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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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Thursday, 27 October 2005

Topic: The Law

A Bad Week: Harriet the Church Lady Just Fades Away

Thursday, October 27th was a fruitless day to write about politics. The White House was waiting on what the Fitzgerald investigation would yield, and there was no news.

But one hot issue was taken off the table - Miers withdraws nomination; new selection to be made 'quickly'.

Oh well.

This particular item, from Dallas Morning News, opened this way:
The fight for the philosophical soul of the U.S. Supreme Court took a new and different direction Thursday, as Harriet Miers - the president's friend and lawyer - withdrew her nomination to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Her decision was accepted with reluctance by the embattled President Bush, with jubilation by anxious conservatives and with suspicion by Democrats who accused the president of "caving in" to the right wing of the Republican Party.
And everyone, even the Brits, had something to say: Bush nominee sabotaged by right wing hawks from The Scotsman and Humiliated Bush forced to retreat as moral right turns its guns on him from The Guardian.

Back here, from The Chicago Tribune (Mark Silva) there's this -Withdrawal marks rare moment of weakness, surrender for Bush: "President Bush has reached a deep valley of his presidency, a place where even some of the ideological voices of his own party have abandoned him and his harshest critics are openly declaring a failed administration."

But then there's Ann Coulter - IT'S MORNING IN AMERICA!

She's happy. She's expects now we'll get a nominee who is a fire-breather, someone who will end this nonsense with the court coddling criminals, insisting folks have a right to sexual privacy, and allowing Christianity to be suppressed by a tiny heathen minority, and suggests the executive's powers may be limited in some way. Oh, that may be reading her wrong. She may just hope we get someone with "intellectual rigor" who will end this "legislating from the from the bench" and understand that, if any law is passed the does this or that, the Supreme Court has no right at all to thwart the "will of the people" and say it's wrong, by looking up stuff in the constitution - or some such thing.

Rather than cite the thousands of commentaries one can find in the media, and on the web, perhaps a summary will do.

Miers and the president said the nomination had to be withdrawn because the senate was asking, since there was no paper trail - the woman had never been a judge, even in traffic court, and had never written anything or said anything at all about constitutional law - for some documents about what she had done or said as Bush's personal attorney and later as White House attorney. Well, that was privileged, and he admires her decision to withdraw her name, to preserve this important principle of separation of powers.

No one bought it. That explanation had been proposed by a Washington Post columnist, Charles Krauthammer, the previous week, as a fine face-saving excuse to cut her loose. He was on all the talk shows being congratulated all day long. He was appropriately "ah shucks" humble.

It didn't matter. This was going nowhere. Any out would do.

The Democrats sat back and said little of substance, but all seem a bit concerned that the president is now really ticked-off and will nominate some judicial Neanderthal. But they have a dim view of his personality, thinking of him as a vindictive, spiteful person who lashes out at others and doesn't think things through, and would rather have a messy fight and destroy things, rather than do the right or even sensible thing. Of course, that's why his base admires him. But is it true?

Some say his days of sneering and petty vindictiveness are over - the bad news this week was too much. Those indictments were looming. The congress forced him to rescind his executive order suspending the Bacon-Davis act, and now the companies rebuilding the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina have to pay workers "prevailing wage" rather than below minimum wage, or whatever they felt like paying. He must have hated that, and his contributors must think him a wimp. But he did it. He didn't have the votes to stop the congress from passing an override to his executive order. And then this was the week we reached two thousand soldiers killed in Iraq. The Pentagon said it wasn't a milestone. Brit Hume on Fox News said it was insignificant - we lost that many on one beach on one June morning in 1944 after all. But I was all over the news.

And then, to top it all off, the Chicago White Sox beat the Houston Astros in four games, a sweep, in the World Series. Texas loses, big time - in a final game in Texas itself. And his father and mother were in the stands.

And he has to withdrawn the Miers nomination.

Is he now spoiling for a fight? Seems unlikely. He's probably feeling pretty beat-up.

On the left there was talk that this may not be a good thing because now the "evangelical Christian right" is feeling its oats - they got the president to back down and dump this wimp with no real views. They want an anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-privacy zealot. Miers may have been "born-again" - but she wasn't sufficiently enthusiastic about Jesus or something. Bush lost his mojo. They found theirs.

And there was talk that this may not be a good thing because now the "intellectual right" is feeling its oats - they got the president to back down and dump this wimp with no real mind of her own. The want another Scalia, deeply read and with vast experience, who will be an anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-privacy zealot, and explain carefully why that is what the founding fathers wanted in this country. Scalia said it is "a fact" this country was established on Christian principles. Enough has been written about him in these pages. You could look it all up.

There was some talk the real reason this nomination was withdrawn was that James Dobson and a number of evangelical leaders were going to have to testify in the confirmation hearings about their meeting with Karl Rove, the one where he seems to have told them exactly how she'd vote on matters of concern to them. They called Bush and told him to dump the woman. They weren't going before congress. No one is confirming that story, by the way.

There were reports the majority leader of the senate, Bill Frist, called White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, and then there was a conference call where Frist explained there just weren't enough votes to pass the nomination. What was the point in fighting it out?

