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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Friday, 30 September 2005

Topic: Race

Race: Moralists Say the Oddest Things

Written Thursday evening here in Hollywood as night descended and the air was filled with smoke from the twenty-thousand acre fire to the west, the Burbank fire to the north and another far out east - in Apocalypse (Local Version) - there was some mention, in all the other madness, of what William Bennett said this week on Morning in America, his radio show. Perhaps that deserves its own item.

The suggestion was that there was something in the air, beside the smoke.

As brief recap - we're talking about William J. "Bill" Bennett, born in Brooklyn, BA in philosophy from Williams, PhD from the University of Texas, Harvard law degree - co-director of "Empower America," the "Washington Fellow" out here at the Claremont Institute - and chairman of "Americans for Victory over Terrorism." He was Reagan's chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (1981-1985) and Secretary of Education (1985-1988), and our "drug czar" (1989-1990). He's written sixteen books, but is most famous for The Book of Virtues and The Children's Book of Virtues. His latest is called Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism. He's a moral man. Yes, there was that scandal with his compulsive gambling, but the right forgave him.

A minor note, William J. "Bill" Bennett's brother is Robert Bennett, Judy Miller's lawyer - you know, Miller is the New York Times reporter who just spent eighty-five days in jail for something or other. Friday, September 30, on CNN's "Situation Room," he, Robert, was being interviewed about why Miller got out of jail now, and about her testimony to the grand jury that morning, and where it was all leading. Then the host, Wolf Blitzer, blindsided him by asking what he thought of his brother's statements about aborting black babies. He was ticked-off at the change of topic and laid into Blitzer. (Partial transcript here.) He didn't answer.

As for what Brother Bill said this week, that's given in full at Media Matters here (September 28) -
But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could - if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.
Thursday evening you could see him on Fox News telling Sean Hannity this was no big deal. It was sociology or something. Friday this was all over the news, except he didn't appear on CNN's "Situation Room" - Wolf explained that was a contractual matter. Bennett is a Fox News commentator. CNN doesn't get him. But everyone else has comments Friday. Michigan Democrat John Conyers wrote a letter to the Salem Radio Network that syndicates "Morning in America" and requested Bennett be suspended. A glance at television during the day would net Nancy Pelosi being outraged, the Congressional Black Caucus being outraged, and the NAACP likewise. Everyone was piling on. CNN on the "Situation Room" had Jack Cafferty reading viewers' letters.

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, sent along this:
Oh yeah? Just change one word, from black to white: "But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could - if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every WHITE baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."

It would fall off the chart.
Let me see - no babies, white or black or brown or yellow or green - no crime. Makes sense.

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta:
Excellent idea! Had Bill only thought of this himself, he might have gotten himself off the hook.

(And if someone could find the statistics that back up this contention either way, black or white, I'd be curious to hear the results. The whole thing is weird.)
Yes, it is.

Curiously, on the left, Brad DeLong, the economics professor up at Berkeley who was a key player in the Clinton administration, defends Bennett -
Bill Bennett is a hypocrite, a loathsome fungus on the tree of American politics, a man who has worked unceasingly to make America a worse place - when he's not publishing the work of others under his own name, or rolling the dice at Las Vegas while claiming that America's poor would be rich if only they had the righteousness and moral fiber than he does.

But Bill Bennett is not afflicted with genocidal fantasies about ethnically cleansing African-Americans. The claim that he is is completely, totally wrong.

... Addressing a caller's suggestion that the "lost revenue from the people who have been aborted in the last 30 years" would be enough to preserve Social Security's solvency, radio host and former Reagan administration Secretary of Education Bill Bennett dismissed such "far-reaching, extensive extrapolations" by declaring that if "you wanted to reduce crime... if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down." Bennett conceded that aborting all African-American babies "would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do," then added again, "but the crime rate would go down."

Bennett did not "concede" that "aborting all African-American babies 'would be... morally reprehensible.'" That was his point. His caller said: "Abortion is bad because it has worsened the financing of Social Security." Bennett says: "Stay focused. We're anti-abortion not because we think that abortion is a means that leads to bad ends like a higher Social Security deficit; we're anti-abortion because abortion is bad; make arguments like 'abortion is bad because it increases the Social Security deficit' and other people will make arguments like 'abortion is good because it lowers the crime rate' and we'll lose sight of the main point."

Bennett is attempting a reductio ad absurdum argument.

Never attempt a reductio ad absurdum argument on talk radio. You can't keep exact control over your phrasing in real time, and so somebody is bound to think you are endorsing the horrible absurdity that you are rejecting.

(And, while we're at it: never get involved in a land war in Asia; do not read My Pet Goat when death is on the line; never play poker with a man named 'Doc'; never accept a battle of wits where iocane powder is a factor; never blithely download and install a file from Microsoft without carefully, carefully researching what it will do beforehand; never get involved in an argument over Noam Chomsky; and never post about human genetics on your web log.)
Seeing this, our Wall Street attorney friend reminded me of something concerning this advice about never getting involved in an argument over Noam Chomsky - "Didn't we try this once in one of your classes?" Yes, our Wall Street attorney friend was in my Language and Linguistics class back in the seventies, but the issue there was not political but rather about Chomsky's theories of language acquisition. Noam Chomsky also does psycholinguistics, right? That's what MIT hired him to do for all these years. The other stuff is... other stuff.

