Monday, 25 April 2005
Topic: For policy wonks...
Hard Times in the Reality-Based Community, but Not Elsewhere
So this is the 115th day of 2005. There are 250 days left in the year. And we are reminded that on this day in history, in 1792, highwayman Nicolas Jacques Pelletier became the first person under French law to be executed by the guillotine. Ah ha! And on this day in 1898, the United States formally declared war on Spain. We won. And we ended up in the Philippines and that led to Imelda Marcos and her shoes. So remember the Maine and William Randolph Hearst, the Rupert Murdoch of his day. And on this day 1915 Allied soldiers invaded the Gallipoli Peninsula in an unsuccessful attempt to take the Ottoman Turkish Empire out of the war. Good movie, bad move, and now the Turks want to join the European Union, and probably will. And in 1945 up in San Francisco on this day in 1945 they had that first meeting to organize the United Nations. Oh, those were the days.
Now? Don?t ask. Michael Jackson is still on trial, Britney Spears is still pregnant, John Paul is still dead and Bernie the German is still the new Pope, and the only news seems to be that the Saudi guy - Crown Prince Abdullah ? dropped by to chat with Bush at the ranch down in Texas. Ho hum.
A summary of that Associated Press story?
But does it matter? There seems to be a general consensus that there is a problem with demand ? from the exploding economies of China and India ? and that over here we don?t have a whole lot of refining capacity - and there are reports that many industry experts believe the peak in oil production, when oil extraction reaches its highest point and then starts to decline, will happen in 2030 - but some analysts have stated publicly that it could happen by 2008 or even sooner. Then no more oil. The world's oil reserves are running out much faster than industry and governments are admitting? A curious idea.
?in the story there is much gnashing and moaning about increasing Saudi Arabia's production of oil. The Saudis' carefully worded reply was that they were "producing all the oil that our customers are requesting" and that they would increase their capacity by 1.5 million barrels per day by 2009 ? without mentioning that by that time world demand will have increased by about 8 million barrels per day. They also claimed to have 1.5 million barrels per day of spare pumping capacity right now, an assertion I'd take with a shaker of salt.
In other words: nice talking with you, but there's no more oil to be had. Now please excuse me, I have a flight to Beijing to catch.
Well, there are those who think not. There been a lot of discussion of a new book by Peter W. Huber and Mark P. Mills The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy. Cool. One can see discussions of it on the cable talk shows, and last Sunday's Los Angeles Times printed an email exchange between Peter Huber and Paul Roberts, the fellow who wrote The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World. And they didn?t exactly agree.
So we have the two Panglossian optimists suggesting things are just fine, that we live in is the best of all possible worlds, pitted again the Chicken Little alarmist.
Who are we to believe? (And the brother-in-law of our high-powered Wall Street attorney told me a few weekends ago that this increased demand for oil from India and China was a lie ? it wasn?t there and just something made up by the left-wing press to make people be afraid and dislike Bush.)
So, turn to our leader - George Bush, ou l'Optimisme, so to speak. He says things are fine.
Now, of course, one of his roles is to be optimistic ? to make sure the nation does not devolve into a quivering mass of fear of the future. That is, he is, in a sense, supposed to be a cheerleader. But let?s get serious.
The talk of the policy wonk, history buff, theory-of-government echo-chamber circles Monday was what Paul Krugman had to say in the New York Times. He called his opinion piece The Oblivious Right - and opened with this -
You see where he?s heading. And he runs down how folks just are not pleased with the economy, Social Security privatization, Terri Schiavo, Tom DeLay. And it seems that large margins, Americans say that the country is headed in the wrong direction. The polls show Bush is the least popular second-term president on record.
According to John Snow, the Treasury secretary, the global economy is in a "sweet spot." Conservative pundits close to the administration talk, without irony, about a "Bush boom."
Yet two-thirds of Americans polled by Gallup say that the economy is "only fair" or "poor." And only 33 percent of those polled believe the economy is improving, while 59 percent think it's getting worse.
Is the administration's obliviousness to the public's economic anxiety just partisanship? I don't think so: President Bush and other Republican leaders honestly think that we're living in the best of times. After all, everyone they talk to says so.