It was a bad week. So now what?

And as mentioned in these pages a few weeks ago, one big 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. Hell, maybe the teaching of evolution, and much of biology and geology supporting it, could be outlawed.

Now these folks want their payback for all those years of support.


And add that former Republican Senator John Danforth - who Bush had as our UN ambassador for a time - back in June denounced the whole new Republican evangelical party as being just about the opposite of what anyone would consider Christian (see this for the particulars) - but that may be a theological dispute as Danforth is also an ordained Episcopalian minister, and the religious right suspects that's a fake religion anyway. But he did it again, Wednesday, October 26th, at, of all places, the Bill Clinton School of Public Service, a graduate branch of the University of Arkansas on the grounds of the Clinton presidential library. Ouch. That's here on the AP wire: "I think that the Republican Party fairly recently has been taken over by the Christian conservatives, by the Christian right. I don't think that this is a permanent condition, but I think this has happened, and that it's divisive for the country." And he said the evangelical Christian influence would be bad for the party in the long run.

Well, it hasn't helped George.



In a discussion of pending legislation in the UK on outlawing criticism of the other guy's religion, no matter who you are, Christopher Hart has some comments in The Sunday Times, October 23 -
Jonathan Swift observed that the problem with religion was that there wasn't enough of it around: "We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another." Three centuries on there is even less of it around and we still hate each other.

The difficulty, at least for the scientifically educated but spiritually malnourished, is not the idea of religion itself, meaning some system of ritualised worship that helps us to make sense, if only symbolically, of the human, natural and supernatural worlds. The difficulty is rather that all the religions on offer are so patently preposterous, if not downright unpleasant.

Judaism tells us in its most sacred text, the Torah, that a donkey once turned round and started an argument with its master (Numbers, chapter 22); and that the supreme creator took time out to instruct his chosen people not to carry dead badgers, pelicans, hoopoes or bats (Leviticus, chapter 11).

Christianity, while accepting these texts as sacred, further believes that God manifested himself on earth in the form of an excitable and frequently ill-tempered 1st-century Jewish rabbi called Joshua ("Jesus" in Greek) who disowned his family and believed that the world was soon going to end. How do we know Jesus was Jewish? Because he lived at home until he was 30 and his mother thought he was God.

Then there is Islam. Its followers believe that its sacred text, the Koran, is the word of Allah as dictated to his prophet Muhammad. Non-Muslims might regard Muhammad as a deluded and bellicose man who had far too many wives than was good for him. His private life as recorded in the Koran itself, for instance sura 66, is also rather surprising.

Buddhism is an increasingly popular choice for westerners these days with its distinctive mix of cowardice, escapism and self-absorption. Hinduism has always been the colourful and vibrant national religion of India, although under the guidance of that wicked imperialist power, the British raj, it did at last begin to accept that burning women alive on their husbands' funeral pyres might not be such a good idea.

Shintoism, the national religion of Japan, venerated the emperor as a living god, at least until 1946 when Hirohito, under gentle pressure from the US army, admitted on the radio that he wasn't really.

The emperor Vespasian's last sardonic words, as he lay awaiting death and the posthumous deification bestowed on the Caesars, best put this religious belief into perspective: "I think I'm turning into a god."

Some like to believe that primitive tribal religions were much nicer. Unfortunately many of them practised human sacrifice. When the British (wicked imperialist power, etc) captured the Ashanti capital of Kumasi in present-day Ghana, they found a grove of death where the ground was saturated with the blood of thousands of human victims.
So much for religion.

But see Cenk Uygur here -
It is a chilling fact that most of the world's leaders believe in nonsensical fairytales about the nature of reality. They believe in Gods that do not exist, and religions that could not possibly be true. We are driven to war after war, violence on top of violence to appease madmen who believe in gory mythologies.

... Osama bin Laden is insane. He believes God whispered in the ear of Mohammed 1,400 years ago about how he should conquer Arabia. Mohammed was a pure charlatan - and a good one at that. He makes present religious frauds like Pat Robertson look like amateurs.

He said God told him to have sex with as many of the women he met as possible. I'm sorry, I meant to say "take them as wives." God told him to kill all other tribes that stood in his way or that would not placate him with assurances of loyalty or bribes. God told him, conveniently, that everyone should follow him and never question a word he said.

He sold this bag of goods to the blithering idiots who lived in the Arabian Peninsula at the time. If that weren't shockingly stupid enough, over a billion people continue to believe the convenient lies that Mohammed told all that time ago -- to this very day.

... George W. Bush is the most powerful man alive. He is a class A imbecile. He is far less intelligent than the average Christian. But like most of the others, he believes Jesus died for his sins. That idea is so perverse and devoid of logic it should shock the conscience. Instead, it gets him elected, and earns him the reverence of a great percentage of America. America! The most advanced country in the world -- run by a bunch of villagers who still believe Santa Claus is going to save them.

There is no damn Easter Bunny. There is no Jesus waiting to return. Moses never even existed. These were all convenient lies from the men of those times to gain power. Their actions were rational -- they wanted to deceive their brethren so that they could amass power. I get their motivations. But I cannot, for the life of me, understand our motivations, thousands of years later, still following the conmen of yesteryear into our gory, bloody, violent end.

