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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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Sunday, 25 July 2004

Topic: The Law

Lawsuits Destroying American Business

This is just too cool...

In a Shift, Bush Moves to Block Medical Suits
Robert Pear, The New York Times, Published: July 25, 2004

Here's the deal -
The Bush administration has been going to court to block lawsuits by consumers who say they have been injured by prescription drugs and medical devices.

The administration contends that consumers cannot recover damages for such injuries if the products have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. In court papers, the Justice Department acknowledges that this position reflects a "change in governmental policy," and it has persuaded some judges to accept its arguments, most recently scoring a victory in the federal appeals court in Philadelphia.

Allowing consumers to sue manufacturers would "undermine public health" and interfere with federal regulation of drugs and devices, by encouraging "lay judges and juries to second-guess" experts at the F.D.A., the government said in siding with the maker of a heart pump sued by the widow of a Pennsylvania man. Moreover, it said, if such lawsuits succeed, some good products may be removed from the market, depriving patients of beneficial treatments.
You see the logic. If the government says it works - and the "it" might be a medical device or medication - then it does. And you cannot complain. If you do you just hurt other folks. So stop it, damn it!

Got it?

Pear notes that at a 2002 legal symposium the Bush administration outlined plans for "FDA involvement in product liability lawsuits," and it has been "methodically pursuing" that strategy. This is all part of tort reform - stopping personal liability attorneys like John Edwards from destroying healthcare as we know it. Bush doesn't like trial lawyers - personal liability attorneys - because, he says, they impose a huge burden on the economy and drive up health costs.

Pear quotes Representative Maurice D. Hinchey, a Democrat (of course) from New York, saying the administration had "taken the FDA in a radical new direction, seeking to protect drug companies instead of the public."

Really? What would make you think Bush the guys want to protect drug companies? Would it be the new Medicare Prescription Drug Program that expressly forbids the government from negotiating bulk discounts on drug price, and, in fact, expressly forbids the government from seeking any discount of any kind from the pharmaceutical companies - and expressly forbids purchases from any place like (gasp!) Canada? It might be that. Oh, and as you recall, that Medicare Prescription Drug package passed narrowly when the White House assured Congress it would cost four hundred billion dollars over ten years - and threatened to fire the fellow who was asked by congress how much it would really cost and was going to tell them. Five hundred and thirty-five billion was the actual projected cost. They knew. And the fellow kept his mouth shut. Ah, just a little fib and a little intimidation.

What about this Pennsylvania case? That was last Tuesday. The appeals court threw out a lawsuit filed by one Barbara Horn, who said her husband had died because of defects in the design and manufacture of his heart pump. A crybaby, of course. The Bush folks argued that "federal law barred such claims because the device had been produced according to federal specifications." Yes, in its briefs the administration conceded that "the views stated here differ from the views that the government advanced in 1997," in the United States Supreme Court.

But times change. Then the Bush team argued the FDA sets the minimum standard, and now they argue that the FDA's approval of a device "sets a ceiling as well as a floor."


The Bush folks are holding that no one now has a right to use - and this benefits consumers.

Why? Because the threat of lawsuits, "can harm the public health" by encouraging manufacturers to withdraw products from the market or to issue new warnings that overemphasize the risks and lead to "underutilization of beneficial treatments."

I suppose. The federal appeals court in the Pennsylvania case said the FDA was entitled to "great deference" because the agency was "uniquely qualified" to determine when federal law should take precedence. And the Bush folks said well, gee, all they were trying to do... well it wasn't that they wanted to shield drug companies. They wanted "to vindicate the federal government's authority to regulate drug products."

They did.

Pear trots out some cases of interest in this matter, using a popular feel-good drug as an example of where this is leading -
Kimberley K. Witczakof Minneapolis said her husband, Timothy, 37, committed suicide last year after taking the antidepressant drug Zoloft for five weeks. "I do not believe in frivolous lawsuits," Ms. Witczak said, "but it's ridiculous that the government is filing legal briefs on the side of drug companies when it's supposed to be protecting the public. My husband would be alive today if he had received adequate warnings about the risk of self-harm." Ms. Witczak sued Pfizer, the maker of Zoloft, in May. The government has not intervened in her case.

