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Consider:

"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, 20 October 2005

Topic: Iraq

Smurf War: Doing Good, Doing It Right

As regular readers know, I've been trading emails with my nephew, the Major in Baghdad deeply involved in events there. Without revealing too much, he's in the Green Zone with the senior commanders, tracking events and planning. I know he starts his day before seven and sometimes finishes up sometimes as late as ten in the evening. Still he has time to write a note here and there. A lot of what we discuss is non-political, as in our recent back-and-forth about cars (prompted by this). But we have discussed this war and its possible outcomes. Some of his comments have been posted in these pages - in Chatting With Baghdad, for example. He and I disagree a whole lot, as you can imagine, but as I said to him, we can talk like sensible people. That's one of the many things I like about him. He calls that "disagreeing sensibly." As he puts it - "One of the things I've have learned is that if you are not smart enough to speak sensibly to get your point across, you probably don't have a point."

Tuesday, October 18, I received this from him: "Please read the article below and give consideration for comment into your blog. I love it, not only because it declares triumph, but I liked the Smurfs in my earlier years."

Well, before what he suggest we consider, some background by way of this, from the Ottawa Citizen, reprinted from The Daily Telegraph (UK):

Smurfs used as shock treatment in UNICEF's fundraising drive
Cartoon characters' village bombed in anti-war TV commercial
David Rennie - October 8, 2005

So what is this about?
BRUSSELS - The people of Belgium have been left reeling by a public service commercial featuring the Smurfs, in which the blue-skinned cartoon characters' village is annihilated by warplanes.

The 25-second commercial is the work of UNICEF, and is to be broadcast on TV across Belgium next week as a public fundraiser. It is intended as the keystone of a drive, by UNICEF's Belgian arm, to raise about $145,000 for the rehabilitation of former child soldiers in Burundi.

The animation was approved by the family of the Smurfs' late creator, "Peyo."

Belgian television viewers were given a preview of the commercial earlier this week, when it was shown on the main evening news. Reactions ranged from approval to shock and, in the case of small children who saw the episode by accident, wailing terror.

UNICEF and IMPS, the family company that controls all rights to the Smurfs, have stipulated that it is not to be broadcast before 9 p.m.

The ad pulls no punches. It opens with the Smurfs dancing, hand-in-hand, around a campfire and singing the Smurf song. Bluebirds flutter past and rabbits gambol around their familiar village of mushroom-shaped houses until, without warning, bombs begin to rain from the sky.

Tiny Smurfs scatter and run in vain from the whistling bombs, before being felled by blast waves and fiery explosions. The final scene shows a scorched and tattered Baby Smurf sobbing inconsolably, surrounded by prone Smurfs.

The final frame bears the message: "Don't let war affect the lives of children."

… The advertising agency behind the campaign, Publicis, decided the best way to convey the impact of war on children was to tap into the earliest, happiest memories of Belgian television viewers. They chose the Smurfs, who first appeared in a Belgian comic in 1958.

Julie Lamoureux, Publicis' account director for the campaign, said the agency's original plans were toned down.

"We wanted something that was real war - Smurfs losing arms, or a Smurf losing a head - but they said no."

The film has won tentative approval from the official Smurf fan club. A spokesman said, "I think it will wake up some people. It is so un-Smurf-like, it might get people to think."

Hendrik Coysman, managing director of IMPS, agreed. "That crying baby really goes to your bones."
Okay. Got it?

The counter reaction is here, recommended by Our Man in Baghdad:

Sometimes it is worth going to war
Mark Steyn, The Telegraph (UK), Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Setting the scene:
I yield to no one in my disdain for the United Nations and all its works, but I did find myself warming up to Unicef the other day. Last week, on Belgian television, the UN children's agency premiered the first adult movie featuring the Smurfs. By "adult", I don't mean it was a blue movie. Only the characters were blue. But it was an adult movie in the sense that the Smurfs were massacred during an air strike on their village, until, in the final scene, only Baby Smurf is left, weeping alone surrounded by wall-to-wall Smurf corpses. It's the first Smurf snurf movie.

Well, I thought, say what you like about the UN, but any organisation that wants to bomb the Smurfs can't be all bad. Instead of those wimps at Dudley council banning Piglet like a bunch of nancy boys, why couldn't they make some blockbuster video nuking the Hundred-Acre Wood and leaving Pooh to die in a radioactive Heffalump pit?

My mistake. Apparently Unicef made the short film as a fundraiser to highlight how children are the principal victims of war. As Baby Smurf wails amid the shattered ruins, we see the words: "Don't let war affect the lives of children."
First point - the airplanes are wrong:
... I can't help thinking that, if you are that concerned for children in war zones, you might have done something closer to what real conflict is like in those places. In Rwanda, Sudan and a big chunk of west Africa, air strikes are few and far between. Instead, millions get hacked to death by machetes. Even on the very borders of Eutopia, hundreds of thousands died in the Balkans in mostly low-tech, non-state-of-the-art ways.

In 2003, Charles Onyango-Obbo wrote a fascinating column in the East African musing on the resurgence of cannibalism, after reports that Ugandan-backed rebels in the Congo were making surviving members of their victims' families eat the body parts of their loved ones.

"While colonialism is bad," he said, "the coloniser who arrives by plane, vehicle or ship is better - because he will have to build an airport, road or harbour - than the one who, like the Ugandan army, arrived and withdrew from most of eastern Congo on foot." Just so. If you're going to be attacked, it's best to be attacked by a relatively advanced enemy. Compared to being force-fed Grandfather Smurf's genitals, having his village strafed in some clinical air strike is about the least worst option for Baby Smurf.
Second point the whole concept doesn't fit the war we have -
Well, whether intentionally or not, they are evoking the war that most of their audience - in Belgium and beyond - is opposed to: the Iraq war, where the invader did indeed have an air force. That's how the average Western "progressive" still conceives of warfare, as something the big bullying Pentagon does to weak victims.

But this week is a week to remember that there are worse things than war that "affect the lives of children". If I were Papa Smurf, I wouldn't want Baby Smurf to grow up in Saddam's Iraq. I don't mean just because we'd be the beleaguered minority of Smurfistan, to be gassed and shovelled into mass graves.

Even if we were part of Saddam's own approved class living in the Smurfi Triangle, it's still a life permanently fixed between terror and resignation, in which all a parent's hopes for his children are subordinate to the whims of a psycho state.
And that old Iraq is gone now - a good thing.
Whatever the Americans got wrong, they got one big thing right - that, if you persevered, Iraq had the potential to function as a free society in a part of the world where no such thing has ever existed.

That was a long shot, and much sneered at, not least by British "conservatives". But Washington judged correctly: given the radicalisation of the Arab world, and the Arabification of the Islamic world, and the Islamification of much of the rest of the world, in the end you have to fix the problem at source.

... Pushing back the Islamists on their ever-expanding margins will never work. Reforming the heart of the Muslim world just might.

Sometimes war is worth it. And, if you don't think so, look at the opening scenes of that Unicef video - Smurfs singing, dancing, gambolling merrily - and try to imagine living in a Smurf enclave in a province that wants to introduce Sharia.
So go read the whole thing, as it is full of references to the main UK and US arguments for and against the war, and comes down on the side that this was mainly a good thing. (And enjoy the Brit spellings and capitalization and verb agreement oddities.)

Smurfs aside - and as one of an older generation I never warmed up to these little blue folk, so this advertising campaign doesn't "resonate" with me at all - this is a "straw man" argument.

Was there anyone on the left, beside Michael Moore in his famous film, arguing Saddam Hussein was a fine man and Iraq under his rule a fine place where everyone was happy? And even Moore, in his film, doesn't argue the former, only the latter - that the civilians there as the war started were just living their lives as best they could, and look what happened to them. In short, opposing this war was not the same thing as endorsing the regime of Saddam Hussein. It was suggesting that, given the major problem of that man and that government, and that something had to be done, and soon, there was an array of alternatives. War for "regime change" was an option. There were others.

The odd thing about the shift in US diplomacy under Bush was not only the new policy of "preemptive war" - wipe out the bad guys before they could even think about doing bad things - but the constant call for "regime change" in nations we found threatening, or with whom we had disagreements. We sponsored a coup in Venezuela that almost came off. We've called for "regime change" in North Korea - we wouldn't even talk to them one-on-one as that would be "rewarding bad behavior." We still won't. We are funding and supporting those deep inside Iran who would overthrow the government there. And so on.

The idea of sitting down and giving our position, and listening to the other side's, and working out agreements, and if that came to nothing applying diplomatic and economic pressure, was discarded as seeming weak.

