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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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Thursday, 25 March 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Public Relations and Political Gain - Getting the Tone Right

Last night at the Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner in Washington, George Bush cracked jokes while the audience was shown supposedly humorous photos of the President and top aides.

The full AP story is here.

Basically you get this:

President Bush poked fun at his staff, his Democratic challenger and himself Wednesday night at a black-tie dinner where he hobnobbed with the news media.

Bush put on a slide show, calling it the "White House Election-Year Album" at the Radio and Television Correspondents' Association 60th annual dinner, showing himself and his staff in some decidedly unflattering poses.

There was Bush looking under furniture in a fruitless, frustrating search. "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere," he said.
Everyone laughed - well most everyone. I'm not sure I agree with how the Brits here see it.

See Bush jokes about search for WMD, but it's no laughing matter for critics
David Teather in New York, The Guardian (UK), Friday March 26, 2004

Teather says Bush "sparked a political firestorm yesterday after making what many judged a tasteless and ill-judged joke about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."

Yes, John Kerry, said the jokes displayed a "stunningly cavalier" attitude.

And Teather pulls together the emails CNN sent in. I saw that covered this morning as I was sipping coffee. They were overwhelmingly angry. Example? "How can a thinking, caring human being joke about the lies that led to body bags and broken young men and women? I was appalled." Yeah well, people love to be outraged. Another? "It was tasteless and childish. It shows the true man - or child in his case."

Later in the day Donald Rumsfeld was asked about these jokes in a news conference. He ducked it - no opinion. "To know what I would think, I would have to be there." Yeah. Right. This from the man who knew exactly where the WMD were and told us all Hans Blix was an obstructionist fool from "Old Europe."

If you hopped on the Drudge Report you find what Matt says is the Kerry press release about this.

If George Bush thinks his deceptive rationale for going to war is a laughing matter, then he's even more out of touch than we thought. Unfortunately for the President, this is not a joke.

585 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq in the last year, 3,354 have been wounded, and there's no end in sight. Bush Turned White House Credibility into a Joke George Bush sold us on going to war with Iraq based on the threat of weapons of mass destruction. But we still haven't found them, and now he thinks that's funny?

"George Bush didn't tell us the truth about the economy, about job loss, about the true cost of his deceptive prescription drug plan, or about the existence of weapons of mass destruction. There's nothing funny about that."
Fine. But there's no such item on the official Kerry site. Over at World Net Daily the same item is quoted. Google shows nothing else. The release might be counterfeit for some reason.

But that doesn't matter. This evening on MSNBC's Hardball, Chris Matthews' show, one of the guests was a young White House spokesman - I didn't get his name and there's no transcript available yet. Matthews, who just did a piece on the kids, our soldiers, he visited at Walter Reed Hospital - some of the more than three thousand amputees and blinded from the war - lit into to this White House flak with a vengeance. Matthews was at that Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner, and one of the few who didn't laugh. He asked the White House guy if Bush would use the same jokes if he ever got around to visiting the wounded, or to attending a service funeral. It wasn't pretty. The poor fellow from the White House got slammed hard and had little to say. Hey, what's to say?

To put this in perspective, Richard Clarke opened his testimony to the 9-11 commission yesterday by turning the families of September 11 victims in the audience and saying, "... your government failed you... and I failed you. We tried hard but that doesn't matter because we failed and for that failure I would ask, once all the facts are out, for your understanding and for your forgiveness."

Six or seven hours later Bush was making jokes about the reason he told us we had to go to war. Oops. Kind of funny isn't it. Lost your legs? Lost your eyes? Sorry about that soldier. But hey, lighten up!

Well, charitably, the man is tone-deaf.

David Corn is less charitable.

Imagine if Lyndon Johnson had joked about the trumped-up Gulf of Tonkin incident that he deceitfully used as a rationale for U.S. military action in Vietnam: "Who knew that fish had torpedoes?" Or if Ronald Reagan appeared at a correspondents event following the truck-bombing at the Marines barracks in Beirut - which killed over 200 American servicemen - and said, "Guess we forgot to put in a stop light." Or if Clinton had come out after the bombing of Serbia - during which U.S. bombs errantly destroyed the Chinese embassy and killed several people there - and said, "The problem is, those embassies - they all look alike."

Yet there was Bush--apparently having a laugh at his own expense, but actually doing so on the graves of thousands. This was a callous and arrogant display. For Bush, the misinformation - or disinformation - he peddled before the war was no more than material for yucks. ...

