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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, 15 July 2004

Topic: In these times...

Out of gas...

I meant to post something insightful today but the weather suddenly shifted in Los Angeles. Instead of the usual cloudless ninety plus day, today from before dawn through mid-afternoon a steady stream of clouds rolled up from Baja - straight from the Gulf of California. It was ninety of course, but dark and close. And it rained, sort of. The rain just never reached the ground - it disappeared high in the dry, hot air over the Los Angeles basin. So for much of the day it was dark and unpleasant, much like the news. And there's not much to say about the news.

The high barrage of dark clouds all blew through by mid-afternoon - the sun finally blasted through - and a trip to the car wash seemed better than reading what pundits were saying about Bush and Kerry, and whether Dick Cheney would be dumped from the Bush ticket. Not going to happen.

So the car wash seemed a good idea. One can still get fined out here for washing one's car in the driveway with a hose and all that - or maybe that's no longer true. We do have a perpetual water shortage, but I haven't heard much talk about it lately. But then again, the car wash is always amusing for whatever reason. Some people there go there to improve their Spanish, chatting with the Central America not-quite-legal guys with the rags and brushes - but the one I like on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City is staffed with energetic young men jabbering away with each other in Farsi. I know no Farsi so I smile and grin and fake-chat with them. It's a break from politics.

But there is serious legal stuff going on and it deserves comment -

See this -

No-Good Lazy Justices
After the Supreme Court's sentencing case, the sky is falling. Hooray!
Dahlia Lithwick - SLATE.COM - Posted Thursday, July 15, 2004, at 4:13 PM PT

The issue is this -
A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court invalidated a Washington state sentencing scheme that's identical in many ways to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and the systems used by at least 10 other states. Under these schemes, judges were allowed to ratchet up criminal sentences based on certain "aggravating factors." These aggravating factors (say, the heinousness of the murder, the amount of the drugs) were neither pleaded to by the defendant nor tried before a jury. That means sentences were hiked up, often significantly, based on facts never proven to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The court curtailed that practice, giving force to the Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury. Much to the dismay of the Washington Post, the high court then did precisely what everyone keeps asking courts to do and showed impressive restraint. The court decided only the case before it, and--since the federal guidelines were not on trial--the Supremes declined to declare them unconstitutional. To quote Antonin Scalia, "The Federal Guidelines are not before us and we express no opinion on them."

The problem, of course, is that most scholars agree that the most logical inference one can draw from Blakely v. Washington is that significant portions of the federal guidelines are unconstitutional, too. The justices did not declare that outright. Instead, they implied it, packed up their sarongs and hacky sacks, and took off for the shore, leaving federal courts around the country in a situation that has quickly escalated from messy to desperate. Instead of giving us a clear ruling, the court handed off a dangling implication and appears in no great hurry to resolve things conclusively.
This all seems moderately momentous, but thinking about it just makes me tired.

Click on the link provided if you wish. Slog through it all. I gave up.

I have three email friends who are attorneys, and one of them is no doubt quite involved in what this all means. I trust she will explain it to me one day. I will need scotch for that.

And one could get excited about Florida, again...

From Reuters one sees this -

Florida Faces Vote Chaos in 2004, Commission Hears
Thursday, July 15, 2004, 4:23 PM ET

Florida faces another debacle in the upcoming presidential election on Nov. 2, with the possibility that thousands of people will be unjustly denied the right to vote, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights heard on Thursday.

In a hearing on the illegal disenfranchisement of alleged felons in Florida, commissioners accused state officials of "extraordinary negligence" in drawing up a list of 48,000 people to be purged from voter rolls, most of them because they may once have committed a crime.

"They have engaged in negligence at best and something worse at worst," said Mary Frances Berry, chairperson of the commission, an independent bipartisan body whose members are appointed by the President and Congress.
Well, the president's brother, Jeb, the governor down there, dropped the list. He had to. No one could make sense of it.

And curiously this "felons list" had only sixty-one Hispanic names out of the forty-eight thousand folk who maybe should not be allowed to vote. And yes, the Republicans down that way do depend on the large Miami Cuban American voting bloc. This looked a bit fishy. And the four or five thousand on the list by mistake, those who Florida had to admit never actually were felons at all of any kind, seemed to be all black registered Democrats. Oops. Much embarrassment.

So the list is out.

But actually, now things are even worse -
The state said each of Florida's 67 counties would now have to find its own way to purge its voter rolls of felons. The commission heard that many counties, especially those controlled by Republicans, would probably use the state list despite its flaws and that court action was likely.
Oh, great. We need more court action.

Perhaps the Democrats should just cede Florida and save everyone a whole lot of trouble.

And finally, and most dispiriting - Seymour Hersh, the investigative reporter who, back in the Vietnam years, broke the story of the My Lai massacre, and was the one who over the last several months broke the story of the Abu Ghraib tortures in The New Yorker, revealing the details of the Taguba report and releasing all the digital photos everyone else picked up ... THAT Seymour Hersh spoke to the ACLU last week and the details hit the press today.

Sadly, No! has the whole thing here - audio only, RealMedia 10, 8.3MB - and The Poor Man has the streaming video here - and that's 71MB as it's quite long.