So what? Things are fine. It all depends on your perspective.
Ah, why listen to them? Just make Social Security privatization your main policy priority. Why wouldn?t folks like that?
The administration's upbeat view of the economy is a case in point. Corporate interests are doing very well. As a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, over the last three years profits grew at an annual rate of 14.5 percent after inflation, the fastest growth since World War II.
The story is very different for the great majority of Americans, who live off their wages, not dividends or capital gains, and aren't doing well at all. Over the past three years, wage and salary income grew less than in any other postwar recovery - less than a tenth as fast as profits. But wage-earning Americans aren't part of the base.
Because they?re hurting ? but that is hard to see from the other perspective. Krugman suggests that people sense, correctly, that Bush doesn't understand their concerns ?
Why would he imagine that?
? that he was sold on privatization by people who have made their careers in the self-referential, corporate-sponsored world of conservative think tanks. And he himself has no personal experience with the risks that working families face. He's probably never imagined what it would be like to be destitute in his old age, with no guaranteed income.
And then Krugman adds this -
Well, you take care of your own. The man values loyalty.
It all makes you wonder how these people ever ended up running the country in the first place. But remember that in 2000, Mr. Bush pretended to be a moderate, and that in the next two elections he used the Iraq war as a wedge to divide and perplex the Democrats.
In that context, it's worth noting two more poll results: in one taken before the recent resurgence of violence in Iraq, and the administration's announcement that it needs yet another $80 billion, 53 percent of Americans said that the Iraq war wasn't worth it. And 50 percent say that "the administration deliberately misled the public about whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction."
Democracy Corps, the Democratic pollsters, say that there is a "crisis of confidence in the Republican direction for the country." As they're careful to point out, this won't necessarily translate into a surge of support for Democrats.
But Americans are feeling a sense of dread: they're worried about a weak job market, soaring health care costs, rising oil prices and a war that seems to have no end. And they're starting to notice that nobody in power is even trying to deal with these problems, because the people in charge are too busy catering to a base that has other priorities.
But the polls are interesting, like this one today ?
And this -
Do you approve or disapprove of the way Bush is handling:
A. Social Security - Approve 31 Disapprove 64
B. Iraq - Approve 42 Disapprove 56
C. Economy - Approve 40 Disapprove 57
D. Terrorism - Approve 56 Disapprove 41
E. Energy Policy - Approve 35 Disapprove 54
Would you support or oppose changing the Senate rules to make it easier for the Republicans to confirm Bush's judicial nominees? Support - 26% Oppose - 66%
Something is amiss here. Everyone says Bush is wildly popular, in spite of the facts, and getting what he wants done, in spite of the evidence.
And then there?s that business with the nomination of John Bolton to be our new ambassador to the United Nations. The stories and emails just keep getting stranger ? see this and this - but what of it? Bush stands by him. So does McCain. So does Cheney. Loyalty.
But now even some Republicans say this is too close to call.
Again, so what?
As I said to a friend, Bush may just withdraw his name and nominate Bernard Kerik, as Kerik is not busy at the moment, and Bush does want someone who will kick ass. Now THAT would be in-your-face. And the judges he's now recommending have been blocked before.
The man has brass balls, or a think head, or a tin ear, or whatever. That's why he's standing by Tom DeLay. It's a macho thing. Policy fueled by excessive testosterone.
So are we living in hard times? Is the president popular and effective?
Something is amiss.
It?s the reality problem. From last October 17 in these pages see the Item of Note - and from the 24th see Say what? Who are you going to believe? Me, or your own eyes? and Here in the reality-based community.... You get the idea.
One is reminded of something from Ron Suskind in the New York Times Sunday magazine from October 17, 2004 - Without A Doubt
It all makes you wonder how these people ever ended up running the country in the first place?
? In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend - but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality - judiciously, as you will - we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
No, folks prefer this to the reality of hard times.
Sunday, 24 April 2005
Topic: World View
The new issue of the parent to this web log - Just Above Sunset - is now on line. Check it out – particularly the fancy photography.
And see Our Man in Paris: Hands Off My Holiday! for Paris news and five photographs from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis. Cool.
This afternoon he sent this along.
