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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Friday, 1 October 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Debate: The Day After

The major news event of the week seems to be the first presidential debate, and previously it was suggested that one wait a day or two for things to settle down, and then the press will tell us what to think.

So here it is.

A round-up of amusing reaction...

James Wolcott suggests that what many noted, how defensive, angry (peevish), petulant and, as mentioned above, that how whiny the president seemed as he had to listen to his challenger, may be the natural result of the world he has carefully created for himself.
... Bush has been wheeled out into forums where no one can dare question or contradict his majesty, where he can lean forward and repeat ad nauseam his patented soundbites. Last night I believe we saw the ugly comeback of the private face of Bush - the irritable expressions he flashes subordinates when he's presented with information he doesn't like or feels someone's taken up too much of his time or is pressed to explain himself to people he shouldn't have to explain himself to because he's the president and fuck you. The notion that Bush is "likeable" has always been laughable. It takes a Washington pundit to be that dumb. He's an angry, spoiled, resentful little big man - I use "little big man" in the Reichian sense of a small personality who puffs himself up to look big through bluster and swagger but remains a scheming coward inside - and next to a genuinely big man like Kerry, shrunk before the camera's eyes.

Kerry achieved a lot of things last night, and one of them was shifting the focus for future debates. In the two debates to come, political junkies and media analysts aren't going to be measuring Kerry to see if he's "up for the job." He proved that he was last night. No, they're going be trained like birders on Bush's demeanor and body language to see if we get another outbreak of the peevish twitchies.

Frankly, I'm amazed by this reversal of fortune. Bush let Kerry get to him. I truly thought Bush would stick to the Reagan playbook and genially shrug off Kerry's criticisms with a grin and a quip, but he's a greater mass of insecurities and arrogant entitlements than even I imagined. I pity the fools who have to prep Bush for the next debate. Because they're sure going to have one pissy pupil on their hands.
Well, yes. The Bush leadership style was discussed here: May 9, 2004 - The CEO President (folks are getting nervous) - and he did once say when you're president you don't owe anyone explanations. "I'm the President of the United States," Bush told a reporter last year. "I don't feel like I have to explain myself to anybody."

Well, sometimes you do.

Ciro Scotti, in Business Week of all places, thinks so -
Besides that, he's the President and has led the nation at a time of enormous peril and uncertainty (some of it, arguably, of his own making). Love him or detest him, he sits at the desk where the buck makes its last stop.

But in Coral Gables, Fla., last night, Bush looked -- at least for the first half of the debate -- like Elmer Befuddled, a commander-in-chief not in command.

Perhaps what was so unnerving was that Bush found himself in a foreign-policy debate with a seasoned politician who was espousing the same sort of measured, internationalist approach to a dangerous world that was the hallmark of his father's Presidency. Debating the security and future of the nation on live national television isn't easy -- but debating your Dad is downright scary.

... When Kerry, methodically making his case like the prosecutor he once was, said, "This President has made a colossal error of judgment" by invading Iraq, Bush looked like a 1960s teenager called on the carpet for cracking up the family Oldsmobile. At that moment, it was hard not to get the impression that young George wanted to be anyplace but where he found himself.
The poignancy of a man ill-prepared for and overwhelmed by his job was never more apparent than when Bush said, "I never wanted to commit troops. When we were debating in 2000, I never dreamed I'd have to do that."

The message that Kerry hammered home was that, in fact, Bush did not have to "do that," did not have to send our soldiers -- at least not to Iraq.

But Bush, the onetime black sheep of his family, wanted to wipe away the "wimp factor" stain that his old man had left on the Bush clan. And so he rebelled against the family mantra of prudence in all things. Last night, he looked for all the world like a sputtering screwup -- again.
Okay, the terms shifted. Scotti casts this not as the problems of an isolated executive, or monarch, but as the problem of an errant kid caught red-handed by the stern father.

The family metaphor? Paul Brownfield is the Los Angeles Times spins that a different way in In a Rigid Setting, Two Projections of the Father Image as he argues these two guys are each trying to become want Americans want in a president - a father figure.
Who's the daddy, at a time when the electorate is having nightmares about unseen, vaguely understood enemies? Is it President Bush, with his look-straight-into-the-camera, folksy masculinity, the daddy who pats you on the head, gives you a slogan that isn't terribly helpful and keeps saying, though you're not sure why, that life is "hard work"?

"I just know how this world works!" Bush said at one point, like a TV dad cutting off discussion at a dinner table.

Or is it the patrician-looking Kerry, who during this campaign has suffered from an innate reserve and the withering spin of the Bush people that he's a waffler? Standing next to, or at least 10 feet from, Bush, he actually came across on TV as with-it, engaged and informed -- a father who might actually know best.

... Bush came across as suddenly less qualified to be Daddy than he has been.

Bush did look into the camera as much as he did at moderator Jim Lehrer, which reinforced his personableness in contrast to Kerry's more studied manner.

