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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, 30 March 2004

Topic: Bush

Today's big story - just some comments...
Most people are far too old to remember the ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his wooden dummy Charlie McCarthy.

The White House said today, Tuesday, that the 9-11 commission agreed to terms that would allow national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to give sworn public testimony on the September 11 attacks, and President Bush and Vice President Cheney to meet in private with the full panel.

Bush in a television statement to the country this afternoon said this would help give Americans "a complete picture" of events leading to the attacks on 11 September 2001. He took no questions. He just read his statement and walked out. Hey, what else is there to say, after all?

Yes, this offer has been made on condition that it will not set a precedent. Previously, of course, these guys had insisted that Rice could only meet the commission in private for "unsworn conversations" - she could, as they say, visit with the commission again, as she did before. But testimony under oath - and in public - would "contravene" the constitutional separation of powers.

Now they've changed their minds. And this might be okay.

The always frightened-looking White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters the commission had agreed to state in writing that neither appearance would set a precedent under the constitutional separation of executive and legislative powers. Fine, Scott, we get it.

But it's a curious deal. And in a deal you give some and you get some.

Rice will now testify in public, under oath. BUT this will not set a precedent, and she cannot be called back, AND the commission also agreed they would not call any other "private advisors" to the president at all from here on out. You give a little - you get a little.

But what's this about the president and the vice president testifying? What's that about?

As you recall, previously each had agreed only to individual "visits" with the two co-chairs of the ten member panel, not the full ten-member panel, and only for one hour each, and not under oath, and with no written record of the what was said - no note-taking or any of that stuff.

Now that's changed. It will still be a private meeting. But the time limit is gone. And they'll answer questions from the full ten-member panel. And oddly enough, someone will actually take notes for the record.

The administration's attorney sent a letter explaining...
I would also like to take this occasion to offer an accommodation on another issue on which we have not yet reached an agreement - commission access to the president and vice president. I am authorized to advise you that the president and vice president have agreed to one joint private session with all 10 commissioners, with one commission staff member present to take notes of the session.
Now that is odd. I guess the administration got tired of ten days of being hammered in the press for seeming so uncooperative, as if they all had something to hide. Well, this is a counter to that. And it seems a good thing for both sides.

But why is this is this a joint session? Why can't the president and the vice-president meet with the Commission members separately? Is there some other constitutional issue regarding the president and vice-president needing to appear jointly? What could that be?

Well, if this is the only way to get the full testimony in front of the full commission, then this will have to do. And to be fair, no one seems too upset by the idea. It's not a big deal.

But this joint appearance business could be the real political misstep here.

This requirement for a joint appearance - Cheney sitting beside Bush - might lead some to conclude the Bush is afraid to face these ten questioners without Dick Cheney by his side to tell him what he was thinking back then, and to tell him what he did back then, and to remind him of why he did whatever it was that he did back then -- so Bush can coherently answer the questions posed to him. You could get that idea. And that looks bad.

But then again, most people are far too old to remember the ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his wooden dummy Charlie McCarthy. Some of us do.

The problem is that this just makes Bush look as if he cannot think for himself or explain himself in a tight spot. Many think that's true, but what is the alternative?

I guess, after Bush's less-than-impressive hour with Tim Russert on Meet the Press a few weeks ago, Bush's handlers figured out it's better to have a clever wooden puppet out front than a smirking frat-boy all on his own, who doesn't quite understand the questions. So it's a trade-off. And he cannot bring his daddy to bail him out. Uncle Dick will do.

But there will be testimony. There has been a reversal here, with quite odd caveats of course.

What is going on?

Even Aaron Brown on the often-bland CNN has this to say.
There are problems you can't avoid and then there are problems that you create and we submit that the White House's problems with the 9/11 commission fall into that latter group. There never should have been any, at least not big ones, and there still has been hardly anything but big problems for the White House.

The White House opposed the creation of the commission, preferring it be left to Congress. The families objected. Polls showed the country did as well. The president gave in.

The White House resisted documents the commission said it needed and, after a nasty public spat, the White House relented again. When the commission said it needed more time, 60 more days to do its work, the White House again said no and, again under political pressure relented.

And now today, after weeks of saying no to public testimony by his national security adviser and absorbing all the political heats that position entailed, the president gave in again. The president, a very sharp politician, has been slow to learn that where the commission is concerned resistance, to steal a phrase, is futile and should be.
When this sort of thing hits the mainstream Bush needs to do some damage control.

Posted by Alan at 19:49 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 31 March 2004 09:07 PST home

Topic: Bush

On getting your enemies...
Of note today, Paul Krugman in the Times pulls together a lot of threads that have been a bit troubling. In the play Lady Macbeth tells her husband not to worry - just get some sleep, because "sleep knits up the raveled sleeve of care." Well these loose threads will still be loose after any number of naps. And when awake, one notices such things.