Jesus is said to have said on the cross, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Because Jesus was insane and the God he thought would rescue him did not exist. And he died on that cross like a fool. He fancied himself the son of God and he could barely convince twelve men to follow him at a time when the world was full of superstition.

... I know most of you don't actually read your religious texts, and when you do, you assiduously try to avoid the parts that make no sense whatsoever or hide underneath the comforting grasp of your religious leaders who have concocted a bunch of circular logic (a crime to even use that word in regards to Christianity, Islam or Judaism) to shield you from the obvious folly of the written text.

So, I'm not calling you stupid if you haven't really read the material. And I know how powerful brainwashing is. We all received it when we were young and it is exceedingly difficult to break its grasp. But people dance around the issue out of politeness because they don't want to call you what you are -- ignorant.

There are a lot of people I love dearly and respect wholeheartedly who believe in religion. I hate to do this to them. But we have killed far too many people, wasted far too much time on this nonsense for us to keep going in this direction for fear of offense.

... Jesus was a lunatic. God is not coming to your rescue. He hasn't come to anyone's rescue in thousands of years, including Jesus. Mohammed was a power hungry, scam artist and ruthless conqueror. Moses and Abraham were figments of the imagination of some long dead rabbi. He would probably laugh his ass off at all of you who still believe the fairytales he made up thousands of years ago. He probably wouldn't even believe it if you told him.

... Have I offended you? That's too bad. Stop killing each other in the name of false and ridiculous Gods and I will stop ridiculing you. Trust me, your offense is much worse than mine.

... Right now as you read this, there are ignorant, hateful Muslims teaching other ignorant Muslims how to put on a suicide belt. There are orthodox Jews telling other Jews how they must never leave their "holy land" no matter what the consequences are to other human beings. They assure their followers -- remember, they are not the chosen ones, we are. If we crush and oppress them, don't worry, God will excuse it, and even desires it, because He is on our side.

There are maniacal Christians who are praying for the end of time. Who are hoping that most of the world's population is wiped off the face of the Earth by their vengeful and murderous God. Whom they believe is, ironically, a loving God. Unless, of course, you make the fatal mistake of not kissing his ass and appeasing him, in which case he will slaughter you and condemn you to eternal torture. What kind of sick people believe this?

The kind who live next to you. The kind who voted for George Bush.
Other than that, religion is fine.

Posted by Alan at 20:27 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 28 October 2005 07:41 PDT home

Wednesday, 26 October 2005

Topic: The Media

Diva Journalism: Getting the Scoop, and Getting it Wrong

So what are reporters supposed to do? As mentioned last weekend in these pages here, Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times had posted on Jim Romenesko's website, Poynter Online, an internal Times memo he thought should be made public, some comments about his star just-out-of-jail reporter Judy Miller. To wit: "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."

Alarm bells? He thinks he should have sensed that this reporter was compromised. She was being used by the very powerful to plant stories in his newspaper to get what they wanted. He doesn't say that directly, but he implies just that.

As in this: "... 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."

He basically questioned whether she had been "open and candid with the paper about sources, mistakes, conflicts and the like."

And the next day Times columnist Maureen Dowd opened up with both barrels, pretty much saying Miller was a shill for the neoconservative leaders in the White House and that odd leader of the then exiled Iraqi Nation Congress -
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.
The day after that, the Times public editor Byron Calame had this item saying it was time for the Times to "review Ms. Miller's journalistic practices as soon as possible."

They had a journalistic loose cannon on their hands. And they had for years, and they just realized it? It would seem so.

She seems to have had an agenda that was different than that of the organization for which she worked, and an ego as big as Montana, and an in with the publisher to whom Keller, just the editor of the paper, reported.

But what had they been thinking before?

She got them big stories, and increased circulation and influence, and if later they had to retract a few of these items, well, so be it. A newspaper is a commercial enterprise, after all.

On the 25th there is this from Jeremy Gerard, and insider's view -
I hold no brief for Judy Miller. In February 1989, after she'd worn out her welcome at the Times' Washington bureau, she returned to West 43rd Street as deputy editor of the newly created Media Business department, where I was a reporter covering the television industry. "It worked out great!" Miller burbled to the New York Post. "I know nothing about communications, but I hope to learn."

She arrived with her own stationery - no black Times Gothic for Judy, but embossed vellum, with a girly pink font announcing her name and title - and the clear signal that every member of our beleaguered cadre would do well to just ignore that troublesome deputy before the word editor. This was going to be The Judy Show, a personal mission to prove that no mere relocation and change of portfolio would get in the way of using the Times to promote herself and her vision of the world.

Even 20 years ago Judy Miller was known as a willing bullhorn for the ruling class, including some she knew intimately. Those men in power are there for a reason, and you're not. Shut up and listen. Morphing from reporter to editor merely gave her more venues to sell that vision. If, like Judy, you understood power at the Times - where the furtive seduction of the boss's boss while twisting the shiv in subordinates can be as important as a talent for getting the story - you did fine.
Well, that's unpleasant, but consider what the Times had on their hands. They had an insider. She knew people. The powerful would talk to her. They'd get things off the record no one else could touch. We're talking scoops here.