Oh well. Bush may apologize.

But I'd guess he won't - not his style. And this will pass. But some of us will remember.

But then the Richard Clarke accusations a few hours ago led to another odd thing that indicates the administration really does need to "calibrate its tone" - as some things like this just look bad.

See White House Asks 9/11 Panel to Meet Rice
JENNIFER LOVEN, Associated Press Writer, Thursday, March 25, 2004

The scoop?

WASHINGTON - The White House on Thursday asked the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to give national security adviser Condoleezza Rice another opportunity to talk privately with panel members.

The White House said, in a letter to the commission chairman and vice chairman from counsel Alberto Gonzales, that such a session would allow her to clear up "a number of mischaracterizations of Dr. Rice's statements and positions."

Rice still would not testify publicly before the panel, as the members and many relatives of victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks want. Gonzales wrote that is important that presidential advisers such as Rice "not be compelled to testify publicly before congressional bodies such as the Commission."
Of course if you read the whole thing you discover the core issue is that Rice adamantly refuses that this meeting be public in any way at all. Heck, perhaps that is politically wise. You don't want to get in any sort of "who looks more credible on camera" thing with that Clarke fellow. You might lose. So keep it private.

But the really curious thing is that Rice is equally adamant that she not by put under oath - as in "Keep that damned Bible away from me!" She won't be held accountable in THAT way. Not her. This is not testimony in some damned courtroom where you swear you're telling the truth. It's just a chat to clear up some misconceptions.

Does Karl Rove, Bush's political advisor, understand how bad this all looks? In the last eighteen hours Clarke makes this stunning apology to the families who lost folks on September 11 - implying those who don't apologize are arrogant bastards who don't understand what real people feel. Then Bush makes his jokes about the missing WMD - a few miles from the hospital where our guys are working on how to live the rest of their lives without a leg or an arm or without their eyes. Hey, he didn't know the WMD weren't there - and it is kind of funny, isn't it? I guess that depends on your perspective.

Then late in the evening the Rice woman says she's changed her mind - she WILL explain herself, but only privately - on not on the record.

Karl, this is not way to make things look good.


Footnote (a new meme is born):

But then again, in the Republican primaries leading up to the 2000 election, Karl Rove saw how John McCain was gaining ground on Bush in South Carolina and suddenly there were all those stories popping up everywhere about how McCain might have fathered a "nigger baby" - and the rest is history. Good move, Karl. And today on CNN's show "Crossfire" Bob Novak did after all imply that Richard Clarke may have more than his points about Bush and the administration being wrong on terrorism. Novak is hinting the real problem is Richard Clarke has a problem with African-American women like Condoleezza Rice. Really - see this. Must be some racial-sexual hang-up.

Or maybe Richard Clarke is just a plain old racist, as Ann Coulter suggests:

Isn't that just like a liberal? The chair-warmer describes Bush as a cowboy and Rumsfeld as his gunslinger -- but the black chick is a dummy. Maybe even as dumb as Clarence Thomas. Perhaps someday liberals could map out the relative intelligence of various black government officials for us.
That would mean anything he says is to be disregarded, as he just doesn't like black folks. Liberals are like that. Don't listen to him.

It should be an interesting campaign.

Posted by Alan at 21:02 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 26 March 2004 07:38 PST home

Topic: Election Notes

As seen from the left?

Here's an interesting perspective. Eric Alterman opens with this today:

Joe Wilson, Valerie Plame, Max Cleland, Paul O'Neill, General Zinni, and Dick Clarke are all unpatriotic liars and weenies right? Has to be true; otherwise, this administration is both incompetent and dishonest. And that's not possible. I mean, on the one hand we have people who have given their entire careers to serving the American people and in many cases, paid dearly for it. On the other, we have a guy who didn't bother to show up for his cushy National Guard service during a war he supported, spent most of his first forty years drinking and carousing, and having been made wealthy by his father's associates, fell into the job of president where he (undeniably) misled his country into a war based on falsified evidence. Gee that's a hard one.

... The Clinton administration is obviously not blameless in failing to pursue Al Qaida as it might have but let's keep in mind that a) the Republicans were impeaching him for lying about sex, and b) when he did try to take action, these same accusers were accusing him of "wagging the dog." Interesting that Iraq hawks like Christopher Hitchens were then taking the Chomsky line that this attempt to attack al-Qaida was a politically-motivated crime against humanity.

