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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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Friday, 30 April 2004

Topic: The Media

A turning point this week? A long road to a final paragraph that suggests just that...

Since it is the press controversy of the week regarding the war, it seems best to review the business with the Sinclair Broadcast Group and ABC News, a division of the Disney Corporation.

Friday, March 30, on his show ABC show "Nightline" - broadcast after the late local news around 11:30 in most markets - the host and producer Ted Koppel read the names of all the soldiers killed to date in Iraq. Sinclair Broadcast Group decided not to air the show on their stations. Sinclair General Counsel Barry Faber said this: "We find it to be contrary to the public interest."

The boycott affects eight ABC-affiliated Sinclair stations.

To be official about this, here are the positions:

The ABC Television network announced on Tuesday that the Friday, April 30th edition of "Nightline" will consist entirely of Ted Koppel reading aloud the names of U.S. servicemen and women killed in action in Iraq. Despite the denials by a spokeswoman for the show the action appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq.

While the Sinclair Broadcast Group honors the memory of the brave members of the military who have sacrificed their lives in the service of our country, we do not believe such political statements should be disguised as news content. As a result, we have decided to preempt the broadcast of "Nightline" this Friday on each of our stations which air ABC programming.

We understand that our decision in this matter may be questioned by some. Before you judge our decision, however, we would ask that you first question Mr. Koppel as to why he chose to read the names of the 523 troops killed in combat in Iraq, rather than the names of the thousands of private citizens killed in terrorists attacks since and including the events of September 11, 2001. In his answer, you will find the real motivation behind his action scheduled for this Friday.
We respectfully disagree with Sinclair's decision to pre-empt "Nightline's" tribute to America's fallen soldiers which will air this Friday, April 30. The Nightline broadcast is an expression of respect which simply seeks to honor those who have laid down their lives for this country. ABC News is dedicated to thoughtful and balanced coverage and reports on the events shaping our world with neither fear nor favor -- as our audience expects, deserves, and rightly demands. Contrary to the statement issued by Sinclair, which takes issue with our level of coverage of the effects of terrorism on our citizens, ABC News and all of our broadcasts, including "Nightline," have reported hundreds of stories on 9-11. Indeed, on the first anniversary of 9-11, ABC News broadcast the names of the victims of that horrific attack.

In sum, we are particularly proud of the journalism and award winning coverage ABC News has produced since September 11, 2001. ABC News will continue to report on all facets of the war in Iraq and the War on Terrorism in a manner consistent with the standards which ABC News has set for decades.
Here are the stations -

WXLV, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point NC
WEAR, Pensacola
KDNL, St. Louis
WSYX, Columbus OH
WLOS, Asheville NC
WCHS, Charleston, Huntington W VA
WGGB, Springfield MA

Is honoring "our war dead" in this way is a political statement aimed at undermining support for the war? Or is Sinclair defending Bush. The Sinclair Group is pretty loyal to the administration, as you can see from their political contributions.

Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly reports this:
Washington Monthly editor Ben Wallace-Wells emails to say he discussed Nightline on a radio show in a deeply Republican area of North Carolina recently and got a different reaction:

The host and his sidekick (whose brother was KIA in Vietnam) opposed Koppel on the established conservative line: it's politically opportunistic, it's a cynical ratings-grab, it's unpatriotic to drum up opposition to a war president. But we heard from 6 or 7 callers, all but one conservative (and even the Democrat was a military wife), and to a person they disagreed with the hosts, thought the reading was noble and honorable, a proper way to honor our dead. Some still agreed that the timing was opportunistic, politically motivated, but nevertheless they said they supported the name-reading.
So which is it - a left-wing political stunt to embarrass the president, or a gesture of respect to honor these people?

Drum's conclusion?
... war supporters need to get a grip. In a popular war, battlefield losses serve to redouble public commitment to the fight, and honoring the dead is viewed as a solemn and patriotic gesture. It's only in unpopular wars that combat deaths cause public support to decline.

Present day conservatives seem to unthinkingly assume that any public acknowledgement of Iraqi war deaths is obviously just an underhanded political gesture designed to weaken support for the war. This is partly a result of their paranoid conviction that the sole purpose of the media is to undermine conservative causes, but it's also a tacit admission that this is, fundamentally, a war with very shallow support indeed. If they really believed in the war and in the administration's handling of it, they'd show some backbone and welcome Ted Koppel's gesture of respect tonight. Instead they're acting as if they're ashamed we're over there.
Yeah, well, that's one way of seeing it.

Want to hear from a Republican, conservative war hero? Here's John McCain's letter to Sinclair:
Fri Apr 30 2004 11:29:49 ET

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) issued the following letter today to Mr. David Smith, President and CEO of Sinclair Broadcast Group, in response to the preemption of this evening's Nightline program:

I write to strongly protest your decision to instruct Sinclair's ABC affiliates to preempt this evening's Nightline program. I find deeply offensive Sinclair's objection to Nightline's intention to broadcast the names and photographs of Americans who gave their lives in service to our country in Iraq.

I supported the President's decision to go to war in Iraq, and remain a strong supporter of that decision. But every American has a responsibility to understand fully the terrible costs of war and the extraordinary sacrifices it requires of those brave men and women who volunteer to defend the rest of us; lest we ever forget or grow insensitive to how grave a decision it is for our government to order Americans into combat. It is a solemn responsibility of elected officials to accept responsibility for our decision and its consequences, and, with those who disseminate the news, to ensure that Americans are fully informed of those consequences.

