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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, 22 July 2004

Topic: The Law

Checks and Balances - Stopping the Activist Judges from Destroying Life As We know It

A bill was passed by the US House of Representatives this week that singles out one specific class of citizens and denies them access to the federal courts to defend their civil rights.


No it wasn't Jews or Scientologists in this special class. Nor was it black folks, nor guys named Dwayne from Ohio. And it wasn't uppity women named Hillary or Whoopi.

Here's the deal:

Bill preventing federal courts from legalizing same-sex 'marriage' passes House, 233-194
Michael Foust, Baptist Press News of the Southern Baptist Convention, Thursday, July 22, 2004

The bare-bones story -
WASHINGTON (BP)--The House of Representatives passed a bill July 22 that prevents federal courts from legalizing same-sex "marriage" nationwide, giving traditionalists a significant victory just one week after the Senate blocked a vote on a constitutional marriage amendment.

The bill, dubbed the Marriage Protection Act, passed on a mostly party-line vote of 233-194. It faces an uncertain future in the Senate but has the support of President Bush.

The bill protects states by preventing federal courts -- including the Supreme Court -- from reviewing the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that gives individual states the option of not recognizing another state's same-sex "marriages" and prevents the federal government from recognizing homosexual "marriage."
Got it? Pass a law that says the courts have no authority to review a particular law. Pretty clever! Bush is happy with it.

... The major pro-family groups -- including the Family Research Council, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Concerned Women for America -- supported the bill as a short-term solution until a constitutional amendment can be passed.

"This should be a warning to politicians everywhere that this is an issue that is not going away and it is an issue where there is tremendous interest and conviction," ERLC President Richard Land told Baptist Press.

The bill's passage, Land said, "furthers the momentum" of the defense of marriage movement.

"It does send a message to the judiciary that people are really getting fed up with their attempts to become our unelected rulers," he said.

But Land said a constitutional marriage amendment is still needed.
Of course. One suspect this odd new law, should it move to the Senate, isn't going to fly, no matter how hard Bush lobbies for it.

The legal grounds?
... The bill's chief sponsor, Rep. John Hostettler, R.-Ind., pointed to Article III, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which states in part: "[T]he Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make." Section 1 states that Congress "ordain[s]" and "establish[es]" the lower courts.

Hostettler also pointed to Article I, Section 8, and Article IV, Section 1.

"The United States Constitution is very clear -- Congress has the authority to create inferior federal courts," Hostettler said. "Congress [also] has the authority to make exceptions and regulations with regard to all of the appellate cases that come before the Supreme Court."
Really? I suppose, bit it seems a stretch.

A bit of background from Kevin Drum -
This section of the constitution is beloved of wingnuts everywhere who dream of stripping the Supreme Court of jurisdiction over a wide range of pet issues: abortion, Jim Crow, school prayer, you name it. Pass a law that includes an Article 3, Section 2 exemption, and bingo! The Supreme Court can't declare it unconstitutional. At any given time, there are usually at least half a dozen Article 3, Section 2 bills languishing in various committees.

Normally that's exactly where they stay, because cooler heads -- even those who basically agree with the wingnuts -- realize that opening this particular Pandora's Box is a very, very bad idea. After all, once you exempt one thing, where will it stop? You'd be starting a Niagara sized pissing contest.

(Plus there's no telling if the Supreme Court would recognize such an exemption anyway, since it would effectively do away with judicial review.)

Still, the wingnuts keep dreaming...
Obviously the right, conservative flip side of "I have a dream...."

BP also reports that John Dingell, Democrat of Michigan called the bill an "extraordinary piece of arrogance." And Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts called it a "mean-spirited, discriminatory and misguide distraction" and said it violated the "separation of powers." Yeah, but Jim is from evil godless Massachusetts after all. Jim also added - "Under this bill, for the first time in our long history, a person could be denied access to the federal courts when that person claims that a federal statute violates the Constitution," McGovern said.

Yeah, Jim, but that person is a flaming queen - so what's the problem?

This detail from the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch -
Critics contend the bill is politically motivated and unconstitutional.

Akin called preventing same-sex marriage "central to the survival of society." He argued that courts frequently overstep their authority when deciding cases related to marriage laws. "They do much better when they do their job, which is to read the Constitution and rule strictly on what the Constitution says," he said.

