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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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Monday, 24 October 2005

Topic: The Law

Odd Challenges on the Limits of Free Speech

Monday, October 24, in the New York Times one could find this -
You might have thought that the White House had enough on its plate late last month, what with its search for a new Supreme Court nominee, the continuing war in Iraq and the C.I.A. leak investigation. But it found time to add another item to its agenda - stopping The Onion, the satirical newspaper, from using the presidential seal.
What's the problem?

The Onion produces a streaming audio parody of the president's weekly radio address - now and then, not every week, as the latest is dated September 5 and concerns Hurricane Katrina. The problem is the header, containing a picture of President Bush and the presidential seal.

Here's what has happened:
"It has come to my attention that The Onion is using the presidential seal on its Web site," Grant M. Dixton, associate counsel to the president, wrote to The Onion on Sept. 28. (At the time, Mr. Dixton's office was also helping Mr. Bush find a Supreme Court nominee; days later his boss, Harriet E. Miers, was nominated.)

Citing the United States Code, Mr. Dixton wrote that the seal "is not to be used in connection with commercial ventures or products in any way that suggests presidential support or endorsement."

Exceptions may be made, he noted, but The Onion had never applied for such an exception.

Well, putting aside the fair use doctrine and considerations of the legal protections afforded to satire and parody - discussed in the pages in June 2003 in relation to Fox News suing Al Franken and the Margaret Mitchell estate trying to stop publication of that novel The Wind Done Gone, and in July 2004 in relation to Ray Bradbury suing Michael Moore about the "Fahrenheit 911" film title and Mattel suing a Swedish artist for using Barbie Dolls satirically - the White House wants The Onion to cease and desist, as it were. The Onion prints a half a million hard copies a week and three million a week read it online. Who knows how many may think the president says these things?

As for The Onion, the Times tells us Scott Dikkers, the editor in chief, shot this back: "I'm surprised the president deems it wise to spend taxpayer money for his lawyer to write letters to The Onion."

And then he suggested the money be used instead for tax breaks for satirists.

The Onion's non-satiric lawyers are claiming the readers in question just aren't that dumb. THEY know The Onion does parody. They get a joke. The magazine's attorney, Rochelle H. Klaskin - "It is inconceivable that anyone would think that, by using the seal, The Onion intends to 'convey... sponsorship or approval' by the president."

Other points the attorney makes - there's a headline in the current issue "Bush to Appoint Someone to Be in Charge of Country." Duh. And anyway, The Onion and its website are free, so the seal is not being used for commercial purposes.

But they requested a formal application to use the seal. What the heck. Why not?

There has been no response to the application.

The Times, being an investigative newspaper, asked Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, how this all came about, and got this response:
"Despite the seriousness of the Bush White House, more than one Bush staffer reads The Onion and enjoys it thoroughly," he said. "We do have a sense of humor, believe it or not."
Well, many refuse to believe that, and see this odd legal complaint as proof.

What's the point of making a fuss?

And haven't we seen the presidential seal on a podium in this or that "Saturday Night Live" sketch? Are they next?

Now as you might recall, Fox News had copyrighted the words "Fair and Balanced" for use identifying their news operation, and didn't like those words being used in the title of Franken's book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. They lost. A transcript of the hearing is here.

Barbie is a registered trademark of Mattel, but see this - 'Lawsuit Barbie' Fails for Mattel, Court upholds an artist's use of the doll in his series of photographs, Christine Steiner, The Los Angeles Times, Wednesday, January 07, 2004.

Ray Bradbury never filed a suit after all his comments.

And as mentioned here, there was that "sequel" to Margaret Mitchell's novel, Gone With the Wind, by a black author, Alice Randall. The Mitchell estate fought in the courts over Randall's right to publish this take on what happened at Tara after Rhett left the scene for good. The Wind Done Gone was finally published in late 2001, after a three-judge panel of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals on October 10, 2001 affirmed a previous court's decision to block an injunction against its publication. The copyright didn't apply to this "racial commentary" on what Mitchell had written.