There is no valid reason for Sinclair to shirk its responsibility in what I assume is a very misguided attempt to prevent your viewers from completely appreciating the extraordinary sacrifices made on their behalf by Americans serving in Iraq. War is an awful, but sometimes necessary business. Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war's terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic. I hope it meets with the public opprobrium it most certainly deserves.
Okay, now it come down to name-calling. The Sinclair Broadcasting Group says Ted Koppel and the ABC Disney folks are unpatriotic. McCain, war-hero, former prisoner-of-war in Vietnam, and one of the two senators from Arizona, says the Sinclair Broadcasting Group is unpatriotic.

Here's General JC Christian over at Patriot Boy writing to the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, and this is satire of course. -
Dear Mr. Smith,

I'm sure the traitors among us will disagree with Sinclair Broadcasting's decision to spare our nation the trauma of putting names and faces to the young men and women who lost their lives in Iraq. It is better that we hide our dead away and never speak of them. Remembering the fallen only risks shaming Our Leader at a time when he's working very hard to bring us four more years of his wise leadership.

I hope that you'll consider helping another great leader as well. For many years, the names of the dead found on the 1969-1973 sections of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall have served as silent criticism of Richard Milhous Nixon's war policies. Isn't it time they were removed and replaced by scenes depicting the President's greatest moments--events like the secret invasion of Cambodia and Kissinger's announcement of a secret plan to end the war after the '72 election?

Heterosexually yours,

Gen. JC Christian, Patriot
Yeah well, the week ended with everyone weighing in on this.

Here you'll find background on this Sinclair organization. Some nuggets -
Like many a media empire, Sinclair grew through a combination of acquisitions, clever manipulations of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules, and considerable lobbying campaigns. Starting out as a single UHF station in Baltimore in 1971, the company started its frenzied expansion in 1991 when it began using "local marketing agreements" as a way to circumvent FCC rules that bar a company from controlling two stations in a single market.

These "LMAs" allow Sinclair to buy one station outright and control another by acquiring not its license but its assets. Today, Sinclair touts itself as "the nation's largest commercial television broadcasting company not owned by a network." You've probably never heard of them because the 62 stations they run - garnering 24 percent of the national TV audience - fly the flags of the networks they broadcast: ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and the WB.

TV Barn's Mark Jeffries calls Sinclair the "Clear Channel of local news," a reference to the San Antonio, Texas, media giant that has grown from 40 to more than 1,200 stations today thanks to the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which relaxed radio ownership rules. But the parallels extend beyond their growth strategies. Jeffries describes Sinclair as having a "fiercely right-wing approach that makes Fox News Channel look like a model of objectivity," while Clear Channel is best known for sponsoring pro-war "Rallies for America" during the Iraq conflict. And like Clear Channel's CEO L. Lowry Mays - a major Republican donor and onetime business associate of George W. Bush - the Sinclair family, board, and executives ply the GOP with big money. Since 1997, they have donated well over $200,000 to Republican candidates.
The rest of the item goes on to discuss how Sinclair programs news on these sixty-two stations - basically a feed from Baltimore of all items not strictly local that only seems to come from the local station - all carefully managed. To maintain the appearance of local news, the Baltimore on-air staff is coached on correct local pronunciations. Or the weatherman, safely removed from the thunderstorms in, say, Minneapolis, will often engage in scripted banter with the local anchor to maintain the pretense: "Should I bring an umbrella tomorrow, Don?" "You bet, Hal, it looks pretty ugly out there..."

You get the idea.

Over at the conservative site NewsMax you get a more positive view of Sinclair.

Sinclair, The Next Fox, 'Fair and Balanced'
Wes Vernon, Thursday, Jan. 29, 2004
WASHINGTON -- One of the nation's newest and fastest-growing TV news networks says it's tired of left-leaning news reporting and wants to offer Americans a fair and balanced perspective, just as Fox News Channel does.

Fox News eschewed politically correct news to become the dominant force on cable news. And now the Sinclair Broadcast Group has been following in Fox's footsteps to do the same for broadcast news in news markets across the nation.

The Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBG) is the eighth-largest network of television stations, based on revenues, and the nation's largest independent group owner of stations, according to Broadcasting & Cable.

... The broadcast operation reaches nearly 5 million viewers each night, an audience that surpasses even Fox and CNN.

And just like Fox News, Sinclair's News Central is getting some heat from some establishment media outlets for offering a more balanced and less liberal-leaning news report.

Sinclair relishes the criticism.

"Basically, [we're] in the red states," says Sinclair's Vice President for Corporate Affairs Mark Hyman in a NewsMax interview, referring to the markets SBG serves -- mostly in "red" states George Bush won in the 2000 election.

... Hyman says with some glee that Sinclair stations are "not in the Hamptons, not in the regions of the cultural elite who look down on the 'little people.' " Thus, he suggests, Sinclair is fulfilling a demand in flyover country for a fresh perspective on the news.

"I think that is good for us because the folks who live in the red sections of the country are the ones most starved for a balanced newscast," he adds.

... As Hyman puts it [referring to critics], "The left's real beef is who controls the microphone. We're not liberal. We're not providing a slanted view. And that's what really angers them."