See This Isn't America
Paul Krugman, The New York Times, Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Krugman opens with this:
Last week an opinion piece in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz about the killing of Sheik Ahmed Yassin said, "This isn't America; the government did not invent intelligence material nor exaggerate the description of the threat to justify their attack."

So even in Israel, George Bush's America has become a byword for deception and abuse of power.
Now that is funny! And this is our ally. The implication is the game is over. The whole world is onto us- as in the title of the Sartre play, Les Jeux Son Fait.

Krugman's point is that the administration's reaction to Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies provides more evidence of "something rotten in the state of our government." Yeah, echo Hamlet, Paul.

Krugman contends that among experts, what Clarke says about Mr. Bush's terrorism policy isn't controversial. The facts that terrorism was placed on the back burner before 9/11 and that Mr. Bush blamed Iraq despite the lack of evidence are confirmed by many sources - including Bush at War, by Bob Woodward. That's the book I called a puff piece recently. And Krugman cites sources other than Clarke (and Paul O'Neill) saying Bush had a Jones for Saddam Hussein and Iraq that keep us from being overly worried about Al Qaeda and all that state-free terrorism stuff. Yes, yesterday in USA Today you get stuff like this - "In 2002, troops from the Fifth Special Forces Group who specialize in the Middle East were pulled out of the hunt for Osama bin Laden to prepare for their next assignment: Iraq. Their replacements were troops with expertise in Spanish cultures."

So, if the facts Clarke brings up, facts other sources confirm, cannot be disputed, the mode becomes character assassination.

How does the press handle this? Here's Krugman:
Some journalists seem, finally, to have caught on. Last week an Associated Press news analysis noted that such personal attacks were "standard operating procedure" for this administration and cited "a behind-the-scenes campaign to discredit Richard Foster," the Medicare actuary who revealed how the administration had deceived Congress about the cost of its prescription drug bill.

But other journalists apparently remain ready to be used. On CNN, Wolf Blitzer told his viewers that unnamed officials were saying that Mr. Clarke "wants to make a few bucks, and that [in] his own personal life, they're also suggesting that there are some weird aspects in his life as well."
Yes, I see today all over the net the rumblings are out there that Clarke is secretly a homosexual. Well, Bob Novak and Ann Coulter have already started the campaign to call him a racist who hates black folks, particularly black women. ( See Public Relations and Political Gain - Getting the Tone Right for that.)

But is it really wrong for Bush and his crew to use its control of the government to intimidate potential critics? Senator Bill Frist suggests that Clarke may have committed perjury and wonders if previous testimony to congress should be declassified to see if this is so. Clarke says fine, declassify it all. Ha! But then this from NBC News -
U.S. officials told NBC News that the full record of Clarke's testimony two years ago would not be declassified. They said that at the request of the White House, however, the CIA was going through the transcript to see what could be declassified, with an eye toward pointing out contradictions.
Yeah, cut and paste is much more fair. Skip the silly context, rearrange the sequence and shuffle the words. Pretty blatant, but folks will love it. It's what this gay racist queen deserves? Maybe so.

Krugman points out that this perjury business reminds folks of the White House's reaction to revelations by the former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill: an immediate investigation into whether he had revealed classified information. He didn't. The best they could come up with is that the stuff SHOULD have been classified but, well, really wasn't. Paul implicitly SHOULD have thought about that - damned traitor! And yes, Krugman is right - the "alacrity with which this investigation was opened was, of course, in sharp contrast with the administration's evident lack of interest in finding out who leaked the identity of the CIA operative Valerie Plame to Bob Novak."

Oh well. The leak was a felony. So what? They'll get around to that issue later.

Anything else, Paul?
... A few examples: according to The Hill, Republican lawmakers threatened to cut off funds for the General Accounting Office unless it dropped its lawsuit against Dick Cheney. The Washington Post says Representative Michael Oxley told lobbyists that "a Congressional probe might ease if it replaced its Democratic lobbyist with a Republican." Tom DeLay used the Homeland Security Department to track down Democrats trying to prevent redistricting in Texas. And Medicare is spending millions of dollars on misleading ads for the new drug benefit -- ads that look like news reports and also serve as commercials for the Bush campaign.
Yeah, yeah. That's politics. Terrorism is more important.

Krugman gives us this:
On the terrorism front, here's one story that deserves special mention. One of the few successful post-9/11 terror prosecutions -- a case in Detroit -- seems to be unraveling. The government withheld information from the defense, and witnesses unfavorable to the prosecution were deported (by accident, the government says). After the former lead prosecutor complained about the Justice Department's handling of the case, he suddenly found himself facing an internal investigation -- and someone leaked the fact that he was under investigation to the press.
Hey, you don't mess with John Ashcroft. John Ashcroft says his only king is Jesus. The two of them make a team you don't want to pick a fight with.

