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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 10 April 2006
Stormy Monday: Too Much News
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Stormy Monday: Too Much News

Monday, April 10, 2006 - following the news and all the dialog about the news, thinking about what to say about it all, trying to sense some patterns, but doing other things. Why? Because what isn't confusing is disheartening. That probably explains the postings on the daily photography site, three nature shots, and, when you really need to be elsewhere, previously unpublished shots of Paris, Rouen and Arles. The day was a good day to avoid the turmoil of the political.

But there were significant events left and right.

As in this - "Hundreds of thousands of people demanding U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants took to the streets in dozens of cities from New York to San Diego on Monday in some of the most widespread demonstrations since the mass protests began around the country last month."

The issues surrounding the proposed legislation to change the immigration law have been discussed in these pages (as here) but with the congress in a two-week recess there will be no resolution. The House bill - making anyone here without papers a felon, and those who help them in any way felons too, sending them all home, building a giant wall at the Mexican border - is quite incompatible with the Senate thinking - a staged way to let those here, under specific conditions, become citizens if they jump though this hoop or that - and quite different from the president's thinking (set up a guest worker program and ship them home when they complete their work). The labor of these people is vital to the economy, but they use services paid for by others, and all this cheap labor may drive down wages. Yeah, and it drives down prices - and no one want to pay three hundred dollars for a head of lettuce. There's principle - "They broke the law and they have to go!" And we need them. "Don't give lawbreakers Amnesty!" But let's have cheap labor to do the grunt work in the cities and the mindless labor on the farms, so the price of everything doesn't skyrocket. And the border should be secure, as who knows who comes in, maybe even terrorists, although none seem to have come in, just people who want to make some money for their families back home.

No marches will resolve the obvious conflicts here. We should be humane, but not foolish, and not reward lawbreakers, and not screw the economy. Here an idea - grant them all full amnesty and give them full citizenship now, and at the same time, close the border tight. The eleven million here can then get social security numbers, pay taxes, get drivers licenses and be gouged by the insurance companies with high premiums, and be as financially assaulted as most full citizens now are. And with the border suddenly locked tight, keep all others out for a time, or as long as you'd like. We get the labor, at a slightly higher cost as minimum wage law now apply to jobs not regulated before, but nothing terribly disruptive. Do it once. Or come up with your own idea - one radio host suggests everyone get a rifle and go to the border and just shoot anyone you see coming across the border (he later said he was just kidding).

But marching? Impressive. But is doesn't untangle the knot of conflicting demand and needs. And the government won't even get back to it for two weeks.

Other significant events? Maybe Chirac Will Rescind Labor Law That Caused Wide French Riots - the "pressure from students, unions, business executives and even some of his own party leaders" was too much.

On the right there was much glee - lots of items on the French "surrendering" from those who have been using the French as a whipping boy ever since de Villepin outclassed Colin Powell at the UN a few years ago, when the French, told we had to go to war NOW, gave the Gallic shrug and decided panic was not cool, and reason and thoughtfulness were more appropriate. Cowards, not buying into our fervor.

And too, there was a flurry of items on how out of touch the French were, giving up on the "fire anyone at anytime" Anglo-Saxon employment model when the world has really changed - no worker is guaranteed anything in this world, as corporations and those who own them are having a tough time. What's wrong with these people? Those who employ others to make money owe their shareholders, not the workers. And so on.

For Americans all this in France has little significance, except to remind them there are economies where the idea is that everyone is in this together and we owe each other consideration. That doesn't work so well in France, although it seems to be working just fine in the Scandinavian countries. Here? Everyone is fine with our form of "economic Darwinism" - no one owes anyone anything, and if wages for most Americans are flat or declining, just as your boss can fire you "at will" you can walk out for a better job this afternoon. It's dog-eat-dog and your real job, for your lifetime, is, daily, selling yourself - we're all slick salesmen. We love it. Spin and hype, the essence of salesmanship. We swim in it.

Of course it's not very "French." They seem to think it's unseemly. So the news is just, once again, we're different.

In Italy? The government is a mess (but so is their economy and they drive crazy in cars that break down far too often). Bush's friend, Silvio Berlusconi, seems to either have lost the election there, or won only part of the battle, as his center-left opponent late Monday was claiming victory - but this may takes a week or two to settle out.