Anyway, nothing is going to happen here. This Salem Radio Network is not going to do anything to Bennett, as Sarah Posner explains in this item. She does her research. Salem Radio Network's parent company is Salem Communications, a publicly traded media company which openly claims its programming is from a conservative Christian perspective. The company owns over one hundred radio stations in major metropolitan markets and syndicates its programming to almost two thousand stations around the country.

Posner profiles CEO Ed Atsinger and his brother-in-law and Board Chairman Stuart Epperson, two key players in an effort that started fifteen years ago out here to "turn" the California Republican Party, and make it "radical Christian right" - funded by Howard Ahmanson, the fellow who owns Dirt Bike and Motorcross magazines and a few others. Note to self: no more plays at the Ahmanson Theater, no off-road biking, and no Dominos Pizza. Who would want a pizza from an organization that uses its profits to end abortion rights, outlaw homosexuality and get rid of Darwin in the schools? Anyway, pizza is bad for you.

Salem Communications is headquartered, by the way, just up the coast in Camarillo, at the edge of this week's big fires. Is God trying to tell them something?

Note this, courtesy of BartCop:

That'll do.

Posted by Alan at 17:43 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 30 September 2005 19:34 PDT home

Thursday, 29 September 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Apocalypse: Local Version

Thursday was supposed to be a slow news day. After all, the day before, house majority leader Tome DeLay had been indicted for criminal conspiracy and had to step down and was all over the talk shows blustering and saying he'd be back because it was all nonsense and a plot by the Democrats to "get him" - he'd done nothing wrong at all. That was enough political turmoil for the week, and out here Thursday was a good day to relax and glance at what everyone was saying about what it all meant. What else could happen?

By early afternoon in was in the high nineties, the humidity was zero and the visibility, at least to the east outside the office window, unlimited. No smog. You need a temperature inversion for that - a pool of hot air way up, where it shouldn't be, as the higher you go the cooler it gets. When it doesn't? The "inversion" - hot air where it shouldn't be - traps the smog in our basin here. But it was way too hot for that. Clear as a bell - across the hills you could see every detail of the blindingly white Griffith Park Observatory, and behind it, Mount Baldy looming over Claremont and Upland, and behind that Mount Baldy, looming over San Bernardino, sixty miles away.

The only problem was the smell of smoke in the air. The fires out west, where Los Angeles County blends into Ventura County, had burned seventeen thousand acres and were nowhere near being stopped. As they grew, new fires broke out north of Burbank and out east in the Angeles National Forest. The whole of western Los Angeles was put on alert - dangerous air, close your windows, crank up the air-conditioning, lay low - that sort of thing. There was a line of smoke from the Burbank fire drifting over the observatory by six in the evening. Of course, this was all over the local news - continuous coverage with Lawrence Welk's son, Larry, yammering away, providing helicopter coverage. (Why didn't he follow in his father's footsteps and keep the band going?) Well, we had the second wettest winter in history last year and the brush grew very nicely. Now all the new chaparral - creosote plants and other scrub - gives us the fifty-foot flames in all the major canyons and minor arroyos. All of Los Angeles is filled with smoke.

There wasn't much on the political front.

Arnold Shwarzenegger, the governor out here, vetoed the bill the legislature passed legalizing gay marriage, just like he said he would. Whatever. He's in trouble, with approval numbers in the low thirties - far lower than the thirty-nine percent of the folks out here who still support Bush and each and every thing he does. Shwarzenegger needs to "feed his base some red meat" or something. But the argument is over, and has been for a long time. Anyone under forty just doesn't see what the problem is. Everyone has gay friends and doesn't get all riled up about allowing gay marriage. What's the problem? Shwarzenegger is riding the wave of the past. Everyone else has moved on.

Thursday Jon Roberts was confirmed as the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The vote in the senate was fifty-five Republicans voting yes, twenty-two Democrats voting no and twenty-two yes. So? Everyone knew he would be confirmed. He was sworn in and made a nice speech. This is not news. When I walked by the television mid-morning I noticed MSNBC was carrying the vote, senator by senator, live from the floor. The sound was off and I was watering the plants on the balcony, heavily of course, and there seemed no point in listening in.

What else? Late in the afternoon the New York Times reporter, Judy Miller, in jail for refusing to reveal her sources - this grand jury investigating the outing of Valerie Plame wants to know who told her what, or what she told them, or something - was freed from that jail. Her source, Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff, that "Scooter" Libby fellow, spoke with her and, it seems, released her from any confidentiality agreement. She testifies to the grand jury Friday. She may be part of the crime, setting it all up - or not. As mentioned previously, John Bolton, a man who hated Valerie Plame's husband, Joe Wilson, had visited her in jail, taking time from his duties as our new insult-everyone ambassador to the UN. It's very, very confusing, and mysterious. Clarity by the weekend? Probably not.