Why not let her loose? Sure, she'd piss off everyone else around her, but sometimes you absorbed that cost for what you would get in exclusive information.

Anyone who has been a manager knows all about this. We've managed brilliant prima donnas, who'd offend everyone, but deliver the goods. In the systems world, these were the systems analysts who solved the intractable problems by calling some software insider they knew who knew who wrote the code, and then would present a simple fix that would save a month's worth of work. And then they'd ask for a week off and sneer at the other co-workers on the way out the door. No fun at all, for the manager.

Note this from Gerard -
The fact is, ever since I joined the Times in 1986, Judy Miller has been infamously unfettered by the professional and personal constraints most other journalists assume to be part of the job. As it happens, I was the last reporter hired by executive editor A.M. Rosenthal before his retirement. Escorting me out of his office upon offering me the job, he sent me off with these words: "You know, it's a bigger risk for us than it is for you."

Though I left the Times in 1991, Abe was half right. Every hire is a risk for the paper; its reputation is always on the line.
And now the chickens have come home to roost, oddly because of the CIA leak scandal exposing all the misinformation everyone was being fed, and this prima donna was feeding the Times. The paper is deeply embarrassed.

Well, one can take this all too seriously. It's just a newspaper.

Gerard has it right here -
Here's something else a lifelong editor told me when I joined the Times as an eager reporter anxious to leave my mark at the most important newspaper in the world. He was pretty loaded at the time (it was, after all, 12:30 in the afternoon), and he'd just been shifted from one position of uncertain power to another, considerably lower, to make way for someone on the rise, someone who understood better than he that loyalty was for losers. "Love the job," he told me, "but don't ever make the mistake of loving the institution."
And that is because the institution needs the insider pain-in-the-ass loose cannon. Miller was the one who knew all the right people in power - her "anonymous sources" were the big guns, the movers and shakers. Funny, they just didn't anticipate those guys would be using her, and the Times, to run a con.

Well, sometimes you win and few, and sometimes you lose.

As for Miller's extraordinary "anonymous sources" about Saddam's active and dangerous nuclear and chemical weapons programs, and those perilous Aluminum tubes, Duncan Black notes this comment at Jim Romenesko's website, Poynter Online -
As the New York Times has learned, to its apparent chagrin, when a newspaper quotes anonymous sources, it is substituting its credibility for that of the source. Given the current public opinion of American journalism, should the Times be using its credibility to advance the interests of Scooter Libby, Ahmed Chalabi or anybody else unwilling to stand up for what they say? Should anybody?
And Black adds this -
Not only is the paper substituting its credibility, arguably a paper has a greater degree of credibility to offer (or it least should) than self-interested politicians advancing an agenda. ? I think this has the bizarre effect for casual readers of giving the words of anonymous sources more credibility generally than those sources would have if they are named. Statements by anonymous sources written in the Times are essentially read as statements by the Times itself.
No wonder the Times is upset. They bought the farm here, as they say.

So what do you do when some insider gives you information no one else has? Of course, you could do you best to verify it. You could do some of what is called "investigative journalism." You could seek some secondary source to make sure you not being fed a line of crap. Or not.

Sometimes the scoop is too good. And in these cases it was too good to be true. (Another pressure, noted by Juan Cole here is what comes from organizations like Fox News - skepticism about what our leaders are saying, particularly in times of war, or possible war, for our very survival, is much like treason. He reminds us that when CNN reporter Christian Amanpour blamed Fox News for creating "a climate of fear and self-censorship" regarding coverage of Iraq, a Fox spokeswoman shot back, "Given the choice, it's better to be viewed as a foot soldier for Bush than a spokeswoman for al-Qaeda.")

But this is a mess.

And how will the Times recover?

Note this in the Wall Street Journal, Wednesday, October 26 -
New York Times reporter Judith Miller has begun discussing her future employment options with the newspaper, including the possibility of a severance package, a lawyer familiar with the matter, said yesterday.

The discussion about her future comes several days after the public rupture of the relationship between the Times and Ms. Miller, a 28-year veteran of the paper. Both the editor and the publisher of the Times have expressed regret for their unequivocal support for Ms. Miller when she spent 85 days in jail for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury investigating the unmasking of a Central Intelligence Agency operative.

The negotiations began with a face-to-face meeting Monday morning between Ms. Miller and the publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., said the lawyer familiar with the situation. A spokeswoman for the New York Times declined to comment. Ms. Miller didn't return calls.
She sunk the paper, and this is an effort to re-float it as best they can? Perhaps.

It may be too late. And they may be addicted to "anonymous sources" that will only speak to the right people, to other insiders - or maybe "seduced" is the word, not "addicted."

And they may still want to appear on the side of the administration, but maybe not as the indictments are handed up.

We'll see.

But who is this Judy Miller?

The best profile of here is here, from Franklin Foer in New York Magazine, from long ago, from the June 7, 2004 issue. It's more than a year old, but it's on the money.