Thomas W. Woodward of North Wales, Pa., whose 17-year-old daughter committed suicide last year after taking Zoloft for a week, said, "I've been sickened to see the government taking the side of pharmaceutical companies in court." Mr. Woodward has not filed a suit.

Mr. Hinchey said that F.D.A. lawyers, led by the agency's chief counsel, Daniel E. Troy, had "repeatedly interceded in civil suits on behalf of drug and medical device manufacturers."

Ms. Witczak, Mr. Woodward and Mr. Hinchey said Mr. Troy had a potential conflict of interest because Pfizer was one of his clients when he was a lawyer in private practice.
What? The FDA Chief Counsel used to work for Pfizer? Imagine that.

More fox-guarding-the-hen-house detail?
The administration has also joined Pfizer in opposing a lawsuit filed by Flora Motus, a California woman who said her husband had committed suicide after taking Zoloft. Mrs. Motus argued that Pfizer had not adequately warned doctors and patients that the drug could increase the risk of suicide.

But the Bush administration said that when federal officials approved Zoloft, they saw no need for such a warning, and that a false or unnecessary warning could "deprive patients of beneficial, possibly life-saving treatment." Susan B. Bro, a spokeswoman for Pfizer, said this week, "There is no scientific evidence of a causal relationship between Zoloft and suicide."

Likewise, the administration intervened in a California case to help GlaxoSmithKline fend off consumer demands for restrictions on the advertising of Paxil. The government said the restrictions "would overly deter use of a life-improving medication."

Patients had persuaded a federal district judge to order a halt to television advertisements that declared, "Paxil is non-habit forming." The administration joined the manufacturer in challenging that order. ...
Oh well. Most people know better. The government cannot protect all fools.

But seriously, let's put this in terms of personal responsibility.

It is the job of government to assure the economic health of the country. That means it is the job of the government to make sure businesses flourish and the economy grows. Prosperity benefits everyone. If you hurt a business, any business, you hurt us all. And that's what claims of defective products actually do - they hurt the economy.

It is your personal responsibility to keep yourself healthy. You may take a particular drug or submit to some medical procedure, or have some sort of medical device implanted - on the urgent order of your doctor - but that's YOUR choice. YOU decided to do that. If you are harmed by that drug, procedure or device - if it is truly defective - well, it's your own damned fault. You should have known better. Caveat Emptor. Don't hurt us all by filing some frivolous lawsuit claiming it was defective, even if it was. The government isn't your Mommy. And YOU were the one who trusted your doctor. Your problem, you fool.

Or at least that's the conservative, Republican view of the matter.

And the counterargument is...?

Posted by Alan at 18:51 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: The Economy

Gloom and Doom: The Really Dismal Science and the Damned Invisible Hand

David Rothkopf was deputy undersecretary of Commerce for international trade policy during the Clinton administration. So in the Washington Post - the newspaper the "got" Nixon when, really, what had he does that was so very bad? - you would expect Rothkopf to write a doom and gloom column on the economy. And he does.

Just As Scary As Terror
Anyone Seen Our Economic Policy?
David J. Rothkopf, The Washington Post, Sunday, July 25, 2004; Page B01

His opening contention us that the world's investors have been voting on Bush already, with their money, and Bush, and his United States, is losing this "money election."

Last month, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released figures showing that last year for the first time, China supplanted the United States as the No. 1 destination for foreign direct investment worldwide -- that is, money that goes into factories, equipment, real estate or existing companies. And in a blow to fans of "freedom fries," No. 2 was France. Though other major economies also suffered a drop-off in this category, no nation fell as far in percentage terms as the United States.
Oh my! France? Not France!

I thought we destroyed France, economically, when we boycotted their wine and cheese and no tourists from Iowa ever again appeared at CDG. Bill O'Reilly told us so.

