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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 9 January 2006
Press Notes: Hazards Regarding Selecting What to Report
Topic: The Media

Press Notes: Hazards Regarding Selecting What to Report

The hottest nonfiction book at the moment is the one from James Risen, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, which is the "long form" version of his late December, big scoop New York Times story revealing the president had instructed the National Security Agency to disregard existing law and listen in on, or at least track the contents of, millions of phone calls each day, and scan millions of emails, to see what's up.

That's created an uproar, reviewed here, but that's not all that Risen was up to.

As he has said in interviews, there's more, as in it was more than twelve government officials who "blew the whistle" on the NSA program - they thought something was really wrong. But there are other interesting items - the president may have suggested that pain medication be withheld from our detainees - the ones we hold around the world who have been declared to have no rights - and this may have been the beginning of the brainstorming sessions which eventually led to what looks like torture to everyone but the administration's in-house attorneys, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly. There's some evidence that the president's "what ifs" got out of hand, but then there are all those stories about how, when the president was just a lad, he was fond of jamming firecrackers down live squirrels and blowing them up. Maybe he was just being playful.

What else? The CIA asked about thirty Iraqi-Americans to go to Iraq before the war - the idea was they'd use their contacts there, either family or friends, and ask questions, and then we could really "determine the state" of those WMD programs. We had only one agent on the ground there, so that wasn't a bad idea. The bad guys would talk to family, and tell the truth. But every single one of them came back and said that all of WMD programs had stopped in the early nineties - or been destroyed in the first Gulf war. Our precision bombs actually flattened the building where they worked on all the nuclear stuff. There was no way to even restart the program. So? The CIA decided the reports of those thirty folks must really be planted propaganda from that clever Saddam Hussein. Risen also hints in the book that since this "send the thirty" idea came from an old hand at the agency, the new guys thought he was grandstanding and decided to slap him down. So we have evidence of either the Bush Administration ignoring intelligence that did not help its goal of starting a preemptive war over there, or we have office politics screwing things up again.

Overall, however, Risen says that "the checks and balances on the Executive Branch broke down." Foreign policy "was radicalized at the hands of Rumsfeld, Tenet, Cheney, Rice and a few others who would not allow career professionals in the State Department to participate." Yeah, yeah. So it seems.

As for the NSA program and all the controversy surrounding the question of why the Times sat on the story for a year, and has yet to comment on the other scoops in the Risen book, there's a new explanation from Jonathan Swartz here - Risen tried but failed to get it into the newspaper, so he went ahead and wrote a book, and then, when the book was going to "break the story," the Times had no choice. They had to run it - they didn't want to be scooped by a book by one of their own reporters. Whatever.

As the UCLA professor Mark Kleiman comments - "... the right criticizes the press for doing its job, while the left criticizes the press for not doing its job. The wingnuts are throwing around the word "treason" because the Times told its readers something that was about to come out in a book, while Schwarz complains that the Times has not told its readers other facts that came out in the same book."

Sometimes you just can't win.

And the voices on the right keep up that drumbeat - the Times has committed treason (a review of that argument here). Are the nuttier of those on the right-wing (the wingnuts) just venting, or are they serious?

There's this from the Associated Press, Monday, January 9 - Police Investigate Journalist's Killing - "Police on Monday appealed to the public for help in finding two men sought for questioning in the death of a retired New York Times journalist."

No, no - this seems to be just another Washington DC street crime. And the fellow may have been head of the Times' DC bureau at one time, but he was retired. He seldom wrote anything for the Times after he retired. This is not a message for James Risen and Bill Keller. Judy Miller didn't hire these "two men sought for questioning." It's just a coincidence, and a sad business.

If you're going to send a message, you don't mess with ambiguity, unless you're subtle and want to keep people on their toes. You do what Bill O'Reilly did on Fox News, for his massive national audience - he promised he'd go after specific New York Times people, personally, and dig up dirt on their private lives, and broadcast it (see this) - Bill is issuing what he calls a "secular fatwa." Unless they stop saying bad things about the president, what he calls their "personal attacks," well, they'll pay the price. He'll do the same to them, with the full force of the Fox News empire.

That's not subtle, nor is this from The Guardian UK, concerning one of their reporters in Iraq.

It seems our troops raided the home of an award-winning Iraqi journalist named Ali Fadhil, who was working for The Guardian, and British Channel 4. He had a hot story. And Fadhil requested an interview concerning claims that "tens of millions of dollars worth of Iraqi funds held by the Americans and British have been misused or misappropriated." Bad move. They raided his home, shot up the place, scared the heck out of his wife and two young children, and confiscated all his videotapes for the story. Crude, but effective.

Details? -
Ali Fadhil, who two months ago won the Foreign Press Association young journalist of the year award, was hooded and taken for questioning. He was released hours later.

Dr Fadhil is working with Guardian Films on an investigation for Channel 4's Dispatches programme into claims that tens of millions of dollars worth of Iraqi funds held by the Americans and British have been misused or misappropriated.