But William and Mary law school professor Michael Gerhardt, who testified before Congress about Akin's bill last month, said he believes it violates the Constitution's equal protection clause.

"You're saying in effect that these people can't have access to the federal courts but everybody else can, and I just think that kind of classification would not likely be upheld," Gerhardt said.
Yep. It would probably not be upheld. But Bush does want it.

Andrews Sullivan, the Republican gay writer, who says he's pro-war and conservative as they come, gets on his high horse about this -
The bill that passed yesterday singles out gay citizens and denies them access to the federal courts to defend their civil rights. The arguments are so transparent. Does the Defense of Marriage Act violate the constitution? Then amend the constitution, the Republicans say. If you cannot amend the constitution, knee-cap the courts. And all this is defended with the rhetoric of a man like James Sensenbrenner, who declared, "Marriage is under attack!" By whom, sir? All gay people want is to join civil marriage, and be a part of their own families. To describe this deep human need, this conservative impulse, as an "attack" on an institution revered by many homosexuals and their families is itself a piece of callous demonization. And the precedent is chilling. If gays can be singled out and denied access to the courts, why not other minorities? Blacks? Hispanics? If the Republicans can do this to exclude gays from access to the courts, why couldn't Democrats one day do it to prevent conservative Christians? I loved this quote from a news story:

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said it could find no precedent for Congress passing a law to limit federal courts from ruling on the constitutionality of another law, although Democrats said opponents of civil rights legislation tried to do the same thing.

Yes, today's Republicans are now the inheritors of those Democrats who did all they could to prevent African-Americans from winning their civil rights.

A QUESTION OF RESPECT: Here's a simple question: Can you think of any other minority targeted by a single party for discrimination? Did the GOP cushion this by saying anything in defense of gay people or families? Did they signal that they could support, say, civil unions? Did they say this gag on the courts was sufficient and the FMA was now redundant? Nah - they promised to amend the Constitution as well, if they can. The only faintly civil impulse is the president's declaration that the debate should be conducted with respect. I will grant the president the benefit of the doubt on this if and when he ever says the words "gay and lesbian citizens." It is the first mark of respect to call people by their name. But he won't. We are unmentionable to him - because if he ever named us, he would humanize us, and if he humanized us, it would become clear how callous and divisive his policies are. I am amused by the fuss made by Bush's refusal to visit the NAACP, and go to the Urban League instead. Isn't it telling that no one even asks whether the president has met with any group representing millions of his fellow gay Americans? Think about that for a minute. It will tell you a lot about this president's ability to be a uniter of this country, rather than a desperately self-interested divider. Some of us in the gay world have gone out on a very long limb to defend this president on the war, and even endorsed him when he promised to be inclusive. He has rewarded us with exclusion, contempt and acquiescence in our demonization. What are we supposed to do in return? Vote for him?
Andy, Andy, Andy.... You supported Bush and his war and his tax-breaks for the rich and his screw-the-environment policies for so very long. You've been used.

But it doesn't matter. You're gay.

Welcome to Germany, 1938 ... and you asked for it.

Posted by Alan at 21:11 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 23 July 2004 08:02 PDT home

Topic: World View

More to be said - Kafka and Soft Power

You might recall the news item on freelance reporter Elena Lappin, the British freelance reporter who failed to produce a press visa upon her arrival here at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) - and this led airport officials to handcuff her and take her to a detention center. She was subsequently deported. Reporters Without Borders was all worked up that a dozen other foreign correspondents, including six French reporters, were treated in a similar fashion at the Los Angeles airport. Well, she was roughed up a bit. But this is war, isn't it?

That was covered in Just Above Sunset here - July 11, 2004 - Kafka, Canadians and Cricket (and a Sartre bonus) - with appropriate outraged comments from Rick, The News Guy, late of AP, CNN and other such organizations.

The item also covered this little detail of note:
Just five months before American voters decide who will be appointed to the most powerful office in the world, the US state department said it would no longer allow overseas journalists to renew visas from within the country.

From next week the estimated 20,000 foreign journalists stationed in the US, who used to be able to renew their visas with ease in any major city, will be forced to leave the country to do so.

Rather than applying to renew their visas in Washington or New York, they will be forced to leave the country and re-apply at a US embassy or consulate abroad, delaying their application for between four weeks and six months.
So, how's it all going now?