But did anyone copyright or register as a trademark the presidential seal? Is it public domain?

What is the gripe?

Is this like someone making a fake police badge and impersonating an officer to do nasty things? Now that is illegal, but should the fellow in the Village People who dressed as a cop have been ordered to cease and desist, and made to dress as a civilian? What about Halloween "cop" costumes?

And shouldn't these White House staff folks been working on other things?

With Karl Rove distracted by his legal problems the White House staff is becoming far too undisciplined. He's not riding herd on them and they're getting pretty far "off message."

This may explain the nomination of the Church Lady, Harriet Miers, to the Supreme Court. They'd all been reading The Onion and got confused. They've started doing parody themselves.


Okay, is this parody? Or what is it?

On October 20, at the University of Florida, columnist Ann Coulter gave a speech to raise money for the Alachua County Republican Party. Eight hundred folks paid up to seventy-five bucks each to hear her speak, and after she got her thirty-grand speaking fee, and after the cost of food and beer - this was the third annual Ronald Reagan Black Tie and Blue Jeans BBQ - the Alachua County Republican Party got the rest. You do the math.

One wonders if the Young Republicans in our colleges are really paying attention in their economics classes.

The Universal Press Syndicate covered the event here in the Independent Florida Alligator, which has to be one of the great newspaper names of all time.

The scene?
The audience, decked out in patriotic garb and cowboy boots, fanatically surrounded Coulter before dinner, asking her to pose with them for pictures.

One woman caught Coulter's attention by begging for a picture, saying, "My husband loves you."

The Republicans got in the spirit of the night while enjoying an SUV-size trailer full of Budweiser beer.
Whatever. Her theme for the night was the weaknesses she saw in the Democratic Party.

"The Democrats complain about the Republican base being nuts. The nuts are their entire party."

And she warned these folks to not allow Democrats anywhere near foreign policy, "not even to keep them away from domestic policy."

And she defended the war in Iraq and ranted that the Democrats were "demoralizing America" when this war was "a magnificent success."

They ate it up.

But then there was this:
She also criticized the media for being liberal and Democrats for whining about their rights under the First Amendment.

"They're always accusing us of repressing their speech," she said. "I say let's do it. Let's repress them."

She later added, "Frankly, I'm not a big fan of the First Amendment."
What? Is this the new right-side Republican position? Is this where we're heading?

University of Florida College Republicans President Ashlee Black:
"I think that she's incredibly intelligent and outspoken. She's a little raw, but I think she balances the left's Michael Moore."
Ah yes, fair and balanced. Michael Moore and his kind like free speech, but what about the other side of the question?

One wonders if the Young Republicans in our colleges are really paying attention in their government classes.



So sue me.

Posted by Alan at 21:28 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 25 October 2005 08:18 PDT home

Sunday, 23 October 2005

Topic: Backgrounder

Follow-Up Notes: Digging Deeper


Back on October 16 in these pages - in Who Believes, and Why? - there was this on the Harriet Miers nomination -
The problem seems to be that the Republicans made a commitment to the religious right, the evangelical born-again crowd, that for their support they would throw them a bone now and then. And the religious right felt - after all the years of being mocked and having to endure people arguing "under God" had no place in the Pledge of Allegiance, and being told officers at the Air Force Academy couldn't demand all cadets find Jesus, and they couldn't force all children in public school to mouth their approved prayers every day, and they couldn't have cities and states finance religious displays, and so on - well, this was pay-back time. They'd get this born again church lady or someone like her.
These very angry people feel they have God in their pocket and know "the truth" and all the rest.

Then I came across this from Samuel T. Lloyd III, the Dean of Washington National Cathedral:
If God were to be fully and completely revealed, if we were to see God beyond all hiddenness and mystery, our freedom would disappear. We would be forced to believe, forced to be obedient. No, this hiddenness is God's blessing.

