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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Thursday, 16 June 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Why Thursday? After all this time it's now time to talk about the war?

So why now? Thursday, June 16, late in the afternoon, Jennifer Loven of Associated Press proves a summary of the situation – "Facing growing pressure to bring troops home from Iraq, President Bush is launching a public relations campaign to try to calm anxieties about the war."

Is this a problem public relations can fix? Sometimes PR isn't the answer – but who knows? Maybe that'll do. In any event it seems we're going to get a major address on June 28, and that's symbolic, of course. That's the one-year anniversary of the transfer of sovereignty from our coalition - such as it is now (or was) - to the Iraqis. Four days before that it seems Bush is scheduled to will meet at the White House with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the fellow who heads the transitional government over there. Oh yeah, we are told Bush also plans a series of radio addresses and appearances outside Washington, one assumes with those trademark carefully-vetted audiences so there's no trouble. And the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, says Bush "will emphasize the importance of democracy in Iraq and elsewhere" when he meets with selected world leaders in Gleneagles, Scotland.

That will turn things around?

Our fatalities so far? Over 1,700 now – and rising. Don't ask about how many Iraqis, soldiers and civilians, have died in all the recent bombings. It seems an average of thirty or so a day,

Scott McClellan: "The president recognizes that this is a concern that's on the minds of the American people. That's why he's going to sharpen his focus, spending more time talking about the progress that's being made on the ground - there's significant progress that has been made in a short period of time - the dangers that remain and that lie ahead, as well as our strategy for victory in Iraq."

Focus is good. And a strategy would be nice. Up until now out leaders were doing what, exactly? Well, there was the body of the one brain-dead woman that had to be kept functioning – and that moral, ethical and metaphysical battle had to be fought, as a matter of principal and religious faith. There was rescuing our stem-cell citizens - those little lumps of cells who were really people just like you and me - from the evil scientists. There was getting judges who favor the Bible over the constitution appointed – and that damned filibuster. And there was so much more. So the war got short shrift – but, reluctantly, it seems the guy has to deal with it.

Why? Because even the "freedom fries" guy has turned to the dark side. Representative Walter Jones, Republican of North Carolina – the guy who won the battle to have the House cafeteria rename those greasy potato sticks something other than "French" fries – is supporting the new bipartisan resolution to start withdrawing our troops from Iraq by October 1, 2006. He voted for the war and now says - "After 1,700 deaths, over 12,000 wounded and $200 billion spent, we believe it is time to have this debate and discussion." Dang.

And Loven of AP notes this -
Foreign policy has typically given Bush his highest scores with the public, but that has changed. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll this month found just 41 percent of adults supported his handling of the Iraq war - an all-time low. In addition, a Gallup poll released Monday found that six in 10 Americans say they think the United States should withdraw some or all of its troops from Iraq.
That'll grab your attention.

So the PR task now is to explain there was be no change in any policy - that's the official line - we'll just be told we're doing the right thing, and we should trust them on that.

Loven does add a comment that this new focus, and some revelation of some sort of clear strategy, may be a momentary thing. There could be the first Supreme Court vacancy in more than ten year, and by the end of this month. If so, the war stuff goes to the back burner again?

But can it go back into the "we'll worry about it later" bin?

Even the Thursday edition of the pro-Bush conservative Wall Street Journal explains the grim situation -
As bad news continues to emerge from Iraq and the U.S. detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, some Republicans are starting to edge away from the White House on its policies in the war on terror. The strains were on display yesterday, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Guantanamo Bay to address what Chairman Arlen Specter called the 'crazy quilt' system that governs the treatment of about 520 suspected enemy combatants being held there. Mr. Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania, called on Congress to set out rules.

"More pointedly, Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, warned that if the administration and Congress and the courts can't come up with an effective policy for Guantanamo Bay, 'we're going to lose this war if we don't watch it.'"

President Bush is starting to get peppered by his own side on Iraq, too. Over the weekend, Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina - once a co-promoter of "freedom fries" - called for the U.S. to set a date to withdraw troops from Iraq. And last week, Republican Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida, a former Bush cabinet member who strongly supported the Iraq war in its earlier days, said he was "discouraged" by the lack of progress and the inability of the Pentagon to draw down U.S. forces.
Look like it really is time to roll out the public relations heavy armor. A former cabinet member? The Freedom Fries guy?

And Thursday on Capitol Hill, in a basement room because the Republican house leadership said no conference rooms were available, Democratic representatives Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and John Conyers of Michigan led a hearing on the Downing Street Memo - those minutes from a British leadership meeting that suggest the Bush first decided to go to war in Iraq and then built a case for it later. No wonder there were no rooms available.