In an April 27th radio debate with a Canadian journalist, Bill O'Reilly threatened to lead a boycott of Canadian goods if Canada didn't deport two American military deserters, saying that his previous boycott of French goods - the one he thought-up and championed - cost France billions of dollars in lost export business. And Bill O'Reilly cited the Paris Business Review as his source for those losses. Cool. Of course, Media Matters found no evidence that a Paris Business Review even existed, and it seems France's export business with us actually increased during the run-up to the Iraq war. But it should have been true.

And by the way, some internet wags tweaked Bill O'Reilly a few weeks ago and started a satire site called The Paris Business Review - just helping him out a little. "Although some in the media have disputed the statistics (and the existence) of The Paris Business Review, our data analysis demonstrates without question that the united American refusal to say `cheese' when smiling for snapshots has had a significant impact on the French economy." They will sell you Paris Business Review coffee mugs too.

So. Where do you get good data? The Paris Business Review or the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)? Decisions, decisions....

Rothkopf works with the second source.

And here's how he sees the problem with people deciding to invest in ventures not here, but in China, or in the land of the cheese-eating surrender monkeys:
While such numbers fluctuate and foreign direct investment is just one type of capital flow, this dramatic swing can be seen as further evidence that in the 21st century, America is going to have to fight hard for its piece of the global investment pie - money that translates directly into new jobs and the industries of tomorrow. Clearly, the world economy is shifting around us and our place atop it is being challenged.
Yeah, like we need more to worry about, David.

Should we worry about this?
Investment flows into emerging economies grew dramatically between 2002 and 2003, with investors pumping more than six times as much into developing markets as they did in the prior year -- nearly $200 billion. OECD analysts concluded that the primary reason for this redirection of capital was not simply that countries like China offer cheap labor; rather it was the size and promise of their markets. This is a big deal, because even when low wages in these countries go up, that will mean increased buying power -- so the attractive labor markets of today will gradually become the attractive consumer markets of tomorrow.

At the same time, the image the United States is presenting to global investors is increasingly tainted by our apparent disregard for both economic and diplomatic fundamentals. The message we have conveyed in recent years is that there is no economic problem we confront today - from gigantic deficits to huge under-funded liabilities - that we wouldn't prefer to have our children solve tomorrow. So, it should not be surprising that other important measures of investor interest have also taken a dramatic turn for the worse in recent months.
But everyone likes lower taxes (well, normal people earning over four hundred thousand a year), and putting off payments with deficit spending is, well, so convenient.

Yes, foreign purchases of Treasury bonds and other government securities are up, and we are financing amazingly large budget deficits is by selling more paper. So? And yes, Rothkopf says that the percentage of those foreign purchases made by private investors - people with confidence in our economy - is falling sharply. So? Foreign governments will take up the slack, as it seems they are doing the buying now. The private guys are wimps?

Rothkopf quotes Treasury Secretary John Snow sating this in Cleveland a few weeks ago - "There is no more serious threat to our economy than the threat of terrorist attacks on our soil."

Rothkopf says that's wrong-headed. The economy is a bigger problem, or just as big -
Let's start with the biggest domestic economic problems. Almost any one of them is a greater threat to the economy than virtually any imaginable form of terrorism. There is the record-breaking budget deficit that is likely to amount to $5 trillion over the next decade. Then there's the burgeoning trade deficit. And the $72 trillion in unfunded future retirement and health care obligations to our own citizens. And a record low savings rate, which suggests that we will need even more help with retirement funding. And the hemorrhaging of manufacturing jobs and the cost of fixing our dysfunctional health care and energy systems. Every one of these is a gigantic problem on its own. Taken together, they represent a series of bombs placed at the foundations of our society, and they are capable of exploding in ways that would touch more Americans than anything even the most sophisticated terrorists could devise.
Damn. Gloom and doom! Economics is the dismal science.

