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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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Friday, 8 December 2006
Management 101 - Systems Management and Self-Management
Topic: Bush

Management 101 - Systems Management and Self-Management

After a moderately successful career in management a few things become painfully obvious. No matter what, you don't know everything, and you'd better listen to both those who do the work and those for whom the work is done. And being bullheaded not only makes enemies of those who you lead, it alienates (putting it mildly) the customer, or whoever it is that pays for what your folks provide. You may think you know what's best, and fancy yourself a firm decision maker, but your career will crash on the rocks with your ego. "Tell me more" and "I didn't think of that" are not just manipulative catch-phrases you toss out to impress others in the crisis meeting. You actually have to want to know more and assume you don't know what's really going on. It's not much fun, but it pays well.

On the other hand, there are various management theories. William Arkin, who writes the "Early Warning" thing at washingtonpost.com (the online site, not the print newspaper), notes the other style -
Extremist-in-chief George W. Bush yesterday continued along his merry way, going over the heads of the wise men and defying Washington moderation and the glories of bipartisan centrism to remind the American public that he is also the protector.

"The only way to secure a lasting peace for our children and grandchildren is to defeat the extremist ideologies," the president said.

Mark his words: the only way.

Those yearning for a tidier world can produce studies and recommendations galore, but the president firmly believes he is the one who has to deal with the real world, and that he and not the ivory tower uniquely understands how dangerous it is.

Thus we are witnessing the emergence of a new divide in American politics. It is no longer Democrats vs. Republicans or withdrawers vs. stay-the-coursers. The majority, bucked up by strong majority in American public opinion, is clearly in favor of change. In English, that means it's over in Iraq.

The new battleground will be between the believers and the non-believers. Bush and Cheney command the believers, who remain the custodians of the Sept. 11 aesthetic that America and the world are threatened, leaving no room for niceties and togetherness.

But it is not just Bush and Cheney, and the Washington-New York-Hollywood axis should take notice. The protectors are mobilizing. They see American "will" dwindling and think they need to do something about it.

In our naïve ways, we might believe that that means they have to change policy. But in the ways of national security, the protectors believe just the opposite….
It's that "I hear what you're all saying but there's only one way to fix this" attitude that's telling. It's a confusing of "firm principles" with "I know the best way to do this and you don't." They're quite different things, actually. The first has to do with your values, and the second with what you actually do, operationally, as they say. The latter is where you manage - where you get things done. Confusing the two is deadly. And that may be the problem here, with this whole business of how the administration will deal with the report of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group.

Of course the report says what we're doing just isn't working. But a good summary comes from Lindsay Beyerstein - the report is "demanding that our failed strategy start working better, and fast." Or as Ivo Daalder puts it - "The biggest problem with the ISG report is that it, like much of Washington, buys into the notion that because the consequences of defeat are so dire we should not accept the reality that we have lost." Perhaps this is so. "Tell me more" and "I didn't think of that" are not in the mix here.

It is certainly clear that the report does not recognize that Iraq is in civil war, or that the government there is inherently weak but dominated by one side in this conflict, the Shi'a, or that the Iraqi army and police are pretty much shell organizations made up of Kurdish and Shi'a militias. That's a bit of a problem. To get to the "should be" one usually has to get everyone to agree on the "as is." You don't dwell on the "as is" - you just document it. It's what you have to work with, unfortunately. It's Management 101, not rocket science.

And the problem may be systemic. There may be a major management issue here, one Arkin on touches in passing.

Martin Kettle in the Saturday, December 9, Guardian (UK) agues that the report actually addresses the management theory problems the administration faces.

Kettle tosses in the expected nod to what everyone saw in the report, that it was a "shatteringly critical verdict" of the conduct of the war that "left George Bush looking more than ever out of his depth at his White House press conference on Thursday." So what else is new?

But then he calls out key passages from the report - "The US military has a long tradition of strong partnership between the civilian leadership of the department of defense and the uniformed services. Both have long benefited from a relationship in which the civilian leadership exercises control with the advantage of fully candid professional advice, and the military serves loyally with the understanding that its advice has been heard and valued. That tradition has frayed, and civil-military relations need to be repaired."

And there's this - "Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals."

And this - "A lack of coordination by senior management in Washington still hampers US contributions to Iraq's reconstruction."

These are management issues, not foreign policy issues. So, really, the report is a repudiation of the way the Bush administration works internally -
Nowhere is this more resonant than in what it says about the Pentagon. For it was the Pentagon that ran the administration's Iraq policy, and the senior civilian officials - Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith - who did things their own way and marginalized any service chiefs who disagreed with them.

But the Pentagon ran the policy because the president allowed and encouraged them to do so. This was a huge disfigurement of the traditional inter-agency way of doing things, in which the president, as commander-in-chief, was supposed to make the decisions after taking advice from the inter-agency policy-making apparatus coordinated by the national security adviser.
Kettle calls this "institutional failure on the epic scale"

And it is not as if there were no warnings about this. Ron Suskind's The One-Percent Doctrine - "Sober due diligence, with an eye to the way previous administrations have thought through a standard array of challenges facing the United States, creates, in fact, a kind of check on executive power and prerogative." But that's not the management model they guys work from. And that come from the top, from the president - "He is suspicious of officials, bureaucrats and departments. He is impatient with policy intellectuals. He doesn't want information. He prides himself on his certainties." It's a classic confusing of "firm principles" with "I know the best way to do this and you don't."

Woodward's State of Denial noted the president has a "distrust of the inter-agency" and this instinct became even more pronounced after the 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, and that as things went bad in Iraq he wanted "a process" even less. Mark Danner in the New York Review of Books - "What is striking is the way that the most momentous of decisions were taken in the most shockingly haphazard ways, with the power in the hands of a few Pentagon civilians who knew little of Iraq or the region, the expertise of the rest of the government almost wholly excluded, and the president and his highest officials looking on."

Kettle sees the pattern here, and sees the Iraq Study Group as a management document - an indictment of "the way the Iraq policy was generated and maintained." It's really about how things were done, as much as it is about what was done, or not done.

Although Kettle doesn't say so directly, the idea seems to be that the "what" here isn't as important as the "how" - broken processes produce broken policies, as he would have it. Everyone makes mistakes, but you don't establish a system that is guaranteed to produce mistakes. The leader may have his firm principles, but combine that with a weak ego and a need to prove this or that, and a default trait of petulant, angry defiance when challenged, and the "management style" follows, as does this mess we're in. And this man has an MBA?

Perhaps the new defense secretary, Gates - who comes with a far different management style than Rumsfeld (from the president's father's group, not the president's circle like Rumsfeld) - will work the "how" of it all differently, and the senior military will once again "feel free to offer independent advice not only to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon but also to the president and the national security council." He seems to have done a fine job as a university president, where managing hissy fits among strong-willed and over-educated prima donnas to get useful things done is simply what you do. Here the stakes are higher.

But if Kettle is right - "bad forms of government contribute significantly to bad decisions" when there are "fewer effective ways for reasoned objections to affect the decision-making process" - it is obvious one thing that the Iraq Study Group was saying was it may be time to pull out the books from graduate school and read what was no doubt skipped way back when - basic management and organizational theory and all that sort of thing. Keep your firm principles - fine, no problem - but do some basic common-sense managing. Getting all defensive and shutting down or manipulating the organization is more than counterproductive. It is deadly. The dead bodies prove that, not to be too literal or anything.

As for self-management, that's a different kettle of fish - so forget Martin Kettle and turn to Jim Holt in the New York Times of 3 December, where he explains The New, Soft Paternalism.

This is very curious, and opens with this teaser -
When the government tells you that you can't smoke marijuana or that you must wear a helmet when you ride your motorcycle even if you happen to like the feeling of the wind in your hair, it is being paternalistic. It is largely treating you the way a parent treats a child, restricting your liberty for what it deems to be your own good. Paternalistic laws aren't very popular in this country. We hew to the principle that, children and the mentally ill apart, an individual is a better judge of what's good for him than the state is and that people should be free to do what they wish as long as their actions don't harm others. Contrary to what many people believe, you can even commit suicide legally (although if you don't live in Oregon, you should think twice about seeking assistance).

But what if it could be shown that even highly competent, well-informed people fail to make choices in their best interest? And what if the government could somehow step in and nudge them in the right direction without interfering with their liberty, or at least not very much? Welcome to the new world of "soft paternalism." The old "hard" paternalism says, We know what's best for you, and we'll force you to do it. By contrast, soft paternalism says, You know what's best for you, and we'll help you to do it.
The example if this Holt cites has to do with casino gambling. It seems in Missouri and Michigan compulsive gamblers have the option of putting their names on a blacklist. This is a "self-exclusion" list, and it bars them from casinos - they're banned for life. If they violate the ban they can be arrested and have their winnings confiscated. And people have actually signed up - seeking help, one assumes - in Missouri ten thousand have. Holt notes that in Michigan, the first person to sign up for it was also the first to be arrested for violating its terms. He couldn't resist sneaking back to the blackjack tables - he got a year a year's probation and the state kept his winnings. Who'd have even imagined such a thing?

This is what's called a self-binding scheme - "a way of restructuring the external world so that when future temptations arise, you will have no choice but to do what you've judged to be best for you. The classic case is that of Ulysses, who ordered his men to tie him to the mast of his ship so that he could hear the song of the Sirens without being lured to his destruction. As a freely chosen hedge against weakness of the will, self-binding would seem to enlarge individual liberty, not reduce it."

