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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Friday, 30 December 2005

Topic: Backgrounder

Year End Notes: 2005 in Perspective, and 2006 Predictions

Tai Moses over at AlterNet has conveniently compiled, for 2005, The Ten Best Top-Ten Lists, saving us all the trouble of all the research involved in finding out what everyone was doing to assess the year.

There we find Merriam-Webster Online has posted the top the most-looked-up words of 2005, and those would be -

1. integrity
2. refugee
3. contempt
4. filibuster
5. insipid
6. tsunami
7. pandemic
8. conclave
9. levee
10. inept

The first one is curious. Why would folks look up "integrity" at all? The word is not obscure. Moses: "I think these people were perfectly confident they knew the meaning of integrity until certain others started throwing the word around like last Sunday's bagels, and so, head in hand, people went back to double-check, only to find that integrity was still integrity and in shorter supply than ever."

Well, yes. Words are thrown around in such a way that up is down, and if DeLay and Cunningham and Frist are men of integrity, one does lose one's bearings. So you look up the word to make sure you're not crazy.

And as you recall, the second on the list, "refugee," was controversial after Hurricane Katrina - the New Orleans folks stuck in Houston shouldn't be called refugees, as that word seemed fraught with overtones. The word "refugee" is often used as shorthand for "political refugee" - someone displaced from his or her homeland because of the action, or inaction, of some malevolent government. The idea was with this "act of nature" the word shouldn't be used, as no one meant these people harm and forced them to seek asylum in another nation - they were just camping out in the next state. Of course you can argue the word was just fine, for just that reason - for these folks their government failed them and all that. Maybe so, and maybe not, but they were seeking some refuge, and why not use the word? That's only logical. We were told that was not logical - these folks were not seeking political asylum from some dictator in a new nation - so folks looked up the word a lot. Can you use it with its unembellished meaning, or is it always political? It seems people almost always use the word in the political sense, and the media stopped using it for the displaced in Texas motels and school gymnasiums. But it was a perfectly good word.

The others on the list may or may not be tied to current events. Some obviously are. But "insipid" in the fifth spot? That's curious.

In any event, skipping over the list of the commonly reported birds of 2005, even though bird watching has become wildly popular in the United States in the last several years (the northern cardinal is tops, by the way), we come to the Top Ten Global 'YouthSpeak' Words for the year.

1. Crunk: A Southern variation of hip hop music; also meaning "fun" or "amped."
2. Mang: Variation of "man," as in "S'up, mang?"
3. A'ight: All right, as in "That girl is nice, she's a'ight."
4. Mad: A lot, as in "She has mad money."
5. Props: Cheers, as in "He gets mad props!"
6. Bizznizzle: This term for "business" is part of the Snoop Dogg/Sean John-inspired lexicon, as in "None of your bizznizzle!"
7. Fully: In Australia, an intensive, as in "fully sick."
8. Fundoo: In India, Hindi for "cool."
9. Brill!: In the U.K., the shortened form of "brilliant!"
10. "S'up": Another in an apparently endless number of "whazzup?" permutations.

For those of us who grew up in the late fifties and graduated from college as the sixties ended, this is just sad. We had our moment when we changed common speech - far out, man - but that became mainstream, and then commercial, and then became quaint, or deeply ironic, or forgotten, or just embarrassing. We got old. The grandkids do that now, and more power to 'em. It's amusing to note. And any child of the sixties who ever uses any of these ten expressions should be ridiculed, even out here in Hollywood. Turn your back. Just walk away. Your moment has passed. Let the new kids play with the language. It's not yours anymore, or at least, this part of it is not.

Moses also covers the top ten Most Commonly Encountered Hoaxes and Chain Letters, and in the age of email that's worth a glance, and covers the Top Ten Baby Names of 2005 - Emma for girls and Aidan for boys (Jacob was tops the previous four years). Aidan? What's with that? We're thinking Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne or what? Does this have something to do with the character Aiden Shaw from "Sex and the City" on HBO? It's a mystery. But it's just a name. Kids adjust.

Moses also points to Popular Science with its list of the The Worst Jobs in Science, where number four is "Kansas Biology Teacher." Ha, ha. Also listed are "manure inspector" and "extremophile excavator." That last one? Visit the Searles lakes here in California, where the US Geological Survey team has been working for years. They discovered the "extremophile" microbe thriving in the arsenic-saturated mud there. To harvest that mud, once thought to be sterile, the researchers deal with days well over one hundred degrees, the salt-caked lakes, and noxious gas - hydrogen sulfide, methyl mercaptan, highly volatile methylated amines. But these microbes eat arsenic and render it harmless. Someone's got to go get some of these and see how they do that. That's worth a read.

What may not be worth a read is the Top Ten Grocery Lists of 2005 - abandoned shopping lists - although some are definitely kinky. You might also want to glance at the Top Ten List of Data Disasters - but just as I typed that my system mysteriously decided to reboot and dump everything I had been accumulating in files on screen during the day. And that's actually true. Luckily most of the software is set to "Auto Recover" and with some fancy searching (the "auto" part is a bit of a joke) I found the files. Sometimes irony is a pain. At least this wasn't like the woman who dropped a ceramic pot on her laptop. Oops.

Other lists? Well, there's the Top Ten Out-of-Print Books for 2005 - those volumes people want and cannot get any longer, so they have to settle for used copies -

1. Sex (1992), Madonna
2. Sisters (1981), by Lynne Cheney
3. The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel (1981), by Felicitas D. Goodman
4. Where Troy Once Stood (1991), by Iman Wilkens
5. The Principles of Knitting (1988), by June Hemmons Hiatt
6. General Printing (1963), by Glen Cleeton
7. The New Soldier (1971), edited by John Kerry
8. The Lion's Paw (1946), by Robb White
9. Dear and Glorious Physician (1959), by Taylor Caldwell
10. The Book of Counted Sorrows (2003), by Dean Koontz

Who knows what to make of that, except Sisters is a steamy tale of lesbian love written, a long time ago, by the wife of Vice President Cheney. The John Kerry book is in demand, a bit, and not really available. That fits.

Moses also recommends the FBI list of their current Ten Most Wanted Fugitives - Osama bin Laden to James J. Bulger. Whatever. And she mentions Parade magazine has an annual list of the World's Ten Worst Dictators, but that isn't out yet, although last year's list is here.

Of course Moses is being humorous.