The troops told Dr Fadhil that they were looking for an Iraqi insurgent and seized video tapes he had shot for the programme. These have not yet been returned.
That works.
Dr Fadhil was asleep with his wife, their three-year-old daughter, Sarah, and seven-month-old son, Adam, when the troops forced their way in.

"They fired into the bedroom where we were sleeping, then three soldiers came in. They rolled me on to the floor and tied my hands. When I tried to ask them what they were looking for they just told me to shut up," he said.
They just told him to shut up. Ah, that's a real Bill O'Reilly line. There's a lot of that going around.

Of note, one of Ali Fadhil's awards is noted here, with a photograph of him. A previous article of his for The Guardian is here - Fallujah, City of Ghosts. Not that any of that matters now.

Comments? When asking a question can get you killed, War on the Press, and How Soon In The States? - Are these guys practicing for their return home? - and so on and so forth.

Do we have a war on the press? One has not been declared, officially. But even the pro-war, hyper-intellectual apologist for President Bush and all his efforts, Christopher Hitchens, notes something is heating up, as in The Bush Bombshell - Did the president propose to take out Al Jazeera?, posted on the eve of this -
... in a court in London, two men will appear to face charges under Britain's Official Secrets Act. The first man, David Keogh, a former employee of the Cabinet Office, is accused of unlawfully handing a confidential memorandum to the second man, Leo O'Connor, a researcher for a former Labor member of Parliament, Tony Clarke.

The memorandum is actually a five-page transcript stamped "Top Secret." It describes a meeting at the White House on April 16, 2004, between President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair.

At that meeting, which took place while desperately hard fighting was in progress in the Iraqi town of Fallujah, Bush mooted the idea of taking out the headquarters of Al Jazeera in Doha, Qatar.

The network's correspondents inside the city had been transmitting lurid footage of extreme violence. The exchange apparently puts Blair in a good light, in that he dissuaded the president from any such course of action and was assisted in this by Colin Powell, who was then secretary of state.
Ah yes, this is all about that item in the Daily Mirror last November (that's here and was discussed in these pages here at the time) - George Bush was talked out of bombing Arab television station al-Jazeera by Tony Blair. Hitchens reminds us that in 2001, the Al Jazeera office in Afghanistan was destroyed by "smart" bombs, and, in 2003, an Al Jazeera correspondent in Baghdad was killed in an American missile strike. Is this Bush whim so far-fetched?

There are problems Blair and Powell might have noted -
The state of Qatar, which though a Wahabbi kingdom has a free press and allows women to run and to vote in elections, has not been the host of just Al Jazeera since the network's predecessor was kicked out of Saudi Arabia. It has also been the host of United States Central Command, and of many American civilians. It is the site each year of a highly interesting and useful conference, co-sponsored by the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, where American and Middle Eastern academics and journalists and others meet in conditions of informality. Its emir has been a positive help and supporter to many democrats in the region. Bombing or blowing up the Al Jazeera office would involve hitting the downtown section of Doha, the capital city of a friendly power. It's difficult to think of any policy that would have been more calamitous. (But perhaps it was proposed to do it "surgically"?)
Who knows? But it was a stunningly bad idea, even if emotionally gratifying. Bill O'Reilly would have loved it, as would his boss, Roger Ailes, as would have Ailes' boss, Rupert Murdoch. Report the wrong things and you die. That'd make those guys smile.

In any event, Hitchens reviews the evidence that this discussion actually happened (convincing), and that Bush wasn't kidding at all (also convincing).

He comments that Al Jazeera "is not describable, perhaps, as a strictly objective station, but it is the main source of news in the Arab world because it is not the property of any state or party, and it has given live and unedited coverage of things like the elections in Iraq."

And there's another problem - "If it becomes widely believed that it has been or is being targeted, the consequences in the region will be rather more than Karen Hughes' 'public diplomacy' can handle."

He also notes Colin Powell is neither confirming or denying anything about this meeting, and that's curious.

Something is up.

But then there are safe things to report, like Monday's opening day of the Senate hearings on the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, but was that news? All of it was opening statements from the members of the Senate judiciary committee - the "interrogatory" (questions and answers) is Tuesday. This was a non-event. But it was all over the news, but who wants to watch posturing?

There was lots of spin - Robert Kuttner in the Boston Globe with this - "At this moment in American history it would be hard to find a worse Supreme Court nominee than Samuel A. Alito Jr." The confirmation "would give Bush effective control of all three branches of government."

Rick Moran at Right Wing Nut House (really, honest) with this, calling the nomination confirmation a shoe-in - "It's the mismatch of the century!" Why? Because of "Judge Samuel Alito; scary smart, learned judge, judicially tempered, unflappable, and given the highest rating by the American Bar Association for competence." Those who oppose the nomination? That would be "the Democrats; piddle brained, highly emotional, tending toward hysterics, and character assassins extraordinaire."

Yale law professor Robert Gordon here - "Bush cannot get the legislative votes to repeal the New Deal and Great Society social safety nets, or legislative protections of labor, work safety and the environment and regulation of corporate frauds and torts. But he can appoint people in the executive and judicial branches who will work toward these aims covertly, gradually, and under the radar, while feigning otherwise. ... If [Alito] is unwilling firmly and forthrightly to declare his independence from the ideologies and executive authorities he has served his entire career, the Democrats should try to keep him off the Court by filibuster."

