein knelt, weeping, before each of the girls' parents as a sign of his sorrow, his responsibility and his shame.

America owes the Iraqi people the same gesture.

Protest marches mean little now. Anger can be expressed on Nov. 7. But we need to express our shame.
Ah, we never do such things. But the thought kind of puts the Kerry thing in perspective. It really doesn't matter much.

Posted by Alan at 22:03 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 1 November 2006 08:17 PST home

Monday, 30 October 2006
The End Game - A Pinched, Sour, Ugly Vision of America
Topic: Election Notes
The End Game - A Pinched, Sour, Ugly Vision of America
One week out from the midterm elections things were falling into place. Monday, October 30, President Bush was out campaigning for Republicans and saying that "terrorists win and America loses" if the opponents of his Iraq policy win next week's elections. Oh, a few may win here and there, but the tragedy will be if they win control of the House, or the Senate, or both. Rahm Emanuel, who heads the Democratic campaign committee, was saying fine - "There's a big national debate in this country about the direction of this war set by President Bush, Defense Secretary (Donald) Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney, and Democrats think we need to change that policy." The Associated Press covered it all here, if you like details. But that was about it - the news early in the day was we had just lost one hundred one of our troops in the month, with one day to go. There was no way not to report that. And ads criticizing Republican candidates for following the president's lead on the war were being prepared for Connecticut, New Mexico, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Iowa and a few other places - hammering the "stay the course" folks. The polling justified the expenditures. Two thirds of the country has the notion that this war is pointless.

For the record the Democrats have to gain fifteen seats in the House and six in the Senate to bring on the new era of divided government, and to make the president's last two years in office a bit of a bother for him.

There were some odd complications - New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican who might want to run for president himself one day, campaigned in Connecticut for Senator Lieberman, the Democrat running as an independent (he lost the Democratic primary), who is hoping all the Republicans there would vote for him. They will. Lieberman has the endorsement of Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity, and Bill O-Reilly thinks he's wonderful - and Lieberman says if he wins, which is likely, he will caucus with the Democrats and consider himself one, but vote with the Republicans on all issues, or something like that. He wants to be above it all - bipartisan or something. The Democrat, who won the primary, Ned Lamont, is way off in the polling. The actual Republican candidate there is a nobody with gambling problems - banned from all sorts of casinos - so Lieberman has all the Republican votes and a few of his Democratic loyalists, and massive funding from the White House. He'll be fine. That state is not a worry. And the word is after the election, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld will resign, the president will appoint Lieberman to the position, and the Republican governor of the state will appoint a Republican to Lieberman's slot in the Senate. Problem solved. And Lieberman is on record saying things are going fine in Iraq - great progress is being made and the place is actually far more peaceful than anyone is reporting - and in this dangerous world no politician should ever question the president on anything, as that aids our enemies, or our enemas, or something. So the Connecticut senate seat is fine, even if the house seats there are not.

But the message had to get out for other places where the problem hadn't been so neatly handled. The president ridiculed Democrats in general - They had "come up with a lot of creative ways to describe leaving Iraq before the job is done. [But] however they put it, the Democrat approach to Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses."

Right. And he ended up in Texas, where Republicans hope that the write-in contender, Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, can hang onto former Majority Leader Tom DeLay's seat. Tom had to quit when he was indicted for this and that - conspiracy, money-laundering - and his name had to stay on the ballot as all this happened too late for changes. It's tough to write in Shelley Sekula-Gibbs - spelling counts, it seems. Oops. But you do what you have to do. You sell your competence to the people.

But the war is an issue everywhere, as AP notes -
"Rick O'Donnell. He's George Bush's candidate for Congress. O'Donnell wanted to send 75,000 more troops to Iraq," says an ad in a suburban Denver race that Democrats are particularly optimistic about winning.

"Despite a war gone wrong and no plan for victory politicians like Rob Simmons keep voting to stay the course again and again, following George Bush's failed leadership no matter what the cost," is the accusation against Rep. Rob Simmons of Connecticut.

Rep. Dave Reichert "just sides with Bush on Iraq," says the announcer in the ad against the Washington state congressman. "Iraq is just a disaster. Iraq is a complete disaster. It's heartbreaking."

Yet another ad shows Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., saying, "We need to stay the course," followed by an announcer's voice saying, "No, we don't."
This is not going well for the Republicans. And things get worse by the day in Baghdad.

Digby at Hullabaloo notes the core issue -
Let's say you have a problem. You have the choice of two people to solve the problem - the one who caused the problem, refuses to admit it even is a problem and won't change anything even as the problem grows worse - or the other one. Which do you choose?

That's the simple logic of this election.

There are, of course, many affirmative Democratic messages necessary for the future. But right now, this is it.
And so it would seem.

How bad is this? It looks a bit like a tidal wave.

See the widely read Cook Report -
With the election just eight days away, there are no signs that this wave is abating. Barring a dramatic event, we are looking at the prospect of GOP losses in the House of at least 20 to 35 seats, possibly more, and at least four in the Senate, with five or six most likely.

If independents vote in fairly low numbers, as is customary in midterm elections, losses in the House will be on the lower end of that range. But if they turn out at a higher than normal level, their strong preference for Democrats in most races would likely push the GOP House losses to or above the upper levels.

The dynamics we are seeing this year are eerily similar to those in 1994. The President and party are different, so are the issues, but the dynamics are comparable.

In 1994, Democrats were in trouble because of tax increases, a failed health plan, and the crime bill (read, guns). There were also a myriad of scandals that started in the late 1980s that moved voters, including many Democrats, to reject the party's candidates, including some once-popular incumbents.