Why bother? Ed Cone has a summary ...
Seymour Hersh says the US government has videotapes of boys being sodomized at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

"The worst is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking," the reporter told an ACLU convention last week. Hersh says there was "a massive amount of criminal wrongdoing that was covered up at the highest command out there, and higher."

I transcribed some of his speech. ...

He called the prison scene "a series of massive crimes, criminal activity by the president and the vice president, by this administration anyway...war crimes."

The outrages have cost us the support of moderate Arabs, says Hersh. "They see us as a sexually perverse society."

Hersh describes a Pentagon in crisis. The defense department budget is "in incredible chaos," he says, with large sums of cash missing, including something like $1 billion that was supposed to be in Iraq.

"The disaffection inside the Pentagon is extremely acute," Hersh says. He tells the story of an officer telling Rumsfeld how bad things are, and Rummy turning to a ranking general yes-man who reassured him that things are just fine. Says Hersh, "The Secretary of Defense is simply incapable of hearing what he doesn't want to hear."

The Iraqi insurgency, he says, was operating in 1-to-3 man cells a year ago, now in 10-15 man cells, and despite the harsh questioning, "we still know nothing about them...we have no tactical information."

He says the foreign element among insurgents is overstated, and that bogeyman Zarqawi is "a composite figure" hyped by our government.

The war, he says, has escalated to "full-scale, increasingly intense military activity."

Hersh described the folks in charge of US policy as "neoconservative cultists" who have taken the government over, and show "how fragile our democracy is."

He ripped the supine US press, pledged to bring home all the facts he could, said he was not sure he could deliver all the damning info he suspects about Bush administration responsibility for Abu Ghraib.
Oh, we don't need it all. This is quite enough.

What Hersh previously revealed in his series of articles in The New Yorker turned out to be quite true - quite well-documented and all that. There was no denying what happened. He nailed it.

Now this? Homosexual rape of young boys while their mothers are forced to watch - so we get good information on what the evil terrorists are up to? Our own military in disarray and a billion or two just plain missing?

Let's hope Hersh has suddenly started lying through his teeth.

But he probably hasn't.

Clever comments seem inappropriate today.

The car looks nice all cleaned up. That will do.

Posted by Alan at 20:45 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 15 July 2004 21:24 PDT home

Wednesday, 14 July 2004

Topic: For policy wonks...

WMD for Dummies

Every time I see the columnist Tom Oliphant on television - usually on the PBS News Hour in some endless discussion - I think he is a very odd man. Rail-thin in his bow tie with prissy manners and precise diction he's a political and anorexic version of Felix Unger from The Odd Couple - the Central Casting version of an effete liberal from Boston, on camera to provide, no doubt, a dramatic contrast to the virile, manly but simple-minded and rather inarticulate conservative in the scene. Oliphant may, for all we know, be the invention of some news director who loves entertaining contrasts - and just an actor playing the assigned role.

But Oliphant seems to write columns. And he's not the sort of fellow to offer the opposition, in public, on the floor of the US senate, an eloquent "Go f--k yourself!" - and then say there is just no need to apologize as the opposition richly deserved the words and, gosh, it felt so good to say them. Oliphant prefers explanation and exposition to, in the case above, Dick Cheney's sincere and deeply felt, if somewhat limited critique of what he finds logically wrong with another fellow's position on this matter or that.

Well, each side has its preferred modes of discourse.

Oliphant's most recent Boston Globe column on Bush and his team was republished in Paris on Thursday and probably shows Oliphant at his most typical - arguing a convincing position with great logic and clarity, but ultimately calling on examples that make any conservative reader think him a great fool. Oliphant refers to education and literature and assumes some respect for them. He doesn't see the problem. Such things are not what real men (our leaders and the conservative right) consider of any consequence at all.

Consider this:
Bush flunked his test on Iraq
Thomas Oliphant, Boston Globe and International Herald Tribune, Thursday, July 15, 2004

The column opens in a snide way -
The very best that can be said on President George W. Bush's behalf is that he used the Cliffs Notes version of intelligence information about Iraq as the basis for a poorly planned and rushed invasion of Iraq in March of last year. The problem with this charitable approach to Bush is that it's unfair to Cliffs Notes.

The lazy student's version of anything is at least an accurate summary. But the intelligence information about Iraq was wrong. In terms that Bush can perhaps recall from his days at Yale as a budding intellectual of limited achievement, it's as if he went forth to his final exam on Dickens and wrote confidently that David Copperfield murdered Uriah Heep with a fireplace poker.
You see the problem and almost hear the words from the Oval Office - "Condi, why is this guy talking about that Vegas magician guy David Copperfield? And who is Uriah Heep - one of the bad guys over in Muslim-land? And isn't Dickens one of our guys in the Senate?"

Oliphant is writing for the liberal elite, obviously. The Senate Intelligence Committee report is his topic, but he gets at it an odd way. Oliphant point is clear enough - everyone is missing the "truly jarring" truth. "In plain English, the Central Intelligence Agency was serving Bush large helpings of baloney in the form of summaries of analyses and conclusions that were directly contradicted by the detailed information on which these analyses and conclusions were supposedly based."

