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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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Tuesday, 23 March 2004

Topic: Political Theory

The Meme of the Month.
If Descartes were alive today these neoconservative guys would kick that evil French fellow in the shins and beat the snot out of him, in moral outrage, or just for the fun of it.

In the magazine Sunday I had that item on logic - The Limitations of Empiricism in Politics with the subheading "Try this little investigation of how the need of those in power to maintain their power trumps this empiricism business." That's here.

What I was getting at was simple. Building on an item by Tim Noah in Slate the current anti-empiricist line of attacking problems became clear to me.

Someone studies something and their conclusion suggests your war may be whole lot more expensive and messy than you'd like? You don't want to know. It would be unpatriotic to know such things, or at least it would be so negative to think that way. A positive attitude works wonders? Maybe. The second example was what if someone has financial facts that would mean you'd lose the vote because the damned Medicare bill is too expensive? Let that someone know if any member of congress asks him for the numbers, and he tells them the truth, he'll get fired. The third example, the EPA one, was what if the proposed regulation of something toxic might cost your political contributors a bundle? Make sure the science isn't done - forbid any studies on the matter. All this happened with the current administration.

Their implicit position? Facts? Who needs them? Ignore them as "defeatist." Or make sure they never get out. Or make sure they're never developed at all.

And I commented that although I've always been kind of fond of empiricism it is clear that I am living in the wrong century.

So Tim Noah got me revved up. And he seems to have started a meme.

A meme? You will find the term defined at Tech Target:

A meme is an idea that is passed on from one human generation to another. It's the cultural equivalent of a gene, the basic element of biological inheritance. The term was coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins speculated that human beings have an adaptive mechanism that other species don't have. In addition to genetic inheritance with its possibilities and limitations, humans, said Dawkins, can pass their ideas from one generation to the next, allowing them to surmount challenges more flexibly and more quickly than through the longer process of genetic adaptation and selection.

Examples of memes might include the idea of God; the importance of the individual as opposed to group importance; the belief that the environment can to some extent be controlled; or that technologies can create an electronically interconnected world community.

Today, the word is sometimes applied ironically to ideas deemed to be of passing value. Dawkins himself described such short-lived ideas as memes that would have a short life in the meme pool.
Okay, then.

This current meme - that the neoconservative ideologues who control what George Bush thinks, says and does (and are the ones who are really running the country) loathe the Enlightenment tradition of empiricism - seems to be the current "meme of the month." These neoconservative fellows would, if Descartes were alive today, kick that evil French fellow in the shins and beat the snot out of him in moral outrage, or just for the fun of it.

Well, that's the general idea.

It's not just Tim Noah and me. This meme is spreading. To the Washington Post now!

See The Professionals' Revolt
Harold Meyerson, Wednesday, March 24, 2004; Page A21

Meyerson reviews how it seems odd that no one has actually thanked Richard Clarke, whose book Against All Enemies is causing such stir. Well, Clarke bluntly says Bush and his team ignored the real threats to the country and waged a foolish war to take over Iraq for some greater good. Clarke had been doing his Cassandra thing for years, screaming about al Qaida and how they were coming to get us. Well, perhaps he thinks of himself more as some sort of heroic Paul Revere rather than that flaky Cassandra woman. But the problem is, really, he was right.

And no one listened. And they screwed things up. And no one even turned to him and said, "Gosh, Dick, I guess you were right. Thank you for being so on the ball."

Well, that expectation is a ridiculous misreading of how the current crew in power deals with disagreement. Ask the French. Ask Hans Blix.

Anyway, Meyerson does a number on this idea that the guy might be worthy of some acknowledgement - and then launches into the meme of the month:

But Clarke did receive a huge if unspoken acknowledgment on the morning of Sept. 11: National security adviser Condoleezza Rice declined to run the so-called principals meeting in the White House Situation Room, choosing Clarke instead to coordinate the urgent information-gathering and to formulate the security responses to put before the president.
Rice repaired, with Dick Cheney, to the White House basement's bomb shelter. A hijacked plane over Pennsylvania was headed toward Washington, and the rest of the White House evacuated at full sprint - with the exception of Clarke and a handful of security professionals, who remained in the West Wing to continue their work.