Then too, idea of flooding an enemy with the tools of soft power - free trade and Coca Cola and rock music and books and ideas, and KFC and fast cars - to subvert old ways in favor of ours, was similarly dismissed. If fact, for decades, starting long before this administration, we have isolated Cuba - instead of opening trade and flooding the island with parts for all those old cars and consumer goods and Starbucks and all that is South Beach, Miami - thus making Castro's Stalinist-lite communism look foolish to everyone there. Heck, we helped him by NOT doing that - we looked nasty and mean and he plays the hero. Maybe applying such "soft power" tools makes us less manly, or something. It's not - it's just sneaky, and effective. And it's the opposite of what Karen Hughes is now tasked with doing - explaining we're the good guys without any of the "soft power" tools. All she has is words. She has a tough sell there.

What were alternatives to the war we waged? Well, we might have had to go to war eventually, but we could have examined the real threat more thoroughly. Had inspections gotten tighter and tighter, as they slowly were, in spite of the impediments raised again and again, we might have had a better sense of what we had to do when. Could we have roped in key players in the region to work with us on containing the problem? Every nation in the region had, and has, a stake in stability there. They're not exactly chopped liver, if you know that question.

Could we have turned to our traditional allies - Germany, China, Russian and even France - and asked them for ideas? They all said this war was a bad idea. We could have asked what their ideas were, and listened, even if we might reject some of those ideas. This was everyone's problem in some way. A summit would have been workable - "What do you think we, and that's all of us, should do?" An open forum for everyone who had a stake in stability and oil supplies and terrorism - and that was every nation.

There's always another alternative, or two, or three. It wasn't "make war now or you must love Saddam Hussein and everything about him." Nations, and just ordinary folks who like to think things through, resent being demonized as wimps and apologists for murdering dictators. These are the "work smarter, not harder" types, the folks who say sometimes it's better to "do it right" than to just "do it now."

But that wasn't this administration's style. We adopted the new "one note" approach to things. We'd been wronged. We'd decide what to do. Agree or admit you love Saddam.

It's bullshit, but simple enough for an angry nation to swallow.

You want to breed resentment and cause problems? That'll do it.

Oh well, it doesn't matter now.

As for what Mark Steyn argues here, well, yes, getting ride of the Saddam regime did some good. Who is arguing otherwise? The devil is in the details.

And this week's details are not encouraging. Forget Abu Ghraib. We just did something worse.

What happened here is not making things better.
Australian television on Wednesday broadcast footage of what it said was U.S. soldiers burning the corpses of two dead Taliban fighters with their bodies laid out facing Mecca and using the images in a propaganda campaign in southern Afghanistan.

The television report said U.S. soldiers burned the bodies for hygienic reasons but then a U.S. psychological operations unit broadcast a propaganda message on loudspeakers to Taliban fighters, taunting them to retrieve their dead and fight.
And this detail -
Attention Taliban you are cowardly dogs," read the first soldier, identified as psyops specialist Sgt. Jim Baker.

"You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burned. You are too scared to retrieve their bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be."
Something was lost in translation there. He probably said "girly men."

Think this isn't serious. From the New York Times see this from the AP wire:
"Abu Ghraib ruined the reputation of the Americans in Iraq and to me this is even worse," said Faiz Mohammed, a top cleric in northern Kunduz province. "This is against Islam. Afghans will be shocked by this news. It is so humiliating. There will be very, very dangerous consequences from this." Anger also was evident in the streets. "If they continue to carry out such actions against us, our people will change their policy and react with the same policy against them," said Mehrajuddin, a resident of Kabul, who like many Afghans uses only one name.

Another man in the capital, Zahidullah, said the reported abuse was like atrocities committed by Soviet troops, who were driven out of Afghanistan in 1989 after a decade of occupation. He warned that the same could happen to American forces.

"Their future will be like the Russians," Zahidullah said.
We are doing good, then the "psychological operations" guys get a bit too enthusiastic.

So it's damage control -
The U.S. military and the Afghan government said Thursday they will investigate a TV report that claimed U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan burned the bodies of two Taliban fighters and taunted other Islamic militants.

The U.S. military said such abuse would be "repugnant," and the State Department said U.S. embassies around the world have been told to counter a potential backlash by telling local governments that the alleged actions do not reflect American values.

A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai said the government has launched its own inquiry.

"We strongly condemn any disrespect to human bodies regardless of whether they are those of enemies or friends," said Karzai spokesman Karim Rahimi.

... Cremation of bodies is not part of Islamic tradition, which calls for remains to be washed, prayed over, wrapped in white cloth and buried within 24 hours.

Dupont [the SBS-Australia cameraman] said the soldiers who burned the bodies said they did so for hygiene reasons. However, Dupont said the incendiary messages later broadcast by the U.S. army psychological operations unit indicated they were aware that the cremation would be perceived as a desecration.

"They used that as a psychological warfare, I guess you'd call it. They used the fact that the Taliban were burned facing west (toward Mecca)," Dupont told SBS. "They deliberately wanted to incite that much anger from the Taliban so the Taliban could attack them ... . That's the only way they can find them."

The SBS report suggested the deliberate burning of bodies could violate the Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of enemy remains in wartime. Under the Geneva Conventions, soldiers must ensure that the "dead are honorably interred, if possible according to the rites of the religion to which they belonged."
Can this be fixed? Someone might suggest to the "psychological operations" guys that, in the short term, this may have flushed out a few of the local Taliban, maybe - but in the medium and long term this is really stupid.

"Our Man in Baghdad" knows we're doing good. We are. Saddam is gone. But this sort of thing?

Yes, Saddam was an awful man. Andrew Cochran, on the right, says the act was "pretty stupid" but suspects it will be used as propaganda by Arab media who "will play it up and continue to ignore or minimize both Saddam Hussein's cruelties during his reign of terror and the chilling stories of murder and intimidation perpetrated in the name of the caliphate by Al-Zarqawi and his thugs." And he suggests those over here who oppose the war will do the same. It may be "pretty stupid" but the other guys are worse.

No. This has nothing to do with "Saddam Hussein's cruelties" or "Al-Zarqawi and his thugs." No one is forgetting those two. We just want to be better than that, and not by a little bit.

Think back to the Fallujah Bridge - March 31, 2004 - four private military contractors from Blackwater USA were dragged from their vehicle and killed. Their bodies were then mutilated and burned. A crowd estimated at over a thousand beat and dragged the burnt corpses behind automobiles, then hanged the dismembered remains from the girders of that bridge over the Euphrates River - and this all was videotaped by journalists and broadcast worldwide. We all saw it. Bush was pissed. He said so. And we leveled Fallujah.

And now?

Posted by Alan at 20:23 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 20 October 2005 20:30 PDT home


Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Baseline Analysis: Getting Under the News, Again

In the swirl of troubles facing the White House faces at the moment - possible indictments of key people for not playing nice, or for covering up not playing nice - something about national security and compromising intelligence assets in the struggle to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to make sure no one knew we didn't have to go to war in Iraq immediately way back when - there was other news.

The Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, testified before congress, and said we were in Iraq for the long haul - Rice: US May Still Be in Iraq in 10 Years - and that we still could invade some other countries if we had a mind to - Rice Won't Rule Out Force on Syria, Iran. But she did say we'd rebuild Iraq using, as a model, how we rebuilt Afghanistan. No one asked her if Iraq had enough tillable land available for massive fields of opium poppies.

Well, she was trying to get back to serious issues, or trying to cheer us up. But in the press the subject didn't change.

You would think the long-awaited trial of Saddam Hussein, finally getting underway, would grab the headlines. But that was disappointing, as in Saddam trial gets off to chaotic start and 'I am the president of Iraq. I do not recognise this court' - and then the court adjourned until late November. As a "change the subject" big event, that was a bust.

There was no hot news regarding the investigation of the majority leader of the senate, Bill Frist, for dumping stock on insider information to make a bundle, which the SEC thinks might be a problem. There was a blip in the news with this - Texas Court Issues Warrant for DeLay - as the house majority leader needed to be fingerprinted and have his mug shot taken, but that was expected.

The new hurricane, Wilma, the strongest ever recorded, was days away from any land, stopped moving and got a tad weaker, so all in all there was no relief from the scandals.

Percolating in the background was the Supreme Court business. As a way to keep people from focusing on the congressional scandals and the possible indictments of key people in the administration, the nomination of Harriet Miers to the court gave political types something else to talk about.

There was a shift in White House tactics, as noted in many places, including the Washington Post here -
Bush hosted half a dozen former Texas Supreme Court justices in the Oval Office yesterday to highlight their support of Miers, the sort of validation event he did not need personally to mount on behalf of Roberts.

"They're here to send a message here in Washington that the person I picked to take Sandra Day O'Connor's place is not only a person of high character and of integrity but a person who can get the job done," Bush said, flanked by the ex-judges. The president added, "She's impressed these folks. They know her well. They know that she'll bring excellence to the bench."

The White House hoped the appearance would help it refocus attention on Miers's qualifications and away from issues such as her religion and position on abortion.
Time Magazine says this is a plan "to relaunch the nomination of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court by moving from what they call a 'biographical phase' to an 'accomplishment phase.'"

Right. So what are her accomplishments and her "substantive legal qualifications?"