But nothing happened Monday. The story is the spin. So you report that. It's safe.

Do you report on this stringer for The Guardian being roughed up, or events in the UK where we may learn all about our president's plan to blow up foreign news service in the middle of an ally's capital city? Do you report on the pretty American reporter for the Christian Science Monitor kidnapped in Baghdad over the weekend? No you don't - Abduction of American Reporter in Iraq Blacked Out By US News Outlets. You report what you can.

It's rough out there.

Posted by Alan at 21:08 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 9 January 2006 21:37 PST home

Sunday, 8 January 2006
Defining Terms: He Who Defines the Terms Controls the Argument
Topic: For policy wonks...

Defining Terms: He Who Defines the Terms Controls the Argument

Of course, if you want to win an argument, you know your winning it depends on both sides agreeing on just what you're arguing about, and on your controlling just what that is - the terms of the argument. Your opponent says there's a problem with X and points out there is only one really effective answer to that problem, at it's his answer. You reply, graciously, that may be so, but really, if you look at this X thing, well, that's not really the problem - X is only a symptom of a the real problem, which is Y, and the only really effective answer to the Y problem is your answer. Defining the terms of the argument actually is the argument, or often is.

Concerning the ongoing national discussion, or argument, or quarrel - or whatever it is - regarding the News York Times revealing the president had instructed the National Security Agency to disregard the law and listen in on, or at least track the contents of, millions of phone calls each day, and scan millions of emails, to see what's up, we have the same problem in defining terms.

The 1978 FISA law is clear, and so is the is Fourth Amendment. Citizens, given that part of the constitution, have the right to a sort of privacy - the government cannot "search" to find out things about them without probable cause and a warrant issued by a judge who decides there is, actually, probable cause, as a crime may have been committed, or one is being committed, or one is being planned. The FISA law just fills in the details for circumstances involving "foreign intelligence" involving American citizens - it lays out procedures and rules.

The president told NSA to disregard those procedures and rules, and implicitly to disregard that Fourth Amendment detail of the constitution. More than a dozen of the NSA folks leaked this to the Times, and the Times, after sitting on the story for a year, reported it. The president asked them, a few weeks before they did, not to run the story. They did anyway, but left out technical details they were told would aid "the enemy." The president then explained, publicly, that yes, he had ordered this effort, outside the law, and there should be an investigation - those who leaked the information should be exposed and prosecuted. And he intended to continue this effort - letting the Attorney General and others explain that any president, as commander-in-chief when the country is at war, has the authority to do this sort of thing when any particular law conflicts with his constitutional responsibility to direct the war, and secondly, this president had specific authority to do so because the congress authorized him to "do what's necessary" to go after terrorists and those nations who support them. So there!

What followed was a disagreement on what this is about. The more hysterical of the civil libertarians did the expected - "Oh my God, this president is spying on all American citizens - it's a 1984 Big Brother move and we now live in a Stalinist America with our own KGB keeping files on anyone who disagrees with the leader!"

The less hysterical of these folks note the government does have a right to "spy" on its citizens, and always has had that right - that's just part of law enforcement - but the right to do this stuff is based on showing a judge you have some probable cause and getting a warrant, and bypassing that is a bit disturbing. Some wonder if, without "judicial oversight," such a program might be used to create an enemies list of the Nixon sort, to "get" those who make trouble for the administration by disagreeing too loudly and too embarrassingly - and maybe this is just too tempting for any administration to resist.

Then there's the-world-has-changed group saying this is really about how, since September 11, 2001, we really do have to toss out old ways of thinking - we don't have the luxury to worry about privacy rights these days.

Closely related to that is the "things are different in wartime" crowd. But are we at war? The Korean and Vietnam Wars were called that popularly, but the first was officially our participating in a UN police action. We were, on the record, just supporting the UN there. It was not a war - not at all. It was our supporting a UN action. It just looked like a war. Regarding Vietnam, what the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was is still a matter for some debate. The least inaccurate way to explain what it was would be to say it was a resolution ceding the authority to wage war to the executive branch, as the legislative branch didn't want to decide or declare anything - in short, it was tossing the constitutional authority and prerogative to declare and wage war down the street to the White House. "Yeah, it's our job, but you decide." All "war powers resolutions" since are an admission that the constitution doesn't work in the modern world - one man in the White House should decide these things. It's quicker, more efficient, and, if you're in congress, you don't catch crap when things go badly. Anyway, you're not given all the information, or you're lied to, so just how can you decide? Let the executive do what it will. What's the point in pressing the issue? The last official declaration of war was with WWII, after Pearl Harbor. There has been, since then, no official war anywhere in which we have participated. None at all. But we toss the word around - the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty, the War on Christmas. The word "war" doesn't mean anything very specific now - it is now purely metaphor. Is it any wonder this is confusing? The congress is useless. This president says we're at war. Not quite so - but so. Close enough for government work. But are things different even when at war? Can a president when at war ignore pesky laws? Truman tried to nationalize the steel industry and thus end a strike threat when we were "at war" in Korea, and the Supreme Court slapped him down.