But that may be wrong, or so the libertarians say -
To begin with, they don't like soft paternalism when it involves the state's coercive power; they are much happier with private self-binding schemes, like alcoholism clinics, Christmas savings clubs and Weight Watchers. They also worry that soft paternalism can be a slippery slope to the harder variety, as when campaigns to discourage smoking give way to "sin taxes" and outright bans. But some libertarians have deeper misgivings. What bothers them is the way soft paternalism relies for its justification on the notion that each of us contains multiple selves - and that one of those selves is worth more than the others.
You can read the multiple personality discussion if you will, be it's rather mind-bending -
You might naïvely imagine that you are one person, the same entity from day to day. To the 18th-century philosopher David Hume, however, the idea of a permanent "I" was a fiction. Our mind, Hume wrote, "is nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement." According to this way of thinking, the self that inhabits your body today is only similar to, not identical with, the self that is going to inhabit your body tomorrow. And the self that will inhabit your body decades hence? A virtual stranger.

… Further evidence for the fragmented self comes from neuroscience. Brain scans show that the emotional part of the brain, the limbic system, is especially active when the prospect of immediate gratification presents itself. But choice among longer-term options triggers more activity in the "reasoning" part of the brain, located (suitably enough) higher up in the cortex. Now suppose you're tempted by a diet-violating Twinkie. Which part of your brain - the shortsighted emotional part or the farsighted reasoning part - gets to be the decider? There may be no built-in hierarchy here, just two autonomous brain modules in competition. That is why you might find yourself eating the Twinkie even while knowing it's bad for you. (A similar disconnect between two parts of your brain occurs when a visual illusion doesn't go away even after you learn it's an illusion.)

The short-run self cares only about the present. It is perfectly happy to indulge today and offload the costs onto future selves.
There's great deal of this. Click on the link if you dare - but it comes down to an interesting question. Should we outsource our self-discipline? That's a fascinating question. The president outsourced his drinking problem to Jesus, or so he says. Are all those anti-smoking ordinances just outsourcing our self-discipline to the state? And what about that trans-fat ban in New York City? Should the state keep me from that doughnut that tastes a certain way? Did we all agree to that self-binding decision?

Holt notes The Economist warned that "life would be duller if every reckless spirit could outsource self-discipline to the state." But we can, and we do.

Jean-Paul Sartre used to insist that each of us is free to redefine his character through "an act of radical choice." What choices do we have. Bush chose Jesus. Some of us liked those doughnuts down on 34th Street. This self-management business is even trickier than systems management in large organizations.

Ah well, somehow we'll manage - whatever that means these days.

Posted by Alan at 22:30 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 8 December 2006 22:32 PST home

Monday, 4 December 2006
Another Stormy Monday - Losing Your Bully
Topic: Bush

Another Stormy Monday - Losing Your Bully

Monday, December 4, 2006 - the day John Bolton announced he would be leaving his post at the UN as our ambassador there. The headlines all read that he had "resigned," but the White House said no one should use that word. It went down something like this -
The White House yesterday bowed to Senate opposition and gave up its attempt to keep its controversial ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, in his job - the latest sign of President George Bush's diminishing authority. Mr Bush issued a statement denouncing the senators, including a Republican moderate, who had blocked Mr Bolton's confirmation process in the chamber's foreign affairs committee.

"They chose to obstruct his confirmation, even though he enjoys majority support in the Senate, and even though their tactics will disrupt our diplomatic work at a sensitive and important time," Mr Bush said. "This stubborn obstructionism ill serves our country and discourages men and women of talent from serving."
Yeah, well the whole idea was a bad idea from the beginning, as discussed in September 2003 and in detail in March 2005. And now he's gone. Because the Senate would not confirm him he was a "recess appointment" - put in place while the Senate was off for the weekend. As such, his appointment expires when the present congress - the 109th - adjourns. That's coming up in week or so. The Democrats oppose him, and they'll be in the majority soon. And a number of key Republicans oppose him still. There was no way the "lame duck" Senate was going to pull a rabbit out of the hat and, in the last few days of its session, hold hearings and confirm him. The votes weren't there. Done. The man sent to the UN, to tell they were all fools and crooks and scum, must move on.

As for how the president handled this, here's another view -
Not only did he send out the snotty statement … he held a photo-op and talked to the press slumped down in his chair, lip curled, obviously pissed off. He said this: "I'm not happy about it. I think he deserved to be confirmed. And the reason why I think he deserved to be confirmed is because I know he did a fabulous job for the country."

You'd think he'd be used to failure after experiencing it his entire life but he doesn't seem to be handling it well. His arrogance has always been there, throwing his weight around, peppering his speech with phrases like "I told the American people they were gonna have tah be patient and I meant it." But now there's a darker edge to it. I see no signs that he's ready to see reason on a judgment call like Iraq.
The president was having a bad day. He had met with one of the Iraqi Shiite leaders and asked for his thoughts on how to handle matters there, as it was chaos, and the answer he got was have the US troops wipe out all the Sunnis. What did he expect the guy to say? The Saudis and Egyptians and Jordanians, our Sunni allies, would not be amused. The advice was useless.

And the Bolton thing was just maddening. Everyone with the president was ticked off. What's was wrong with the guy?

Matthew Yglesias explains -
About half the time, conservatives profess bafflement as to why liberals are so upset about John Bolton. The rest of the time, you read pearls of wisdom from Bolton fans like Andy McCarthy about how "we don't need an ambassador at the UN, we need a wrecking ball." The mustachioed one, it seems, was just the man for the job but "If John Bolton could not be confirmed after the job he did, there is no hope for a strong American presence there. More importantly, even with Bolton performing heroically, the UN was still a menace."

So, look, conservatives can agree with that or disagree as they like. But no fair being baffled - this is the crux of the issue. Bolton and his biggest fans think the UN is a menace. Not that the UN is a flawed institution that sometimes can't or doesn't accomplish everything one might like. Rather, it's a menace. Not something that should be improved, but something that should be wrecked. Hit, in other words, with a wrecking ball. People who believe that a "strong American presence" in Turtle Bay means strident efforts to destroy the institution.
But some still think the UN could be useful, and after all, we started the thing in San Francisco in 1949. Destroying it just seems stupid. And those folks won the day - or ran out the clock.

But the clock is running out in Iraq in a different way.

"God get me out of this, because these guys are going to get me killed," Staff Sgt. Michael Baxter thought to himself in the midst of a disastrous firefight in Sadr City last Friday to root out key Sunni insurgents.

What? That's from a Monday, December 4, Los Angeles Times item - 'Fear took over' in Baghdad raid; US advisors lament Iraqi troops' conduct. America's exit strategy hangs in the balance.

Here's the deal -
The joint security forces, undertaking what officials described as a major counterinsurgency operation, were in pursuit of 70 "high-value targets" in Baghdad's crowded Fadhil quarter, a Sunni Arab neighborhood of multistory tenements along the east bank of the Tigris River.

Instead, the soldiers of the Iraqi army's 9th Mechanized Division and their American trainers had walked into a deadly ambush Friday.
And here's the detail -
"Fear took over" among the Iraqis, Staff Sgt. Michael Baxter said.

"They refused to move. We were yelling at them to move," he said. "I grabbed one guy and shoved him into a building. I was saying, 'God get me out of this, because these guys are going to get me killed.'"

The offensive was initially billed by U.S. officials in Baghdad as an Iraqi-led success and a case study in support of the Pentagon's increasing reliance on using American troops as military advisors as a way to shift security responsibilities to Iraqi soldiers.
This is not going well, as in -
The U.S. military is ramping up its training program to add 30,000 Iraqi troops by mid-2007 to make up for soldiers who have abandoned their posts or died. The new recruits are also intended to supplement the small number of Iraqi troops willing to travel away from their home bases despite dangerous conditions or the possibility of being ordered to fight against members of their own sect.

Most soldiers in the 9th division, for example, are Shiites, and U.S. and Iraqi officers said they doubted the troops would obey if ordered to fight in Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad such as Sadr City.

"In August, when we started Operation Together Forward to secure Baghdad, we called on a bunch of units to assist," said U.S. Army Col. Douglass S. Heckman, the commander for the 9th Division Military Transition Team. "This division was the only one that moved into the operation. The others balked."

But Friday's battle suggested that even Iraq's best trained and equipped division is far from having the ability to operate independently. Heckman said attrition and liberal leave policies meant that only 68% of the 9th division is even on duty at any given time.

Another American advisor complained that the division had only 65% of the weapons and other equipment that it had been allocated by the U.S.

"And it's not just my guys," said the advisor, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "As I look across the division MiTT teams, they all tell me the same thing. Some of them have 50% of their equipment, some have 75%, but it's the same thing all over Iraq."

Despite efforts to get more financial support from the Iraqi Defense Ministry, the division stays operational only with help from the U.S. military, which provides everything from food to batteries.
This will take time. And it may not work at all. Newsweek was reporting that even as the president "continues to believe in" Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki others have their doubts -
The American military is fed up with Maliki. The ground commanders in Iraq felt betrayed by him this summer when he undermined a push to get control of the streets of Baghdad. The Iraqis failed to deliver on a promise to put enough troops on the ground. A four-star general who declined to be identified discussing a confidential conversation told of this encounter with Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who was in charge of day-to-day ground operations. "Do you have enough forces? Enough to clear an area and stay there to secure it 24/7?" Chiarelli replied, "Of course not." The four-star recalls replying, "It's going to fail, it's absolutely going to fail." The Americans never had enough forces to sweep even half the city, much less secure it.

... It's not clear whether the military made its frustrations known to the White House.
The military knows perfectly well they don't have the troop strength to stabilize Iraq - they're not even close. And that leads one commentator to add this -
I would sure like to know … has the military made it clear to Bush that they don't have enough troops in Iraq to do the job? There are really only two options: (a) they have said this and Bush has been lying all along when he said the generals were getting everything they had asked for, or (b) they haven't said this and they've been monumentally derelict in their duty. Which is it?
Who knows?

But the president is getting hammered on all fronts. Paul Krugman in the New York Times is on his case - "Well, here's a question for those who might be tempted, yet again, to shy away from a confrontation with Mr. Bush over Iraq: How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a bully's ego?"