Note this: "In a conference call with reporters yesterday, Jackson Lee said the public needs to understand what happened. 'This is just the beginning. I look to 2002 and the names many of us were called for opposing the war in Iraq, and then I look at where we are today,' she said. 'If this is to meet the test of history, we have to have a comprehensive answer to what happened.'"

Things are getting hot.

On Flag Day, Tuesday, June 14 - Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, a Democrat, read this statement (links to a PDF document) -
When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here [at Guantanamo Bay]--I almost hesitate to put them in the [Congressional] Record, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report:
On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. . . . On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.
If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime--Pol Pot or others--that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.
Oh, that's just not nice.

Over at Daily Kos, Markos Moulitsas Ziniga (Kos) describes the reaction to what Durbin said. This has become "the latest cause celebre of the Right Wing Media Borg." (Borg? See this.)
To the pea brains on the Right, incapable of reading the English language in its most basic, unuanced form, they claim Durbin is calling our troops Nazis. The Wingnutosphere is making that claim. Rush is making that claim. Hannity is making that claim. Drudge is making that claim. Look to Fox News to jump on the bandwagon tomorrow.
Fox News? Late Thursday they headlined the administration saying Durbin's comments were "reprehensible." As expected.

Kos suggests all the critics of what Durbin said missed the point -
Of course, what Durbin is saying is that such torture - undisputed, by the way, and read from an FBI report - is more at home in a place like Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany than in a modern Democracy.

And that's the truth. Plain and simple.

Remember when torture was bad? And getting rid of it was good?
Yep, Durbin was saying we're better than this. The response? You're calling us Nazis!

I'm not sure that's a counterargument. Why are we doing this stuff?

Of course, the Nazi reference, and the Gulag and Pol Pot stuff, was meant as a reminder we're NOT SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE THOSE GUYS.

Perhaps it would have been better if Durbin had done what Jon Stewart did on the Wednesday night "Daily Show" - discuss the torture business under a beach graphic with the logo "Guantanamo Baywatch." No one is offended by David Hasselhoff. (Well, that's not exactly true.)

Kos does offer some reminders that we say we don't like torture much -

President Bush, Oct. 8 2003: "Iraq is free of rape rooms and torture chambers."

Scott McClellan, Dec. 10, 2003: "There was an announcement by the Iraqi Governing Council earlier this week about the tribunal that they have set up to hold accountable members of the former regime who were responsible for three decades of brutality and atrocities. ... We know about the mass graves and the rape rooms and the torture chambers of Saddam Hussein's regime. ... We welcome their decision to move forward on a tribunal to hold people accountable for those atrocities."

President Bush, Jan. 12, 2004: "One thing is for certain: There won't be any more mass graves and torture rooms and rape rooms."

Well, there won't be any over there. And those quotes are links from the actual White House website.
And let's not forget, "torture" was used as a rationale for this war - as in, we'll invade and end the torture.

Of course, none of that has happened. The torture that was so bad under Saddam is equally bad under U.S. command. And Dick Durbin had the balls to say it so on the Senate floor.

And these cowards - these people who will neither serve the cause they claim is so vital, nor urge others to serve it - now rush to defend behavior that is indefensible?
Ah, seems so.

More of the same sort of thing from others here, here and here.

Kos wraps up with this -
Really, what is the Right trying to accomplish here? Inflict so much pain on Durbin that others will think twice before they levy legitimate criticisms of the war? Are they so hell-bent on their political correctness that any criticisms of the war effort is considered treasonous?

Last time I checked, the American people were giving up on Bush's folly. Last time I checked, most people still think torture is wrong, worthy of condemnation. Last time I checked, the War Pundits, War Politicians, War Preachers, and 101st Fighting Keyboarders still refused to personally sacrifice for the war effort. Last time I checked, that sad lot still refused to call on their own supporters to sacrifice for the war effort.

At a time when REAL support for the troops means providing them with the equipment and manpower necessary to fight the war effectively, they agitate for neither.

Instead, they try to shut down a US senator reading from an FBI report. From Bush's FBI. Because the truth hurts. So we must suppress it. And we'll do it by shedding crocodile tears for the troops. Because who gives a shit about them, so long as our heroic, do-no-wrong President looks good on the evening news.

Well, I stand with Durbin. Proudly. Because opposing torture is the Right Thing, despite violating the wingnut manual of political correct speech. And the rest of the Senate Democratic caucus better be standing with him as well.

You are either for torture, or against it. Let the chips fall where they may.
Yeah, well, if he's angry, turn to the other side.

J. Mendez posts an open letter -
Senator Durbin,

The word traitorous does not begin to capture your heinous remarks in the Senate regarding our treatment of war prisoners. You, Sir, are a political abomination and if I had my way senator you would be impeached and arrested for sedition.

