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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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Saturday, 6 August 2005

Topic: The Culture

Cultural Notes: Changing the World, One Song at a Time

Reuters reported from London on Friday, August 5, the results of the poll in the magazine Uncut. That poll was to find the one hundred songs, movies, television shows and books that "changed the world" in the opinion of musicians, actors and industry experts. (This was the magazine's one hundredth issue after all.) Readers in the UK can check out the results in detail in hard copy - the magazine doesn't provide the results online. Online there's only notes on what didn't make the cut, so to speak. So we here in the States must take Reuters' word for the winners.

Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" (1965) won - of all the songs and movies and books and whatnot, this most "changed the world," if one is to believe the likes of Paul McCartney, Noel Gallagher, Robert Downey Jr, Keith Richards and Lou Reed. Oh yeah, add Edward Norton and ex-Beach Boy Brian Wilson.

Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" was in second place.

Patti Smith on the Dylan song: "I absolutely remember where I was when I first heard it. It got me through adolescence." Really? She might have made it anyway, with or without Dylan.

Paul McCartney, who voted for "Heartbreak Hotel" explains why: "It's the way (Presley) sings it as if he is singing from the depths of hell. His phrasing, use of echo, it's all so beautiful. Musically, it's perfect." So Sir Paul is being technical, not personal.

Third place? The Beatles' "She Loves You."

Fourth place? The Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction."

Fifth? The highest-ranking film - Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange."

Sixth were "The Godfather" and "The Godfather II" films.

Television was not represented until you got to the tenth slot, and there you'd find "The Prisoner" (1967) - as close as television comes to Kafka, at least intentionally. If you don't know the show see this.

What about books? The first one shows up at number nineteen in the poll - Jack Kerouac's "On the Road."

Whatever. At the heart of this is the idea that songs, movies, television shows and books do, in fact, change the world. Perhaps they do, but asking musicians, actors and industry dudes may have not been the best idea. Should have asked George Bush, or the new pope, or Tony Blair, or Nelson Mandela.

Of course Uncut is not that sort of magazine, but it would have been interesting.

Posted by Alan at 12:31 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 5 August 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Extralegal Detention: Gitmo, Gutmo

Odd front-page news at the end of the week:

Afghanistan Agrees To Accept Detainees
U.S. Negotiating Guantanamo Transfers
Josh White and Robin Wright, Washington Post, Friday, August 5, 2005; A01
The Bush administration is negotiating the transfer of nearly 70 percent of the detainees at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to three countries as part of a plan, officials said, to share the burden of keeping suspected terrorists behind bars.

U.S. officials announced yesterday that they have reached an agreement with the government of Afghanistan to transfer most of its nationals to Kabul's "exclusive" control and custody. There are 110 Afghan detainees at Guantanamo and 350 more at the Bagram airfield near Kabul. Their transfers could begin in the next six months.

Pierre-Richard Prosper, ambassador at large for war crimes, who led a U.S. delegation to the Middle East this week, said similar agreements are being pursued with Saudi Arabia and Yemen, whose nationals make up a significant percentage of the Guantanamo population. Prosper held talks in Saudi Arabia on Sunday and Monday, but negotiations were cut off after the announcement of King Fahd's death.

By the numbers: send 129 Saudis and 107 Yemenis from Guantanamo to the custody of their home countries. If the U.S. government is able to arrange the transfer of detainees who came from all three countries, the population at the facility will drop by 68 percent, from 510 to 164.
"This is not an effort to shut down Guantanamo. Rather, the arrangement we have reached with the government of Afghanistan is the latest step in what has long been our policy - that we need to keep dangerous enemy combatants off the battlefield," Matthew Waxman, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, said shortly after leaving Kabul with Prosper. "We, the U.S., don't want to be the world's jailer. We think a more prudent course is to shift that burden onto our coalition partners."
Something is up.

And Bill O'Reilly will be ticked. We have over five hundred folks there, and most of them have been there for nearly four years. No charges. A bit of rough treatment, maybe abuse, maybe torture. To be fair, four of the five hundred have actually been accused of crimes. (See this in the Post.) Four military prosecutors - not defense guys, but prosecutors - threatened to quit because the who tribunal thing is, they say, rigged and pointless. (See this in the Wall Street Journal.) And the whole business there may be playing into the hands of the terrorists, who now use GITMO as a recruiting tool. Still O'Reilly says he's just kill them all: "I don’t give them any protection. I don’t feel sorry for them. In fact, I probably would have ordered their execution if I had the power." (Audio here and video here .)

It seems the administration isn't listening to Bill.