This year, it is the war in Iraq and scandals. For conservatives, the list also includes the Mark Foley affair, immigration, high government spending and high deficits. For Democrats and independents, stem cell research and Terri Schiavo round out the list. Finally, it would seem that voters of all ideological stripes feel that the GOP-lead Congress has become dysfunctional.
So the numbers are not looking good. But the anecdotal evidence is worse. After appearing on Bill Maher's HBO political show "Real Time," the rebellious conservative Andrew Sullivan offers this -
I was chatting with some friends after the Maher show. They'd been against the war from the beginning. They were African-American and said it was obvious to them that the WMD argument was what they called "game." They weren't surprised. I was. I believed George W. Bush. And I trusted him. And as the evidence has poured in that my faith and trust were betrayed, my surprise has turned to rage. I'm not a generally angry person. But if I have placed my trust in someone on a matter of this gravity and I find out they lied, bungled and betrayed me and others who trusted them, then all I can say is: they picked the wrong guy to bamboozle.

You don't send 19 year-old kids to risk their lives and die to protect your own political power or advance your own partisan purposes. You don't abandon thousands of innocent Iraqis who also trusted you to marauding gangs of terrorists and murderers, and stand by and tell critics to "back off." You don't ask people of good faith to support you in a critical war and then secretly breach the Geneva Conventions and torture people and blame only a few grunts on the ground for your war-crimes.

The anger of the left, I realize, was always there. But the anger of the betrayed and decent right and center is deeper. Some readers think my anger has gotten the best of me. Maybe on occasions it has. But I'd rather be too angry than too afraid to call these people what they are.

But he's just one voice, and the president's supporters dismiss him for two reasons - he's gay, and a devout and very traditional Catholic, not a born again evangelical, so he harps on love and forgiveness and helping the poor and that sort of thing, not on smiting the evil people in this world and waiting for The Rapture.

But he's just one voice. The New York Times over the weekend offered many voices - the Republican professional class, well-off and well-educated, up in the Northwest.

These folks aren't happy either -

"I am a Republican and have traditionally voted that way," Tony Schuler, an operations services manager at Microsoft with a Harvard M.B.A., said as he sat with his wife, Deanna, in their home above Lake Sammamish. But Mr. Schuler abhors what he sees as a new Republican habit of meddling in private affairs. "The Schiavo case. Tapping people without a warrant. Whether or not people are gay," he said. "Let people be free! It's not government's job to interfere with those things."
To that Sullivan adds this -
American freedom and Bush-Rove Republicanism are increasingly at odds. Don't let them intimidate you. If you're a conservative who actually values the constitutional freedoms these people are stripping away, vote Democrat or abstain. If today's GOP wins, they will take it as vindication for their authoritarian streak. And the path we have already embarked upon will only get darker.
More dispassionately Digby notes the real issue -
I think that is one of the most interesting observations I've read in a while (certainly in the New York Times.) The Republicans and the Christian Right are leading America on a backward march into the Dark Ages - and that is stepping on our dreams. As a culture, we have always been idealistic about progress and inspired by new discoveries to improve the lot of the human race. We're about invention and reinvention. It's one of our best qualities.

These people are telling us that those days are over. We have to depend upon brute force, superstition and ancient revelation. Science is dangerous. Art is frightening. Education must be strictly circumscribed so that children aren't exposed to ideas that might lead them astray.

It's a pinched, sour, ugly vision of America. For those who believe that their time on earth is all about waiting for The Bridegroom, perhaps that doesn't mean much. But for the rest of us, things like scientific breakthroughs or artistic achievement are inspirational, soaring emotional connections with our country and our fellow man. It makes us proud. The dark-ages conservatives want to take that away from us.

This country has been divided at 50/50 for some time. That probably cannot continue much longer and a real majority will emerge before long. Tax-cuts have held together the GOP coalition up to now, but their dark vision of the future may be the thing that finally drives the suburban, educated voters to our side of the ledger for a long time to come. We're the ones with the progressive dream of the future and that's as American as a Big Mac and fries.
The Republicans may get out heir base and find the base is fourteen people in South Carolina.

And the stem cell thing isn't helping, when after being attacked as a manipulative faker by Rush Limbaugh for the ad where Fox argues such research should be fully funded, Michael J. Fox was using another really sneaky tactic, refusing to cave in -
As you may know, I had a run-in with a less than compassionate conservative. I guess I'm not supposed to speak with you until my symptoms go away, or maybe I'm supposed to go away, but I'm not going to go away and neither are the millions of Americans and their families who live with these diseases…
Yeah, Limbaugh was doing to Fox what Ann Coulter had done to the World Trade Center Widows - telling them they were being unfair because folks would feel sorry for them and anyone who thought they were wrong would look like a fool and a bore. Same thing happened. No one is going away like they're supposed to.

Will the base hold, and make the votes gay Catholic, the suburban, educated usually Republican voters, and all the others, insignificant? E. J. Dionne doesn't think so -
President Bush's six-year effort to create an enduring Republican majority based on a right-leaning coalition is on the verge of collapse. The way he tried to create it could have the unintended consequence of opening the way for an alternative majority.

… The strategy pursued by Bush and Karl Rove has frightened most of the political center into the arms of Democrats.

… [T]his approach created what may prove to be a fatal political disconnect: Adventurous policies designed to create enthusiasm on the right turned off a large number of less ideological voters.

That's a rather pedestrian observation, but it seems lost on Karl Rove. See the Houston Chronicle here - Bush stumps for Sekula-Gibbs in Sugar Land.