First the history:
During the winter of 2001 and throughout 2002, Miller produced a series of stunning stories about Saddam Hussein's ambition and capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction, based largely on information provided by Chalabi and his allies - almost all of which have turned out to be stunningly inaccurate.

For the past year, the Times has done much to correct that coverage, publishing a series of stories calling Chalabi's credibility into question. But never once in the course of its coverage - or in any public comments from its editors - did the Times acknowledge Chalabi's central role in some of its biggest scoops, scoops that not only garnered attention but that the administration specifically cited to buttress its case for war.

The longer the Times remained silent on Chalabi's importance to Judith Miller's reporting, the louder critics howled. In February, in the New York Review of Books, Michael Massing held up Miller as evidence of the press's "submissiveness" in covering the war. For more than a year, Slate's Jack Shafer has demanded the paper come clean.

But finally, with Chalabi's fall from grace so complete - the Pentagon has cut off his funding, troops smashed his portrait in raids of the INC office - the Times' refusal to concede its own complicity became untenable. Last week, on page A10, the paper published a note on its coverage, drafted by executive editor Bill Keller himself. The paper singled out pieces that relied on "information from a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors, and exiles bent on 'regime change.' " The note named Ahmad Chalabi as a central player in this group.

This time, however, the omission of Judith Miller's name was conspicuous. "Some critics of our coverage during that time have focused blame on individual reporters. Our examination, however, indicates that the problem was more complicated."
Yes, it was.

In February 2004 in these pages you'd find a discussion of what Michael Massing was getting at when he quoted Miller as saying "my job isn't to assess the government's information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of The New York Times what the government thought about Iraq's arsenal."

The Times had accepted her definition of "reporter as stenographer." Foer says the Times loved her other qualities, what he notes as her ambition, her aggressiveness, her cultivation of sources by any means necessary, her hunger to be first - or at least they thought those qualities outweighed any need to assess anything.
Miller is a star, a diva. She wrote big stories, won big prizes. Long before her WMD articles ran, Miller had become a newsroom legend - and for reasons that had little to do with the stories that appeared beneath her byline. With her seemingly bottomless ambition - a pair of big feet that would stomp on colleagues in her way and even crunch a few bystanders - she cut a larger-than-life figure that lent itself to Paul Bunyan-esque retellings. Most of these stories aren't kind. Of course, nobody said journalism was a country club. And her personality was immaterial while she was succeeding, winning a Pulitzer, warning the world about terrorism, bio-weapons, and Iraq's war machine.
But now? Foer says her story is a bit of a cautionary tale about "the culture of American journalism."

And he tells it, of course.

The item is long, so click on the link. You find all sorts of things.

Like this:
During the forties and fifties, her father, Bill Miller, ran the Riviera nightclub in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Famed for its retractable roof, the Riviera staged shows by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Tito Puente. When the state highway commission ordered the Riviera condemned in 1953, Miller made his way to Vegas, proving his impresario bona fides by reviving the careers of Elvis Presley and Marlene Dietrich.
That might explain a lot about how she sees the world.

And there's this:
From her first day at the Times, Miller's life and work have been hard to separate, which for a reporter is both a strength and a weakness. "She's a passionate person - she gets caught up in her sources passionately," one of her Times colleagues told me. Friends from her earliest days in Washington noted that she didn't surround herself with people her own age. She sought out the best and brightest at the city's highest levels, dating Larry Sterne, the Washington Post's foreign editor, and hanging out with the defense gurus Richard Perle and Walter Slocum. "These people were powerful. But they were also interesting, and Judy liked talking to them. She is curious and enthusiastic," says one friend from this period.
Yeah, and she doesn't mess with low-life folks.

And she got all wrapped up in the Middle East, finally running the Cairo bureau and knowing everyone import, and became obsessed with the WMD issues and terrorism, which led to her "string of grim exclusives."
There was the defector who described Saddam Hussein's recent renovation of storage facilities for nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. There was her report that a Russian virologist might have handed the regime a particularly virulent strain of smallpox. To protect themselves against VX and sarin, she further reported, the Iraqis had greatly increased the importation of an antidote to these agents. And, most memorably, she co-wrote a piece in which administration officials suggested that Iraq had attempted to import aluminum tubes for nuclear weapons. Vice-President Dick Cheney trumpeted the story on Meet the Press, closing the circle. Of course, each of the stories contained important caveats. But together they painted a horrifying picture. There was just one problem with them: The vast majority of these blockbusters turned out to be wrong.
Oh well, they were dramatic. Think Marlene Dietrich, as a journalist.

Or think Mata Hari -
Her Iraq coverage didn't just depend on Chalabi. It also relied heavily on his patrons in the Pentagon. Some of these sources, like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, would occasionally talk to her on the record. She relied especially heavily on the Office of Special Plans, an intelligence unit established beneath Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith. The office was charged with uncovering evidence of Al Qaeda links to Saddam Hussein that the CIA might have missed. In particular, Miller is said to have depended on a controversial neocon in Feith's office named Michael Maloof. At one point, in December 2001, Maloof's security clearance was revoked. In April, Risen reported in the Times, "Several intelligence professionals say he came under scrutiny because of suspicions that he had leaked classified information in the past to the news media, a charge that Mr. Maloof denies." While Miller might not have intended to march in lockstep with these hawks, she was caught up in an almost irresistible cycle. Because she kept printing the neocon party line, the neocons kept coming to her with huge stories and great quotes, constantly expanding her access.