Sinclair CEO David Smith echoed that sentiment, telling the Washington Post that his aim is to offer a "fair and balanced" news program, something missing on the major network news programs.

"Our objective is to tell the story in the most truthful and honest way possible," he said, adding, "There will be no spin."
Of course not.

Still, this sort of thing from the city where I grew up is a bit distressing.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania)

August 17, 1996, Saturday, SOONER EDITION

David D. Smith, president and chief executive officer of Sinclair Broadcast Group, was arrested this week in his hometown of Baltimore and charged with a misdemeanor sex offense. Sinclair owns WPGH, the Fox affiliate in Pittsburgh, and programs most of WPTT.

The Baltimore Sun reported that Smith, 45, was arrested Tuesday night in an undercover sting at a downtown corner frequented by prostitutes.

On Thursday night, Sinclair issued a statement that Smith's arrest was unrelated to company business and ''The company will continue to operate under the direction of its current management.''
Ah, not important.

But you might like juicy detail.
Broadcasting official charged in sex stakeout
Sinclair president, woman arrested in company car

Published on: August 15, 1996
Edition: FINAL
Section: NEWS
Page: 2B
Byline: SUN STAFF Peter Hermann

The president of Baltimore-based Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., which owns the local Fox television affiliate, was arrested Tuesday night and charged with committing a perverted sex act in a company-owned Mercedes, city police said.

David Deniston Smith, 45, of the 800 block of Hillstead Drive in Timonium, who also is Sinclair's chief executive, was arrested in an undercover sting at Read and St. Paul streets, a downtown corner frequented by prostitutes, Baltimore police said yesterday.

Smith and Mary DiPaulo, 31, were charged with committing unnatural and perverted sex act. Smith was held overnight at the Central Booking and Intake Center and released on personal recognizance at 2 p.m. yesterday. DiPaulo's bail status was not available.

Officials at WBFF-TV (Fox 45) and Sinclair, one of the fastest-growing broadcasting companies in the nation with 28 television and 34 radio stations, would not comment yesterday. The company had $126 million in sales in the first half of this year.

Police said undercover Officer Gary Bowman, on a prostitution detail, was talking to DiPaulo about 9: 15 p.m. in a car at St. Paul and Read streets. She left the undercover car after telling Bowman that ``she had just seen her regular date driving in the area,'' according to court documents.

Police said DiPaulo ran across the street to a 1992 Mercedes, registered to Sinclair, and got in on the passenger side. Police followed the car onto the Jones Falls Expressway, where they said they witnessed the two engage in oral sex while Smith drove north.

Police said they followed the car back to Read and St. Paul streets, where they arrested Smith and DiPaulo, who lives in the 700 block of Washington Blvd.
My, my...

But none of that has much to do with the "Nightline" show and the roll call of the dead.

April 30 may come to be a turning point kind of day. The business of our soldiers, either the real ones or the subcontractors we use, humiliating, mocking and even torturing prisoners we hold near Baghdad exploded in the Arab press today - with all the pictures. ABC does this "litany of the dead" reading. The Mirror in the UK publishes photos of British soldiers treating an Iraqi civilian prisoner rather badly - photos of the guys urinating on him. And they later knocked out all his teeth, broke his jaw, then drove him off in the night and dumped him from the back of a truck - and thus lost track of him. They have no idea if he survived. Those pictures will hit the Arab press tomorrow. And our Marines have decided not to mess with Fallujah - and one of Saddam's generals has been brought out of retirement, rounded up more than a thousand former Iraqi soldiers, and will take care of things for us there. That doesn't look good to the locals - Saddmam's guys with guns are back. And we set it up.

Things are, indeed, going a bit sour as this week ends.

Posted by Alan at 20:33 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Iraq

A minor history lesson from an unlikely source... Clemenceau jokes around with Woodrow Wilson?

The unlikely source would be Pat Buchanan in this case. In the May 10, 2004 issue of The American Conservative, you will find this - Fallujah: High Tide of Empire? - where Buchanan opens with a story...
At Versailles, 1919, Lloyd George, having seized oil-rich Iraq for the empire, offered Woodrow Wilson mandates over Armenia and Constantinople. "When you cease to be President we will make you Grand Turk," laughed Clemenceau.

As there were "no oil fields there," writes historian Thomas Bailey, "it was assumed that rich Uncle Sam would play the role of Good Samaritan." Though unamused, Wilson accepted the mandates.

Fortunately, Harding won in 1920 and reneged on the deal. Lloyd George and Churchill were left to face the Turks all by their imperial selves. Had we accepted Constantinople, Americans would have ended up fighting Ataturk's armies to hold today's Istanbul.
So, of course, thank goodness for Warren G. Harding. And yes, I never imagined I'd say that.

But why does Pat Buchanan bring up this odd old anecdote? He thinks we've stepped in it this time. We inadvertently bought what Clemenceau was trying to sell us in 1919 - since the attacks of September 11, 2001 the neoconservatives who have transformed our way of dealing with the world - these guys Buchanan says have been "prattling on" about global hegemony and a crusade for democracy since the end of the Cold War and now finally have their day in the sun to put into operation their historically atypical views - have sold President Bush on what Buchanan calls "their imperial scheme: a MacArthur Regency in Baghdad."