Yeah, so?

The "so" according to Oliphant is that for those seeking to blame the summaries, including Bush's own campaign and "policy big shots," the "desperate finger-pointing" works only on the basis of an assumption that is grounds for tossing Bush out of office.

Why, because he bought a load of baloney without asking for any details?

Well, yes.
To try to escape accountability by blaming CIA summaries, the president would have to ask the country to believe that he led it to war after reading a few cover pages without once glancing at the backup material that was sent to him and his top advisers. This view of the Bush style - big picture and full of alleged moral clarity - is grounds all by itself for electing a new president.

But it gets worse. The major finding in the material released so far is not so much that the CIA's hard-liner-serving conclusions were uniformly false or wildly overstated. The major finding is that the conclusions and declarative statements were in every significant instance found to be undermined or even contradicted by the intelligence data that was sent along with them.

To absolve Bush of disqualifying responsibility for this true scandal, this is what you have to believe.
But Tom, Bush did tell us all he doesn't do nuance. We WERE warned.

It is, then, not Bush's fault.

Do you believe that? Many do.

Then, Oliphant says, if you do, you have to buy into the corollary beliefs:
You have to believe that in processing all of this, Bush never bothered to look beyond the summary or to inquire in depth whether it was supported. You then have to believe that Condoleezza Rice never had her large national security staff in the White House take a long look at the backup material on Bush's behalf.

You have to believe that in getting ready for a war, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his huge operation never snuck a peek, either.

You have to believe that Vice President Dick Cheney - he of the long r?sum? and rich experience, not to mention his status as prime mover behind the idea of hasty, nearly unilateral invasion - never bothered to see if his extreme statements about the "threat" from Iraq were supportable. You have to believe that his many personal visits to the CIA were simply to ask questions, not influence answers.

And you have to believe that before he went to the United Nations to make Bush's "case" just before the war - with George Tenet, the director of central intelligence - Secretary of State Colin Powell's own visits to the CIA never once turned up the hedging, contradictory information that the Senate committee found by the bucketful.
Well, Tom doesn't believe all this - but it could be so. Tuesday night the widely respect CNN news guy Wolf Blitzer was interviewed on The Daily Show - and the host, Jon Stewart, asked Blitzer, in his opinion, how the whole government, and almost all of the news media, get it all so very wrong?

Blitzer gave a simple and devastating answer. "Haven't you ever made a mistake?" And Blitzer would say no more on the topic. Case closed.

Oh well, so much for our watchdog media.

But back to Oliphant...

Like any good essayist he ends with a return to his opening metaphor -
To return to my point about Cliffs Notes, imagine you were Bush's instructor at Yale. He has turned in his exam, and you have noted that his assertion that David Copperfield dispatched Uriah Heep with the fireplace poker is contradicted by Dickens's novel itself. To save his skin, Bush comes to you and claims with a straight face that he used the Cliffs Notes version to study and that the fact he got it wrong should be ascribed to the cheat sheet, not to him.

What would you do? I'd flunk him in a heartbeat.
That - folks turning on Bush for stupidly trusting a faulty cheat-sheet (WMD For Dummies) and not asking questions - is not going to happen. Perhaps Bush's Cliffs Notes were faulty, and the whole mess is thus not Bush's fault.

And who knows? - Maybe the Las Vegas magician David Copperfield did murder the al-Qaeda terrorist mastermind Uriah Heep in the library, and with the fireplace poker. Dickens doesn't say that didn't happen, does he? Dickens does NOT come out and DIRECTLY SAY that this didn't happen. As Dick Cheney says again and again about that meeting between Saddam's guys and the 9/11 hijackers in Germany to plan the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon - everyone says that meeting never happened, but there is no solid proof that it never happened. No one is saying that he or she was there, that very day in Munich, at that very place, and DID NOT SEE the bad guys meet. So maybe it happened, or probably, it DID happen.

Rumsfeld said it even better - "There is another way to phrase that, and that is that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." (Reuters Newswire - June 6, 2002) Clear enough.

Oliphant doesn't get their logic.


Footnote -

No one, by the way, is ever going to see the White House Cliffs Notes on the whole matter -

White House Balks at Releasing Prewar Summary on Iraq WMD
Reuters, Wednesday, July 14, 2004 04:24 PM ET
White House has refused to release a prewar intelligence summary compiled for President Bush on Iraq's banned weapons that Democrats said on Wednesday had given him none of the dissenting views included in more comprehensive intelligence reports.

Senate staffers were allowed to review the one-page presidential summary of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi weapons programs, but Democrats said the document should be declassified and publicly released.

The White House responded with a complaint that some Democrats were now playing politics with the issue even though the document had been made available as part of the Senate intelligence panel's review.
Ah, let it go. It is far too late now to matter. We had our war and what's done is done.

Posted by Alan at 19:03 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Photos

Bastille Day!
Allons enfants de la patrie!