There are the serious lists, of course. Over at Media Matters, where they are perpetually angry with the right-wing wind machine, you get things like this - Chris Matthews: 2005's Misinformer of the Year and the Most Outrageous Statements of 2005, and the more topical Top 12 Media Myths And Falsehoods On The Bush Administration's Spying Scandal.

Everybody likes lists - but these look backward at the year gone by.

What about the year to come? What about predictions?

Well, the Daily Times of Pakistan tells us this - Giant Asteroid to Hit Earth in 2006. Of this means everything that follows is pointless - Arnold Schwarzenegger will be re-elected governor of California, Internet giant Google will suffer a setback - and Brazil will hang on to the World Cup - unless we're all dead.

It seems the Schwarzenegger thing, along with a prediction the Bush administration will bring back the draft, comes from the website where they use the Torah4U software on the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and the Torah. All this is hidden there, numerically, so we're talking your digital Kabbalah here. In the sixties Rabbi Saul Lieberman of the Jewish Theological Seminary is reputed to have introduced a lecture by Scholem on Kabbalah with a statement that Kabbalah itself was "nonsense," but the academic study of Kabbalah was "scholarship." That was before the software, of course. The software also predicts that August 3, 2006 will be a blood-drenched day - "yet just a mere shadow of the calamity that will befall us in 2010." So stay home.

But it was the psychic Annie Stanton who said catastrophe will come this year in the form of a massive asteroid crashing into the planet. No software. We also learn Anita Nigam from India does sports betting. Pay her and you get outcomes of English football's Premier League matches, but her World Cup prediction is free. Brazil is it.

Those with software - Bill Gray of Colorado University with computer models on global sea-surface temperatures and atmospheric conditions says seventeen named tropical storms, nine hurricanes and five major, high-wind hurricanes in 2006 - nearly twice the historical average in all categories. The co-founder of "Wired" magazine, John Battelle, says "Google will stumble" due to a bad partnership or a legal setback, and also legislators in the United States and elsewhere will take steps to protect citizens against "the perils of unprotected Internet data mining" into their personal lives, including credit and health histories. Bull.

Then there's Alan Caruba from South Orange, New Jersey with this pro-Bush Republican set of predictions (partly wishful thinking) -
Both Israel and the United States will be compelled to launch a preemptive strike against the network of Iranian nuclear weapons and missile manufacturing facilities either in 2006 or 2007 at the latest.

The Palestinians will fail to elect any kind of widely accepted new government and civil war will break out among Hamas, El Fatah, and whatever other terrorist gang has weapons. That's assuming, of course, they even manage to hold elections.

Lebanon will continue its struggle to break free of Syria's grip and will be aided in this effort by the U.N., the U.S. and the European Union. This may lead to the destabilization of the Assad regime.

Turkey will transition from the only successful secular state in the Middle East to one in the control of Islamic fundamentalists. Where previously, its military corps insured against this occurring, it may have too many Islamists in its ranks to prevent it. Admission to the EU will be put on permanent hold and Turkey's economy will plummet. Foreign investment will disappear.

Despite naysayers, Iraq will continue to make progress toward establishing a functioning government and making adjustments to its constitution to avoid splitting apart.

Depending on the level of dissatisfaction among Venezuelans, the assassination or overthrow of President Hugo Chavez may occur. South American nations will continue to elect socialists, i.e., communists, to rule. Expect widespread social discord and unrest. The only winners will be the drug cartels.

The Bush administration will engineer some sort of "guest worker" program that will enable Mexicans to enter the United States legally and push it through Congress. The alternative would be the potential economic collapse of Mexico.

China, while bellicose and building its military, will continue to seek accommodation with the U.S. and world trade partners. Internal problems with growing peasant and worker rebellions will continue to occupy the attention of its political cadres. Japan will begin to rearm in a big way.

Saddam Hussein will be found guilty of crimes against his nation and executed.

Worldwide, al Qaeda will continue to be steadily degraded in its ability to launch major terrorist attacks. Some kind of catastrophic attack, however, should be anticipated against the U.S.

The Republican Party will retain control of Congress, but just barely.

2006 will see another, totally predictable succession of powerful hurricanes. There is no connection between the number or intensity of hurricanes and the so-called "global warming" theory.

A major earthquake causing extensive damage and loss of life is overdue in California.
Yeah, well, maybe. Every Republican hopes for that last one.

But some like California, as with celebrity astrologer Susan Miller here, where she says Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are "just heaven. He's a Sagittarius, she's Gemini, and they're just heavenly together. Saturn was just in opposition to his four planets in Capricorn, which signified that he wanted kids desperately, and Jennifer Aniston didn't realize how much this meant to him, and she delayed having children as she nurtured her career. Angelina provides him with the children he so badly wants. They will make the most amazing family."

And she says Angelina Jolie will eventually stop acting and focus on her work as a goodwill ambassador - "She has Cancer rising which means she values home and family more than anything else. Although the media portray her as a home wrecker, she's really not. She is devoted to the idea of family." And she says the planets indicate it would be "especially wise" for Pitt and Jolie to marry in June.

That's nice. They're pretty people. But as for Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes - "I cannot understand this relationship. There are no links in their chart, no passion. I don't know how it happened. There are pressure points that will come up. She's Sagittarius, he's Cancer ... Sagittarius usually hurts Cancer's feelings by being too direct. The birth of their baby, sadly, could add further stress to their relationship."

Oh my!

As for less important matters, note this:
Fashion Trends: Miller says that with Jupiter in Scorpio, black will remain the color of the moment, and tailored classic "investment pieces" will be what to wear ... until it all changes next Christmas when Jupiter moves into Sagittarius. "There will be all sorts of beautiful, bright colors," she says. "Think purples, royal blues, brocades and rich, luxurious colors. The return to the all-American jeans and crisp white shirt will also happen around December of next year."

The United States: The U.S. is a Cancer-ruled nation because the country was "born" in July. Saturn is in the solar chart of money and resources, Miller says, which forces us to sacrifice or choose between two alternatives. She notes that the country is going to be going through a "renewed sense of realism - we're going to have to push everything back on track and be more practical. We could very well become conservationists, sort of like the Depression babies. We're going to save more, be more aware of what we're spending and not waste money or resources." She also advises that 2006 is not a year for the country to make big gambles in any sense.

Economy: Miller says the markets should stay the same as they are now. They'll be "a little tight, but there should be no big change." She also says that there is no sign from the stars that the housing market will burst this year; it may slow down a bit, but we shouldn't expect a complete crash.