Certitude is a spiritual danger. If we claim to know God's ways without question, we limit God to the shape of our own minds. As St. Augustine put it 1700 years ago, 'If you think you understand, it isn't God.'

One of the troubling currents of our time is the tendency of religious people to speak as if we have seen God's face. A lot of what is being said in religious circles can suggest that some people claim to have God figured out, under control, in their pockets.
Now this suggests a deeper divide than the one currently tearing apart the conservative movement, the split between, on one side, the elitist, intellectual, well-read thinkers opposed to the Miers nomination, and, on the other side, the populists who find matters of the heart and trust and blind faith (is there any other kind?) are far more important than books and thinking and all that fancy stuff.

The split here is between the theology of doubt and humility - God is not knowable and his ways are beyond man's limited mind - and the theology of proud certainty - "God spoke to me and told me what to tell you what must do."

Those who would evangelize - that is, bring "the word" to everyone, everywhere, and save them by forcing them to convert to what God specifically told them all folks should be thinking, doing and believing - are of the second group. The first group just worships, and wonders about things, and understands there are things they just don't know. The second group knows. They see know problem. God's a good guy who told them what's what, even on the minor details of constitutional law.

What if these two opposing views square off now? You can see the animosity growing. Traditional Christians want their religion back. Traditional Republicans want their party back.

Big questions - "Is God knowable?" - "Is doubt a good thing, or at least inevitable?" - are the province of theology. These are deep thoughts for sunny, dusty seminar rooms late in the afternoon, or for lonely writing after midnight.

Perhaps now they are political questions. And is such, how key people answer these questions concerns us all. The president's moral certainty and his born-again conviction that what he does is right, because he found Jesus when he was forty, comes to mind. (So did Harriet Miers, by the way. She was forty when she abandoned her Roman Catholicism, found Jesus and walked away from "The Cult of Mary," had a real, full-immersion baptism and all the rest.)

Augustine said, "If you think you understand, it isn't God." Dobson, Falwell, Robertson, Ralph Reed, and all the rest, disagree. For them, certitude is not a spiritual danger, it's a career necessity, and profitable (subtle pun).

And why pay attention to a saint, even Augustine, when you get the word on the day's issues directly from the top?

This is all quite curious. One can sense a real pissing contest coming - a theological and philosophic pissing contest, of all things.

Too bad it matters so much.


In these pages on October 23 - in Doing Good, Doing it Right - there was a bit of discussion of this incident:
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.
There was lots more detail, and this just makes matters worse in the Middle East, of course. For reason mentioned, this burning the bodies and taunting the civilians is a major insult to Islam, not to mention just a really boneheaded tactic. "Our Man in Baghdad" says he may have something to say on this matter, but, as you must understand, he's pretty busy. He may not have time.

But someone on the ground at the time thought this was just the thing to do - use their religion to get them to do something stupid, or at least to let them know who's top dog and shouldn't be messed with. Let them see how foolish and powerless they are, so they'll be more compliant. (Yes, the logic of expecting compliance after such is questionable.)

Andrew Sullivan has a comment here:
... we should not transform this war into one against all Islam. Abusing Islam in military prisons or on the battlefield is both immoral and deeply counter-productive. Using people's religious conscience against them is a mark of totalitarian countries, not one where religious freedom is paramount.
Of course, this is not who we are, except for our current leaders - who we elected this last time without any ambiguity. Okay, maybe it is how fifty-one percent of us are - quite willing to use people's religious conscience against them. But that's not what we say.

Perhaps it's time to explain to the fifty-one percent that even if this sort of thing really feels good, and makes you feel all righteous and superior, it DOESN'T WORK!

Yeah, it's un-American. But they don't want to be told that.

How about this - it just makes people very, very mad, for a very, very long time. Think about that when Cleveland becomes a radioactive crater and there's no more Rock 'n' Roll Museum.