For you to compare the treatment these Islamic dogs have received as our prisoners to Nazi concentration camps, to the Soviet gulags or to murderous regime of Pol Pot is not only a disservice to the victims of those horrible crimes, it is nothing less than siding with our enemy and emboldening them to continue their terrorist assault on our country.

You, sir, have demonstrated clearly where your loyalties lie and they lie squarely with our nation's enemies. You have inexcusably indicted our men and woman in uniform, you have dragged our good name through the mud and you have enraged a huge segment of this nation's citizenry in ways you cannot begin to fully grasp.

Do you forget senator the vermin we are holding in places like Guantanamo are of the same ilk as those who killed close to 3,000 Americans on 911 and who ruthlessly and cowardly beheaded Americans like Nick Burg in a crazed blood bath? You traitorous slim you!

You are not worthy to be called an American senator you are barely worthy to be called an American at all. You, Sir, are a quisling, not to mention a real and present danger to this country's safety and well-being.

To call you a horse's ass senator would be to insult the horse!

With any luck we, the people of Illinois, will give you what is coming to you in your next election and vote you clear out of office. The Senate is no place for seditious slim like you senator.

Gloat all you want for now in your unabashed anti-Americanism. We, the American people, will not forget what you have said and, if it is all I do, I will do all I can to send you back to whatever spider whole crawled out came from.

God help us all from you and your entire kind, senator.
Things really are getting hot.

Over at Blogs for Bush you'll find a more reasoned voice here -
As a general rule, I don't wish to see these men treated brutally because I believe that we can get more useful information out of them by treating them humanely - but make no mistake about it, if harsh measures are ever required to get the necessary information, then we must do it. Their lives are forfeit, and only necessity and our innate humanity keeps them alive for any given length of time.
The tone is calmer - the contention that these lives are forfeit does raise the issue of whether we need to determine if we got the right folks - that has been a bit of a problem in the past - and whether they deserve to have the chance to explain there may have been some mistake.

On the right side - the Bush side - there is no dispute, it seems.

And as one middle-of-the road television analyst, Chris Matthews suggests to America on MSNBC, there is the a practical consideration about the folks we hold at Guantanamo -
My big concern is, the longer you keep them, the angrier they get. Eventually, you are going to send them home. Maybe the smarter thing is to execute everyone down there, because if you're going to send them back to the Arab world or the Islamic world angry as hell at us, they're going to be doing dirty stuff against us, right?
Ah, the famous kill-'em-all-and-let-God-sort-it-out argument. Elegantly simple.

But folks are angry - as in the Pentagon now threatening members of congress. Chief Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita -
The Pentagon on Thursday invited more members of Congress to visit the Guantanamo jail for foreign terrorism suspects, saying criticism by some U.S. lawmakers showed "a real ignorance of what's really going on...."

"And the way they are describing it is unfortunate, and in some places I believe those people will regret having made those kind of comments."
Whatever does that mean? Better not visit a NASCAR race? Don't walk down dark alleys? Expect a horse's head in your bed?

Whatever. Warning noted.

You know, of course, that Navy general counsel Alberto Mora could be sleeping with the fishes if he's not more careful. From CURSOR.COM we see ABC News reports that a Pentagon memo reveals that Alberto Mora warned that "top officials could go to prison" over interrogation techniques used on Guantanamo Bay detainees. Mora was previously reported to have called the techniques " unlawful and unworthy of the military services."

Hey, no one is going to prison. Mora needs to shut up, or watch his back.

These guys have the mojo here.

As in this - just Reuters reporting on a Senate hearing this week -
Delaware Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden asked Deputy Associate Attorney General J. Michael Wiggins whether the Justice Department had "defined when there is the end of conflict."

"No, sir," Wiggins responded.

"If there is no definition as to when the conflict ends, that means forever, forever, forever these folks get held at Guantanamo Bay," Biden said.

"It's our position that, legally, they can be held in perpetuity," Wiggins said.

Earlier, the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said the United States may face terrorism "as long as you and I live." He asked Brig. Gen. Thomas Hemingway, who oversees military trials of Guantanamo prisoners, if that means America can hold prisoners that long without charges.

"I think that we can hold them as long as the conflict endures," Hemingway responded."
At Corrente there is this comment -
"In perpetuity." "As long as the conflict endures."

Without charges.

Forget that many of these people were handed over to US troops because we paid the locals money to bring in warm bodies, and some of their only crimes were that they had gotten on the bad side of one of the warlords or their buddies.

Forget that the lack of parameters around the concept of "war on terror" is an expedient method of initiating and extending conflicts all over the world against whomever we may find convenient, without ever having to be made accountable for our actions, a new permutation of the cold war as the-paranoia-that-never-ends.