What else? Something covered in the pages in late July here actually was resolved. From the Reuters wire this -
A federal judge on Thursday ordered the Defense Department to release 74 photos and three videos depicting prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib, some of which may have already been published worldwide.

Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan ordered the Defense Department to release photos provided by Sgt. Joseph Darby, some of which were leaked more than a year ago and set off the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.

The Defense Department had sought to suppress their release, saying publication of new images could incite more violence in Iraq.

... The written ruling came in response to a Freedom of Information Act suit filed in 2003 by civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, over treatment of U.S.-held detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

The judge had ordered the release of the photos in June, but the Department of Defense appealed the decision, warning the judge in oral arguments that releasing the pictures could incite more violence among insurgents in Iraq.

But in a strongly worded ruling on Thursday, the judge noted that "the terrorists in Iraq do not need pretexts for their barbarism" and that America "does not surrender to blackmail and fear of blackmail is not a legally sufficient argument."
Blackmail? What?

Well, his idea was withholding the stuff would be wrong as we were over there fighting for freedom, even freedom of information and that sort of thing: "Indeed, the freedoms we champion are as important to our success in Iraq and Afghanistan as the guns and missiles with which out troops are armed. As President Bush said, we fight to spread freedom so the freedoms of Americans will be made more secure."

Yeah, throw the man's words back in his face. Use logic. Maybe this judge doesn't realize now he faces the wrath of Rove and O'Reilly. On the other hand he gave the government twenty days to appeal before releasing the material. Don't expect anyone will ever see the photos and videotape. The appeal process could take years.

Andrew Sullivan here provides a link to the ruling - Southern District of New York, before Judge Hellerstein, case number is 04 cv. 4151 - but you really have to dig to get there. Sullivan says the most interesting parts is the judge's decision to order the CIA to release documents from the Justice Department on how to interpret the traditional ban on torture. Expect resistance to that. We don't even tell our own soldiers how to interpret the so-called ban and whether or not the Geneva Conventions apply at any given time and place. That way we can have them do all sorts of things, and when something embarrassing comes out, we can slam them for not following the rules we didn't ever explain. Those of us who have worked in large corporations know that trick. It's called "effective management." Always the employee's fault.

By the way, here is Sullivan in his high horse:
I don't think most Americans are aware of what really went on at Abu Ghraib, and the depth and extent of the brutality. The reason is that the administration did everything it could to prevent the full record being made public; and its fawning acolytes in the right-wing media did all they could to portray what happened as "frat-house" hazing by "bad apples." That was patently untrue then; and is patently untrue now. Now, a judge, after months of government delays, has bravely upheld the release of the remainder. His argument? "My task is not to defer to our worst fears, but to interpret and apply the law, in this case, the Freedom of Information Act, which advances values important to our society, transparency and accountability in government." Maybe now, we will begin to get accountability for what has been done and is being done in our name in Iraq, with regard to abuse of detainees and violation of the Geneva Conventions. I repeat: Rumsfeld must resign.
Rumsfeld must resign? Or what - you'll hold your breath until you turn blue? Rumsfeld must resign? That's not the real world.

What's the real world? Hard to tell these days. We had all those stories from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, of the looting and rapes and murders, and all the shifty black folks bringing their shiftless ways to nice clean communities. Better they be in the Astrodome or tent cities. Think about what happened in New Orleans! These were NOT the kind of folks you'd want living next door. You've seen all the stories.

It seems they weren't true. Oops. No more murders than usual, no rapes anyone could document, and most folks were pretty civil. Or so says the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Los Angeles Times, and a little late to the game, the New York Times. (See here, here and here, respectively.) This looks more and more like latent paranoia about the savage black hoards coming to get us all - a Nat Turner kind of thing.

The Columbia Journalism Review disagrees -
Our suspicion is that something subtler than racism - but nearly as insidious - was at work. That would be the media's knee-jerk lunging for drama and sensation at the expense of more measured, and more verifiable, accounts.

To take just one example, consider Fox News, which declared an "alert" just before Alan Colmes' description of "robberies, rapes, carjackings, riots and murder. Violent gangs are roaming the streets at night, hidden by the cover of darkness."
Well, perhaps we're dealing with sensationalism and not racism, but one doubts that when you consider what William Bennett said this week on Morning in America, his radio show.

There's something in the air.

Bennett? That's William J. "Bill" Bennett, born in Brooklyn, BA in philosophy from Williams, PhD from the University of Texas, Harvard law degree - co-director of "Empower America," the "Washington Fellow" out here at the Claremont Institute - and chairman of "Americans for Victory over Terrorism." He was Reagan's chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (1981-1985) and Secretary of Education (1985-1988), and our "drug czar" (1989-1990). He's written sixteen books, but is most famous for The Book of Virtues and The Children's Book of Virtues. His latest is called Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism. He's a moral man. Yeah, there was that scandal with his compulsive gambling, but the right forgave him.

So what did he say this week? See this transcript (September 28) -
But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could - if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.
The next evening you could see him on Fox News telling Sean Hannity this was no big deal. It was sociology or something.