But words continually fail Bush. Mostly because he doesn't try very many. With the TV cameras trained on the stripped-down debate stage, his bare-bones communication style sometimes played as monotonous rather than resolute. He repeatedly said the situation in Iraq was "hard work." He said it 10 times, until it no longer seemed like anything so much as a network time-killer. He said this: "I wake up every day thinking about how best to protect us. There's a lot of people working hard."
Yep, pretty lame. But I'm not sure we all see ourselves as frightened children who need a good daddy to make things all better. Still, it is an interesting take. And the late Robert Young in the fifties television series "Father Knows Best" was a pleasant symbol of reassurance. John Kerry channeling Robert Young? No, that's just too silly.

Eleanor Clift at Newsweek is less prone to such flights of fancy and offers this more basic take on matters -
Republicans thought they had the race wrapped up. All their candidate had to do was repeat his road-tested slogans. But 90 minutes of Bush is a long time. There's a reason why he has held fewer press conferences than any other modern president. He is incapable of conceptual thinking, and he came across as agitated and annoyed that more was expected of him now that he's the self-styled "war president." He repeatedly said he is "working hard" and "it's hard work," as though that alone should silence his critics.

If Republicans were overconfident going into the debate, Democrats had begun preparing themselves for defeat. Kerry had given up so much ground that he was close to being written out of the race. Voters had absorbed the image of Kerry as a flip-flopper without core convictions. A very different Kerry showed up in the debate hall. He was calm and disciplined while Bush was "slouching and praying for the light to go on so he wouldn't have to think of anything else to repeat," said a Democratic strategist.
He is incapable of conceptual thinking? That's tad harsh, but Amy Sullivan, like Wolcott, agrees he was agitated and annoyed, because the man is just used to having his way -
... people are all atwitter about Bush's twitchy and grouchy demeanor while he listened to Kerry. I didn't think it was all that surprising--it's the real George W. Bush. But I think his tendency to become annoyed when challenged has been made much much worse by the bubble he's been kept in for the past four years. No one on his staff talks to him like that. He's just not used to direct verbal pounding. Even his campaign appearances out among "real Americans" are so carefully controlled that if someone gets through the loyalty pledge to actually step up and challenge him, they're tackled and dragged away in a matter of seconds. Bill Clinton--who used to encounter all manner of hecklers on the campaign trail--was a master at sparring with protesters and putting them in their place while defending himself. Maybe that kind of practice would have been good for Bush.
Too late now. And frankly, no matter how much practice one gets, this is a matter of character, of innate temperament, of how one most naturally responds to being challenged. No amount of practical experience would make a difference. There is a whole body of medical literature on how temperament, in this sense, is something you are born with, and it cannot easily be changed. Of course there are some psychotropic medications that could be useful here - and someone should tell Karl Rove that Prozac might be useful now, for the boss. But Prozac won't turn Bush into a relaxed, glib and feisty Bill Clinton of the right. You need the raw material to work with. And it's not there.

What about the right?

Jay Nordlinger at the National Review - one MAJOR Bush fan, is pretty unhappy as he reports back to the neoconservatives on what happened this week.

See Don't Shoot the Messenger...
... 'cause this assessment's grim.

This is a long analysis, but note these excerpts:
I thought Kerry did very, very well; and I thought Bush did poorly -- much worse than he is capable of doing. Listen: If I were just a normal guy -- not Joe Political Junkie -- I would vote for Kerry. On the basis of that debate, I would. If I were just a normal, fairly conservative, war-supporting guy: I would vote for Kerry. On the basis of that debate.

And I promise you that no one wants this president reelected more than I. I think that he may want it less.

Let me phrase one more time what I wish to say: If I didn't know anything -- were a political na?f, being introduced to the two candidates for the first time -- I would vote for Kerry. Based on that infernal debate.

... The senator seemed to rattle the president, about 15 minutes in -- and he stayed rattled. Also, the president was on the defensive almost all the time. Rarely did he put Kerry on the defensive. Kerry could relax, and press.

I was hoping that Bush would put Kerry on trial -- make him the issue. Sure, Bush is the incumbent. But it can be done.

... Friends, I have no doubt that this little reaction column of mine will disappoint many of you. I'm sorry. I have called George W. Bush a Rushmore-level president. I believe history will bear that out; and if it doesn't, history will be wrong. I think that Bush's reelection is crucial not only to this country but to the world at large. I not only think that Bush is the right man for the job; I have a deep fondness -- love, really -- for the man, though I don't know him.

But tonight (I am writing immediately post-debate) did not show him at his best. Not at all. He will do better -- I feel certain -- in subsequent debates. I also worry that they count less.
Even for those of us who do not think Bush is a "Rushmore-level president" and don't love the man, this assessment is startling.

Sidney Blumenthal, on the left, oddly enough has an analysis that doesn't invoke Mount Rushmore or "Father Knows Best" or metaphors of dysfunctional families. Of Bush he says skepticism, pragmatism and empiricism are his enemies. The argument is, really, that Bush's epistemology is faulty. Say what? Yep, this is a deconstruction of underlying philosophic assumptions. If that's your thing, you might read his analysis Faith vs. reason, which has the subtitle "Kerry gains the upper hand in a debate as significant for its substance as for what it revealed about Bush."