It seems most of the speech was about the evils of gay marriage, and it was received with wild enthusiasm. To many this hardly seems the most pressing issue the nation faces, but you need to fire up the base. Rove doesn't seem to see the implications. Ironically, the big science article of the same day was Mirror Test Implies Elephants Self-Aware - elephants are much smarter than anyone thought, introspective and perhaps aware, in the Cartesian sense. Thomas Nast chose the wrong symbol for the Republican Party - but then Nast didn't have the new research. Ah well.

And sometimes you just have to forget the labels. One of those awful World Trade Center widows that Ann Coulter mocked, Kristen Breitweiser, says forget the labels -

Go ahead. Call me a Democrat. But, I am not; I'm anti-terrorist - which means that I cannot support the Republican agenda.

Go ahead. Call me crazy. But, I am not. I favor common-sense logic, sound judgment, and smart leadership proven by and rooted in truth and reality - which means that I cannot support the Republican agenda.

Truth and Reality: Five years since 9/11, the Republicans have done more to further the terrorist agenda than Osama Bin Laden could have ever hoped for on the morning of 9/11.

The Republican's pre-emptive war in Iraq gave Bin Laden exactly what he dreamt about on the morning of 9/11: it has strengthened terrorist organizations worldwide; made American Republican policy makers and leaders look weak, ignorant, and arrogant; drained U.S. military personnel ranks and morale; eaten up massive amounts of our national budget; destabilized the world; harmed the U.S.'s reputation in the world; weakened U.S. Constitutional principles and the ideals of free and democratic society; allowed North Korea and Iran to not only become emboldened but also real, credible threats to American security; and left our homeland defense alarmingly vulnerable to a dizzying array of future terrorist attacks (i.e. biological, chemical, nuclear, aerial, nautical, etc).

In short, Republican leadership since 9/11 has been (to quote our Defense Secretary) a "catastrophic success." "Catastrophic" to us Americans. And a "success" to the terrorists bent on killing us.

Republicans scare us with their smoke and mirrors; their quick double-talk and their expensive campaign tactics, advertisements, and distractions. None of which are rooted in truth or reality. Republicans boast that they are the only ones to keep us safe from terrorists. Republicans have threatened that a vote for a Democrat is a vote for the terrorists. Republicans draw attention to the fact that we haven't had another attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.

But, the aftermath of the Republicans maintaining their majority in Congress will likely bring: more worldwide instability; more unjustified and illegal wars against the wrong targets; more U.S. soldiers' lives placed in danger to defend dead wrong Republican policies; thousands of innocent lives lost in the cross-fire of the Republicans' lethal "stay the course" agenda; and apparently a never-ending and ever-ballooning vulnerability to our homeland security due to Republican bad judgment and misfit priorities.

Know this: the Republicans have had five years to make this nation markedly (not merely marginally) safer from terrorist attack. They've chosen not to do so.
She goes on for a bit more. But you get the idea. She's no Democrat, but things happen. The base may be gone.

Maybe the base will finally notice this (those that are sitting on a pile of debt, who fear losing their job, who have dropped their health insurance because they cannot afford it any longer - but would never vote for anyone but a Republican). From Jonathan Chait, just some facts -
Over the last quarter century, the portion of the national income accruing to the richest 1 percent of Americans has doubled. The share going to the richest one-tenth of 1 percent has tripled, and the share going to the richest one-hundredth of 1 percent has quadrupled.
Kevin Drum asks the question -
Whenever you hear someone propose an explanation for skyrocking income inequality over the past few decades, try to think about whether it explains the fact that inequality has gotten immensely worse not just between the top 20% and the bottom 20%, but between the top 1% and the 9% just below them. For example:

Greater returns to education? Do you really think that the top 1% are better educated on average than the next 9%?

Greater rewards for technical skills? Do you really think the top 1% have greater technical skills than the next 9%?

Globalization?

More stable families?

Race and gender?

A failure to take account of the growing value of health benefits?

Do any of these things plausibly seem like big differences between the top 1% and the next 9%? Pretty clearly they aren't. So why is the top 1% outpacing even the well-to-do who inhabit the next 9%? What's the big difference between these groups?
Someone is being had, and loving it. Others aren't so happy.

And on the same day, the same rumbling in the distance -
A spasm of violence seized the capital on Monday. Forty-six Iraqis were killed in six bombings across the city and a moderate Sunni Arab figure was gunned down by two men on motorcycles.

The American toll for October rose to 102, the highest since January 2005, with the military's announcement of three more deaths.

In a single deadly strike, 33 Shiite laborers gathered around food stalls in a Sadr City square were killed when a bomb in a bag exploded at 6 a.m., scattering glasses of tea and remains of breakfasts. The workers had been waiting for offers of $10-a-day jobs.

The attacks continued as the American national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, met in Baghdad with Iraqi officials. He came to discuss the work of a committee set up by the leaders of the two governments on Sunday, whose aim includes giving Iraqis more control over their troops.

The attack in Sadr City came despite the American Army cordon that has been in place for a week in a search for a missing soldier, whom the military believes was taken there. It was the fifth bomb in the area, Al Mudhafar Square, where poor workers line up to seek work, said Haidar Said, a police captain on duty when the bomb exploded.

"Please deliver this message," said Officer Said. "This city has suffered a lot. These are poor people. We want to reach our voice to the world."

… In another assassination, Raad Naem al-Jeheshi, a Shiite who led an organization of former Iraqi prisoners, was gunned down in Dora, a Sunni suburb that American troops had swept.

The militants' use of government uniforms for deception continued in a particularly grim way on Monday, when a suicide bomber dressed as a police officer passed through two checkpoints in the police headquarters in Kirkuk, north of Baghdad. Three people were killed, including a 5-year-old, the child of a woman who works as a cleaner. Thirteen were wounded.