Not well - if you glance at this...

Fortress America
George Bush's re-election hopes may well hang on al-Qaida's ruthless ingenuity
Timothy Garton Ash, The Guardian (UK), Thursday July 22, 2004

Ash has some trouble with the visa -
I have just entered the United States. Since I was on a so-called J-1 visa, this was quite an achievement. First I had to fill in a form asking my host university to send me another form. Armed with that form, I filled in three further forms, including such obviously relevant information as my brother's telephone number, and the names of two people who could verify this information. Then I had to go to Barclays bank to get a special receipt for paying the fee. Then I had to supply a passport photograph 2 inches square in which "the head (measured from the top of the hair to the bottom of the chin) should measure between 1 inch to 1 inches (25mm to 35mm) with the eye level between 1 1 18 inch to 1 inches (28mm and 35mm) from the bottom of the photo". Only a few photoshops do these and, once found, Snappy Snaps charged me ?24.99 for a double set. Snappy, indeed. The first time you apply, you also have to go for an interview at the embassy.

Finally armed with this precious patent of nobility, I arrived at San Francisco airport, where I was fingerprinted and photographed. Last year, I was taken aside for further investigation, while at the next desk an official of the department of homeland security reduced a girl to a nervous wreck by intrusive questioning about what she would be up to with her American boyfriend. And she, like me, was from Britain, the United States' closest ally. Imagine what it's like if you come from Libya or Iran.
Well, in times of world war the hurt feelings of a few Brits may not matter.

Ash disagrees -
Yes, I know that the United States was attacked by terrorists on September 11 2001, and some of those terrorists had entered the US on J-1 visas. I understand, obviously, that the country has had to tighten up its security controls. But this is more than just a personal grouse. Heads of leading American universities have publicly complained that such bureaucratic and intrusive procedures are reducing the number of foreign students willing and able to come to study in the US. (I have heard it argued in London that this creates a significant opportunity for British universities.) This raises the larger question of whether the United States' "soft power", its power to attract others and to get them to do what it wants because they find it attractive, has been diminished by the way the Bush administration has reacted to the 9/11 attacks. That, in turn, raises the even larger question of who is winning this "war": al-Qaida or the US?
So let's get this straight, what is happening here indicates the United States has lost real influence and power, and that in turn indicates the United States is really losing the war or terror? Because we get a kick out harassing British journalists who in turn seem to get their kicks out of questioning the effectiveness if not the basic intelligence of the man we have chosen to be our leader? And because we like to bedevil young British women who might be planning to do, perhaps, sexual things with an American boyfriend? Folks need to realize we respect our leader here, and don't ask questions, and we, at least, are serious about how evil sex can be.

Yeah, yeah. No. We just want things our way.

Here's Ash's analysis of where that leads -
...American hyperpower, by contrast with the one-dimensional superpower of the Soviet Union, has always depended on having all three dimensions: military, economic and "soft". The soft power of a country is more difficult to measure than its military or economic power, but one yardstick is what I call the "Statue of Liberty test". In this test, countries are rated by the number of people outside who want to get into them, divided by the number of people inside who want to get out. Thus, during the cold war, many people wanted to emigrate from the Soviet Union, while very few wanted to go and live there, whereas hundreds of millions wanted to enter America and very few to leave it. By this rough measure, America still has bags of soft power.

Yet its overall attractiveness surely has been diminished, not just by such bureaucratic procedures, but by Guant?namo, by Iraq, by a certain harsh, militarist, nationalist approach to world affairs, and by a mistaken belief that the "war on terror" can be won mainly, if not solely, by military, intelligence and police means.
Someone needs to tell George and his posse - because this is out method. We know no other.

Ash looks at the results of the worldwide survey conducted by Pew Research - resentment of America around the world has reached unprecedented levels in the last two years. And Ash thinks that the Bush administration has imperiled the economic dimension of American power, what with a five hundred billion dollar trade and budget deficit and with increasing military spending to Around four hundred billion. Real money, I guess. And yes, we have "largely neglected the third, soft dimension." And yes, even the one in five Americans who possess a passport have become more reluctant to travel outside North America. And Ash curiously points out that American customers of Avis car rentals in Europe are down forty percent on the 2000 levels. He says there is a real sense of a "Fortress America".