Here are some excerpts: (my emphases)
After months of flawless execution in a well-orchestrated campaign, President Bush had to stand alone in an unpredictable debate. He had traveled the country, appearing before adoring preselected crowds; delivered a carefully crafted acceptance speech at his convention; and approved tens of millions of dollars in TV attack commercials to belittle his opponent. His much-touted charisma was a reflection of the anxiety and wishful thinking of the people since Sept. 11. In the lead, Bush believed he had only to assert his superiority to end the contest once and for all.

But onstage the incumbent president ran out of programmed talking points. Unable to explain the logic for his policies, or think on his feet, he was thrown back on the raw elements of his personality and leadership, and he revealed even more profound issues than the policies being debated.

Every time he was confronted with ambivalence, his impulse was to sweep it aside. He claimed he must be followed because he is the leader. Fate in the form of Sept. 11 had placed authority in his hands as a man of destiny.

Skepticism, pragmatism and empiricism are his enemies. Absolute faith prevails over open-ended reason, subjectivity over fact. Those who do not pray at his altar of certainty are betrayers of the faith, not to mention the troops. Belief in belief is the ultimate sacrament of his political legitimacy.

... Bush's face was a transparent mirror of his emotions. His grimaces exposed his irritation, frustration and anger at being challenged. Lacking intellectual stamina and repeating his talking points as though on a feedback loop, he tried to close argument by blind assertion. With no one interrupting him, he protested, "Let me finish" -- a phrase he occasionally deploys to great effect before the cowed White House press corps.

... For Bush, certainty equals strength. His facial expressions exposed his exasperation at having to hear an opposing view. As he accused Kerry of being contradictory, it was obvious that he was peeved at being contradicted.

Kerry responded with a devastating deconstruction of Bush's epistemology. Nothing like this critique of pure reason has ever been heard in a presidential debate. "It's one thing to be certain, but you can be certain and be wrong," said Kerry. "It's another to be certain and be right, or to be certain and be moving in the right direction, or be certain about a principle and then learn new facts and take those new facts and put them to use in order to change and get your policy right. What I worry about with the president is that he's not acknowledging what's on the ground, he's not acknowledging the realities of North Korea, he's not acknowledging the truth of the science of stem cell research or of global warming and other issues. And certainty sometimes can get you in trouble."

... Bush lost more than control in the first debate. He lost the plot.
And what plot would that be? The narrative where we all agree to follow a leader because he must always be right, because he is, after all, our leader, and if he weren't right he wouldn't be our leader would he? Tautology can be fun.

And if certainty equals strength, then someone should have told the captain of the unsinkable Titanic. Reduce speed in a field of icebergs? Only a wimp and waffler would do that - you know, someone with a bad attitude.

So on we steam at full speed, happily accepting the tautology of power, in the fog, in the dark, but always making progress.

Don't you sometimes just hate metaphors?


Footnote on Metaphors:

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, likes them.
"Don't you sometimes just hate metaphors?"

Hell, no! I live for them! The older I get, the more I realize that the sublime appreciation of earthly metaphor may be the closest any of us are likely to come to spending eternity with 72 virgins! (Why anyone would want to do that is beyond me; but hey, it's just a metaphor!)

And I do especially like that Titanic one you conjured up. Was it the Titanic's captain or was it someone else that announced just before the maiden voyage, something to the effect that "not even God can sink this ship"?

This was obviously before anyone had perfected the fine art of those "lowered expectations" we've been hearing so much about lately. Had that guy been better at it, his ship would today be a hotel in some exotic port, just as if the Bush campaign were better at it, their spin doctors would not have spent all day Friday spinning out of control.

But I'm surprised I haven't yet heard the metaphor that says, the more the emperor insists on holding court with citizens vetted for their loyalty, the more humongous a letdown it will be when he is forced to grant an audience to some guy who very publicly informs him, in front of all his subjects, that he's wearing no clothes!

I'm sure it's wishful thinking, but I do also hope in a few weeks to hear the one about the "Humpty Dumpty" campaign, what with him in a failed attempt at "reinvention" ("They told me I looked annoyed in the first debate, and that I kept repeating myself, so I guess I just have to stop that"), but after being cast as a "flip-flopper" by one and all, none of his horses and men will be able to get the campaign train off the ground again. (Don't you sometimes just love mixed-metaphors?)

Which reminds me about one of those tiny but precious moments in last night's debate, when Bush said something about how a commander-in-chief shouldn't send out "mexed messages", then corrected it quickly to "mixed messages."