Total Iraqi deaths reported for the day was 81, The A.P. said, including bodies found in rivers near Baghdad.

Violence in Baghdad was also responsible for an American's death, when a member of the 89th Military Police Brigade was killed Monday in the eastern part of the city. Another soldier died when the vehicle in which he was riding was struck by an explosive device south of Baghdad.

The other American whose death was tallied on Monday was a marine who was killed in fighting in Anbar Province the day before.

Some are angry our guys are caught up in this, and dying for some goal that is now unclear, if it ever was clear. Some are angry with those who think that.

Some are appalled at what we have unleashed - Saddam Hussein is gone and that is fine. But what have we done?

Some want to flood that place with three times the troops we have there now and shut down the violence, until we leave, and maybe we can never leave. Some want to back out slowly and carefully, and soon.

Some say just tinker around the edges and things will get better, if we just have patience. Some want to just rethink all this. Some say even thinking about rethinking any of this is treason.

No one is happy. It's not a good time to be running for reelection.

__

Footnote:

Bill Maher is also not happy -

America must stop bragging that it's the greatest country on earth and start acting like it. Now, I know - I know this is uncomfortable for the faith-over-facts crowd, but the greatness of a country can, to a large degree, be measured. Here are some numbers: Infant mortality rate, America ranks 48th in the world; overall health, 72nd; freedom of the press, 44; literacy, 55th. Do you realize there are 12-year-old kids in this country who can't spell the name of the teacher they're having sex with?

Now, America, I will admit, has done many great things: making the New World democratic comes to mind, the Marshall Plan, curing polio, beating Hitler, the deep-fried Twinkie. But what have we done for us lately? We're not the freest country. That would be Holland, where you can smoke hash in church, and Janet Jackson's nipple is on their flag.

And, sadly, we're no longer a country that can get things done, either. Not big things, like building a tunnel under Boston or running a war with competence. We had six years to fix the voting machines. Couldn't get that done. The FBI is just now getting email!

Prop 87 out here in California is about lessening our dependence on oil by using alternative fuels, and Bill Clinton comes on at the end of the ad and says, "If Brazil can do it, America can, too." Excuse me, since when did America have to buck itself up by saying we could catch up to Brazil?! We invented the airplane and the lightbulb. They invented the bikini wax, and now they're ahead?!

In most of the industrialized world, nearly everyone has health care. And hardly anyone doubts evolution. And, yes, having to live amid so many superstitious dimwits is also something that affects quality of life. It's why America isn't going to be the country that gets the inevitable patents in stem cell cures, because Jesus thinks it's too close to cloning!

Oh, and did I mention we owe China a trillion dollars? We owe everybody money. America is a debtor nation to Mexico! We're not on a bridge to the 21st century. We're on a bus to Atlantic City with a roll of quarters.

And this is why it bugs me that so many people talk like it's 1955 and we're still number one in everything. We're not. And I take no glee in saying this, because I love my country, and I wish we were. But when you're number 55 in this category and number 92 in that one, you look a little silly waving the big foam "Number One" finger.

As long as we believe being the greatest country in the world is a birthright, we'll keep coasting on the achievements of earlier generations and we'll keep losing the moral high ground. Because we may not be the biggest or the healthiest or the best educated. But we always did have one thing no other place did. We knew soccer was bullshit.

And we also had a little thing called the Bill of Rights. A great nation doesn't torture people or make them disappear without a trial. Bush keeps saying the terrorists hate us for our freedom. And he's working damn hard to see that pretty soon that won't be a problem.
It's time for a change.

Posted by Alan at 21:58 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 31 October 2006 09:27 PST home

Sunday, 29 October 2006
Hot Off the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements
Hot Off the Virtual Press
Commentary will resume Monday. There's no Sunday night column. The world is much as it was Saturday, a day devoted to assembling the new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is parent to this daily web log. That is now online, and it seems to be Volume 4, Number 44 for the week of October 29, 2006. Click here to go there...

This week, SIX extended essays on current events - in detail and in depth - and a BONUS ITEM - a readers dialog on some current issues (and walls and bears and beer) with a cartoon from Ric Erickson, Our Man in Paris. SIX pages of startling Southern California photography, with two pages of Halloween shots (including some very odd graves of famous stars) - and the other pages are very arty, or something.

Ric Erickson, our man in Paris, sends photos and words - regarding that full-size Russian submarine sitting in the round pond at the Tuileries gardens - really, there's photographic proof! And there are the weekly diversions - handy (and cynical) quotes on how things really work, and the weekly dose of the weird from our friend in Texas.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________________

Being in Charge - Leadership as Pathology
Stuck on Stupid (… sometimes slang terms actually do explain things)
Political Strategy - Going on the Offensive (… five political ploys)
Reassurance Offered - Explaining That Things Will Be Fine (… the presidential press conference, and much more)
Stepping Back - Notes on a Slow News Day (… trying to gain perspective)
Guessing the Future (… just what will be the surprise?)

A Diversion- An International Dialog Regarding Walls and Canadians and More

Southern California Photography ______________________________

A Feel for the Place - Graphic Design and More
Color Studies
Looking Rich - In the Land of Not Quite What It Seems
Halloween Images

Botanicals -
Halloween Blooms (at the graves of dead celebrities)
Dark Flowers (not exactly Baudelaire, but something of the sort)
The International Desk ______________________________

Our Man in Paris - Enough Foolishness (and what is that Russian submarine doing in the middle of Paris?)