Over at Media in Trouble, this -
… let's start with this grand article about the United States transferring the detainees from US custody to Afghanistan. this is obviously an attempt at some Copperfieldian (as in David) attempt at washing our hands of the whole torture ordeal without actually washing our hands of the whole torture ordeal. I never thought that the benefit of the Great War on Terror … would be that we could have surrogate prisons in which we can torture our uncharged prisoners of the aforementioned war with ever changing acronyms.

The georgiousity of the situation would make any neocon's lips wetter than a Burger King's mop at closing time. Let us jail folks without any kind of notice, charges, or legal basis, then once the press catches on (three years later) we can simply transfer them to our newly acquired country in the Middle East. So this was the point! The whole thing was not to democratize the middle east, not to eliminate a tyrant, not to find WMD's and not even to destroy terrorists wherever they may live. The point is now clear. In case Afghanistan didn't work out, we needed a plan B to put all our enemy combatants that though human the only right they deserve as a prisoner within our control is to not have their head chopped off. That would be barbaric.

So the article describes the wheeling and dealing going on to turn over as many unconstitutional torturees we can to the US's very own Australia.

… fear not people of the world. We shan't be soft on people whom we have tortured, secluded and even outright beat the living piss out of. We will just transfer them to another state that will do our bidding for us, thus making it legally impossible to connect our actions to those of our surrogates!
Buried somewhere in that awful prose is the idea that this is just a way to shift responsibility for all this to third parties we control - it's not just shifting prisoners. Whatever happened, or happens now, isn't our fault. We are just doing the right thing - a little late - but the right thing. O'Reilly can buy a ticket to Kabul and indulge is his "executioner fantasies" there - he can slit throats until he passes out giggling in glee. Those guys will help. We can't let him fly down to Cuba and do that. It would look bad.

Heck, he should be happy with this decision. We'll see what he says.

Posted by Alan at 19:09 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Selling the War

Follow Up: Back to the War on Terror

Last weekend in Semantics: Thucydides got it right a long time ago... you would find a long discussion of how our government had decided to change how we discuss what we are doing around the world. The Global War on Terror (GWOT) was to become the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism (GSAVE) - a change in terms to better capture what we were doing. Yes, it was awkward, but not a bad idea. Precision is nice.

But GSAVE has gone the way of the great auk. We're back to GWOT.

Why? The Washington Monthly provides the story of the rise and fall of this acronym.

1.) There was a story two months ago by Susan Glasser in the Washington Post that hinted something was happening. She reported that the Bush administration had "launched a high-level internal review of its efforts to battle international terrorism," and that the review was focused on moving policy away from merely killing al-Qaeda leaders and toward a broader "strategy against violent extremism." (That's here.)

2. ) Nothing official for two months - except Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Myers gave a few speeches in which they used the phrase "struggle against violent extremism," and Myers said he personally disliked the phrase "war on terrorism."

3. ) July 26 - the article in the New York Times (mentioned last week in these pages) that made the claim that these two months of changes in phrasing indicated the administration was "retooling its slogan for the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups." The article is here with this: "Administration and Pentagon officials say the revamped campaign has grown out of meetings of President Bush's senior national security advisers that began in January, and it reflects the evolution in Mr. Bush's own thinking nearly four years after the Sept. 11 attacks."

4.) As the Washington Monthly notes, not a single person is directly quoted as saying that the phrase was officially being changed. Rumsfeld and Myers are quoted using the phrase and a few other people are quoted defending the phrase, but only anonymous "senior administration officials" are used to backstop the assertion that this was some kind of official policy decision. And over the next week, Nexis reported over a hundred mentions of the phrase "global struggle against violent extremism," but with no new reporting. "Every article, editorial, blog post, and late night comic routine is based on Schmitt and Shanker's New York Times piece."

Then it gets good.

5.) Monday, August 1 the president reportedly said at a Homeland Security Council meeting that "no one checked with me." Oops. (See this.)

6.) Tuesday, August 2, in a New York Times article by Richard Stevenson, Bush is directly quoted as saying, "Make no mistake about it, we are at war," and then using the phrase "war on terror" no less than five times. (See this.)

So much for that.

Speculation from the Washington Monthly:
So what the hell happened here? Did Rumsfeld and Myers go off the reservation? Did Schmitt and Shanker screw the pooch, inventing a major policy shift out of a few vaguely worded remarks from anonymous sources? Or was it a deliberate effort to run GSAVE up the flagpole, which was then hastily hauled back in when it became the butt of jokes?
Who knows. Perhaps it was a bit of all three.