In these pages on October 23 - in The Autumn of Reaching the Limit of What You Can Put Up With - there was a note that the New Yorker is running an article by Jeffrey Goldberg in which Colin Powell's longtime mentor, Brent Scowcroft, "levels a 'powerful new attack' on the Bush administration." Yes, Scowcroft worked for Bush's father, but publicly opposed the war, then gave in and said something like "whatever." The idea is the guy expected the younger Bush's administration to "revitalize the Middle East peace process and start engaging seriously with Iran, two things that pretty clearly haven't happened." The thought is he's had enough now. And it seems this that Goldberg article will contain some "incredibly juicy commentary from President George H.W. Bush on the performance of his son's national security team."

The article is "Breaking Ranks: What Turned Brent Scowcroft Against the Bush Administration?" - Jeffrey Goldberg, The New Yorker, 31 October 2005

The article is not available on the web - you have to buy copy of the actual magazine to read it - but there are some long excerpts here, and one can stretch the Fair Use Doctrine and make some comments.

Brent Scowcroft is one of those reality-based folks, it seems -
The first Gulf War was a success, Scowcroft said, because the President knew better than to set unachievable goals. "I'm not a pacifist," he said. "I believe in the use of force. But there has to be a good reason for using force. And you have to know when to stop using force." Scowcroft does not believe that the promotion of American-style democracy abroad is a sufficiently good reason to use force.

"I thought we ought to make it our duty to help make the world friendlier for the growth of liberal regimes," he said. "You encourage democracy over time, with assistance, and aid, the traditional way. Not how the neocons do it."

The neoconservatives - the Republicans who argued most fervently for the second Gulf war - believe in the export of democracy, by violence if that is required, Scowcroft said. "How do the neocons bring democracy to Iraq? You invade, you threaten and pressure, you evangelize." And now, Scowcroft said, America is suffering from the consequences of that brand of revolutionary utopianism. "This was said to be part of the war on terror, but Iraq feeds terrorism," he said.
"You invade, you threaten and pressure, you evangelize." That about sums it up. Why did these guys think THAT would work? Revolutionary utopianism just sounds like a bad idea. Utopianism?

But better days ahead?
Scowcroft and those who share his views believe that the reality of life in Iraq at the moment is undermining the neoconservative agenda. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who served as Colin Powell's chief policy planner during the first Bush Administration (and who was Scowcroft's Middle East expert on the National Security Council during the first Gulf War) said that the days of armed idealism are over. "We've seen the ideological high-water mark," he said. "I mean wars of choice, and unilateralism, and by that I mean an emphasis, almost to the point of exclusion of everything else, on regime change as opposed to diplomacy aimed at policy change."
The smart money bets the days of "armed idealism" are far from over. Regime change is far easier than diplomacy, or at least it polls better.

Brent Scowcroft was a key player in the administration of Bush 41 - a West Point man who became National Security Advisor - so what does he think of Bush 43?
When I asked Scowcroft if the son was different from the father, he said, "I don't want to go there," but his dissatisfaction with the son's agenda could not have been clearer. When I asked him to name issues on which he agrees with the younger Bush, he said, "Afghanistan." He paused for twelve seconds. Finally, he said, "I think we're doing well on Europe," and left it at that.
That's cold, but were only doing a tad better in Europe, Brent. Doing well will have to come later.

As for Condoleezza Rice, the former National Security Advisor who is now our Secretary of State -
"She says we're going to democratize Iraq, and I said, 'Condi, you're not going to democratize Iraq,' and she said, 'You know, you're just stuck in the old days,' and she comes back to this thing that we've tolerated an autocratic Middle East for fifty years and so on and so forth," he said. Then a barely perceptible note of satisfaction entered his voice, and he said, "But we've had fifty years of peace."
This Sate department doesn't do "peace," it seems. They're utopians.