Could this change? No.
Could the liberal, multilateralist, French-speaking John Kerry, who launches his campaign in earnest at the Democrats' convention in Boston next week, change all this, and restore a Kennedyesque glow to America's image in the world? I find many people in Europe already answer that question with a firm no. Something deeper has changed, they say. Even if America reverts to its previous form, attitudes towards America will not.
Gloom and doom. Gloom and doom.

Still Ash sees hope -
... Perhaps it's just the effect of sitting here in the Californian sunshine, watching this extraordinary multi-ethnic society working all around me, but I think America's underlying attractions are still all there - damaged by 9/11, diminished by economic competition from booming Asia, but still formidable. If Kerry can summon a spark of charisma, aided by his appealing running mate John Edwards, and if the monstrous ego of Ralph Nader will kindly fall under an appropriately eco-friendly bus, the Democrat has a chance of reminding us that the other America still exists. And much of the world, even the Arab and Muslim world, will respond.

Which is why, if Osama bin Laden is still in a fit state to make political calculations, he must be backing an election victory for George Bush. The object of the terrorist is often to reveal the "true" repressive character of the state against which the terror is directed, and thus win further support for the terrorists' cause. If the United States had just acted in Afghanistan, and then concentrated on hoovering-up the remains of al-Qaida, the United States might clearly be winning the war on terror today. But, as bin Laden must have hoped, the Bush administration overreacted, and thus provided, in Iraq and Guant?namo, recruiting sergeants for al-Qaida of which Osama could only dream.
Ah, I like that gerund - hoovering-up.

But that's not what we're doing. And where is this heading?
... Republicans are covertly supporting their most extreme opponent, Ralph Nader, because he will take votes from John Kerry, and al-Qaida terrorists will be backing Bush, because he's their best recruiter. But can they do anything to affect the outcome of an American presidential election? Of course they can. A major terrorist attack on the American homeland a few days before November 2 would almost certainly not have the effect that the Madrid pre-election bombing had, sending swing voters to the anti-war opposition.
Yeah, well.

In short, Ash contends that Bush's election chances may depend on the ruthless ingenuity of al-Qaida, while Kerry's election chances may depend on the ability of Bush's department of homeland security to combat it.

It's not a pretty picture.

Posted by Alan at 19:11 PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink

Wednesday, 21 July 2004

Topic: Couldn't be so...

A Clear and Present Danger

Senator Joe Lieberman, the Democrat from Connecticut, and Senator Jon Kyl, a Republican of Arizona, have announced the third incarnation of the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), an organization founded in 1950 with the primary objective of tripling American defense spending. The commies were coming, after all. The committee was "reinvented" in 1976 to oppose any and all negotiation of the second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty with Moscow. We needed to keep our nukes, damn it!

And here we go again. Oh, and by the way, Peter D. Hannaford is the managing director of the new incarnation of the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD). Who's he? A few years ago he was a Washington lobbyist for the fellow some call Austria's crypto-Nazi wunderkind Jorg Haider.

Jorg Haider - the man who said Hitler was misunderstood and those brown-shirted guys weren't so bad at all. Jorg Haider - a sort of Arnold Shwarzenegger who stayed home. For a while he was a rising star in Austria, working to bring back discipline and order - in the 1943 style of things. But in the end no one wanted to play with him. You know, it's a funny thing - except for Silvio Berlusconi, folks who say the fascists had it right just do not get any respect these days. And so this Hannaford fellow was cut loose. Now he's helping the Jewish fellow from Connecticut fight the bad Islamic people. Well, unemployment sucks and Hannaford landed on his feet. Bully for him.

Joe Lieberman and Jon Kyl, by the way, explained what they were up to this week.

The Present Danger
Joe Lieberman and Jon Kyl, The Washington Post, Tuesday, July 20, 2004; Page A17

It's long, but the gist is this -
The liberation of Iraq has important implications for the region and for the broader war on terrorism. The leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties have so far stood firm in their commitment to finish the job in Iraq and to fight to victory the war on terrorism. But that bipartisan consensus is coming under growing public pressure and could fray in the months ahead. Although the tide is turning in the war on terrorism, a political undertow in this country could wash out our recent gains. We must not let this happen.

To make sure it doesn't, we are relaunching today the Committee on the Present Danger, a group of citizens of diverse political persuasions who will work to sustain and strengthen bipartisan support for the war on terrorism in Iraq and beyond.