Krugman asks where this will all end and quotes John Dean (remember him from Watergate?) in his new book Worse Than Watergate - "I've been watching all the elements fall into place for two possible political catastrophes, one that will take the air out of the Bush-Cheney balloon and the other, far more disquieting, that will take the air out of democracy."

But not if we sleep through it all.

Posted by Alan at 09:42 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 30 March 2004 20:03 PST home

Monday, 29 March 2004

Topic: Oddities

Slicing and dicing odd kinds of data... facts are not the same thing as intelligence?

So... plug in you zip code here.

Just click on Zip-Code Look Up for all sorts of information.

The premise is clear.
People living in the same neighborhoods tend to have similar lifestyles, proving the old adage that "birds of a feather flock together" still holds true. To a large extent, you are where you live!

PRIZM NE, Claritas' newest segmentation system, defines every neighborhood in the U.S. in terms of 66 distinct lifestyle types using ground-breaking segmentation techniques. You can get a first look at your neighborhood using PRIZM NE using you can still access the lifestyle detail of Claritas' legacy systems, PRIZM and MicroVision.

Select the segmentation system you prefer and enter your 5-digit ZIP Code - you'll get your neighborhood's top five segments, along with some descriptive detail about each segment's lifestyle traits.
My zip code (90046) is cool -

I see the count for my neighborhood, according to PRIZM NE, is this:

31 Urban Achievers
16 Bohemian Mix
59 Urban Elders
03 Movers & Shakers
01 Upper Crust

Let's assume I'm an Urban Elder -

US Households: 1,429,902 (1.33%)
US Population: 3,496,741 (1.22%)
Median HH Income: $25,866

Lifestyle Traits
1. Shop at Banana Republic
2. Collect stamps
3. Watch Steve Harvey show
4. Watch Daytime TV
5. Drive a Dodge Neon

Demographics Traits:
Ethnic Diversity: High Black, Asian and Hispanic
Family Types: Singles
Age Ranges: 55+
Education Levels: Elementary/H.S.
Employment Levels: Service, BC, WC,
Housing Types: Renters
Urbanicity: Urban
Income: Poor

Nope, that doesn't work....

Well, a year and a half ago when attending a wedding in the bayous south of New Orleans, I rented a Dodge Neon. It was a nice little car. But this is not me. I don't collect stamps

So I toggle to LifeP$YCLE and get this population distribution for my zip code:

19 Affluent Renting Equity Beginners
55 Downscale Metro Lower Market
03 Metro Estate Planners
15 Young Elite Equity Beginners
42 Metro Young Carefree Renters

Let's assume I'm one of these "Metro Estate Planners" for example...

US Households: 2,580,318 (2.39%)
US Population: not applicable
Median HH Income: $113,268

Lifestyle Traits
1. Buy a Montblanc/Waterman pen
2. Own/lease a Mercedes
3. Own/lease an Acura
4. Buy an umbrella policy
5. Go sailing

Demographics Traits:
Ethnic Diversity: not applicable
Family Types: No Children
Age Ranges: 35-54
Education Levels: not applicable
Employment Levels: not applicable
Housing Types: Homeowner
Urbanicity: Metro
Income: $75,000 or More

Closer. I lease a Mercedes SLK. But I don't have Montblanc pen - not even a Waterman. And I rent. And I'm a few years over the age limit here.

Oh well.

But this is endless fun.


On the political side you can click in a zip code here and find out who is donating to which side in the current races ... Try FUNDRACE.ORG

And you can find out things like this about the center of Manhattan -

Top Democratic Buildings

770 Park Ave $52,000
300 Central Park W $51,125
211 Central Park W $36,650
120 E End Ave $36,300
895 Park Ave $34,000

Top Republican Buildings

85 Broad St $29,500
345 Park Ave $27,750
383 Madison Ave $22,500
834 5Th Ave $18,000
70 Pine St $17,000

Fascinating stuff...

The most interesting thing is you can see, by name and address, and occupation, exactly who sent in what funds to whom. Really. Individuals are named.


Posted by Alan at 19:51 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 29 March 2004 19:59 PST home

Topic: Election Notes

Interesting commentary...

Ezra Klein has this to say on Spain...
The reaction the right had to the Socialist victory in Spain upset me in a way most partisan conflicts don't. The audacity it took to demand that the Spanish continue to fight a war they never wished to enter, all for the ironic purpose of promoting democracy, astonished and offended me in a way few positions do. Forget that the defeated Government immediately attempted to twist the attacks for political gain, forget that the Socialists were within the poll's margin of error for victory, forget that the constant proclamations that the cowardly Spanish had allowed the terrorists to win certainly reinforced any victory the terrorists might have claimed, the very idea that we could somehow evaluate their foreign policy's morality through the lens of our own interests mere days after a vicious terrorist attack showed how little these people understood 9/11. For a group that is quick to grasp for ownership of the tragedy and quicker to remind us of its significance, they completely lost the ability to treat a grieving country with even a modicum of respect.