But the security professionals who stayed at their station on Sept. 11 soon found they had philosophical differences with the neos in the shelter. They were empiricists: They took in as much information as they could and derived their conclusions on that basis. And, as Clarke and many of his fellow professionals were soon to discover, this has been a tough administration for empiricists.
Ah, Meyerson takes the bait! The meme continues replicating!

Step back a minute and look at who has left this administration or blown the whistle on it, and why. Clarke enumerates a half-dozen counterterrorism staffers, three of whom were with him in the Situation Room on Sept. 11, who left because they felt the White House was placing too much emphasis on the enemy who didn't attack us, Iraq, and far too little on the enemy who did.

But that only begins the list. There's Paul O'Neill, whose recent memoir recounts his ongoing and unavailing battle to get the president to take the skyrocketing deficit seriously. There's Christie Todd Whitman, who appears in O'Neill's memoir recalling her own unsuccessful struggles to get the White House to acknowledge the scientific data on environmental problems. There's Eric Shinseki, the former Army chief of staff, who told Congress that it would take hundreds of thousands of American soldiers to adequately secure postwar Iraq. There's Richard Foster, the Medicare accountant, who was forbidden by his superiors from giving Congress an accurate assessment of the cost of the administration's new program. All but Foster are now gone, and Foster's sole insurance policy is that Republican as well as Democratic members of Congress were burnt by his muzzling.
Yep, that's everyone's list.

Meyerson's point?

In the Bush administration, you're an empiricist at your own peril. Plainly, this has placed any number of conscientious civil servants -- from Foster, who totaled the costs on Medicare, to Clarke, who charted the al Qaeda leads before Sept. 11 -- at risk. In a White House where ideology trumps information time and again, you run the numbers at your own risk. Nothing so attests to the fundamental radicalism of this administration as the disaffection of professionals such as Foster and Clarke, each of whom had served presidents of both parties.
Meyerson's point is that this revolt of the professionals poses one huge problem for the Bush presidency - precisely because "it is not coming from its ideological antagonists."

The meme point here is that the "common indictment that these critics are leveling at the administration is that it is impervious to facts."

Is this playing fast and loose with the basic facts enough to put the election of George Bush to another four-year term in peril? Probably not.

We, as a people, don't much care for facts. What determines the outcome of an election where we give one guy power and send the other guy packing? There's image, and likeability, and that illusive quality of being the right guy to run things because you don't seem any smarter at all than the average fellow.

What did Adlai Steven say when he was about to lose in his last run for the presidency? Someone asked him if it pleased him that the "thinking people of America" were all going to vote for him. His reply was quite honest and straightforward - "No, I'd rather have the majority."

Sigh. Anyway, keep an eye out for this meme. It's amusing.

Posted by Alan at 23:41 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 23 March 2004 23:57 PST home

Topic: For policy wonks...

Just who is saying what? A good day for commentary. Must be winter ending and folks waking up from a long slumber...

Items worth a look today...

See Fatal in Difference: Bush's catastrophic allergy to Clinton
William Saletan, SLATE.COM, Posted Tuesday, March 23, 2004, at 2:42 PM PT

The always amusing Saletan opens with this:

Every once in a while, in the course of spinning the issue of the day, an administration accidentally betrays its broader mentality. Six weeks ago on Meet the Press, President Bush revealed his abstract notion of reality. Three weeks ago in his re-election ads, Bush displayed a confidence unhinged from facts and circumstances. This week, in response to criticism of its terrorism policy by a former Bush aide, the administration is betraying a third fundamental flaw: a categorical aversion to the ideas of the Clinton years.
The middle is an analysis of how the Bush administration systematically tried to reverse the policies and methods of the Clinton administration. The idea was not to build to them, not to take from them what might have worked, but to do the opposite, whatever it was. Saletan gives four detailed examples.

