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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, 21 October 2005

Topic: For policy wonks...

Worth a Comment: End of the Week Political Notes

There was one item in the last week that showed the shift in the political world - some who had previously been silent had just had enough. And now, given that the administration and the Republican party is on the ropes with possible indictments of key leaders looming, the house majority leader in court charged with felonies, the senate majority leader under investigation by the SEC and the Justice Department, the new nominee to the Supreme Court looking rather ridiculous and being ridiculed, and all the rest, perhaps this was inevitable.

In any event, Lawrence Wilkerson, on Wednesday, October 19, addressed the New America Foundation. Wilkerson had been chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005 and to some seemed the fellow who said out loud what Powell might have been thinking in his lonely position trying to talk sense into the administration. Cheney and Rumsfeld told the president what to think, and do, and Powell was cut out. Powell wouldn't bitch about it. Wilkerson did, for him.

And now he just let it all out.

You can watch (and listen) to the speech here (streaming video if you have a high-speed connection), or read the speech here (PDF format), or you can read a brief summary from Timothy Noah here at SLATE.COM from Friday of the week.

Noah's comments are instructive. He says that inside the Bush administration, Wilkerson has never been a team player, and last year told GQ Magazine - "I don't care whether utopians are Vladimir Lenin on a sealed train to Moscow or Paul Wolfowitz. Utopians I don't like." Well, who does? And Noah calls "this the most blisteringly contemptuous critique yet of the Bush administration by a former high-ranking official there. (Second prize: Richard Clarke or possibly Paul O'Neill.)"

Key quote from the speech:
[T]he case that I saw for four-plus years was a case that I have never seen in my study of aberrations, bastardizations, perturbations, changes to the national security decision-making process. What I saw was a cabal between the vice-president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy didn't know were being made. And then when the bureaucracy was presented with the decision to carry them out, it was presented in such a disjointed, incredible way that the bureaucracy often didn't know what it was doing as it moved to carry them out.
Noah's other notes:
Of Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense, Wilkerson said: "Seldom in my life have I met a dumber man." Yet, with regard to Iraq policy, he was "given carte blanche to tell the State Department to go screw itself in a closet somewhere."

Of President Bush, Wilkerson said he is "not versed in international relations and not too interested in them either."

Of former national security adviser Condolezza Rice, Wilkerson said, "When she made a decision she would side with the president to build her intimacy with the president."

Quoting George Packer's new book, The Assassin's Gate, quoting Richard Haas, former director of policy planning at the State Department, Wilkerson said, "To this day I still don't know why we went to war in Iraq." Haas declined to comment to me about the speech.

And via Bill Montgomery here we get more.

This worries Montgomery:
We had a discussion in policy planning about actually mounting an operation to take the oilfields in the Middle East, internationalize them, put them under some sort of U.N. trusteeship and administer the revenues and the oil accordingly. That's how serious we thought about it. We had a discussion in policy planning about actually mounting an operation to take the oilfields in the Middle East, internationalize them, put them under some sort of U.N. trusteeship and administer the revenues and the oil accordingly.
Yeah, well? Who is surprised?

I like this part.
Public diplomacy? Broken. Broken. But I will say this. I will say this. An Egyptian friend of mine said this to me: It's hard to say, "Oh, shit." (Laughter.) Okay?

And I think if I had Karen Hughes here or Margaret Tutweiler or Charlotte Beers - all of whom were undersecretaries of State for - or are undersecretaries of State for public diplomacy, they would say, "You're right; it is hard."

So if you're unilaterally declaring Kyoto dead, if you're declaring the Geneva Convention is not operative, if you're doing a host of things that the world doesn't agree with you on and you're doing them blatantly and in their face - as I said before, without grace - then you've got to pay the consequences, and the consequences are your public diplomacy people have a really tough job. And is Karen Hughes going to turn it around? I pray for her every night.
And this:
I'm not sure the State Department even exists anymore except in the minds of the Foreign Service. Yes, we have embassies around the world, and if you've been to one lately you know they look like concertina-wired Abu Ghraibs. They send a terrible signal. ? And our foreign policy, I'm not sure you can get around the non-utility of the State Department.
The comment from here above Sunset?

This is not news. It just confirms what others have said. And the talking heads on Fox News dismissed it all a sour grapes from a girly-man who doesn't understand real power - someone has to be in charge and who need a State Department anyway, as the bad guys only understand manliness and cruelty anyway?