From our correspondent on the ground in Paris, Ric Erickson of MetropolePairs -
Bonjour Alan -

The weather cleared up for the Bastille Day parade in Paris, and we are having a fine afternoon. It should be nearly perfect for the fireworks at the Tour Eiffel tonight. Many short-term prisoners will receive presidential grace today, and many people involved with non-profit associations will be the guests of honor at the garden party at the Elys?e Palace, hosted this afternoon by Jacques Chirac.

Photo of French army tank taken just after noon near the Mairie of the 14th arrondissement. The tank is one of four military vehicles on display, meant to excite Paris' youth into joining the armed forces. Not shown - army scout car - this looks like off-road armored hotrod, meant for swift reconnaissance missions in the badlands. Very much racier-looking than a Hummer, it seats only two. Rear filled with radios, etc.
The tank:

Ric also sends his summary of the gist of the Radio FIP news at 14h50 (the mid-afternoon newscast) -
France's military always plays the major role in the Bastille Day parade, but this year there is more emphasis on the military than usual. The French armed forces are deployed overseas in several areas from Europe to Africa to Asia, including having two distinct units in Afghanistan. The Minister of Finance is subjecting the armed forces to budget pressure, against the wishes of the chief of state and his Minister of Defense, Michele Alliot-Marie. Last weekend she inspected commando troops training in Djibouti, for deployment in the Gulf area and Afghanistan.

France's military is traditionally treated to picnics by Parisians after the morning Bastille Day parade. This year the 4000-odd troops and their material have a presence in each of Paris' 20 arrondissements, for an afternoon of fraternization with the populace and a bit of PR designed to incite volunteers. Conscription ended several years ago. The armed forces are actively seeking new recruits, a task made somewhat easier because of France's commitments to some of the world's hot spots. The troops get to shoot; and get shot at. The finance minister wants to slash the military budget by a billion euros.
No need to get into the details of the politics for American readers - Chirac and his Minister of Finance, Nicolas Sarkozy, in a tussle just who will be the leader of the UMP party. And what do you really want to know about the hyper-ambitious French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin? Will Sarkozy lead France in 2007 or not? Ah, best to worry about things here.

But a word on Michele Alliot-Marie. Now we have that most manly of men, Rumsfeld, running our Defense Department. The French Defense Minister, as you see, is... a WOMAN! Michele Alliot-Marie - and she's a LAWYER! (barrister), with a doctorate in law, and is a senior lecturer at one of the Universities in Paris (Paris-I) - and she has a master's degree in ETHNOLOGY! So very "Old Europe...."

Rumsfeld, of course, could beat the snot out of her with one hand tied behind his back.

What is it with these people? Our two cultures are so very different.

In a recent email to me Ric commented:
Madame le ministre Michele Alliot-Marie was on France-2 TV news the other night, shown 'inspecting' the French spooks training at Djibouti. The most remarkable aspect of the video clip was showing Madame le Ministre being obviously over-hot, sweating, hair a bit untidy, shirt open at the neck - she looked like a human being in a very hot place. The commandos, in contrast, were bundled up like bears - wearing ski-masks. Must be a rough bunch.

Madame le ministre Michele Alliot-Marie has another distinction. Until moving into her ministerial job she was the head of Chirac's UMP party. This is the job Sarkozy is trying to get; while staying Minister of Finance, Budget (cash-flow). She is in a clinch with Sarkozy over the defense budget at the moment. He wants to slash it by a billion euros, while Jacques and Michele want to keep playing with the big guys.
Got it? She's no wimp.

If you would like to see video clips of the Bastille Day parade click here - TF1 Le journal t?l?vis? de 13h - Mercredi 14 juillet 2004 - and go to the 13h00 (1:00 pm CET) news broadcast.

A beautiful day and great shots! And the parade was lead this year by... British Redcoats!

See British Troops Lead France's Bastille Day Parade for First Time
Voice of America (VOA) News, 14 Jul 2004, 12:13 UTC
British troops have led France's annual Bastille Day parade for the first time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Entente Cordiale, a treaty which ended centuries of hostility between the two countries.

Thousands lined Paris' major boulevard, the Champs-Elys?es, to witness the Wednesday parade led by members of British Queen Elizabeth's royal guard and participate in Bastille Day festivities.

Note that on the first Bastille Day parade after 9/11 along with some fire engines from New York City, these guys from West Point led the parade - when we were still friends.

Friends? See U.S.-French rift doesn't detract from visit to City of Light
Americans celebrate Bastille Day in Paris
MSNBC, Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Excerpts of interviews - the first on choosing even to visit France:
"I think it's a reasonable expression of goodwill," said psychiatrist Randy Buzan, as he stood in line this week to visit the Eiffel Tower and discussed his decision to visit France.

"I don't hold the French personally accountable, and as it turns out, they were right," the Denver resident said, referring to French insistence that Saddam Hussein was not developing new weapons of mass destruction.

"In the beginning I thought the Bush administration was probably providing accurate information and in that case I thought the French were not being particularly generous," said Buzan.

"But, as it turns out, our government was lying, and therefore it seems to be that the French were correct all along, and we probably owe the world an apology," he said.
Don't hold your breath, Randy. We don't do apologies any longer.