Buchanan sees this as a crossroads. He considers the ongoing Fallujah and the Shi'ite uprisings as says they are telling us this:
... if we mean to make Iraq a pro-Western democracy, the price in blood and treasure has gone up. Shall we pay it is the question of the hour. For there are signs Americans today are no more willing to sacrifice for empire than was Harding to send his nation's sons off to police and run provinces carved out of the Ottoman Empire.
Yes, that question has occurred to many, but not precisely put this way. Do we commit a generation, or more, of our people to rule (the word he doesn't use) bits and pieces of the old Ottoman Empire?

The Ottoman Empire? Old business. Does that really apply? Winston Churchill was indeed one of the fellows drawing lines on maps way back when, deconstructing the Ottoman as it were, creating what are now the nation-states of the Middle East. And yes, George Bush loves comparing himself to Winston Churchill, even though in Bush's case a born-again evangelical Winston Churchill, one who certainly doesn't live on cognac and single-malt scotch. Bush is the dry, pious Methodist Winston Churchill. But there is a parallel - the war morphed from being about removing a fellow with real and dangerous weapons of mass destruction (none found), or about hitting a fellow who had something to do with the attacks of September 11, 2001 (no evidence ever found for that) to being about transforming the Middle East. The latest version of what this is about centers on transforming the Middle East by plopping down a secular, free-market private-capital-based representative democracy right in the middle of all the other nations there - to show them that how things have been run over in that part of the world since the beginning of recorded history was, obviously, the wrong way of going about living life in groups. Much like Winston Churchill drawing lines on maps way back when, we're redefining the political world there.

Well, given the history in that part of the world - a history of tribes and tyrants and theocracies, not to mention fervent prophets of this truth or that - this is a hard sell. Obviously force was necessary - invasion, occupation, lots of death from the sky - and subsequent work at winning the hearts and minds of the locals and teaching them the joys of the American way.

Perhaps this is a good idea. Perhaps not. But what sort of government do you want running a country - even if it is a country that was shuffled together by Churchill and others with leaky fountain pens and bad maps - that sits on the second largest oil reserves in the world, and has in the past been run by some pretty nasty guys who were fond of mass murder and the use of chemical and biologic weapons? The status quo wasn't terribly appealing.

Perhaps a preemptive, preventative, prophylactic war sold on premises that were, we now see, quite false, followed by an occupation that is quite a mess, wasn't the best alternative. But there was a kind of urgency to do something. Others had ideas on what the "alternative something" might be. We're didn't want to hear it. So we bought the tar-baby.

But it was more than Iraq. Listen to the current rhetoric from the administration. We want the world, all of it, to be democratic and free in the sense we understand those words. It's our mission. And as Bush often says, it is God's calling - almost as if God reached down to America and said, "Tag! You're it!" It's our job.

Pat Buchanan suggests that in bringing the Bush-neoconservative "world democratic revolution" to Iraq, we suffer today from four deficiencies: men, money, will, and stamina. And he discusses these.

His comments on manpower are distressing:
First, we do not have the troops in country to pacify Iraq. Some 70 percent of our combat units are committed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and South Korea already. If we are going to put more men into Iraq, U.S. military forces must expand.

Those who speak of democratizing Iraq as we did Germany tend to forget: in 1945, we had 12 million men under arms and four million soldiers in Europe. German resistance disappeared in 1945 with the death of Hitler. There was no guerrilla war against us. Today, our army is only 480,000 strong and scattered across 100 countries. And we have 129,000 troops in an Iraq that is as large as California and an escalating war against urban guerrillas.
Not good. If we're going to go about this holy mission, we need many more warm bodies, or is that boots on the ground? Whatever. Anyway, it could get drafty, as in conscription and moving beyond a volunteer (professional) army. Of course there is outsourcing - as with Blackwater Security and Dyncorp - but that's expensive and these hired guns can do embarrassing things and be hard to control.

And yes, a pause here for a disclaimer - the columnist Ann Coulter and the former Bush speechwriter David Frum (who came up with the "Axis of Evil" words for Bush) both have said that we did indeed face years of guerrilla warfare in the late forties in Europe and in the Pacific. They say people like Buchanan simply do not know their history - because thousands of our troops were killed by German and Japanese guerrilla soldiers who didn't like how WWII turned out. This went on for years. These events are in no history books anyone has come across, and there are no accounts of this in any records, but it has been said. So there is this claim. One should note that.

Anyway, Buchanan runs the numbers on the money problems, but enough has been said about out federal deficit and massive trade deficit, and the falling dollar over the last three years.

Then there is what Buchanan calls "the deficit in imperial will." He says the American public has not exactly bought into the idea that we must democratize the Islamic world or we are unsafe in our own country. And the polls are turning - nearly half the nation believes we should start coming home. Maybe if Bush jumped up and down and said we have to see this through in Iraq to prevent gay marriage from becoming legal in Boston and San Francisco - and in Haiti - he'd do better. As it is, Bush is selling. Folks aren't buying.

Then there is the matter of stamina - and this is curious:
Empire requires an unshakeable belief in the superiority of one's own race, religion, and civilization and an iron resolve to fight to impose that faith and civilization upon other peoples.

We are not that kind of people. Never have been. Americans, who preach the equality of all races, creeds, and cultures, are, de facto, poor imperialists. When we attempt an imperial role as in the Philippines or Iraq, we invariably fall into squabbling over whether a republic should be imposing its ideology on another nation. A crusade for democracy is a contradiction in terms.