And this -
Let's move on to the global economic threats. One, as I've said, is the erosion of American economic leadership and consequent disaffection of important classes of international investors. Another is our dependence on those investors, and still another is our addiction to foreign oil. Even more important is the growing tension between developed and emerging nations, as a billion new workers from the emerging world compete for their place in the global economy. Emerging economies depend on change. Advanced markets are comforted by the status quo. This is the bipolar reality that has replaced that of the Cold War.
Well, that's cheery.

Rothkopf then says that while we do this war thing in Iraq quite earnestly, we have "undertaken what amounts to unilateral economic disarmament by ignoring, exacerbating or failing to adequately address any of the real economic threats...."

How would we do that?

We could do what Singapore has done - "come up with an actual National Economic Strategy that reorients public policy - tax laws, worker training, industry regulation - to strengthen competitive industries and shore up weak aspects of the economy."

But of course, that is a bit big-government and not exactly free-market, isn't it? Democrats do such things. Republicans don't. Bush and his crew won't. Trust the invisible hand.

Singapore it seems has an annualized growth rate about three times that of the United States - but we trust the invisible hand.
The United States has no such formal strategy, nor any systematic process for devising one, and this is a mistake. There's little point in producing a National Security Strategy every year if we ignore the wellsprings of that security -- the economic might that underlies our military strength, our political clout and our internal stability.

Consider our broken health care system. Americans pay, on average, $4,000 more a year for the same or less adequate health care than citizens of other OECD countries; at General Motors the cost of employee health care now exceeds the costs of steel. That is the kind of labor cost that drives foreign investors (and domestic companies) overseas. So health care becomes a jobs issue; and the lost jobs are an economic security issue.

This is a cold, hard reality. And every minute we ignore the problem or fail to view it in strategic terms we are losing ground. In this light, health care should become a top priority in a thoughtful National Economic Strategy, as should education and investment in infrastructure. Addressing these areas would mean creating jobs -- and that is a much more positive, proactive approach to protecting workers than reactive, punitive trade strategies that produce tensions with our trading partners.
Dream on. Ain't gonna happen.

Unless the party of the invisible hand loses in November.

Posted by Alan at 14:34 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 24 July 2004

Topic: Oddities

Faulkner in Hollywood - Even Now

In the pages I have already covered The winners of this year's Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

Here is... The Faulkner Bonus

This weekend the Associated Press catches us up on more of such things -

Faulkner goes (slightly) slap-happy
David Sheffield, writer for Eddie Murphy films, wins a contest dedicated to the wordy novelist.
Emily Wagster Pettus, Saturday, July 24, 2004

And yes, Emily is indeed a "Wagtser."

First understand screenwriter David Sheffield was head writer for "Saturday Night Live" on NBC from 1980 to 1983 - and it seems he got that job by mailing comedy sketches to the producers in New York while he himself was working at a Biloxi advertising agency way down in Mississippi. And the AP reports that with his writing partner Barry Blaustein, Sheffield is pretty much responsible the famous Eddie Murphy characters: "trash-talking Gumby, goofy Buckwheat and James Brown in the hot tub."

Okay then.

And this man won this year's Faux Faulkner Contest. How? "By imagining what it would've been like if William Faulkner, a Nobel laureate known for thickets of challenging (often parenthetical) prose, had written for the Three Stooges."


He came up with a 550-word script, "As I Lay Kvetching,"
... which has Moe, Larry and Curly, "slack-jawed and splayfooted," renovating a home, with the eye-gouging, nose-twisting slapstick guided by plenty of Faulknerian stage directions:

"At last it is Curly who picks up the plank, rough hewn and smelling of sweet gum, and -- feeling the weight and heft and fiber of it -- swings it innocently (bending to retrieve the tool, the ball-peen hammer dropped casually on Larry's toe) and feeling the awful force of the blow as it (the plank) catches Moe upside his head...."
Perhaps the whole script will be available one day for us all.