Here's Tim Grieve's summary:
A caller to Bennett's radio show suggested that the Social Security system would have money to spare if the nation hadn't aborted so many wage earners over the years. In the course of raising questions about that theory, Bennett said you can't make too many assumptions about the kind of adults aborted fetuses might grow up to be.

There is "just too much that you don't know," Bennett said. "But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could - if that were your sole purpose - you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."
Ah, maybe it would. Them black folk are like that.

Is this an isolated bit of nonsense? Maybe not.

There's this in the Wall Street Journal from Charles Murray.

Charles Murray? He was the fellow who published that 1994 book, The Bell Curve, demonstrating that black people just had lower IQ's than normal people. He said it was a statistical fact. Thursday, September 29, he says you see such things in New Orleans.

A summary from Ezra Klein, as this is behind the subscription wall and some of us don't pay big bucks to the Journal for access:
Penned by Charles Murray, he of The Bell Curve fame, it argues that what we're seeing post-Katrina isn't poverty but a once-again visible "underclass," a sort of shadow society of unsocialized black men with no appetite for work, no capacity to hold jobs, and no ability to be helped through conventional methods. They are, quite literally, savages, unable to function in the world the rest of us inhabit. They are, as he puts it, the "looters and the thugs," not to mention the "inert women doing nothing to help themselves or their children." And government attempts to craft helpful policy will fail because, after all, it doesn't matter if you give a gorilla a college loan, it's still a gorilla.

I've no idea where Murray got the idea that the New Orleans evacuees lacked jobs rather than cars and social skills rather than transportation - from deep within his own prejudices, I'd guess. And where he got the concept that these men and women are somehow incapable of holding jobs and unwilling to send their children to school - that's all similarly obscure. The absence of autos affects the social and the unsocialized alike; the folks you see on buses are often en route to jobs they hold, contra Murray, perfectly well.

But if his argument is flawed, its aim is clear. All those stories of urban anarchy were, to Murray, accurate, everyday manifestations of the Black people we'd hidden from sight. The normal explanation, that their assumed bad behavior was a reaction to extraordinary circumstance - that was the wrong part. This had nothing to do with Katrina; it was part and parcel of an inferior race, an incorrigible culture.
Maybe Klein misunderstood him. Probably not.

There's more than thick smoke in the air. This is getting ugly.

Well, Tom DeLay is out of the picture. That's something. The house Republicans, under Dennis Hastert, the former high-school boys' wresting coach, replaced him with Roy Blunt, a representative from Missouri, the "Show Me" state. Just some facts:
... according to the Associated Press, Rep. Roy Blunt's Political Action Committee (PAC), Rely on Your Beliefs Fund, has paid roughly $88,000 in fees since 2003 to J.W. Ellis Co., a consulting firm run by Jim Ellis. Mr. Ellis, a long time ally of Rep. DeLay, has been indicted along with Rep. DeLay for conspiracy to violate Texas campaign finance laws. It is unclear what services Mr. Ellis performed for Rep. Blunt, who listed Mr. Ellis as a "consultant."

... In 2003, Rep. Blunt divorced his wife of 31 years to marry Philip Morris (now Altria) lobbyist Abigail Perlman. Before it was known publicly that Rep. Blunt and Ms. Perlman were dating ? and only hours after Rep. Blunt assumed the role of Majority Whip ? he tried to secretly insert a provision into Homeland Security legislation that would have benefited Philip Morris, at the expense of competitors.

In addition, Rep. Blunt's son Andrew lobbies on behalf of Philip Morris, a major client he picked up only four years out of law school. Notably, Altria is Rep. Blunt's largest campaign contributor, having donated more than $270,000 to political committees tied to him.

... In 2003, Rep. Blunt helped his lobbyist son Andrew by inserting a provision into the $79 billion emergency appropriation for the war in Iraq to benefit U.S. shippers like United Parcel Service, Inc. and FedEx Corp. The provision required that military cargo be carried only by companies with no more than 25% foreign ownership. UPS and FedEx were seeking to block the expansion of a foreign-owned rival's U.S. operations. Andrew Blunt lobbies on behalf of UPS in Missouri, and UPS and FedEx have contributed at least $58,000 to Rep. Blunt since 2001.

... Rep. Blunt and his staff have close connections to uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is the subject of criminal and congressional probes. In June 2003, Mr. Abramoff persuaded then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay to organize a letter, co-signed by Speaker Hastert, then-Whip Roy Blunt, and Deputy Whip Eric Cantor, that endorsed a view of gambling law benefitting Mr. Abramoff's tribal client, the Louisiana Coushatta, by blocking gambling competition by another tribe. Mr. Abramoff has donated $8,500 to Rep. Blunt's leadership PAC, Rely on Your Beliefs.

... Rep. Blunt attended a luncheon in Seoul in January 2002, that was paid for by the Korea-U.S. Exchange Council (KORUSEC), a registered foreign agent. House Rules provide that a Member, officer or employee may not accept travel expenses from a foreign agent.
Well, better than Tom DeLay, right?

Apocalypse in Los Angeles, Thursday, September 29, at ten in the evening, the smoke so thick in Hollywood you can hardly breathe. As for the rest of the country? Same thing.