Medicine: According to Miller, 2006 can be a major year for medical breakthroughs, with Saturn in Leo. "When Saturn was in Cancer, we had the big revolution on how we eat," says Miller. "We became more aware of childhood obesity. We abolished the 'super-size' mentality. It led to changing food labels so we knew what we were consuming and we became more aware." With Saturn in Leo this year, she says, "we're looking at the heart, blood. There can be transfusion breakthroughs. Right now, we have issues with blood donation, and it's becoming a long-term problem because young people aren't giving blood. But there can be advances toward developing a synthetic blood. There will be a lot of amazing AIDS research with Saturn in Leo, too, and we could get very close to a cure for AIDS."

Natural Disasters: "We are not done by any stretch of the imagination with water damage and natural disasters," Miller advises. "When (Hurricane) Katrina wreaked havoc on the South, Uranus was in opposition of the sun. Uranus will be conjunct of the sun, opposite a major eclipse on March 14 of this year. This is going to be huge, and there can be a major water disaster or natural disaster somewhere in the world. There could be some contamination of the water supply. We should all be geared for this. At the smallest level, everyone should have flood insurance." She also says that Sagittarians should be especially cautious.
Those of us who are Gemini are now a tad more relaxed.

Nick Clooney in the Cincinnati Post is a bit less serious, with this list, which includes, "American troops will be out of combat in Iraq in time for the fall elections. The president will declare victory to ensure his friends in Congress can obey the 11th Political Commandment; 'Thou Shalt Not Lose Thy Majority.' Cynical, but perhaps right. As is this - "Senator Joe Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, will be offered a cabinet post by President Bush." And this - "Republicans Delay-Frist-Cunningham-Ney-Abramoff will all be convicted of ethical violations. Vice President Cheney will declare they were all secretly Democrats. Fox 'News' will lead with the story."

Here he's just mad as a hatter - "The Reds will win the pennant."

As for political lefties, there's Matthew Yglesias here -
- A serious terrorist attack will occur in Italy.
- Democratic candidates will look much stronger in early September than in early November.
- American troop levels in Iraq won't dip below 100,000.
- A spate of absurd conservative books bashing Hillary Clinton will continue to mask her underlying weakness as a candidate for the Democratic nomination.
- Real - but not nominal - wages for movie stars will fall.
- The Heat will beat the Wizards in four in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
- Canada will get another Liberal minority government.
- Republicans will deny they ever tried to privatize Social Security.
- Conservatives will gloat about Brokeback Mountain's somewhat disappointing box office returns; gay marriage will grow in popularity and gay rights will expand; heterosexual marriage will not collapse.
- Liberals will be sorely disappointed to learn that teaching the truth about evolution polls very badly.
- Supreme Court decisions will leave the constitutional status of abortion unclear, provoking a spate of state-level regulations and a massive new round of lawsuits.
- America will keep inching toward socialized medicine as the ratio of people getting public sector health insurance to having private sector insurance reaches an all-time high.
The Miami Heat?

Whatever. Who knows?

As Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus) said - Prudens futuri temporis exitum Caliginosa nocte premit dues - "A wise God shrouds the future in obscure darkness."

That famous writer down in Long Beach, Ray Bradbury, had the right idea - "I don't try to describe the future. I try to prevent it."

But it will be here Sunday.

Posted by Alan at 20:39 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 31 December 2005 07:12 PST home

Topic: World View

Our Man in Paris - This is Snow?
From Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis - an account of snow in Paris. Here in Hollywood it's in the middle sixties, just a few clouds and milky haze all day, and palm trees and all that.

This Is Snow?

PARIS, Friday, December 30, 2005 -

This morning I planned to go to Etoile to shoot the traditional, if rare, view of the Arc de Triomphe blotted out by a Parisian blizzard. As part of the preparation I turned on radio France-Info to get the weather forecast. It said snow in Brittany was coming here, to be followed later in the afternoon by freezing rain. Hotcha, hotcha, get the photo!

One New Years Eve in the late '70s a freezing rain descended on Paris in the late afternoon and froze the whole city. Only the Métros kept running. Drivers, who had been taking in movies to while away their idle hours before the fête, emerged to find that they were frozen out of their cars. The whole place was a big skidbahn. Just about everybody went nowhere that New Years Eve and the leftover booze lasted until Valentine's Day.

I looked out the window and the Tour Montparnasse was gone, lost in the murk. The street below was rapidly covered and the four black lines left by car tires turned gray as the snow thickened. Well and fine, but not quite a blizzard. Need to wait a bit more to see if it's going to be a true blitz.

So I went out for supplies; cigarettes and money. The snow seemed to have stopped, but my head was immediately wet. Hours in advance, despite France-Info, the freezing rain was here. It felt like icy needles, especially when pushed by the breeze from the south. Ghastly is the best word for it. If this keeps up the whole city will be glassed, slicker than the ice rink at the Hôtel be Ville. It's not weather for sending enemies out for a bit of fun.

Not only this but freezing rain doesn't show well in photos. I could go out there and end up in the emergency ward with a broken leg, cohabiting with the bent scooter drivers and other hapless victims too foolhardy to stay in.

If the freezing rain is earlier than expected, maybe we'll have the predicted thaw by nightfall. And before you know it Paris Plage will be beckoning with its wavering palms, grass skirts and Hawaiian guitars. It's a sure thing, eventually.

Text and Photo Copyright © 2005 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

See also -

Parisians Venture Out Into the Snow
Snow disrupts Europe as temperatures plummet
Europe Hammered By A Second Snowstorm

Posted by Alan at 14:14 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Thursday, 29 December 2005

Topic: Photos

New Photographs: Backstage - Building the Floats for the Tournament of Roses Parade

A day off from political and cultural commentary and a trip to Pasadena for something out of the ordinary…

It happens every year in Pasadena, and millions around the world watch. And here we go again. The 117th Rose Parade - themed It's Magical - will take place on Monday, January 2, instead of the usual New Years Day. The Rose Parade features three types of entries - floral floats entered by a participating corporation or community organization, equestrian units, and marching bands. The only cars that appear in the Rose Parade are those that carry the Grand Marshal - Sandra Day O'Conner this year (in 1947 it was Bob Hope and in 1953 Richard Nixon) – and the Mayor of Pasadena and the Tournament of Roses President. Today's shoot was of these floral floats being assembled - Thursday, December 29, in and around the Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl game, USC versus Texas, is January 4th, by the way.