A bit of it is available here from Hemispheres Magazine -
As I Lay Kvetching

By William Faulkner
Stooges Episode #1632
Revisions by Mort Freberg, Abe Shineman, Paul DeMarco, Curtis Ney
Eighth Draft, August 12, 1942
Hemispheres Magazine also provides, helpfully, texts back through the last fives years of winners.

AP also reports that Faulkner's niece, Dean Faulkner Wells, who has coordinated the parody contest for fifteen years with her husband, Larry, said Sheffield's script clearly stood out.

"What I cannot believe, from the hundreds and hundreds of entries we read, is that there could be something this fresh and this new and this funny. This one was unique."

Yep - and this extra AP detail from Emily Wagster Pettus -
Like Sheffield, Faulkner toiled as a Hollywood screenwriter but enjoyed only marginal success and even less fulfillment in the 1930s, '40s and '50s.

"I think screenwriting is the antithesis of Faulkner," Sheffield said from his Los Angeles home. "Faulkner is about the joy and profundity of language and words. The best screenwriting is invisible. The words should disappear into the faces of the actors."

Many of Sheffield's own words have disappeared into the malleable face of [Eddie] Murphy.

Sheffield lived in Faulkner's native Oxford as a child in the early 1960s, and he still tries to visit the state a couple of times a year.
Ah Hollywood, and Mississippi....

This calls for a field trip from your intrepid editor. A few blocks east of this desk is Musso and Franks, one of the oldest restaurants in Hollywood, right in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard, with the best martinis in the west, and the worst service anywhere in North America, from surly waiters in their seventies who look like they came from Central Casting after the "Cocoon" movies wrapped. In the early forties, when they were both screenwriters in this neighborhood, it is said Faulkner and Fitzgerald often used to have lunch at Musso and Franks. Legend has it that, after lunch and many martinis one afternoon, the two of them got to talking about which Hemingway short story just could not be made into a movie. They settled on "To Have and to Have Not." Then they wrote the screen play and the movie got made. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall - her movie first role. And the two of them got married - that would be Lauren and Humphrey, not Scott and Bill. Anyway, in homage to Faulkner, lunch and a few martinis at Musso and Franks might be in order.

After all, Fitzgerald lived on my street, just one block south.

Of course I won't bump into Faulkner and Fitzgerald at lunch, but maybe I'll bump into David Sheffield. And of course I will buy him a drink. He earned it.

Posted by Alan at 11:45 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 23 July 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Follow-Up: The Terrorists Force Our Government to Call Off the November Elections

See the July 18 issue of Just Above Sunset -

Let us not be paranoid ...

Premise? This from CNN -
U.S. officials have discussed the idea of postponing Election Day in the event of a terrorist attack on or about that day, a Homeland Security Department spokesman said Sunday.

... The department wants to know about the possibility of granting emergency power to the newly created U.S. Election Assistance Commission, authority that [DoJ spokesman Brian] Roehrkasse said was requested by DeForest B. Soaries Jr., the commission's chairman.

Soaries, who was appointed by President Bush, is a former New Jersey secretary of state and senior pastor of the 7,000-member First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey.
Comment last week?
Such an attack might make some folks, a few, maybe many, think that Bush and his foolish war brought this down on us all. They might blame him. And get really angry. And not vote for him.

This now makes sense. There's a big attack in early November. This could be the final straw that turns the solidly Bush folks against him. Canceling the election then makes perfect sense.

But martial law would be easier. And no one would have to die.

The idea is this - just after Labor Day the administration declares marshal law and just cancels the elections indefinitely, and heck, Bush can declare himself president for life, supported by the army. His wife, Laura, can even change her name to Eva if she wants. And al-Qaeda thus has no reason to attack. We can go on as usual. The stock market soars. Osama bin Laden gets all grumpy.

This could work.
And this from last week - Paranoia Take Two... -
The Madrid Scenario

But Tom Ridge 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!

But then the Democratic Party has its convention starting in Boston on the 26th, and that is a target. And the Republicans meet some weeks latter in Manhattan. That is also a target.