Old shot - previous apocalypse, 2001 -

Posted by Alan at 21:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 29 September 2005 22:03 PDT home

Wednesday, 28 September 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Mid-Week Scandals: Handy Scorecard

One of my friends in Brussels sent an email Wednesday asking what's up over here with all these scandals. This was prompted by news there of the indictment of house Republican leader Tom Delay on conspiracy charges. The charge is that he was part of a conspiracy to take corporate contributions to his general organization, money for rent and mailings and other general and administrative costs, quite legal in Texas, send the surplus to the state and nation Republican committees for their general and administrative costs, and the arrange for those group to make contributions of the identical amounts to his friends running for Republican congressional seats. Thus the corporations, which cannot, under Texas law, make contributions to individual candidates, got their money to the specific individuals through the backdoor. The money was "laundered" so to speak. Fungible. Look it up.


DeLay Indicted in Texas Campaign Finance Probe (Newsday)
Texas Law Bans Corporate Cash in Campaigns (Washington Post)
US House leader DeLay resigns after indictment (CBC News, Canada)
Rep. DeLay Calls Indictment 'Baseless' (ABC News)

DeLay ranted about how political and silly the indictment was in a press statement Wednesday afternoon, followed by his appearing on Fox News then MSNBC saying the same thing - and one assumes he'll get around to every show he can. But then? See the Associated Press here: "The next step in the criminal proceedings against Republican leader Tom DeLay is a trip to Austin to be fingerprinted and photographed."

Now one assumes this fall-of-the-mighty was big breaking news in Western Europe as it confirms any number of things many over there think of our cowboy president - an incompetent who has surrounded himself with incompetents and corrupt, power-mad crooks, all of who tell him what he wants to hear and keep him insulated from the real world. Ha! The chickens are coming home to roost, or whatever they say in the version of French they speak in Belgium. I'll have to ask my friend about that. Les poulets viennent à la maison au perchoir? Probably not.

Over here this is naturally a big deal. It may the start of a big power shift, the end of the Bush Era, a meme that has been growing, as noted here and here. And of course that has implications worldwide, even in Brussels.

So much has been said what more can be added here? There is other news. Like this - Woman suicide bomber marks possible new insurgent tactic in Iraq. And then, of interest as my nephew is in the Green Zone in Baghdad, there is this in the Washington Post: "A car bomber penetrated the heavily fortified Green Zone in the center of the capital on Tuesday but was stopped by U.S. Marines at a checkpoint before he was able to detonate the vehicle, the military said." Yes, that's where our embassy is, and where the new Iraqi parliament meets. My nephew has mentioned incoming mortar shells now and then, and circulars warning one could get kidnapped if not careful. Now someone got a car bomb past the gates. Well, it didn't go off.

But the news mid-week was the DeLay indictment. It even got equal time with hurricane stories. If you think of the disintegration of the Bush administration and the years of Republican rule as a drama (and if you assume that is what is happening) - this was a big climax in the plot. Everything suddenly changes, or becomes clear to all - cue the dramatic music (with French horns way up in the high register). Think of the movie "Jaws" - the thump-thump theme (who knew cellos could be so scary?) has you on edge, then the giant shark suddenly leaps out of the water right in your face, and you drop your popcorn. Well, maybe it's not that dramatic.

Of the thousands of comments out there on what happened, putting this is perspective, this one from Digby at Hullabaloo is short and sweet - and I added references in brackets if it's too short for some -
So, we have a federal probe implicating the president's number one political advisor and the vice president's chief of staff in the violation of laws protecting CIA agents and possibly lying to federal investigators. [The Rove-Novak-Plame thing]

We have a multi-pronged investigation into a lobbyist who happens to be a very close associate of Tom DeLay, Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, Karl Rove and the entire Republican leadership going back to their youth as members of the College republicans. This lobbyist is now implicated in a mafia murder plot and has been arrested on charges affiliated with that crime. [See this in the Washington Post - Consultants Tied To DeLay Ally Jack Abramoff Charged With Murder]

A member of the Bush administration who is a good friend and associate of all of the above was arrested this week for lying to the Feds about his good friend the lobbyist. [David Hossein Safavian, head of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy resigned, then arrested and led away in handcuffs - noted here.]

The majority leader of the Senate is now officially under investigation by the SEC and federal prosecutors for insider trading involving potentially many millions of dollars. [See this: "The Securities and Exchange Commission, which is examining a stock sale by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, has upgraded its initial informal inquiry to a formal investigation."

The majority leader of the House was just indicted by a Texas Grand jury for violating laws prohibiting the use of corporate money in campaigns.

I am so relieved that the Republicans restored honor and integrity to Washington. There hasn't been even one blow job in that town since they took power.
And there's Tim Grieve over at SALON.COM with a more complete list:
Tom DeLay: The House majority leader was indicted today on a felony charge that he conspired to launder corporate campaign contributions through the national Republican Party in Washington and back to legislative candidates in Texas.

Bill Frist: The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission are both investigating the Senate majority leader's sale of shares in his family's healthcare business just before the stock's value plummeted in June.