The day before Frank Rich in the same newspaper said the president seems to have to have reached the "talking to the walls" stage, or puting it simply - "Its not that he can't handle the truth about Iraq. He doesn't know what the truth is."

Senator Carl Levin mentioned the problem on Meet the Press that morning: "He's not going to make admissions - he's not capable of admitting mistakes."

Oliver Willis weighs in -
I'm often accused of being too blunt or simplistic. But frankly blunt and simplistic are traits that have served people much more powerful and smarter than me well. I'm not averse to using force to defend America, but I knew before the first shot was fired that the Iraq War was the wrong war. Hussein was contained, he was not a threat, and our first priority should have been to dismantle the Al Qaeda network and any groups, nations or individuals allied with them.

… Now comes the present day. It began with the election, but every day more evidence comes out that shows us that the president, his advisors, and his supporters have no damn clue what to do, and for the mere sake of retaining what is left of their machismo refuse to do the right thing. The stock answer to leaving Iraq is that the country will become a bloody hellhole and America will look week. News alert: those things have already happened.

Iraq is a hellhole. Every day people are blown up by bombs and shot by guns. Despite the pathetic efforts of the right to compare Iraq's instability to urban areas in the U.S., the facts tell the tale. Similarly the idea that the press is to blame instead of the military commanders and ultimately their commander-in-chief is beyond obvious. The press, ideally, is to report news of consequence. I dare say a bomb that kills fifty people in broad daylight is of more importance than a school that is being painted. The only difference between an Iraq with America playing babysitter and one with us out of the picture is that less [sic] Americans are killed in the latter scenario.

We already look weak. The same country that beat the Nazis and unleashed hell on the Japanese, as well as securing the Balkans and liberating Kuwait now looks to the world almost like a paper tiger. Not, as the right-wing would have you believe, because of a botched joke by John Kerry or because we elected Democrats to control the congress, but because Republicans are clueless on national security. Because of the poor planning of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and the rest of that crew of cronies, we cannot even secure Baghdad - three years after the city supposedly "fell." Too often conservatives believe that the rest of the world doesn't have a memory. Our threats have become hollow, because the world has already seen how badly we botched Iraq while also torturing people at the same time. If one were to buy in to the conservative perversion of "balance" you could probably count up all the good and bad to come out of our occupation of Iraq and declare it "even." But that would probably mean absurdities like torture at Abu Ghraib and handing out candy to kids were just "two sides" of an issue. It just isn't true.

The world sees America stuck in Iraq, with radical Islam growing because of it. Leaving Iraq isn't going to change that one war or another, but less [sic] Americans will be killed and we'll be able to use our military to defeat actual threats to our freedom.

But it's all moot. George W. Bush will not listen. Because for George Bush to not only admit an error, much less that the right course of action is coming from the other side of the aisle, is like stabbing out his eyes for him. He's a more powerful and morally perverted version of the guy who won't take directions from anyone else in the car, even if they've got a GPS unit and he's only got "a feeling." It's that stubbornness that has led to the deaths of thousands of Americans, and less importantly, [to] his poor standing amongst the American people that will most likely linger way past his time on earth.
But what about the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. He'll listen to them, won't he? Baker is an old family friend, and one of his father's main men. Baker led the legal effort that convinced the Supreme Court to stop the vote recounting in Florida and declare the son the president in late 2000 - so he can fix this. He'll listen to his father.

Reuters reports no -
Asked to comment on widespread view that his father's influence was coming to bear on his administration, Bush insisted: "I am the commander-in-chief."

"I love to talk to my dad about things between a father and a son, not policy," he said.

… Asked to comment on widespread view that his father's influence was coming to bear on his administration, Bush insisted: "I am the commander-in-chief."
And that's that.

It should also probably be mentioned that, percolating in the background was the news that, over that weekend, Hugo Chavez was overwhelmingly re-elected as Venezuela's President, something we did not want.

Glenn Greenwald points out the obvious -
Over the last two years, the Palestinians democratically elected Hamas leaders. The Lebanese have democratically elected Hezbollah to play a major role in their parliamentary government. The Iranian-allied militias in Iraq are led by factions with substantial representation in the democratically elected Iraqi Government. And the Iranian Hitler himself was democratically elected (just like Hitler the First was, long before the parade of all the new Hitlers).

If the leaders whom we are supposed to hate so much - even the ones who are The Terrorists - keep getting elected democratically, doesn't that negate the ostensible premise of our foreign policy - that America-loving allies will magically spring up all over the world where there are democracies and they will help us fight The Terrorists?

And beyond that, isn't it more likely that leaders who are hostile to the U.S. will be democratically elected around the world if we continue to engage in conduct seemingly designed to make the whole world resentful and suspicious of us? We're not supposed to care about world opinion - we don't need permission slips from the UN and all of that - and there is a good argument to make that every country has to decide for itself what its own interests are (which, in reality, is what every country does, including those which pretend to be guided by selfless ideals and international institutions).

But if we continue to be overtly belligerent and essentially indifferent to world opinion - because we can be, because we're militarily stronger - that would seem to make it virtually impossible for pro-American candidates to be elected anywhere in the world, thereby subverting the central goal we claim we have of eliminating anti-US resentment by spreading democracy throughout the world.
That seems like another thing his father's men ought to explain to him, not that it would make a difference.

So Bolton's gone, and no one is telling him what he wants to hear so he can't fix the war, the press is on his case, and Chavez is riding high, again. Well, no one likes Mondays. As they say, however, they call it stormy Monday, but then Tuesday's just as bad, Wednesday's even worse, and Thursday's awful sad. That's how the song goes. They say the eagle flies on Friday. But one wonders.

Still, he's commander-in-chief. There must be someone around to bully. And there was one bright spot after all - Bolton got his last licks in. Two weeks before Bolton's "departure" (use the approved word) was announced, his UN team tried to block an effort to commemorate the end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade of yore. That must have been fun.

What was the point? Why bother?

Because you can. It's a bully thing, and probably pissed off the parents back in Texas. What's the point in being commander-in-chief if you and your people can't swagger and show the world you don't care what anyone thinks? Thinking about that might have brightened the bad Monday.

Posted by Alan at 22:04 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 4 December 2006 22:08 PST home

Wednesday, 10 May 2006
Tautology and Royalty
Topic: Bush

Tautology and Royalty

Monarchies are amusing. There's the British example. Elizabeth I dies and succeeded by her slightly-removed relative, James VI of Scotland, who becomes James I of England. He was an odd duck - very fond of young men rather exclusively, commissioning a new translation of the Bible (the "King James"), and writing his famous tract on the evils of smoking tobacco. He's succeeded by Charles I, who screws up royally, being arrogant, foolish, and rather stupid. He's beheaded in the early 1640's and the English try to do without a king - the interregnum as it were. Charles' son hangs around in France with Thomas Hobbes, who's working on "The Leviathan" (people are nasty and the world awful and we really need a strong government as life is "nasty, mean, brutish and short"), and having no king isn't working out so well (Cromwell was a real bother). So in 1660 we get Charles II, and the Hobbes book. Then comes James II, who decides he wants to marry a Catholic, as if what Henry VIII did in splitting with Rome was just a lark, and that doesn't go down well. The Brits look for some distant relative who might be a better fit for the nation, and not Catholic, settling on William and Mary of the house of Orange in what is now the Netherlands. So we get the Bloodless Revolution, bloodless because all the battles were fought in Ireland, not England - Ireland doesn't count. The forces of William and Mary win the day at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 or so in what's now Northern Ireland, and to this day the Irish are pissed, and on Saint Patrick's Day wear green while those who want to piss them off traditionally wear orange, of course. Then we get Queen Anne, dumb as a post and childless, followed by another search for someone who will do, and not be Catholic, so why not import some Germans? The House of Hanover is full of cousins, and we get the series of Georges, the first not even able to speak English and the last mad as a hatter, and he manages to lose the American colonies too. In the middle of the Hanoverian Georges the old James-Charles line makes trouble - the last of them, Bonnie Prince Charlie, lands in Scotland from France, gets an army of guys in kilts to march south and change things, and they're all wiped out at the Battle of Culloden in 1745, as pikes and clubs just don't work that well against the new field artillery.

This is not a model for stable government. But things settled down with Victoria and the Edwards. And the current monarchy is properly unimportant, as the House of Parliament and the Prime Minister of the moment handle things. There's a reason for that line in the old Beatles song - "Her majesty is a pretty nice girl but she doesn't have a lot to say."

So why are we working on the monarchy thing?

Note this from Wednesday, May 10, from Reuters -
President George W. Bush said on Wednesday he thought his younger brother Jeb would make "a great president" but the two-term governor of Florida had given no hint about his intentions.

"I have no idea what he's going to do. I've asked him that question myself. I truly don't think he knows," Bush said in an interview with Florida reporters posted on the St. Petersburg Times Website.

The president said he had pushed his "independent minded" brother fairly hard about his plans after leaving the governor's office next January. He predicted Jeb could have a "very bright" political future.

"I would like to see Jeb run at some point in time, but I have no idea if that's his intention or not," Bush said.

Asked if Jeb should run for president, Bush said, "I think Jeb would be a great president. But it's up to Jeb to make a decision to run."
Jeb Bush is fifty-three and has said over and over that that he will just not run for president in 2008, and he's saying nothing about it now. But his term as the governor down in Florida ends in January 2007, and his brother's term as president ends in January 2009 and he can't run again, so there's that in-between time where Jeb will be looking for something to do. The first Bush president likes the idea of a second son being president. The hard-drinking, good-time, thinking-is-such-a-drag twins could follow. The younger George Bush showed there's no problem there.

This is very odd.

Reuters notes there has never been a case of two brothers serving as president in this country. A father, then two sons in succession, and then the granddaughters?

Maybe we'll have better luck than the English had. There'd be no competing family line, and no Bonnie Price Charlie. The Clintons, husband a wife, are one generation. Chelsea, the daughter, doesn't seem political at all. This could work.