We live in dangerous times - see More to be said - Kafka and Soft Power for a discussion of 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

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. Dangerous times.

From Bob Patterson - The World's Laziest Journalist -
Here is some "hard core" commentary.

Today, Republicans and Democrats both are saying "We're safe." Then they go on to say another big one is on the way.

If America takes another big hit will it help or hurt Bush?

If he says we are safe and nothing happens, Kerry can't claim, "I told you we were safe!"

George W. can.

If he says we are safe and we get hit before the elections, it's another WMD "whoops!" moment. That might get Kerry a few extra votes.

Will such an attack help or hurt Bush? He says we are safe, so Osama could do George W. a big favor by postponing the attack until after November 2nd. November 11th would be a very mean choice, wouldn't it?

However, if Osama wants to be very, very nasty and rub George W.'s nose in it and help him at the same time, he could do one thing.

What if the Democratic Convention takes a WTC style hit? Could the surviving (mostly low level) Democrats field an alternative slate of nation wide candidates by November 2nd? (Can Democrats bicker among themselves?)

If we make it through next week, then I say Osama will kick back until after the elections.

Will there be an October surprise and a well-televised arrest of Osama? Is Osama really doing the camp-out in the mountains routine? Or did he slip into Iran without getting his passport stamped?

I think George W. is "spot on" saying "We're safe" until November 2nd.

I could be wrong. What odds are those British bookies (who let folks bet on anything) giving on this?

Agree or disagree?
Well, I think I get it where Bob is going with this. The bad guys want four more years of GWB and overt holy war without diplomacy - and thus any pre-election terrorist attack would undermine the GWB contention that what he has done, specifically in Iraq, has made us all lots safer. Such an attack would make him look like a fool - or more of one. Thus, oddly enough, we actually ARE safer - and GWB wins. Everybody - the bad guys AND the good guys - is happy. And NYC goes boom in early December, after the election - and then we're all stuck with buyer's remorse?

And any big pre-election terrorist attack would only marginally help Kerry because although some (a very few) would say GWB's war made this new attack happen - he stirred up an awful mess, needlessly (and incompetently) - most folks would say GWB was RIGHT and we need to kill all the swarthy Islamic monsters? Kerry wouldn't be forceful enough. And he speaks French. We'd rally round GWB - who turned out to be wise after all?

So then, GWB can't lose - either way. He's got it covered. Not to worry.

Is that it?

So then, GWB can't lose - either way. He's got it covered. Not to worry.

Is that it?

Bob Patterson - The World's Laziest Journalist - answers - "Ahhhhh, grasshopper, at last, you see it clearly."

And he adds -
I asked my contact in Britain about the Brit bookies and the odds for the presidential election. He indicates it's even. Same odds for both guys.

Here is (with links) his report:

Hi Bob -

Have just done a basic search for UK bookmakers and the US Presidential election.

William Hill, the top UK bookmaker, is going with the American trend, by the looks of things, offering 5/6 for both Kerry and Bush.

Actually, I think most bookmakers are offering similarly similar odds, if the following comparison is anything to go by:

Should be interesting, come what may.
Indeed so.

But for some it is more than a matter of idle interest.

Consider the case of someone often writing in these pages, Rick, the News Guy from Atlanta -
Before my wife (note below) flew off to Boston earlier this week, she and I casually discussed which convention city Osama would want to hit most -- Boston, in order to knock off what he'd probably see as the "goody-goody" Americans, leaving this a war between civilizations as it ought to be fought, between "true" Islam and the "true" American jerks; or New York, just to show the rest of the Islamic world that "true" American jerks can be whacked with impunity?

But then, after the realization hit home that she would be in both these cities for either or both of these attacks, we just stopped talking about it.

So it basically comes down to what she has told the leaders of both parties over the years when they've tried to consult her and her counterparts at the other networks on how to make these events more "TV friendly": "Hey, don't ask us, just do whatever you think you need to do! After all, even if you hold the goddamned thing underwater, we'll be there to cover it!"

