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Consider:

"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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Saturday, 17 July 2004

Topic: Bush

The Joy of Psychopathology

James Benjamin is currently an Associate Professor of Psychology in the Department of Behavioral and Social Science at Oklahoma Panhandle State University. And he has a web log, The Left End of the Dial, where you will find this observation -
We do know, for example, that chronic alcohol abuse can lead to brain damage - in particular the prefrontal cortex of the cerebrum. The prefrontal cortex of the brain is responsible for much of what we consider rational thought, and damage to this part of the brain can manifest itself in terms of rigidity of thought, poor impulse control...
Yeah, yeah. So what?

Benjamin points us to this:
Is Bush's past now present?
Douglas Yates, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (Fairbanks, Alaska), Thursday, July 15, 2004

Who, pray tell, reads the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, perhaps even in Fairbanks? And this Douglas Yates appears to be a Marine Corps veteran and a writer, and photographer, living in Ester, Alaska. This is not your usual news source, but even the wilds of Alaska one can connect the dots, and, as I suspect there is not much to do in Ester, Yates does so.

Here's a bit of the dot-connecting:
By his own admission, Bush was a heavy drinker for more than 20 years. While more than 10 million Americans are similarly afflicted, only one has been elevated to the presidency. Though it is reported that he stopped drinking in 1986, at the age of 40, Bush's policies and judgment appear linked to alcohol addiction.

A growing number of professionals in psychopathology and alcohol counseling claim that Bush exhibits characteristics of "dry drunk" syndrome. A term adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous, a dry drunk is a person who shows impaired behavior, although not actually imbibing. While technically "dry," such individuals are not truly sober. Dry drunks tend to extremes while also displaying increased anxiety, irritability, resentment, impulsive anger and lack of empathy. They are rigid, judgmental and often present an inordinate sense of entitlement.

Katherine van Wormer, a professor at the University of Northern Iowa and co-author of "Addiction Treatment: A Strengths Perspective," points to Bush's language as a way to see through the smoke.

"First there were the terms--'crusade' and 'infinite justice.' Next came 'evil doers,' 'axis of evil,' and 'regime change' ... the polarized thinking and the obsessive repetition reminded me of many of the recovering alcoholics/addicts I had treated," van Wormer writes.
Well, an ex-Marine might know about such things. But this idea has been floating around for a long while. A local Beverly Hills psychotherapist I knew well, who passed away a few months ago, discussed this with me in the autumn of 1999 as Bush was running for president. She had worked with alcololics. She knew. She thoughty Bush dangerous. And she was a smart woman - in fact, I named my cat, Harriet, after her.

But Yates is concerned with the present, and Harriet (the psychotherapist not the cat) is gone. And he points out the idea persists -
Other researchers cite the president's black-and-white view of the world. Although one of the first principles of leadership is the ability to consider opposing points of view, Bush can't muster such perspectives. In regard to foreign policy, Bush has said, "... my job isn't to try to nuance. I think moral clarity is important ... this is evil versus good."

Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of communication at New York University, examined Bush's language for evidence of distorted thinking. Author of "Dyslexicon: Observations on a National Disorder," Miller initially intended an amusing catalog of Bush's verbal gaffes. Played for laughs by many, some view Bush's stumbling speech as an endearing tic.

However, in reading the transcripts of his speeches, Miller realized something more serious was going on. Bush's garbled and confusing sentences may actually reveal a hidden personality disorder.

Miller builds the case that Bush's gaffes occur only when he's speaking about things that mean little to him. Topics such as the poor, idealism or compassion are often twisted beyond meaning.

However, writes Miller, "He has no trouble speaking off the cuff when he's speaking punitively, when he's talking about violence, when he's talking about revenge. When he struts and thumps his chest, his syntax and grammar are fine. This is a guy who is absolutely proud of his own inflexibility and rectitude.
Well, that's how Bush has been sold to America. A large enough segment of the voting public just eats that up, maybe a large enough voting bloc so that Bush will win in November.

Benjamin then turns to Arianna Huffington's summary of the recently published book, "Bush on the Couch," by Justin A. Franks, M.D. -
Poking around in the presidential psyche, Frank uncovers a man suffering from megalomania, paranoia, a false sense of omnipotence, an inability to manage his emotions, a lifelong need to defy authority, an unresolved love-hate relationship with his father, and the repercussions of a history of untreated alcohol abuse.