The Committee on the Present Danger was first formed at the dawn of the Cold War in 1950 to educate Americans about the growing threat of Soviet communism. Democratic senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson of Washington state revitalized the group in the mid-'70s; this time it was focused on working for a stronger stance toward the Soviets and the increased defense spending necessary to carry out that policy.

In this third incarnation, we intend to focus the committee on the present danger our generation faces: international terrorism from Islamic extremists and the outlaw states that either harbor or support them. The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks awoke all Americans to the capabilities and brutality of our new enemy, but today too many people are insufficiently aware of our enemy's evil worldwide designs, which include waging jihad against all Americans and reestablishing a totalitarian religious empire in the Middle East. The past struggle against communism was, in some ways, different from the current war against Islamist terrorism. But America's freedom and security, which each has aimed to undermine, are exactly the same. The national and international solidarity needed to prevail over both enemies is also the same. In fact, the world war against Islamic terrorism is the test of our time.
Got it. No commies left. The Muslim devils are out to get us. Same song. Third verse.

Who gets to play the Joe McCarthy role this time?

This is going to be loads of fun.

The Committee on the Present Danger (CPD) has a website should you want to join up. You might, maybe, meet Jorg Haider, or Arnold or any number of conservative Austrians who think authority and strength matter. Joe has no problem with them, apparently.

Laura Rozen points out that groups which track anti-Semitism had "pretty grave things to say about Haider and the Austrian Freedom Party back in 1997 when Hannaford was a paid lobbyist for the party" - but that is only from US Justice Department records. No matter. Hannaford is with the good guys now. Joe likes him.

Check out the member index - James Woolsey, Midge Decter, Victor Hanson, Jack Kemp, Jeane Kirkpatrick - and Laurie "But there really ARE lots of WMD's there, really - Chalibi TOLD me!" Mylroie. A fine crew.

Ah well, this will do for a start.

There is some talk of bringing back the House Un-American Activities Committee. Now THAT would be a hoot!

Hell, bring back all of the fifties. Bill Haley and the Comets too. Why not?

Posted by Alan at 19:40 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: In these times...

Conspiracy Theory: Tin-Foil Hats for Everyone
Jonathan Raban, a Brit writing from Seattle, has some thoughts on how the White House's obsession with secrecy has turned America into a nation of conspiracy theorists. Like it's the fault of the Bush administration that we're all donning our tin-foil hats? That's his argument.

Running scared
Wednesday July 21, 2004, The Guardian (UK)

The opening anecdote - at dinner in Seattle -
I've lost count of the times I've been told - always on excellent, but unnameable authority - that Osama bin Laden is already in American hands and that the Bush administration is waiting for the right moment to announce his capture.

Ronald Reagan's body was on ice for many months, and his death was only announced when it became necessary to drive Abu Ghraib off the front page. Everybody knows, or thinks they know, that the administration will manipulate the intricate bells and whistles of homeland security to ensure the president's re-election. If terrorists don't strike in the run-up to November 2 (as most people assume they will) the level of alert will be jigged up to red, arrests will be made, the country will be declared saved from an evil plot and mass casualties, and Bush will storm past Kerry in the polls.
Well, this is the extreme alternative to believing that we are led be a wise, articulate, thoughtful and compassionate fellow doing his best.

Raban does, of course, cover the "July Surprise" business - see Just Above Sunset - July 11, 2004 - Djibouti and the July Surprise - for details. That's the idea that the White House is putting immense pressure on the Musharraf regime to deliver "high-value targets", in the shape of Bin Laden and Mullah Omar, on July 26, 27, or 28, to spectacularly eclipse the opening of the Democratic party convention in Boston.

Raban comments -
Much the most interesting thing about this last story is the character of my informant - not, as usual, Jack talking from the barbecue pit, but the sober and conservative New Republic, a magazine fiercely pro-Israel, which enthusiastically supported the invasion of Iraq. A respected senior editor, John B Judis, is one of the three authors of the July Surprise? piece in the July 19 issue. Conspiracy theorising is coming out of the internet closet and going mainstream. Or, to put it another way, conspiracy theorising is fast becoming a legitimate means of reporting on a government so secretive that unnamed Pakistani security types may well be the best informed sources on the Bush administration's domestic policies and strategems.
So, in the absence of stuff from our leaders that you can actually believe, given their track record, the resulting vacuum is filled with anything else that might make sense?