But maybe not, as Bill Montgomery explains here, referencing the French Revolution, not the British business -
Unfortunately for Jeb - and the younger members of the family waiting in line behind him - it appears the "Bush magic" (a political quality somewhat akin to Walter Mondale's famous "Norwegian charisma") has finally worn off. The mob is back in the streets again, looking to set Mademoiselle Guillotine up with a blind date. If this were an earlier era, I'd advise the Bushes to pack up the family paintings and go look for a friendly autocratic regime (the Saudis would do nicely) to stay with for a while. A long while. As it is, they'll probably just have to endure being the butt of every standup comedian's worst jokes for the next couple of decades.

... Some dynasties repeat their mistakes; others keep inventing new ones. The Bushes have demonstrated a real knack for doing both, which is why Jeb isn't ever likely to have the chance to prove he's the break in the pattern. He may be the smart Bush, but he's definitely not the lucky one.

I guess it just proves the old saying: that it's better to be lucky than smart. Especially when your idiot brother happens to be king - I mean, president.
So we won't have a de facto heredity monarchy, as the current Bush screwed up too bad, and here we do vote?

But the American public is in love with the British monarchy, as you see on Larry King's CNN show every month or so, where his rating jump with talk of young Harry or William, or the late Princess Di, or even of horse-faced Camilla and the goofy Prince Phillip. People on this side of the pond eat up that stuff, no doubt to the great puzzlement of those in the UK.

So the groundwork has been laid, as they say. The whole concept is just so appealing, if you disregard the unpleasantness of the seventeenth and eighteenth century. But then, no one cares much about history these days, except the Irish.

And even if we don't get a succession of absolute monarchs, we can get the halo effect - claims of plenary presidential power and simple moves that stop perky commons who get uppity about their rights, as in this -
The government has abruptly ended an inquiry into the warrantless eavesdropping program because the National Security Agency refused to grant Justice Department lawyers the necessary security clearance to probe the matter.

The inquiry headed by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, or OPR, sent a fax to Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., on Wednesday saying they were closing their inquiry because without clearance their lawyers cannot examine Justice lawyers' role in the program.

"We have been unable to make any meaningful progress in our investigation because OPR has been denied security clearances for access to information about the NSA program," OPR counsel H. Marshall Jarrett wrote to Hinchey. Hinchey's office shared the letter with The Associated Press.

... "Without these clearances, we cannot investigate this matter and therefore have closed our investigation," wrote Jarrett.
Royal privilege. You cannot see some things. They're not for you.

And the courtiers work on maintaining the power of the monarch, not on policy or fixing anything. The whole idea is to smooth his way, not anything else.

Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post had an interesting column on that the same day the president was lauding his brother and suggesting his brother would be next -
The emerging Republican game plan for 2006 is, at bottom, a tautology: If the Democrats retake Congress it will mean, well, that the Democrats retake Congress. (Cue lightning bolt and ominous clap of thunder.) Karl Rove and his minions have plumb run out of issues to campaign on. They can't run on the war. They can't run on the economy, where the positive numbers on growth are offset by the largely stagnant numbers on median incomes and the public's growing dread of outsourcing. Immigration may play in various congressional districts, but it's too dicey an issue to nationalize. Even social conservatives may be growing weary of outlawing gay marriage every other November. Nobody's buying the ownership society. Competence? Ethics? You kidding?

The Republicans' problem is not simply their inability to run their government and wage their war of choice, it is also their bankruptcy of ideas. On taxes, the Republican legislative leaders' top priorities are to make permanent the tax cut on investment income and to repeal the estate tax - economics, as ever, for our wealthiest 1 percent. (This at a time when the entire theory of trickle-down has been negated by the propensity of U.S. corporations to use their shareholders' investments to expand abroad rather than at home.) On energy, the notions of tougher fuel economy standards and mandating a shift to renewable energy sources are so alien to the Republicans' DNA that they come forth with such proposals as Bill Frist's $100 rebate, the most short-lived legislative initiative in recent memory.
But the have to retain power. The whole system would otherwise collapse. The king would be in danger. The Roundhead would behead him - just think of poor Charles I and all that (but impeachment just isn't beheading) -
And so, to stave off the specter of Democratic rule, Rove has decided that the only way to rally the Republican base is to invoke the specter of Democratic rule. Democrat John Conyers, who would become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has spoken of investigating the president for high crimes and misdemeanors. Henry Waxman and Ted Kennedy will get subpoena power if the Democrats win both houses. Unspecified horrors lurk behind every corner if the Democrats take control and hold hearings about the administration's relations with the oil and pharmaceutical industries. A sea of partisan vendetta, Republicans prophesy, stretches to the horizon if the Democrats are allowed to win.
Maybe it is like England around 1640 or so.

Ezra Klein comments on what Meyerson is getting with this -
... their case for retaining Congress isn't an agenda, but a tautology - if the Democrats win Congress, then the Democrats win Congress. It's an unsettling thought, to be sure, though when pollsters ask, "Overall, which party, the Democrats or the Republicans, do you trust to do a better job in coping with the main problems the nation faces over the next few years?," Democrats come out on top by a 14 percent margin. One might also wonder why the GOP is so obviously terrified by the prospect of investigations. Bush hasn't done anything wrong, has he?
The whole king thing - the king derives his power from God, not man, so he cannot do wrong or be wrong - must be maintained. And this would-be king quite often says he is doing God's work, humbly - so get in, buckle up, shut up and ride. God said so. That's just the way it is.

Rick Klein in the Boston Globe the same day had an analysis of what the courtiers are going to do to stay in power and protect the king. The idea? That would be to narrow the agenda of what should be done and what the public should think about -
Republican leaders in Congress have all but abandoned efforts to pass major policy initiatives this year, and are instead focusing their energies on a series of conservative favorites that they hope will rally loyal voters in November's congressional elections.

The House and Senate agendas are packed with bills that, even supporters concede, have no chance of passing but that social and fiscal conservatives clamor for, like constitutional amendments banning flag-burning and gay marriage. By bringing them up, Republicans hope to inspire a constituency that has fractured in its support for President Bush and the party. They also hope to cast Democrats as obstructionists by drawing their plentiful "no" votes.
Ah, do nothing, propose the absurd, even legislation that you know is bullshit, and point to the other side saying "no." Great plan. Or it's a great plan if not too many see it's all smoke and mirrors, stuff no one would or could ever really get done. Why would you want to?

Constitutional amendments to ban flag-burning and make sure Lars and Spanky don't marry?

What if people just shrug, and go back to worrying about the war, and healthcare, and immigration, and the economy with the nation in debt up to our eyeballs to foreign nations who don't much care for us, and gasoline prices, and what happens with the next hurricanes or some big earthquake?

It seems that's not the point. Here the point of having power is to keep power, not do anything in particular with it. It's the tautology of a monarchy. Governing, well or badly, is just a secondary byproduct the common people think matters. It seems it doesn't. Throw a bone or two to the core and they'll turn out come November, and then things are safe again. And toss some nice words across the fence to the opposition, when possible, to fake them out and keep them quiet. Maybe they'll skip voting in November. Heck, most countries have elections on the weekend, and we have ours on a Tuesday, always, and people have work and family and life is so hectic these days, so maybe they'll just skip voting. It's a plan.

But then those nice words can be a problem with the core. Note this, a prominent red-meat conservative proposes the president be impeached - because the president is sort of saying maybe the illegal workers in the United States would, with some exceptions, make fine citizens, and maybe they could stay. The conservative in this case doesn't give a damn about flag burning and the hypothetical marriage of Lars and Spanky. It's the brown folks. They're everywhere, using public services, the schools and the emergency rooms, all of which they don't really pay for, all the while driving down wages (and costs).

Uneasy sits the king. People seem to expect some sort of governance, and they're not happy. And they have issues with smoke and mirrors, no matter which side of the mirror they're on.

What can you do? Having power is cool, but then people expect you to do something with it. Who'd have guessed?

But then, having power can be just plain satisfying as Sidney Blumenthal points out here, explaining how Bush and the White House get to destroy one of their enemies, in the case the CIA -
... In the absence of any reliable evidence, CIA analysts had refused to put their stamp of approval on the administration's reasons for the Iraq war. Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, personally came to Langley to intimidate analysts on several occasions. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his then deputy secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, constructed their own intelligence bureau, called the Office of Special Plans, to sidestep the CIA and shunt disinformation corroborating the administration's arguments directly to the White House. "The administration used intelligence not to inform decision-making, but to justify a decision already made," Paul Pillar, then the chief Middle East analyst for the CIA, writes in the March-April issue of Foreign Affairs. "The process did not involve intelligence work designed to find dangers not yet discovered or to inform decisions not yet made. Instead, it involved research to find evidence in support of a specific line of argument - that Saddam was cooperating with al Qaeda - which in turn was being used to justify a specific policy decision."

But despite urgent pressures to report to the contrary, the CIA never reported that Saddam presented an imminent national security threat to the United States, that he was near to developing nuclear weapons, or that he had any ties to al-Qaida. Moreover, analysts predicted a protracted insurgency after an invasion of Iraq.