... One of the more compelling sections of the book is Frank's dissection of what he calls Bush's "almost pathological aversion to owning up to his infractions" -- a mindset common to individuals Freud termed "the Exceptions," those who feel "entitled to live outside the limitations that apply to ordinary people."

... But you don't make it as far as W. has without some psychological defenses of your own -- especially when it comes to insulating yourself against your own fears and insecurities.

Raised in a family steeped in privilege and secrecy, and prone to the intense aversion to introspection and denial of responsibility that are the hallmarks of a so-called dry drunk -- one who has kicked the bottle without dealing with the root causes of the addiction -- Bush has become a master of the psychological jiu-jitsu known as Freudian Projection.

For those of you who bailed on Psych 101, Freudian Projection is, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a defense mechanism in which "the individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by falsely attributing to another his or her own unacceptable feelings, impulses or thoughts."

In layman's terms, it's the soot-stained pot calling the kettle "black."
Well, it seems unethical, in a medical ethics sort of way, to do a differential diagnosis of a severe psychopathology from the outside, and certainly without the patient's permission - but it is kind of fun.

And Benjamin has some fun with it all. The psychology professor from Oklahoma offers this:
To make the story as short as possible, Bush's psyche can be best summed up as that of a right-wing authoritarian. Authoritarians are characterized by a number of traits (see Altemeyer, 1981, 1988, 1996, for more details):

Conventionalism - a tendency to go along with the prevailing societal norms, especially those norms sanctioned by authority figures in the home, church, etc. This same trait is also characteristic of most conservatives, although typically not carried to the extreme as is the case with authoritarians.

Authoritarian Submission - a tendency to essentially do what one is told without question, as long as it's sanctioned by an authority figure. Right-wing authoritarians will readily submit not only to authority figures whom they like and respect, but also to those whom they do not like (they may gripe a bit in the latter case, but will do what they're told regardless).

Authoritarian Aggression - authoritarians are no more or less prone to aggression and violence than the rest of us. However, they are a rather vengeful and punitive lot who will commit acts of aggression or violence if they perceive that such acts are endorsed by relevant authorities. Right-wing authoritarians also tend to view the world as a dangerous place, in which there are enemies lurking behind practically every corner, and such worldviews tend to facilitate acts of aggression - especially against out-groups (e.g., ethnic minorities, gays, liberals, etc.).

Rigidity of Thought - To these first three traits I'd like to add this fourth trait based on the observation that right-wing authoritarians are not known for their cognitive complexity. They tend to see the world in black and white, in terms of absolutes. They are not generally interested in looking for the nuances in an argument, or for handling the ambiguities that characterize life in a diverse democratic republic.
Oh my!

If you click on the top link and go to the Benjamin site you will, of course, find that his text is filled with live links to the relevant research and documents, should you wish to see how he reached these conclusions. That's recommended for the obsessive among you.

I particular like "a tendency to essentially do what one is told without question, as long as it's sanctioned by an authority figure." That explains Dick Cheney's role. He stays.

And a willingness to "commit acts of aggression or violence if they perceive that such acts are endorsed by relevant authorities." That will get you a war - as Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and Perle and the rest said a war would be just fine. Colin Powell was not relevant.

And a tendency to "view the world as a dangerous place, in which there are enemies lurking behind practically every corner?" We are actually being told to buy into that by Ridge and Ashcroft. And indeed it does "facilitate acts of aggression." We are told X or Y deserves just that aggression.

But is this at all valid? Perhaps not.

Irving Berlin once said - "There is an element of truth in every idea that lasts long enough to be called corny."

Here, with this Bush dry-drunk psychopathology - does the same apply?

Posted by Alan at 20:16 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 17 July 2004 20:17 PDT home

Friday, 16 July 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Bold Leadership: The Case Against Playing Fair

Charles Pierce is rather good in Alterman's MSNBC Friday, as he suggests it may be time to decide if one is to play by the rules -
There really is only one issue in this election.