Late for this issue of JAS, but Paris has been treated to an unusual film poster this week. The problem is that it was only shown placed high on poles; usually too high to avoid worse reflections that usual. Film is 'Un fil a la patte,' based on a play by Georges Feydeau. Directed by Michel Deville, it starts Wednesday, 27 April. Previewed on France-2 TV news Sunday, 24 April.
Avoir un fil a la patte - To be tied down (literally: "to have a thread at the leg").
Feydeau is always fun. Somehow this will get into JAS. Amusing!
There are always productions of La puce a l'oreille – but never Occupe-toi d'Amelie for some reason. Oh well.
Hortense dit: “J'm'en fous” - rendered in English as Hortense says, “I Don't Give a Damn.”
But I do. He’s good.
The website for the film.
The poster from Ric -
High Noon in Hollywood
A dark day with rain on the way, and what?s this outside my window?
Saturday, 23 April 2005
Topic: The Media
Media Notes: The Grownups Will Tell You What You Need to Know
This is what our president said in Washington on April 14, 2005 -
Fine ? but whatever is he talking about?
We look forward to analyzing and working with legislation that will make - it would hope - put a free press's mind at ease that you're not being denied information you shouldn't see."
We won?t be denied information we SHOULD NOT see ? we?ll see it all ? and will NOT BE SHOWN information we should see? And this is supposed to ?put a free press's mind at ease??
Ah, you get the general idea. He?s not good with words. It?s a Texas thing. Grammar is for sissies ? and in a participatory democracy YOU get to decide what he meant. This keeps citizens involved in how things are run. He presents puzzles. We solve them. It?s kind of fun.
Elsewhere in these pages - in The End of Outage - we find a fellow quoting our president saying that "in a society that is a free society, there will be transparency." And we take that to mean that we have a government where the public gets to see as much information as possible about its government.
But then there?s the puzzle.
Think about this previously cited -
So the words spoken by our president above may just be to assure us none of that happened, or if it did, it was for our own good. Or something.
- Knight-Ridder reports today [April 16] that the Bush administration announced yesterday that it has ?decided to stop publishing an annual report on international terrorism
after the government's top terrorism center concluded that there were more terrorist attacks in 2004 than in any year since 1985, the first year the publication covered."
- When unemployment was peaking in Bush's first term, the White House tried to stop publishing the Labor Department's regular report on mass layoffs
- In 2003, when the nation's governors came to Washington to complain about inadequate federal funding for the states, the Bush administration decided to stop publishing the budget report
that states use to see what money they are, or aren't, getting.
- In 2003, the National Council for Research on Women found that information about discrimination against women has gone missing
from government Web sites, including 25 reports from the U.S. Department of Labor's Women's Bureau.
- In 2002, Democrats uncovered evidence that the Bush administration was removing health information from government websites
. Specifically, the administration deleted data showing that abortion does not increase the risk of breast cancer from government websites. That scientific data was seen by the White House as a direct affront to the pro-life movement.
We are NOT being not being denied information we shouldn't see.
No, wait. He obviously meant we would never be denied information we SHOULD see. He?s not good with words, but you get the idea.
This is all very puzzling. But he does want put a free press's mind at ease. Or maybe not. You have to guess ? kind of like high school English class where you had to explain what some dumb poem really ?meant.? It keeps you on your toes.
Ah, and this free press is so? pesky?
Eric Alterman has the cover story in the new issue of The Nation and he?s got a different take on things. His title - Bush's War on the Press - says it all. Eric is not happy.
George Bernard Shaw aside, Alterman does lay out the evidence, from Bush himself, more than once, telling reporters he does not read their work and, as Alterman puts it prefers to live inside the information bubble blown by his loyal minions.
Journalists, George Bernard Shaw once said, "are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization." How odd, given the profession's un-equaled reputation for narcissism, that Shaw's observation holds true even when the collapsing "civilization" is their own.
Make no mistake: The Bush Administration and its ideological allies are employing every means available to undermine journalists' ability to exercise their First Amendment function to hold power accountable. In fact, the Administration recognizes no such constitutional role for the press. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card has insisted that the media "don't represent the public any more than other people do.... I don't believe you have a check-and-balance function."