But disregard GSAVE. It’s dead. It's extinct.

Posted by Alan at 19:04 PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink

Topic: The Media

Walking Out: Novak Loses It.

While blithely snapping aerial photographs over Los Angeles Harbor from a the front seat of the Goodyear blimp, "Spirit if America," much was happening in the other real world on Thursday, August 4. Robert Novak, the columnist who revealed the name of a CIA agent in a column and started a scandal that may sink the administration, or not, lost his temper, and, for now, his job at CNN. The event happened as the blimp was over the Queen Mary in Long Beach harbor. Drat. Missed it.

Novak got upset on CNN's "Inside Politics" when James Carville interrupted him, then he muttered "I think that's bullshit" in Carville's general direction, and then he stalked off the set. The video is here.

Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly is puzzled:
It beats me what happened. It seemed like just the usual banter between Novak and Carville, who have done this kind of thing about a thousand times before, so I don't know what set Novak off - although I understand that he's been under a lot of pressure lately over some controversy or other. Planegate? Something like that, anyway.

In any case… CNN says, "We've asked Mr. Novak to take some time off."

The world is a brighter place already.
Yeah, but what's up?

Tim Grieve here -
Novak was reacting most immediately to James Carville, who interrupted him while he was talking about the electoral prospects of Katherine Harris. But is it just possible that he had something else on his mind? Before the segment began, CNN's Ed Henry told Novak that he would be asking him about the Plame case.

Update: In a telephone interview with the New York Times Thursday night, Carville explained his colleague's actions this way: "Bob's probably got a lot going on in his life."
Wonkette offers An on-going look at solving the mystery of Bob Novak's bullshit, but Amy Sullivan puts things in context:
It's really impossible to overstate the extent to which Novak has been coddled and protected for decades by the perfect set-up. He answers to no one - not to an editor (his column is syndicated - if papers don't like it, all they can do is drop it), not to a producer (he executive-produced his own shows), and certainly not to fellow journalists who have, out of a misguided sense of collegiality and friendship, avoided asking him tough questions.

With very few exceptions, Novak has not only refused to answer questions about the Plame affair - he has threatened to immediately terminate any interview in which such questions are raised. That was the ground rule for my interview with him last fall, and I'm almost certain (although I could never get anyone at CNN to confirm it for me) that he threatened to walk off the set if anyone at the network asked him about Plame. The absurdity of that arrangement finally became too much for the network a few weeks ago, as the spotlight on this case heated up, and he has since grudgingly tolerated some queries on-air.

It's not just that Novak doesn't want to answer questions; what's clear is that he doesn't think he should have to. The comparison that keeps coming to my mind is with Jack Nicholson's Colonel Jessup in A Few Good Men. "You need me on that wall. You want me on that wall. And you can't handle it if I have to out a few CIA agents now and then."

My interview with Novak from our December 2004 issue, as well as an explanation of how he created his own ethics-free zone, and a theory about why the Washington press corps handles him with kid gloves can be found here.
And for press wonks, that's a good read.

But the immediate cause? See Tim Grieve - What made Bob blow? His methods were being questioned, or were about to be questioned. And he may have just been called back to testify before the grand jury. He was testy.

And Friday he said he was sorry.
"I apologize for my conduct and I'm sorry I did it," Novak said in an interview with the Associated Press. There's no word on why he did it, but Novak insists that his tantrum had nothing to do with the fact that Ed Henry was about to ask him about the Valerie Plame case. "That had nothing to do with it, absolutely nothing," Novak said. "I was sorry he said that."
Yeah, well - whatever.

To put things in perspective, something from Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, who actually knows Novak -
My theory is that this Plame story - and, in fact, the whole story of us going to war - is being misconstrued in the so-called "media."

Based on what I've heard so far, here's how I personally imagine it goes. Tell me if you disagree.

Set the Wayback Machine to Francis Fukiama's "End of History" piece that argued that the collapse of European Communism meant we no longer had crusades worth engaging in. A group of neocons, led by William Kristol - and who were sitting around with nothing else to do during the Clinton administration - not unlike what the "March of Dimes" did after some idiot came up with a cure for polio - disagreed, and began their search for a new "cause," eventually ending up starting a group they called the "New American Century" that urged that the United States spread democracy around the world. After all, every US administration had been pandering to our Middle Eastern allies, none of whom allowed democracy within their borders, all of which eventually came back to bite us in the butt in terms of bad PR.