While it would be nice if Brazil, Bangladesh, and Burundi all embraced democracy, why should we fight them if they don't, and why should our soldiers die to restore democracy should they lose it? Why is that our problem, if they are not threatening us?

... If attacked, Americans fight ferociously. Unwise nations discover that. Threatened, as in the Cold War, we will persevere. But if our vital interests are not threatened, or our honor is not impugned, most of us are for staying out of wars.

That is our history and oldest tradition. It may be ridiculed as selfish old American isolationism, but that is who we are and that is how we came to be the last world power left standing on the bloodstained world stage after the horrific 20th century.
Buchanan is of course, being defensive here as he is so often dismissed as a dim-witted, stubborn isolationist - and, of course often called a racist, anti-Semite right-wing overly religious nut case.

Yeah, but in this one case he could be right. Well, almost four years ago we elected a leader who really does have an unshakeable belief in the superiority of his race, religion, and civilization - and who certainly does have an iron resolve to fight to impose that faith and civilization upon other peoples. He's no Canadian live-and-let-live sort. Shall we tag along for the ride, or not?

Posted by Alan at 18:53 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Iraq

Addendum - A little more detail...

In the "Tinkerbell" item below you will find a discussion of the CBS 60 Minutes Two broadcast this week detailing allegations of our of torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners inside Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq - numerous cases, as it were.

One minor detail has been added to the text below.

You will see here that a British newspaper adds a detail the domestic press and CBS disregarded, or just missed:
A military report into the Abu Ghraib case - parts of which were made available to the Guardian - makes it clear that private contractors were supervising interrogations in the prison, which was notorious for torture and executions under Saddam Hussein.

One civilian contractor was accused of raping a young, male prisoner but has not been charged because military law has no jurisdiction over him.
You see, we are not really responsible for all this nasty stuff. Sometimes when you outsource labor-intensive work, well, the subcontractor you engage screws up - disappointing, but this is not something we actually did, not something for which our government employees (our armed forces) can really be held responsible. This simply calls for changing to another subcontractor. (For a discussion of privatization and mercenaries see this from last weekend's Just Above Sunset.)

In addition, this from the BBC - CBS News said it delayed the broadcast for two weeks after a request from the Pentagon due to the tensions in Iraq. I suppose that's a good thing. We are generating a lot of mistrust and animosity among the locals at the moment, and adding fuel to the fire with the release of this torture-and-humiliate-the-towelhead-losers report is probably best managed very carefully.

Posted by Alan at 08:39 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 30 April 2004 09:06 PDT home

Thursday, 29 April 2004

Topic: Iraq

War Notes - How things are going depends on how you look at things, a matter of having the right attitude...

Steve Antler posts this comment. It sums up a lot of what on hears these days:
Persistent media and Democratic war opposition have finally brought forth poll results showing near-Vietnam-levels of opposition to the war in Iraq.
Yes, there is something in the air that takes one back to the heady days of 1968 and the slow rumble of gathering discomfort with the war at hand. Then it was Vietnam.

Steve Antler sees the poles turning 1968-ish. What pole results is he seeing?

How much confidence do you have in George W. Bush's ability to make the right decisions about the ongoing conflict in Iraq -- a lot, some, not much, or none at all?
28% -- A lot
30% -- Some
18% -- Not much
24% -- None at all

In his statements about the war in Iraq, do you think George W. Bush is telling the entire truth, is mostly telling the truth but is hiding something, or is mostly lying?
20% -- Entire truth
56% -- Hiding something
20% -- Mostly lying

When it comes to what they knew prior to September 11th, 2001, about possible terrorist attacks against the United States, do you think members of the Bush Administration are telling the truth, are mostly telling the truth but hiding something, or are they mostly lying?
24% -- Telling truth
56% -- Hiding something
16% -- Mostly lying

Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling the situation with Iraq?
41% -- Approve
52% -- Disapprove
Things are not going well for the current administration, at least in terms of how folks judge them in these months before the next election.

This comment from Jesse Taylor argues that perhaps it is NOT the liberal media and Democratic carping that are the real problem:
Other than Ted Kennedy's "quagmire" remark, I'd honestly have to contend that the main reason public opinion on the war is declining is because the situation on the ground is deteriorating. The old defense/counterargument to the realities of the Iraq war went something like this: "Sure, they blew up a hotel, but at least there was a hotel there to blow up! And there are 25% more hotels now than there were when Saddam was in power!"

You can't keep putting perfume on shit and then blame everyone else when people actually notice that it's shit. Nobody's saying that war supporters have to repent in the streets, wailing a threnody for the Iraqi occupation, but it would be nice if the severe problems with the occupation of Iraq could be addressed without blaming them on the people who point out their existence.

The time for a Tinkerbell democracy in Iraq has long passed, and people, unsurprisingly, are getting tired of clapping.
As you recall, at the end of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, children are urged to clap to signify their belief in fairies and to bring the expiring Tinkerbell to life. They have to clap - or Tinkerbell DIES! It always works (using the term "works" quite loosely) in the play (and in the movie oddly enough) - but I always wondered what would happen if, in some theater somewhere, just to see what happens, the kids all decided not to clap. Dead silence, if you'll pardon the pun. Would the actor or actress playing Tinkerbell then have to improvise a death scene? What if the kids all just sat on their hands, as a kind of thought-experiment, a kind of existential dramatic trap for the cast? How would the other characters cobble together an alternative ending? That really would be interesting.