... the White House was in a fury. The CIA's professionalism was perceived as political warfare, and the agency apparently was seen as the center of a conspiracy to overthrow the administration. Inside the offices of the president, the vice president and the secretary of defense, the CIA was referred to as a treasonous enemy.
The answer was Porter Goss, now gone -
Goss combined the old-school tie with cynical zealotry. A graduate of Hotchkiss and Yale (class of 1960) and married to a Pittsburgh heiress, he had served as a CIA operative, left the agency for residence on Sanibel Island, Fla., a resort for the wealthy, bought the local paper, sold it for a fortune, and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1988. There he struck up an alliance with Newt Gingrich and his band of radicals. And after they captured the House in 1994, Goss used his CIA credential to become chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

In that position, he proved his bona fides to the Bush administration time and again. "Those weapons are there," he declared after David Kay, head of the Iraq Survey Group, reported that there were no WMD. He blocked investigations into detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib and into prewar disinformation churned by the neoconservatives' favorite Iraqi exile, Ahmed Chalabi. "I would say that the oversight has worked well in matters relating to Mr. Chalabi," Goss said. He also derided the notion of investigating the outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson: "Somebody sends me a blue dress and some DNA, I'll have an investigation." Goss was on board with the cavalier way in which Plame was outed, a breach that revealed ingrained contempt for the agency as well as the supremacy of political objectives over national security.

On April 21, 2005, his mission dictated by Bush's political imperatives, Goss became CIA director. Immediately, he sent a memo to all employees, ordering them to "support the administration and its policies in our work." He underscored the supremacy of the party line: "As agency employees we do not identify with, support, or champion opposition to the administration or its policies."

He installed four political aides to run the agency from his offices on the seventh floor at Langley. Within weeks, an exodus of professionals began and then turned into a flood. In the Directorate of Operations, he lost the director, two deputies, and more than a dozen department and division directors and station chiefs out in the field. In the Directorate of Intelligence, dozens took early retirement. Four former operations chiefs, horrified by the carnage, sought to meet with Goss, but he refused.

... Acting on the president's charge, Goss in effect purged the CIA. He was even conducting lie detector interrogations of officers to root out the sources of stories leaked to the press - to the Washington Post, for example, in its Pulitzer Prize-winning exposé of CIA "black site" prisons where detainees are jailed without any due process, Red Cross inspection or Geneva Conventions protection. Last month, a CIA agent, Mary McCarthy, was fired for her contact with a reporter. Like others subjected to questioning, she was asked her political affiliation.
But Goss is gone now. Exit, pursued by hookers. The new guy, an Air Force general, will finish the job in a different way. The placed will become militarized -
The militarization of intelligence under Bush is likely to guarantee military solutions above other options. Uniformed officers trained to identity military threats and trends will take over economic and political intelligence for which they are untrained and often incapable, and their priorities will skew analysis. But the bias toward the military option will be one that the military in the end will dislike. It will find itself increasingly bearing the brunt of foreign policy and stretched beyond endurance. The vicious cycle leads to a downward spiral. And Hayden's story will be like a dull shadow of Powell's - a tale of a "good soldier" who salutes, gets promoted, is used and abused, and is finally discarded.

No president has ever before ruined an agency at the heart of national security out of pique and vengeance.
Gee, doing absurdly counterproductive things out of pique and vengeance is a characteristic of kings who believe no one has any business questioning them. It got Charles I in trouble - he kept reappointing a buddy, a young incompetent friend, as a general in the wars with the Spanish. Parliament, thinking competence mattered in war, would cut off war funds, he'd dump the guy, get the war funds, and reappoint the guy. The next time the parliament cut off funds he simply dissolved parliament, and eventually Chuckles was in real trouble. Oliver Cromwell. The king was beheaded in 1642.

Here, now, we vote. It's much more civilized. Jeb Bush take heed.

Posted by Alan at 23:58 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 11 May 2006 09:42 PDT home

Wednesday, 22 March 2006
Credibility
Topic: Bush

Credibility

Garrison Keillor seems like a nice fellow, and his radio show "A Prairie Home Companion" (everything you ever would want to know about that is here) is cool, and everyone out here loves the "Guy Noir, Private Eye" segment each week - a spoof of Raymond Chandler, Phillip Marlow (or Sam Spade if you'd like) with his office high over 1939 Hollywood Boulevard and all that - except Guy Noir works on the twelfth floor of the Acme Building in a city that "knows how to keep its secrets" - and that seems to be Saint Paul, Minnesota. Down the street we have Raymond Chandler Square - Hollywood at Cahuenga - with the "Cahuenga Building" where Marlow had his office (actually the Pacific Security Bank building). It's cool to hear the whole thing transposed to present day Saint Paul. He's got the genre down cold. Give a listen one weekend.

So what is Garrison Keillor, the gentle cultural satirist, doing saying things like this - "No president in your lifetime or mine has seen his fundamental competence - his ability to think clearly and manage the government - so doubted by the voting public as Mr. Bush has. This is humiliation of a rare sort."

That was the state of play Wednesday, March 22nd - after all the low polling, the speech in Cleveland where the president tried to say things were fine and getting better in Iraq and there really was a plan (we win), and after the previous day's surprise press conference, a combination of defiance and surly hostility. That happens when you're humiliated, of course.

What to do? How can this be made better? Over the last several weeks commentators on right have suggested Vice President Cheney needs to go. The idea is that he's a "hate magnet" - too dark, too stuck on talking points that when not just factually wrong are so combative and off-putting he's doing much more harm than good. And shooting the old man in the face didn't help, nor did how it was handled.

Cheney is dismissed? A dark cloud would be lifted from the White House, and of course this combination of Darth Vader and the evil Monty Burns of the Simpsons would no longer loom in the background of everything.

Garrison Keillor agrees -
If Mr. Bush wanted to reverse his slide, he could do it with a phone call to his vice president. Tell him, "Hey, Gunner, I'm sending over your resignation. Sign it and leave the building immediately, and don't take any floppies with you." Mr. Cheney would have a grand mal seizure right there, and be taken away to a sanitarium, and then Mr. Bush could get 1) Newt Gingrich, 2) John McCain, 3) Jeb Bush, 4) Rudolph Giuliani - take his pick. America needs a No. 2 who wouldn't give Americans a coronary if he became No. 1. The top story on the news that night is "Gunner Dumped as Veep," and a fresh breeze blows through Washington, and the American people perk up and imagine that the Current Occupant is in charge and able to connect the dots.

"Cheney Resigns" is the headline for two days, and anonymous White House sources say that Gunner was cut loose because he was blind, deaf and demented on the subject of Iraq. The suspense of Who Will the New Prince Be? occupies us for a week. The pundits and bloggers puff and blow and when finally the new man is confirmed by the Senate and gives a ringing speech about the need to put our differences behind us and all pull together, lo and behold the subject has been changed and America is no longer standing around the coffee machine talking about what a dope the president is. Nobody uses the I-word (incompetent). We're still buzzed from the big news.
But it won't happen. The joke in 2000 was that although Bush didn't know much, and didn't want to know much, at least he'd have adult supervision. Perhaps he still needs it.

And Bush doesn't turn on his people, except when they disagree with him, like Larry Lindsey or Paul O'Neill or Richard Clarke and all the others who were tossed out for saying the wrong things, or seeing things the wrong way. Alternative explanations of what is going on, what could happen, and planning for the unexpected is more than discouraged. It ends your career.

So he stays. Shrug off the humiliation. The low polls numbers and the shared and widespread idea that you're just incompetent? Bluff it out. Be strong, and resolute. Change nothing.

Yeah, it's a kind of defeat, and as Keillor reminds us, defeat is inevitable in life, "and eventually we all go shuffling off to the Old Soldiers Home and plop down in front of the TV set and doze through the shows. We're all destined to fall apart."

But Cheney should go so Bush avoids some of that - "... you don't have to do it in your 50s when everybody is looking at you. You can fall apart gently and privately. Don't go down hard like Dennis Kozlowski or Bernie Ebbers or Kenneth Lay."

But that's where it's heading, and thus this -
I once saw an old Hollywood star eating breakfast in a hotel dining room in Dublin. He was touring in a play that had been reviewed rather gently and compassionately, and here he was with his famous face, grinning at a couple of tourists who came over to ask him to autograph their placemat. Once he was an icon and sex symbol, and now he was 80, an old trouper enjoying his breakfast and smiling at the world. Gerry got to that place, and Jimmy and Ronnie, I think, and George H.W. and for sure Bill has gotten there. People see Bill in public, grinning, and they can't help it, they grin back.

If you want to be beloved, don't wait too long.
Somehow one suspect this president doesn't want to be beloved. He just wants to get his way in this world where he doesn't seem to understand much. We're tagging along for the ride. And a good number of folks die, in the dust of the Middle East, or waiting for help that never came in New Orleans.

So Wednesday the 22nd we got another speech - "Before an overwhelmingly friendly audience in the rugged panhandle of West Virginia, President Bush said today he would pay no heed to 'polls, focus groups or election year politics' in deciding how many troops to deploy in Iraq."

More of the same, except that unlike the Cleveland thing and the press conference, this time he got an audience with no troublemakers. The venue was carefully chosen. Enough is enough. He's not listening to anyone now, and certainly not anyone like Garrison Keillor. He's made up his mind. In poker terms he's doubled-down. He's shoved all the chips in the middle of the table.

For a taste of what he said, you might check out the collection Tim Grieve assembled here. It illustrates the I-talk-you-listen shift from the previous day's press conference.

There's this - "My purpose is to share with you what's on my mind and then I look forward to hearing what's on yours ... I'm the commander in chief. I'm also the educator in chief. And I have a duty to explain how and why I make decisions, and that's part of the reason I'm here."

You can ask why he did something. He'll explain why he's right.

That's because he's here to remind people of the lesson - "I knew that the farther we got away from Sept. 11, 2001, the more likely it would be that some would forget the lessons of that day. And that's OK. That's OK ... And it's fine that people forget the lessons, but one of my jobs is to constantly remind people of the lessons."

Moving on? Thinking of various "what next" alternatives? Remember 9/11 and just think of that. That's the ticket. It's always September 11, 2001 in the White House (kind of like it's always 1953 in Toronto). The current slang term "stuck on stupid" come to mind.

Is he stuck in the past? Try this - "When I was coming up in the '50s in Midland, Texas, you know, it seemed like we were pretty safe. In the '60s it seemed like we were safe. In other words, conflicts were happening overseas but we were in pretty good shape at home."