? In the early eighties, she shared a Georgetown house with her boyfriend, Wisconsin congressman Les Aspin - a rising star in the Democratic Party, who went on to become Bill Clinton's first secretary of Defense. Aspin, many noted, had appeared a dozen times in Miller's pieces, offering sage words about national security. Certain catty colleagues liked to read these stories aloud.
Each time the phrase "Aspin said" appeared, a reporter would add, "rolling over in bed." When Reagan nominated Richard Burt to be assistant secretary of State for European affairs, Jesse Helms and other right-wingers bludgeoned him for their relationship. "It would help [your chances for confirmation]," Orrin Hatch delicately wrote to Burt, "if you could lay to rest the rumors about Judith Miller's articles on arms control appearing so soon after your own meetings with her."
Oh my! But she got the stories.

And you might want to read what happened when she was embedded in this current war, with a team searching for WMD.

The whole thing is a profile of "journalist as diva" and of an organization that just hated that, and needed her to be just that - until now.

So what are reporters supposed to do? Get the story, of course.

Those who want more - some assessment of what you're told, some attempt at finding out whether it's true, or even likely, sourcing things, fact-checking, evaluation - are now on Miller's case.

There's change in the air.

Posted by Alan at 20:40 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 26 October 2005 20:47 PDT home

Tuesday, 25 October 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Trouble Brewing: Tuesday Indictment Rumors, For the Record (and "The Italian Job")

This is where the CIA leak scandal rumors stood, Tuesday, October 25, 2005, as the sun was setting over the Pacific out here.

Note late the week before, Friday, the 21st, in "Find Law," there was this from the famous John Dean of Watergate fame -
It is difficult to envision Patrick Fitzgerald prosecuting anyone, particularly Vice President Dick Cheney, who believed they were acting for reasons of national security. While hindsight may find their judgment was wrong, and there is no question their tactics were very heavy-handed and dangerous, I am not certain that they were acting from other than what they believed to be reasons of national security. They were selling a war they felt needed to be undertaken.

In short, I cannot imagine any of them being indicted, unless they were acting for reasons other than national security. Because national security is such a gray area of the law, come next week, I can see this entire investigation coming to a remarkable anti-climax, as Fitzgerald closes down his Washington office and returns to Chicago.
But late Tuesday, October 25th, Steve Clemons was reporting this from a an "über-insider source" in "The Washington Note" -
• 1-5 indictments are being issued. The source feels that it will be towards the higher end.
• The targets of indictment have already received their letters.
• The indictments will be sealed indictments and "filed" tomorrow.
• A press conference is being scheduled for Thursday.
And on the CBS Evening News there was John Roberts saying this -
Lawyers familiar with the case think Wednesday is when special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will make known his decision, and that there will be indictments. Supporters say Rove and the vice president's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, are in legal jeopardy. But they insisted today the two are secondary players, that it was an unidentified Mr. X who actually gave the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame to reporters. Fitzgerald knows who Mr. X is, they say, and if he isn't indicted, there's no way Rove or Libby should be. But charges may not focus on the leak at all. Obstruction of justice or perjury are real possibilities. Did Rove or Libby change statements made under oath? Did they deliberately leave critical facts out of their testimony or did they honestly forget? Some Republicans urged Rove to step down if indicted. Not a happy prospect for president Bush.
No kidding, and not at all helped by the New York Times frontpage story, upper-right, above the fold, that reported this - it was CIA director George Tenet who originally told Dick Cheney that Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, worked at the CIA. Cheney then passed this along to Scooter Libby, who passed it on to Judith Miller.

Scooter Libby seems to have testified he heard the name from a reporter, but his own notes show otherwise. Oops. Dick told him, and they discussed "press strategy" of all things. And for twenty-eight months Cheney has been saying he knows nothing about this Wilson fellow - never met him, never heard of him, didn't ask him to take any trip, never saw any report. Well, the last two seem to be true. Ah well, he said all these things to the public, not under oath. No crime there. And one sees here that MSNBC correspondent David Shuster reported that Tenet denies he told Cheney anything - he didn't tell Cheney or anyone in Cheney's office about Wilson, nor was he asked about this by investigators two years ago. Tenet is not playing along, or he's ticked that he actually did tell these fools about the woman and then they went and exposed one of his key covert agents. Well, that could be one reason the CIA pressed for this investigation in the first place. Tenet was mad at Cheney?

Well, the rumors were flying. And Kevin Drum here is bothered that the indictments will be sealed: "Steve's source confirms my worst fears: Fitzgerald will be handing down sealed indictments. If that's true, it means we won't be any wiser tomorrow than we are today. All we'll have is some names and some charges, but no evidence."

Oh well.

But that's not all. All over the wires today was the Italian connection, reported in the most detail here by Laura Rosen.