That, much more than the arguments over whether or not the terrorists won, is what incited my ire. But it's not the first time a government had given into terrorists.

Ronald Reagan's major military action was in Lebanon, where he deployed peacekeeping troops in the aftermath of Israel's 1982 invasion. Not long thereafter, a terrorist drove a truck packed with explosives into the headquarters of the First Battalion, killing 241 American servicemen. A few months later, Reagan pulled the troops out of Lebanon, placing them on offshore ships instead. Explained spokesman Larry Speakes: "We don't consider this a withdrawal but more of a redeployment."

So a terrorist killed hundreds of Americans in the hopes of getting us out of Lebanon and quickly succeeded. There was no other explanation, no other motivation for the "redeployment". In the face of terrorists, Reagan promptly gave into their demands.

So I want to know. Was Reagan an appeaser to terrorists? A coward? Unable to stand up to evil?

And if not, then how dare you open your mouth to criticize the Spanish.

And Jesse Taylor on Bush, Kerry and religion:
A Bush administration representative has said that it was ""beyond the bounds of acceptable political discourse" for Kerry to mention Scripture in his rebuke of Republican policies.

Does this strike anyone else as the biggest steaming pile of horse manure ever dragged out and plopped onto the stage of the national discourse?

Conservative Christian Republicans, headed by a man who said Jesus was his favorite philosopher, who in turn appointed a man who said we had no king but Jesus to the AG's office, are now assaulting a man for speaking accurately in religious terms.

If you believe that your faith calls you to political service (I don't, but many do), then James 2:14-17 is a perfect summary of what you are called to do:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

A party that's crafted its appeal to voters in explicitly religious terms, often claiming to be better Christians than its opposition (to the point where its opponents are evil - see Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, for instance) has no business whatsoever criticizing anyone else for their use of the Bible. None.
Things are getting hot.

Posted by Alan at 10:14 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Sunday, 28 March 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Sometimes folks actually throw the bums out... Flash Report from Paris

What happens in France may have no implications for what happens in the United States. Ric Erickson sends this fast update on today's elections there. Folks got fed up with the conservative folks in charge. They turned them out. It wasn't even close. I guess they didn't like all the cuts in services and benefits, nor the "public safety trumps anyone's rights" crackdown on crime, nor the rest of the "take care of yourself and don't expect anything from your government" policies.

Could such a thing happen here? One never knows. Former Socialist minister Jack Lang said, "The French considered themselves deceived by government policies." There's a bit of that in the air over here this week, isn't there?

28.03 - Left KOs Right

Bonsoir Alan -

Today French voters stopped not voting and turned out en masse to reject the policies of France's right-wing government by giving majorities to Socialist-Green parties in the final round of regional elections. Voter participation was above 65 percent.

Shortly after polls closed at 20:00, results showed that the Socialists and other assorted leftists, including the Greens, had captured control of 20 regions, leaving only Alsace with a right-wing majority. Results from Corsica and overseas regions were not immediately available.

The right has enjoyed a majority control of France's regions since 1998, with majorities in 14 regions. The left controlled 8 regions.

The Socialist candidate in the Paris-Ile de France region beat the government candidate and the FN candidate, Marine Le Pen, by gaining an absolute majority.

The election result is seen here as a rejection of the reform plans pushed forward by the right-wing majority nationally. Former Socialist minister Jack Lang said, "The French considered themselves deceived by government policies."

Former Prime Minister and leader of the right-wing UMP party allied to President Jacques Chirac, Alain Jupp?, said "We should listen more carefully to the French."

All current government ministers who were candidates in the regional elections were defeated. The center right in France has a tendency to self-destruct from time to time.

The big political question now is - can the President afford to keep Jean-Pierre Raffarin? The right's candidate was solidly beaten in Prime Minister's 'home' region.

Jean-Marie Le Pen was excluded from running in this election, for not fulfilling residence requirements in PACA. His substitute in the region was beaten by the Socialist candidate.

This election reverses the results of the presidential election of 2002. Then, results in the first round gave Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen a slight edge over Socialist leader Lionel Jospin - which eliminated him as a candidate. For the second round, leftist politicians urged all voters to vote against the ultra-right leader, and Jacques Chirac was elected with about 80 percent of the vote - and was rewarded by voters with an strong majority of deputies in the Assembly National.

Today's election results amount to a rejection of the government's national policies.

regards from Paris, ric

Visit Ric's website MetropoleParis for more on what's up in Paris, and in France, as he updates late on Mondays (our time).

Posted by Alan at 12:10 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 28 March 2004 12:11 PST home

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