I'm starting to think there may be a God after all, and that maybe He really isn't very fond of George W. Bush.
Nope, no God out there. Just balance - as there seems to be some reciprocity in the universe after all. Things eventually fall back to their most natural state - probably entropy or something at work, as the energy needed to maintain any artifice finally flags. In this case, the artificial construct - Swagger Man keeps us safe with his steely gaze and the French hang their heads in abject shame at themselves - is collapsing under its own weight, and everyone sees it. And this, oddly enough, may be a relief to the president, as hyper-manly posing for so long is, of course, hard work. You could ask Arnold Shwarzenegger about that. Arnold knows.

The president's burden may soon be lifted - and he can then return to being a smirking prankster, mostly harmless, the family goofball, but at least comfortable with himself.

Posted by Alan at 17:38 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 2 October 2004 11:49 PDT home

Thursday, 30 September 2004

Topic: Election Notes

The First Presidential Debate: "You forgot Poland."

When Bush said to Kerry "You forgot Poland" was that the end of it?

From Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta - channeling Karnack the Magnificent from the old Johnny Carson show -
Answer: Toast

Question: "What's John Kerry's new middle name?"
Yep, the taller guy talked about real problems no one wants to hear about, and the shorter guy recycled those sound bites from old episodes of "Bonanza" - with a few things from Doctor Phil on the evil of sending mixed messages. Nothing changes. Bush wins.

Rick sent these comments to his wife, a news executive working the event tonight, and she didn't get it. So he sent this -
"Translation: I thought Bush won. Yes, Kerry's right, Bush is wrong, but I still think Bush was probably more convincing to undecideds. Then again, the post-debate pundits seem to disagree with me. I hope they're right."

I did a quick scan all of the net (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox), and sure enough, the first good words on all (except maybe Fox) was good for Kerry.

Wait! I just tuned into Fox and all the Fox dudes and dudette (Fred Barnes, Mort Kondrake, William Kristol, and some woman I didn't catch the name of) thought Kerry kept the race alive! Maybe we're both wrong! I swear I could have come up with better answers if I were the debater (although I'm glad I'm not the candidate), but maybe Kerry's answers were better than I thought.
Ah, we shall see.

This over at Pandagon, blogging the event live, and the reaction -
The after-analysis on CNN is struggling to come up with something Bush did good, and all they can say is that he stayed on message. And Carlos Watson just compared Kerry admitting he made a mistake to Bush's relaying a personal story as moments of humility. Watson's analysis is horrible - Bush had "command of policies"...but he didn't. He mentioned countries, a few policies, but Kerry destroyed Bush on policy knowledge outright.

Greenfield just called the debate for Kerry, essentially. He said Kerry connected, he said conservative blogs thought Bush was on the defensive and he said he wanted to wait a few days to decide if Bush reassured. And the other guy (Carlos Watson, I think...?) said undecideds are now going to take another look at John Kerry.

I think it came down to Bush seeming to be defensive, and whining. No one likes a whiner.

Watch for a summary of the commentary tomorrow, after the press tells us what to think.



Kerry said we didn't have much of an alliance in Iraq. Bush upbraided him and said Kerry forgot Poland. From the running commentary at Hit and Run -
Strong Alliances: Bush (approximately): "He says we didn't have allies? What does he say to Tony Blair? What does he say to Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland?"

President Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland: "They deceived us about the weapons of mass destruction, that's true. We were taken for a ride."
This will no doubt usher in a new era of Polish jokes.

Rick replies -
No, no, I for one will refrain from making Polish jokes!

But still, in the president's defense, didn't Kerry also leave out Honduras? And why didn't Bush bring up Kerry leaving out Tonga? Or how about, "Hey, what does he say to the leader, what's-his-name, whoever it is, of the Marshall Islands?"

So you have this list of the "Coalition of the Willing," which variously measures 30 to 50 countries -- depending on who wanted what and when, which I understand is down into the 40s or so now. These are countries that are frequently cited by Bush and his folks whenever critics say, "We went in alone." So the question is, did the administration ever sit down in a meeting, as equals, with all these folks and ask, "What do you think, should we invade Iraq? Let's put it to a vote!" Or was it a case of, "Look, whether you join us or not, we're going in! Are you with us or against us?"

But then you have something we never talk about, which is a list of the "Coalition of the Unwilling," which was everyone else.

You want to flaunt your allies? Try this:

In 2003, just before this war, there were about 193 countries or so in the world. You might want to exclude two or maybe three of them (i.e., Vatican City; maybe Taiwan, which arguably was not even a proper country; and of course, Iraq), which might reasonably be assumed not likely to join this exclusive American-led "Coalition of the Willing," and that means roughly three out of four countries in the world.

So this just in, George: If you want to do a nose count of countries? You lose!

One real point (of many) in this Iraq discussion being, it's not the United States' call to enforce United Nations resolutions, it's the United Nations' call.

And as to the question of defending America? As we now know for sure, George, you didn't!

And as to whether, if you had known they had no WMD, would you invade them anyway? You say you would have, but on what grounds? I wish someone had asked you that last question.

But I'm glad Kerry went along with the so-called "War on Terror" and Iraq being the subject of the first debate. I guess we'll know in the next few days if Kerry won. I don't know, but I hope he did.
He did, not that it matters.