Scowcroft on Paul Wolfowitz, the thinker in the administration (and Scooter Libby's Political Science teacher at Yale) who said we'd be greeted with flowers, there was no history of sectarian strife over there to worry about, we'd be out in six months, and the thing would pay for itself with the flood of oil review to the new Chalabi government - and on Wolfowitz' sidekick Kagan -
"He's got a utopia out there. We're going to transform the Middle East, and then there won't be war anymore. He can make them democratic. He is a tough-minded idealist, but where he is truly an idealist is that he brushes away questions, says, 'It won't happen,' whereas I would say, 'It's likely to happen and therefore you can't take the chance.' Paul's idealism sweeps away doubts."

Wolfowitz, for his part, said to me, "It's absurdly unrealistic, demonstrably unrealistic, to ignore how strong the desire for freedom is."

Scowcroft said that he is equally concerned about Wolfowitz's unwillingness to contemplate bad outcomes and Kagan's willingness to embrace them on principle. "What the realist fears is the consequences of idealism," he said. "The reason I part with the neocons is that I don't think in any reasonable time frame the objective of democratizing the Middle East can be successful. If you can do it, fine, but I don't think you can, and in the process of trying to do it you can make the Middle East a lot worse."

He added, "I'm a realist in the sense that I'm a cynic about human nature."
Well, he's eighty years old. He's earned the right to that view.

As said here last week and before that, 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, their kids aren't dying for the longest of long shots.

Oh well, note Matthew Yglesias here -
I'll certainly read the article on Brent Scowcroft when it comes out, but I feel compelled to at least semi-dissent from the heaping of praise upon the likes of Scowcroft, Larry Wilkerson, Richard Haas, and other Republicans who've started speaking out against the Bush administration lately. Everything they say could have been said 12-18 months ago when it would have made a difference for the future of the country. But that would have meant taking fire from the then-intact conservative attack machine, and gotten them labeled as bad party men. Instead of speaking out when Bush was strong and trying to weaken him, they've waited until Bush is weak and decided to pile-on in an effort to save their own reputations.

Better late than never is a true enough adage, I suppose, but it's actually pretty shabby behavior. It also tells you a lot about the way Washington operates and the sort of dysfunctional culture that deserves a lot of blame for the unfortunate circumstances in which the country now finds itself.
The man has a point. But we could have a revolution and throw the bums out. Jefferson himself suggested having those now and then might be necessary, and a good thing - "Every generation needs a new revolution."

Maybe it's time.

Posted by Alan at 22:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 23 October 2005 22:21 PDT home

Topic: Announcements

Redirection: To London and Paris, and Hollywood

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the parent site to this web log, was posted today - Volume 3, Number 43 for the week of Sunday, October 23, 2005 - and it's full of good stuff.

Extended and expanded from what first appeared here, this week "Our Man in Baghdad" requested a discussion of the Smurfs and our Iraq policy, so one is provided. Really. The situation with the Church Lady who would be a Supreme Court Justice exposes the real division in America, and it isn't political. And the swirl of rumors in Washington at the moment is covered in detail - who goes to jail and who gets to be the new VP and all that. And there are two columns about lots of fed-up people finally unloading. Something is in the air.

From two world capitals? From London, Mick McCahill gives us the details of the British conservatives, and it sounds so familiar, and from Paris, Ric Erickson talks about parking tickets, but really about the attitude toward the law over there.

Features? Hollywood trades notes with the business school professor and one of the founders of CNN and "Our Man in Paris" - on being connected to the world, the scoop on the satellite industry and mroe. And there are surprising quotes on the press this week, and a link to a new, extensive Halloween photo album.

Bob Patterson is back, with a "World's Laziest Journalist" column on how the press can be seduced, and a book column on some very strange titles.