See the legal writer Dahlia Lithwick here -
... the only substantive legal qualification anyone cares about right now is Harriet Miers' views on abortion. Having jettisoned the John Roberts playbook, in which the nominee and the White House say nothing whatsoever about Roe, the Bush team has put itself in the unenviable position of having to keep talking and un-talking and re-talking about abortion. They set the terms of this debate - even if they did so in code - as a set of promises about Harriet Miers and abortion, and now it's all anyone wants to talk about.

We can talk about Roe in religious code ("Shhhh. Miers is a member of a fundamentalist church.") or we can talk about it in constitutional code ("Shhhhh. Miers supports the right to privacy.") It hardly matters. Miers and the White House just can't seem to stop talking.

First, Miers was for reversing Roe: On Oct. 3, Karl Rove apparently hooked up James Dobson and other members of a coalition of evangelical groups with two Texas judges including Nathan Hecht - for weeks the White House's sole expert witness on All Things Harriet. As reported in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Hecht and Judge Ed Kinkeade assured the Christian right that Miers would "absolutely" vote to overturn Roe. So, now the lot of them face the prospect of being subpoenaed to testify before the Judiciary Committee, where they will assuredly say that they cannot recall anyone promising them that Miers would do what she would have needed to do in order to win their support in the first place.

Then Miers was for privacy: After meeting with her yesterday, Sen. Arlen Specter came away happily reporting that Miers agreed with Griswold v. Connecticut - the 1965 case establishing that married people had the right to use contraception, by way of privacy rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. John Roberts had testified, in the one interesting nanosecond of his confirmation hearings, that he had no problem with Griswold. So, Specter's report seemed par for the course. But no! Suddenly Harriet has a problem with Griswold. Obviously the good senator from Pennsylvania misunderstood her, as he announced last night. She had in fact offered no opinion to him on Griswold. She must have been talking about Grisburn v. Massachusetts - a little-known tax case from 1987.
This is getting to be joke. Miers now is adamantly saying no one knows here views on Roe v. Wade or Griswold - on abortion or on its legal underpinning, the idea that the constitution implies everyone has a right to privacy, that there are some places the government cannot intrude.

What do we know about her? Lithwick notes she filled out the Judiciary Committee questionnaire, a fairly meaningless pro forma thing, but she also provided a second questionnaire, from 1989, when she was running for Dallas City Council. There she pledged her willingness to "actively support" ratification of a constitutional amendment to ban all abortion, unless it was necessary to save the life of the mother, but then, that questionnaire was sponsored by Texans United for Life. According to this, the same year she filled out another questionnaire where she notes gays and lesbians deserve the same civil rights as everyone else. That one was from the Lesbian/Gay Political Coalition of Dallas.

She aims to please? Or she is not exactly "centered," and may not herself know what she thinks. What do you want to hear? She'll provide it.

Lithwick has much more detail, and ends with this:
So I am begging now. This is embarrassing. End it. Karl Rove: Either plant the 500 pounds of cocaine you keep for such occasions in Miers' car, or trot out some actress to play her bitter, gay ex-lover. You have the power to end this. So do whatever it is you do. But end the unnecessary pain and suffering now, before someone really gets hurt.
And Lithwick said that before this from the New York Times -
WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 - The Supreme Court nomination of Harriet E. Miers suffered another setback on Wednesday when the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked her to resubmit parts of her judicial questionnaire, saying various members had found her responses "inadequate," "insufficient" and "insulting."
So it wasn't a fairly meaningless pro forma thing after all. And more from the Associated Press here -
The senators in charge of Harriet Miers' confirmation are demanding more information from her before hearings begin, with one lawmaker describing the Supreme Court nominee's answers so far as "incomplete to insulting."

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter, and the top Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy, agreed on Wednesday to begin Miers' hearings on Nov. 7. Specter, R-Pa., and Leahy, D-Vt., also sent a letter to the White House counsel asking her to more fully answer a questionnaire she submitted Tuesday.

... "The comments I have heard range from incomplete to insulting," Leahy said.

Specter said he and Leahy "took a look at it and agreed that it was insufficient."

... The lawmakers want her to explain more about her temporary suspension from the Washington, D.C., Bar for nonpayment of dues and double-check that she submitted all of her litigated work to the committee.

"The committee has, for example, identified additional cases not included in your original response," they said.

Miers, in her letter, also disclosed that her Texas law license had been suspended from Sept. 1-26, 1989, for late payment of bar dues. She said it happened because of an "administrative oversight."

... Specter and Leahy also want her to explain how she would handle cases dealing with the Bush administration, which she serves now as White House counsel. In her questionnaire response, Miers said she would comply with the "spirit and letter of the law ... the Code of Conduct for United States Judges and other applicable requirements."
She has until the 26th to come up with a better answer than that. Our Wall Street attorney friend, sometimes quoted here, right now is trying to coach a relative writing an essay to get into law school. He suggested his nephew shouldn't really say bland, pleasant things and end every paragraph with, "I really want to be a lawyer." Same sort of thing here - substance would be nice, and thinking would be nice. That kind of matters.

Now all this really odd back-and-forth over this really odd nomination may distract the media from the possible indictments, the real arrest warrant, and the SEC investigation (and a few other matters like the way the war is going and FEMA and all the rest) but it's tearing the Republicans apart. Note this from Robert Bork - a man of the right who knows a lot about the law, and about getting rejected for a seat on the Supreme Court - in the Wall Street Journal no less -
With a single stroke - the nomination of Harriet Miers - the president has damaged the prospects for reform of a left-leaning and imperialistic Supreme Court, taken the heart out of a rising generation of constitutional scholars, and widened the fissures within the conservative movement. That's not a bad day's work - for liberals.
Ouch!

Just what is going on here? Well, one explanation comes from Jonathan Chait in The National Review, with Crash Test: Conservatives Get Taken For A Ride, web posted October 19th and from the October 24 issue.

Here's the scoop.
There are two basic ways to think about President Bush's relationship with the religious right. The first is that Bush is a genuine ally of social conservatives who, while often cagey in public, takes every opportunity to advance their agenda. As liberals would phrase this interpretation, Bush is a tool of the religious right. The second - utterly diametrical - theory is that Bush is mainly interested in harvesting votes from religious conservatives in order to implement an agenda dominated by his economic backers. In liberal-ese: Social conservatives are hapless GOP dupes. At this point, five years and two Supreme Court nominations into the Bush presidency, we can arrive at a definitive answer. And the verdict is: hapless dupes.
And Chait goes on to explain that, quoting Pat Buchanan - "Bush may have tossed away his and our last chance to roll back the social revolution imposed upon us by our judicial dictatorship since the days of Earl Warren." And he note the case of other nominees - John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter - each of whom turned out to be less "religious" in their ruling than promised.

And the Roberts nomination ticked them off. Conservatives expected Bush might nominate a justice so conservative that the entire Democratic Party - and even three or four moderate Republicans - would reject him. Food fight! But he was bland, and worse yet, appeared "thoughtful." Danger!

Them there was contrast is between the way Bush handled Social Security privatization and gay marriage. He fought hard for the first, even if the whole nation thought the idea worthless. The second? He made some statements, the shrugged it off. And on stem cells, Bush "tried to forge a compromise rather than battle for undiluted conservative principle." When polls showed his intervention for Terri Schiavo was unpopular, "he dropped the issue like a stone."

No wonder the religious right is upset. As Chait says, this man gave "social conservatives symbolism and imagery but little in the way of actual policy change. Affluent conservative investors, on the other hand, get massive policy changes that they like."

Screwed again -
It's hard not to suspect that a good number of social conservatives have simply been co-opted by the Republican establishment. That would explain why, while social conservative intellectuals and commentators have almost unanimously rejected Miers, social conservative organizations have had a far more mixed reaction. While some criticized Miers, Dobson praised her, and she won unqualified endorsements from Jerry Falwell and groups like the Christian Coalition and the American Center for Law and Justice. With allies like these, Bush doesn't have much incentive to work harder to reward his social conservative base. No wonder the poor, nutty bastards got hosed again.
Oh well. But how about this from the man of the right Jonah Goldberg at the far edge of the right National Review -
What is remarkable about the Miers nomination is that the pro-Miers side managed to define the debate as one between elitists and "heartlanders" or some similar nonsense first. There was no way that anyone could say National Review, the Weekly Standard, the Federalist Society, Bork, George Will and Krauthammer were somehow collectively of insufficient conservative authenticity, especially when the defenders - with some exceptions - do tend to be more moderate or, as the Judge says, lukewarm. Hugh Hewitt, for example, is famously dismissive of ideological conservatism preferring to talk about Republicans versus Democrats, not liberals versus conservatives.