The only news here is that this high-level guy laid it all out. Cheney and Rumsfeld run the government, the president is a useful cipher, and no one wants to understand much, they just want what they want.

The response from the right? "Yeah. So? Dick and Donald are real men."

It's all very tiresome and leads nowhere. More of the same. This is just a note that people are speaking more directly about how they think things should be run. Mindless and thoughtless brutality to get what we want is still ahead, by a nose. There's a bit in the middle. Subtlety and compromise are coming in dead last.

The other discussion of the week was prompted by Matthew Yglesias and Sam Rosenfeld in The American Prospect with this, these two guys ragging on "liberal hawks" saying the war was a really good idea, but it was executed so very badly - "Using force to build a pluralistic liberal democracy where none existed before could count as a moral justification for war if we had any sense of how to feasibly engage in such an endeavor, but the evidence from Iraq and elsewhere indicates that we do not."

In short - even if this war was a good idea, we have no idea how to pull off a "transformation" of this sort. We've never done it. We don't know how to do it. Maybe it cannot be done. You can find reactions here, here, here and here. There are many others.

The comment from here above Sunset?

As before, the chances of Iraq turning out to be a Jeffersonian democracy and all three sides living in harmony in a prosperous, secular, unregulated free-market, flat-tax capitalist Starbucks and Wal-Mart paradise, that transforms the whole Middle East, seems more and more remote every day. It may have never been possible. But if there's a chance, even a slim chance, why not try for that? Hell, one could spend a dollar and actually win the lottery. It's quite possible, though not probable.

The problem is the cost. It's a cost-benefit thing. Is three hundred billion dollars, and two thousand dead soldiers, and ten thousand maimed for life, just a lottery dollar to these guys? It's not their money, nor their kids' lives. And this could work out fine? The odd are against us.

And the discussion is pointless. Our leaders decided it was possible. They don't deal with things like whether it was remotely "probable" at all. They're an idealistic, hopeful lot. And their kids aren't dying. The chances were always more that wildly remote - they were infinitesimal - but why not go for it? Well, they're kids aren't dying for the longest of long shots.

Finally, the other big idea at the end of the week was discussed by Jonathan Chait here -
I've been waiting for quite a while now for conservatives to come up with a theory to explain why large chunks of the Republican Party are, or soon will be, under indictment. The argument I've been anticipating has finally arrived, in the form of a long lead editorial in the latest edition of the influential conservative magazine the Weekly Standard.

The editorial, written by Standard Editor William Kristol and longtime conservative activist Jeffrey Bell, begins by acknowledging the uncomfortable fact that "the most prominent promoters of the conservative agenda of the Bush administration" are facing legal troubles of one kind or another. It cites the legal imbroglios of Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Tom DeLay and Bill Frist. It neglects to mention David Safavian, the chief of staff at the General Services Administration in the Bush administration; conservative activist/superlobbyists Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon; and Reps. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe) and Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), and perhaps some others I'm forgetting.

Anyway, one conclusion you could draw from all these examples is that the Republican Party has gotten a bit corrupt. The Standard does not, however, draw this conclusion. Another possibility is that it's all just a coincidence. The Standard doesn't conclude that, either. Instead, the editorial declares, "a comprehensive strategy of criminalization had been implemented to inflict defeat on conservatives who seek to govern as conservatives."
This is nonsense. Chait has his views, but from here above Sunset, it seems obvious - no one is trying "to criminalize conservatism." Some criminals have wormed themselves into the conservative ranks.

Hey! Guys! Dump them! Honest and principled conservatives are fine with those of us on the liberal side. We can disagree sensibly. Each side should dump its thugs, and let them go to jail.

Then maybe we can get something done to make things better. Sure, we'll disagree. But at least the riff-raff will be out of the way.

Maybe next week will be better.

Posted by Alan at 22:57 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 22 October 2005 07:59 PDT home

Topic: Photos

Halloween in Hollywood 2005

Halloween is the 31st, but on Friday, October 21, you would see, in and around Hollywood, the displays are up, and on Hollywood Boulevard the folks are out in costumes, but then, they always are.

This is all in a new photo album here, thirty-one shots that will amuse you.

And here are two shots, in high resolution - late morning, Friday, October 21, 2005. Southern California is a strange place.

In Santa Monica - this on one house just south of San Vicente Boulevard -

Hollywood Boulevard - in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater - "Marilyn Monroe" and Darth Vadar -

Posted by Alan at 20:24 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 21 October 2005 20:26 PDT home

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.

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

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