What can a president do and not do? Jean Schmidt, the newly elected congresswoman from Ohio - the one who called a fellow house member and decorated ex-Marine a coward on the house floor - says we're at war and when you're at war you just have to suspend the constitution. We've never officially done that, but maybe she's onto something.

Other takes on this include going after the Times for treason (see this) - the Times was aiding and abetting the enemy by revealing that we were tracking their calls and emails. The bad guys didn't know? By revealing there was this NSA, and there was this FISA law? They didn't know? They didn't think there'd be warrants? Are they cunning, clever, evil monsters, or are they bumbling idiots ("Don't worry, Ahmed, I've read the American newspapers and no one is listing in on us.") - which is it? It's hard to see what aid the Times provided the bad guys. This seems to be about following our own internal rules.

Is this about the rules? If it is true that the corporate owners of the phone, wireless and web hubs have given the government access to all the data flow to look for patterns and key words, is this about what sort of law we should have to assure monitoring isn't abused for political or even financial advantage? Is this about how antiquated the FISA law is now? But this attorney general said the administration did not try to change the law they decided not to go to congress when told they'd not get changes, and because, too, they'd have to reveal too much about the technology. This is interesting. What law should we have with all the new data mining technology available these days? Should it be used, and if so, under what rules?

Finally, there are two more ways to define this argument. For the Cult of Bush there's the "you have to trust the Man." He says it's necessary, so it is. He says he'd never abuse the power he assumed, so he wouldn't. And from the "whatever" crowd there's the argument this doesn't matter - if you have nothing to hide there's no problem.

Of course there are subsets to all of these positions, and there is the superset - this is about a small group of people with a pliant figurehead taking over the country, or it isn't.

We'll see who gets to define the terms here. And that is not yet clear.

But this is not the only example of such maneuvering, as we see in this regarding that fellow congressman Jean Schmidt called a coward -
Murtha was criticized during a Pentagon news conference Thursday, when the chairman of the joint chiefs said Murtha's weekend criticism was "damaging" troop recruitment efforts.

In a statement released by Murtha, the decorated Marine veteran responded that the real damage to recruitment comes from prolonged deployments, inadequate equipment, and the "lack of any connection between Iraq and the brutal attacks of 9/11."
As Oliver Willis explains what happened there - "Reject the premise of the attack, repeat with your original point. Bang. Murthanized."

The hearings on whether Judge Alito should become a member of the Supreme Court are underway. Is that really all about God? The Wall Street Journal notes this - three Christian ministers claim to have snuck into a Senate hearing room in order to anoint the chairs that will be used for Alito's confirmation hearing. They used oil. Doesn't that stain?

Is public health really about morality and evangelical Christian values? That depends on who frames the argument. See this -
The Society of Adolescent Medicine, in one of the most exhaustive reviews to date of government-funded abstinence-only programs, has rejected current administration policy that promotes abstinence as the only sexual health prevention strategy for young people in the United States and abroad.

"We believe that current federal abstinence-only-until-marriage policy is ethically problematic, as it excludes accurate information about contraception, misinforms by overemphasizing or misstating the risks of contraception, and fails to require the use of scientifically accurate information while promoting approaches of questionable value," the report concludes.

"Based on our review of the evaluations of specific abstinence-only curricula and research on virginity pledges, user failure with abstinence appears to be very high. Thus, although theoretically completely effective in preventing pregnancy, in actual practice the efficacy of abstinence-only interventions may approach zero."
Let's see - "theoretically completely effective" but of "zero value" and "ethically problematic." Gee, that's kind of like the whole effort in Iraq, with bad science thrown in as a bonus.

And then there is that war. There is this argument about winning it here, but don't click on the link. It's complicated, dense, and confusing. Duncan Black straightens it out here -
... Bush and his defenders have defined leaving Iraq as losing. Period. It's one reason crazy people like me think that may having some sort of arbitrary timetable or rough events-triggered withdrawal is a good idea - because there will never be some magical day when the Iraq security situation suddenly improves. There will never be a day when George Bush can wake up in the morning and decide, again, "Mission Accomplished!" without some arbitrary guidelines for when that is. There will never be a day when George Bush can credibly say "things are better today than yesterday" and therefore we can start to leave.

We will never leave Iraq while George Bush is president, because they've decided that leaving is losing.
Yep, defining terms matters, and who gets to define the terms matters too.

Black also links to Zbigniew Brzezinski in the Washington Post with this -
... "Victory or defeat" is, in fact, a false strategic choice. In using this formulation, the president would have the American people believe that their only options are either "hang in and win" or "quit and lose." But the real, practical choice is this: "persist but not win" or "desist but not lose."