(Note) - She is the CNN VP in charge of setting up its coverage operation for the political year, including the primaries, debates, conventions, election night, and even the inauguration in early 2005.
Whatever they pay Rick's wife, it's not enough. Note to self - stop making fun of news people (except for those who work at Fox and the NY Post for Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch).

Well, perhaps nothing will happen at the party conventions - at least no terrorist attacks. That would be just like al-Qaeda, getting us all worried and keeping us off balance, and laughing up their sleeves at our paranoia when nothing really happens. They call us fools, then, of course.

But then again, maybe something spectacular will happen at one of the conventions, and Rick's wife, instead of covering an inauguration in early 2005, will be covering a coronation, with whatever staff she has left.

And all we can do for now is be frightened, very frightened? I guess.

That does feel like we're winning.


Note -

Frank Rich this weekend has something to say about this all.

Pop culture takes on the fear game
Frank Rich
International Herald Tribune, Friday, July 23, 2004
New York Times, Sunday, July 25, 2004
You can't blame the broadcast networks for cutting their convention coverage to a fig-leaf minimum of just three hours of prime time spread over four nights. That's what both parties deserve for having steadily sanded down their quadrennial celebrations into infomercials with all the spark and spontaneity of the televised Yule Log. But though few want to say so aloud, there is one potential last-minute ingredient that would instantly bring back gavel-to-gavel coverage on the Big Three: a terrorist attack. That fearful possibility is both conventions' sole claim to suspense.

It is also the subtext of this entire presidential campaign. A late-June USA Today/CNN poll shows that 55 percent of Americans feel less safe because of the war in Iraq - a figure that has spiked 22 points in merely six months. Fear rules. Fear rocks. Fear of terrorism is George W. Bush's only second-term platform to date (unless you count fear of same-sex marriage). Let John Kerry roll out John Edwards as his running mate, and Tom Ridge rushes to grab back the television spotlight by predicting that Al Qaeda will "disrupt our democratic process." Never mind that he had no "precise knowledge" of such an attack or any plans to raise his color-coded threat level; his real mission, to wield fear as a weapon of mass distraction, had been accomplished. Odds are that the next John Ashcroft doomsday press conference will be timed to coincide with the run-up to Kerry's acceptance speech on Thursday night.

In the fear game, the Democrats are the visiting team, playing at a serious disadvantage. Out of power, they can't suit up officials at will to go on camera to scare us. Kerry is reduced instead to incessantly repeating the word "strength" and promising to put "a national coordinator for nuclear terrorism" in the cabinet. That will hardly cut it against these ingenious opponents. Every time a Bush administration official tells us the apocalypse is coming, the president himself brags that he has made America "safer." The message is in the bad news-good news contradiction: The less safe Americans feel, the more likely they'll play it safe on Election Day by sticking with the happy face they know.

Yet the Democrats still can't be counted out. They do have one card to play that the Republicans do not: pop culture. With a vengeance that recalls the Clinton-hating echo chamber when it was fantasizing about the "murder" of Vincent Foster, big guns in the culture industry are rousing themselves into a war-room frenzy of anti-Bush hysteria that goes well beyond fielding an inept talk-radio network and producing documentaries for the base at Their method for countering the Bush-Cheney monopolization of fear is to turn the administration into an object of fear in its own right.
Then he goes on to discuss the new version of "The Manchurian Candidate" as a subversive movie.

But his points are the same. Fear rules.

Posted by Alan at 22:17 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 24 July 2004 08:18 PDT home

Topic: Election Notes

Follow Up: The Uses of Religion

See in the Just Above Sunset archives -

July 4, 2004: Heresy - In the Specific Religious (and Los Angeles) Meaning of the Term

Excerpt -

The Bush campaign is working hard on "reaching out" churchgoers according to this in the Washington Post. In short, the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign has sent a detailed plan of action to religious volunteers across the country asking them to turn over church directories to the campaign, distribute issue guides in their churches and persuade their pastors to hold voter registration drives.