Of course the discussion comes around to William Clarke's book, Against All Enemies which is so much in the news. See Sunday as seen from Monday - What do reporters actually do for a living? - my comments yesterday on that book.

Here's Saletan's take -

In his book, Clarke recalls, "In general, the Bush appointees distrusted anything invented by the Clinton administration." Thomas Maertens, a Clarke ally who ran the National Security Council's nuclear nonproliferation shop under Clinton and Bush, tells the New York Times that while Clarke was "saying again and again that something big was going to happen, including possibly here in the U.S.," the Bush team discounted his pleas because he had served under Clinton. "They really believed their campaign rhetoric about the Clinton administration," Maertens tells the Times. "So anything [the Clinton aides] did was bad, and the Bushies were not going to repeat it."

... Does this mean Clinton did an exemplary job of fighting terrorism? Hardly. Clarke has plenty of complaints about what Clinton did. Some of it was good; some of it was bad. Clinton was inconsistent. Bush is the opposite: He worships consistency. He simplifies. He can't see any good in what Clinton did, so he throws out the good with the bad. No more fly-swatting. No more law enforcement. No more pinpricks. No more reactive Cabinet meetings. As Rice put it on the Today show Monday, "The key here was not to have a meeting. The key was to have a strategy." Bush's approach to al-Qaida was all or nothing. On Sept. 11, 2001, a week after his grand strategy was finished, he got his answer: Nothing.

The same all-or-nothing attitude pervades the Bush team's attack on Clarke's motives. In their world, as Bush has said, you're either with us or against us. They can't fathom why a guy who worked with them for two years would openly rebuke them. He supported Bush! He lunched with Rice! He's a registered Republican! How could he turn on them? He must have been a double agent. "His best buddy is Sen. Kerry's principal foreign policy adviser," McClellan sneered Monday. Never mind that his best buddy, like Clarke, served Bush for two years after working under Reagan, Bush 41, and Clinton. To the current Bush team, there's no such thing as criticism from within. If you challenge the president, you're one of the enemy.

It's funny, in retrospect, that Bush ran for president as a uniter. To unite a country, you have to acknowledge and reconcile differences. Bush doesn't work toward unity; he assumes it. He doesn't reconcile differences; he denies them. It's his tax cut or nothing. It's his homeland security bill or nothing. It's his terrorism policy or nothing. If you're playing politics, this is smart strategy. But if you're trying to help the country, it's foolish. The odds are that 50 percent of the other party's ideas are right. By ruling them out, you start your presidency 50 percent wrong.
Worth a read.

Then there's this...

Dick Clarke Is Telling the Truth: Why he's right about Bush's negligence on terrorism
Fred Kaplan, SLATE.COM, Posted Tuesday, March 23, 2004, at 3:22 PM PT

The fellow know Richard Clarke pretty well and gives us this:

I have no doubt that Richard Clarke, the former National Security Council official who has launched a broadside against President Bush's counterterrorism policies, is telling the truth about every single charge. There are three reasons for this confidence.

First, his basic accusations are consistent with tales told by other officials, including some who had no significant dealings with Clarke.

Second, the White House's attempts at rebuttal have been extremely weak and contradictory. If Clarke were wrong, one would expect the comebacks--especially from Bush's aides, who excel at the counterstrike--to be stronger and more substantive.

Third, I went to graduate school with Clarke in the late 1970s, at MIT's political science department, and called him as an occasional source in the mid-'80s when he was in the State Department and I was a newspaper reporter. There were good things and dubious things about Clarke, traits that inspired both admiration and leeriness. The former: He was very smart, a highly skilled (and utterly nonpartisan) analyst, and he knew how to get things done in a calcified bureaucracy. The latter: He was arrogant, made no effort to disguise his contempt for those who disagreed with him, and blatantly maneuvered around all obstacles to make sure his views got through.