I actually think this is a profoundly significant signal in the ongoing - and at times somewhat lamentable - transformation of the GOP into a populist party. For example, I've written many times about how liberals don't understand that Fox News' popularity has had less to do with conservatism and more to do with populism than they are prepared to see. Liberals think they're the party of the people, so they tend not to understand populism when it comes from non-liberal quarters. But it is Fox's anti-elitism, which pulls in the ratings more than its conservatism. This has been hard to see in the past because Fox's anti-elitism has generally been aimed at liberal institutions - the New York Times, the ACLU, Harvard, etc. But anti-elitism and conservatism are not and never have been the same thing. And I do think this will be more obvious in the months and years to come. I think this new "elites" versus "heartlanders" trend is only going to grow within the ranks of the GOP. I can't say it's all bad or all good. But it is a major sociological change if the arguments within conservatism are now going to be about "loyalty" to our people (trans: our Party) instead of loyalty to our ideas.
Yep, Jonah is now chasing the zeitgeist, or "hunting the meme" or whatever, and has uncovered a beauty. His own party is fracturing along the line dividing faith from reason, thinking ("elite") and feeling ("populism"). So Fox news is NOT their friend - at Fox they play to those who find matters of the mind suspicious.

On Comedy Central, on the premier of Stephen Colbert's new show, the new compliment to Jon Stewart's "Daily Show," Colbert nailed the whole thing in his opening segment, a satire of Bill O'Reilly's daily opening, "Talking Points." This is Fox News:
Anybody who knows me knows that I am no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They're elitist for constantly telling us what is or isn't true, what did or didn't happen...

I don't trust books. They're all fact and no heart. And that's exactly what's pulling our country apart today. Because face it, folks, we are a divided nation... We are divided by those who think with their head, and those who know with their heart.

Consider Harriett Miers. If you think about Harriett Miers, of course her nomination's absurd! But the President didn't say he thought about this selection, he said this:

President Bush: "I know her heart." [with a video clip of Bush saying just that, with his sly smile]

Notice that he didn't say anything about her brain? He didn't have to. He feels the truth about Harriett Miers. And what about Iraq? If you think about it, maybe there are a few missing pieces to the rationale for war. But doesn't taking Saddam out feel like the right thing... right here in the gut? Because that's where the truth comes from, ladies and gentlemen... the gut.

Did you know that you have more nerve endings in your stomach than in your head? Look it up. Now, somebody's gonna say - "I did look that up and its wrong." Well, Mister, that's because you looked it up in a book. Next time, try looking it up in your gut. I did. And my gut tells me that's how our nervous system works.

Now I know some of you may not trust your gut... yet. But with my help you will. The "truthiness" is, anyone can read the news to you. I promise to feel the news... at you.
That about captures the essence of what the "thoughtful right" faces.

But it's not just the "thoughtful right" that faces the modern "know nothings."

You remember the original group: "The Know-Nothing movement was a nativist American political movement of the 1850s. It grew up as a popular reaction to the large numbers of immigrants - mostly Irish Roman Catholics - entering the United States starting in the late 1840s, and was characterized by calls for a number of measures to maintain the United States as a nation of Anglo-Saxon Protestants."

They're back. (Substitute "Mexican" for "Irish Roman Catholic.") Some things never change.

As mentioned previously, one really ought to think about the what's "under" the transitory news stories. Faith (and trust) versus reason (and inquiry), the apple that tasted so good and got us kicked out of Eden, Galileo and the Catholic Church, Voltaire mocking religion and being denounced, Darwin and Huxley all the way to the Scopes trial, to Dover in Pennsylvania this month, to the president listening to supernatural voices, to the defense of know-little want-to-know-less nominees for the Supreme Court. This all had not been resolved, and may never be resolved. It's just one long argument, over and over.

The Republicans are just surprised by it now. But it's and old, old story.

Posted by Alan at 11:27 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 20 October 2005 11:41 PDT home

Wednesday, 19 October 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Mid-Week Bombshell: Perhaps More of a Squib

Perhaps this political bombshell is more of a squib:
1 a: a short humorous or satiric writing or speech - b: a short news item; especially filler: FILLER
2 a: a small firecracker - b: a broken firecracker in which the powder burns with a fizz
3: a small electric or pyrotechnic device used to ignite a charge
The item, Wednesday, October 19, was part of the swirl of speculation given that no one yet knows what will come of the investigation of the leak of that CIA agent's name. There were lots of rumors going around the day before. Would Cheney resign? Would Bush name Condoleezza Rice Vice President? Just who was going to be indicted, and for what? How high up was this going to go?

So the New York Daily News prints an item that suggests the president himself, in spite of all he has said, knew all along exactly what happened and who did the deed. This was bylined Thomas M. DeFrank, Daily News Washington Bureau Chief. There's more on DeFrank and his background here from Josh Marshall - DeFrank was big with the former President Bush, co-wrote a book with James Baker and was considered for a position or two, so he's an insider. Of course, on the other hand, his name could be translated, "from France."

So, he answers the basic question. Did this President Bush know all about Karl Rove's involvement in the outing of Valerie Plame, all along? He says yes.

Note this from September 29, 2003 - White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan says "the president knows" that Rove wasn't involved in the leak. "It was a ridiculous suggestion in the first place."

Now that it is clear the woman's was leaked to two reporters Scott McClellan is refusing to comment.

October 8 the Associated Press reports Bush knows nothing about Rove doing anything like that. Citing "people familiar with Rove's statements," they say Bush asked Rove in the fall of 2003 to reassure him that he was not involved in any effort to divulge that woman's identity - and their "sources" said that Rove gave Bush the assurance Bush ask for.

Well, there are sources and then there are sources. DeFrank suggest the AP folks were punked, with this:
An angry President Bush rebuked chief political guru Karl Rove two years ago for his role in the Valerie Plame affair, sources told the Daily News.

"He made his displeasure known to Karl," a presidential counselor told The News. "He made his life miserable about this."

Bush has nevertheless remained doggedly loyal to Rove, who friends and even political adversaries acknowledge is the architect of the President's rise from baseball owner to leader of the free world.

As special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald nears a decision, perhaps as early as today, on whether to issue indictments in his two-year probe, Bush has already circled the wagons around Rove, whose departure would be a grievous blow to an already shell-shocked White House staff and a President in deep political trouble.

Asked if he believed indictments were forthcoming, a key Bush official said he did not know, then added: "I'm very concerned it could go very, very badly."

"Karl is fighting for his life," the official added, "but anything he did was done to help George W. Bush. The President knows that and appreciates that."

Other sources confirmed, however, that Bush was initially furious with Rove in 2003 when his deputy chief of staff conceded he had talked to the press about the Plame leak.
Bush has always known that Rove often talks with reporters anonymously and he generally approved of such contacts, one source said.

But the President felt Rove and other members of the White House damage-control team did a clumsy job in their campaign to discredit Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, the ex-diplomat who criticized Bush's claim that Saddam Hussen tried to buy weapons-grade uranium in Niger.

A second well-placed source said some recently published reports implying Rove had deceived Bush about his involvement in the Wilson counterattack were incorrect and were leaked by White House aides trying to protect the President.

"Bush did not feel misled so much by Karl and others as believing that they handled it in a ham-handed and bush-league way," the source said.

None of these sources offered additional specifics of what Bush and Rove discussed in conversations beginning shortly after the Justice Department informed the White House in September 2003 that a criminal investigation had been launched into the leak of CIA agent Plame's identity to columnist Robert Novak.

A White House spokesman declined to comment, citing the ongoing nature of Fitzgerald's investigation.
That's it. Short and sweet. Karl's been in the doghouse because he handled this badly. The implication is the boss felt there were better ways to "discredit" that Wilson guy. This leaking crap to the press was a lousy way to smear the guy, or not sneaky enough, or something.

But Bush knew what was up. Does that make him, putting aside his anger at Rove, part of a conspiracy that revealed the name of an undercover CIA agent? Maybe.

This is most curious.

He did say this, September 2003 -
Listen, I know of nobody - I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action.
And February 2004, this -
"If there's a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is," Bush told reporters at an impromptu news conference during a fund-raising stop in Chicago, Illinois. "If the person has violated law, that person will be taken care of.

"I welcome the investigation. I am absolutely confident the Justice Department will do a good job.

"I want to know the truth," the president continued. "Leaks of classified information are bad things."

He added that he did not know of "anybody in my administration who leaked classified information."
So maybe DeFrank is lying, or he himself has been punked. Who are you going to believe?

Tim Grieve tries to unravel it here:
The New York Daily News says that Bush and Rove had discussions about Rove's involvement in the Plame case "beginning shortly after the Justice Department informed the White House in September 2003 that a criminal investigation had been launched into the leak." If that's true, then Bush may have been telling something less than the full truth during a Cabinet meeting on Oct. 7, 2003, when he told reporters that he didn't know who leaked Valerie Plame's identity. "I mean this town is a -- is a town full of people who like to leak information," Bush said then. "And I don't know if we're going to find out the senior administration official [who leaked Plame's identity to Robert Novak]. Now, this is a large administration, and there's a lot of senior officials. I don't have any idea. I'd like to. I want to know the truth. That's why I've instructed this staff of mine to cooperate fully with the investigators -- full disclosure, everything we know the investigators will find out. I have no idea whether we'll find out who the leaker is."