Now this could cause any one of these churches to lose its tax-exempt status. These churches might become de facto and then de jure political organizations. But there is Republican-sponsored legislation working its way through the halls of congress to have that change of status be considered only after three violations of the rules on these matters. Think of this change in the law as an exemption made so you can keep your exemption. If you're a golfer - think of it as a "two Mulligan" rule.

But what are you being asked to do?
By July 31, for example, volunteers are to "send your Church Directory to your State Bush-Cheney '04 Headquarters or give [it] to a BC04 Field Rep" and "Talk to your Pastor about holding a Citizenship Sunday and Voter Registration Drive."

By Aug. 15, they are to "talk to your Church's seniors or 20-30 something group about Bush/Cheney '04" and "recruit 5 more people in your church to volunteer for the Bush Cheney campaign."

By Sept. 17, they are to host at least two campaign-related potluck dinners with church members, and in October they are to "finish calling all Pro-Bush members of your church," "finish distributing Voter Guides in your church" and place notices on church bulletin boards or in Sunday programs "about all Christian citizens needing to vote."
You got a problem with that?

So much for the excerpt. That was three weeks ago.

This week?

GOP Seeks Catholic Parish Directories
Douglass K. Daniel, Associated Press, Posted on Thursday, July 22, 2004

The Southern Baptist Convention, a conservative denomination that one could say is rather tight with President Bush, was offended by this Bush-Cheney effort. Really offended.

What about the Catholics? Here's the scoop -
The Republican National Committee has asked Bush-backing Roman Catholics to provide copies of their parish directories to help register Catholics to vote in the November election, a use of personal information not necessarily condoned by dioceses around the country.

In a story posted Thursday on its Web site, the National Catholic Reporter said a GOP official had urged people who attended a Catholic outreach event in January to provide parish directories and membership lists to the political party.

"Access to these directories is critical as it allows us to identify and contact those Catholics who are likely to be supportive of President Bush's compassionate conservative agenda," wrote Martin J. Gillespie, director of Catholic Outreach at the RNC. "Please forward any directories you are able to collect to my attention."

The RNC is using the information from parish directories only for its nonpartisan voter registration drive, RNC spokeswoman Christine Iverson told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Those efforts target members of other faiths as well as people who belong to nonreligious organizations, she said.
Well, the Catholic Church IS considering excommunicating Kerry for his stance that the woman should make any decision regarding abortion, not the government. And the Catholic Church is considering excommunicating anyone who confesses to voting for him. It makes sense.

But the AP notes these parish directories often contain personal information about church members, including names of family members, home addresses and phone numbers. That's personal information. Give it all to the GOP election team? Should the Church cooperate anyway, as this is, one might conclude, an endeavor to make the world less sinful?

Does that make it okay?

It seems one Susan Gibbs, the spokeswoman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, DC, which oversees 140 parishes in Washington and Maryland, says parish directories publish information only for use among church members and not for use by outside organizations no matter what their purpose. And AP quotes her saying, "Parish directories are for helping parishioners get to know each other better and are strictly for that purpose. They are not intended to be used for any outside commercial purpose, solicitations or anything else. Parish directories or priest directories are not given to outside groups even if it's for a good cause."

But isn't this about saving souls and preventing the murder of (sort of) children - or so it would seem. That's what Bush is doing, right?

Rebecca Summers of the office of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-Saint Joseph - and that's ninety Catholic parishes in Missouri - is quoted as saying, "I'm not certain under any scenario that we would encourage someone responding to that appeal - for any purpose, whether it would be an environmental cause or any purpose other than what the people volunteered the information for."

Why do these two - Susan and Rebecca - hate America and want children murdered?

The Catholic Church is edging toward taking up the righteous sword for Bush, and against Kerry. But there is some grumbling.

The Bush approach to all issues - that there is no middle ground - will force the Catholic Church to choose.

Will they side with the Devil? And who is the Devil here?

Posted by Alan at 20:56 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 23 July 2004 21:04 PDT home

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