You might want to read the whole thing, and follow the links he gives to prove his points.

Posted by Alan at 12:59 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: The Culture

Why we are all wrong about Mel Gibson

See Has `The Passion' caused miracles?
Jeannette Walls with Ashley Pearson, MSNBC "The Scoop", Updated: 2:45 a.m. ET March 25, 2004

Well, here's the scoop -

Some fans of "The Passion of the Christ" claim that the Mel Gibson flick has caused miracles -- and now a documentary is in the works to prove it.

Makers of "Changed Lives: Miracles of the Passion" have been interviewing people who say their lives were turned around after they watched the flick. An online solicitation sent to would-be subjects of the film gives examples of the sort of "miracles" the filmmakers are looking for: "a marriage being rescued, an addict who was set free, a Jew who now accepts Jesus as Messiah, someone who experienced physical or emotional healing, and so on."

A website describing the documentary suggests recording video testimony this way: "Looking right into the camera the entire time, begin speaking as if you're telling your story to a good friend who does not know Jesus and you REALLY want him or her to see the film and be changed like you!"

"We have gone to Web sites where there are in excess of 70,000 stories about how people were touched by this film, so we have plenty to choose from," Executive Producer Jody Eldred tells The Scoop. The documentary isn't affiliated with Mel Gibson's Icon Productions, says Eldred, but he has been working closely with Icon. "They've seen the trailer. They think it's a cool thing. We have their blessings."
I'm not sure what to say.

Since Mel belongs to a dissident Catholic sect that believes everything the Catholic Church has done since the mid-sixties, particularly absolving the Jews from the murder of Jesus and dropping Latin in the mass, I don't suppose he is eligible for beatification. Too bad.

Oh yes, on this day in history -

3/25/1955: U.S. Customs confiscate 520 copies of Allen Ginsberg's 'Howl' as they enter the United States. Customs also seized and destroyed another shipment of Ginsberg's poetry sent from Canada in the 60s.

Posted by Alan at 11:03 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Wednesday, 24 March 2004

Topic: Election Notes

So I watched a little television today. The 9/11 hearings. William Clarke testified.

I'm sure Fox News was not happy to report this about Richard Clarke's testimony today at the 9-11 hearings.

Clarke actually said this:

"My impression was that fighting terrorism in general and fighting Al Qaeda, in particular, was an extraordinarily high priority in the Clinton administration. Certainly, there was no higher priority," said Clarke, who also worked for former President Bill Clinton.

Clarke also turned to the families of Sept. 11 victims in the audience during the hearing, saying, "your government failed you... and I failed you."

"We tried hard but that doesn't matter because we failed and for that failure I would ask, once all the facts are out, for your understanding and for your forgiveness."

The Bush guys will never apologize. It's not their fault. Couldn't be. Clinton was the problem.

And their guys, Andrew Card and that Rice woman, spent the day saying Clarke was a disgruntled and bitter fellow out to make a buck on his book. They didn't ever say what Clarke was contending wasn't true. They just kept saying he was an unbalanced kind of negative person.

Well, maybe he is. So you cannot trust him? I guess so. Yeah, yeah.

And then, Clarke was interviewed at and said even odder things:

For one, the Bush White House assumes that everyone who works for them is part of a personal loyalty network, rather than part of the government. And that their first loyalty is to Bush rather than to the people. When you cross that line or violate that trust, they get very upset. That's the first reason. But the second reason is that I think they're trying to bait me -- and people who agree with me -- into talking about all the trivial little things that they are raising, rather than talking about the big issues in the book.
Issues? What issues?

The Bush folks do have an issue. It's all Clinton's fault? Clarke's view...

[Question:] The vice president commented that there was "no great success in dealing with terrorists" during the 1990s, when you were serving under President Clinton. He asked, "What were they doing?"

It's possible that the vice president has spent so little time studying the terrorist phenomenon that he doesn't know about the successes in the 1990s. There were many. The Clinton administration stopped Iraqi terrorism against the United States, through military intervention. It stopped Iranian terrorism against the United States, through covert action. It stopped the al-Qaida attempt to have a dominant influence in Bosnia. It stopped the terrorist attacks at the millennium. It stopped many other terrorist attacks, including on the U.S. embassy in Albania. And it began a lethal covert action program against al-Qaida; it also launched military strikes against al-Qaida. Maybe the vice president was so busy running Halliburton at the time that he didn't notice.
Ouch again. The Bush people really don't want to mess with this guy.