Well, no one is clapping as much as they ought, it would seem.

And it is hard to clap given items like this about our guys:
Last night [April 28, 2004] CBS' 60 Minutes Two aired allegations -supported by numerous photographs and witnesses - that document numerous cases of torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners inside Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Amongst the photographs were pictures of prisoners with wires attached to their genitals, prisoners stacked in a pyramid, prisoners forced to simulate oral sex on others, and prisoners who appear to have been beaten to death.

The New York Times is now covering this story. A total of 17 soldiers, including a brigadier general, have been removed from duty as a result, and Court-Martials are in the works for at least six soldiers. At least one of those charged blames the military for staffing the prison with reservists, not providing them with procedures for running the facility, and not educating them on the proper treatment of prisoners.

More bad and potentially inflammatory news at a bad time. The pictures are already circulating out there and other articles are already in the works, so it's a safe bet that the pictures will be broadcast on Arab television very shortly--just like they were on CBS.

I can't imagine what they were thinking...
I can.

But our main guy over there, the one who gives all the daily briefings to the press, General Mark Kimmitt, has said this - "If we can't hold ourselves up as an example of how to treat people with dignity and respect, we can't ask that other nations do that to our soldiers."

Clap here and make it so.

Oh yeah, one minor detail here - as a British newspaper adds a detail the domestic press and CBS disregarded, or just missed:
A military report into the Abu Ghraib case - parts of which were made available to the Guardian - makes it clear that private contractors were supervising interrogations in the prison, which was notorious for torture and executions under Saddam Hussein.

One civilian contractor was accused of raping a young, male prisoner but has not been charged because military law has no jurisdiction over him.
You see, we are not really responsible for all this nasty stuff. Sometimes when you outsource labor-intensive work, well, the subcontractor you engage screws up - disappointing, but this is not something we actually did, not something for which our government employees (our armed forces) can really be held responsible. This simply calls for changing to another subcontractor. (For a discussion of privatization and mercenaries see this from last weekend's Just Above Sunset.)

In addition, this from the BBC - CBS News said it delayed the broadcast for two weeks after a request from the Pentagon due to the tensions in Iraq. I suppose that's a good thing. We are generating a lot of mistrust and animosity among the locals at the moment, and adding fuel to the fire with the release of this torture-and-humiliate-the-towelhead-losers report is probably best managed very carefully.

Well, at least this week we gave Iraq a new flag, designed in London just for them. That should help matters. It does seem these folks have the wrong attitude about this too - as some Iraqis are whining that they had no say in whether the original one should be discarded, much less the design of the new one. Reading The Independent (UK) you get these nuggets:
"This is a new era," said Hamid al-Kafaei, the spokesman for the Iraqi Governing Council yesterday. "We cannot continue with Saddam's flag."

Apparently, the so-called "coalition" didn't consult anyone. "So far, we haven't received anything about this from Baghdad," said Igor Novichenko, who is in charge of such matters in the UN's protocol unit.
Hey, it was a surprise! Everyone likes surprises, don't they?

Well, not everyone - as shown here:
...Dhurgham, a 23-year-old student, said: We cheered Iraqi footballers under that flag for a long time. I feel it represents me as an Iraqi. I don't like this new flag. It does not look Iraqi. It is more like the Turkish or Israeli flags. The main reason I don't like it is that it comes from the Americans.

... What gives these people the right to throw away our flag, to change the symbol of Iraq? asked Salah, a building contractor of normally moderate political opinions. It makes me very angry because these people were appointed by the Americans. I will not regard the new flag as representing me but only traitors and collaborators.
Bad attitudes here, of course.

And the article gives more detail of the new flag - and the "contest" to create the thing:
Although the CPA's claims that the new design is from a contest winner, the designer himself revealed that he was unaware of any contest.

The new flag is the work of an Iraqi artist resident in London called Rifat Chadirji whose design was the best of those considered. He is also the brother of Nassir al-Chaderchi, the chairman of the IGC committee charged with choosing a new flag for Iraq. "I had no idea about a competition to design the flag. My brother just called me and asked me to design a flag on behalf of the IGC. Nobody told me about a competition," Mr Chadirji told The Independent yesterday.

It seems Iraq's original flag was your basic red, green and black, the three colors of Islam. This color scheme predates the regime of Saddam Hussein but the Arabic text, which says Alu Akbar, or "God is Great", was added by Hussein when he became more serious about his religion. Doing some research one finds that Iraqis regard the flag as their own rather than Hussein's or the Ba'ath party's, and don't understand why the occupation's representatives, the CPA, discarded it without consulting them.

And one wonders why we decided this was important. We wanted the Iraqi people to have a new attitude when June 30 rolls around and they get their official but severely limited new sovereignty? That's probably it - symbols matter.

Anyway new Iraqi flag features two parallel blue stripes along the bottom, to represent the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The yellow strip in between represents the Kurds. The blue crescent, symbolic of Islam, is not in Islamic colors of red, black or green.

And it kind of look a tad like the Israeli flag. Oops.

Well, that's no surprise.