Victory, as defined by the administration and its supporters - i.e., a stable and secular democracy in a unified Iraqi state, with the insurgency crushed by the American military assisted by a disciplined, U.S.-trained Iraqi national army - is unlikely. The U.S. force required to achieve it would have to be significantly larger than the present one, and the Iraqi support for a U.S.-led counterinsurgency would have to be more motivated. The current U.S. forces (soon to be reduced) are not large enough to crush the anti-American insurgency or stop the sectarian Sunni-Shiite strife. Both problems continue to percolate under an inconclusive but increasingly hated foreign occupation.

... The real choice that needs to be faced is between:

An acceptance of the complex post-Hussein Iraqi realities through a relatively prompt military disengagement - which would include a period of transitional and initially even intensified political strife as the dust settled and as authentic Iraqi majorities fashioned their own political arrangements.

An inconclusive but prolonged military occupation lasting for years while an elusive goal is pursued.
But Cheney just said it was simple. Victory or defeat.

People are, however, asking him (and the administration) to define the terms. What do the terms mean? Everyone knows? No, they don't.

We'll define them for you? Folks are understandably wary.

What's going on?

As Yul Brenner, in the role of the King of Siam in The King and I, was wont to say - "Is a puzzlement."

And how will this be spun, with carefully defined terms? From the Los Angeles Times, another scandal -
In a case that echoes the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal, two Northern California Republican congressmen used their official positions to try to stop a federal investigation of a wealthy Texas businessman who provided them with political contributions. Reps. John T. Doolittle and Richard W. Pombo joined forces with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas to oppose an investigation by federal banking regulators into the affairs of Houston millionaire Charles Hurwitz.
There's a bit of discussion here, but how will you spin this? What happened may have cost taxpayers more than a billion dollars, but what about loyalty to your friend and contributor? You block the investigation. People understand friendship and loyalty do really matter. That may not fly.

Ah, sometimes you just explain the rules don't apply to you, as in this from Ron Hutcheson and James Kuhnhenn of Knight-Ridder -
President Bush agreed with great fanfare last month to accept a ban on torture, but he later quietly reserved the right to ignore it, even as he signed it into law.

Acting from the seclusion of his Texas ranch at the start of New Year's weekend, Bush said he would interpret the new law in keeping with his expansive view of presidential power. He did it by issuing a bill-signing statement - a little-noticed device that has become a favorite tool of presidential power in the Bush White House.

In fact, Bush has used signing statements to reject, revise or put his spin on more than 500 legislative provisions. Experts say he has been far more aggressive than any previous president in using the statements to claim sweeping executive power - and not just on national security issues.

"It's nothing short of breath-taking," said Phillip Cooper, a professor of public administration at Portland State University. "In every case, the White House has interpreted presidential authority as broadly as possible, interpreted legislative authority as narrowly as possible, and pre-empted the judiciary."

... The White House says its authority stems from the Constitution, but dissenters say that view ignores the Constitution's careful balance of powers between branches of government.

"We know the textbook story of how government works. Essentially what this has done is attempt to upset that," said Christopher Kelley, a presidential scholar at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, who generally shares Bush's expansive view of executive authority. "These are directives to executive branch agencies saying that whenever something requires interpretation, you should interpret it the way the president wants you to."

... Some members of Congress from both parties also question the legal authority of presidential signing statements.

"He can say whatever he likes, I don't know if that has a whole lot of impact on the statute. Statutes are traditionally a matter of congressional intent," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In 2003, lawmakers tried to get a handle on Bush's use of signing statements by passing a Justice Department spending bill that required the department to inform Congress whenever the administration decided to ignore a legislative provision on constitutional grounds.

Bush signed the bill, but issued a statement asserting his right to ignore the notification requirement.
Ha, ha! It all depends on how you look at it.

Posted by Alan at 23:38 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 9 January 2006 10:14 PST home

Politics and Photography
Topic: Announcements

Politics and Photography

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format parent to this daily web log is now on line. This is Volume 4, Number 2, for the week of Sunday, January 8, 2006

What's there? Do we have a constitutional crisis? When can the president ignore the law? The controversy continues, as things fall apart in the Middle East with a leader removed from the game (God's will?) and there's a mine disaster here where the press makes the worst of mistakes, and then too, this was the week that strange graduate of Beverly Hills High School, Abramoff, pleads guilty to multiple felonies and starts singing, which remake congress as careers are ruined. Here we trace his odd career as a movie producer (yes, he did that). All those new odd recess appointments are considered. Aren't we supposed to get qualified people now? Michael Brown? Too, what's this with calling a major newspaper treasonous? And then, at the end of the week, they start to fall in Washington while Los Angeles gets all drôle. And too, is this the news Middle Ages (or the old)? It's all here.

Ah, Ric Erickson, "Our Man in Paris," provides some respite - Friday night music there, with photo.

Bob Patterson is back. Do we have a coronation? And too, he covers the hottest book of the week.

Photography? A special this week - four pages on the most famous Frank Lloyd Wright house in California, which may or may not survive. And there are two divertissements - what the Texans saw in Hollywood this week after the big football game, and an odd drive down Sunset Boulevard.

The quotes this week? Deception and truth are a problem, and the quotes are full of truthiness.