The photography is all local. It's all Halloween, except for the parrot.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ____________________

Smurf War: Doing Good, Doing It Right
Whig Flipping: Tuesday Rumors
Baseline Analysis: Getting Under the News, Again
Mid-Week Bombshell: Perhaps More of a Squib
Worth a Comment: End of the Week Political Notes
Discontent: The Autumn of Reaching the Limit of What You Can Put Up With

The International Desk ____________________

Our Man in London: A Week in Politics
Our Man in Paris: My Parking Ticket Ladies

Features ____________________

Tech Notes: Being Disconnected
Quotes for the week of October 23, 2005 - The Judith Miller Journalism Collection
Links and Recommendations: A New Halloween Photo Album

Bob Patterson ____________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - A Journalist's Guide to Asking The Most Intelligent, Perceptive, and Insightful Questions
Book Wrangler: Judging Books by Their Titles

Photography ____________________

Amateur Halloween
Hollywood Halloween
Flora and Fauna

From that last page, this on Hollywood Boulevard in front of the Egyptian Theater, a man not worried about "avian flu" at all -

Posted by Alan at 18:17 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 23 October 2005 18:18 PDT home

Saturday, 22 October 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Discontent: The Autumn of Reaching the Limit of What You Can Put Up With

The Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, testified last Wednesday (19 October) to the senate, for three hours, 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. She said it would be "a generational struggle" to reach the goals of transforming the Middle East, as we have started to do by bringing secular democracy and full human rights and free-market capitalism to Iraq.

What about the reaction? As noted by Tom Curry of MSNC here, Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat-California, got angry and told Rice that the American people "don't want the job of rebuilding the Middle East on the backs of our brave men and women and the taxpayers of the United States."

The committee chairman, Richard Lugar, Republican-Indiana, who voted for funding the Iraq operation again and again: "Let's say that the Iraqis, after all is said and done, really don't want to have a united country…. Some Americans would say, 'why are we there, if these folks not only don't appreciate us, but they're hashing the whole thing up, they literally don't want to have the sort of Iraq that was envisioned by the British and French years ago?'"

Lugar and Barack Obama, the new senator from Chicago, wonder about what Rice and Bush are trying to achieve - a unitary, multi-ethnic, democratic Iraq - may simply not be "feasible."

Obama: "Are we committed to holding Iraq together in perpetuity, even if the parties involved, the Iraqi people, determine they don't want to form the sort of visionary Iraqi nation that you and the president envision?" And she shot back the senators were "overplaying the importance" of sectarian divides in Iraq. They'll all get along?

Note also:
Rice also weathered a mocking rebuke from a liberal republican senator, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.

Referring to the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Chafee said, "It was all a joke and the laugh was on us."

When Rice told Chafee that Iraq "seems to be much further along" the road to women rights than almost any other state in the region, Chafee gruffly replied, "We'll see."
Note that fellow's re-election campaign is being backed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He's a Democratic "friend of Bush?"

Russ Feingold, Democrat-Wisconsin, after the hearing - "It's just not working. They keep using the same old mantras…. People don't believe this idea that somehow this is the logical step in the fight against terrorism. They've lost all those arguments. This continued attempt to defraud the American people by suggesting this was good move in the fight against terrorism is simply failing."

Of course, as mentioned in End of the Week Political Notes that same day Lawrence Wilkerson, addressed the New America Foundation. He 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. The joint was run by Cheney and Rumsfeld, and as one fellow puts it, Powell and Wilkerson were convinced "Rumsfeld is quite literally mad, and Cheney a dangerous, vindictive monomaniac."

Kevin Drum notes here that the word is out that that the New Yorker will be running an article on Monday by Jeffrey Goldberg in which Powell's longtime mentor, Brent Scowcroft, levels a 'powerful new attack' on the Bush administration. Yes, Scowcroft worked for Bush's father, but publicly opposed the war, then gave in and said something like "whatever." Drum has the links, and thinks the guy expected the younger Bush's administration to "revitalize the Middle East peace process and start engaging seriously with Iran, two things that pretty clearly haven't happened." The thought is he's had enough now. And it seems this that Goldberg article will contain some "incredibly juicy commentary from President George H.W. Bush on the performance of his son's national security team." Oh goody.

There's something in the air - even at the New York Times.