Posted by Alan at 20:25 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 1 October 2004 17:29 PDT home

Wednesday, 29 September 2004

Topic: The Law

Legislation: The guy who used to coach high school wresting has a modest proposal...


Dennis Hastert -

See September 5, 2004 - Well, it could be true... you just never know for a discussion of his hints that George Soros is supporting Kerry with money from drug cartels. Should something happen to the President, then to the Vice President, the next in line to run the whole show is the Speaker of the House of Representatives. You could look it up in the constitution. That go-to guy at present would be Representative J. Dennis 'Denny' Hastert, Republican of Illinois, graduate of Wheaton College (fundamentalist Christian) and a former high school wrestling coach at Yorkville High School (1964-1980). He's been in the House since 1986 and speaker since 1999. Between the coaching gig and the US House, he spent four years in the Illinois House of Representatives. He's been around.

Maher Arar

Arar was the Canadian citizen we secretly deported to Syria. We don't do torture. They do. Torture is not US policy. And we thought he was a bad guy. We picked him up at the Newark airport. But, damn, it seems he wasn't a bad guy. We had bad information. His crime was that his mother's cousin had joined the Muslim Brotherhood long after Maher moved to Canada. And after ten months of torture and incarceration in a quite tiny cell in Syria, he was allowed to return to his home in Canada. Oops. Now he is suing the US government. He is not happy. (Discussed previously here (August 1, 2004) and here (December 21, 2003).


"Extraordinary rendition"

That is the term we now use for sending terrorism suspects to countries that practice torture for interrogation.


That would be an item from UPI - Wednesday, September 29, 2004

See White House backs Senate 9/11 reforms
Shaun Waterman, United Press International

This is long item on the current legislation under consideration to implement the recommendations of the commission that looked into what happened back on September 11, 2001 and what we could do to make sure such a thing never happened again. Parallel bills are working their way through the House and Senate, and everyone, left and right, is trying to drop in special provisions. And the two bills now do not match up at all. It's a bit of a mess.

Buried in the article is this gem -
Supporters of reform on both sides of the aisle say several of the bill's provisions in the House version risk complicating, or even derailing, the bill's progress [in the Senate].

These include measures that make it easier to deport aliens without a court hearing and restrict their right of appeal; a provision that broadens the definition of both "material support" and the organizations to which it is a crime to provide it; and a clause legalizing the practice of so-called extraordinary rendition, when suspected terrorists are removed to countries that practice torture.

Reformers say there are no equivalent provisions to these measures in the Senate bill. These differences are expected to become a complication when legislators from both chambers meet to reconcile their respective versions and hammer out a single measure.
This is only mentioned in passing, and in passing, note that UPI is owned by that odd Reverend Moon, the madly religious conservative fellow who publishes the Washington Times - staunchly pro-administration and pretty far to the right, the newspaper of the current regime if you will.


Someone who calls herself Katherine R has some observations that are a bit unfavorable about the Republican leadership of Congress attempting to legalize extraordinary rendition. She quotes one of our intelligence officials in the Washington Post describing it this way, "We don't kick the shit out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the shit out of them." She's opposed to it. And, as she points out -
As it stands now, "extraordinary rendition" is a clear violation of international law--specifically, the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Degrading and Inhuman Treatment. U.S. law is less clear. We signed and ratified the Convention Against Torture, but we ratified it with some reservations. They might create a loophole that allows us to send a prisoner to Egypt or Syria or Jordan if we get "assurances" that they will not torture a prisoner - even if these assurances are false and we know they are false.
Wink, wink, nudge, nudge and all that - as we may not do torture, but we can outsource it. (Well, at Abu Ghraib and a lot of other places we did do torture, but we're sorry and know now that was wrong, and not approved, and the fault of some low-level fools who didn't understand Rumsfeld wanted them to be careful not to cross any lines, so to speak.)

Katherine R also points out one that last month one Edward Markey, a Massachusetts congressman (a finicky Democrat of course), introduced a bill (PDF format) that would clear this all up and just outlaw extraordinary rendition. But Markey only has twenty-two cosponsors as, one supposes, no one wants to appear to be soft on the bad guys.

Katherine R quotes from press release from Markey's office (her emphases) -
The provision Rep. Markey referred to is contained in Section 3032 and 3033 of H.R. 10, the "9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act of 2004," introduced by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL). The provision would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to issue new regulations to exclude from the protection of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, any suspected terrorist - thereby allowing them to be deported or transferred to a country that may engage in torture. The provision would put the burden of proof on the person being deported or rendered to establish "by clear and convincing evidence that he or she would be tortured," would bar the courts from having jurisdiction to review the Secretary's regulations, and would free the Secretary to deport or remove terrorist suspects to any country in the world at will - even countries other than the person's home country or the country in which they were born. The provision would also apply retroactively.