The key thing, though, is this: Both sets of traits tell me he's too shrewd to write or say anything in public that might be decisively refuted. As Daniel Benjamin, another terrorism specialist who worked alongside Clarke in the Clinton White House, put it in a phone conversation today, "Dick did not survive and flourish in the bureaucracy all those years by leaving himself open to attack."
So you might want to read this.

Yes, Clarke's main argument - made in his new book Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror, in lengthy interviews on CBS's 60 Minutes and PBS's Charlie Rose Show, and presumably in his testimony scheduled for tomorrow before the 9/11 Commission - is that Bush has done (as Clarke put it on CBS) "a terrible job" at fighting terrorism.

The case? In the summer of 2001, Bush did almost nothing to deal with mounting evidence of an impending al-Qaida attack. Then, after 9/11, his main response was to attack Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11. This, Clarke contends, move not only distracted us from the real war on terrorism, it fed into Osama Bin Laden's propaganda - that the United States would invade and occupy an oil-rich Arab country - and thus served as the rallying cry for new terrorist recruits.

Kaplan suggests this should not be so controversial, because these are not new ideas. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill wrote about such things in his book, The Price of Loyalty - and Jim Mann's new book about Bush's war Cabinet, Rise of the Vulcans, gives the full history of this crew's obsession with Iraq.

And Kaplan discusses Rand Beers, the fellow who succeeded Clarke after he left the White House. Beers resigned in protest too - five days before the Iraqi war started - for precisely the same reason that Clarke quit. In June, Beers told the Washington Post, "The administration wasn't matching its deeds to its words in the war on terror. They're making us less secure, not more."

There are more the a few unhappy ex-campers.

Kaplan says Clarke's distinction is that he was "the ultimate insider - as highly and deeply inside, on this issue, as anyone could imagine. And so his charges are more credible, potent, and dangerous."

And then Kaplan goes into detail. Click and read if you wish.

Over at the Washington Post you get this.

Bush, Clarke and A Shred of Doubt
Richard Cohen, Tuesday, March 23, 2004; Page A19

And Cohen is just funny -

Pity poor George Bush. For some reason, he has been beset by delusional aides who, once they leave the White House, write books containing lies and exaggerations and -- this is the lowest blow of all -- do not take into account the president's genius and all-around wisdom. The latest White House aide to betray the president is Richard Clarke, who was in charge of counterterrorism before and after the attacks of Sept. 11. He says Bush "failed to act prior to September 11 on the threat from al Qaeda."

As with former Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill, another fool who had somehow risen to become chairman of Alcoa, Clarke's account of his more than two years in the Bush White House was immediately denounced by a host of administration aides, some of whom -- and this is just the sheerest of coincidences -- had once assured us that Iraq was armed to the teeth with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
And after a review of who said what Cohen notes the White House attacks on Clarke.

It's not a bad piece.

Oh and also in the Post David Ignatius has a bit to say about the Israeli assassination of that Hamas fellow.

See Machiavelli in the Middle East
David Ignatius, Tuesday, March 23, 2004; Page A19

This has one of the better openings I've come across:

"It is much safer to be feared than loved," wrote the philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli nearly 500 years ago. That harsh logic can be seen in Israel's assassination Monday of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the leader of the terrorist group Hamas.

It follows that for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, it's better to be seen as ruthless than as weak. That's especially true now, when Sharon plans to make a concession to the Palestinians by withdrawing from settlements in Gaza. The danger in this unilateral withdrawal, one of Sharon's advisers told me several months ago, is that terrorist groups such as Hamas might think they had "won" by forcing an Israeli retreat. Israeli defense analyst Zeev Schiff explained in the online edition of the newspaper Haaretz on Monday: "The message that Israel sent out by assassinating Sheik Ahmed Yassin is that when the disengagement from Gaza is finally implemented, Hamas will not be able to claim that the withdrawal was promoted by the group's operations."