Diversions ______________________________

Quotes for the Week: How Things Work
Weird, Bizarre and Unusual: Even More from Our Friend in Texas

Posted by Alan at 18:59 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Saturday, 28 October 2006
Guessing the Future
Topic: The Media
Guessing the Future
October is just about over and there has been no October Surprise that would change the political equation regarding the upcoming midterm elections. This looks bad for the Republicans, although they do have a marvelous "get out the vote" operation, and there's this -
The races in Michigan exemplify the power of political and racial gerrymandering, which can make some incumbents feel safe even in a campaign year soured by the Iraq war, corruption scandals and pockets of economic misery. The contests show how drawing congressional district lines to protect incumbents makes it even harder for Democrats to pick up the 15 seats they need to capture control of the House.

"It is in doubt because state and national polls assume that Democrats are spread evenly among congressional districts instead of being packed into a few districts," said pollster Ed Sarpolus of EPIC-MRA in Lansing, Mich.

Republicans controlled the process of drawing new congressional lines in most states following the 2000 census, and they did a good packing Democrats into as few districts as possible, Sarpolus said. The GOP refers to it as their "firewall" against losing the majority.

"Everyone assumes that the number of seats available are the same as in 1994," said Sarpolus, referring to the election in which Republicans gained 52 seats, taking control of the House.

States are required to redraw the boundaries of congressional districts after every 10-year census to account for population changes. Some states, including Texas and Georgia, have done it mid-decade to capitalize on Republican takeovers of the state legislature.

Gerrymandering - the art of drawing odd-shaped legislative districts to favor the political party in power - has been around since the early 1800s, when Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry drew a politically friendly district that looked like a salamander.

Both parties do it in states where they control the line-drawing. When the parties share power, they sometimes get together to protect incumbents. But today's practitioners say new computer technology helps them draw favorable districts better than ever.

"It's more exact," said Kimball Brace of Election Data Services, a Washington company that specializes in drawing political boundaries.

As recently as 1970, district maps were drawn on paper. In the 1980s, Brace said he could use computers to generate about 10 different district scenarios for a state. After the 2000 census, he could generate 1,000 of them, using detailed socio-economic data and results from hundreds of elections in every precinct.
Isn't technology wonderful? And there are the new and easily hacked touch-screen voting machines being used almost everywhere for the first time now, that offer no paper trail and no way at all to audit results. So maybe an October Surprise wasn't really necessary.

There have been a few oddball reports floating around that various administration folks we happy when North Korea tested a nuclear weapon - that scares people good and, if you think about it, leaves no alternative but war for regime change. But North Korea messed up - the test seems to be a failure. Maybe there will be an early November Surprise - they get it right. That would be a help, as people vote Republican when they're frightened. The other possible surprise would be an all-out war to take out Iran's nuclear sites, and the infrastructure that supports the - road and bridges and all communication lines and such. But although we've moved two attack carrier groups off their coast for "exercises," launching the blitzkrieg with nuclear bunker-busters and all might prove counterproductive. No votes there.

So what can we expect? Perhaps this - The news cycle for Monday, Nov. 6th, the day before Election Day, will include the delivery of the verdict in Saddam Hussein's trial, originally set for October 16th. It was posted of course - the Sunday before the vote on Tuesday, November 7th.

As Bob Harris notes -
Which means the news cycle on Monday, November 6th, the day before the elections, will be filled with reports about the conviction of Saddam Hussein.

Of course, this can be dismissed as a complete coincidence. If you are a complete idiot.

The day before the nation goes to vote, the TV news reports are already baked in: Saddam found guilty! Which of course brings up the talking point: Hail Bush, vanquisher of evildoers! Because, y'know, we have such a free, independent, liberal media and all.

Not sure if it's gonna have all that much effect, given that Iraq isn't quite the winning issue it used to be. But still, seeing the "news" being manipulated like this so far in advance - wouldn't you think that would be the story, and not just the results of the manipulation?

I mean, the American media ain't the greatest adversarial force on the planet, but it's still the 53rd-most free press in the world, right there with Tonga, Croatia, and Botswana. Somebody at CNN must own a calendar.
That study is discussed here - we do rank fifty-third.

But why is that? Bill Montgomery, who made his reporting career covering economics, explains -
Forgive me for belaboring the obvious here. I'm obviously not the first guy to make the point that ignoring the truth is not the same thing as telling the truth (genuflects before pictures of Paul Krugman and Stephen Colbert) but where I might go beyond most liberal critics is in arguing that the "objectivity" convention itself is primarily a commercial arrangement, not a political one. And, like all arrangements in a dynamic capitalist economy, it has a finite lifecycle, one which may be nearing its end.

The mass media - the TV networks, the news weeklies, the large, national circulation newspapers like the New York Times - have been under enormous economic pressures for over a decade now, and those pressures are only getting worse. The mass market itself is being torn apart, into smaller and smaller niches. For most old media, the networks in particular, it's become a zero sum game. Just trying to hold the audiences they have is a losing battle. This loss of market power is one of the forces driving the trend towards consolidation (oligopoly). It's a defensive reaction in an industry that is getting more competitive, not less.

In this kind of environment, the old journalistic tradition - balancing partisan viewpoints across a relatively narrow, centrist ideological spectrum - becomes more and more problematic. So does the old "liberal bias," which could more accurately be described as a kind of cool, technocratic disdain for populist passions, which in this country since about the 1950s, has meant the populist right. The market for that kind of centrist pabulum is receding almost as quickly as David Broder's hairline.

Combine those commercial realities with the progressive polarization of the electorate (and the conservative reach for hegemonic power) and the old media have a serious problem: That which appeals to some bits and piece of the old mass audience may drive away other bits and pieces.