Forget that all Bushco's squirming under the charge of running a "gulag" hides the fact that this is how gulags begin, and that once this kind of power is exercised against a foe, it becomes that much more inevitable that it will one day be exercised against those identified as foes internally.

How does the concept of clapping a human being into a cell without charges, with no recourse to communication with the outside world and no one to speak for him, and no hope of ever being free again, how does this square with your concept of right and wrong, and what you may have been taught by the decent people in your life?

Now which side of the equation is our nation on? Will our representatives take back our power to do right?
Ah, that sort of depends on how you define "doing right."

And the definition has changed - as the new Bush PR campaign will let us know.

We will see just who is buying the new shtick.

Posted by Alan at 18:54 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 16 June 2005 19:31 PDT home

Wednesday, 15 June 2005

Topic: Dissent

Book Notes: Hedging Your Bets

As readers here may know, I have a close relative in the Army, now in Iraq. This week he was transferred from Mosul to Baghdad. (His photos from Mosul can be found here - and the last one on the page shows where he's working right now, one of the palaces in the Green Zone.) A graduate of West Point, he an avid reader. A year or more ago his Christmas list included a book by Christopher Hedges – "War is the Force that Gives Us Meaning" – so I found that, gift-wrapped it, and gave it to him. The book was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

He was surprised by it. Hedges has been a war reporter for fifteen years and doesn't much like what he saw – or he liked it too much, as he explains.

The book puzzled my Army relative.

Then there's this other Hedges book - "What Every Person Should Know About War" (2003) – and I don't think I'll send him that now.

Here's Hedges this month - "We are losing the war in Iraq. We are an isolated and reviled nation. We are pitiless to others weaker than ourselves. We have lost sight of our democratic ideals."

That's from this:

War: Realities and Myths
June 11, 2005,

Key points (with my emphases) -
There is no more candor in Iraq or Afghanistan than there was in Vietnam, but in the age of live satellite feeds the military has perfected the appearance of candor. What we are fed is the myth of war. For the myth of war, the myth of glory and honor sells newspapers and boosts ratings, real war reporting does not. Ask the grieving parents of Pat Tillman. Nearly every embedded war correspondent sees his or her mission as sustaining civilian and army morale. This is what passes for coverage on FOX, MSNBC or CNN.

… This myth, the lie, about war, about ourselves, is imploding our democracy. We shun introspection and self-criticism. We ignore truth, to embrace the strange, disquieting certitude and hubris offered by the radical Christian Right. These radical Christians draw almost exclusively from the book of Revelations, the only time in the Gospels where Jesus sanctions violence, peddling a vision of Christ as the head of a great and murderous army of heavenly avengers. They rarely speak about Christ's message of love, forgiveness and compassion. They relish the cataclysmic destruction that will befall unbelievers, including those such as myself, who they dismiss as 'nominal Christians.' They divide the world between good and evil, between those anointed to act as agents of God and those who act as agents of Satan.

As the war grinds forward, as we sink into a morass of our own creation, as our press and political opposition, and yes even our great research universities, remain complacent and passive, as we refuse to confront the forces that have crippled us outside our gates and are working to cripple us within, the ideology of the Christian Right, so intertwined with intolerance and force, will become the way we speak not only to others but among ourselves.

In war, we always deform ourselves, our essence. We give up individual conscience – maybe even consciousness – for contagion of the crowd, the rush of patriotism, the belief that we must stand together as a nation in moments of extremity. To make a moral choice, to defy war's enticement, to find moral courage, can be self-destructive.

The attacks on the World Trade Center illustrate that those who oppose us, rather than coming from another moral universe, have been schooled well in modern warfare. The dramatic explosions, the fireballs, the victims plummeting to their deaths, the collapse of the towers in Manhattan, were straight out of Hollywood. Where else, but from the industrialized world, did the suicide bombers learn that huge explosions and death above a city skyline are a peculiar and effective form of communication? They have mastered the language we have taught them.

… War is always about... betrayal. It is about the betrayal of the young by the old, idealists by cynics and finally soldiers by politicians. Those who pay the price, those who are maimed forever by war, however, are crumpled up and thrown away. We do not see them. We do not hear them. They are doomed, like wandering spirits, to float around the edges of our consciousness, ignored, even reviled. The message they bring is too painful for us to hear. We prefer the myth of war, the myth of glory, honor, patriotism and heroism, words that in the terror and brutality of combat are empty, meaningless and obscene.

We are losing the war in Iraq. We are an isolated and reviled nation. We are pitiless to others weaker than ourselves. We have lost sight of our democratic ideals. Thucydides wrote of Athens' expanding empire and how this empire led it to become a tyrant abroad and then a tyrant at home. The tyranny Athens imposed on others, it finally imposed on itself. If we do not confront the lies and hubris told to justify the killing and mask the destruction carried out in our name in Iraq, if we do not grasp the moral corrosiveness of empire and occupation, if we continue to allow force and violence to be our primary form of communication, if we do not remove from power our flag-waving, cross-bearing versions of the Taliban, we will not so much defeat dictators such as Saddam Hussein as become them.
My relative serving in Baghdad, has, of course, read Thucydides. But I don't think I’ll send him this.