What Italian connection?
With Patrick Fitzgerald widely expected to announce indictments in the CIA leak investigation, questions are again being raised about the intelligence scandal that led to the appointment of the special counsel: namely, how the Bush White House obtained false Italian intelligence reports claiming that Iraq had tried to buy uranium "yellowcake" from Niger.

The key documents supposedly proving the Iraqi attempt later turned out to be crude forgeries, created on official stationery stolen from the African nation's Rome embassy. Among the most tantalizing aspects of the debate over the Iraq War is the origin of those fake documents - and the role of the Italian intelligence services in disseminating them.

In an explosive series of articles appearing this week in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, investigative reporters Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe d'Avanzo report that Nicolo Pollari, chief of Italy's military intelligence service, known as Sismi, brought the Niger yellowcake story directly to the White House after his insistent overtures had been rejected by the Central Intelligence Agency in 2001 and 2002. Sismi had reported to the CIA on October 15, 2001, that Iraq had sought yellowcake in Niger, a report it also plied on British intelligence, creating an echo that the Niger forgeries themselves purported to amplify before they were exposed as a hoax.
You can click on her link and read it all, in Italian, or read her summary, which has been confirmed as accurate all over the place.

The whole "he's buying uranium in Africa" thing rests on these documents, forged by the Italian military intelligence service on letterhead they stole from the Niger embassy in Rome. The government of Silvio Berlusconi was helping out George. Sure they were crude - wrong names, wrong dates - but they tried.

The problem was they shopped them to our CIA and then our State Department, and both said, "No thanks, these are forgeries." The IAEA said the same, at the UN, as you recall. They shopped them to the British government. Same thing, but Bush got to say in his speech explaining the threat, "the British have learned that?" He just didn't mention they didn't believe what they had been told.

And the best twist to this all is what was reported in the Tuesday, October 25th article in the Italian paper - on September 9, 2002, this Nicolo Pollari, chief of Italy's military intelligence service, met with Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones has confirmed the meeting. Of course now this fellow has been bumped up a notch - he's now Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, not just a lowly deputy.

The big deal? Hadley apparently bypassed State and the CIA and took the documents to the White House, directly to the National Security Council, chaired by the National Security Advisor then, Condoleezza Rice, with Vice President Cheney on her right at the table. So Rosen asks the obvious question - "Was the White House convinced that the Niger yellowcake report was nevertheless true because the National Security Council was getting its information directly from the Italian source?"

Well, that would explain a lot. They never trusted the CIA, as has been widely discussed. The State Department also had been cut out of all discussion and planning, as diplomacy was scorned and Rumsfeld had the most say on any relations we still had with countries that would still deal with us - Secretary of State Powell had been effectively neutered. The hawks knew better. And now they had the REAL scoop on Saddam.

And then Wilson was making sounds that this was all bullshit, and then went public in the New York Times.

Patrick Fitzgerald subpoenaed the source Italian documents, and not in their redacted form with names and dates removed. Perhaps he's investigating motive here?

These guys didn't want to be caught telling us we all could be dead in a radioactive crater if we didn't take out Saddam and his government right now, using evidence they knew was bullshit, provided by one of our few allies in the endeavor, and, if you are conspiracy-minded, evidence that was created to our specifications.

There was a motive to whack Wilson and his wife.

And maybe they'd find something in Iraq to make it all work out.

Didn't happen. Had to admit the sixteen words were a mistake

Rosen adds this -
Although Berlusconi's government clearly sought deniability while pushing the Niger uranium claims, the Bush White House went still further by trying to blame its citation of exaggerated and discredited Iraq WMD claims on the CIA, the very same agency that consistently discounted the Niger claims. The White House's war on the CIA and on the Wilsons - the extent of which has been revealed in recent news reports emerging from the Fitzgerald investigation - has always had an excessive and almost hysterical quality. Why was the White House so worked up over Wilson and the Niger hoax, when there was so much evidence that the administration had based its drive for war on claims that were so thoroughly discredited from top to bottom? Why did Wilson and his CIA wife become the primary targets, when Wilson was hardly alone in pointing out that the White House should have known better about the Niger claims?
Rosen suggests this Hadley meeting with the Italian dude and his subsequently trotting back to the White House with "direct evidence" - bypassing the intelligence services of the CIA and State Department - was something no one was supposed to find out.

Wilson may have been coming too close.

Ah, does it matter now? We're there. We got our war.

The same day note this from CNN, Poll: Bush would lose an election if held this year -
A majority would vote for a Democrat over President Bush if an election were held this year, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll released Tuesday.

In the latest poll, 55 percent of the respondents said that they would vote for the Democratic candidate if Bush were again running for the presidency this year.

Thirty-nine percent of those interviewed said they would vote for Bush in the hypothetical election...
Things are not going well at the White House.

But then if not Bush, who?

You could ask those on the right, as even they are not too happy with all this. And someone did, polling the web logs on the right, asking who should "rule the world."