Then, on the other hand, this -
... some expatriates living in France said they never supported the U.S.-led war and feel more at home living among like-minded people.

"I'm happy to be here and not in America," said Thor Manetta, 17, and studying at the American School in Paris.

"I feel really welcomed by everybody that I meet, and when I tell them I don't like Bush, they welcome me even more," he said.

Andrew Cantell, Manetta's friend from his hometown of Bolinas, Calif., agreed, saying, "The American people are different from American politics -- you have to say that kind've stuff."

The two students will be watching the Bastille Day firework display with their Parisian friends at Parc du Champs de Mars, which looks onto the Eiffel Tower.

... Jeff Keacher, a recent college graduate enjoying his second visit to France this year, said, "I think it's unfortunate we have such a rift because it seems the people, not the government, but the people, have a really good friendship."
As Ann Coulter would say, these guy are obviously traitors who hate America. But maybe they're there for the cheese.

MSNBC also give you a middle to the extremes -
"Everyone here has been really welcoming to us," said his friend, Paul Webb, also a recent graduate. "We haven't gotten any anti-American hatred anywhere we've gone on our trip," he added.

The 22-year-old Minnesotans declined to give their opinions on the Iraq war, but said they had to respect France's decision.

"I noticed in the Luxembourg Gardens they have a picture series that focuses a lot on the American help during World War II -- I think they're trying to mend the rift in some ways," said Keacher.
Trying to mend the rift? I don't think so. They're just covering historic events with the current Luxembourg display. WWII was when we arrived, a bit late but we arrived, and did help out.

But these guy, on the Iraq business, say they had to respect France's decision. Oh, did they have to?

Geez, respecting the opinions of others is so... French? No. We claim we to do that too - and have a nifty constitution to encourage freedom of speech and diverse opinion and all the rest of the 1789 sort of thing. And as much as the current administration works on eliminating provisions of that constitution for our safety in these difficult times, we still have that constitution, for now.

No need to move to France, yet.

But for a light-hearted look at Bastille Day do click on this, a good primer on Bastille Day with clever links -

Bastille Day
Gwladys Fouch?, The Guardian (UK), Wednesday July 14, 2004

And for Ric's compendium of Bastille Day events see To the Bal Citizens! over at MetropoleParis.

He lists everything that happens, including the details of the parade, and events the evening before - the Firemen's Bal at each location (along with what sort of music your hear).

This evening?
The Ville de Paris is promising an 'original' fireworks spectacular this year, accompanied with real-time music from an orchestra with 85 musicians rather than the usual electronic razzle-dazzle. The time for this is 22:30, and the Place is the huge Champ de Mars. No M?tros are really close, so everybody gets to walk.

The musicians will be in a tent directly underneath the tower, to play 'Un grand bouquet blanc,' composed by Etienne Perruchon. Other stars include the pianist Fran?ois-Ren? Duch?ble, accompanied by the Orchestre des Laur?ats du Conservatoire National Sup?rieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris, directed by Laurent Petitgirard.

The show should last until 11:00 or 11:10. Fireworks will be launched from Trocad?ro, the Pont d'I?na and the bushes lining the Champ de Mars. When it's over everybody will try and leave at once. This means up to 350,000 people may be trying to get on M?tros at the closest stations.
You either have to leave early, or should be prepared to wait at least a half hour. Be relaxed about this because the M?tro will carry everybody away given enough time. Bonne f?te!
No fireworks here in Hollywood. Drat.

Late update from Rick in Paris -
Here is the champagne cork from the Champ de Mars tonight.

Forty minutes before blast-off the Champ was full. It seemed as if ten thousand people per minute continued to arrive right up until the cork blew. Everybody rushed to the exit thirty seconds after it finished. Some are probably still walking home. It's warm enough for it, for a change. Crowd estimate - quarter-million-plus.

And this from me...

Posted by Alan at 10:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 14 July 2004 16:51 PDT home

Tuesday, 13 July 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Paranoia - Take two...

Previously, in Let us not be paranoid... there was a bit of discussion on reports, verified reports, that officials in the Bush administration have been discussing the idea of postponing Election Day in the event of a terrorist attack on or about that day - and this was announced by a Homeland Security Department spokesman on Sunday.

Lots of sound and fury followed, but may signify nothing.

Over at the Washington Monthly Kevin Drum points out that it is unlikely this could happen -
... consider the mechanics of the whole thing:

- The only body that can change the date of federal elections is Congress.
- Assuming the Supreme Court agreed, Congress could delegate this power to a federal commission if it so desired.
- However, in a couple of weeks everyone goes home for the summer. They come back on September 3rd.
- The current target for adjournment of the current congressional session is October 1st.

In other words, supposing that the Justice Department actually decided (suicidally, in my opinion) to propose legislation to create an election commission with the power to reschedule elections, Congress would have a grand total of four weeks to debate and pass it.

This is impossible, of course, unless the bill had essentially unanimous bipartisan support. Which it wouldn't.

Bottom line: short of a nuclear attack on Washington DC nothing is going to happen and elections will proceed as scheduled. Convinced?
Yep. That's pretty convincing.