Why would we over here follow this story? Silvio Berlusconi is a lovable buffoon with ties to the Fascists from the old days up Turin way, always saying very odd things (sometimes that he's Christ and sometime Napoleon), in and out of various legal problems that could get him thrown in jail - but he owns most of the press, radio and television in Italy. Think of him as a sort of Rupert Murdoch with an even funnier accent, and running a whole country, not just Fox News. His fall from power, if it works out that way, is a cautionary fable - once in a while all the spin you can get out there in the media, so carefully managed an crafted, just doesn't work. Sometime people actually do see through the spin, even Italians, or maybe particularly Italians.

Could that happen here? Probably not. We trust our press, and Fox News is "Fair and Balanced." And the network that started with Murrow, then Cronkite, will now have as its "anchor," and editor of what stories get covered and in what order, the perky and impish Katie Couric. She wears killer shoes and will lighten things up, and convince America we take things far too seriously.

Event in Italy then, as a parable about the media or whatever, may not apply here. But you never know.

Of course there was the scandal of the day, the new one - Phone-Jamming Records Point to White House - "WASHINGTON - Key figures in a phone-jamming scheme designed to keep New Hampshire Democrats from voting in 2002 had regular contact with the White House and Republican Party as the plan was unfolding, phone records introduced in criminal court show."

Key players in the White House, one of the president key men, involved in something like voter fraud? Yeah, like anyone is surprised. You play to win.

But then, you don't get caught, and you don't implicate the White House. Sloppy work here.

And they don't need the heat, as earlier in the day the New York Times reported this regarding the whole business about who was leaking what to the press back when there was an effort to "get" the pesky critic of the administration and his CIA wife - the president really did order certain parts of the classified National Intelligence Estimate be released.

The Times got the word from a real insider - "But the official said that Mr. Bush did not designate Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr., or anyone else, to release the information to reporters."

What? Throw Cheney under the bus?

The new line is don't blame the president - Cheney was clearly out of control here, doing this thing where his guy takes one key reporter out to lunch, shows her the formerly secret stuff, urges her to use it, maybe says a few other things, but makes sure she doesn't say where she got the good stuff, the real scoop. But the president just never imaged Cheney and his would do such a thing.

Well, it is a defense of the president, of a sort. He should just say no if Cheney invites him for a little quail hunting.

This is a mess, and Eric Alterman, the NYU journalism professor and author, puts it bluntly -
It's this simple. They are even worse than we've allowed ourselves to imagine. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney use classified information about vital national security matters for naked political purposes - often character assassination - and when they do so, they feel free to lie about it.
Well, yes. That's politics. But after linking to the news items regarding the new filings of Special Counsel Fitzgerald, saying "Mr. Libby, on behalf of Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, provided an exaggerated account of the intelligence conclusions," and there was a "concerted action" by "multiple people in the White House" - using classified information - to "discredit, punish or seek revenge against" a critic of President Bush's war in Iraq, Alterman points to former Federal Prosecutor Elizabeth De la Vega suggesting the typical media questions of the moment - "Is what the President did legal?" or "Does the President have authority to declassify information at will?" aren't the right ones to ask.

Elizabeth De la Vega says the real question is this -
Is a President, on the eve of his reelection campaign, legally entitled to ward off political embarrassment and conceal past failures in the exercise of his office by unilaterally and informally declassifying selected - as well as false and misleading - portions of a classified National Intelligence Estimate that he has previously refused to declassify, in order to cause such information to be secretly disclosed under false pretenses in the name of a "former Hill staffer" to a single reporter, intending that reporter to publish such false and misleading information in a prominent national newspaper?
That's an interesting bit of framing. And the hard to answer in the affirmative.

And here the matter is covered in far more detail. The prosecutor's files clearly show Libby says he was under specific instructions to say some minor items were key findings when they we're, not to mention the parts that said half the government decided the claims about Saddam Hussein seeking uranium and the "aluminum tubes of death" were bogus, but just say that Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure" uranium.

So his defense is he was told to distort and lie by the man above him. The president's defense is he just declassified some stuff and trusted his subordinate, Vice President Cheney, to do the right thing and handle the details. Think of it as musical chairs, with two chairs left. Libby and Bush just sat down. Cheney is screwed. Not nice.

This happens when things go bad, like the polls on the 10th, as this, the lowest approval rating for the presidency ever.

Yep, they are low, but much like the others in the last weeks. But Andrew Sullivan notes a difference with this with this set of disapproval numbers, and with the implications -
What's stunning is that almost half the sample - 47 percent - strongly disapproves. I came to the conclusion that Bush was an incompetent abetting something much more dangerous before the last election, hence my reluctant endorsement of the pathetic Kerry. But the broad middle of American opinion has taken longer to see what this administration is and what Republicanism has become. These are pretty stunning numbers given the relatively strong economy - strong in part because it's been propped up by an unsustainable Keynesian stimulus.