Since the Extended Florida Unpleasantness, this has been an Administration utterly unconcerned with any restraints, constitutional or otherwise, on its power. It has been contemptuous of the idea of self-government, and particularly of the notion that an informed populace is necessary to that idea. It recognizes neither parliamentary rules nor constitutional barriers. (Just for fun, imagine that the Senate had not authorized force in Iraq. Do you think for one moment that C-Plus Augustus wouldn't have launched the war anyway, and on some pretext that we'd only now be discovering was counterfeit?) It does not accept the concept of principled opposition, either inside the administration or outside of it. It refuses to be bound by anything more than its political appetites. It wants what it wants, and it does what it wants. It is, at its heart, and in the strictest definition of the word, lawless. It has the perfect front men: a president unable to admit a mistake because he's spent his entire life being insulated from even the most minor of consequences, and a vice-president who is viscerally furious at the notion that he is accountable to anyone at all. They are abetted by a congressional majority in which all of these un-American traits are amplified to an overwhelming din.

So, now we are faced with the question: Do you want to live in a country where these people no longer feel even the vaporous restraints of having another election to win?

BUSH-CHENEY UNLEASHED. Up or down? Yes or no?
Well, that is blunt.

Is this the one issue? See the fellow who writes under the pseudonym "Digby" in the February 25, 2004 issue of The American Street where he gives us this -
Republicans are temperamentally unable to compromise because they see things in black and white, Manichean terms - otherwise known as Yer-With-Us-Or-Agin-Us, My-Way-Or-The-Highway or the I'll-Hold-My-Breath-Until-I-Turn-Blue philosophy of politics.

...Democrats' collection of interest groups means that activists who agitate for certain issues like gay rights or choice are more willing to compromise because they are usually personally affected by government and are therefore, more apt to feel the immediate consequences of incremental change. (Regardless of the motivation, it seems to me that Democrats are just more "into nuance" e.g. smarter.)

... if this description of the Republicans political viewpoint is correct it illustrates why they are fundamentally unqualified to govern in a democratic system. If one is unwilling to compromise then any kind of bipartisan consensus is impossible and rule by force becomes inevitable.
And then the question becomes, is that what most folks really want - rule by force?

Would a majority of those who vote in the next election actually prefer to be ruled by a junta of strong men answerable to no one? In a way, that would make life easier, less ambiguous, and perhaps safer for us all, and no one would have to be bothered with being forced to participate in matters of arguing over what has been done, what is being done and what should be done. One could just go to work, come home play with the kids, shop at the mall, and generally just get on with the normal stuff of life. No political bullshit and big questions floating around.

It sounds tempting and we shall see if that is what folks choose.

But what would that look like operationally?

This hit the wires Friday - news from the new Iraq.

According to the this in the Sydney Morning Herald (byline Paul McGeough) -
Iyad Allawi, the new Prime Minister of Iraq, pulled a pistol and executed as many as six suspected insurgents at a Baghdad police station, just days before Washington handed control of the country to his interim government, according to two people who allege they witnessed the killings.

... "The prisoners were against the wall and we were standing in the courtyard when the Interior Minister said that he would like to kill them all on the spot. Allawi said that they deserved worse than death - but then he pulled the pistol from his belt and started shooting them."

Re-enacting the killings, one witness stood three to four metres in front of a wall and swung his outstretched arm in an even arc, left to right, jerking his wrist to mimic the recoil as each bullet was fired. Then he raised a hand to his brow, saying: "He was very close. Each was shot in the head."

... The Herald has established that as many as 30 people, including the victims, may have been in the courtyard. One of the witnesses said there were five or six civilian-clad American security men in a convoy of five or six late model four-wheel-drive vehicles that was shepherding Dr Allawi's entourage on the day. The US military and Dr Allawi's office refused to respond to questions about the composition of his security team. It is understood that the core of his protection unit is drawn from the US Special Forces units.
The story was later picked up by another Australian paper, The Age and later by UPI and Bloomberg.

I suspect CNN and AP and the rest won't touch this with a ten-foot pole unless it is confirmed with multiple more-reliable-than-Australian-surfer-dudes sources. Maybe not even then. It probably is not true at all, only a "plant" by the bad guys.

And even if it is true - so what? The guys probably deserved it. A good number of folks would no doubt like Bush himself to take a side-trip to Guant?namo and do the same thing to the remaining five hundred or so folks we have held there for almost three years. Dennis Miller would approve of that.