You will find an album of sixty-one photos here - Backstage: Building the Floats for the Tournament of Roses Parade.

Here is some background -

Tournament of Roses Events - Float Decorating
Rose Parade Gets 1st Makeover in 117 Years (AP)
The history of the parade…
Past Grand Marshalls of the Tournament of Roses Parade
The Rose Bowl Stadium
Rose Bowl Game Preview (AP)

Some photos from the album -

Posted by Alan at 22:41 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 29 December 2005 22:45 PST home

Wednesday, 28 December 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Storm Warnings: Rough Weather Ahead
Wednesday morning, December 28th, Bob Patterson, the Just Above Sunset correspondent who writes the World's Laziest Journalist and Book Wrangler columns each week, sent a quick email - "Check out the top stories on Smirking Chimp this morning - it's beginning to sound like a lynch mob."

It did, but with a name like "Smirking Chimp" you would expect impeachment was in the air there. That's not a very respectful way to refer to the president, and the site is what could be called an aggregator - they provide links to and text from comments all over the web and in the newspapers and magazines, all critical of the administration, relying on the Fair Use Doctrine to keep them out of copyright trouble. They recently reposted two of Bob's columns, without asking permission, but who would protest? They drive traffic to Just Above Sunset. No problem. But they are a bit one-sided. You don't get a lot of careful analysis there. You get rants, some clever, many angry, and few with much depth. It's a bit of an echo chamber.

What seemed to catch Bob's eye was Wednesday's collection, with things like Chris Floyd in Empire Burlesque offering Clowntime Is Over: The Last Stand Of The American Republic, James Ridgeway in Village Voice offering Bush Impeachment Not Out Of The Question, Claudia Long in The Great Divide offering Big Brother on Steroids, Ruth Conniff in The Progressive with Impeachment Buzz, Reg Henry in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette with It's Good to be King George, and one cited everywhere, Thomas G. Donlan in Barron's, of all places, saying The pursuit of terrorism does not authorize the president to make up new laws. That was odd. But there was the expected too - Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, with The I-word is Gaining Ground, and Bill Gallagher with King George Dismisses Constitution, Tramples on Rights of all Americans. And Jerry Mazza offered Patience, Mr. Bush? How About Impeachment, Now?

That's the lynch mob.

Well, last week the New York Times revealed the president had ordered the National Security Agency to wiretap the foreign calls of American citizens without seeking court permission, as required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), passed by Congress in 1978. He said he had, in effect, broken the law, and wasn't going to stop. He was keeping us safe, and anyway, the law didn't apply to him for a number of reasons.

Some see that as dangerous. Others see that as necessary - sometimes you need an "above any law" somewhat dictatorial leader to keep us all alive.

And of course there's the other lynch mob. At the media aggregator Crooks and Liars you can watch a clip from Fox News here - Brit Hume filling in for Neil Cavuto asking John Podhoretz if the New York Times should be charged with treason. There's a lot of that on the other side.

But we have, as Jonathan Schell, argues here, reached a watershed in the evolution of all that has been happening. Regarding President Bush, he says this -
Previously when it was caught engaging in disgraceful, illegal or merely mistaken or incompetent behavior, he would simply deny it. "We have found the weapons of mass destruction!" "We do not torture!" However, further developments in the torture matter revealed a shift. Even as he denied the existence of torture, he and his officials began to defend his right to order it. His Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, refused at his confirmation hearings to state that the torture called waterboarding, in which someone is brought to the edge of drowning, was prohibited. Then when Senator John McCain sponsored a bill prohibiting cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners, Bush threatened to veto the legislation to which it was attached. It was only in the face of majority votes in both houses against such treatment that he retreated from his claim.

But in the wiretapping matter, he has so far exhibited no such vacillation. Secret law-breaking has been supplanted by brazen law-breaking. The difference is critical. If abuses of power are kept secret, there is still the possibility that, when exposed, they will be stopped. But if they are exposed and still permitted to continue, then every remedy has failed, and the abuse is permanently ratified. In this case, what will be ratified is a presidency that has risen above the law.

The danger is not abstract or merely symbolic. Bush's abuses of presidential power are the most extensive in American history. He has launched an aggressive war ("war of choice," in today's euphemism) on false grounds. He has presided over a system of torture and sought to legitimize it by specious definitions of the word. He has asserted a wholesale right to lock up American citizens and others indefinitely without any legal showing or the right to see a lawyer or anyone else. He has kidnapped people in foreign countries and sent them to other countries, where they were tortured. In rationalizing these and other acts, his officials have laid claim to the unlimited, uncheckable and unreviewable powers he has asserted in the wiretapping case. He has tried to drop a thick shroud of secrecy over these and other actions.
That's about it. The president has asked for us to ratify this all, rolling the dice, betting that the will of the people will force congress and the courts to accept that he has unlimited power.

He may be right. See Steve Benen here, reviewing why the Democrats will say little about all this -
If the controversy boils down to "Bush wants to spy on bad guys and Dems aren't happy about it," it's a phony debate that skirts the real issues. However, if it's "We need to eavesdrop in order to protect the country" vs. "Go right ahead, just follow the law and allow for some checks and balances," it's at least a fair fight based on the facts.
But it's not going to be a fair fight. All the president's supporters are hammering home that all the president is trying to do is fight the bad guys, and opposing that, of some minor details, is reckless.

Jonathan Schell on those minor details -
The deeper challenge Bush has thrown down, therefore, is whether the country wants to embrace the new form of government he is creating by executive fiat or to continue with the old constitutional form. He is now in effect saying, "Yes, I am above the law - I am the law, which is nothing more than what I and my hired lawyers say it is - and if you don't like it, I dare you to do something about it."

... If Congress accepts his usurpation of its legislative power, they will be no Congress and might as well stop meeting. Either the President must uphold the laws of the United States, which are Congress's laws, or he must leave office.
No, there's the third alternative - everyone agrees with the president and his authority has no limits.

Well, one can move away from the Cassandra voices of the left saying that we're losing the republic and all we fought for since 1776 (the sky is falling and we're faced with a big-brother dictator in the making), and from those on the right saying this is no big deal and we've always needed a strong leader (unleash our duly elected hero-savior from the surly bonds of the useless laws). One can turn to folks who can put this in perspective.