Note, in Links and Recommendations, the page of political sites, blogs and such, has been completely revised.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ______________________

Judging Events: Context Is Everything
Washington 90210: Alumni Note, Beverly Hills High School - Class of 1977
Perspective: Making Much of Little, Perhaps
Changes: Just when you thought you knew the players and the rules...
Press Notes: When Reporting is Treason
In All Seriousness: Late Week Catch-Up

History and Its Uses ______________________

Nomenclature: We Ourselves Are Only Temporarily Modern

The International Desk ______________________

Our Man in Paris: Music Near Alesia

Bob Patterson ______________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Letting Democracy Die By Asphyxiation
Book Wrangler: "Read All About It!" - While You Still Can

Southern California Photography ______________________

Architectural Ruins: Ennis House - Frank Lloyd Wright - Los Angeles, 1924 (four nested pages)
Sightseeing: Hollywood for Texans
On the Move: Driving Down Sunset Boulevard

Quotes for the week of January 8, 2006 - Is That True?

The revised page of political sites, blogs and such...

The mean dog guarding the Frank Lloyd Wright Ennis House in the Hollywood Hills -

Posted by Alan at 17:14 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 7 January 2006

Topic: Breaking News

In All Seriousness: Late Week Catch-Up

No news happens on Saturday. That's the day to work on assembling the Sunday edition of Just Above Sunset. But on Saturday the 7th that wasn't to be. The ongoing lobbying scandal drew blood. And it's best to resign outside the normal news cycle, as in this:

AP - DeLay Abandons Bid to Remain House Leader - "Embattled Rep. Tom DeLay the defiant face of a conservative revolution in Congress, stepped down as House majority leader on Saturday under pressure from Republicans staggered by an election-year corruption scandal."

Washington Post - DeLay Abandons Bid to Remain House Leader - "Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) today abandoned his bid to remain House majority leader, bowing to pressure from a growing number of fellow House Republicans who wanted a permanent leadership change because of his indictment on campaign finance charges."

Well, late Friday house Republicans had stared circulating a petition to call for a vote to elect a replacement for him. He fell on his spear for the Party. This business was getting out of hand.

Ass to that this - Fellow Republican: Ney likely to be indicted - "Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, is likely to be indicted in an ongoing public corruption scandal, according to a fellow Republican congressman, Jim McCrery of Louisiana. - Ney has been linked by prosecutors to Jack Abramoff."

They're staring to drop. Next week should be interesting.

Then too the New York Times reported this -
A secret Pentagon study has found that as many as 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to the upper body could have survived if they had had extra body armor. Such armor has been available since 2003, but until recently the Pentagon has largely declined to supply it to troops despite calls from the field for additional protection, according to military officials.
Everyone then picked up on the story.

A typical reaction here -
Christ almighty, if you’re going to send these people - kids, most of them - out on such a fool’s errand, at least give them a fighting chance of surviving their tour of duty. Repeal the goddamn tax cuts and buy them the basic armor they need. Or run up the deficit a little higher. Or just add on a special “armor tax” to this year’s tax return - I’ll pay it happily. Hell, I’ll throw in extra. Eighty percent might have survived. Eighty percent. Words fail me.
Yeah, and someone in the military is real unhappy, and leaking secrets to the Times. That's not good for the administration. The families of the dead may have something to say too. We'll see.

On the other hand, Forbes reports this - US Soldiers Question Use of More Armor - "US soldiers in the field were not all supportive of a Pentagon study that found improved body armor... " Mobility matters, of course. Forbes is a business magazine.

Then too, the same day there was this - the Congressional Research Service (CRS) has determined that the Bush Administration "probably" cannot claim the broad expansion of Presidential powers the President has relied on to justify the NSA intercept program -
President Bush's rationale for eavesdropping on Americans without warrants rests on questionable legal ground, and Congress does not appear to have given him the authority to order the surveillance, said a Congressional analysis released Friday.

The analysis, by the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan research arm of Congress, was the first official assessment of a question that has gripped Washington for three weeks: Did Mr. Bush act within the law when he ordered the National Security Agency, the country's most secretive spy agency, to eavesdrop on some Americans?

The report, requested by several members of Congress, reached no bottom-line conclusions on the legality of the program, in part because it said so many details remained classified. But it raised numerous doubts about the power to bypass Congress in ordering such operations, saying the legal rationale "does not seem to be as well grounded" as the administration's lawyers have argued.
That's push back. There's a train wreck coming.

There was that Rasmussen poll that showed the sixty-four percent of American has no problem with the government spying on its own citizens. But they didn't ask how anyone felt about doing that without probable cause or warrants.

Well, someone asked and the same Saturday we see the results -
A majority of Americans want the Bush administration to get court approval before eavesdropping on people inside the United States, even if those calls might involve suspected terrorists, an AP-Ipsos poll shows.

Over the past three weeks, President Bush and top aides have defended the electronic monitoring program they secretly launched shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, as a vital tool to protect the nation from al-Qaida and its affiliates.

Yet 56 percent of respondents in an AP-Ipsos poll said the government should be required to first get a court warrant to eavesdrop on the overseas calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens when those communications are believed to be tied to terrorism.