But Bob Harris here is NOT convinced -
Yes, I do believe that Team Chimpy is likely to exploit any possibility of postponing our elections in one way or another.

My opinion only, but it seems delusional to imagine they wouldn't, given the laundry list of the unimaginable we already know they're perfectly happy to do: muscle into power, steal multiple entire Congressional districts by redistricting, expose our own intelligence people for political gain, start an entire war based on obvious lies, endanger our safety by subordinating the fight against Al-Qaeda, treat our own wounded troops as pariahs, claim the right to imprison indefinitely at the president's whim, rationalize torture, try to time the arrest of Bin Laden to sabotage the Democrats, and build their entire freakin' convention around the shameless exploitation of a mass murder.

I can't think of a single damned thing that these people won't try to spin and twist and distort into a political advantage. Right this very minute, it's an uphill fight to make sure the voting machines themselves aren't simply hijacked. And you know perfectly well which side Chimpy is on.

If you truly imagine there's a line they won't cross if they can, you're not paying attention. This is not about democracy for them. It never has been. As Molly Ivins put it so well: They wish not to govern, but to rule.

I mean, what more would we need to see the utterly obvious here? Dick Cheney simply biting large bits out of people every time they disagree with him? "Go fuck yourself" replacing "E pluribus unum" as our national slogan? Karl Rove strolling down Pennsylvania Avenue drinking Tom Daschle's brain marrow through a crazy straw?

(And really, at this point, would you be all that surprised...?)
Bob Harris of Los Angeles, a "Jeopardy!" five-time champion by the way, is not a trusting sort, is he?

And he seems kind of angry - perhaps appropriately so, but angry. Perhaps that clouds his judgment.

The first argument seems more sensible to me. Getting congress to approve granting DeForest B. Soaries Jr. - chair of the newly formed Election Assistance Commission and former New Jersey secretary of state, and senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey - the power to postpone the coming presidential election, for as long a he thinks appropriate, would be difficult. It's hard to imagine the Bush team could rustle up the votes to grant the senior pastor that right, the man they appointed to a commission they invented. Establishing a new, neutral body would be more difficult yet. Time is running short.

Harris does mention the administration seeking "any possibility of postponing our elections in one way or another." One way or another?

Are there other ways? An executive decree in time of national emergency might work. We are not officially at war. Congress has not issued a declaration of war, as such. But do we need a formal, official, fully-declared war - or just a national emergency?

Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War - and of course there are still many who say that war was not at all a "civil war" in any sense of the term, and refer to it as the War Between the States. (Yes, I lived in South for a few years.) But Lincoln suspended habeas corpus nevertheless, and the world did not fall apart. The nation came out of that "late unpleasantness between the states," as some in the South used to call it - and in 1867 habeas corpus was reborn. Truman, as the Korea War spun up - an undeclared war, but a war nonetheless, even if it was officially a UN police action - attempted to nationalize the steel industry here. He got slapped down. The Supreme Court said he didn't have that power. Are there other examples of the chief executive assuming certain parts of the constitution could and should be suspended given events at the moment? Don't know. Not my field.

Can the chief executive suspend parts of the constitution as needed? All you can do is try it out. Maybe it will work, maybe it won't.

As a practical matter, what would actually happen of the president declared we had a national emergency and he was suspending, carefully, selected parts the constitution - the presidential election and perhaps the freedom of the press to investigate and report on particular events - because... but I'm not sure here what his reason would be. Because if we held the national election in November al-Qaeda would, without doubt, set off massive explosions and unleash chemical and biological attacks all over America, and hundred of thousands of citizens would die? I guess that would be the reason, the official justification - public safety. That makes the whole business a simple if-then proposition - if we vote, then we get attacked. If we don't vote - well, then no one has to die.

Well, you'd have to trust them on this if-then logic, and assume they had the hard intelligence to be certain that this was exactly what would happen if the election went forward. But then again, the administration hasn't exactly been batting a thousand on obtaining good intelligence. But we'd have to trust them. We'd be told we just couldn't afford to take the chance that this might not be so. Many would, I suspect, buy into that. Many would not.

Each president takes an oath to protect and defend the constitution, and this one did too, just as did all the presidents before him. But the right is always trotting out the well-worn line - "The constitution is not a suicide pact." No, it isn't - but I don't see how holding the federal elections on schedule would be certain suicide. Then again, I don't have the resources of the CIA, NSA, NRO, the Defense Department spooks, the State Department analysts, the independent Cheney-Feith investigative teams and all the rest. Would we all have to assume they know things we do not know, things they cannot reveal without compromising their sources, and we thus must simply trust them? ("Simply" has multiple meanings in this context, of course.) Trusting them has become a problem for many, given recent events.

As a practical matter then the "you just have to trust us" approach would not work very well. Too many people feel they have been jerked around a bit too much by these guys - and some of them have lost sons or daughters, husbands or wives. You can only go to that well so many times. It done gone dry, at least for half of us.