One view from the Daily Kos, the blog Markos Moulitsas Z?niga runs...

It's tempting to overstate the significance of what many of us watched or heard this afternoon. But it's hard to imagine anybody who followed Richard Clarke's testimony before the 9-11 commission not being moved by the man's clear and simple statements of what he says is the truth. From his opening statement of remorse to the families of those who died in the 9-11 attacks, to his blunt descriptions of the Bush administration's neglect of counter-terrorism, to his brilliant demolition of John Lehman's crassly partisan attempt to tar him as a partisan, Clarke's performance was a powerful combination of understatement and bravura.

Reading and listening to the reactions people have had to Clarke's book, his appearances in the media, and now to his stunning testimony before the 9-11 panel, it appears that we may have reached a turning point. Richard Clarke is easily believed and not easily dismissed. Karl Rove wasted his ammunition on earlier whistle blowers like John Dilulio and Paul O'Neil, who, compared to Clarke, are minor leaguers. Despite the assists of hacks like Lehman and the slimeballs at Fox News, this whistleblower will be hard to marginalize and ignore. The political heart of the Bush presidency is counter-terrorism, and their former counter-terrorism expert may have just ripped out their heart.

Richard Clarke is a hawk, appears to have been a Republican, and most balanced summaries of his career show him to have been a bit of a loose cannon too smitten by covert actions and insufficiently respectful of civil liberties. But he's the type of knowledgeable, dogged, and passionate analyst on whom every successful administration must rely for honest and non-ideological appraisals and advice. However, this administration doesn't value analysts, it values acolytes. Thus, it's not surprising this outraged insider has so effectively exposed the rank incompetence and rotten dishonesty at the center of the Bush administration.

Furthermore, this administration doesn't respect people who aren't cynical idolaters of power like themselves; it's to be expected that they wouldn't heed the advice of someone whose character and motivations are so different from their own. The leaders of the Bush administration wouldn't listen to Richard Clarke because, as he proved today, he is fundamentally what they will never be. Richard Clarke is a mensch, and Richard Clarke is a patriot.
The Yiddish word works here. A mensch will apologize when he's made a mistake.

I not sure Bush, or many Texans, know that word. Or get the concept. And heck, when you're president you don't owe anyone apologies, or even explanations, or anything. "I'm the President of the United States," Bush told a reporter last year. "I don't feel like I have to explain myself to anybody."

Well, I guess that's so.

Is Bush in trouble now? No, he can still declare marshal law and cancel the election, and proclaim himself President-for-Life. He'd have the army behind him - and at least half of the American people, who want to be safe from the bad guys, whoever they might vaguely be. It could work. Most people would see this as easier and more convenient than all this political stuff. They could just get on with their lives.

Things are coming to a head. It is possible.

No. Not a chance. Really. If Kerry is not assassinated by some enthusiastic Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh fan, which is of course possible given how they and their like stir the pot, we will have an election, and Bush will probably win, fair and square - just like last time.

Posted by Alan at 19:49 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: The Culture

Today's note on the gay marriage issue...

Ah, what to do about it all? Here's an answer.

See Oregon county bans all marriages
Benton County awaits state decision on gay marriage issue
Reuters, Wednesday, March 24, 2004

PORTLAND, Oregon - In a new twist in the battle over same-sex marriage roiling the United States, a county in Oregon has banned all marriages -- gay and heterosexual -- until the state decides who can and who cannot wed.

The last marriage licenses were handed out in Benton County at 4 p.m. PT on Tuesday. As of Wednesday, officials in the county of 79,000 people will begin telling couples applying for licenses to go elsewhere until the gay marriage debate is settled.

"It may seem odd," Benton County Commissioner Linda Modrell told Reuters in a telephone interview, but "we need to treat everyone in our county equally."

State Attorney General Hardy Myers said in a statement that he was "very pleased" with Benton County's decision. "It is my sincere hope that legal process will provide clarity for each of Oregon's counties."

The three County commissioners had originally decided to start handing out gay marriage licenses this week but on Monday reversed that decision amid a growing firestorm of lawsuits across the country, and decided instead to put a temporary halt to all marriages.

Click on the link for the whole thing. Quite amusing.

Think about this. It kind of forces the issue, doesn't it?

Posted by Alan at 19:46 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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