We pay the Iraqi National Congress of Ahmed Chalabi 340,000 bucks a month and have for years. We have spent the last three years pretending Chalabi is to the future Iraq what Charles de Gaul was to the future France in 1944 or so - the legitimate leader in exile. Yeah, he was sentenced to twenty-two years in prison for bank fraud and cannot set foot in Jordon, Lebanon or Switzerland ever again (details here) - but he's our guy. He has his admirers in Washington. He's the man to the neoconservative right - who call him brilliant, selfless and courageous. Senator Joseph Lieberman has called him "a person of strength, principle and real national commitment." His friend Richard Perle, the influential Defense Department adviser who also worked for Conrad Black as the Editor of the Jerusalem Post, loves the guy. Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith think he's great. His nephew in now in charge of the tribunal that will try Saddam Hussein. His other close relatives have been appointed to head various ministries in the new Iraq - Oil, Finance and such things. Others of his relatives are getting big no-bid reconstruction contracts - you could look it up. He's our guy.

Yeah, another of his nephews was a plant who gave us false information about non-existent weapons of mass destruction - and this has embarrassed Colin Powell no end as he used that information to tell the UN we were so very sure about all that.

Chalabi admits this was kind of a scam to get him back to Iraq and back in power, but as he told the press - "As far as we're concerned we've been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important."

Oh, right.

Well, the locals don't like him much. He hadn't set foot in Iraq since 1958 - so they kind of wonder who the hell this guys is. Hey, he's our guy.

And that brings us back to the flag business. Why does it look so much like the Israeli flag?

Here is a nugget from Washington Post on Friday, April 4, 2003 that might help explain things. Richard Perle likes this Chalabi guy -
In public comments last month, Perle suggested that installing Chalabi in power in Baghdad would alleviate any Muslim fears of U.S. imperialist aims. It would also improve the chances for resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Perle said, because "Chalabi and his people have confirmed that they want a real peace process, and that they would recognize the state of Israel."
Ah. Get it? The Iraqi's will get a democracy, but they had better elect Chalabi to run the place, and recognize Israel. Otherwise, there'll be hell to pay.

So they need an attitude adjustment. The new flag is part of that attitude adjustment.

It doesn't seem all this is going well. We should clap more. Then Tinkerbell won't die.

But it is getting rough - as this shows -
The U.S. military is demanding the return of five howitzers that two Sierra Nevada ski resorts use to prevent avalanches, saying it needs the guns for the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Alpine Meadows and Mammoth Mountain received the artillery pieces on loan from the Army and began using them last year to fire rounds into mountainsides and knock snow loose.
Desperate time require desperate measures? Clap harder, if only to prevent avalanches.

Posted by Alan at 20:47 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 30 April 2004 09:05 PDT home

Topic: Local Issues

Nathaniel West, cellos and mountain lions... Strange Times in Los Angeles

Readers of this site will note I have not posted much over the last several days. This is partly the heat (see below) - the first two days of the week were hot, record-breaking hot. As I wrote to my friends - this was two days of well over a hundred degrees in the shade. Of course there was no humidity, and we had that interesting light breeze blowing the alkali-laden dust in from the Mojave, across the city and then out to sea. Look up and the sky is cloudless steel blue - but look out to the horizon and the air is brown in all directions. Thirty-miles east in Riverside County the brush fires were running through the low hills. The usual end of the world stuff here at the edge of the world.... We call this earthquake weather. It does give one apocalyptic, murderous thoughts.

I didn't like the idea of sitting at the computer and reading, and writing? But finally the weather broke - and it has been in the low-eighties in the afternoons. The breeze has shifted around so it comes in off the Pacific - and this comes with a slight white haze (the marine layer) instead of chunky brown crap off the desert. In the evenings now the fog slides in, working its way up Sunset Boulevard from the cold Pacific.

As for current events - well, Tuesday afternoon I listened to and read about the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) sessions on this business of detaining folks incommunicado with no council or redress, forever, for the good of the country - achieving public safety through executive fiats that pay no heed to the niceties of habeas corpus or due process or any of that sissy stuff - and I got depressed. Did the congress really authorize that? I don't think so - but those congress folks are idiots too. Monday at SCOTUS it was the energy advisors to Cheney - do we have the right to know who they were? Folks out here in California who got screwed big time by the energy companies two years ago do have a bit of a beef with whoever it was that came up with the overall policy. We'd like to know who's running the show, if anyone. But I suppose that's none of our business. Those arguments weren't really centered on Executive Privilege, but I still liked the comment from Scalia - "I think executive privilege means whenever the president feels that he is threatened, he can simply refuse to comply with a court order." Right, Tony. (What - Fat Tony is channeling Marlon Brando in the Godfather movies?)

But I don't know much about the law - and when my attorney friend on Wall Street explains to me his afternoons spent arguing what Sarbanes-Oxley really implies about IPO issuance, well, I'm kind of glad I never went down that road. When I was in graduate school at Duke I looked up famous folks who went to Duke Law School. Try Angela Davis AND Richard Nixon. Ha!

The law is a puzzle. So the Supreme Court will do what they do. These days I suspect that means they will rule the president can do what he wants, whenever he wants, to anyone he wants, and tell no one anything about anything if he so chooses. This is all allowed, and implicit, in his role as Commander-in-Chief? Guess so. The arguments presenting the issues were made this week, and the rulings are due in late June. What will they rule? These SCOTUS folks - as least those with key votes - were appointed by his father, and in turn these guys appointed the somewhat feckless son president, so the June rulings on these matters are unlikely to surprise anyone.