The Madrid Scenario

But Tom Ridge is really suggesting something else. He is suggesting that IF there is an attack BEFORE the scheduled election, THEN perhaps we should postpone voting to avoid people making hasty decisions about who should lead the country for another fours years. Well, he's not exactly saying that. That is certainly implied in what he's saying, but not explicit. "Disruptions to the process" is his tune here. He's implying that voting in such a circumstance could not really be fair - as some precincts and polling places would be, well, wiped out. And everyone else would be all upset - at least far more upset than they are now. I think his idea is that it would just make sense not to hold an election when events are so dire. But some people see events now as dire.

This second argument is far weaker. In this Madrid Scenario the authority of the president to suspend laws - to suspend certain constitution rights - seems less clear than the first case, stopping the elections to save lives. In the Madrid Scenario many people are already dead. Efforts to assure public safety, in this case, have already failed. So why not hold the election and do the best you can? You might have to step over a few smoldering bodies to get to the voting booth, but in that case you probably would really WANT to vote.

In this Madrid Scenario I suspect that is what really worries the Bush Administration. After all, these guys keep saying, hey, really, we made things safer for you all, we really did - trust us, we really did.


Posted by Alan at 18:01 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 13 July 2004 18:11 PDT home

Monday, 12 July 2004

Topic: Election Notes

The NAACP and George Bush - Political Theater

Caveat -

This writer has been a dues-paying card-carrying member of the NAACP for almost two decades now. What follows may be colored by that (sorry about the pun).

The basic story broke over the weekend -

Bush Criticizes NAACP's Leadership
Relationship With Rights Group 'Basically Nonexistent,' President Says
Mike Allen, The Washington Post, Saturday, July 10, 2004; Page A05
YORK, Pa., July 9 -- President Bush said Friday that he has a "basically nonexistent" relationship with the NAACP's leadership and he refused for the consecutive fourth year to speak to the group's national convention.

Bush's assessment of his relationship with the nation's largest civil rights organization was a sharp reversal from his rhetoric during his last campaign. Then he spoke to the group's convention as part of an effort to show he was a different kind of Republican and said that "there is much we can do together to advance racial harmony and economic opportunity."

Bush will not be speaking before the 2004 convention, which will open Saturday in Philadelphia.
Bush, during a day-long bus tour through Pennsylvania, said in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer and two other state newspapers that he "admired some" NAACP leaders and said he would seek members' support "in other ways."

But he castigated the group's officers, who include President Kweisi Mfume and Chairman Julian Bond. "I would describe my relationship with the current leadership as basically nonexistent," Bush said, as reported by Knight Ridder Newspapers. "You've heard the rhetoric and the names they've called me."
They hurt his feelings?

No, they didn't show him the proper respect. They disagreed with him.

Some perspective -
Let's first be clear that the Bush campaign isn't simply not going to the NAACP convention, they're deliberately and publicly snubbing the NAACP, and this snub was planned well in advance. The White House and the Bush campaign would have known probably a year ago that the NAACP would be in Philadelphia this weekend, and they would have planned the Pennsylvania bus trip months ago. Not only did they decide not to go to the convention, they deliberately planned on being in Pennsylvania at almost the exact time of the convention to draw more attention to the fact that Bush would not appear before the NAACP.

The bigger issue here is that George Bush is effectively saying "screw you" to one of the most prominent and esteemed organizations in America, an organization that is the most important representative of African-Americans and which still leads the fight for civil rights in America. This isn't a failure to send a message to supporters of civil rights, this is a deliberate decision to send a message that, forty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, there are still two sides to the debate on civil rights, and Bush is on the side of those opposed to "special" rights for people who aren't white, Christian, and heterosexual. By deliberately blowing off the NAACP four straight years, Bush has signaled that he doesn't view himself as President of all Americans. He's the President of just those Americans who look like him and agree with him.
It is, thus, a message to his base.

Also from the Post -
Earlier this week, the White House said the invitation had been declined because of scheduling commitments, and officials said that was the reason cited in the letter to the group. But when asked about the matter by reporters on Air Force One on Friday, White House press secretary Scott McClellan made it clear that a lot more was involved. "The current leadership of the NAACP has certainly made some rather hostile political comments about the president over the past few years," he said.

The NAACP said Bush is the first president since Warren G. Harding not to meet with the group while in office.

Bond has accused Republicans of "playing the race card in election after election." He said they have "appealed to that dark underside of American culture, to that minority of Americans who reject democracy and equality," and "preach racial neutrality and they practice racial division."
Oh heck, Bond and Mfume are still grumpy about Ted Olson and that University of Michigan case. And Bush and Ashcroft speaking at Bob Jones University in South Carolina, where interracial dating is strictly forbidden. And Ashcroft saying his political hero is Robert E. Lee. They seem to take this stuff seriously.

But there is a larger question. Bush can win easily without the black vote, and without the gay vote- he doesn't need them.

Bush is, really, depending on voters who know what it is like to be insulted, to be disrespected, and see Bush as they guy who just won't put up with that. Bush is making himself into a kind of hero to the common man here - the person people wish they had the courage themselves to be, but cannot. Bush can smirk "Like I need YOU?" to the NAACP. And Cheney can tell the senior senator from Vermont, on the floor of the Senate, to go fuck himself. And people cheer, or that's the theory on how to win in November.