Historians will figure this out, but my own view is that Katrina did it. Katrina was the equivalent of Toto pulling back the curtain. Once Bush's passivity, indolence and arrogance were put on full display, once it was apparent that the government was not working, and that Bush was the reason, people figured out why the war in Iraq was such a shambles. And so the mystique required to sustain patriarchal authority was shattered. I think this is largely irreparable because it's about a basic assessment of a single man. What worries me is that we have almost three more years. If we face a confrontation or a crisis, this president will not be able to carry Americans with him. Our enemies will take comfort from this. Which is why re-electing him was such a terrible risk.
Sullivan is one disenchanted conservative Republican. He's of the old school.

What about the "new conservatives" - the neoconservatives at the National Review? Well, there's George Conway there at their website on the 10th saying this -
I voted for President Bush twice, and contributed to his campaign twice, but held my nose when I did it the second time. I don't consider myself a Republican any longer. Thanks to this Administration and the Republicans in Congress, the Republican Party today is the party of pork-barrel spending, Congressional corruption and, I know folks on this web site don't want to hear it, but deep down they know it's true - foreign and military policy incompetence. Frankly, speaking of incompetence, I think this Administration is the most politically and substantively inept that the nation has had in over a quarter of a century. The good news about it, as far as I'm concerned, is that it's almost over.
That's Bush supporter? Geez, he sounds like Eric Alterman riffing on the leak business -
... these dishonest and dishonorable liars take these nefarious actions of policies that, inevitably, prove disastrous, owing to their incompetence. And when, on those rare occasions, reporters are willing and able to address the truth of their actions, they can find their loyalty and patriotism under attack and have even been faced with criminal investigations over the reporting of exactly the same sort of leaks Bush, Cheney and company feel free to employ - except that these sometimes turn out to be true. And yet, somehow, the men and women who run our media establishment, think none of this is as bad as Bill Clinton fooling around with an intern. Even worse, they continue to report the things they say stenographically, rather than employing the skepticism they have so richly earned, over and over, and over. Even more terrifying, these very same dishonest incompetents are planning another war even as the world continues to pay the price for their dangerous and irresponsible failure in the current one.
Oh, other than that they're fine. But planning another war?

Yeah, it's the item that hit the newsstands Monday, Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker reporting our plans to nuke the underground facilities in Iran so they won't be able to build nukes of their own. That was discussed here in Necessity: Sometimes You Have To Do What You Have To Do.

In reaction to that, on reader, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, has this to say -
I'm surprised there's no mention in any of this of what was my own "Oh Shit" moment (and I imagined a similar moment for folks in the administration when they first heard about it) when I saw last week, in back pages of the New York Times, that Iran was bragging about having successfully tested a super-fast "torpedo" missile that could cut any warship in half and kill any submarine, no matter how deep. Later, they claimed to have successfully tested another. [The item is here.]

This could lead some in Washington to believe we have to nip the emerging Iran threat in the bud, no matter what the political consequences.

And yes, although I was sure the apparent-to-all failure in Iraq would have surely taken any other war plans off the table, I've been assuming this from my "cause-and-effect" world-view, while the folks who launch the wars are operating in a world of "steadfast resolve." Scary.

So is it possible that a war-weary Republican congress will look for ways to distance itself from Bush just in time for upcoming elections by calling itself into special session to try to rein in the administration?

Either way, we seem to be living in dangerous times.
We do, and as for the lessons of the first war, well, it wasn't the first one.

Eric Alterman quotes Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in the New York Review, Volume 53, Number 7 April 27, 2006: "Sometimes, when I am particularly depressed, I ascribe our behavior to stupidity - the stupidity of our leadership, the stupidity of our culture. Thirty years ago we suffered military defeat - fighting an unwinnable war against a country about which we knew nothing and in which we had no vital interests at stake. Vietnam was bad enough, but to repeat the same experiment thirty years later in Iraq is a strong argument for a case of national stupidity."

The hits just keep on coming.

But should we worry? The military has contingency plans for everything, probably even for invading Portugal and taking over the sardine industry. This all may be a planned leak, a bluff.

But there's a problem with that, as James Fallows writing in The Atlantic notes here - "By giving public warnings, the United States and Israel create 'excess demand' for military action,' as our war-game leader Sam Gardiner recently put it, and constrain their own negotiating choices."