And after June it will be an even better time to keep your head down and make no waves... or leave.

As you can tell, this seems to me to be all too much of, as they coined the phrase out here in Southern California goes, a bummer.

Hey, even the minor news is odd out here, as anyone who follows the hot items knows. The FBI told the LAPD that they received a threat that some terrorist group intended an attack at one of the shopping malls here on the west side of the city. One call. No specifics. No actual mall named. But the city was on edge today, and I suspect business was off at the big malls. By late afternoon everyone is pretty much in agreement that this was a prank call - perhaps some thirteen-year-old fooling around. Another day in paradise?

And note too that Mother Nature is trying to weird us out too.

This hit the local paper this morning:

A Mountain Lion Far From Home
Griffith Park officials won't kill animal unless it attacks
Steve Hymon and Christiana Sciaudone, Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2004
A mountain lion has taken up residence in Griffith Park, one of the nation's biggest and busiest urban parks eight miles from downtown Los Angeles, park officials said Wednesday, prompting them to begin posting signs that warn visitors of dangerous animals living in the area.

After receiving several reports of lion sightings by hikers and horseback riders in the last month, rangers say they found evidence of a lion bedding down in the higher reaches of the park. They said they also found the partially eaten leg of a deer nearby.
And it goes on and on in great detail. You will also discover that mountain lions in this state have attacked fourteen people, killing six of them, since 1890, according to the California Department of Fish and Game.

Obviously this is a dangerous place. From my office window I have a view of the park - I can see Griffith Park Observatory a few hills over to the east - think Sal Mineo (Plato!), James Dean and Natalie Wood in that "Rebel Without a Cause" movie. Now the beast is roaming there.

Between here and there is the neighborhood of Los Feliz. And a different sort of bad stuff happens there.

Consider this:

Stradivarius cello owned by L.A. Phil is stolen
Diane Haithman, Los Angeles Times, April 28 2004
A $3.5-million Stradivarius cello owned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic has been stolen from a home in Los Feliz. No other items were taken.

The instrument, played by Philharmonic principal cellist Peter Stumpf, was last seen Saturday and was stolen either late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, said Deborah Borda, president of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn.

The cello, built in 1684, is known as the "General Kyd," after the man who brought it to England at the end of the 18th century.

"I loved playing on this cello," Stumpf said Tuesday. "It was a sheer joy, it has seemingly unlimited expressive range. It opens up all kinds of doors artistically to someone who plays it.

"I've had a pretty long career, and I never expected to play on an instrument of this level
," added the cellist, who has borrowed another instrument from a colleague for the time being. "I was on a high for the past two years, playing this cello. I feel kind of desperate about being able to play it again."

"It is very emotional for Peter, but it is also emotional for the association," Borda said of the cello, which the orchestra purchased in the early 1970s. "The premiere of the Dvor?k Cello Concerto in England was performed on this piece in 1896." She said that musical dealers worldwide have been notified, meaning that it would be virtually impossible to sell.

Anyone with information on the missing cello may call Los Angeles Police Department Detective Donald Hrycyk at (213) 485-2524. Anonymous tips can be directed to a hotline, (213) 972-3500. The cello may also be returned, no questions asked, at the artists' entrance of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 North Grand Avenue.
No one has returned it yet. Perhaps the mountain lion ate it.

Odd stuff. The end of the world is near?

Of course with the Dvor?k connection one does wonder about this particular LAPD Detective, Donald Hrycyk, and this famous cello. Hrycyk is a Czech name - and I should know given my mother's family was Czech and my father's Slovak. Could it be that Don is in on this? No - conspiracy theories are just the product of oppressively hot weather.

So commentary has resumed at this site, and know Los Angeles still here - with the usual fires, earthquakes, and drive-by shootings - and the Tongan gangs are still fighting the Samoan gangs down in Long Beach - the smog is thick. Compton and South Central are still mean places. The Lakers, led by an inspired accused rapist, are winning games in the NBA playoffs, and terrorists may blow our malls. And now we a have a new city-dwelling mountain lion who may be pinching cellos.

And here on the 1600 block of North Laurel Avenue? As I mentioned in the magazine, F. Scott Fitzgerald was living at 1403 North Laurel Avenue when he died in 1940, while working on The Last Tycoon. Ah, an end-of-all-things depressing book. And in case you're wondering, that's the corner of Laurel and Sunset - and 1403 was torn down and replaced by a giant Virgin Megastore. Ironic? I suppose. Nathaniel West - who wrote Days of the Locust and Miss Lonelyhearts - lived a few blocks east, on North Ivar Street and was a friend of Fitzgerald.

West's 1939 novel Days of the Locust is about the bitter and sensation-seeking lower-middle class out here. As in this- "Their boredom becomes more and more terrible. They realize they've been tricked and burn with resentment. Every day of their lives they read the newspapers and watched the movies. Both fed them on lynchings, murder, sex crimes, explosions, wrecks, love nests, fires, miracles, revolutions, wars. This daily diet made sophisticates of them."

The novel ends with an apocalyptic riot at a Hollywood premiere (this fictional riot takes place a mile east of where I sit now) - but there is no mountain lion involved, as far as I recall.

But Nathaniel West was onto something. These are strange times.

Posted by Alan at 17:42 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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