One strategy for dealing with this dilemma is simply to avoid controversy whenever possible, and try to persuade your loudest critics -- which again usually means the populist right -- that you're bending over backwards to be "balanced." That was the initial corporate reaction in the '80s and early '90s; in fact, you often got the feeling the networks wouldn't have minded getting out of the news business entirely, if their licenses would have allowed it.

But instead the rise of cable and its insatiable appetite for programming turned news into a profit center. It's cheap to produce, the scripts essentially write themselves and there are plenty of cross-selling opportunities (as ABC, Disney and Rush Limbaugh are busy proving). When it comes to filling air time, it's as cost effective as the reality shows, if not more so. If only the audiences didn't keep getting smaller, and older…

What finally appears to have dawned on old media is that trying to please everyone not only doesn't keep the critics off their backs, it doesn't help them hold their existing audience or build new ones. The geezers depart for Fox News, the 18-to-35 year olds get their news from the Daily Show. So hard choices have to be made: Which slices of the old mass audience should they try to hold, and which ones can they afford to alienate if that's the price for keeping the ones they want?

It's a triage operation, in other words - and to me it looks as if a conscious, corporate decision has been made to try to hold (or win back) the conservative "red state" audience even if it means losing the liberal "blue state" audience. Whether this is because the conservative audience is larger and more affluent, or because the strategists at Viacom, Disney, GE and Time Warner have decided that liberals are less likely to change channels when their ideological beliefs are offended, or because the more demographically desirable blue state audiences have long since "self selected" their way out of old media's reach all together, I don't know. But when Mark Halperin promises Bill O'Reilly he will feel his pain, or the CBS Evening News gives every conservative nut job in America a spot on "Free Speech," or NBC refuses to accept an ad for the Dixie Chicks because it disrepects Shrub, or Time puts Ann Coulter on the cover, I think they're making economic statements as much as journalistic ones.

You could say: To hell with old media, they're just a bunch of senile dinosaurs anyway, who cares who they pander to? But old media, for better or worse, still set the news agenda, and still dominate the political process. And they're doing an energetic, if not yet totally successful, job of sucking up new media and sticking them in the same corporate straight jacket. If they decide, as matter of cold capitalist calculation, that one-party Republican rule is the smart way to bet, that could also be come a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Maybe I'm wrong - I hope I am. But if I'm right, then there may come a time when progressives look back and sigh for the good old days when journalistic "objectivity" still encouraged the corporate media to give the truth and conservative propaganda equal weight, instead of simply repeating the latter.
In short, there's no economic advantage is reporting that the timing of the Saddam Hussein verdict looks a little suspicious. There's no market-segment for such reporting. Doing that hits no demographic with lots of disposable income. Oh well.

The vice president may have offered a late October Surprise, but that didn't work out that well -
WASHINGTON (AP) - The White House said Friday that Vice President Dick Cheney was not talking about a torture technique known as "water boarding" when he said dunking terrorism suspects in water during questioning was a "no-brainer."

Human rights groups complained that Cheney's comments amounted to an endorsement of water boarding, in which the victim believes he is about to drown.

President Bush, asked about Cheney's comments, said, "This country doesn't torture. We're not going to torture." He spoke at an Oval Office meeting Friday with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Earlier, White House press secretary Tony Snow denied that Cheney had endorsed water boarding.

"You know as a matter of common sense that the vice president of the United States is not going to be talking about water boarding. Never would, never does, never will," Snow said. "You think Dick Cheney's going to slip up on something like this? No, come on."

In an interview Tuesday with WDAY of Fargo, North Dakota, Cheney was asked if "a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives."

The vice president replied, "Well, it's a no-brainer for me, but for a while there I was criticized as being the vice president for torture. We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in."
The political cartoonist Tom Tomorrow says this - "He was just talking about bobbing for apples. Damned liberals misinterpret everything."

This was not the October Surprise that helped at all. You can go to this video and watch White House Press Secretary Tony Snow tap-dance -
Q How can you really make that argument?

MR. SNOW: I'll tell you what he said. He was asked the question, "You dunk somebody's head in the water to save a life, is it a no-brainer?" And also, if you read the rest of the answer, he also - the Vice President, who earlier had also been asked about torture, he said, "We don't torture." Let me give you the no-brainers here. No-brainer number one is, we don't torture. No-brainer number two: We don't break the law, our own or international law. No-brainer number three: The Vice President doesn't give away questioning techniques. And number four, the administration does believe in legal questioning techniques of known killers whose questioning can, in fact, be used to save American lives. The Vice President says he was talking in general terms about a questioning program that is legal to save American lives, and he was not referring to water boarding.

Q Then how can you say that he's not referring to water boarding, when it was very clear, when you look at the whole context, not only that specific question -

MR. SNOW: Does the word -

Q - but the one before?

MR. SNOW: Did the word "water boarding" appear?

Q It came up in the context of talking about interrogation techniques and the entire debate that has been conducted in this country.

MR. SNOW: I understand that. I'll tell you what the Vice President said. You can push all you want, [he] wasn't referring to water boarding and would not talk about techniques.
Who need such things a week before the election?

And you can got to this video - Lynne Cheney on CNN's Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer ranting about liberal bias, and not actually answering any questions -
BLITZER: It made it sound - and there's been interpretation to this effect - that he was in effect confirming that the United States used this waterboarding, this technique that has been rejected by the international community that simulates a prisoner being drowned, if you will, and he was in effect, supposedly, confirming that the United States has been using that.

CHENEY: No, Wolf - that is a mighty house you're building on top of that mole hill there, a mighty mountain. This is complete distortion; he didn't say anything of the kind.

BLITZER: Because of the dunking of - you know, using the water and the dunking.