Agreeing with the White House, some 42 percent of those surveyed do not believe the court approval is necessary.
So fifty-six percent of us are cowards and traitors, who aren't sufficiently frightened?

Interesting, and this is all serious stuff.

On the other hand, if all that is too heavy for you, when LA Weekly, the pretty much mainstream alternative weekly out here, hit the newsstands on Thursday the 5th, there was much to consider in their year-end (or year-beginning) Feuilletons Sketches - Whimsies, Curios and Ephemera of All Kinds.

This stuff will clear your head.

You could think about some of Dave Shulman's Unanswered Questions of 2005 - Why is there still no pornstar named Laura Bush? When will Osama bin Laden be captured from his perch at the Texas School Book Depository? Has the Taliban formally merged with the Religious Right, or are they just dating? Why, when the Easter Bunny rises from Lincoln's Tomb on Christmas Day, does it fail to obey Santa's shadow?

Yes, one wonders, and the same link will give you Judith Lewis' Things We Learned from the Intelligent Design "Controversy"
1. Some complexity is irreducible.

2. Evolutionary theory has gaps.

3. Gaps are evidence of God.

4. Naomi Watts is evidence of God.

5. God doesn't play dice, but he does play Life.

6. God is falsifiable.

7. What's religion in Delaware is science in Kansas.

8. Thirty-eight Nobel laureates aren't as smart as the Kansas Board of Education.

9. It's quite possible that humans rode dinosaurs.

10. Any crackpot theory deserves a hearing, unless it involves spaghetti.

11. A man is like a watch: If you don't wind him up, he doesn't work right.

12. Some people spell Creationism with only two letters.
Regarding the tenth item, see The Flying Spaghetti Monster from August 28th in these pages.

Wendy Molyneux offers Happy Endings for 2005 News Stories, and two of them are on target -
The Valerie Plame Affair

When Judith Miller was released, she proudly walked onto the Senate floor and said, "Gentleman, may I present my source, the magical psychic unicorn Corinne Jones?"

The unicorn turned to the committee and said, "I have been the source of the leak all along. The name Valerie Plame came to me in one of my psychic visions. I apologize for all the trouble I've caused, but rest assured that your government is as honest as the day is long. I'd like to make it up to the American people by using my magical powers to make everyone billionaires who live in houses made of candy."

The Terri Schiavo Incident

Just as the doctors were about to disconnect Terri from her feeding tube, Terri sat up and said, quite clearly, "Stop! I'm fine!"

The doctors, amazed, looked at each other. Finally one shrugged and said what everyone was thinking: "Call the Republicans and tell them they're right. Science isn't real."

Here Tom Christie offers his Annual Anagrams. The list is long, but some stand out -
America + Iraq = CIA REAM IRAQ
Rumsfeld = DR. FLUMES
Rumsfeld + Iraq = ALFRED SQUIRM
Bush + Rumsfeld = BLUSHED SMURF
Bush + Rice = U.S. BE RICH
Katrina = ANTI ARK
Tom Cruise = MR. SO CUTIE
And there's lots more, like The Year in Useless Products, a list which includes these -
Cheetos Lip Balm In a bold era of never-ending synergy between fast-food products - LAY'S ® KC MASTERPIECE® BBQ Flavored Potato Chips, Pizza Hut Cheese Pizza Popcorn, et al. - it was just a matter of time before salty snacks and personal hygiene would join forces. Cheetos Lip Balm is out in front of that trend with, well, a lip balm that tastes like Cheetos. Delicious, dusty Cheetos. But no orange fingers or powdery mess here! One application is all it takes to bring the taste of junk food to your lips for several hours.

Liquor in a Sword Ararat5 is a brandy that comes in a unique sword-shaped bottle. Pour it into your goblet or drink it straight from the hilt. Ararat5, made by a Polish company, contains 40 percent alcohol by volume and is guaranteed to work. And what better commercial pairing than alcohol and deadly weapons?

Aromatherapy in a Bottle Purifique is the name of a new beverage claiming to be "the world's first all-natural aromatherapy energy drink." Not just for drinking, Purifique is also an olfactory experience! Purifique's "botanical infusions" are supposed to deliver "pure plant oxygen" and a compliment of aromatherapy benefits to lift your spirits, regulate your system and focus your mind.

Boob Muffs Just what it sounds like - sort of. These are not winter wear for breasts but rather regular old earmuffs shaped like boobs. This one comes from Baron Bob's Boob Bonanza, where one can also procure the more common boob mugs. It's the muffs, however, that are Thinsulate approved.
There are more. There is more. Sometimes it is good to live in La-La Land.

Posted by Alan at 17:36 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 7 January 2006 17:41 PST home

Friday, 6 January 2006

Topic: The Media

Press Notes: When Reporting is Treason

Glenn Greenwald, in his piece Hanging the Messenger, notes that since the New York Times first disclosed the unambiguous fact that President Bush ordered his administration, specifically the NSA, to eavesdrop on American citizens - or the data mining equivalent of eavesdropping on voice, email and web use - with no judicial oversight and outside of the clear and explicit FISA law, the attacks on the media by the administration and the supporters of the administration have "seriously escalated." Have they?