Is this approach to the election planned? Is it instinctual? That's hard to say, and frankly it doesn't matter much. It simply works.

Much has been said about how odd it is that Bush is seen as "the common man" while John Kerry is seen as a rich, removed, elite patrician sort. Bush's antecedents are a president (formerly the VP and head of the CIA and an ambassador) and a senator (Prescott Bush) and a long line of bankers and financiers (the Harriman and Walker families). And we're talking major money here. Kerry is the son of diplomat, schooled in Switzerland as a kid, who speaks a number of foreign languages fluently and who is married to one of the richest women in America, who herself is sophisticated and brilliant in her own way. Both went to Yale. Both were in the famous, and socially elite, Skull and Bones. Neither guy is exactly Joe Six-Pack.

So how does Bush pull it off?

Bush laughs at how he did so badly in school. He barely slid by. Folks can relate to that.

Bush doesn't hide that he was drinking heavily and not doing much of anything before he turned forty. And look at him now. Folks like that - he pulled himself up from all that.

And Bush does the visuals - he bought that Crawford ranch in Texas just before the 2000 election and hangs around down there in jeans and a work shirt, clearing brush. The press is kind enough to not mention how recent an addition that is to the Bush family holdings, and how unlike the rest of the Bush residences. Folks relate to working around the yard.

But most importantly, think of the present times. The world now seems, at least over the last almost three years, a far more dangerous place and complex place than we ever imagined. Any number of peoples hate us, or our policies, or both - and murderously so. And it is not getting any better. Much of the rest of the world distrusts us - questioning our motives, and our actions, and often, even our intelligence (in both the military and general sense). Our list of allies grows thin, as they say.

What to do with this complexity? Simplify it. Good and evil. With us or with the terrorists. Enough has been said on that. Is this way of thinking cynically planned to win the next election? Is it instinctual? That's hard to say, and frankly it doesn't matter much. It also simply works.

Kerry offers complexity of thought and consideration of various options. For "the common man" this is far too dangerous. And he resents it.

And the key to all this is playing on resentment. What's this NAACP snub about? Imagine you're a regular guy crossing the street in the city on your lunch hour, worried about your mortgage and your kids and the bills and your taxes and all that stuff. You see next to you a tall black man in a three thousand dollar tailored suit, with his fancy attach? case, talking on his cell phone to someone about a bank merger or such stuff. You seethe with resentment. Because of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and Affirmative Actions and the 1964 Civil Rights Act and all the rest of what the Democrats said was the right thing to do, there he is, and you cannot remember where you parked your ten-year-old tinny Civic. That's what the NAACP snub is about. Saying fuck you to the whole business.

What's happening in Bangkok, over in Thailand, this week? The international AIDS (SIDA) conference. And that too is another political stage for the same drama. The politics of resentment.

What has been staged for the American voter? First, we sent only on quarter of our usual array of doctors. Many papers will not be read or discussed. The folks excluded were, you see, going to present studies that were just plain wrong. What would those be? Papers suggesting anything about the use of condoms in preventing disease, and papers with any direct or indirect data or sponsorship from family planning groups that might have, at some time, offered abortion counseling. But we will participate vigorous on the panels discussing drug therapies for AIDS, to protect the patents on the drugs developed here, to make sure our pharmaceutical industry isn't undermined by cheaper versions of these drugs. Business is business. You see, folks are uncomfortable with all these people dying, and with many of them being those odd and awful gay folks. And all this costs so much! Our meager participation in the Bangkok conference? A message to the uncomfortable, resentful American voter - our guys, and Bush, are saying in-your-face, you losers! There are a whole lot of votes in that message.

Why vote for this guy? Because he doesn't shit for anybody - and lives our fantasy life. It's a Walter Mitty thing. Kerry has no clue how to counter that.

The leader now is the guy who doesn't have to explain anything. He just does what you wish you could do, if you had the balls and weren't such a damned coward. He knows you'll lap it up. You love it, secretly or not.

See September 14, 2003 Opinion: Leadership, Management Theory and Saying You're Sorry or That You Need Help for a bit on that.
When Bob Woodward was interviewed by Mike Wallace on Sixty Minutes regarding Woodward's research on the book he wrote about George W. Bush, Woodward made some interesting comments.

Woodward said Bush told him that when Bush chairs a meeting he often tries to be provocative. When Woodward asked him if he tells his staff that he is purposely being provocative, Bush answered: "Of course not. I am the commander, see? I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the President. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."

... The issue is one of temperament. On one end of the scale you have the "I'm the boss and you're not" school of leadership. On the other end you have the "We're all in this together so let's figure out how to make this work" school of leadership. One assumes unquestioning obedience while the other assumes the leader draws on all the available resources and shapes some sort of plan everyone can pretty much agree to.

The next national election may be a matter choosing between two leadership/management approaches. "We're all in this together so tell me what you think and what your ideas are..." - not words that come naturally to the current leadership. And I wonder if those who will vote in the next national election think those are words any leader should speak.
I still wonder.

Posted by Alan at 22:06 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 12 July 2004 22:07 PDT home

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