But even Machiavelli believed that intimidation has its limits. Just a few sentences after the famous passage quoted above, he cautioned: "Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred."
And the argument that follows is that by any real Machiavellian standard, Sharon has failed. There are a whole lot of angry people much more like now to kills and terrorize and all that sort of thing.

So why did Sharon do it? Ignatius suggests one obvious answer is that he is a gambler. Ignatius points out "Throughout his career, he has been willing to roll the dice on bold military operations that promise to transform the strategic landscape. That risk-taking instinct is part of Sharon's charisma among Israelis, and it explains his continuing popularity despite his many failures over the years."

But Ignatius suggests the real reason - Sharon symbolizes the belief that the Palestinians can be intimidated by military force - and that peace will be possible only when they are sufficiently weakened and humbled. If Israel is tough enough, by this logic, it will eventually break the Arabs' will and force them to accept Israel's right to exist.

Yep, that could happen. Maybe. But here it is suggested that rather than being humbled into submission, the Palestinians have embraced a strategy of suicidal rage.

Ignatius says perhaps both sides could begin by considering the possibility that Machiavelli was wrong. "Sometimes it may actually be safer to be loved than feared. An Israel that took risks for peace might find unexpected rewards."

Or that Israeli might not. Doesn't matter. That won't happen.


Oh yeah, also in the Post E. J. Dionne smacks Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia around quite a bit.

See Why Scalia Should Duck Out
E. J. Dionne Jr., Tuesday, March 23, 2004; Page A19

The opening?

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Perhaps because I'm in Florida, I can't stop thinking about that bizarre memo Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia issued last week.
It's the one in which the justice heaped scorn and ridicule on all who questioned whether he could be fair in deciding whether Vice President Cheney should have to disclose which oil and gas bigwigs he consulted when he ran President Bush's energy task force.

Let me admit: My view is that Scalia should stay out of any case involving the political interests of this administration. Here, after all, is the man who played such a central role in putting Bush and Cheney into office through that abominable Bush v. Gore decision. How can the kingmaker be expected to offer a fair judgment on the king and his handpicked deputy?

But forget the past: Scalia's own argument for why he should stay on the Cheney case offers the best evidence for why he should get off.
And what is that?

The 21-page Scalia memo is, in part, a heartwarming buddy story.
Scalia fondly describes his tradition of going duck hunting at the camp of a friend named Wallace Carline. "During my December 2002 visit, I learned that Mr. Carline was an admirer of Vice President Cheney," Scalia wrote. "Knowing that the vice president, with whom I am well acquainted (from our years serving together in the Ford administration), is an enthusiastic duck-hunter, I asked whether Mr. Carline would like to invite him to our next year's hunt.

"The answer was yes," Scalia went on. "I conveyed the invitation (with my own warm recommendation) in the spring of 2003 and received an acceptance (subject, of course, to any superseding demands on the vice president's time) in the summer. The vice president said that if he did go, I would be welcome to fly down to Louisiana with him."

Please read those paragraphs over a couple of times. Is there any doubt that this is a justice who is great friends with the person whose case he is deciding? Would a rational person doubt that, all things being equal, the judge just might tilt toward the man with whom he is so "well acquainted?"

Imagine you were in a bitter court fight with a former business partner. Would you want the judge in your case to be someone who went duck hunting with your opponent and flew to the hunt on your opponent's plane? Would it make you feel confident to know that the judge was in a position to issue a "warm recommendation" that your opponent join a particular hunting expedition and thus make one of the judge's friends - an "admirer" of your opponent in the case - feel good?

And now consider that you, as a citizen, have a right to know with whom Cheney consulted in writing an energy bill that was overwhelmingly tilted toward the interests of an industry in which the vice president was once a central player. Scalia admits that recusal might be in order "where the personal fortune or the personal freedom of the friend is at issue." But not to worry. What's at stake here are only Cheney's political fortunes, the interests of the industry that Cheney once worked for, and the public's right to know. No big deal.
So Dionne says this is a scandal. Why? "Because of ideological connivance across the branches of our political system, we are abandoning the checks and balances that make our government work."