Kevin Drum explains that here -
In other words, if the PR campaign is too successful, then Bush will have boxed himself in. Eventually he'll feel obligated to bomb Iran solely because he's now under pressure to make good on his threats and doesn't want to look like he's backing down. World Wars have started over less.

Who knows? A subtle and well orchestrated game of chicken might be appropriate here. But please raise your hands if you trust this crew to play a subtle and well orchestrated game of anything.
But the president Monday the 10th did come out and say these reports of White House plans to attack Iran "wild speculation."

Tricky fellow.

Two comments from Josh Marshall.

This -
... let's just put down for the record that when President Bush calls recent reports of White House plans to attack Iran "wild speculation" that means absolutely nothing.

It's not just that the president has now earned a well-deserved reputation for lying. It is because he and his chief aides lied to the country about a more or less parallel situation - the build up to war on Iraq - only four years ago. We now know that the fix was in on the Iraq War as early as September/October 2001. And the president and his crew kept up the charade that no decisions had been made long after those claims became laughable.

Yes, I know, President Bush gets called a liar on center-left and left-wing blogs all the time.

But I think those more genial sorts in the press and policy community in DC need to be honest enough with themselves to recognize that on this issue of all issues President Bush is unquestionably a liar.

It is also not too early to point out that the evidence is there for the confluence of two destructive and disastrous forces - hawks in the administration's Cheney faction whose instinctive bellicosity is only matched by their actual incompetence (a fatal mixture if there ever was one), and the president's chief political aides who see the build up to an Iran confrontation as the most promising way to contest the mid-term elections. Both those groups are strongly motivated for war. And who is naive enough to imagine a contrary force within the administration strong enough to put on the brakes?
And this to a reader (AB) who says this wouldn't really be a new "war" - just a bit of selective bombing -
I don't see the logic of reserving the noun 'war' for full-scale invasion and regime change. A bombing campaign to seriously degrade or eliminate the Iranian nuclear facilities would mean bunker-busting bombs to destroy buried and heavily reinforced facilities. It would hit a lot of places. Something of that caliber amounts to war. And not just by some rhetorical definition. It's something that wouldn't end after a few days or after the last US bombers and fighters return to their bases and ships.

Second, AB suggests that what's going on here is not actually preparations for war, but saber-rattling to keep the Iranians off balance and give them an added incentive to reach a diplomatic compromise.

With any other administration, I'd agree with that. Hinting at a potential military option would actually make sense as a backdrop to serious diplomatic discussions. It would make sense for an administration that wanted a diplomatic solution.

But this isn't any administration. This is an administration that demonstrated in a fairly analogous situation a preference for war over diplomatic solutions. So the 'threats as a way to spur diplomatic flexibility' argument makes perfect sense in the abstract. But there's no reason to assume it applies to this situation.

For myself, I still find it really, really hard to believe that the administration is seriously considering military action against Iran. At one level, I don't believe it. But I've thought the same thing with these guys too many times and been wrong. It's a situation where I set logical analysis aside and rely on experience and the administration's track record.

We know these guys. Why get fooled again?
They'd fool us? No.

But it happened again, as in this: "The U.S. military is conducting a propaganda campaign to magnify the role of the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to internal military documents and officers familiar with the program. The effort has raised his profile in a way that some military intelligence officials believe may have overstated his importance and helped the Bush administration tie the war to the organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks."

In short, the baddest of the bad guys, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is relatively unimportant, but according to internal military documents and "officers familiar with the program" it was really useful to hype him. He was al Qaeda, and he was there. It makes the case, or some case, that the Iraq war had to do with the 9/11 attacks, until the PR program (or is that psy-ops?) unravels. They fooled us. The joke is on us. In war you fool the enemy, even if it's the American public, or the guys fighting for us all. It worked.

Or did it? A minor story in the New York Times 0n the 10th was this - "Young Army officers, including growing numbers of captains who leave as soon as their initial commitment is fulfilled, are bailing out of active-duty service at rates that have alarmed senior officers. Last year, more than a third of the West Point class of 2000 left active duty at the earliest possible moment, after completing their five-year obligation."

Enough is enough. And this was only the Monday news items.

This is enough to make one a bit jumpy. The pattern to it all?

Things falling apart. When that happens those who thought they had thing under control can do dangerous things.

Heads up.

Posted by Alan at 23:38 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 10 April 2006 23:46 PDT home

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