And yes, Vice President Cheney said a nasty thing about a New York Times
reporter and tosses reporters he don?t like off his press plane, although not literally. And John Ashcroft did refuse to speak with any print reporters during his You?ll-Just-Love-the-Patriot-Act travels ? and only spoke to the local television folks. And finally
As an unnamed Bush official told reporter Ron Suskind, "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality--judiciously, as you will--we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors...and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." For those who didn't like it, another Bush adviser explained, "Let me clue you in. We don't care. You see, you're outnumbered two to one by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don't read the New York Times or Washington Post or the LA Times."
Trash talk? Alterman thinks it is more than that.
He says these guys are taking ?aggressive action? ? and he has a list!
- preventing journalists from doing their job by withholding routine information; deliberately releasing deceptive information on a regular basis
- bribing friendly journalists to report the news in a favorable context
- producing their own "news reports" and distributing these free of charge to resource-starved broadcasters
- creating and crediting their own political activists as "journalists" working for partisan operations masquerading as news organizations.
Okay, and then we have an Administration-appointed special prosecutor, US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, now ?threatening two journalists with jail for refusing to disclose the nature of conversations they had regarding stories they never wrote, opening up a new frontier of potential prosecution.?
It is pretty obvious that there is the obvious labeling Alterman notes ? attaching the label "liberal bias" to even the most routine forms of information gathering and reportage (for a transparent example in today's papers, see under "DeLay, Tom").
So what? They can handle it.
But Alterman says there is a system problem here.
The right wing's media "decertification" effort, as the journalism scholar and blogger Jay Rosen calls it, has its roots in forty years of conservative fury at the consistent condescension it experienced from the once-liberal elite media and the cosmopolitan establishment for whom its members have spoken. Fueled by this sense of outrage, the right launched a multifaceted effort to fight back with institutions of its own, including think tanks, advocacy organizations, media pressure groups, church groups, big-business lobbies and, eventually, its own television, talk-radio, cable and radio networks (to be augmented, later, by a vast array of Internet sites). Today this triumphant movement has captured not only much of the media and the public discourse on ideas but both the presidency and Congress (and soon, undoubtedly, the Supreme Court as well); it can wage its war on so many fronts simultaneously that it becomes nearly impossible to see that almost all these efforts are aimed at a single goal: the destruction of democratic accountability and the media's role in insuring it.
Well, I guess we shouldn?t have been so condescending. The chickens are coming home to roost.
You can click on the link
and see the discussion, with evidence, of the three primary components of all - Secrecy, Lies and Fake News. It?s long ? and it?s not cheery.
And the press is losing.
The net result of this one-sided battle is the de jure destruction of the balance that has characterized the American political system since the modern, nonpartisan media began to emerge a century ago. And unless journalists find a way to fight back for the honor, dignity and, ultimately, effectiveness of their profession, the press's role in American democracy and society will continue to diminish accordingly, to the disadvantage of all our citizens. Bush adviser Karen Hughes has explained, "We don't see there being any penalty from the voters for ignoring the mainstream press." And there's been none to date. Speaking to Salon's Eric Boehlert, Ron Suskind outlined what he sees as the ultimate aim of the Administration upon which he has reported so effectively. "Republicans have a clear, agreed-upon plan how to diminish the mainstream press," he warns. "For them, essentially the way to handle the press is the same as how to handle the federal government; you starve the beast. When it's in a weakened and undernourished condition, then you're able to effect a variety of subtle partisan and political attacks."
"Two cheers for democracy," wrote E.M. Forster, "one because it admits variety and two because it permits criticism." But the aim of the Bush offensive against the press is to do just the opposite; to insure, as far as possible, that only one voice is heard and that no criticism is sanctioned. The press may be the battleground, but the target is democracy itself.
Really? Most folks don?t much care for it, it seems. They like the guy.
So this NYU professor with his fancy PhD and many books, quoting George Bernard Shaw and E. M. Forster, is worried. Bush is ? perhaps a tad condescendingly - telling him not to worry. Just the words of a parent to an overly sensitive child who feels he?s being left out of things: Don?t worry ? The grownups will tell you what you need to know, so don?t worry about the rest.
Bubba ain?t worried.