Of course, the Bush-Rove conversations that the Daily News alleges occurred may not have happened by Oct. 7, 2003. But if they happened, they happened long before Bush sat down for an interview with special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in June 2004 - an interview in which Murray Waas' sources say Bush insisted that Rove had assured him that he wasn't involved in outing Plame.

If the Daily News is right, Bush lied to Fitzgerald. If the Daily News is wrong, Rove lied to Bush. Unless we're missing something, Mr. President, those are the only possibilities. Which is it?
This is enough to make your head hurt.

What to do? Ask questions. Ask White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

That's what the press did, Wednesday, October 19, with this result:
Question: Is it true that the president slapped Karl Rove upside the head a couple of years ago over the CIA leak?

McClellan: Are you referring to, what, a New York Daily News report? Two things: One, we're not commenting on an ongoing investigation; two, and I would challenge the overall accuracy of that news account ...

Question: So what facts are you challenging?

McClellan: Again, I'm not going to comment on an ongoing investigation.

Question: You can't say you're challenging the facts and then not say which ones you're challenging.

McClellan: Yes, I can. I just did ...

Question: Well, if you want us to say it's inaccurate, you need to give us a reason why, or it wouldn't be responsible to report it.

McClellan: Well, there's an ongoing investigation, and as you know, our policy is not to comment on it. So that's where we are ...

Question: Based on your personal knowledge, based on your opinion, based on your frustration with the story - what caused you to [challenge the accuracy of the story]?

McClellan: No, I mean, I read the story and I didn't view it as an accurate story.

Question: Why not?

McClellan: Again, I'm not going to go any further than that. There's an ongoing investigation. This is bringing up matters related to an ongoing investigation.

Question: After you read the story, Scott, did you check with either of the two people mentioned, the president or Rove, to ask them? Is that what you base ?

McClellan: I don't have any further comment.
Well, that was illuminating.

Where do you go for real information?

As mentioned in the roundup of Tuesday rumors, the word is that a certain staffer of the Vice President, one John Hannah, had been "flipped" ? to get out of trouble he was ratting out his bosses. Now there's word of another, one David Wurmser.
David Wurmser, has agreed to provide the prosecution with evidence that the leak was a coordinated effort by Cheney's office to discredit the agent's husband. Her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, was one of the most vocal critics of the Iraq war.

The sources say that Hannah and Wurmser were given orders by senior officials in Cheney's office in June 2003 to leak Plame's covert status and identity in an attempt to muzzle Wilson. The former ambassador had been a thorn in administration's side since May 2003, when he began questioning claims that Iraq was an imminent threat to the U.S. and its neighbors in the Middle East.
It's a hall of mirrors. Who knew what, and when? And who ordered this thing be done?

And why do it?

Well, that's at least clear. The rubes needed to know they were sending their sons and daughters to face death for "a good reason." Wilson and the careful CIA folks were messing up the narrative - queering the deal. And the con was working. Or maybe these guys conned themselves - and sincerely believed the questioners and "facts" people had to be silenced for the safety of the nation.

That second possibility is scarier than anything else.

Posted by Alan at 19:58 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 19 October 2005 20:01 PDT home

Tuesday, 18 October 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Whig Flipping: Tuesday Rumors
- Will the head of the WHIG conspiracy, Vice President Cheney, resign this week?
- Will Condoleezza Rice be named Vice President?

The Patrick Fitzgerald investigation of the CIA leak thing - who in the White House shopped around the fact the Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was CIA agent and ruined her career and undercover network to get a back at her husband for saying the whole idea Saddam Hussein had folks trying to buy yellowcake uranium in Niger was bogus, because the CIA sent him there to check and there wasn't any way it could be true - is winding down. The grand jury created to look into this must be adjourned by the end of the month - its term expires - and there may be indictments soon, this week or next - or a report from Fitzgerald that no one broke any laws and the whole thing is really just a big "never mind" - or a new grand jury could called to continue on for another two years. No one knows.

When no one knows there are rumors. Tuesday, October 18, the Washington Post runs a story that Vice President Cheney may be a target in the whole business of getting the word out there that you cannot trust Joe Wilson because his wife works for the CIA - that chickenshit outfit that always wants better proof of threats when everyone knows we're all going to die unless we do something - and she set up her husband's trip to Africa just to make Bush and Cheney and the whole war thing look bad. Short version? These two wanted to undermine our case for war because they're evil and hate America, as everyone who knows things knew we had to have this war. And, by the way, Wilson is a pussy-whipped wimp whose wife had to find things for him to do. That seemed to be the idea.

Well, Cheney had his own little war going with the CIA - they didn't tell him what he wanted to hear, or knew to be true, about the actual threat posed by the former Iraq. In his eyes they were out of control, or at least, not with the program.

There are hundreds of references to that, and it became even more clear this week after Judith Miller of the New York Times testified - see Miller Story Shows White House-CIA Tension (Peter Yost, Associated Press). Her conversations with Cheney chief of staff, "Scooter" Libby, give sense of that.
"I recall that Mr. Libby was displeased with what he described as 'selective leaking' by the CIA," Miller wrote. "He told me that the agency was engaged in a 'hedging strategy' to protect itself in case no weapons were found in Iraq."

Amid the ultimately futile hunt for the banned weapons, Libby told Miller that the CIA's strategy was, "If we find it, fine, if not, we hedged," the reporter recounted.

Libby's "frustration and anger" spilled over into their conversations, Miller wrote, with the Cheney aide describing leaking by the CIA as part of a "perverted war" over the war in Iraq.
So Cheney's office was ticked at the CIA for being so damned cautious. It was disloyalty. And it made the administration look bad. And this was months before Wilson published his New York Times piece saying he'd gone there (Niger), and there was nothing there. Well, Niger was there, but no one was selling anything radioactive to anyone from Iraq.

So the whole administration is selling one story and the CIA is "hedging" - and then Wilson goes public. You can see the frustration. Bush, Rice and Cheney are everywhere in the media talking about not wanting "the proof to be in the form of a mushroom cloud" - what we know is good enough. And the CIA and this married couple are messing up the whole thing. They had Judy Miller at the Times behind them - she fed the Times a ton of "insider" stories about the nasty aluminum tubes for the centrifuges, and about the exiled scientist who had actually worked on the nuclear bombs Iraq was building, and everything Ahmed Chalabi said, and so on. Her fellow reporters complained she was "an advocate" and had crossed the line, but the Times was on board. (They later apologized and pulled her off Iraq reporting.) But the Wilson piece was a public escalation of their war with the CIA, in Judy's paper!

This was a problem in controlling the press. Their enemy sneaked a bomb in their newspaper, the most influential in the nation, one that they had neatly co-opted. Drat!

But did Vice President Cheney himself do something about this? The Post quotes someone - "a former Cheney aide" - saying "it is 'implausible' that Cheney himself was involved in the leaking of Plame's name because he rarely, if ever, involved himself in press strategy."

But maybe he was involved, in a sort of 1170 way - Henry II didn't really do anything to Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, but he did say, "What sluggards, what cowards have I brought up in my court, who care nothing for their allegiance to their lord. Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?"

It was just a question. Did Libby do the deed?

But then, as Bloomberg News reports, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald "is focusing on whether Vice President Dick Cheney played a role in leaking a covert CIA agent's name." Well, "playing a role" in a crime makes you a criminal, if someone proves it. Can sitting vice president be indicted on criminal charges? Yep, according to this, from UCLA Law professor Stephen Bainbridge. Robert Bork says so too. Only the president is immune to criminal indictments.

And someone may have been flipped - someone on Cheney's staff may have ratted him out. See this:
A senior aide to Vice President Dick Cheney is cooperating with special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, sources close to the investigation say.

Individuals familiar with Fitzgerald's case tell RAW STORY that John Hannah, a senior national security aide on loan to Vice President Dick Cheney from the offices of then-Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, John Bolton, was named as a target of Fitzgerald's probe. They say he was told in recent weeks that he could face imminent indictment for his role in leaking Plame-Wilson's name to reporters unless he cooperated with the investigation.

Others close to the probe say that if Hannah is cooperating with the special prosecutor then he was likely going to be charged as a co-conspirator and may have cut a deal.
Cool. The plot thickens.

And last December in Newsweek this same fellow got mention with this item. John Hannah all along had been feeding Cheney's office intelligence reports about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and ties to terrorism from the Iraqi National Congress, Chalabi's exile group in America, bypassing the CIA entirely. And the fellow was on loan from John Bolton, now our UN Ambassador, who back then was all over the United Nations IAEA as they were undercutting the administration's claims about all this stuff.

If he's been flipped? This is odd. And Tuesday there's also this from MSNBC -
NBC News confirmed the special prosecutor has already questioned two people on or formerly on the vice president's staff about his possible involvement in the leak, Cheney's adviser, Catherine Martin, and his former spokeswoman, Jennifer Millerwise.