This provision was not part of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations, and the Commission actually called upon the U.S. to "offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the rule of law, and be generous and caring to our neighbors." The Commission noted that "The United States should engage its friends to develop a common coalition approach to the detention and humane treatment of captured terrorists. New principles might draw upon Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions on the law of armed conflict. That article was specifically designed for those cases in which the usual laws of war did not apply. Its minimum standards are generally accepted throughout the world as customary international law."
These standards prohibit the use of torture or other cruel or degrading treatment....

Rep. Markey said, "When the Republicans 9/11 bill is considered in the House, I intend to offer an amendment to strike the torture outsourcing provisions from the Republican bill and replace it with restrictions restoring international law as provided in my bill. It is absolutely disgraceful that the Republican Leadership has decided to load up the 9/11 Commission bill with legislative provisions that would legitimize torture, particularly when the Commission itself called for the U.S. to move in exactly the opposite direction."
The part about this applying retroactively is cute, but what is Hastert up to? This former wrestling coach thinks the 9/11 Commission was kidding about offering "an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the rule of law, and be generous and caring to our neighbors." Yeah, Hastert thinks they were kidding, or wrong about that.

Katherine R does point out that there is no possible way for a suspect being detained in secret to prove by "clear and convincing evidence" that he will be tortured if he is deported - especially when he may be deported to a country where has never been, and "when the officials who want to deport him serve as judge, jury and executioner, and when there is never any judicial review."

Well, yeah. And she says that this bill would make what happened to Maher Arar perfectly legal, and "guarantee that it will happen again." And her friend in Markey's office told her "this bill could be on the House floor as early as next week."

You could write your congressman (or congresswoman) and tell them this is an extraordinarily bad provision and it ought to be removed from the bill - as it is counterproductive, rather immoral (or amoral or whatever), and just a really bad idea that would make us even more hated around the world, and for good reason.

Or you could assume it will never survive the conference committee where they try to reconcile the House and Senate versions, and cooler heads than Hastert's will prevail, and folks will laugh at him, and Dennis will bluster, and then the item will just get dropped.

Or you may be one of those people, like Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz, who is strangely attracted to the idea of torturing those who may or may not be innocent and thinks it may be justified these days. Sometimes you just have to do it? I guess.

And you may agree with Hastert because he's resolute and firm, and you may be a former wrestling coach for all we know.

And you may be seething with anger at all these swarthy people in the Middle East making so much trouble and messing with our oil or whatever, and think with glee of scaring the crap out of anyone who looks at us funny by letting them know we play rough.

Or you may just like getting back at people and making them hurt, a lot - even if who you select as your target is perhaps the wrong person. We all have those urges now and then.

Or you may just like the concept of a police state where you're guilty and get what you deserve, unless you can prove otherwise, if we let you. Such states are, in some ways, pretty efficient.

In that case don't write your congressman (or congresswoman).

Posted by Alan at 21:14 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Election Notes

Facts: The Annuls of Cognitive Dissonance

Last year in Just Above Sunset you would find the October 19, 2003 opinion column had a long subtitle - Thoughts on nailing mashed potatoes to a wall. Or - "We report, you decide." "Disseminating Ignorance." Basically, how watching the news can actually sometimes make you dumber, and have you believe things that just aren't so.

This was a discussion of a study done by researchers from the Program on International Policy Attitudes (a joint project of several academic centers, some of them based at the University of Maryland) and Knowledge Networks, a California-based polling firm. These PIPA folks had spent almost a year tracking the public's misperceptions of major news events and polling people to find out just where they go to get things flat out wrong. The study in question was published October 2nd and the full results are here under the heading - "Misperceptions, The Media and The Iraq War - A PIPA/Knowledge Networks Study." here has a useful table of the results. The conclusion? Statistically, those who consistently get the actual facts wrong about what our country has done and is doing - and about much of what is happening in the world - use Fox News as their usual source of information. Harold Meyerson has a good analysis of the study here in the Washington Post: Fact-Free News, Wednesday, October 15, 2003; page A23 - and Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, had a lot to say last October.

Fast forward. It seems these people at PIPA are at it again with this study, Bush Supporters Misread Many of His Foreign Policy Positions, dated Wednesday, September 29, 2004 with two subheadings - "Kerry Supporters Largely Accurate" and "Swing Voters Also Misread Bush, But Not Kerry."

It opens with this: (my emphases)
As the nation prepares to watch the presidential candidates debate foreign policy issues, a new PIPA-Knowledge Networks poll finds that Americans who plan to vote for President Bush have many incorrect assumptions about his foreign policy positions. Kerry supporters, on the other hand, are largely accurate in their assessments. The uncommitted also tend to misperceive Bush's positions, though to a smaller extent than Bush supporters, and to perceive Kerry's positions correctly. Steven Kull, director of PIPA, comments: "What is striking is that even after nearly four years President Bush's foreign policy positions are so widely misread, while Senator Kerry, who is relatively new to the public and reputed to be unclear about his positions, is read correctly."