When Bush was elected, many of these "New American Century" guys - including Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz - ended up on his staff, and soon convinced him that this "spreading democracy" thing could be what would make history remember him as a great president. The question, of course, was how to bring this about?

The answer, of course, was Iraq! If Iraq could be somehow "converted" to a democracy, the rest of the region would be tempted to follow. Why Iraq? Because it had a history of defying the rest of the world in not living up to the agreements it signed at the end of the 1991 war, because it was governed by a fruitcake who seemed to have no friends anywhere, and was therefore a pushover.

9/11 presented them with the opportunity to do what they wanted to do anyway. The conclusion could naturally be drawn that Saddam might easily share his WMD with terrorists, such as those who attacked us. Even though the world in general, and America in particular, would never accept invading Iraq to bring democracy there, they could certainly be persuaded to go along if the situation could be "framed" as a Global War on Terror thing.

And there was little doubt that Saddam had WMD; after all, he had used them, as we constantly heard, "against his own people!" In fact, I am pretty sure that Bush and his team never doubted that Iraq had WMD programs and stockpiles, and thought they had only to find the evidence - or, in the words of the British, to "fix the facts" around the argument.

I also do believe both the Brits and the Americans did see war as the "last resort," in the sense that they fully intended to work their way through all those other "resorts," particularly in the U.N., to inevitably arrive at the last one. This was largely because, in Britain, it is against the law to break international law, and it is their understanding that international law prohibits going to war simply for the purpose of "regime change." Americans have no such qualms, but the Bush administration went along with this United Nations gambit just to please its primary ally, although fully hoping that the UN would not involve itself in our war.

(It should be noted, by the way, that those who actually listened to the famous sixteen words in Bush's State of the Union Speech in which Bush alluded to evidence of Saddam Hussein trying to buy uranium from Niger, would already have known, I suspect, that the man was full of it. If my memory serves, many of us already knew about the controversy of the forged documents.)

But somewhere along the line, while the administration was trying to "fix the facts" to back up its arguments, I imagine someone in the Vice President's office - although probably not the veep himself - heard about these Niger allegations and asked themselves if the CIA had anything on it, so they made a call over there. The CIA, I further imagine, said no, they had nothing on it.
And in the next meeting of the agency's Counterintelligence Committee, of which Valerie Plame Wilson was a member, someone brought up the VP office inquiry. And I'd guess that Valerie herself might have offered that her husband, Joe Wilson, the former diplomat, personally knew Niger's prime minister and also the minister of mines, and maybe someone then suggested we bring him in here to talk about his going over there to check this out. And they did, and so did he.

And when Wilson came back to report there was nothing to the story, and much later noticed the president making that argument in his speech, he got annoyed that this country was marched off to war on a pig and a poke, and so he wrote that op-ed piece, citing his personal knowledge to back up his charge. And somewhere in his argument, he mentioned that it was his understanding that the veep's office initiated this thing, and so the administration should have known better.

And this being during a presidential campaign, the administration's minions set out to discredit the story, specifically by saying Wilson was not sent by the Vice President Cheney. In fact, they said offhandedly - but not, in my opinion, to punish Wilson by outing his wife, since they probably didn't even understand that she was actually working covertly - it was their understanding that Wilson's mission was suggested by his wife, who worked at the Agency. And for a second source, Bob Novak called some guys in the White House, one or both of whom actually knew no more than they had heard from journalists, and so said something like, "Yeah, I heard that, too."

So who was the first to out Plame? In fact, I don't have a theory on that, but I suspect it was neither Rove nor Libby, and probably not someone that close to the White House. But I suspect - and I could be proven wrong - that it was not so much an attempt to punish Wilson as it was simply to discredit his story by saying it didn't originate with Cheney himself.

And what is Fitzgerald after? I'm not sure about that either, although it may have something to do with perjury - specifically, who said what to the grand jury. I guess time will answer that question.

But I think it's a shame, because I suspect Democrats will end up with some egg on their faces for playing this thing to the hilt. Not that Karl Rove isn't a sneaky bastard, I just think this leak thing will not turn out to have all that many of his fingerprints on it.
Maybe so. But Novak is on edge.

Time will tell.

Posted by Alan at 19:00 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 5 August 2005 19:02 PDT home

Topic: The Law

The Nominee: Roberts Did What?