Bill Keller, executive editor, posted a mea culpa on Jim Romenesko's website at Poynter Online. It was a memo to his staff about the whole Judy Miller that he made very public:

- "I wish we had dealt with the controversy over our coverage of WMD as soon as I became executive editor... [but] it felt somewhat unsavory to begin a tenure by attacking our predecessors."
- "By waiting a year to own up to our mistakes, we allowed the anger inside and outside the paper to fester. Worse ... we fostered an impression that The Times put a higher premium on protecting its reporters than on coming clean with its readers."
- "I wish that, when I learned Judy Miller had been subpoenaed ... I had sat her down for a thorough debriefing, and followed up with some reporting of my own. ... I missed what should have been significant alarm bells."
- "... if I had known the details of Judy's entanglement with [Scooter] Libby, I'd have been more careful in how the paper articulated its defense, and perhaps more willing than I had been to support efforts aimed at exploring compromises."
- "The contract holds that the paper will go to the mat to back up [reporters] institutionally - but only to the degree that the reporter has lived up to his or her end of the bargain ... to have been open and candid with the paper about sources, mistakes, conflicts and the like..."

Then, in her weekend column, the Times' star columnist Maureen Dowd unloads -
I've always liked Judy Miller. I have often wondered what Waugh or Thackeray would have made of the Fourth Estate's Becky Sharp.

The traits she has that drive many reporters at The Times crazy - her tropism toward powerful men, her frantic intensity and her peculiar mixture of hard work and hauteur - never bothered me. I enjoy operatic types.
However -
She never knew when to quit. That was her talent and her flaw. Sorely in need of a tight editorial leash, she was kept on no leash at all, and that has hurt this paper and its trust with readers. She more than earned her sobriquet "Miss Run Amok."

Judy's stories about WMD fit too perfectly with the White House's case for war. She was close to Ahmad Chalabi, the con man who was conning the neocons to knock out Saddam so he could get his hands on Iraq, and I worried that she was playing a leading role in the dangerous echo chamber that former Senator Bob Graham dubbed "incestuous amplification." Using Iraqi defectors and exiles, Mr. Chalabi planted bogus stories with Judy and other credulous journalists.

Even last April, when I wrote a column critical of Mr. Chalabi, she fired off e-mail to me defending him.

When Bill Keller became executive editor in the summer of 2003, he barred Judy from covering Iraq and W.M.D issues. But he admitted in The Times' Sunday story about Judy's role in the Plame leak case that she had kept "drifting" back. Why did nobody stop this drift?

Judy admitted in the story that she "got it totally wrong" about WMD "If your sources are wrong," she said, "you are wrong." But investigative reporting is not stenography.
An Associated Press story yesterday reported that Judy had coughed up the details of an earlier meeting with Mr. Libby only after prosecutors confronted her with a visitor log showing that she had met with him on June 23, 2003. This cagey confusion is what makes people wonder whether her stint in the Alexandria jail was in part a career rehabilitation project.

Judy is refusing to answer a lot of questions put to her by Times reporters, or show the notes that she shared with the grand jury. I admire Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Bill Keller for aggressively backing reporters in the cross hairs of a prosecutor. But before turning Judy's case into a First Amendment battle, they should have nailed her to a chair and extracted the entire story of her escapade.

Judy told The Times that she plans to write a book and intends to return to the newsroom, hoping to cover "the same thing I've always covered - threats to our country." If that were to happen, the institution most in danger would be the newspaper in your hands.
Everybody is unloading.

Wimpy senators are finally unloading - on Rice and the whole idea we're making things better. A former State Department bigwig says we have a shadow government run by a cabal of madmen. Bush's father's guy and maybe his own father have had enough and will say so, and there's this dust-up at the Times where the editor and most of the reporters want to dump the woman who's been shilling for the administration and only the publisher supports her.

Is this the autumn everyone just ran out of patience? Maybe this is the "self-correction" that is supposed to occur in a free-speech democracy. It's an awful lot of fun.

Posted by Alan at 17:51 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 22 October 2005 17:58 PDT home

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

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