Majorities of Bush supporters incorrectly assumed that Bush favors including labor and environmental standards in trade agreements (84%), and the US being part of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (69%), the International Criminal Court (66%), the treaty banning land mines (72%), and the Kyoto Treaty on global warming (51%). They were divided between those who knew that Bush favors building a new missile defense system now (44%) and those who incorrectly believe he wishes to do more research until its capabilities are proven (41%). However, majorities were correct that Bush favors increased defense spending (57%) and wants the US, not the UN, to take the stronger role in developing Iraq's new government (70%).

... PIPA selected these questions from those asked in polls by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations which dealt with issues on which the presidential candidates have taken clear and documented positions.
If you're interested, the full report is available here (in PDF format, so you'll need Acrobat Reader), the questionnaire here (also PDF format) and the press release here.

So what to make of this?

You hear, and read, that Bush does NOT want labor and environmental standards included in any trade agreements we make. The man flat-out says so, repeatedly - he says such concerns hobble businesses trying to thrive and grow and create more jobs. But you don't believe that - because you don't want to?

The other stuff?

We rather publicly, and unilaterally, pulled out of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the International Criminal Court, that pesky treaty banning land mines (ours at the Korean DMZ were too important to our security), and that tree-huggers Kyoto Treaty on global warming (which has still not been proven to be really happening, according to this administration). We angered most of the world with all these moves. Our allies, or those folks that used to be our allies, were aghast at all this. And Russia may ratify the Kyoto Treaty accords this week, just to tweak us. But you don't believe all this - because you don't want to?

That new missile defense system will be deployed in Alaska just before our election - and it doesn't work (see this and some discussion here) - and it won't work, and the testing and research that proved it just will not work has ended. But you don't believe that - because you don't want to?

This is not a problem with watching Fox News. They reported on all this - and whole-heartedly approved of all these administration positions.

The problem is deeper. At some visceral level more than half of the country wants Bush to win in November, if you follow the polls. And wanting that, they make up stuff about what he does - to assure themselves he's a reasonable, thoughtful guy who is simply misunderstood. These are decent people and want to believe Bush is being a decent and fair guy. These are your friends and neighbors - and people who want us, as a country, to do the right thing.

I suppose here you could say something about the willing suspension of disbelief, but that seems a bit lame, as this isn't a Broadway musical where Puerto Rican gangs suddenly break into Jerome Robbins dances and sing Bernstein, or where Peter Pan flies off with Tinkerbell, and no one minds the shift from realism to pleasant artifice. This is where my nephew in the Army puts his life on the line in Iraq, and where the majority of people around the world see us as dangerous, arrogant bullies who are now the problem, and not, as we have been seen since the late forties until these last three years, the solution.

One can forgive these people supporting Bush for assuming the best about him in spite of the facts. That is natural, and understandable. Look up the term cognitive dissonance.

But facts are facts. And some things - what has been done in our name - just cannot be forgiven.

So is it a new rule - as Bill Maher likes to say - that when in power you can do any amount of damage you want and people, being decent and generous, will tell themselves you didn't do anything at all like that? That seems to be the case.

If it is the case, and you rely on the innate decency and generosity of most Americans, you remain in power.

An old college friend who read this item above asked me what was my take on "the public's death grip on the cognitive dissonance of what he says and what seems to be true?"

My response?

It's fatal to generalize about "the public" - as some are, as we see here, finding self-delusional ways to believe the man is just not that dumb, or that dangerous, and thus find ways to justify having supported him for these four years (that cognitive dissonance rationalizing crowd who doesn't want to believe each and every one of them could have been so wrong about the guy), some are just gleeful that this frat boy who sneers and proudly he doesn't read is now lording over all the so-called intellectuals who think they're too good for NASCAR and Toby Keith (his lying to the elite is an ongoing in-your-face thing they just love), and some are just making up what they want to believe because that is how one gets through life without being upset all the time - you make up the world you live in, as the real world isn't that nice - and some are just not particularly interested in what's happening in the world and assume what they think ought to be so must be so - in a sensible world, and some are just dumb.

Rather than a uniform "death grip on cognitive dissonance," this is a mixed array of folks who hear one thing and see another, and, for many reasons, deal with it as if there is no problem at all. Let's call them the optimists, the folks with a good attitude.

But as for the first group above, that cognitive dissonance rationalizing crowd, say you are the parent of a child you love dearly over the years, and you come to find out he is a sadistic bully who may now have committed some awful crime, and the facts are clear. You'll do almost anything not to believe it, because, well, what does that say about you, the one who showered the child with approval and stood behind him all those years? It's like that. We really wanted to believe the best about this kid, and we're still trying hard to believe the best, but the cops are at the door with the arrest warrant.

Posted by Alan at 19:18 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 30 September 2004 16:42 PDT home

Tuesday, 28 September 2004

Topic: Political Theory

Logic Bombs: Why Bush Will Win the Debates

William Saletan is at the top of his game. Check this out.