Who would that be? Oh, maybe constitutional scholars.

One of those would be Cass Sunstein at the University of Chicago. Who's he? According to this he's the Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor of Jurisprudence at their law school and also a member of the Department of Political Science - a Harvard man, undergraduate and law too. The link has more - his many books and how he clerked for Thurgood Marshall and all the rest. He's a big gun. You even see him on television now and then - Wednesday, December 28th on MSNBC's "Hardball" for example. They gave him about ten seconds.

But he's thinking long and hard about all this, mainly at The University of Chicago Law School Faculty Blog. Yes, there is such a thing. And it's not much like The Smirking Chimp at all. No rants. It's not as exciting? Yes, it's detailed and dry and, actually, useful.

MSNBC may have given him ten seconds, but he stretches out at the blog, with, on the same day, The President's 'Inherent' Power. He's puzzled.

Here's the issue -
The Bush Administration has made strong claims about the "inherent" power of the President. These claims are not unprecedented, and they are rarely if ever preposterous; but they are nonetheless bold. Thus it has been argued that the President's inherent authority includes (1) the power to go to war without congressional authorization, (2) the power to engage in foreign surveillance, (3) the power to detain "enemy combatants," including Americans captured on American soil, without access to a lawyer or to hearings, and (4) the power to engage in coercive interrogation of enemies, even torture, when necessary.
So what do you do with that?

Well, you look back to when president Truman attempted to have the federal government take over the steel industry (Youngstown Steel and Tube, 343 U.S. at 587) - there was a strike and we were at war and we needed steel. The Supreme Court slapped Truman down real hard, and we could look to that -
In his concurring opinion in The Steel Seizure Case, Justice Jackson tried to refine the battle between (1) and (2) by drawing attention to Congress. He suggested that we might also adopt two other positions. (3) The President has such authority because Congress has said that he does, thus augmenting the President's own power with "all that Congress can delegate." (4) The President lacks such authority because Congress has said that he doesn't, ensuring that his own power "is at its lowest ebb."

... We have seen (4) in the argument that FISA bans the President from engaging in such surveillance without going through the FISA process. Naturally, the Department of Justice, attempting to protect the President's prerogatives, emphasizes "inherent" power and implies that Congress lacks the authority to intrude on it.
Well, that may not be very useful.

All this is discussed here by "Armando" at Daily Kos and it all comes down to the professor saying we should see "if progress can be made by bracketing the most fundamental questions about 'inherent' authority and by giving careful attention to what Congress has done." But "Armando" points out a conflict is unavoidable here - "The President is defying a law duly enacted by Congress. And NO Supreme Court case has countenanced such a power grab by a President."

Yes, they shot down Harry Truman over this, and "Armando" points to the Hamdi ruling, that cited the Truman slap-down -
[The Government's position] cannot be mandated by any reasonable view of the separation of powers, as this view only serves to condense power into a single branch of government. We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation's citizens. Youngstown Steel and Tube, 343 U.S. at 587. Whatever power the United States Constitution envisions for the Executive in times of conflict with other Nations or enemy organizations, it most assuredly envisions a role for all three branches when individual liberties are at stake.
And that's the battle.

"Armando" -
In short, there is no support in the case law for the assertion that the President has plenary power when acting as Commander in Chief. It is contrary to the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, particularly Federalist 69, and all Supreme Court jurisprudence. It is an outlandish and yes, preposterous assertion by the Bush Administration.

Professor Sunstein would do well to be straightforward on this. He comes closer today, but still seems unable to say it straight out.
Well, one must be careful.

But something is really odd here. There's a lot of tap dancing around what's really going on. It looks like a power grab, a coup of some sort, where those seeking unlimited power have just taken it and hope these constitutional scholars will futz around until it's too late to change anything. Bush has the military behind him, and Fox News. What else does he need? This fellow in Chicago, as thoughtful as he is, doesn't matter much.

What is a bother with this NSA wiretapping business, however, is what was bound to happen on a practical level. As reported by the New York Times on Wednesday, December 28th, here -
Defense lawyers in terrorism cases around the country say they are preparing letters and legal briefs to challenge the NSA program on behalf of their clients, many of them American citizens, and to find out more about how it might have been used. They acknowledge legal hurdles, including the fact that many defendants waived some rights to appeal as part of their plea deals.
Yeah, but the bottom line here getting reconsideration because of two issues, disclosure and illegal search. We're not talking about tossing out something someone said because the cops didn't read him his Mirada rights. Here the issue is the prosecution having evidence they did not reveal to the defense team, or using evidence that, even if revealed, was obtained illegally. You cannot do either. The accused is supposed to know what the evidence is that is being used against him. That's kind of basic. And just as you cannot use evidence obtained by torture (yet), so you cannot use evidence you gathered by breaking the law, which is also kind of basic.

Noted defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt here runs down what this means in terms of bad guys we've put away -
- Gerry Spence, who represents Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield in his civil action against the US for arresting and detaining him as a material witness in the Spain bombings. Mayfield was later released with no charges brought.

- Lawyers for the Lackawanna (Buffalo) 6 and Portland 7 are considering challenges, as are those representing Jose Padilla's co-defendants.

- David B. Smith intends to bring a challenge for David Faris, charged in Ohio with plotting to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge: [He] said he planned to file a motion in part to determine whether information about the surveillance program should have been turned over. Lawyers said they were also considering a civil case against the president, saying that Mr. Faris was the target of an illegal wiretap ordered by Mr. Bush.

- The co-defendants of Jose Padilla are gearing up: [They] plan to file a motion as early as next week to determine if the NSA program was used to gain incriminating information on their clients and their suspected ties to Al Qaeda. Kenneth Swartz, one of the lawyers in the case, said, "I think they absolutely have an obligation to tell us" whether the agency was wiretapping the defendants.

- John Zwerling, one of my pals from Alexandria, VA., will be filing as well, on behalf of Seifullah Chapman. Chapman was a follower of Ali al-Timimi, a Muslim scholar convicted of inciting his disciples to wage war against the US. Al-Timini is serving a life sentence, Chapman is serving 65 years. [Zwerling] said he and lawyers for two of the other defendants in the case planned to send a letter to the Justice Department to find out if NSA wiretaps were used against their clients. If the Justice Department declines to give an answer, Mr. Zwerling said, they plan to file a motion in court demanding access to the information. "We want to know, Did this NSA program make its way into our case, and how was it used?" Mr. Zwerling said. "It may be a difficult trail for us in court, but we're going to go down it as far as we can."
And so on and so forth.