A typical liberal would not, as you see here -
Why is it important?

- Human beings were allegedly murdered in cold blood. The victims were detainees who were denied due process.

- Our tax dollars should not be used to support a murderous thug.

- The War on Iraq was based on lies. The assertion that the people of Iraq are better off now than they were under Saddam evaporates in the face of this accusation.

Why is the story credible?

- McGeough names the place that the alleged summary executions occurred, Al-Amariyah security centre in the southwestern suburbs of Baghdad.

- The story names three of the seven victims, Ahmed Abdulah Ahsamey, Amer Lutfi Mohammed Ahmed al-Kutsia, and Walid Mehdi Ahmed al-Samarrai. Unless these were "ghost detainees", with their names and the place of detention we should be able to find out if these three men were in the security center in late June.

- As McGeough writes, "The two witnesses were independently and separately found by the Herald. Neither approached the newspaper. They were interviewed on different days in a private home in Baghdad, without being told the other had spoken." I'd call that careful reporting.

What is the official US response?

Two sentences, in response to the author's e-mail message to Ambassador John Negroponte:
"If we attempted to refute each [rumour], we would have no time for other business. As far as this embassy's press office is concerned, this case is closed."

That is a non-denial denial, and not a convincing one at that. The case is closed after a single inquiry? John is off of his game.
John Negroponte may not be off his game at all.

John Negroponte knows a good number of American voters just smiled when they heard this story - and, after all, what he covered up in Honduras and Guatemala when he was our Ambassador down that way during the Reagan years - the death squads he approved, even when they took out almost thirty Catholic nuns - all that got him the gig as UN ambassador then his current posting as our first ambassador to Iraq, at the largest US embassy every built. Folks appreciate strong leadership.

So is the story true? Bloomberg ends their item with this reminder - Allawi's office, in a letter to the newspaper, denied the witnesses' accounts, saying Allawi had never visited the prison and he did not carry a gun. The allegations are rumors instigated by enemies of Allawi's government, the letter said.

But they are useful "rumors" in this case. Keeps the bad guys worried. And it pleases the folks back here. It's a great conservative election narrative nugget - Allawi is the kind of guy who cuts through liberal bleeding-heart bullshit and takes care of problems. He's a Bush kind of guy.

The story could be totally false, and might actually have been planted by Karl Rove, not the enemies of Allawi. It's the kind of tale that primes the US election pump.

Posted by Alan at 20:20 PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
home


Topic: The Law

Frankly, my dear, I don't give a ... The Importance of Martyrdom to the Conservative Movement

Thomas Frank is the fellow who wrote the recent book "What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America" - mentioned in Just Above Sunset by The Book Wrangler last weekend. There are lots of reviews available, should you find the topic of interest - how the "heart of America" is now solidly conservative evangelical Christian Republican and pro-big-business, anti-gay, anti-abortion and of course totally anti-French and anti-UN and anti-Canadian, and certainly against any kind of special treatment for "colored folks" and against any public services for those dusky immigrants who talk in funny languages, and against the public school system and all the rest. You know, the folks who long for a Christian theocracy to counter the evil folks out in Hollywood - like me.

How did that happen? Oh, read the book.

But in Friday's New York Times Thomas Frank has some words on this week's Senate voting that sunk the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) that would have made same-sex marriages unconstitutional. The vote was 48-50 as those in favor of the FMA didn't even get a majority - and, dang, sixty votes were needed, as this was to be a change to the actual Constitution of the United States. And the 48-50 vote wasn't even on the amendment - it was on cloture, stopping all the talking and calling an actual vote. The FMA supporters couldn't even get a real vote. DOA - dead on arrive, or alternatively, delusions of adequacy.

The original language in the FMA not only called for the ban on same-sex marriage but also on any kind of "civil unions" too. The idea was even the legal rights and benefits married people have - in taxes and with contracts and with hospital visits and in inheritance matters - well, that was a very dangerous set of items to allow flaming queens and butch dykes to acquire. One has to be careful. That way lies madness. Or something.

There was a lot of maneuvering and the FMA language was, at the last minute, revised to allow states to grant some sorts of rights in civil unions of same-sex couples (with review and approval by both houses of Congress) - but it was too little too late.