Jack Abramoff: The Republican super-lobbyist, known to have bragged about his contacts with Karl Rove, was indicted in Florida last month along with his business partner on wire fraud and conspiracy fraud charges related to their purchase of a fleet of gambling boats. This week, three men were arrested - including two who received payments from Abramoff's business partner - in the Mafia-style killing of the man from whom Abramoff and his partner purchased the gambling boats.

David Safavian: The president's chief procurement officer stepped down two weeks ago and was arrested last week on charges of lying to investigators and obstructing a separate federal investigation into Abramoff's dealings in Washington. Some Republicans who received campaign contributions from Safavian are divesting themselves of his money now.

Timothy Flanigan: The president's nominee to serve as deputy attorney general has announced that he will have to recuse himself from the Abramoff investigation if he is confirmed because he hired Abramoff to help the company where he works - scandal-ridden Tyco International Ltd. - lobby DeLay and Rove on tax issues.

Michael Brown: The president's FEMA director resigned earlier this month amid complaints about his handling of Hurricane Katrina and charges that he and other FEMA officials got their jobs based on political connections and cronyism rather than competence or qualifications.

Bob Taft: The Republican governor of Ohio pleaded guilty last month to criminal charges based on his failure to report gifts as required by state law, among them golfing trips paid for by Tom Noe, a major Republican fundraiser who is the subject of his own scandal regarding the state's investment in $50 million in rare coins, some of which have mysteriously gone missing.

Randy "Duke" Cunningham: A federal grand jury in San Diego is investigating allegations that the veteran Republican congressman received financial favors from a defense contractor who allegedly bought Cunningham's house at an inflated price and let him live for free on the contractor's 42-foot yacht.

Ernie Fletcher: The Republican governor of Kentucky has refused to answer questions from a grand jury investigating whether his administration based hiring decisions on political considerations rather than merit. Fletcher has pardoned nine people in the probe - including the chairman of Kentucky's Republican party - and fired members of his staff.

George Ryan: Federal prosecutors made their opening statements this week in the criminal trial of the former Republican governor of Illinois. Ryan and a friend, Chicago insurance adjuster Lawrence Warner, are charged with racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud, tax fraud and lying to federal agents.

And then there's Karl Rove and Scooter Libby. The grand jury investigating the outing of Valerie Plame is scheduled to complete its work in late October. While neither Rove nor Libby is apparently a "target" of the investigation - and while the "corruption" in Plamegate is moral rather than financial - both men are known to have played a role in revealing or confirming Plame's identity in conversations with reporters, which may be a crime under federal law.
Go to any news site and you can find all the stories. The wheels really are falling off.

Perhaps some young entrepreneurial sort will start selling scorecards so you can track this all. Out here at Oscar time the Los Angeles Times offers a handy checklist of all the nominees in all the categories - you pull it out of the entertainment section and mark your predictions of the winners, and when you have everyone over for the Oscar party everyone can pull out his or here checklist and match their guesses with what actually happens, and see who wins. Something like that might be useful here. (I came in second at one of those parties a few years ago.)

Ah well, we'll se what happens with all this. Who goes to jail, who survives it all, who get pardoned, who gets a medal, and where the poll numbers go - and who gets voted off the island. It's actually entertaining in a perverse sort of way.

But my friend in Brussels - actually I have two friends there - probably hasn't heard of the local scandal out here. This one is amazing.

Hospital Skipped Its Own Patients
St. Vincent bypassed nine of its own patients to transplant organ into a Saudi national. The state medical board begins a probe of two doctors.
Charles Ornstein and Rong-Gong Lin II - Los Angeles Times - September 28, 2005

Calling Michael Moore!
Surgeons at St. Vincent Medical Center bypassed nine of the hospital's own patients on a regional liver transplant waiting list before they inappropriately gave the organ to a Saudi national who ranked 52nd, hospital officials said Tuesday.

But hospital officials said they were at a loss to explain why St. Vincent staff allegedly violated basic rules governing organ transplants in the September 2003 procedure and then falsified documentation to cover up their actions.

"They have not provided us with a motivation," hospital President and Chief Executive Gus Valdespino said at a news conference, referring to the two physicians who ran the liver transplant program. The Los Angeles hospital has terminated the program's relationship with the doctors, he said, and has indefinitely suspended liver transplants.

What is clear is that the Saudi national received a liver that should have gone to a patient at UCLA Medical Center who was much higher on the transplant list. Moreover, the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia paid St. Vincent $339,000 for the Saudi patient's transplant and hospital care, plus undisclosed fees to the doctors, according to the hospital. That amount is about 25% to 30% higher than the hospital would have been paid by insurance companies and government programs.

The embassy routinely pays for medical care for Saudi residents in the United States, though fewer nationals have sought care in this country since Sept. 11, 2001, because of the difficulty in obtaining visas, embassy spokesman Nail Al-Jubeir said. He said the embassy would "absolutely not" try to move a patient up the waiting list.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Medical Board of California indicated that it had opened an investigation of Dr. Richard R. Lopez Jr., the St. Vincent program's former director, and Dr. Hector C. Ramos, the former assistant director. Both retain privileges at the hospital, although hospital officials said their status was being reviewed by the medical staff.