From our Australian friend in Paris –
Spot on. This kind of thing should be spammed across the American nation for as long as it takes Jesus to return to us.
Ah, yes, and the meek shall inherit the earth? Or carry the day? The next task for the evangelical pro-war Christian right? Proof that Jesus may have SAID that, but he didn't MEAN that. He was a kick-ass kind of guy.

Making this implicitly a holy war may have been a bad idea, and my relative isn't buying into that part of it, as far as I know. Still, he believes in what he is doing, and that what he is doing is good. And maybe it is.

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, asks a logical question – where did my relative hear about this first Hedges book, and what did I think he expected it to be?

What did I think he had expected the book to be? Well, when I did some net surfing to see who had it in stock - it was sold out at a lot of stores - I read the reviews. (Actually I had known what the book was about - a war reporter confessing he liked war too much.) I really did wonder why he wanted this one. Frankly, I think he liked the title. He has a habit of skimming lists of new military books. And I figured it would be good for him to read this.

His only comment a few weeks later - "That wasn't what I thought it was."

No kidding.

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta – "No kidding, indeed, you tricky SOB!"

Who, me?

Hey, no one was ever harmed by reading a book, as they say. Folks should read everything on all sides. And too, when possible, you should get your relatives what they ask for on their Christmas lists.

Posted by Alan at 17:33 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: The Media

News Notes: What to cover is the question…

An exchange with Paris regarding how Just Above Sunset (JAS) covers the news -

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis -

From Andy Borowitz - June 14, 2005 - POLL: AMERICANS ALREADY MISS JACKSON TRIAL: End of Case Leaves Gaping Hole in People's Lives, Survey Says - "Most importantly, these people need to know that there are other things in their lives to look forward to," he said. "For example, maybe the runaway bride will run away again."

The very one. Just as I missed noticing 3789 conspiracy books, I failed to note what happened to the runaway wife. Did she just disappear or what?

Actually I never saw the beginning of that story either. It just goes to show that JAS doesn't treat all the news equally.

- perplexed in Paris

Hollywood -

JAS has been amiss. The runaway bride was charged with filing false reports with the police and that sort of thing, pled guilty and is doing community service, and paying back some of the costs of the search for her sorry ass. There may or may not be a wedding now, but we won't know as the "big boys" press moved on to Michael Jackson, and now that that is over, to the missing girl in Aruba, and when that is settled Phil Spector's trial is coming up. Did he murder that woman?

JAS obviously has no nose for the news. We're not the big boys in this business.

Ric Erickson -

All's Well That Ends Well. Headline - "Zen and Now: Jackson Back as Lakers' Coach"

Change of ways; only big boys now...

Hollywood -

Yes, Phil Jackson is famous for being a Zen guy - many articles out here about his Zen beliefs. The Christian right forgives him for being such a godless man as he wins - five championships with Michael Jordon and the Bulls, and four with the Lakers. No evangelical boycotts down at Staples Center - yet. The next season will be Phil doing his Zen master thing with Kobe Bryant as his young acolyte - "Yes, Grasshopper, you will learn that...."

Ric Erickson -

From today's New York Times: ''Because of the highly unusual nature of the global war on terror, and because we do not want to detain any person longer than as necessary, we've taken this unprecedented and historic action to establish this process to permit enemy combatants to be heard while conflict is ongoing,'' McGarrah said.

Hollywood -


Posted by Alan at 10:58 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 15 June 2005 20:50 PDT home

Tuesday, 14 June 2005

Topic: World View

France Turns a Bit American: What's Up with That?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005 notes from Paris -

In our coverage of the end of the Michael Jackson trial - Enough Already: Michael Jackson So Over - there's a screen shot of one of the celebrating pro-Jackson demonstrators waving a French flag.

What was THAT about?

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, and Our Man in Paris, has some thoughts, as the same image showed up on the television news in Paris -
In one of the posts today there's a mention of a French flag. This showed up in tonight's TV-news, which had a report about MJ getting off. While many fans outside the courthouse looked like they weren't old enough to remember MJ's last hit, there was this French guy waving the bloody tricolor, screaming, "France is behind you, Mikey!" - in French of course. This was probably one of the Johnny Hallyday fans left stranded in Las Vegas from a few years ago. It just goes to show that when it comes to serious looniness the French can hold their own. I mean, there's Johnny Hallyday, isn't there?
Yep, there's him.