The Federal Marriage Amendment failed. At least this time.

A defeat for the conservative evangelical Christian Republican and pro-big-business, anti-gay, anti-abortion and of course totally anti-French and anti-UN and anti-Canadian forces.

Mais, non!

Thomas Frank wryly suggests this was in fact a great victory for "the heart of America." And the emphases are mine.
... The amendment may have failed as law, but as pseudopopulist theater it was a masterpiece. Each important element of the culture-war narrative was there.

Consider first its choice of targets: while the Senate's culture warriors denied feeling any hostility to gay people, they made no secret of their disgust with liberal judges, a tiny, arrogant group that believes it knows best in all things and harbors an unfathomable determination to run down American culture and thus made this measure necessary.

Sam Brownback, senator from my home state, Kansas, may have put it best: "Most Americans believe homosexuals have a right to live as they choose. They do not believe a small group of activists or a tiny judicial elite have a right to redefine marriage and impose a radical social experiment on our entire society."

What's more, according to the outraged senators, these liberal judges were acting according to a plan. Maybe no one used the term "conspiracy," but Mr. Brownback asserted that the Massachusetts judges who allowed gay marriages to proceed there were merely mouthing a "predetermined outcome"; Orrin Hatch of Utah asserted that "these were not a bunch of random, coincidental legal events"; and Jim Bunning of Kentucky warned how "the liberals, who have no respect for the law" had "plotted out a state-by-state strategy" that they were now carrying out, one domino at a time.

Our age-old folkways, in other words, are today under siege from a cabal of know-it-all elites.

The common people are being trampled by the intellectuals. This is precisely the same formula that was used, to great effect, in the nasty spat over evolution that Kansans endured in 1999, in which the elitists said to be forcing their views on the unassuming world were biology professors and those scheming paleontologists.

And, as do the partisans of each of these other culture-causes, the proponents of the marriage amendment made soaring, grandiose claims for the significance of the issue they were debating.

While editorialists across the nation tut-tutted and reminded the senators that they had important work they ought to be doing, the senators fired back that in fact they were debating that most important of all possible subjects. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who took particular offense at the charges of insignificance, argued that this was a debate about nothing less than "the glue that holds the basic foundational societal unit together." Wake up, America!

Of course, as everyone pointed out, the whole enterprise was doomed to failure from the start. It didn't have to be that way; conservatives could have chosen any number of more promising avenues to challenge or limit the Massachusetts ruling. Instead they went with a constitutional amendment, the one method where failure was absolutely guaranteed - along with front-page coverage.

Then again, what culture war offensive isn't doomed to failure from the start? Indeed, the inevitability of defeat seems to be a critical element of the melodrama, on issues from school prayer to evolution and even abortion.

Failure on the cultural front serves to magnify the outrage felt by conservative true believers; it mobilizes the base. Failure sharpens the distinctions between conservatives and liberals. Failure allows for endless grandstanding without any real-world consequences that might upset more moderate Republicans or the party's all-important corporate wing. You might even say that grand and garish defeat - especially if accompanied by the ridicule of the sophisticated - is the culture warrior's very object.

... Losing is prima facie evidence that the basic conservative claim is true: that the country is run by liberals; that the world is unfair; that the majority is persecuted by a sinister elite. And that therefore you, my red-state friend, had better get out there and vote as if your civilization depended on it.
Short form?

They lost the vote. They captured the narrative, and the narrative is far more important.

This is a fight for something very odd - for just who gets to tell the story.

Last weekend in Just Above Sunset you'd find Who gets to tell the story? Narrative Theory. - which you might have thought was about what Ric Erickson saw in Paris when Michael Moore's film hit town - but actually it suggested Moore's danger to the news organizations and to the administration was that he was seizing control of the narrative. He was taking the same facts, and the same available film clips, and building an alternative narrative that showed what no one wanted to admit.

That is just what the FMA supporters did this week. They lost a meaningless vote, and built a narrative myth of great power - the oppression of the common Christian man by elitist judges and strange gay folks.

Yep, they won.

Posted by Alan at 17:44 PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 16 July 2004 19:06 PDT home

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

News?
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
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