An attorney for Ramos said her client had done nothing wrong. ...
Right. Sometimes it's good to be a Saudi.

Yes, a few years ago I managed a department of systems analysts and programmers that maintained the financial systems for this and ten other hospitals that were then part of Catholic Heathcare West - accounts payable, general ledger, materiel, payroll and such things. I've been to many a meeting at Saint Vincent Medical Center. This is just odd. Glad I'm not there now, downloading financial records for the Medical Board of California, for any attorney with a subpoena, and for the feds. Yipes!

What a world. I understand that Osama fellow we haven't been able to find for years has a kidney problem and undergoes dialysis several time a week. If he need a new kidney, and could get to Los Angeles - well, one never knows.

Oh, and by the way, the New York Times reporter, Judy Miller, is still in jail for refusing to reveal her sources - this grand jury investigating the outing of Valerie Plame wants to know who told her what, or what she told them, or something. She may be part of the crime, setting it all up - or not. John Bolton, a man who hated Valerie Plame's husband, Joe Wilson, has visited her in jail, taking time from his duties as our new insult-everyone ambassador to the UN. And she's a martyr for press rights, it seems. It very, very confusing, and mysterious. And it may be a joke.

Here's the Hollywood take on it - Sunset Boulevard and Laurel Avenue, Wednesday, September 28, at the Laugh Factory of all places.

Posted by Alan at 20:26 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 28 September 2005 20:32 PDT home

Topic: Corrections Noted

Correction: Good Stuff, Actually For Sale

On one of the photo pages in Just Above Sunset - August 28, 2005, Very Far Above Sunset - you would find a shot of the only vineyard in Beverly Hills, sister city to Cannes, with the comment that this was not a commercial vineyard - the fellow keeps the wine to himself.

Ah, it's not true.

My information came word-of-mouth from someone who lived in the area, as we walked by the place on the street below.

I see in my local paper that the place is actually in Bel-Air, not Beverly Hills, which is a bit further east. Secondly, this place, Moraga Vineyards, is not only Los Angeles' lone commercial wine grape grower, the owner is now building an on-site winery, the first to be bonded in the City of Los Angeles since the start of prohibition. Thirdly, the house on the grounds - a 1939 "ranch-style" home - was built for the director Victor Fleming ("Gone With the Wind," "The Wizard of Oz") when Howard Hawkes was his only neighbor, and the stables on the grounds are where Clark Gable kept his horse. Ah, Hollywood history.

The vineyard:

All the facts are here:

Finally, a winery in Bel-Air
Corie Brown - Los Angeles Times - September 28, 2005

It seems the place is "home to one of California's most highly regarded Cabernets" and has been owned for years by Tom Jones. No, not the Welsh singer wildly popular in the early seventies, but the Tom Jones who for thirty years was the chief executive of Northrop Corporation - an aeronautical engineer by training. He retired in 1990, so he was nominally my boss when I landed my first job there after I moved to Los Angeles from upstate New York in 1980 - although I was a lowly fellow instructing supervisors on employee relations and never saw him. Little did I know he was a major conservationist - a trustee of the California Nature Conservancy for fifty years - and that in 1959 he bought this fifteen acres of unused land for a little under a half million dollars. My handy CPI Inflation Calculator says his 450,000 outlay is the equivalent of well over three million these days. For fifteen acres of chaparral?

Well, it worked out. The land was cleared and planted - they even got rid of the hippies growing marijuana on the hillsides in the sixties. They planted their first grapevines in 1978 and Jones and Scott Rich, his winemaker, now produce really good wine:
And at $125 a bottle for his Cabernet, which includes 20% Merlot, and $65 for his Sauvignon Blanc, Jones certainly makes a profit on Moraga wine. He sells out his annual production of 600 cases to a list of 500 loyal mail-order customers, a handful of Parisian restaurants including Alain Ducasse, and a number of the most expensive restaurants in New York City and Los Angeles. Hotel Bel-Air carries Moraga as its "neighborhood" wine. And the wine is usually on the shelf at the only two stores that Jones allows to stock it: Wally's in Westwood and the Beverly Hills Cheese Shop.

Is it good enough to be one of California's most expensive wines? British wine critic Jancis Robinson called it one of her favorites when she tasted through a flight of 1994 and 1995 California Cabernets in 1999. But she hasn't tasted it since, she says. American critic Robert Parker gave the 1993 Moraga Cabernet an 89 on his 100-point scale.
Not bad for a sort of mom-and-pop operation - Alain Ducasse serves it in Paris.

The Times has much more detail. Just Above Sunset stands corrected.

Posted by Alan at 09:55 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 28 September 2005 10:03 PDT home

Topic: World View

Organized Labor: Sailing Off with a Whole Ship

Over the last several years in these pages there have been a few discussions of organized labor – for one example see April 11, 2004, Last night I dreamed I saw Joe Hill, about a labor dispute out here. Back then I noted my conservative friend says what's wrong with America is we restrict businesses and the key to getting the economy going again is outlawing unions, and making it illegal for any employee, individually or collectively, to oppose or even to comment on how that employee is being treated. That is, if you don't like your job, or your pay, or your benefits, or you think you workplace is unsafe - just quit. Get another job if you're so damned unhappy. Well, that's one view. Class warfare was in the air. And still is.