But what else is happening in the City of Light?
Well. Of course the world moves on, so Giscard was on the TV too, for the first time since his constitution got the big 'non' here. He said it was like 'Saving Private Ryan,' in the sense that there is no other text and no project to create any. He also mentioned a recent poll in which 65% of the French were for a continuation of the EU, plus the fact that Italy, Spain and Germany, and 7 other countries have voted to ratify the constitution. He's just a poor loser of course.
What? See this:

Giscard puts blame on Chirac
Elaine Sciolino - The New York Times / The International Herald Tribune - Wednesday, June 15, 2005
PARIS - As the architect of the European Union constitution, Valary Giscard d'Estaing, seemed at the top of his game, praised as "the Mozart of politics" and poised to go down in history as the founding father of a new Europe.

Only two months ago, Giscard, the former French president, called the constitution "as perfect as, perhaps less elegant than, the Constitution of the United States of America."

Ratification by member countries was supposed to have been easy, and Giscard, now 79, might even have been asked to become the first president of the entire the 25-country bloc. …
Ah well, he himself is elegant. And a sore loser. And why is "the Mozart of politics" making references to "Saving Private Ryan" of all things?

The French are strange. (And someone who has lived in the middle of Hollywood for fifteen years says that?)

And then, as Ric notes, the Big Brit was in town -
Tony was in town today. Back in prehistoric times Thatcher conned the EU into giving it an annual cheque for 5 billion euros, in return for the UK contributing anything - about 7 billion - to the common EU funds. Apparently it was a deal to balance the fact that UK farmers had been already driven into the Irish Sea and there wasn't anything to subsidize. Now the UK is doing alright Jack, and France - Jacques in fact - is leading the drive to get the UK to forego the cheque.

Tony said, 'not bloody likely!' He said, "Why should the EU spend 60% of its budget to subsidize 2% of the population?"

I hope Jacques said that Tony would starve to death if we don't. I hope he didn't say we could buy cheap wheat from America instead. If Europe didn't squander it on farmers, what else could it waste it on? Mind you, if we can drive the farmers off the land, then we could close all those money-losing rural post offices, town halls, bakeries and village schools.
Oh, that dispute is a dismal business as the BBC notes here (Tuesday, 14 June, 2005, 18:56 GMT 19:56 UK) -
Tony Blair says he cannot see how he can bridge his disagreement with French President Jacques Chirac over the controversial British EU rebate.

The UK premier said his talks with Mr Chirac were "immensely amicable" but there was "sharp disagreement".

Mr Blair earlier flatly rejected a formal plan put forward by Luxembourg to freeze Britain's ?3bn rebate. …
So these were "immensely amicable" talks - but there was "sharp disagreement." Cool. Blair speaks passable French, and he's not Margaret Thatcher, but this is going nowhere.

But Ric reminds me of one of my favorite things about to happen, again -
Upcoming is the weekend of the 24-hour flat-out race at Le Mans. France has its own good old boys and about a quarter million of them go there and drink a lot of six-packs during the race and the weekend. It's supposed to be quite a show, and, since it usually rains floods, it might be disappointing this year if the drunks stay dry.

It's all very appropriate because TV-news just announced that French drivers seem to be losing their fear of the robot radars, as in, speeding has become fashionable again. Average autoroute speeds have risen from 128 kph to 142 kph, and it has been estimated that 94% of drivers are joining the fun. No doubt this prompted the traffic lords to propose 'life-long' license plates, to combat against the tens of thousands circulating with stolen or counterfeit plates. The idea is that a car will get a plate and keep the same one until it goes to the wreckers. They didn't say how this would prevent the stolen plate trick, but the speeding drivers who were photographed by the robot radars while they were home asleep in bed in Perpignan will probably welcome the idea.

All that slow driving was too tedious anyway. Getting to the beaches is going to be fun this year. Or would be, if there were any free parking spaces.
I drove Autoroute A54 et A9 - Arles to Aix – a few years back. Much like driving the freeway out here (same climate, same topography, same flora, and we have beaches too) – when you can, you go fast.

And it would be fun to get to Le Mans one day.

But the license plates? Years ago you'd spot a French car out here with a plate that ended in "75" and know it was from Paris. That system ended a few years ago, and now this. New ugly pan-European currency and no localized license plates on the cars. Things keep changing.

Back to Ric -
Which brings up to the beach report. Many French beaches have been awarded the good housekeeping Europe-wide 'blue' flags for 2005. A local seaside mayor whose resort community didn't get one said that the inspections were too superficial, and didn't take into account polluted ground-water and open-pit garbage dumps just out of sight behind his battery recycling plant. Another town showed its wheelchair route across the sand to the high water, which kind of looked like the edge of the Erie Canal with its gum wrappers and froth of suds. Next thing we'll hear will be from the sanitation inspectors, discovering unfrozen meat lockers full of rotten chicken wings, worms as big as bullsnakes in the lettuce and stinky cheese full of rabid mice. Our paradise has lumps in it, but it's authentic!
Hey, after a heavy rain the beaches out here are just the same!