... MSNBC-TV's Keith Olbermann spoke to Newsweek magazine's chief political correspondent, Howard Fineman, about the newest player added to the CIA leak investigation lineup.

KEITH OLBERMANN, COUNTDOWN HOST: First, Mr. Fitzgerald asked Judith Miller about the vice president. We know about that from what she wrote. And she said he didn't know much about any of what she supposedly discussed with Mr. Libby. But then Mr. Fitzgerald also asked this staffer and the former staffer of the vice president about the vice president. Is he indeed being scrutinized here about a possible role in the leak? And if so, do we have any idea what role?

HOWARD FINEMAN, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE: Well, my understanding is, they're at least nibbling around the edges here, because it's quite possible that the special prosecutor's theory of this case is that there was a conspiracy. It may be a pretty big one, because we're talking about the vice president of the United States' chief of staff, Scooter Libby. We're talking about Karl Rove, we're talking about seven or eight people who are part of something called a White House Iraq Group.

Their job, in the months leading up to the Iraq war, and in the months after it, was to sell the justification for the war, specifically the presence weapons of mass destruction, and then, frankly, to try to steamroller anybody who got in their way and opposed their arguments after the invasion and the occupation of Iraq began.

I think it's that group of people that the special prosecutor's looking at. Several of those people were very, very close, I mean, very, very close to the vice president. The question then becomes the classic one from a generation ago, what did he know, and when did he know it? And we're talking about the vice president.

... And in an odd way, I think we're going to reargue the run-up to the war in Iraq, and the aftermath of it, all the justifications that were made by Colin Powell and the United Nations that had to do with weapons of mass destruction, because I think the special prosecutor, Fitzgerald, is looking for motivation here. He's looking for why the people he's been investigating might have wanted to leak Valerie Plame's name, why they wanted to intimidate, perhaps, Joe Wilson and his wife.

... from the prosecutor's point of view, he's got the chief of staff of the vice president's office in his sights, clearly. And, you know, the betting around here is, it's quite likely that that's the number one target is Scooter Libby. Scooter Libby is very close, has a very close working relationship with the vice president. The vice president has a small office with a small group of people who work very closely together. He's got to look at that. He interviewed the vice president once, not under oath. If he does it again, obviously know that we know there's a bigger story on our hands than we imagined.
Yes, it's the WHIG conspiracy, as in White House Iraq Group. Is that what will be the real target of this all - the group formed "to sell the justification for the war, specifically the presence weapons of mass destruction," and then out to "steamroller" anybody who got in their way?

Could be. But no one knows.

But Tuesday, October 18, US News and World Report gives us this:
Sparked by today's Washington Post story that suggests Vice President Cheney's office is involved in the Plame-CIA spy link investigation, government officials and advisers passed around rumors that the vice president might step aside and that President Bush would elevate Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

... The rumor spread so fast that some Republicans by late morning were already drawing up reasons why Rice couldn't get the job or run for president in 2008.

"Isn't she pro-choice?" asked a key Senate Republican aide.
Yeah, and she's black, and plays piano, and has a fancy PhD. And she's said many times she does not ever want to run for president. But why should she? This is easier.

And as Digby over at Hullabaloo points out -
If Condi becomes the Veep, how many hours/weeks/months/hours will it take for Bush to resign, Condi to become president, and all the Democratic hopes for a weak opponent in 2008 to be dashed?
It's a plan, and the president can't be having much fun at this. One can see a national address where he says he's looked at the poll numbers and how everything is going, and tell us all he was always in way over his head, and he just was never up to the job, so Condi will be just fine and bye now - sorry for the war and all.

Of course nothing may come of this all. Patrick Fitzgerald could report he uncovered no crime, so everyone should move on.

Bur Joe and Valerie won't -
Wilson said that once the criminal questions are settled, he and his wife may file a civil lawsuit against Bush, Cheney and others seeking damages for the alleged harm done to Plame's career.

If they do so, the current state of the law makes it likely that the suit will be allowed to proceed - and Bush and Cheney will face questioning under oath - while they are in office. The reason for that is a unanimous 1997 U.S. Supreme Court decision ruling that Paula Jones' sexual harassment suit against then- President Clinton could go forward immediately, a decision that was hailed by conservatives at the time.
Oops. And if you're not up on that see this - the ruling. And they were so happy to stick it to Bill Clinton.

Well, late reports are the grand jury will be working through the 24th at least, so no indictments soon, if ever. And everything above represents a mix of some very worried people and others with far too much time on their hands.

But it is fun.

Posted by Alan at 19:20 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 19 October 2005 17:23 PDT home

Monday, 17 October 2005

Topic: Backgrounder

Tech Notes: Being Disconnected

It never rains in Southern California? Well, it did Monday - thunderstorms all day over a Hollywood. And in rained until sunset, when it finally cleared and the full moon rose above the odd racks of clouds. Another twenty-four hours of storms lined up, coming up from Baja? Three inches or more of rain two days, for this town, is considerable.

Around one in the afternoon Monday there was trouble for some of the news junkies and policy wonks - those of us who like to follow what's happening in the world - at least for those of us connected to the world through landlines. Around one in the afternoon a big storm lashed Hollywood - lots of lightening, thunder, and then hail. And the cable service went out. No internet. No television. No way to keep up on the news. Couldn?t check BBC or Le Monde or any of the sites reporting and commenting on the events of the day.

This was odd. There's a lot going on in the world, changing quickly. Suddenly it was gone. All there was, politically, was the mindless rants on talk radio.

But the hail was cool. And it seems some folks spotted funnel clouds. We don't get tornados out here very often, if at all.

But being out of touch feels bad. Cable service for most of Los Angeles is handled by Comcast, and from just after noon until six in the evening all cable television service and high-speed cable internet service for Los Angeles, or for Hollywood at least, was out. So - switched to very slow dial-up to trade emails with friends, and told them it might be time here to order a satellite dish for television, radio and high-speed internet, as cable goes out too often.

From my friend who teaches marketing at a prestigious business school in New York -
In the late seventies when I was busy being a consultant to technology and entertainment companies, I came to the conclusion that the then emerging cable television industry - and the laying of hard wire assets all across America - was at some future point in jeopardy of simply being "turned off" by consumers who might easily switch to direct satellite. (Why bother with the wires after all, and that now reads also "mobile technology" - a possibility that wasn't even a glimmer back then.)

So politics and embedded legacy industry interests create a lot of friction in the system - but still here we are - able to change channels, so to speak.
Well , the service came up again after five hours - but who knows if it'll go out again?

What to do? One can look at this historically.

The situation. Los Angeles - the second largest metro area on the continent - granted monopoly status to Comcast cable for about ninety percent of the area, the rest going to Adelphia. No one else can legally lay cable or offer services, and the two must not tread on each other's areas. Like anywhere else, no? The alternative on internet is DSL, multiplexing over existing telephone lines, but if you are more than one thousand meters from the nearest switching station, you cannot hook up. Can't be done at greater than that that distance. And it's a bit slower. Here in this complex just above Sunset there are fifty-two units, and over the last two years about half of them have gone to the third alternative, direct satellite - the roof looks like a mushroom patch.

So yes, hard-wiring America may have been a good idea at the time, but the folks I worked for at Hughes Space and Communications developed the way to bypass the wires. GM-Hughes spun off the Hughes Space and Communications division's hardware and launch operations - I worked for them for ten years - to Boeing. That was in 1999 and I was in Canada at the time on another GM account. Anyway, Boeing now builds the satellites and payloads and gets them up there. Hughes kept the satellite "operations" and renamed the division DirecTV. Since these satellites were transmitting almost all cable worldwide to the cable operators' downlink dishes, to be sent, then, over the coaxial lines on the ground, it was a no-brainer to develop a little dish, cheap and small, so everyone could have their own individual home satellite receiver and forget the wires. So in the mid-nineties they did - the engineers in building S-41 did that. A nice little unit now licensed everywhere. The rest is history.

Funny - in the early nineties in the next building in El Segundo, surrounded by a massive satellite farm, next to Mattel headquarters oddly enough, was the Hughes satellite operations center. Back then everything on cable television anywhere in the world was live on one of the hundreds of monitors in that center - a sort of quality control operation monitoring all the satellite signals before they hit the wires. Letting folks buy direct feeds from all that stuff was an obvious money-maker, once the little dish was ready.

The guys at Hughes knew that's where the money was. And Boeing is now losing its shirt trying to get good hardware into geosynchronous orbit.

And Rupert Murdoch bought DirecTV from GM-Hughes last year for a few billion he had lying around that he wasn't using for anything else. The Hughes folks just smiled.

So I'm stuck at the moment with the old technology - real fast, but dependent on miles of coax cable and switches and all the rest, and prone to being blown out at some point on the grid by a lightening strike. (A few loud cracks today had Harriet-the-Cat hiding under the bed.)

Why is the old technology still here?