That seems to be this fellow's contention.

He does ask you to consider this -
Even before September 11, secrecy was this administration's hallmark, as when it invoked the principle of executive privilege to conceal from public view the proceedings of vice-president Cheney's energy taskforce. After 9/11, secrecy was advanced, proudly, as a guiding principle for a nation at war. In his address to the joint session of Congress on September 20 2001, Bush spoke of a new kind of war, "unlike any other we have ever known", that would include "covert operations, secret even in success." Donald Rumsfeld quoted Winston Churchill to the effect that in war "truth must be protected with a bodyguard of lies". Dick Cheney talked of a war to be fought "in the shadows: This is a mean, nasty, dangerous, dirty business. We have to operate in that arena". The great fear, shared by people not customarily given to paranoia, is that the Bush administration has taken these tactics for conducting a secret, asymmetric war and applied them wholesale to the day-to-day governance of the US.
As my conservative friends would say, in response to this - so, what's the problem? And they'd add that there are things it is better not to know, that good Americans simply trust their government leaders, and, well, when you win power you get to do what you want - so get over it. As one of them said to me - "What bothers me most about the left is that they simply cannot trust good people who are doing their best - and they always want to know things that shouldn't be made public, probably for good reason. Maybe there are really good reasons we aren't told a lot of things."

Trust is good. Samuel Johnson said it best - It is better to suffer wrong than to do it, and happier to be sometimes cheated than not to trust.

Not trusting Bush and his neoconservative handlers shows, then, a lack of character. These folks are only trying to protect us and make us safe. Give them the benefit of the doubt. They know what they're doing. Why can't we accept that?

Maybe so. That is one way to look at this all.

The Brit here sees the upshot of this -
To live in America now - at least to live in a port city like Seattle - is to be surrounded by the machinery and rhetoric of covert war, in which everyone must be treated as a potential enemy until they can prove themselves a friend. Surveillance and security devices are everywhere: the spreading epidemic of razor wire, the warnings in public libraries that the FBI can demand to know what books you're borrowing, the Humvee laden with troops in combat fatigues, the Coast Guard gunboats patrolling the bay, the pat-down searches and x-ray machines, the nondescript grey boxes, equipped with radio antennae, that are meant to sniff out pathogens in the air. It's difficult to leave the house now without encountering at least one of these reminders that we are being watched and that we live in deadly peril - though in peril of quite what is hard to say.
The peril? Trust the Bush guys - you REALLY don't want to know.

Well Raban does cover why some of us want to know.
On May 26 - a black day for sallow-skinned grocers and news vendors - the attorney general, John Ashcroft, flanked by FBI director, Robert S Mueller, called a press conference to tell the nation of some "disturbing intelligence" that he'd recently received: preparations for an attack on the mainland US were 90% complete; likely targets included the upcoming G8 summit in Georgia, July 4 celebrations, and the Democratic and Republican conventions in Boston and New York. Al-Qaida intended to "hit America hard". Mueller produced seven mugshots - six were of men of, as they say, Middle Eastern appearance - and told us to keep a sharp lookout for these "armed and dangerous" characters. For a few hours, the country shivered in anticipation of the horror about to descend on it, and phone lines to the FBI were jammed with excited descriptions of neighbourhood news vendors and grocers.
Yeah, I do remember that press conference. I was very impressive.

But then the color-coded alert system remained at yellow - and a few days later we found out Ashcroft's "disturbing new intelligence" was five weeks old and came from a single discredited source - an Islamist propaganda site on the internet "well known to journalists for its daily stream of bloodcurdling boasts." And Ashcroft spoke that day without informing our homeland security mastermind and coordinator Tom Ridge. Ashcroft had blindsided the rest of the administration. His guys had just been surfing the net a bit too much. And one site REALLY scared them.

This didn't help us distrustful types at all - those of us with no character - and it made things worse. It actually increased the conspiracy quotient -
Ashcroft's performance confirmed the suspicion held by many that the Bush administration is in the cynical business of spreading generalised, promiscuous anxiety through the American populace, a sense of imminent but inexact catastrophe, for reasons that may have little to do with national security and much to do with political advantage.