Yeah, yeah. But no one can do anything about it. There is no higher judicial authority. You cannot bump this upstairs. This is the top floor - the penthouse, so to speak.

And now you're caught up.

Posted by Alan at 16:54 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: World View

A note from France regarding Hollywood. Mel is not welcome in Paris?

This from the Hollywood Reporter - that's the trade newspaper out here, not me. And they are somehow associated with Reuters. I am not.

See French theater chain labels Mel's film "fascist"
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Here's the deal.

PARIS (Hollywood Reporter) - One of France's leading independent cinema groups has refused to program Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," which it has branded "fascist propaganda."

"I refused to program the film in my network of theaters," MK2 president Marin Karmitz said in a written statement forwarded to The Hollywood Reporter. "I have always fought against fascism, notably through my exhibition activity. For me, 'Passion' is a film of fascist propaganda."

Karmitz's MK2, which also is involved in film distribution, runs one of Paris' leading art house circuits with 58 screens across 10 cinemas.
Well that's not nice.

We are told that Mel's film is to be released March 31 in France by Quinta Distribution, the new firm of Franco-Tunisian producer Tarak Ben Ammar. Ben Ammar's Paris office declined comment on Karmitz's view of the film.

We are also told that Karmitz, also president of the French Federation of Distributors, said Gibson's movie turns "violence and barbarity into a spectacle. For two hours, you see a man being tortured, nothing else." And it seems he goes on to say that the movie is revisionist in the way history is portrayed, with the sound of blows and cries displacing speech.

Finally we get this. "Lastly, given the representation of the Jews, anti-Semitism is the third element of this fascist ideology. But in America, the Jewish lobbies made a mistake by basing the debate solely on this point."

Finally we learn that Karmitz thinks it's actually okay that Mel's film will be shown in France. He thinks people should think about it. "Because, behind this 'Passion' . . . you can glimpse a whole internationale of religious fundamentalism, a martyrology based on violence, contempt for the body and hatred for the human element."

But the idea is to let this Franco-Tunisian fellow release it to his theaters. Karmitz won't touch it.

Oh my.

Now this last weekend Mel's film was finally displaced from the top of the box office receipts list - for the first time in weeks it's no longer number one. "Dawn of the Dead," a remake of George Romero's 1978 film, grabbed the top slot - $27.3 million worth of tickets, according to studio estimates issued on Sunday. That's about twice what Mel's film took in. As you might know, like the first version, "Dawn of the Dead," is set largely in a deserted shopping mall where a small group of frightened but really nice folks must defend themselves from masses of bloodthirsty subhumans infected by a mysterious virus. It's kind of a companion piece to Mel's film, without the Jews.

Will Karmitz distribute this second film, V.O., in France? No word on that.

Posted by Alan at 08:38 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Monday, 22 March 2004

Topic: The Media

Sunday as seen from Monday - What do reporters actually do for a living?

Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror
Richard Clarke
ISBN: 0743260244
Hardcover, 304 pages
Publication Date: March 2004
Publisher: The Free Press, Simon & Schuster (Viacom)
Barnes and Noble Sales Rank: 1
Amazon Sales Rank: 7

So this guy was the White House head of counterterrorism for eleven years - he did such work for Reagan, the first Bush, for Clinton for all eight years, and for the second Bush until he quit last spring. And he's ticked off. He wrote a book about why. He says awful things about the younger Bush and his crew, and he said them on national television last night.

The best summary of the business, from Josh Marshall, is here:

The basics:

We seem to have a bit of a contradiction, don't we?

Richard Clarke rolled out his book this evening on 60 Minutes, arguing, in brief, that the Bush administration put counter-terrorism and the hunt for al Qaida on the back burner prior to 9/11 and then after 9/11 immediately started focusing on Iraq even though there was no evidence of Iraqi involvement in 9/11 or even al Qaida terrorism generally.