Note this:

Free American broadband!
In France, you can get super-fast DSL, unlimited phone service and 100 TV channels for a mere $38 a month. Why does the same thing cost so much more in the U.S.?
S. Derek Turner - SALON.COM - October 18, 2005

The gist?
Across the globe, it's the same story. In France, DSL service that is 10 times faster than the typical United States connection; 100 TV channels and unlimited telephone service cost only $38 per month. In South Korea, super-fast connections are common for less than $30 per month. Places as diverse as Finland, Canada and Hong Kong all have much faster Internet connections at a lower cost than what is available here. In fact, since 2001, the U.S. has slipped from fourth to 16th in the world in broadband use per capita. While other countries are taking advantage of the technological, business and education opportunities of the broadband era, America remains lost in transition.

How did this happen? Why has the U.S. fallen so far behind the rest of its economic peers? The answer is simple. These nations all have something the U.S. lacks: a national broadband policy, one that actively encourages competition among providers, leading to lower consumer prices and better service.

Instead, the U.S. has a handful of unelected and unaccountable corporate giants that control our vital telecommunications infrastructure. This has led not only to a digital divide between the U.S. and the rest of the advanced world but to one inside the U.S. itself. Currently, broadband services in America remain unavailable for many living in rural and poorer urban areas, and remain slow and expensive for those who do have access.
The rest explains the cable and telecom companies have great lobbying arms that contribute tons of money to politicians, the Republicans at the moment, so the FCC doesn't get all out of hand and allow "hot spots" and alternatives to land lines. The dinosaurs have money.

And this - if you like conspiracy theory - keeping folks away from fast communication is a way to keep them from becoming liberals -

Blue, Red State Broadband Penetration Mirrors Election Results
TechWeb News - August 17, 2005 (11:20 AM EDT)
U.S. households continue to install broadband at a furious rate, according to a report released Wednesday. Curiously, the penetration of cable modem and DSL has been tracking state-by-state splits in the 2004 presidential election.

In its latest broadband report of what it calls "one of the fastest adopted services in U.S. history," the Leichtman Research Group noted that eight "Blue" states with broadband penetration over 35 percent had all voted for John Kerry while eleven "Red" states with broadband penetration at or below 20 percent all voted for George Bush in 2004.

"While these disparities are largely related to variations in household income across the states, these differences are strikingly similar to the state-by-state splits in the 2004 presidential election," said Bruce Leichtman, the market research firm's president and principal analyst, in a statement.
Now THAT is curious.

But I don't think the storms that disconnected me for half a day from the scandals and the war news and all the rest were caused by the right-wing folks trying to keep us all in the dark. They have other ways to do that.

And a late comment from our friend in upstate New York -
Hughes HAS been smart in its timing - not often guilty of firing too far ahead of or behind the duck - a good trick in this day and age.

Hughes was smiling when DirecTV brought a windfall price. But I grimace at Murdoch owning hard infrastructure servicing, on top of his renowned editorial qualities for content management.

Evolution of technology in "moderated markets" - where policy helps manage the public interest - is VERY interesting given the American mythology of 'free markets' - free to influence!

As a market analyst, I'd have to question the blue-red penetration conclusion you cite and ask - is DSL versus political leaning a cause or effect? I would argue the latter - those in red states (especially as defined by the neoCon movement) are less inclined to buy into technology or advancement - advancement of ideas or the culture in general. DSL doesn't create liberals. Liberals tend to embrace options - and they're probably more inclined to pay inflated prices to get them!
Agreed. And "conservative" means looking to the past and using it - new stuff is suspicious, of course.

And of this new stuff, and who uses it and why, below is a dialog and technology and marketing, from Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, one of those who got CNN going when it started up, and our friend who teaches marketing at that upstate New York business school, with some observations on the telecom situation in Paris, from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis.

First, Atlanta:
More techie observations, these from the guy who founded the first TV "satellite news desk" in this country, for anybody who is interested -

Why is the old technology still with us? I can tell you one reason, at least from my experience in broadcasting - no satellite delay.

Ever watch a live interview between a news anchor in New York and a reporter in Asia, and wonder why it takes so long for the reporter to respond to the question? This is (mostly) the result of the anchor's question going up to a geosynchronous satellite 22,300 miles in space, then coming down again to the reporter's ear, the round-trip taking roughly (if I remember correctly) two thirds of a second each way - then the reporter responds, with the same thing happening in reverse. In fact, there sometimes may be as many as two or three such satellites involved ("double hop" or "triple hop") - since the same satellite that can be accessed by New York cannot be seen by one that hovers over, say, Tokyo, since the planet Earth gets in the way.

And have you ever seen a reporter begin to answer a question then rip his earphone out of his ear and lay it on his shoulder as he continues talking? When you see that happen, you know the reporter's "IFB" isn't working. ("IFB" stands for "interrupted feedback" - sometimes known as "mix minus," which means the control room sound guy takes all the audio, but mixes out the reporter's own voice, then sends that back to him.)

What this malfunction means is that his earphone, which is supposed to feed into his ear ONLY what the anchors and other guests are saying, and NOT his own voice, is not doing what it's supposed to be doing, so he is hearing his own voice, at anywhere from twp-thirds of a second to maybe two seconds or so after he says it - depending on whether it's a single, double, or even triple hop involved. Try listening to what you said two seconds ago while trying to think of what you're trying to say right now, and you'll understand the problem! (I've never actually tried it, but I have sometimes suffered the wrath of those who have.)

The reason I mention this? None of this happens with terrestrial landlines, only with satellites. Landline audio is relatively instantaneous, and therefore doesn't usually need IFB. Shortly after I left CNN, fiber optic lines began to be strung all over the country, which was much better than satellites, at least for live TV purposes.

Satellite delay is okay for most (although not all) internet and computer communications, where it isn't really noticed, but if you ever talk on the phone with someone and find yourself talking over each other, it's probably via satellite.

But yes, satellite phones definitely come in handy now and then - for example, in hurricane disaster zones when all the cell towers have either been knocked out, shorted out by water, or maybe overloaded by relatives calling from New Jersey to make sure everyone is alright - but also in Pakistan after an earthquake, especially back in the mountains where cell systems didn't exist in the first place. In that case, a little delayed signal is better than no signal at all.

(And in Hollywood, if you ever find yourself in that situation again, but with your phone line knocked out as well - meaning you can't even get dial-up internet - do what I do: Go online through the cell phone! Just another port in a storm, which has come in handy now and then.)

And a little more regarding direct satellite TV:

Although CNN's founders in 1980, among other cable network programmers, were prepared from the beginning to abandon cable for direct satellite if it ever became as popular as it was predicted to become, there was a time when it looked like satellites were not going to make it, since nobody wanted to gamble on recouping the big bucks needed to replace the cheap little birds that were up there - some used transmitters that had as much wattage as your average Christmas tree bulb - with the huge, expensive satellites powerful enough to feed to the tiny little dish you could install on your window sill, partly - as was once explained to me by Ted Turner's right-hand man, Terry McGuirk - because less than half of the apartment dwellers in large cities, where the big money was, had windows that faced the southern horizon, where all the satellites were parked over the equator.

But that, of course, was then, and this, of course, is now.
From upstate New York -
You've certainly been a few places over the years - nice to know you lived to tell about it!

I guess the question is NOW - since that was then - do today's satellite feeds for home "programming" purposes (with power now in orbit) provide equal or superior service reliability and potential hi-definition capability, given the hard-wire issues of the "last mile." (Glass fiber may span the country, but every house is still copper wire from pole to television.) Anybody out there up on the technical issues which may make one system more likely than the other?

(I pose the question KNOWING full well that technically superior Beta videotape, and Mac computers DIDN'T win their respective market battles for de facto dominance! Or that compromised NTSC TV broadcast technology HAS been our system of choice here in the US for just about my entire lifetime! Technological superiority hardly guarantees market adoption. I guess that must serve as some consolation for all those marketing folks who pop up in Dilbert!)

So I repeat my question - anybody keeping up on the futuring game? Able to frame underlying issues with greater clarity? Or willing to venture a forecast?

Rick - there ARE a few of us interested -
Atlanta -
Good questions.

Last question first - No, I'm not a futurist anymore. I used to be, but found myself getting too far out in front, thinking that would help my career, but discovering later that merely knowing something was coming up was not the same as being able to cash in on it.

(One example: While working at AP Photos in the early 1970s, I told the department head that news photos in the near future would all be digitally recorded and manipulated on what look like TV screens, then stored in computers that clients could access instantaneously by phone. He laughed at me. Years after I had resigned, they went ahead and did it without me. There have been other examples since, but maybe I'll bore you with those some other time.)

I've also not kept up much with how satellites work since I left CNN in 1985, so keep that in mind when you read this.

Remember that the problems with those live two-way satellite feeds between the anchor here in the states and the reporter overseas I described really only show up "in-house" at the network, which are way "upstream" of your home receiver. Although we will see on our television sets the product of the mess that sometimes occurs, we don't usually notice any satellite delay on the whole program as it comes to us. (Want to see that delay in action? The next time the president addresses the nation switch around between the three networks, and CNN, Fox, and MSNBC. The audio will usually not be in synch because some nets or stations usually throw in an extra satellite that others don't.)