And it seems some federal prosecutors tell the Times the NSA warrantless surveillance could be a problem for the Government in both past and future cases.

Merritt of course points to Brady v. Maryland - the government and prosecutors are required to provide defendants with all "material" information affecting their case, including derogatory information that could impact the credibility of prosecution witnesses. This includes information that might impact their guilt or their sentence. And she points to Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419 (1995) - the duty of disclosure is not limited to evidence in the actual possession of the prosecutor. "Rather, it extends to evidence in the possession of the entire prosecution team, which includes investigative and other government agencies." Other government agencies would include the NSA, of course.

This could get really interesting, as she cites also the basic 18 U.S.C. Section 3504 -
(a) In any trial, hearing, or other proceeding in or before any court, grand jury, department, officer, agency, regulatory body, or other authority of the United States -

(1) upon a claim by a party aggrieved that evidence is inadmissible because it is the primary product of an unlawful act or because it was obtained by the exploitation of an unlawful act, the opponent of the claim shall affirm or deny the occurrence of the alleged unlawful act; ...

(b) As used in this section "unlawful act" means any act the use of any electronic, mechanical, or other device (as defined in section 2510 (5) of this title) in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States or any regulation or standard promulgated pursuant thereto.
Damn, that's a problem. And Merritt points out that the government can't avoid answering the defense requests simply by asserting the material is classified. "Once it is established that a defendant has standing to make the challenge, at a minimum I think the Government could be compelled to submit the information to the Judge for a decision on whether it is relevant and helpful to the defense and should be turned over. In the event of an adverse decision by the Court, the Government should have only two choices: either turn over the information or refuse and dismiss the criminal charges."

So we mighty have to let these people go? Who'd have guessed?

And late in the day it got ever more interesting with this - Terror suspect challenges US president's 'unchecked' -
Lawyers for an American 'war on terror' detainee said they had petitioned the Supreme Court to examine the US president's powers, citing "the danger of an unchecked Executive Branch".

In a filing on Tuesday, lawyers for terror suspect Jose Padilla cited evasive government moves to avoid a high court examination of his case as reason for requesting a "certiorari" review of a lower court decision challenging the president's wartime powers.

"The government's actions highlight the need for this court to grant certiorari to preserve the vital checks and balances" implicit in the US Constitution, the petition said.

Referring to a series of "strategic maneuvers" to keep Padilla's case from being heard in court, the petition said the government's actions "highlight the danger of an unchecked Executive Branch."

Padilla's detention "raises questions of profound constitutional importance about the government's military power over citizens in the homeland," the petition said.
This is odd, and those "strategic maneuvers" were discussed in these pages here last week - in September Padilla's lawyers petitioned the Supreme Court to review the government's powers to detain him without charge or trial, and in response the government moved to transfer Padilla to civilian custody for trial. Maybe he wasn't a bad guy. Maybe they didn't want his case to be reviewed, as we had held him for more than three years without explaining why. So we changed the charges, from "he's an enemy combatant and we can lock him up forever without charges or trial" to "he's just a criminal and let's have a trail." A Virginia appeals court rejected that - it looked like lame attempt to avoid Supreme Court scrutiny. Now he wants a hearing.

The countermove? This - "The U.S. government on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to transfer American 'enemy combatant' Jose Padilla from U.S. military custody to federal authorities in Florida - one week after an appeals court refused a similar request."

It gets odder and odder. What rights does the president have? Is anything he says so, just because he says it? People are fighting for, at the very least, some clarification here.

And then, speaking of odd things, the Wall Street Journal reports what up with Move America Forward, as they have a new campaign -
The television commercials are attention-grabbing: Newly found Iraqi documents show that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, including anthrax and mustard gas, and had "extensive ties" to al Qaeda. The discoveries are being covered up by those "willing to undermine support for the war on terrorism to selfishly advance their shameless political ambitions."

The hard-hitting spots are part of a recent public-relations barrage aimed at reversing a decline in public support for President Bush's handling of Iraq. But these advertisements aren't paid for by the Republican National Committee or other established White House allies. Instead, they are sponsored by Move America Forward, a media-savvy outside advocacy group that has become one of the loudest - and most controversial - voices in the Iraq debate.
So that's the new push? There really were weapons of mass destruction, including anthrax and mustard gas, and Saddam Hussein did have "extensive ties" to al Qaeda?

No doubt CNN and the rest will handle this like the Swift Boat thing and Kerry. Let's hear both sides. "Some assert the earth is flat and the sun revolves around the earth, while most say this is not so, but in the interest of fairness we must report both sides of the controversy, in depth, for many weeks." Hell, it worked before.

And now that there have been elections in Iraq, and they seem to working on forming some sort of government, things will be just fine. So don't listen to the Knight-Ridder folks, who almost always get things right, when they report this -
KIRKUK, Iraq - Kurdish leaders have inserted more than 10,000 of their militia members into Iraqi army divisions in northern Iraq to lay the groundwork to swarm south, seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and possibly half of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and secure the borders of an independent Kurdistan.

Five days of interviews with Kurdish leaders and troops in the region suggest that U.S. plans to bring unity to Iraq before withdrawing American troops by training and equipping a national army aren't gaining traction. Instead, some troops who are formally under U.S. and Iraqi national command are preparing to protect territory and ethnic and religious interests in the event of Iraq's fragmentation, which many of them think is inevitable.

The soldiers said that while they wore Iraqi army uniforms they still considered themselves members of the Peshmerga - the Kurdish militia - and were awaiting orders from Kurdish leaders to break ranks. Many said they wouldn't hesitate to kill their Iraqi army comrades, especially Arabs, if a fight for an independent Kurdistan erupted.

... The interviews with Kurdish troops ... suggested that as the American military transfers more bases and areas of control to Iraqi units, it may be handing the nation to militias that are bent more on advancing ethnic and religious interests than on defeating the insurgency and preserving national unity.
You do recall the Kurds still viewed themselves as an independent and autonomous entity when they entered into Iraq's first new oil contract, without notifying the central government (LA Times here). Would they rise up with Kurds from Turkey, Iran, and Syria to form an independent state? Now? "The government in Baghdad will be too weak to use force against the will of the Kurdish people.''