The sixties were safe? A massive array of soviet nuclear missiles aimed at us, the civil right business exploding in the South, riots in the streets and Detroit and Watts in flames, the Vietnam War? The man was a history major at Yale. No wonder his grades were low.

But then - "By the way, if the president says something, he better mean it, for the sake of peace. In other words, you want your president out there making sure that his words are credible."

No. When the president says something you suppose he means it, or you assume he doesn't mean it at all but says it anyway, for diplomatic or political purposes. You know there are circumstances that can be tricky. That has nothing to do with credibility. You earn credibility be saying things that are true, that are anchored in what everyone generally agrees are the facts. Heck, anyone can say something false and say he or she really, really, really, really means it. That doesn't make it true, or credible. The man's logic is odd - what makes something credible is that you really mean it. On the other hand, when he says he's going to do something, however boneheaded, however much experts tell him this may be a really bad idea, he does it. That may be a sort of credibility. The audience bought it.

And they bought this incoherent statement of the big idea that drives the whole war, probably because he threw in God - "There's an interesting debate in the world, is whether or not freedom is universal, see, whether or not - you know, there's old Bush imposing his values. See, I believe freedom is universal ... The way I put it was, there is an almighty God. One of the greatest gifts of that almighty God is the desire for people to be free, is freedom."

By the way, there is no such debate.

And too, he needed to define things for this less than intellectually prepossessing audience - "Iraq is a part of the global war on terror. In other words, it's a global war."

Oh. Nice clarification. Of course it has been said all over that he explains things like a six-year-old because that's how things were explained to him. QED - but a sad one. Is there reason to doubt his fundamental competence - his ability to think clearly and manage the government? Maybe. Maybe he was working with the audience he had.

But he did say a bit about this fundamental competence - his ability to think clearly and manage the government - "My buddies come from up from Texas ... And they come up from Texas and they're, kind of, looking at you, like, 'Man, are you OK?' Yes, you know. And I tell them, I say, you know, 'I can't tell you what an honor it is to do this job.' They often ask, 'What's the job description?' I say, 'Making decisions.' And I make a lot."

Yeah, he sounds like an idiot. But then, as the novelist Jane Smiley notes here -
Bush is a man who has never been anywhere and never done anything, and yet he has been flattered and cajoled into being president of the United States through his connections, all of whom thought they could use him for their own purposes. He has a surface charm that appeals to a certain type of American man, and he has used that charm to claim all sorts of perks, and then to fail at everything he has ever done. He did not complete his flight training, he failed at oil investing, he was a front man and a glad-hander as a baseball owner. As the Governor of Texas, he originated one educational program that turned out to be a debacle; as the President of the US, his policies have constituted one screw-up after another. ... From his point of view, he is perfectly entitled by his own experience to a sense of entitlement.
So he makes decisions, for us all. They told him he should. So he does. Then they do what they want anyway and the things he doesn't understand, like the Dubai port deal, get done, one way or another.

All this does not inspire confidence.

But then he did get all intellectual - "De Tocqueville, who's a French guy, came in 1832 and recognized and wrote back - wrote a treatise about what it means to go to a country where people have - associate voluntarily to serve their communities."

Grammar and sense aside, he's read de Tocqueville? Interesting. Not one of de Tocqueville's main points, but then he did cite him. One suspects, however, that bit of academic fluff came from a staffer and found it's way onto a cue card. But maybe not. Give him the benefit of the doubt. He has read de Tocqueville. And he's citing a Frenchman, even if somewhat incoherently. As Yogi Berra famously said, "Who'd have thunk it?" Or maybe that was Casey Stengel. It wasn't de Tocqueville.

The audience must have been puzzled. Good ol' boys don't cite nineteenth century French guys.

His best line? This - "Thank goodness Laura isn't here; she would be giving me the hook."

No kidding.

There's more at the link. But you get the idea. Except for select audiences who cheer wildly, the evidence is mounting that he's in way over his head. That idea may have been confined to only the anti-Bush left for years. But as the polls show, it's gone mainstream now.

The Wheeling event didn't make thing better. It made things worse.

The Washington Post that same morning, in its lead editorial, said the president should have more press conferences. He should get out more. They like his swagger and new openness. It's probably a trick. They want him to sound like a six-year-old in public, day after day. They have it out for him. But then, they did seem serious. Maybe they were serious.

The Wall Street Journal, that same morning, in its lead editorial sort of bypassed the whole question of whether the guy was a fool in way over his head and give us this - "The third anniversary of U.S. military action to liberate Iraq has brought with it a relentless stream of media and political pessimism that is unwarranted by the facts and threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophesy if it goes unchallenged." We have to win the war in Iraq, however winning is defined. We can't bug out. Bad things would happen. Forget Bush. This is serious.

Yep, we bought it. We own it.

But then you cannot get away from for the idea these guys got us into real trouble with their wild-ass ideas. There's this - North Korea kind of likes our new idea of preemptive war. And they say, now that they have nukes and missiles, that we don't have the monopoly on that concept. Heck, we didn't trademark or patent it or anything. They say since they feel threaten by us, they have the right to lob some nuclear weapons over on our west coast. And they just might have to. It may be necessary.

Well, we said we have the right to start a war with any nation that threatens our national security - if they could harm us and we think they just might, they're gone. Screw the UN and international law. We have the right to protect ourselves. You know the arguments - WWII wouldn't have happened if we took out Hitler in the early thirties, or some special ops team assassinated his mother before he could be born or some such thing. Sometimes you have to act before bad things happen, so they don't happen.

North Korea claims that right now. Fair is fair.

Great. We say we will wipe you out before the awful act you might commit. You talk that way, and you're gone, buddy.

Now this.

But we're confused now about a lot of this, even on minor levels, as Dahlia Lithwick explains here -
Last week Robert Weisberg and I tried to highlight the central flaw of the government's conspiracy theory in the Zacarias Moussaoui penalty phase: You can't easily stretch lying into a capital federal criminal conspiracy to murder. The government's contention that Moussaoui actually caused the 9/11 deaths because he lied to federal investigators about details of the plot might satisfy some definition of criminal conspiracy. But it's a hard argument to sustain under the federal conspiracy and death-penalty rules. The causal link between Moussaoui's acts and the actual murders is just too stretched out to work under the federal laws involved in this case.

Then something funny happened at the sentencing trial: The prosecutors switched theories. Somewhere along the way, they stopped arguing that Moussaoui's lies had caused 9/11 and began to argue that his failure to tell the truth was the cause. In other words, the deaths happened not as a result of the false information Moussaoui gave FBI investigators (that he was taking lessons in flying 747s for fun, had worked in marketing research in London for a company called NOP, and had earned the money in his terrorist bank account) but as a result of the true information he withheld.
Is this obscuring clear moral matter with "legalese?" No -
There is a clear moral distinction between telling a lie and withholding the truth. Government claims that Moussaoui's lies were distinct acts in furtherance of a conspiracy are one thing. Claims that great airy fistfuls of truths might have stopped the attacks is a screenplay. A lie that misdirects or diverts government prosecutors from foiling an attack is arguably a criminal act. The decision to withhold the truth is (Fifth Amendment problems notwithstanding) a non-act.
Did we invade Iraq, replace its government and occupy the place because of what we thought they might do, a non-act? Yes. We said we had to, or that was what we said at the time. We had to change the reason a few times. But for all the talk there was no act of aggression, putting aside there were no chemical weapons, biological weapons or nuclear weapons. We did that because of what we said were their intentions. And the Moussaoui is the same thing, on a small scale.

It's complicated in this case -
The defense team urges that to be eligible for the federal death penalty, Moussaoui needed to have committed an "act" (lying) as opposed to an "omission" (not confessing). They remind the judge that the decision to withhold the truth (and thus refuse to inculpate oneself) is constitutionally protected in ways that lying is not. Why? Because what kind of legal regime would force you to choose between confessing and implicating yourself (thus making you eligible for the death penalty), or electing to be silent (thus also making you eligible for the death penalty)?

Most important, the defense lawyers remind the court about the dangers of testifying in a parallel universe of what-might-have-been: How can any witness know, and how can the jury weigh, when and how in this imaginary conversation between Moussaoui and the government the right information leading to the correct conclusions might have been conveyed? What if, in this imaginary conversation, Moussaoui revealed only some details of the 9/11 plot but not all of them, or not the ones that later proved accurate? Is he eligible to be executed for the parts he withheld? What if this imaginary confession happened too late to stop the attacks? And what if, in light of this week's testimony, Moussaoui had had this conversation with someone higher up in the chain of command than the arresting agent, Harry Samit, whose warnings, as it appears, were largely ignored? Is Moussaoui responsible for having not-confessed to the low-level guy who was not-heard at the bureau? Is every person in America who chose not to come forward with any small detail about a possible 9/11 attack now eligible for the death penalty?
Yep, logic is a bitch. Two weeks ago the judge said this - "I will warn the government that it is treading on very delicate legal ground here. I don't know of any other case in which a defendant's failure to act has been a sufficient basis for the death penalty as a matter of law."

Wednesday, March 22nd she told the jury to be careful - "Juries cannot decide cases on speculation. Nobody knows what would have happened."

But 9/11 changed everything. With Moussaoui it's a matter of life in prison or the death penalty. Those are the two choices. It's not like he walks. He's guilty. He's a vile person.

But we went to war on speculation - we said we just knew what would happen if we didn't. North Korea is claiming that right too.

The guys in charge have made a mess on many levels. And the president is not big on logic and details. But then he does say what he means.

There's even more cleanup to do when you disregard details and logic. As you recall when the administration seemed headed for a legal problem last year regarding its right to hold a citizen as and "enemy combatant," it bypassed the legal by moving Jose Padilla out of military custody just before the Supreme Court was to decide whether or not to hear his case. Note here that they do that now and then.