But no union over here would try to pull of what is reported below from "Our Man in Paris," Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis. These folks are serious.


Strikers Snatch Ship

PARIS - Tuesday, September 27 - Listening to radio France-Info news earlier today, I became concerned about the state of France. The radio reported that striking ferry sailors had seized one of the SNCM ships and were sailing it to Corsica. This was a very brief report, followed by an update from the Paris bourse, sports news and weather.

'Sort of casual,' I thought, 'for what is obviously a major escalation in the ongoing war that other countries would call labor relations.' Strikers in France, used to being ignored by management, are capable of inventing unusual and interesting tactics to get attention, but sailing off with a whole ship?

Technically it's like piracy. What is the prosecutor in Marseille doing? Where is the navy, or sea-going police? What will the Prefect of Corsica say about it? Instead of answers, I learned that the municipal council of Perpignan in Languedoc-Roussillon has rejected the notion of renaming the region 'Septimanie.'

It all goes back to the end of August or the beginning of September in 415, when Ataulf was assassinated in Barcelona. It was a time of decline for the Romans, in this area called Septimanie on account of the legion stationed there, or it relates to a union of seven bishops at the time of Visigothic kings. Skip ahead 1589 years to 2004 when Georges Frêche gets elected as the head of the region, and he wants to bring the old name back - but residents, many of whom are Catalan, are against the idea. They think the old name sounds like 'septicémie,' or a serious infection.

Meanwhile the strikers are sailing across the bright blue Mediterranean towards Corsica, where they are expected to arrive about 22:30 tonight. Police forces on the troubled island were guarding another ferry belonging to the private line, Corsica Ferries, after STC and CGT strikers had attempted to block loading.

As evening fell more details have emerged on the TV-news. The general secretary of the Corsica-based STC marine union, Alain Mosconi, told AFP at Ajaccio about noon that his members had 'gotten under way' with the mixed ferry, Pascal Paoli. TV-news reported that 30 unarmed but hooded men boarded the ferry that had a crew of about 60. There are no passengers aboard.

The ferry seizure comes after battles last night in the port of Marseille between the CRS units in full riot gear and using teargas against CGT strikers. The confrontation involved about 200 strikers and the police, and led to the arrest of two strikers.

This in turn set off a blockage of the entire ports of Marseille and Fos sur-Mer on Tuesday, closing down cargo, container, mineral and petroleum shipments. A small group of strikers arrived in Nice Tuesday morning but SNCM had already moved its high-speed ferry 'Liamone' offshore. At other ports a total of nine SNCM ferries are idle.

The events this week follow a series of strikes of the embattled ferry service that is owned by the state. The unions oppose a government plan to hand over control to a private investment group, Butler Capital Partners.

Tonight news agencies are announcing that the government has decided to go ahead this afternoon with its deal with the private investors, saying that their offer was the 'most acceptable.' The state is expected to continue as a minority shareholder. Butler Capital has indicated that it will lay off 350 to 400 sailors out of a total of 2400 who work for SNCM.

In the meantime, somewhere off the coast of Corsica, the hijackers have claimed that they have 'not stolen' the ferry and that they 'are not mutineers.' Union members and the police are waiting for their arrival in the port of Bastia, where CGT marine members have already occupied the SNCM offices.

In Marseille the court is saying that the hijacking is a 'flagrant crime' no different from hijacking an airliner. A judicial source told AFP that conviction could result in a 20-year prison term.
Maritime gendarmes are to investigate.

The two CGT delegates arrested Monday night have had their detention prolonged, but should appear in court on Wednesday. They risk a year in prison and a fine of 15,000 euros. This afternoon a CRS troop was protecting the commissariat where the two are being held. Union members expect to meet early Wednesday morning to decide whether the port strike will continue.


Commandos Seize Strikers

PARIS- Wednesday, September 28 - Five helicopters carrying government quick-reaction anti-terrorist GIGN forces swiftly converged on the hijacked ferry this morning off the port of Bastia and recaptured it from the strikers who offered no resistance.

The SNCM ferry, the Pascal Paoli, arrived near Bastia in Corsica last night but stayed offshore, controlled by the strikers, on account of CRS troops occupying the port. The GIGN commandos staged their raid to recapture the vessel in daylight, quickly seizing the striking hijackers and handcuffing them. Reports said no firearms were used.

After the action, which took only a few minutes, the ferry turned away from Corsica to return to the mainland, most likely to Toulon where the French navy has its major Mediterranean base.

Corsican protestors occupied Bastia's port and nationalist politicians of the Unione Naziunale de l'Assemblée de Corse denounced the government action, claiming that an agreement had been brokered on Tuesday evening that called for the hijackers to return the ferry to government control. In return they were guaranteed that there would be no police action and no arrests.

The port of Marseille was reported to be still blocked by striking port workers and SNCM ferry crews.

Posted by Alan at 08:35 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 28 September 2005 08:38 PDT home

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