While blithely snapping aerial photographs over Los Angeles Harbor from a the front seat of the Goodyear blimp, "Spirit if America," much was happening in the other real world on Thursday, August 4. Richard Serrano in the Los Angeles Times reported that Supreme Court nominee John Roberts was a key player in a 1996 pro bono case involving gay rights:
Gay rights activists at the time described the court's 6-3 ruling as the movement's most important legal victory. The dissenting justices were those to whom Roberts is frequently likened for their conservative ideology: Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

Roberts' work on behalf of gay rights activists, whose cause is anathema to many conservatives, appears to illustrate his allegiance to the credo of the legal profession: to zealously represent the interests of the client, whoever it might be.
Say what?

Kevin Drum here:
It's probably a sign of my slow deterioration into political senility that I'm less interested in the actual story here than I am in the meta-story. Why did Serrano write this piece? Who suggested it to him? And why did they suggest it?

Was it to make Roberts look less doctrinaire and therefore more palatable to liberals? Or was it designed to plant seeds of doubt about his doctrinal trustworthiness among conservatives? Or to insinuate that maybe Roberts is gay after all? Or what?

Deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole we go…
And the New York Times picks up the story the next day with additional detail:
Judge John G. Roberts Jr., the Supreme Court nominee, gave advice to advocates for gay rights a decade ago, helping them win a landmark 1996 ruling protecting gay men and lesbians from state-sanctioned discrimination.

Judge Roberts, at the time an appellate lawyer for the Washington firm of Hogan & Hartson, did not write legal briefs or argue the case, lawyers involved said. But they said he did provide invaluable strategic guidance working pro bono to formulate legal theories and coach them in moot court sessions.

Judge Roberts did not disclose his role in the case to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which asked about pro bono work in a questionnaire. News of his participation was first reported Thursday in The Los Angeles Times, and it set off an immediate scramble on both the left and the right, upending perceptions of the nominee in both camps.
Yep, watch the White House scramble to his defense, and the religious right worry - is something going on here?

Maybe. Over at Manhattan Offender you can find How gay is this guy? - there the Roberts' background is reviewed and we get this: "My early years were very similar and, dude, I'm a total 'mo."

As Bill Montgomery over at Whiskey Bar says: TITLE "I knew the freaking pants were a give away!" Yep, they were plaid.
This just shows how out of touch I am these days with the mainstream (or should I say the sewer main?) of American politics. I thought the big scandal was Roberts's failure to disclose his services to the all-powerful sunscreen lobby. But apparently being a corporate whore, and trying to hide it, can't hold a candle to the heinous sin of litigating on behalf of equal rights, and then trying to hide that.

I don't think this was just a youthful indiscretion, either.

What will be hilarious, of course, will be watching Right Blogostan try to figure out how to deal with this new development. The same people who were outraged - outraged! - by the stupid jokes about Roberts's teenage fashion sense, now will have to figure out what they think about him legally consorting with known gay rights activists.

Being gay can be overlooked or rationalized, a la Jeff Gannon. Discrimination, after all, is for the little people. But defending gays - fondling the equal protection clause, stroking the constitutional "penumbra," making mad, passionate love to the privacy doctrine - these are sins that simply cannot be forgiven, not if the phrase social conservative is to have any meaning that can't be found next to "hypocrite" in a thesaurus.

But what would that say about the man who nominated Roberts? When conservatives snickered about the "stealth candidate," and congratulated Bush for having so cleverly "threaded the needle," this isn't exactly what they meant. Has their unappreciated genius actually blundered? Or, God forbid, could he be…

No. It's unthinkable. Somehow, in some way, Roberts's dalliance with the forces of darkness must be the filthy liberals' fault.

… But Roberts's mid-life legal crisis poses a dilemma for us lefties, too. Should we snuggle up to the judge and encourage him to come out of the closet completely? Should we start dropping little hints about the Lambda fundraiser we saw him at, or the time we spotted him having a cozy candlelight supper with Ralph Neas? Or would that blow so many fuses at Focus on the Family that Bush would be forced to drop Roberts like, well, a Talon News reporter?

Do we still want to stop Roberts, considering who (or what) we might get in his place? Personally, I'm almost starting to feel sympathy for the guy - even if he is a greasy corporate whore smothered in coco butter. Better the butter than the whole nut, which is what we'd get if Justice Janice Brown ended up taking the oath.

I don't know. Maybe the best thing for progressives and liberals (and dino Dems, for that matter) to do at this point is just sit back and let the Republicans have at it. Between Frist's flipflop on stem cells, and Roberts' fling with gay liberation, the stage seems to be set for a nasty intra-party fight between the Enron wing and the Taliban wing of the GOP. And the last thing we want to do is get in the way of that.
Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

And is Bush gay? Betty Bowers thought so a year ago.

The world gets stranger and stranger by the day.

Posted by Alan at 18:57 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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