CHENEY: Well, you know, I understand your point. It's kind of the point of a lot of people right now, to try to distort the administration's position, and if you really want to talk about that, I watched the program on CNN last night, which I though - it's your 2006 voter program, which I thought was a terrible distortion of both the president and the vice president's position on many issues. It seemed almost straight out of Democratic talking points using phrasing like "domestic surveillance" when it's not domestic surveillance that anyone has talked about or ever done. It's surveillance of terrorists. It's people who have al Qaeda connections calling into the United States. So I think we're in the season of distortion, and this is just one more.

BLITZER: But there have been some cases where innocent people have been picked up, interrogated, held for long periods of time then simply said never mind, let go - they're let go.

CHENEY: Well, are you sure these people are innocent?
It goes on. She ends up sneering that CNN wants the United States to lose this war, and that's the real issue, not anything her husband said. Sigh. She must think that "53rd" ranking is far too high. Well, maybe the press should be one more weapon in the Great War. It would help with those ratings.

Reader "DK" over at Talking Pints Memo offers this -
We're darn near six years into this nonsense, but still the White House can beat the press corps like a drum. I'm referring to Cheney's comment that waterboarding detainees was a "no brainer," which the White House has managed to turn into a story about what Cheney really said or what he really meant by what he said.

There's no legitimate doubt about what Cheney said and what he meant. Cheney knows it. The President knows it. So do Tony Snow and the whole White House press corps. Yet we have this spectacularly silly dance - clever people being too clever by half: Snow and Cheney's staff cleverly parsing the interview, and the press cleverly trying to trip up the parsers.

The whole episode has been converted from a story about torture to another in the endless series of stories about the strange relationship between the press and this White House.

The Vice President's comments came in a radio interview on Tuesday. Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers was the first to report its significance in a story late Wednesday that was straightforward and direct, unburdened by the clever word games that would come later.

The Washington Post didn't run its first story on the interview until its Friday edition. Its follow-up piece today is headlined "Cheney Defends 'Dunk the Water' Comment." I don't know how denying he meant what he said constitutes defending his own comment, unless running fast and far in the opposite direction no longer constitutes a retreat. The story also describes what it calls "ambiguities in the waterboarding debate." The "debate" referred to is not about whether torture is moral or lawful, but whether Cheney actually meant waterboarding or merely a "dunk in the water."

The New York Times' first report on the interview didn't appear until today, in a story that deals almost exclusively with Snow's Friday press conference and the fallout associated with Cheney's remarks. It's a story about the White House "fending off" questions, as if the center of gravity in this historic departure from democratic norms were the White House press room instead of the dank corners of secret prisons or the solemn enclaves of our courts.

No thinking person believes Cheney was referring to anything other than waterboarding. The White House is unable to explain what else Cheney could have been referring to. Yet the leading papers are unable to cut through the malarkey.

I suppose the only thing we work harder at being in denial about than Cheney's comments is the fact that we have used waterboarding and other forms of torture. Every thinking person knows that to be true, too, and it shouldn't take Cheney's slip of the tongue to convince us.
In short - the press, as dysfunctional as it is, will keep the October surprises pro-Republican. Lynn Cheney really has no gripe. No one wants to rock the boat.

Oh, and on a minor note, there will be no report on the Mark Foley business before the election, even though all witnesses have now testified before the House Ethics Committee. The press gets of the hook on that one. They can report on the results - on just who ignored the odd fifty-two year old man hitting on sixteen-year-old male House pages so his seat would be safe - when no one can accuse them of being out to get the Republicans. That was a close call for the senior editors, who report to the bean counters. And December Surprises are meaningless, the kind of story the corporations who own the news services rather like.

And no one likes reporting on the war, in a broad way. As we see here, two critics warn that withdrawing from Iraq would "play into the hands of the jihadist terrorists" (Peter Bergen) and cause al-Qaeda to "rejoice" (Michael Scheuer).

You could report that. Or you could be even more logical, as Kevin Drim at the Washington Monthly is here -
That may be true. But what's missing here is what happens if we stay in Iraq: it will play into the hands of the jihadist terrorists and cause al-Qaeda to rejoice. This is the position that George Bush's blinkered view of national security has gotten us into: al-Qaeda improves its position no matter what happens. If we stay in Iraq, it's a substantive win because it helps recruiting and provides a cause for militant jihadists to rally around. If we leave, Osama & Co. will claim that they caused the mighty United States to leave with its tail between its legs.

So which is worse? A substantive victory for al-Qaeda or a round of theatrical, breast-beating propaganda videos on al-Jazeera? That's actually a harder question to answer than it seems, but it's still not that hard. If our foreign policy is focused primarily on the fear of what our enemies might say about us rather than on the substance of what's really happening, we're helpless. Al-Qaeda will always claim victory, after all.
No news outlet will report that, logically, we "lose" no matter which we do. That's a killer story, in the bad sense.

Ah well, the upcoming very late October Surprise, or early November Surprise, will probably be something else entirely. It wouldn't be a surprise otherwise.

Posted by Alan at 15:00 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 28 October 2006 15:03 PDT home

Friday, 27 October 2006
A Diversion - An International Dialog Regarding Walls and Canadians and More
Topic: Perspective
A Diversion - An International Dialog Regarding Walls and Canadians and More
Friday, October 27, 2006 - the site's email group has at it.

THE UPSTATE NEW YORK MARKETING PROFESSOR:
Apologies - I haven't read postings in more than a few days, so the two comments here are totally from left field - or redundancy dundancy, dept of redundancy dept dept...