So that's ten thousand Kurds in the Iraqi army ready to fight in a civil war. The Shiites who will run the place align themselves with Iran. The Sunnis, out of power, keep blowing up things.

Spin that.

Even if you seize unlimited power, some things just don't work out.

Posted by Alan at 20:51 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 29 December 2005 16:02 PST home

Tuesday, 27 December 2005

Topic: World View

A matter of perspective...

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, whose "Our Man in Paris" columns appear each week in Just Above Sunset, seems to be amused by what he sees in the European press that seems to all point back to California, and maybe Hollywood specifically, as the center of some sort of madness. People always think that of Hollywood, but they may be onto something.

Tuesday, December 27th, Ric pointed me to the exploits of an extremely wealthy car dealer, Robert Holmes Tuttle, whose father, Holmes Tuttle, ran a group of dealerships in and around Beverly Hills. The son expanded that. Until recently he was managing partner of the Tuttle-Click Automotive Group down in Irvine, in ultra-conservative Orange County, home of the John Birch society and all that. This Tuttle-Click Automotive Group is one of the largest chains of dealers in the country - they're all over California and Arizona. But Robert Holmes Tuttle doesn't do that any longer. He's now our ambassador to Saint James Court, or, if you will, our ambassador to Great Britain. He's been there since the middle this year, putting his foot in his mouth.

Selling cars is something he could do. International diplomacy seems a bit more difficult for him. As with Michael Brown, who made the transition from the American Arabian Horse Society, where he was in-house council, to running FEMA, presidential appointments can make you feel real good about yourself, even if you have no qualifications for the job. But then things can turn to dust real fast.

So what's up with the fellow Ric calls "Tuttle, Hometown Hollywood Boy" these days?

Well, there's this -
- US Embassy Close to Admitting Syria Rendition Flight
- Statement Contradicts Ambassador's Interview
- Correction Could Leave Britain Open to Challenge
That's from The Guardian (UK), as it seems our embassy there was forced to correct a claim by ambassador Tuttle, that there is "no evidence ... that there have been any renditions carried out in the country of Syria."

There is. And now he's put the Brits in an awkward position. He claimed we would never fly suspected terrorists to Syria. Syria has one of the worst torture records in the Middle East. But a clarifying statement acknowledged media reports of a suspect taken from the United States to Syria.

Yep, he's got that administration problem. Say it simply never happened, discover it's all over the press and there's pretty good evidence it did happen, then say perhaps it might be true but we should all be patient until all the facts are in. Then get rid of the damned facts, if you can. The obvious two lessons to be learned here are clear. Say very little - don't ever issue blanket denials - and read the papers, or at least have someone coach you on current events.

Like he'd never heard of Maher Arar, that Canadian software engineer whose family long ago immigrated to Canada from Syria? He was arrested in New York three years ago and transferred to Jordan, then to Syria, where he said he was tortured. He first came up in these pages here (December 2003) and five other times (most recently here last August). This was big deal and all over the press, particularly in Canada of course. It's not like no one knew of such a thing.

So what does this glorified car salesman say in his BBC interview? This - "I don't think there is any evidence that there have been any renditions carried out in the country of Syria. There is no evidence of that. And I think we have to take what the secretary [Condoleezza Rice] says at face value. It is something very important, it is done very carefully and she has said we do not authorize, condone torture in any way, shape or form."

Trust Condi. We'd never do such a thing. But then our embassy spokeswoman two days later says the ambassador "recognized that there had been a media report of a rendition to Syria but reiterated that the United States is not in a position to comment on specific allegations of intelligence activities that appear in the press."

That fits the pattern mentioned above.

Perhaps someone should offer to provide Tuttle a press summary every few days, a briefing on what's happening in the world, and quiz him to make sure he gets the basics, kind of like the White House staff preparing that CD of news stories for the president three days after Hurricane Katrina, so he could catch up on the news - "There was a big Hurricane, sir, and perhaps you should be briefed." Someone should have told Tuttle about the Arar thing. Maybe someone should start briefing him on current issues in the world of diplomacy. Then he might have not stepped into a flat denial but been a little more, say, diplomatic.

But now the spokeswoman had to say things regarding the reports the CIA used British airports to refuel for rendition flights, which would contravene British law - "We take our actions in the fight against terrorism with full respect for our international obligations and with full respect for the sovereignty of our partners."

She covered for him, but he came pretty close to an admission of at least one flight to Syria refueling in the UK. When asked if he knew whether we had sought permission from Britain, Tuttle said Rice had maintained that rendition would respect each country's sovereignty. His reply would seem to imply we had sought permission, possibly leaving the British government open to challenge. They're sweating now.

Such things happen when you send a Beverly Hills car salesman in to do a job international diplomacy. The item notes also last month Tuttle "vigorously denied British media reports that American forces used white phosphorus as a weapon in Iraq," only to be undercut by an admission from the Pentagon the next day.

This guy needs to get in the loop. He needs a quick primer on what's going on. Someone must have told him that wasn't necessary. He was misinformed.

So who is he? The official blurb on him, from the embassy is here - Stanford and an MBA from USC, and a successful businessman and all that. And the unofficial version is here -
A managing partner of the Tuttle-Click Automotive Group, Tuttle also worked as director of presidential personnel in the Reagan White House. His father, Holmes, earned a footnote in the history books in 1946 when he sold a car to an out-of-work actor named Ronald Reagan.

Tuttle and his immediate family made at least $201,725 in political contributions during the 2000, 2002 and 2004 election cycles, none of which went to Democrats. That figure includes $8,000 to the Bush campaign, $25,000 to Bush's second inaugural committee and $5,000 to the Bush-Cheney recount fund established after the 2000 election. Separately, Tuttle's automotive company donated $100,000 to the president's first inaugural committee. Tuttle was also listed as a Pioneer for Bush's 2004 reelection campaign for having raised more than $100,000 in contributions for the president.
You get the idea. He paid his dues. He got the gig. No one told him he had to do anything. Typical.

So what else did Ric in Paris notice?

This in the December 27th New York Times from Richard Bernstein - Hometown Snubs Schwarzenegger Over Death Penalty. Parisians would see that in the International Herald Tribune, the Times' European paper. And of course that got bigger play there than here. As one of the few countries in the world that still executes criminals, we are seen there as somewhat barbaric for insisting governments have the right to kill their own citizens. France dropped that in the eighties. There is no death penalty in Europe. They do think it barbaric.