And Ric adds -
How timely that bacteria no longer infests the oysters. They had to be given a clean bill of health on account of the oyster people burning down police stations and tax offices, and blocking ports with their oyster scows. Now they are waiting for a month with 'r' in it so they can go on the rampage about the price of gas, or is that the wine people?
What? We don't have the scows blocking ports, and no one is burning down anything, but a red tide has shut down most shellfish beds from Maine to Massachusetts. No oysters. On Friday, June 10, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries expanded the ban to a stretch of federal water (see this) – but no rampage.

Do Americans go on rampages about oysters, or the price of gas, or the price of wine? No – that's a French thing. We don't do rampages. Consider our revolutions back in the eighteenth century. You guys had the guillotine and that Reign of Terror. We had the Boston Tea Party. "Party."

But as Los Angeles moves into the dry season, what Ric says here resonates -
Meanwhile, also causing anxiety, is the lack of rain. One by one departments are being added to those with water restrictions and farmers are watching their tender little green plants shrivel up into ropey brown twists of useless weed, while car washes close down and lawns fry. Meteo France [watch the weather here] says that two out of four weather soothsayers are predicting a summer warmer than usual. The water bomber squadrons are completing their spring training. Paris, mostly immune from all this, will hold its first beach volleyball tournament at the end of July on the Champ de Mars. Unknown - whether there will be sand, and whether they will play beside the Seine. Where there's sand there's …
Hot, no rain, beach volleyball. Polluted beaches, speeders, beer drinking good-old-boys at the car races. And crazed Michael Jackson fans?

As Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, said earlier - "Omigod! It sounds like the French are turning into... into Americans!"

Posted by Alan at 20:54 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 15 June 2005 17:22 PDT home

Topic: Making Use of History

"Never apologize, son. It's a sign of weakness." – Not Just for Muslims Anymore

Monday, June 13, the Senate voted to issue a formal apology for its repeated failures to pass anti-lynching legislation.

A Senate Apology for History on Lynching
Vote Condemns Past Failure to Act
Avis Thomas-Lester, Washington Post, Tuesday, June 14, 2005; Page A12
The U.S. Senate last night approved a resolution apologizing for its failure to enact federal anti-lynching legislation decades ago, marking the first time the body has apologized for the nation's treatment of African Americans. …
Drawing on the assistance of Assistant Historian of the Senate Betty Koed, Historian of the House of Representatives Robert Remini, Garrison Nelson of the University of Vermont, and Julian Zelizer of Boston University, Daniel Engber here, in the "Explainer" column at SLATE.COM, gives background.

First, the resolution itself can be found here - noting congress ignored hundreds of proposed anti-lynching bills as thousands of African-Americans were killed between 1882 and the 1968. Oops.

Precedents? Engber notes these:
In 1987, the House passed a resolution to apologize for the internment and relocation of Japanese-Americans (and the relocation of Aleuts) during World War II. The Senate passed an equivalent bill the following year.

In 1992, the Senate voted to apologize for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. The House followed suit in 1993, and Congress expressed its official regrets to Native Hawaiians.

The House, though, rejected a 1997 proposal to apologize for slavery, and the Senate failed to pass an anti-lynching apology last year. In 2004, some members of Congress also tried unsuccessfully to pass an official declaration of remorse for the treatment of American Indians. (Both houses are again considering an apology for the treatment of Indians.)
So this sort of thing is recent, and rare.


Engber speculates that "lawmakers might be afraid that an admission of guilt will lead to claims for government reparations, like those offered to the victims of wartime internment. Bills calling for an investigation of reparations for slavery have been introduced again and again over the last few decades. A formal apology for a single injustice done to a single group also might invite demands from other groups."

One must be careful. Engber does note that last Wednesday the Senate passed a bill to recognize the importance of sun safety. And a few months earlier, senators unanimously agreed to commend the men's gymnastics team from the University of Oklahoma for winning the NCAA championship.

Much safer.

As mentioned previously –

Bush urged: 'Never apologize' to Muslims
Administration officials reportedly inspired by classic John Wayne movie
Some members of the Bush administration have taken a cue from a classic John Wayne Western and are advising their boss to take the film's advice – "Never apologize" – when dealing with Muslims, reports geopolitical analyst Jack Wheeler.

In a column on his intelligence website, To the Point, Wheeler explains Wayne's "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," made in 1948, though lesser known than many of the star's films, includes what's been called one of the top 100 movie quotes of all time.