ITEM ONE Yesterdays BIG signing on THE WALL - and I can't help but wonder - except for the very obvious (literal)... HOW is our wall different than the Berlin Wall? Haven't we spent my ENTIRE lifetime diametrically opposed to governments - on several continents - who made practice and policy of building walls? And wasn't the most recent removal of a national wall the crowning symbol of the largest larger-than-life Republican of the 20th Century? WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THIS COUNTRY? Election Day couldn't be closer!

ITEM TWO A real quickie - top of today's Wall Street Journal - top (center of 3) banner above the mast - nice color shot (biz news isn't drab anymore!) of Dub-ya draped in blue star fields behind each shoulder - his white shirt and red tie gloriously framing his most serious scowl of concern... with the large print quote... "If We Leave, They Will Follow Us Here?" I can only ask - "AND whose fault is THAT?"

Have a good Friday.
ROCHESTER (NY):
And you're in marketing?

As the camera slowly pans along the wall following the Minutemen, sort of like following Sara Hughes across the ice our wall, will have sponsors - Halliburton - Bechtel - General Dynamics - Lockheed.

Sure, they aren't as familiar as Pepsi and STP - but they are probably a better return on your investment
THE UPSTATE NEW YORK MARKETING PROFESSOR:
They aren't as familiar as Pepsi and STP but they are probably a better return on your investment?

Depends on how you define return - and if you factor in all the long term costs of your short term profiteering... eh? I may be in marketing, but I'm also into healthy economics!
PHILLIP RAINES, COLUMNIST AND PHOTOGRAPHER HERE:
But that wall business - my guess is the difference between the Berlin Wall and the Mexico wall is the Mexico wall is to keep people out of here and the Berlin wall was to keep people from getting out of East Germany. Western Germany didn't put up the wall to keep people from fleeing into West Germany, but the Russians put up the wall so they wouldn't lose their valued citizens desperate to leave. That's the way I remember it.
THE UPSTATE NEW YORK MARKETING PROFESSOR:
And that's what I mean by... besides the obvious... The REAL issue centers on governments that construct Walls... for ANY reason! List a good one - please!
HOLLYWOOD:
A good one? The Vietnam War memorial in DC comes to mind.
THE UPSTATE NEW YORK MARKETING PROFESSOR:
I honor you sir with a GOOD reply! The noblest of causes...
OUR MAN IN PARIS:
The REAL issue centers on governments that construct Walls... for ANY reason? Like to keep Canadian bears out of the good old USA? What they got under all that fur, eh?
THE UPSTATE NEW YORK MARKETING PROFESSOR:
Canadian Bears - danger!
Rhymes with Canadian Beer? - Danger!
People who want better lives in the SW? - Danger!
Oh I forgot... that's how all of the shoulder fired weapons we sell get back in the country!

Let's see... When did France last build a wall?

Stop those Canadian Bears!
ROCHESTER (NY):
Yeah - but they play great hockey.
RICK, THE NEWS GUY IN ATLANTA:
So THAT explains why I haven't seen any Canadian bears around Atlanta recently! Now I'm REALLY pissed! (Just another reason to vote Democratic on November 7th!)

And when did France last build a wall? That's right! The Maginot Line! To keep out the Nazis? (How'd that work out, by the way?)
ROCHESTER (NY):
It did keep out the Canadian bears.
PHILLIP RAINES, COLUMNIST AND PHOTOGRAPHER HERE:
Stop the walls!
Stop the bears!
Rhyme with beer!
THE UPSTATE NEW YORK MARKETING PROFESSOR:
We're either writing a new anthem... or fulfilling Arlo Guthrie's old line… Why three? Three's a whole damned conspiracy!

Rhymes with tree...

I like the anthem option!
PHILLIP RAINES, COLUMNIST AND PHOTOGRAPHER HERE:
Wave your freak flag high!

And all this on the 50th anniversary of the release of Alan Ginsberg's Howl. I too have seen "the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness." The other minds were destroyed by Canadian beer and Wal-Mart. Now back to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night...
OUR MAN IN PARIS:
Bears, bears, bears
Comin' over the Wall
Beers, beers, beers
Up on the dang Wall
Lookit them bears
Drank that damn beer!
Up on the wall, wall, wall
Phooey! Shit! Akkah-cak!
Them beers, beers, beers
Ain't no good a-tall
Bears, bears, bears
Goin' back
Over the Wall
Them bears
Ain't coming here a-tall

Sy Louis Stevenson (d. 1857)
ROCHESTER (NY):
Do you think there is a reason none has ever heard of this guy?
OUR MAN IN PARIS:
"Canadian bear in search of beer about to be deported by starlight after crossing Wall on account of illegally lit French cigarette, banned in the United States because they don't contain any fire-retarding chemicals."

Actually this is not quite true. Canadians bears know perfectly well how to search for Canadian beers in Canada, where there are also nubile lady bears to guzzle with.

It is true that French cigarettes, the stinky ones, do not have fire-retarding chemicals in them. It makes them easier to smoke!
Canadian bear in search of beer about to be deported by starlight after crossing Wall on account of illegally lit French cigarette, banned in the United States because they don't contain any fire-retarding chemicals - cartoon by Ric Erikson, MetropoleParis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Illustration, Copyright © 2006 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

RICK, THE NEWS GUY IN ATLANTA:
How times change. When I was on a canoe vacation in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, in 1958 and again in 1968, I was told we were not allowed to bring in American cigarettes because they used paper that was not flame retardant, as was required in the woods. We were, on the other hand, allowed to buy Canadian rolling papers that were soaked in the stuff, assuming we were willing to roll our own. It didn't matter so much to me, since I was not smoking on either of those trips.
HOLLYWOOD:
What were we talking about?

Posted by Alan at 21:04 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 27 October 2006 21:18 PDT home

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