... Obsession with secrecy is a contagion directly transmitted from government to people. Just as the administration now moves in Cheney's arena of shadows, so masses of ordinary Americans are seeing themselves as self-appointed master-spies, keeping watch on their government in the same covert way that the government supposedly keeps watch on al-Qaida. The backyard barbecue sounds like a convention of spooks. "Chatter" has been heard, though its source can't be revealed ... In such talk, Bush, Cheney & co are held to be as scheming, devious and hard to catch as Bin Laden himself.
The zeitgeist is what it is. No one trusts anyone.

Raban says this -
This is an extraordinary moment in American history. Half the country - including all the people I know best - believes it is trembling on the very lip of outright tyranny, while the other half believes that only the Bush administration stands between it and national collapse into atheism, socialism, black helicopters, and gay marriage. November 2 looms as a date of dreadful consequence. A bumper sticker, popular among the sort of people I hang out with, reads: Bush-Cheney '04 - The Last Vote You'll Ever Have To Cast. That's funny, but it belongs to the genre of humour in which the laugh is likely to die in your throat - and none of the people who sport the sticker on their cars are smiling. They are too busy airing conspiracy theories, which may or may not turn out to be theories.
Welcome to our nightmare.

Thanks, George.

Posted by Alan at 11:43 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 21 July 2004 11:46 PDT home

Tuesday, 20 July 2004

Topic: Oddities

Condiments Go to WAR!

This story first hit the wires early in the month and The World's Laziest Journalist has been urging me to mention it. So here it is.

Of course it comes from AFP - l'Agence France-Presse.

What else would you expect?

Republicans dip freedom fries in "W Ketchup", not Heinz
Friday, July 9, 2004 11:54 EDST

The big deal?
WASHINGTON, (AFP) - Americans allergic to the subtle Democratic flavor of Heinz ketchup can now plunge their "freedom fries" into a 100-percent guaranteed, patriotic alternative: "W Ketchup."

"You don't support Democrats. Why should your ketchup?" says the W Ketchup Internet site, which promises a totally US-made condiment, right down to the bottle.

Heinz ketchup is an institution on American dining tables.

But the taste has soured a little for Republicans because Heinz empire heiress Teresa Heinz-Kerry is married to John Kerry, the Democrat hoping to unseat George W. Bush -- also known simply as "W" -- on November 2.

W Ketchup insists its initial stands for Washington, as in first president George Washington, whose face adorns its bottle beneath the Stars and Stripes.

The newcomer makes no attempt to hide its leanings, even sporting a poetic homage to Republican icon Ronald Reagan, who died June 5 at 93, on its Internet site.

"G5s (Gulfstream jets) or GIs? A Tough Choice," W. Ketchup tells prospective customers.

"Choose Heinz and you're supporting Teresa and her husband's Gulfstream Jet, and liberal causes such as Kerry for President," it warns.

... Heinz has 57 varieties, but also 57 foreign factories, it claims. "W Ketchup comes in one flavor: American."
Yeah, yeah.

So who are these people and how's it going?
"We are simply a group of friends who came up with the idea at a barbecue in upstate New York a few months ago. We are all investors," said W Ketchup chief operating officer Susie Oliver.

Thousands of bottles had been sold in the three and a half weeks of business, she said. Orders are taken in batches of four bottles for 12 dollars plus shipping.

Testimonials on the company's Internet site are glowing for the Republican-style ketchup.

"Thank you for giving us a delicious American alternative to the standard Heinz Ketchup. Henry Heinz may have been a great American, but I have absolutely no interest in supporting The Kerry's anti-American causes," wrote "S.S" of Akron, Ohio.
Bully for Akron.

Of course Heinz (the company) says it is non-partisan, stressing that all the Heinz family trusts together hold less than four percent of the stock. And neither Teresa Heinz, nor her husband, have any role in management, it stresses.

This is not an important story, but why not? It did hit Keith Obermann's MSNBC "Countdown" show a week or so ago, in his "Oddball" section. It's been out there. Why pick it up? There may be good reason it's being ignored.

It's just silly. CNN maybe has done covered it, but I'm not sure.

Of course it has been reported as a sidebar in many larger items about Teresa's fortune. This friends-of-the-GOP idea was to boycott Heinz, her late husband's company, but then the conservatives found out almost all of the Heinz political contributions actually go to the GOP. Always have. Oops. It seems it is true Teresa doesn't run Heinz at all - she just owns most of it. So the angry conservatives have dropped that boycott idea.