Here in California, two-thirds of the population doesn't. Schwarzenegger knows that. Here the story was a joke on the news shows.

From the Times -
For years the quaint Austrian town of Graz trumpeted its special relationship with its outsize native son, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Born in a village nearby and schooled in Graz, Mr. Schwarzenegger was an honorary citizen and holder of the town's Ring of Honor. Most conspicuously, the local sports stadium was named after him.

But early on Monday, under cover of darkness, his name was removed from the arena in a sort of uncontested divorce between the California governor and the town council, which had been horrified that he rejected pleas to spare the life of Stanley Tookie Williams, former leader of the Crips gang, who was executed by the state of California two weeks ago.

The 15,000-seat stadium had been named after Mr. Schwarzenegger in 1997 as an act of both self-promotion and fealty toward the poor farmer's son and international celebrity, who has always identified Graz as his native place.

But when he declined to commute Mr. Williams's death penalty, the reaction was swift and angry in Graz, which, like most places in Europe, sees the death penalty as a medieval atrocity.

"I submitted a petition to the City Council to remove his name from the stadium, and to take away his status as an honorary citizen," Sigrid Binder, the leader of the Green Party, said in a recent interview. "The petition was accepted by a majority on the council."
The Williams execution was covered in these pages, in detail, here, but what's going on with Graz is a whole different thing. Schwarzenegger had already sent back the town's Ring of Honor, and tried to preempt these folks by telling them to take his name off everything there.

Why? He's in deep trouble out here. He's up for reelection next year, and running at thirty-six percent approval ratings. His special election to change the rules went down in flames - all six of his initiatives were defeated. He told everyone the public employees unions were all greedy bastards, and then the folks rallied behind the police and teachers and firemen. He had said he'd never consult and work with the state legislature on tax issues and state funding - they were all "economic girly-men." It was his way or nothing. Now he can't get anything done.

All that backfired.

And then the people of Graz did him a favor. Folks out her really like executions. Now he has leverage. He told these wimps to stuff it. He gets points out here for that. It's something.

Ric in Paris also sent along this from The Guardian from March 2003 -
The United States is conducting a secret 'dirty tricks' campaign against UN Security Council delegations in New York as part of its battle to win votes in favour of war against Iraq.

Details of the aggressive surveillance operation, which involves interception of the home and office telephones and the emails of UN delegates in New York, are revealed in a document leaked to The Observer.

The disclosures were made in a memorandum written by a top official at the National Security Agency - the US body which intercepts communications around the world - and circulated to both senior agents in his organisation and to a friendly foreign intelligence agency asking for its input.
This of course ties into the current issue here, Bush authorizing the NSA to spy on American citizens without any warrants, telling the NSA to ignore the clear law in the matter, and saying the law did not apply to anything he ordered, as he was the president.

Why did Ric send this now? Perhaps because of this - Rice Authorized National Security Agency To Spy On UN Security Council In Run-Up To War, Former Officials Say (Jason Leopold, Tuesday, December 27, 2005, Raw Story) -
President Bush and other top officials in his administration used the National Security Agency to secretly wiretap the home and office telephones and monitor private email accounts of members of the United Nations Security Council in early 2003 to determine how foreign delegates would vote on a U.N. resolution that paved the way for the U.S.-led war in Iraq, NSA documents show.

Two former NSA officials familiar with the agency's campaign to spy on U.N. members say then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice authorized the plan at the request of President Bush, who wanted to know how delegates were going to vote. Rice did not immediately return a call for comment.

The former officials said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also participated in discussions about the plan, which involved "stepping up" efforts to eavesdrop on diplomats.
The "news" (this is old stuff) was that even though Bush says all this massive scanning of telephone conversations and emails was to protect us from terrorism, it was too good a source of information to pass up in other matters.

This news of the NSA spying on the UN received some coverage in newspapers at the time, but now we're talking about using the NSA intercepts for political purposes too, not just tracking down communications regarding potential terrorist threats. The old story becomes new again.

We were wiretapping Hans Blix, and the home phones of diplomats to see how they'd vote and why. Eavesdropping on UN diplomats is authorized under the US Foreign Intelligence Services Act, even if it's still considered a violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

But the lie is the problem. The tool to uncover potential terrorist threats is really useful. The administration says they only use it for that purpose. But that doesn't seem so.

So what else was it used for, or on whom? John Kerry? Patrick Fitzgerald? Ex-wives? One never knows.

Oddly, though, for some of us the worrisome thing is not in these "big brother" issues.

There's something even more troubling than the government sweeping all electronic communication and consolidating its power by spying on everyone.

Of course Robert Steinback in the Miami Herald covers that and other matters here -
If, back in 2001, anyone had told me that four years after bin Laden's attack our president would admit that he broke U.S. law against domestic spying and ignored the Constitution - and then expect the American people to congratulate him for it - I would have presumed the girders of our very Republic had crumbled.

Had anyone said our president would invade a country and kill 30,000 of its people claiming a threat that never, in fact, existed, then admit he would have invaded even if he had known there was no threat - and expect America to be pleased by this - I would have thought our nation's sensibilities and honor had been eviscerated.

If I had been informed that our nation's leaders would embrace torture as a legitimate tool of warfare, hold prisoners for years without charges and operate secret prisons overseas - and call such procedures necessary for the nation's security - I would have laughed at the folly of protecting human rights by destroying them.

If someone had predicted the president's staff would out a CIA agent as revenge against a critic, defy a law against domestic propaganda by bankrolling supposedly independent journalists and commentators, and ridicule a 37-year Marie Corps veteran for questioning U.S. military policy - and that the populace would be more interested in whether Angelina is about to make Brad a daddy - I would have called the prediction an absurd fantasy.
But that is where we are. The president has thrown down the gauntlet. He is changing things, and this is a direct challenge. He broke the law, and will continue breaking it. This changes how the country is run, and the question is, are there enough people who will congratulate him for the change, so he can become something like "dictator for life," or will enough folks say no.

The man likes big gambles - like the preemptive war based on thin evidence of a justifiable threat. That's the way he thinks. Grab for what you want, and see what happens.

This is the biggest gamble. Has he read the situation right? Is this the moment he can take ultimate power? Maybe so.

In any event, that issue is what Ric in Paris inadvertently raised in the third item. Ric should send even more news nuggets. They get you thinking, even if that's alarming at times.

Posted by Alan at 20:49 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 27 December 2005 20:56 PST home

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