Meanwhile, on the Washington Post op-ed page, Condi Rice has a lengthy column presenting what can only be called a very, very different picture.

The new administration heeded the warnings of the outgoing Clinton administration and not only focused closely on al Qaida and the rise in chatter in the summer of 2001 but was actually preparing a much more aggressive approach than anything that had been considered previously. What's more, the president himself sensed that not enough was being done and called for further scrutiny into the possibility of a domestic attack and a more aggressive plan to "eliminate" al Qaida.

The president, in the telling of Rice and her deputy Steve Hadley, seems to have been more engaged, forward-thinking and insightful on this issue than literally any other major player on the administration's national security team.

Even with all the vastness of the federal bureaucracy and the possible uncertainties of interpretation, there's no question that one of these two people -- Rice or Clarke -- is misleading us.

Rice was (and is) the president's National Security Advisor. Clarke was in charge of counter-terrorism policy at the National Security Council. Nothing discussed by either on this issue should be a mystery to the other. It's possible that neither is lying in a narrow factual sense. But, at a minimum, one must be giving us a deeply partial and misleading account.
Well, yes.

Question? Is it the job of the press to dig around, gather facts, and point out who is more likely to be fibbing and spinning? Or is it the job of the press to report no more than that "he said this" and on the other hand "she said that" - and stay away from digging around? Anything else would be partisan and certainly not impartial and fair and balanced? Perhaps so.

One thinks of the old Watergate days when Woodward and Bernstein decided the former - digging around and exposing the truth - was what the press was supposed to do. Times have changed. Woodward last year published his book Bush at War - basically a puff piece on what a great guy Bush was and how he was really doing well. Those days when he and his partner were on a crusade to "dig up the hidden" are far in the past. These days the career bureaucrats have to do it themselves - first Paul O'Neill then Richard Clarke.

So what happened to investigative reporting?

The folks who dig around these days are not with the mainstream press. It seems to be the investigative bloggers on the net who do the heavy lifting now. Some of us note things and try to stir the pot. But others actually do digging and keep looking deeply into things. Trent Lott would still be majority leader in the Senate had not he been hounded by web-heads finding this and that and posting his wacky (to be generous) comments. These same "diggers" kept pulling up stuff about Bush's time in the Texas Air National Guard - odd items found and other odd items missing. There are more examples, but those will do to suggest something is afoot. In such cases the mainstream press eventually checked out what these independent sources had found and started reporting it, always graciously acknowledging who did the research, but not getting their own hands dirty with the digging through details.

That's not what the mainstream press does these days. One wonders why this is so.

The big nationally know papers -- the New York Times, Washington Post/Boston Globe/Newsweek (same corporation), Los Angeles Times/Chicago Tribune (same corporation) -- and the national media -- CBS-Viacom, ABC-Disney, NBC-General Electric, CNN-Times Warner, Fox News-Murdoch News Corp - don't do much investigative work any longer. They simply note events, as a general rule. Exposing what's really going on is for them now the exception.

The romantic notion that the press has as its core function to bring the real truth to the public and to keep our public officials honest is now a notion held only by the independents - ex-reporters and economists and whomever with their web logs, and by odd little magazines. I guess that role has become too dangerous for what is now the "corporate press" - a group with masters who have other priorities and wish to please a very broad consumer public where the rule is "offend the most people the least."

Well, CBS-Viacom did do this report on the new book Richard Clarke published. And that is taking a bit of a chance. Because what Clarke contends is, politically, white-hot. And CBS-Viacom would not want to be seen as the tool of the Bush-haters - those people who hate America and side with the terrorists and would like it if Saddam Hussein were back in power. You know who they are. Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity call them traitors, guilty of treason - the liberals.

Well, CBS-Viacom is safe. They didn't say what Clarke said was true. They only reported that he said some things. It's not like they said they believed such things.