The results are amusing:
15) Paul Wolfowitz: Former US Deputy Secretary of Defense. World Bank President (4)
15) Arnold Schwarzenegger: Governor of California (4)
15) Rush Limbaugh: Talk radio host (4)
15) Junichiro Koizumi: Prime Minister of Japan (4)
15) Christopher Hitchens: Pundit (4)
15) Bill Gates: Founder of Microsoft (4)
15) Tommy Franks: Former US General (4)
15) Dick Cheney: US Vice President (4)
15) George W. Bush: US President (4)
15) Tony Blair: British Prime Minister (4)
12) Donald Rumsfeld: US Secretary of Defense (5)
12) Václav Havel: Former President of Czechoslovakia (5)
12) Pope Benedict XVI: Pope (5)
10) Mark Steyn: Pundit (6)
10) Victor Davis Hanson: Pundit (6)
7) Thomas Sowell: Pundit (7)
7) Antonin Scalia: US Supreme Court Justice (7)
7) Ann Coulter: Pundit (7)
4) Natan Sharansky: Soviet dissident, former Israeli cabinet member (8)
4) Rudy Giuliani: Former Mayor of New York City (8)
4) Milton Friedman: Economist (8)
2) Margaret Thatcher: Former British Prime Minister (10)
2) John Howard: Australian Prime Minister (10)
1) Condoleezza Rice: US Secretary of State (14)
Note Bush is in the middle of the list, with Cheney. It is odd that Václav Havel is there, as he's a friend of Bill Clinton and a fan of the late Frank Zappa. And Margaret Thatcher just turned eighty she's probably not up to ruling the world.

This was, by the way, inspired by a BBC poll that gave these results on the question of who should rule the world.
1 - Nelson Mandela
2 - Bill Clinton
3 - Dalai Lama
4 - Noam Chomsky
5 - Alan Greenspan
6 - Bill Gates
7 - Steve Jobs
8 - Archbishop Desmond Tutu
9 - Richard Branson
10 - George Soros
11 - Kofi Annan
Bill Gates on both lists? Yipes!

Well, the president had better hope John Dean is right and Patrick Fitzgerald is going to fold up his tent and go back to Chicago, indicting no one and saying nothing at all.

But it may be too late.

Bruce Bartlett in TOWNHALL, the news service of the right, has this to say:
The truth that is now dawning on many movement conservatives is that George W. Bush is not one of them and never has been. They were allies for a long time, to be sure, and conservatives used Bush just as he used them. But it now appears that they are headed for divorce. And as with all divorces, the ultimate cause was not the final incident, but the buildup of grievances over a long period that one day could no longer be overlooked, contained or smoothed over.

... George W. Bush has never demonstrated any interest in shrinking the size of government. And on many occasions, he has increased government significantly. Yet if there is anything that defines conservatism in America, it is hostility to government expansion. The idea of big government conservatism, a term often used to describe Bush's philosophy, is a contradiction in terms.

Conservative intellectuals have known this for a long time, but looked the other way for various reasons. Some thought the war on terror trumped every other issue. If a few billion dollars had to be wasted to buy the votes needed to win the war, then so be it, many conservatives have argued. Others say that Bush never ran as a conservative in the first place, so there is no betrayal here, only a failure by conservatives to see what he has been all along.
As Ryan Lizza, the senior editor of The National Review explains it here -
... the real split ... is between conservatives who worship Bush and those who worship conservatism. One camp believes in the infallibility of the president. The other camp believes the evidence before them.

... In 2001, conservatives were deeply frustrated by low-level Bush heresies like the education bill. Then, September 11 silenced all dissent. In 2002, things got worse: An enormous agriculture bill, steel tariffs, a bloated budget, and a campaign finance bill that Bush once argued was unconstitutional. (Bartlett goes so far as to say Bush "violated his oath of office" by signing it.) Then, the Iraq war silenced all dissent. Next came the Medicare prescription-drug bill, which simultaneously funneled money to the pharmaceutical industry, expanded government more than any entitlement since LBJ, and violated the traditions, if not rules, of the House when the vote on the bill was held open for nearly three hours while conservative Republicans were bullied into reversing their no votes.

Absent a new war or domestic enemy like Kerry, Bush was suddenly exposed to the whole world, including the conservative movement, as a less-than-great president. Social Security reform fizzled. Bush signed an outrageously pork-laden transportation bill. He vacationed while New Orleans drowned.
And so on and so forth.

Patrick Fitzgerald folding up his tent and going back to Chicago, indicting no one and saying nothing at all, can't fix things now.

Tuesday, October 25 -

Good News: Iraq's Constitution Adopted by Voters
Bad News: US death toll in Iraq reaches 2,000
Sad News: Rosa Parks dies at 92 in her Detroit home

On the last item, this -
Okay, sure, you can admire Rosa Parks for sparking an idealistic, peaceful movement for racial equality if you want to. Mostly, we like her because she was pissed. Anger is an important part of successful activism and it's rare that it's so legitimately righteous. Activists these days tend to make statements by voluntarily putting themselves in positions that lack dignity - giant puppet costumes; Michael Moore films; Crawford, Texas - here's the woman who made history by keeping hers.
There's not a lot of dignity going around these days.

Posted by Alan at 20:10 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 25 October 2005 20:30 PDT home

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

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