Catastrophic Success
The worse Iraq gets, the more we must be winning.
Posted Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2004, at 2:53 PM PT - SLATE.COM

The opening is cool, even if my spell-checker tells me unfalsifiable isn't really a word at all -
In 1999, George W. Bush said we needed to cut taxes because the economy was doing so well that the U.S. Treasury was taking in too much money, and we could afford to give some back to the people who earned it. In 2001, Bush said we needed the same tax cuts because the economy was doing poorly, and we had to return the money so that people would spend and invest it.

Bush's arguments made the wisdom of cutting taxes unfalsifiable. In good times, tax cuts were affordable. In bad times, they were necessary. Whatever happened proved that tax cuts were good policy. When Congress approved the tax cuts, Bush said they would revive the economy. You'd know that the tax cuts had worked, because more people would be working. Three years later, more people aren't working. But in Bush's view, that, too, proves he was right. If more people aren't working, we just need more tax cuts.
So how do you counter this kind of logic? Is it possible? When you are proved wrong that only proves you were really right. Do you just heave a sigh of exasperation, as Gore did in the presidential debates four years ago, and thus come off as a pretentious and condescending intellectual snob and alienate everyone by making fun of a simple man with a clear vision.

How do you respond? Is a giggle appropriate? No, that also would come off as condescension.

This kind of logic is a pretty effective trap, and Saletan argues Bush and his handlers are carefully setting the trap again. But this time this issue in the current state of affairs in Iraq - and Saletan points out that when violence there was subsiding, Bush said that clearly proved that he was on the right track. Violence is increasing there now, pretty obviously, and Bush says this, too, proves he's on the right track. Argh!

The examples cited?
On July 23, 2003, three months into the occupation, Bush scoffed that Iraqi insurgents were confined to "a few areas of the country. And wherever they operate, they are being hunted, and they will be defeated. ... Now, more than ever, all Iraqis can know that the former regime is gone and will not be coming back." A week later, he assured reporters, "Conditions in most of Iraq are growing more peaceful. ... As the blanket of fear is lifted, as Iraqis gain confidence that the former regime is gone forever, we will gain more cooperation." Bush warned that failure to stick with his policies "would only invite further and bolder attacks."

A year later, the insurgents are not defeated, conditions are not more peaceful, the blanket of fear is spreading, cooperation is fraying, and attacks on U.S. personnel are growing bolder. Does this prove Bush is failing? No. It proves he's succeeding.

When the violence increased this spring, Bush, Vice President Cheney, and White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said insurgents were growing "desperate" in their efforts to "derail the transition" - the handover of sovereignty scheduled for June 30. "This is precisely what our enemies want," Bush argued. The violence proved Bush was on the right track, and the handover would soon be complete, demoralizing the enemy. The insurgents would be crushed. "In Fallujah, Marines of Operation Vigilant Resolve are taking control of the city, block by block," Bush bragged.
Well, that didn't work out. Fallujah, and the Sadr City portion of Baghdad, and so many other places are now "no go zones" where our troops will not operate (see this from September 14 in the New York Times and a discussion here in these pages) - and the elections scheduled for January are in question, and so on and so forth. We turned over sovereignty in June, and things went sour.

A problem? Not really. The new logic is that the new spike in resistance just proves we're right - this sovereignty business ticked off the evil-doers in June, and now, because we're doing the right thing and pushing forward with a partial election in January, in the few areas that are relatively safe (as Rumsfeld said, probably thinking of the 2000 election in Florida, nothing's perfect), this demonstrates our essential rightness.

Does it? Maybe a lot of folks just don't want us there. Which proves we're right, right?

The trap for any critic of all this is clear -
If the situation in Iraq improves in the coming weeks, Bush will take credit. If it deteriorates, he'll take credit for that, too. "Terrorist violence may well escalate as the January elections draw near," he warned Thursday. "The terrorists know that events in Iraq are reaching a decisive moment. If elections go forward, democracy in Iraq will put down permanent roots, and terrorists will suffer a dramatic defeat." So take heart. We've got 'em right where we want 'em.
We do?

I see no way for any opponent of the administration to attack this logic. It's not unfalsifiable. It is impenetrable.

Currently polls show the Bush-Cheney ticket will win in November, as their numbers are strong and getting stronger by the day. And this seems to be a demonstration that people like being told that successes mean we were right and we are winning, and setbacks show, even more clearly, that we were right and we are winning. That makes folks comfortable. There's no downside. Either way we're right, and we're winning. Cool.

As for what Kerry and Edwards can say in the debates? There is little that works against this. Suggesting things are complicated and we need to think about this all makes people uncomfortable - and we can't have that. Asking voters to think about all this stuff is the kiss of death, as people prefer action to analysis. People who think don't get things done - the basic theme of the Bush-Cheney campaign. We cannot afford a thinker now - not in this dangerous world. We have to do things, whatever they are, no matter how much they seem to make things worse. And by golly, worse is better, if you think about it the right way.

Here's a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon that's been going around the web (reprinted without permission as no one else seems to have asked either) that speaks to the basic dilemma - two ways of looking at things.

Posted by Alan at 16:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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