Oh, and by the way, here Rush Limbaugh points out that Clarke's book is being published by Simon & Schuster, a publishing company owned by Viacom, which in turn owns CBS, which owns 60 Minutes. (Thanks to Billmon for pointing this out.) Rush's idea is that this proves the whole business is just an attempt by CBS-Viacom to make some money, and thus this whole business should be dismissed as one more example of meaningless sales hype.

So what things does Clarke say that we are being asked to believe, or in the case of Rush, being asked to dismiss?

My favorite segment of what Clarke said on Sixty Minutes last night was this:

"The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, 'I want you to find whether Iraq did this.' Now he never said, 'Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.

"I said, 'Mr. President. We've done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There's no connection.'

"He came back at me and said, "Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection.' And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer. We wrote a report."

Clarke continued, "It was a serious look. We got together all the FBI experts, all the CIA experts. We wrote the report. We sent the report out to CIA and found FBI and said, 'Will you sign this report?' They all cleared the report. And we sent it up to the president and it got bounced by the National Security Advisor or Deputy. It got bounced and sent back saying, 'Wrong answer. ... Do it again.'

"I have no idea, to this day, if the President saw it, because after we did it again, it came to the same conclusion. And frankly, I don't think the people around the president show him memos like that. I don't think he sees memos that he doesn't -- wouldn't like the answer."
Well, maybe Clarke made all this up and it didn't really happen. CBS claimed to have two or three folks who say it did happen, and one person who was actually there to witness the exchange. Curious.

And then there was this exchange over at the Pentagon, with Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld's second in command:

Clarke relates, "I began saying, 'We have to deal with bin Laden; we have to deal with al Qaeda.'

Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, said, 'No, no, no. We don't have to deal with al Qaeda. Why are we talking about that little guy? We have to talk about Iraqi terrorism against the United States.'

"And I said, 'Paul, there hasn't been any Iraqi terrorism against the United States in eight years!'

And I turned to the deputy director of the CIA and said, 'Isn't that right?' And he said, 'Yeah, that's right. There is no Iraqi terrorism against the United States."

Clarke went on to add, "There's absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda, ever."
Well, perhaps Clarke doesn't remember clearly.

Paul Wolfowitz may be "the prime architect and idea man of the second Iraq war." Did he really spend the first eight months of the Bush administration focused on "Iraqi terrorism against the United States" - while all his own sources were reminding him that such terrorism simply didn't exist. Could be.

How can one find out if all of this is true?

Well, the commission on the 9-11 events starts its hearings this week. Most everyone from this administration and the last will testify - expect the National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, who refuses, and Bush and Cheney who will only speak to the co-chairmen, informally, and not under oath, and for only an hour, or maybe a tad more if they really have to.

That alone is a little off-putting. But they're busy guys. Oh well.

It will be interesting to hear what they have to say, and how the mainstream press reports it. If there are more outrageous revelations, can they make such revelations seem bland and not threatening? Perhaps so. We'll get more he-said she-said. And not know just who is full of crap.


Note: my friend, Rick-the-News-Guy, late of CNN and AP, will probably tell me I'm all wrong about the press. And he's buddies with all the key players. And I'll defer to him.

Posted by Alan at 19:23 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 22 March 2004 22:53 PST home

Topic: Music

Notes from all over...

Susan Sontag as a jazz singer?
Say what?
Find out Wednesday night if you find yourself in Nice.

This in Expatica -

Patricia Barber
Chicago jazz pianist and songwriter, Barber is described as a "cross between Diana Krall and Susan Sontag with a throaty come-hither voice".

24 March
CEDAC de Cimiez
49 ave de la Marne
06100 Nice
Tel: 04 93 53 85 95

Oh, and if you find yourself in Paris tonight?

Return of the German rockers who pioneered the use of Moog synthesizers and drum machines in pop music, and pretty much invented techno, dance and industrial.

22 March
Grand Rex
1 blvd Poissoniere, 2nd
Tel: 08 92 68 05 96

Posted by Alan at 09:48 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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