And Wednesday, March 22nd the Wall Street Journal, again, reports here that the administration has decided to prohibit military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay from using evidence obtained through the use of torture. The new rule, coming next week, would reverse previous policy, the one Cheney was big on and was formalized in a White House decision last summer.

Analysis from Tim Greive here -
Has the White House come to understand the immorality and unreliability of evidence obtained through torture? Maybe. Or maybe, as the Journal notes, the White House is paying some attention to the Supreme Court's docket again. The court hears oral arguments next week in a case challenging the legality of the military tribunals. Prohibiting torture evidence now could help the administration's lawyers then, the Journal says, by allowing them to argue that the tribunals comply with the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The Marine colonel who heads the team of military lawyers appointed to represent detainees doesn't seem to be impressed. Col. Dwight Sullivan tells the Journal that he hasn't seen the new rule yet, but that the devil will be in the details - in particular, whether the rule requires detainees to prove that torture occurred or the government to prove that it didn't. And even if the burden-of-proof part of the rule is favorable for the detainees, Sullivan says, hearsay evidence would still be admissible during tribunal proceedings, possibly providing a "mechanism to launder tortured evidence."

But wait, you might be saying to yourself, doesn't the Bush administration insist that the United States doesn't do torture in the first place? Well, yes, it does. But a Defense Department spokesperson tells the Journal that the new rule is designed to "eliminate any doubt" that the tribunals will comply with the U.N.'s torture convention.
This is cleaning up after the elephants. Or, as Jane Smiley implies above, cleaning up after the spoiled, mildly sadistic kid who doesn't know much and screws things up. He doesn't get subtleties. But then he does say what he means. He's resolute, or something. Choose your word.

But he is a moral man, as we see here - President Bush said Wednesday that he is "deeply troubled" that an Afghan man is being tried for converting to Christianity.

That's about Abdul Rahman, the fellow in his forties who faces a possible death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity sixteen years ago.

But then there's this -
An Afghan man facing a possible death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity may be mentally unfit to stand trial, a state prosecutor said Wednesday amid growing international condemnation of the case.

Abdul Rahman, 41, has been charged with rejecting Islam, a crime under this country's Islamic laws. His trial started last week and he confessed to becoming a Christian 16 years ago. If convicted, he could be executed.

"We think he could be mad. He is not a normal person. He doesn't talk like a normal person," prosecutor Sarinwal Zamari told The Associated Press.

Moayuddin Baluch, a religious adviser to President Hamid Karzai, said Rahman would undergo a psychological examination.

"If he is mentally unfit, definitely Islam has no claim to punish him," he said. "He must be forgiven. The case must be dropped."

A Western diplomat in Kabul and a human rights advocate - both of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter - said the government was desperately searching for a way to drop the case.

The United States, Britain and other countries that have troops in Afghanistan have voiced concern about Rahman's fate. President Bush said Wednesday he was "deeply troubled" and expects the country to "honor the universal principle of freedom."

NATO's top diplomat, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said he would call Karzai to insist the case be dropped.

A spokesman for Karzai, Khaleeq Ahmed, said the government would not interfere in the case but that the government "will make sure human rights are observed."
Make of that what you will. We're in an odd holy war with even odder allies.

But the president is a born again Christian. And things should be clear.

They're just not.

In these pages in early March there was this - out here in Los Angeles, on Ash Wednesday, Los Angeles' Cardinal Roger Mahoney ran the old Christian myth up the flagpole, and no one saluted - if Congress passes legislation to criminalize the act of offering support to an illegal immigrant, he will instruct his priests and Catholic parishioners to ignore the law.

The bill is moving forward and we get this -
Invoking Biblical themes, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton joined immigration advocates Wednesday to vow and block legislation seeking to criminalize undocumented immigrants.

Clinton, a potential 2008 presidential candidate and relative latecomer to the immigration debate, made her remarks as the Senate prepares to take up the matter next week.

"It is certainly not in keeping with my understanding of the Scriptures," Clinton said, "because this bill would literally criminalize the Good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself."
So even the Jesus stuff is harder than it seems. Bush cannot catch a break.

Perhaps he should listen to the likes of Garrison Keillor - do something, anything, to show the American people they really should "perk up and imagine that the Current Occupant is in charge and able to connect the dots."

That seems unlikely. The man who said those things in Wheeling isn't good with dots.

Posted by Alan at 22:15 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 23 March 2006 08:00 PST home

Tuesday, 21 March 2006
Defiance: The Press Conference From Another Planet
Topic: Bush

Defiance: The Press Conference From Another Planet

Out here on west coast events occur at odd times. We hold the Oscar thing down the street at five in the afternoon so it can be broadcast live in primetime back east, eight in the evening. Here it's something on the television while you make dinner - Oscar parties are afternoon affairs. And then Tuesday, March 21st, the White House surprised everyone with a mid-morning press conference at ten back east, just after sunrise here. Fresh coffee, feed the cat, skim the local paper, check the email, and you miss what turned out to a big deal. This one was unusual. Well, it was four in the afternoon for Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, whose emails and submissions and photos arrive at odd times, here at least. Perhaps he caught it there in CNN-International or BBC World Service, or not. Things in France are heating up, what with the students taking to the streets. But here seems like end of the world, out of the flow of major events.

But this presidential press conference was not to be missed - filled with the president saying the oddest things. With his poll numbers in the basement this was a basic "Yeah, so?" - we're staying in Iraq for the next three years, and the next president can figure out what to do then. Not his problem. And everyone else is wrong - the public, the press, those in congress even in his own party who don't like what he's up to, and the courts of course.

That was the gist of it, with special emphasis on the press - it's obvious we're winning the war, big time, save for a few minor setbacks, and the press insists on reporting about all the fighting and car bombs and sectarian reprisal killings of women and children and all that. He didn't think that was fair.

At two in the afternoon out here - five in the evening back east, in the real world - you could see a discussion of all that on MSNBC's Hardball, Chris Matthews' shouting show. He suggested that since reporters were covering a war, maybe they should report on the fighting and such. It's kind of what they're supposed to do. On his panel he had David Gergen from Harvard, the man four presidents, Democrat and Republican, brought in to handle tough times, and Pat Buchanan, the old-school conservative big on keeping America pure in this way or that, and the former mayor of San Francisco, the amusing Willie Brown. What did they talk about? Vietnam. Really.

Buchanan said we won that war, or had until the American public turned on the administration and went all anti-war - we controlled everything and had won, damn it, and the press screwed everything up by reporting only the bad stuff, so we lost, because of the press, and only because of the press. Gergen, who had been in uniform in that war, said that was an odd view - we won and then the press made us lose? Not how he remembered it. They argued for a bit. Willie Brown was shaking his head, just amazed. Vietnam. But that was the discussion. Bush had pretty much used the Buchanan argument, fairly common on the right - if the press would only report the right things we'd win, no matter what happens on the battlefield. Yes, the logic is elusive, but that's the idea. Someone should have told Napoleon at Waterloo.

There was other news beside the big press conference, as here we see a hundred or more of the bad guys stormed a police station in Iraq and freed thirty prisoners. Lots of people died, including eighteen or more Iraqi police officers. Should that be reported? Over in the UK Prime Minister Blair gave his big speech on why we all have to stay the course, as it were, and see this Iraq business through, and anything like it, because, if you will, this really is not a "clash of civilizations," but a "clash about civilization." Oh. He'll have to explain that to his bigger, stronger, thousand times more powerful big brother George. The language is tricky. George needs help with the subtleties. Oh, and here we see both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are considering moving their reserves out of dollars and into Euros. Might crash the world economy, realigning everything. That's an old story. See The Real Reasons Bush Went To War from John Chapman in The Guardian (UK), Wednesday July 28, 2004. That's come up here before, and elsewhere. It's big deal. But there was that press conference.

The White House transcript of the press conference is here, but for a full flavor of the thing you might want to check out the video clips available here at Crooks and Lairs, the site that archives media clips of all sorts. It will give you an idea of the new tone of things - the president taking questions of actual substance and being strangely combative. The clips are of an odd thing. He calls on the woman who has been part of the White House press corps since the days of Kennedy, Helen Thomas, who has said he is the worst president in American history. He hasn't called on her in four years. She's trouble. But he asks what her question is. What's up with that?

She refers to all the people who reported he wanted a war with Iraq from the day he became president, long before the World Trade Center got slammed and all that, and to the fact there were now WMD and he did say Iraq was not part of that whole business, and asks, given that, what was his real reason for launching the war. He had said it wasn't about oil. So what was the real reason?

He said her sources were just wrong. No president wants war. And he cut her off a lot as she tried to follow up - your basic bullying of an eighty-year-old woman. It must play well with the base.

Curiously, in the text below the video links you'll find an additional link to this - Mickey Herskowitz who had struck a deal to ghost write Bush's autobiography said that "He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999."

What? "It was on his mind. He said to me: 'One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.' And he said, 'My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.' He said, 'If I have a chance to invade, if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I'm going to have a successful presidency...."

Oh.

Who to believe?

Well he also said this -
I also saw a threat in Iraq. I was hoping to solve this problem diplomatically. That's why I went to the Security Council; that's why it was important to pass 1441, which was unanimously passed. And the world said, disarm, disclose, or face serious consequences ... and therefore, we worked with the world, we worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world. And when he chose to deny inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did, and the world is safer for it.
What? He did? As Josh Marshall says here -
Of course, that's not what happened. We were there. We remember. It wasn't a century ago. We got the resolution passed. Saddam called our bluff and allowed the inspectors in. President Bush pressed ahead with the invasion.

His lies are so blatant that I must constantly check myself so as not to assume that he is simply delusional or has blocked out whole chains of events from the past.
It's the former - delusional. No blocking out of stuff he once knew. As noted three years ago here, he never believed Saddam Hussein allowed inspectors in. Didn't happen. He said the same thing standing next to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan in a photo opportunity, that according to a White House Press Release from July 14, 2003. He lives in another world. We all saw the inspectors making their reports to the UN, on television. Someone is mistaken. It must be us? No.