Wayne's character, Capt. Nathan Brittles, who is facing an Indian attack, advises a junior officer: "Never apologize, son. It's a sign of weakness." …
That – and it can cost big bucks.

And what is the point? Tuesday morning this was in the local paper our here, the Los Angeles Times - one Deborah Crawford, whose great-grandfather was lynched in South Carolina in 1916 after arguing with a white farmer over the price of cottonseed, saying the whole thing was just odd - "I feel that there should be something else, something more than an apology, but I don't know what."

Oh, no one knows what.

By the way, this was a voice vote – so no one had to go on record. That way you don't lose the votes of the red-meat right.

Over at The Daily Kos you can find a list of the initial twenty who 1) refused to co-sponsor the anti-lynching resolution, and 2) refused a roll-call vote so they'd have to put their name on the resolution.

Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Robert Bennett (R-UT)
Christopher Bond (R-MO)
Jim Bunning (R-KY)
Conrad Burns (R-MT)
Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
Thad Cochran (R-MS)
John Cornyn (R-TX)
Michael Crapo (R-ID)
Michael Enzi (R-WY)
Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
Judd Gregg (R-NH)
Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
Trent Lott (R-MS)
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
Richard Shelby (R-AL)
John Sununu (R-NH)
Craig Thomas (R-WY)
George Voinovich (R-OH)
Kent Conrad (D-ND) – but later changed his mind and joined as co-sponsor

What was Howard Dean saying about the Republicans being a monolithic party of white Christians? Everyone, Democrat and Republican alike, was aghast at that remark - except Wesley Clark (See this - "I'm proud of Howard Dean. I'm proud of the Democratic party. And we're going to stand together as a party.")

John Aravosis over at AMERICABlog checks what was coming from the offices of those who didn't want to apologize for anything – the usual "my boss was out of town" stuff. But he points out this -
The vote last night was a voice vote. That means all you need is one guy in the Senate chamber to have it pass (as I understand it, there were some 6 Senators or so there last night). That one guy says something about asking unanimous consent that SRes39 (the resolution) be agreed to. The presiding chair says "all those in favor say aye, all those opposed say no, the ayes appear to have it, the ayes do have it." And bam, it's done. All you need is one Senator sitting there saying aye and it's "unanimous."

A "roll call vote" is when they literally go through each Senator's name and he or she has to vote yes or no. They didn't do that last night, on purpose, so there would be no record of the "no" votes.

What we are talking about, and what we are angry about, is NOT who did or didn't vote for the resolution. In principle, NOBODY voted for the resolution and, at the same time, EVERYBODY did because it was passed "unanimously." What we are upset about is that you ALSO can "cosponsor" legislation before and AFTER it is voted on. Cosponsoring legislation is a way of showing your support the legislation, and usually your intention to vote for it. Apparently this resolution had 84 cosponsors, but 16 Senators refused to cosponsor it.

The question is therefore, why did Senator X refuse to cosponsor legislation, in essence, opposing lynching?

But it gets better. A senator can add themself as a cosponsor even AFTER a resolution is passed. That means the 16 hold-outs can STILL now add themselves as cosponsors of the resolution.

So why don't they?
Kent Conrad (D-ND) did. The others?

Of the nineteen left there are sixteen on the list as of Tuesday night - Orrin Hatch and Trent Lott among them. They know their constituencies. And they watch those John Wayne movies.

Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly points to something else happening Monday – the same day as the apology – "The Supreme Court, overturning the murder convictions of a black man in California and another in Texas by nearly all-white juries, warned judges and prosecutors Monday that they must put an end to racial discrimination in the selection of jurors." (Full story here.)

So? His comment -
It's about damn time. There's value in symbolic actions like the Senate apology, but there's a lot more value in recognizing the reality of how racism continues to work today and then doing something about it. Of course lawyers routinely consider race when they pick juries, and most judges know it when they see it. Giving them the authority to exercise their best judgment to put a stop to this helps prevent the modern day equivalent of lynching - which, for my money, is the best way there is to apologize for the actions of the past. …
A quibble – is there value in symbolic actions like the Senate apology? What would it be?

It seems like posturing. Yes, better to work on the nuts and bolts of jury selection.

Do something now.


Footnote -

La Shawn Barber, who happens to be black, says this:
"In light of the serious problems we face in the world and our own country, I think this apology is one of the dumbest, emptiest, most politically correct pile of rubbish I've heard in a long time.

... I'm sick of politicians wasting time and money pandering to blacks, treating us like empty-headed children, spoon-feeding us putrid pabulum, and prostrating themselves for every perceived slight. Don't apologize to 'Black People.' Apologize to individual blacks who actually care about this mess."
Hey! There's an idea.

Posted by Alan at 18:44 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 15 June 2005 18:39 PDT home

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