Of course I could work probably work this all into something longer about the Irishman, Boycott, and how he got his name used so widely, and Heinz - a Pittsburgh company - my hometown. And I was in one of their commercials back in 1964 (Ketchum, McLeod and Grove was the ad agency as I recall). A meditation on Pittsburgh, on Heinz, on Pittsburgh's favorite sons - Gene Kelly, Andy Warhol, Ernest Borgnine, Henry Mancini (from Aliquippa actually, five miles down river). And Perry Como (actually Canonsburg, ten miles south). And Gertrude Stein, born in Allegheny General Hospital, just as I was. We'll see. It all needs to percolate a bit.

No. Who cares?

AFP points out that this ketchup war is only the latest political skirmish to be fought on "the battlegound of American menus." Freedom fries. Yep.

AFP also reminds us that Star Spangled Ice Cream was launched last year as "a conservative alternative" to the Ben and Gerry's, from the lefties Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, Dennis Kucinich fans, up there in Vermont. Star Spangled Ice Cream offers "I Hate The French VANILLA (Real American Vanilla, NOT French Vanilla)" and "Nutty Environmentalist (Rich Buttery Ice Cream with Roasted Pecans)."

Geez. Get a life.

Is this all for real? Here is the accompanying AFP wire photo...


Footnote -

If you go to the website of the folks who distribute W Ketchup you see this story actually was everywhere. From their press page some of the highlights -

See -
CNBC's Bullseye
Dylan Ratigan interviews Susie Oliver
Video (2.3 MB, WMV format)
July 14, 2004

AP Video
'W Ketchup' Offers Alternative for Republicans
Video available at Yahoo News
July 13, 2004

Fox News Special Report with Brit Hume
"Conservatives who prefer Freedom Fries to French Fries ... now have a new choice at the dinner table."
View screenshots
July 9, 2004

ABC's Good Morning America
In an on-air taste test between W Ketchup and Heinz, W Ketchup was judged as tasting "more conservative, with a sweeter, more compassionate taste."
July 7, 2004

CNN's American Morning
"Some GOP supporters ... have created an alternative to Heinz ketchup."
June 22, 2004

Radio interview with Southern California's KWAVE 107.9
MP3 format (2.7 MB)
June 21, 2004

Sify News (India)
Americans dip freedom fries in 'W Ketchup'
July 15, 2004

Le Figaro
D?mocrate ou r?publican? A chacun son ketchup

by V?ziane de Vezins
Front Page, July 12, 2004

Kuwait Times
"Americans allergic to the subtle Democratic flavour of Heinz ketchup can now plunge their `freedom fries' into a 100per cent guaranteed, patriotic alternative."
Front Page, July 11, 2004

BBC News
Republicans launch 'W ketchup'
by Oliver Conway
July 10, 2004

ARD Tagesschau (Germany)
Republikanisch korrekte Tomatensauce
July 10, 2004

Sunday Times, South Africa
Ketchup politics amuses the US
by Claire Gallen
July 9, 2004

IBL News (Madrid)
'W Ketchup' para los rep?blicanos, Heinz para los dem?cratas
July 9, 2004 (Switzerland)
Ketchup f?r die Republikaner im US-Wahlkampf
July 9, 2004

SBS World News (Australia)
US Ketchup Delivers Message in a Bottle
July 7, 2004

Le Monde
Un ketchup sauce r?publicaine

July 4, 2004
... and this is followed by ten or twenty US sources for the story, including the Los Angeles Times on July 4th, which I missed. That was a Sunday - production day for Just Above Sunset - so I was too busy to read the actual newspaper that day. I just skimmed it, then Harriet-the-Cat slept on the various sections. She has the proper attitude toward the press.

Footnote Two:

Other French Media

In an email on many topics Ric Erickson in Paris did add this...
Well, let's go back to the Heinz Ketchup story then. It got thirty seconds of France-2 TV-news prime time. (Didn't I write this already?) France-2's Joe in America said the 'W' brand wasn't a big hit with the expat French living between your shores. Or did he say conservatives didn't like it because it doesn't taste like Coke 'Classic?'

Sommat like that.
Yeah, well...

Posted by Alan at 21:24 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 22 July 2004 16:16 PDT home

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