Because of the prohibitive cost of running landline, even fiber-optic ones, I'm sure cable companies still get their programming via satellites. I'm not sure about whether network TV affiliates these days still get theirs via their old-fashioned landlines or new-fangled fiber or via satellite, but my guess is that it's a mix, with most of it coming from space. Probably the better quality would be fiber, but the cost would make it not worth it. With all their faults, satellites are definitely cheaper to use.

I'm sure the satellites that cable and television companies use today have benefited from the advancements pushed by the home satellite business. (Do today's birds, like those of yore, still get overwhelmed twice a year by "sun outages" that occur when the satellites wander between the dish and the sun? In the old days, the video noise brought to mind trying to empty out a playground sandbox with a vacuum cleaner.) But yes, however those folks receive their signals, the ultimate quality of what they send to you is determined by "the last mile" - "cable," in the case of cable, and "air," in the case of you local TV station.

And you say there ARE a few of you interested?

Well, sure, but you're in marketing! You marketing guys are interested in everything - especially anything you might be able to sell!
From upstate New York -
For a retired futurist you still do pretty well with informed speculation!

With my students I try to continually remind them that shooting ahead of the duck is as harmful to a career as late to market! My classes are filled with too many intelligent people that need reminding they're not average, they're not their own best customers (re: extending their own executive intuition to the consumer choice game), and they need to find the practical application for their future market insight (humans demand continuity in their existing behaviors/comfort zones - disruptive behavior requirements result in failed technologies in the marketplace. I like to point to ATM touchpads as extensions of telephone touchpads as one key element for ATM usage adoption - the phone designs having taken some 20 yrs to fully penetrate over rotary dial 'behavior').

Except for keeping up with classroom-level futuring, I too have retired from that element of corporate maneuvering, at least in terms of expecting remuneration (that brings its own liability!).

You say - "Well, sure, but you're in marketing! You marketing guys are interested in everything - especially anything you might be able to sell!"

I'm only "interested in everything" as an intellectual hangover of my earlier days of attempting renaissance thinking in an age of exponential info explosion (actually all of history has probably suffered from exponential info explosion - from any given base context starting point - it's probably ALWAYS been overwhelming to those living it - just another example of relativity! - it all depends!)

And to tell the truth - I've never (?) (admitted to) selling anything I didn't first believe in - so in reality I guess I don't even qualify as a marketing guy.

As to the hard issue of cable vs. wi-fi vs. satellite feed - Bill Gates launched X-Box gaming systems with the idea that kids could help him put smart boxes atop every TV, which eventually could usurp the current cable descrambler, and be the smarts behind the monitor WHICHEVER delivery system won out... so even he isn't showing his cards yet. (I LOVE recent speculation that Goggle is creating its OWN glass fiber global web network, by which if could offer FREE wi-fi access to the world (in exchange for targeted advertising to any given "receiver.")

The futuring torture never stops!
From Atlanta -
You say: "I try to continually remind them that shooting ahead of the duck is as harmful to a career as late to market! ... they need to find the practical application for their future market insight."

My main problem was I would find myself pioneering on ground that would necessarily have no room for me.

In the late seventies, I was trying to lease time on a Manhattan Cable channel to run old black-and-white classic movies, selling my own commercial slots. I gave up when I couldn't interest advertisers in cable TV, but more importantly, couldn't get any movie studio to clear any movies for me to run; they were biding their time until they could figure out how much to charge. Shortly after I gave in, Charles Dolan of Cablevision on Long Island started up his AMC, and with great success.

As I was mentioning to our Wall Street attorney friend, in the early eighties, I wrote and demonstrated a web-browser program on my Apple II+ (before there were Windows and even Macs), knowing that some day computers would be doing this sort of thing. But what, I asked, did this have to do with me? My program was in Basic, and I wasn't going to be a computer programmer, nor would I be starting a business to do this.

In the early 1990s, I tried to start a wireless information and email network, mostly using HP 95 palmtops and the Casio Zoomer, a precursor of the Palm Pilot. In fact, in 1992, I got permission from CNN to sit in their newsroom on election night, broadcasting election results wirelessly via Motorola's Embarc service (with whom I had signed a working agreement) to selected handhelds around the country. One big reason my company failed is that Motorola withdrew its wireless text service from the market. But I also realized that just because I was among the first to be offering to broadcast wireless text, there was nothing to stop any big latecomer to the biz from walking all over me - for example, by offering on cell phones something they already produced for another media. Indeed, CNN itself eventually began doing this.

Another way of putting it: I think my main problem is that I don't want to be in big business, and yet everything I've tried to do requires that I form a company large enough to compete.
And finally, from Paris, where all this talk of satellite and cable seems silly, as over there the copper telephone lines work just fine. From Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, a response to the Turner article above - "In France, you can get super-fast DSL, unlimited phone service and 100 TV channels for a mere $38 a month. Why does the same thing cost so much more in the U.S.?" -
19.10 - Wired In France?

Something is up. When I lived in the suburbs and they came along to lay the cable in the ground, they put in copper wires. It was a hell of a job - digging trenches everywhere and putting this new cable in them - and copper was 'good enough.' This was done by Lyonnaise des Eaux for France Telecom, and then I guess, leased to a cable operator, a subsidiary of FT.

When it was finished FT came along and put a little badge outside each apartment door. 'This place is cabled.' There's one of these outside my apartment door here in the 14th too.

Then my dial-up operator quit on me. It was slow and costing a lot on account of France Telecom charging by the minute. So I signed up for Noos cable. The guy comes and looks and says there are two problems. No key to access the cable in the locked garbage room right next to my door, and no Ethernet port on my Mac.

So I got a newer used Mac with an Ethernet port, but I couldn't locate the garbage room key. Time was running out so I went to France Telecom and paid extra for an Ethernet modem (instead of a free USB modem), and they turned on the DSL within hours. This gave me 'Net access for a flat rate and cut my telephone bill to a monthly minimum. A savings of about 50%, with a full-time 'Net connection, plus faster.

The cable, Noos, is plagued in this area by 'too many folks in the business' of shoving big files around. They offer the service and then whine if people use it. Result- Noos is notoriously erratic.
In contrast, FT's Wanadoo DSL is very reliable month in and month out. Imagine if you will, my building, built in 1931, with its original wires, is handling this DSL - not FT's TV cable.

They started me out at 512 Ko and they hustled me into 1024 Ko and phoned up a week ago to ask if I wanted to keep their 'Maxi+' - which is one or two mega. Actually they phoned to try and get me to pay a sub for a 'Box' of theirs - I think for their telephone/internet/TV offer - but I refused it. I'm trying to save money and I have no time to watch 80 'free' TV channels. Actually I haven't noticed any speed increases moving from 512 to 1024 Ko - I'm just happy it's reliable.

(Also France Television started broadcasting 'digital' TV six months ago. With a decoder - about 100 euros - you can have the regular channels in digital, plus 3 or 4 more new France Television channels. This is broadcast through the air. My reception over the apartment's antenna isn't wonderful because the Montparnasse Tower is between me and the broadcast tower, the Tour Eiffel. So I'm not sure the 'free' digital would work here.)

Metropole's hosting company is out in the sticks, not served by DSL or cable. In distance not far from the big technopole at Saint-Quentin or the atomic research center at Orsay, but might as well be in the south Pacific. Some years ago they moved the server out of there, to a proper server park. They used to say France Telecom had one wire and it always broke late on Sundays. For TV they have satellite but whenever I was out there I couldn't see it. Have to be a geek to figure out the telecommand's buttons. In any case, the satellite not reliable (or too expensive) to run a web server over.

In sum, the techno folks are squeezing a lot out of old copper wires. In Europe, especially in cities, most wires are underground and are relatively immune to most normal hazards. FT's Wanadoo for example, is offering TV over its telephone wires, plus telephone, plus DSL Internet. Over one wire this is.

And now, in this time frame, they are rolling out the promo bandwagon for video reception over portable phones. They sold SMS, they sold photos, and now comes video - the phone companies are headed towards the big jackpot right here on earth. At the rate things are going, before this decade is over we will all either be working for the phone company, or be in debt up to our eyeballs to it.

However my personal view of all this, the telephone, is dubious.

Fine is the technical advance of the telephone as an essential tool for communication; not so fine is its conversion to gadget, game machine, Dick Tracey wristwatch video player. The financial and human investment in the non-essential aspects of the phone is insanely pharonic, hardly any step forward for mankind. The money is being sucked out of the world's economy... in return for? No Panama Canal is being built here.
Indeed.

What is being built?

Photographic record - tiny satellite dishes on the roof here in Hollywood -


















Big satellite dishes down in Culver City, snagging entertainment out of the sky for redistribution over landlines -






















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Rain in Los Angeles - a photo from Bon Patterson -




Posted by Alan at 17:15 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 19 October 2005 16:33 PDT home

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