So he has the basic facts wrong on this one thing, what he sees as the major reason we went to war. Oh well, no one in the press corps corrected him. He's the boss.

You might read Brad DeLong, the Berkeley economics professor, here on the questions about the money stuff - "Mr. President, in the upcoming elections I think many Republicans would tell you one of the big things they're worried about is the national debt, which was $5.7 trillion when you took office, and is now nearly $8.2 trillion, and Congress has just voted to raise it to $8.9 trillion. That would be a 58-percent increase. You've yet to veto a single bill, sir - I assume that means you're satisfied with this."

DeLong looks at the answer. Aside from not knowing how the Federal Reserve works or much about how interest rated are set, we get this - "I like the size of the pie, sometimes I didn't particularly like the slices within the pie." Whatever.

DeLong seems to be in despair. It's only the economy.

The wiretapping of citizen without warrants, with no Fourth Amendment protections for anyone now? AP has the summary -
But the president defiantly defended his warrantless eavesdropping program, and baited Democrats who suggest that he broke the law.

Calling a censure resolution "needless partisanship," Bush challenged Democrats to go into the November midterm elections in opposition to eavesdropping on suspected terrorists. "They ought to stand up and say, 'The tools we're using to protect the American people should not be used,'" Bush said.
Well, that's not what they're saying. They're saying do it, but get a warrant - don't toss out the constitution. Follow the law. But then the concept is tricky. George needs help with the subtleties. Well, many do, even if it doesn't seem that hard to figure out -doing the right thing the right way. You see how the fall elections will be framed.

And there was a bit about the Hurricane Katrina business. That got a new spin when he brought up all those trailers sitting useless and rotting on a airport runway, in Hope Arkansas of all places - housing needed badly, but gone to waste. What about that? "The taxpayers aren't interested in 11,000 trailers just sitting there. Do something with them. And so I share that sense of frustration when a big government is unable to, you know - it sends wrong signals to taxpayers."

Ah, the problem is big government. It's useless. It can't so anything right. It's almost saying "see, we screwed up" and you cannot expect government to do anything useful, really. It's a tricky ploy. If that is so why should they, or anyone, be elected to anything? George needs help with the subtleties. This is dangerous territory.

So just what was going on here? Why did those of us who are west coasters have this press conference bubbling away on the television while we got dressed to face the day?

John Dickerson has an explanation here -
For months, White House officials reacted to bad news in Iraq by scheduling another Bush speech and blaming the media for relentless negativity. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney appear still to prefer this approach. But starting last fall, White House aides realized that the country would not follow a president they thought was clueless. As big and bad a wolf as the media may be, if the president didn't acknowledge some of what regular Americans saw on their television screens or read in their newspapers, he'd never be able to rebuild support for his administration and the Iraq war. People wouldn't bother to listen to his plans for fixing the problem, administration aides admitted to themselves, if they thought he didn't know what it was.

This realization did not unleash any bold acts of confession. Bush has not participated in freewheeling town halls or regular press conferences or a heart-to-heart with Barbara or Oprah. His doses of candor have come in thimblefuls, first in a series of December speeches and more recently in question-and-answer sessions. What Bush says is aimed at believers, Republicans and independents who don't need to see a firing of Donald Rumsfeld or troop redeployment but who believe the U.S. cannot leave and want to give Bush the benefit of the doubt. If they think the president is giving them the straight story, they'll regain their faith in his ability to find a solution. All this worked briefly last year. Polls showed an increase in support. But the candor didn't keep pace with the carnage.

Today the president tried again. He held a press conference in which he tried to show that his perseverance is not blind and that he is not "optimistic for the sake of optimism."
So as Nixon was forced to say "I am not a crook" Bush has been forced in saying he's really not totally clueless, honest. He knows what's going on.

He said he knows things are tough in Iraq - "I hear it from our troops. I read the reports every night." He knows seventy percent of Americans believe Iraq is in a civil war, and so does Ayad Allawi, Iraq's former prime minister. He just doesn't agree. He knows people are calling for staff changes, and for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to resign. He gets it. But it's not going happen. He hears it all, but, "They've got some ideas that I like and some I don't like." His choice. He's the boss. The people have spoken.

In sum, defiance.

Other points? He asked Americans to "imagine an enemy that says: 'We will kill innocent people because we're trying to encourage people to be free.'"

Okay. Fine. Abu Ghraib. Guantánamo. That fellow, the Army dog handler, who was just convicted for the contests with his buddies to see whose big dog could cause horrified prisoners to soil themselves first. The president himself says he'd heard thirty thousand Iraqis died, before the current troubles.

Tim Grieve here sees a problem with the concept, and add further pointers -
As Knight Ridder reported Sunday, Iraqi police say that U.S. soldiers last week executed 11 people, including a 75-year-old woman and a 6-month-old infant, after raiding a house where an al-Qaida suspect was captured. Knight Ridder says that such accusations are "commonplace" in Iraq, and that most "are judged later to be unfounded or exaggerated." This one is different, Knight Ridder says, "because it originated with Iraqi police, and because Iraqi police were willing to attach their names to it." The report, a copy of which Knight Ridder has obtained, says: "The American forces gathered the family members in one room and executed 11 persons, including five children, four women and two men. Then they bombed the house, burned three vehicles and killed their animals." The military said today that it is investigating the allegations.

Meanwhile, Time reports that the military is investigating charges that Marines seeking revenge for a deadly roadside bombing went on a rampage in the western Iraqi village of Haditha in November, murdering 15 civilians in the process. A Marine communiqu? initially claimed that the civilians were killed in the roadside bomb blast itself. But a subsequent investigation -- apparently begun when Time confronted military officials in Baghdad with the eyewitness accounts of local Iraqis -- acknowledged that the 15 civilians were, in fact, killed by the Marines.

The Marine Corps has turned over the case to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. A spokeswoman for the military says that the referral doesn't necessarily mean that anyone thinks that a crime was committed, and that insurgents are ultimately to blame anyway because nothing would have happened if they hadn't set off an IED. But of course, the insurgents wouldn't have had a U.S. Humvee to bomb if the United States hadn't sent its troops into a war of choice in the first place. "What happened in Haditha," Time says, "is a reminder of the horrors faced by civilians caught in the middle of war - and what war can do to the people who fight it."
Imagine that. Things are a bit more ambiguous. They are us. We are them.

But as Grieve notes elsewhere, it was more of the same. The president thinks Donald Rumsfeld is doing a "fine job" and shouldn't resign. He thinks the economy is strong and getting stronger. He thinks that Iraqis have looked into the abyss of civil war and chosen another future for their country.

Some differ on all this. The president is elsewhere, and defiant about it.

Here's the start of a long comment, and the final paragraph. You might want to glance at the middle of this -
I am ashamed. I am ashamed of this President. Aren't you? After watching his press conference today, a sense of shame overtook me. I'm ashamed that he took to the podium today as if he emptied out a container of laughing gas. I'm ashamed of a President who has the temerity to laugh when asked a question about war. I'm ashamed of the whores of the fourth estate who care more about having the honor of being the butt of one of the President's jokes than about exposing the truth to the American people. I'm ashamed that millions of my fellow Americans are so scared and so desperate for leadership that they believe the President's bullshit.

... This is not America. I refuse to accept it. America doesn't torture. America doesn't jail people incommunicado for years. America doesn't sit idly by as an entire people are exterminated in Darfur. America doesn't stifle science. America doesn't conduct massive, secret spying on innocent citizens. America doesn't believe the individual is an annoyance, an impediment to supreme government power. This isn't the greatest democracy on earth. This isn't the nation that pioneered human rights. This isn't the America that leads the world, that leads humanity towards a greater good. No, I refuse to accept this America of shame. This is not my America. It is an America perverted by Republican stewardship. A nation that under GOP rule has abandoned its founding ideals of freedom, liberty, and justice for all. True Americans - coast to coast, young and old - now bow their heads silently in collective shame for a nation that has lost its way.
Such things happen when you lose elections. The people have spoken - Vox populi, vox Dei (the voice of the people is the voice of God).

So we get a do-over? We'll see. Ezra Klein here explains what Al Gore is up to these days. Settling down. Thinking clearly about the issues. Not waffling or are trying to please anyone. Working on his media projects. Some think he could be rather good this time.

What does he say? This - "I'm enjoying what I'm doing. I'm not planning to be a candidate again. I haven't reached a stage in my life where I'm willing to say I will never consider something like this. But I'm not saying that to be coy; I'm just saying that to be honest - that I haven't reached that point."

One comment here (Digby at Hullabaloo) -
I will always have a great fondness for Al Gore. In 2000 I watched him get trashed by a ruthless Right Wing Noise Machine and a sophomoric press corps who were determined to punish him for Clinton's sins (which only they and the very right wing of the Republican party felt required punishment in the first place.) It was one of the most god-awful displays of character assassination we've ever seen - and the way it ended, with the Republicans pulling every lever of brute institutional power they had to seize the office, had to have been a terrible, dispiriting event. I know how bad I felt. I can only imagine the searing disappointment he must have endured.

But what seems to have happened to him in the aftermath is quite inspiring. Rising from the ashes of his defeat, he has come back to be an authentic, inspiring voice for progressive thought. I suspect that when you have been publicly cheated out of something so huge, you figure nothing in your public life could ever hurt you again.

It turns out that Gore took exactly the right lessons from his defeat and has focused his attentions not only on the vapid bloodlessness that has become the Democratic approach to politics - but he has also focused on the primary instrument of his demise: the establishment media.
Gore returns? That would be interesting. At least the press conferences would take place with the president on Planet Earth.

Posted by Alan at 22:09 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 22 March 2006 07:13 PST home

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