Well, we're talking about calling the Times and its sources "subversives" and "traitors," and openly claiming that they are guilty of treason.

But that is to be expected. That is the nature of political discourse these days.

Still, this opinion piece from the New York Post has been going around - The Gray Lady Toys With Treason -
... the paper has done more than merely try to embarrass the Bush administration these last few months.

It has published classified information - and thereby knowingly blown the covers of secret programs and agencies engaged in combating the terrorist threat.
No matter that the Times agreed to withhold specific information to prevent just that, the idea is no one was supposed to know about all this in even a general way.

As mentioned elsewhere, the "treason" idea has been discussed on Fox News and it's all over the conservative media. It's the current talking point.

Of course, a lot of this is deflection.

Were you're a bad guy, plotting nefarious deeds, you would assume the United States was doing all it could to find out about it, and they would be all over any kind of "signal traffic" available. And you would also assume they had all sorts of gee-whiz technology to do the job. Of course it would be to your advantage to assume the legal restrains on analyzing the "signal traffic" of American citizens might give you some sort of edge. But then too you'd know the administration could obtain warrants to bypass those restraints, or if not, do it anyway and fill in the paperwork within fifteen days. There's no safety there. The bad guys know.

So what was actually revealed?

The Times story was about how the administration assumed the authority to bypass the law and not seek warrants, and that makes the story not about the program. The story is about the president claiming, as he still claims, that he has the authority to break any law directly or tangentially related to the "war." It's a classic. And there's a back story too, as was implied by the Times, that the new gee-whiz technology - sifting virtually all voice and email traffic for patterns and then honing in on what looks interesting - may need some attention. Is this really a classic "fishing expedition" with no probable cause - and thus not only massively intrusive on any expectations of privacy, in a Big Brother way, and also clearly illegal - or is it something we need now to make legal given the way the world is these days, or as we are told the world is by our government?

You don't want to talk about that?

Well, you can talk about the New York Times, as Michelle Malkin does here in a general way - "So, which side is The New York Times on? Let 2005 go down as the year the Gray Lady wrapped herself permanently in a White Flag."

Greenwald notes that sort of thing, a form of political hyperbole and only meant symbolically, and differentiates it from this comment on the Times -
When I say "treason" I don't mean it in an insulting or hyperbolic way. I mean in a literal way: we need to find these 21st century Julius Rosenbergs, these modern day reincarnations of Alger Hiss, put them on trial before a jury of their peers, with defense counsel. When they are found guilty, we should then hang them by the neck until they are dead, dead, dead.

No sympathy. No mercy. Am I angry? You bet I am. But not in an explosive way. Just in the same seething way I was angry on 9/11.

These people have endangered American lives and American security. They need to be found, tried, and executed.
He cites several of these sorts of remarks. They're all over.

He doesn't cite the more scholarly assessments like this from Marc Schulman at American Future - on what the Times covered and in what manner and with what emphases. Schulman is implicitly not pleased, and clearly puzzled and amazed, but he's not calling for anyone to be strung up.

But is Greenwald right is assuming discussions of the former sort - all this talk of treason and hanging people - "have the effect, by design, of intimidating the nation's media into remaining quiet about illegal acts by the Administration?

By design? Is there a plot?

As he comments, with an Administration which throws American citizens indefinitely into military prisons without so much as charges being brought and with access to lawyers being denied, or which contemplates military attacks on unfriendly media outlets - that business about Bush wanting to bomb the Arabic television network al-Jazeera and Tony Blair talking him out of it (see this) - "isn't it just inevitable that all of this talk about treason and criminal prosecution of the Times and its sources is going to have some substantial chilling effect on reporting on the Administration's wrongdoing?"

Well, it would make one more careful.

And as he notes, none of this is new, as the same New York Times once before got their hands on classified documents, that time also about government misconduct. Think back on the Vietnam War and Nixon administration arguing publication of that classified information was criminal and endangered national security.

The Supreme Court ruled otherwise here - New York Times Co. v. The United States (the Pentagon Papers Case) 403 U.S. 713 (1971) - the Nixon administration could not prevent the Times from publishing.

From Justice Hugo Black's concurring opinion (emphasis added) -
Our Government was launched in 1789 with the adoption of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment, followed in 1791. Now, for the first time in the 182 years since the founding of the Republic, the federal courts are asked to hold that the First Amendment does not mean what it says, but rather means that the Government can halt the publication of current news of vital importance to the people of this country.

... Yet the Solicitor General argues and some members of the Court appear to agree that the general powers of the Government adopted in the original Constitution should be interpreted to limit and restrict the specific and emphatic guarantees of the Bill of Rights adopted later. I can imagine no greater perversion of history.

... In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.
Ah those were the days.


"A Republican senator on Saturday accused The New York Times of endangering American security to sell a book by waiting until the day of the terror-fighting Patriot Act reauthorization to report that the government has eavesdropped on people without court-approved warrants." - that's John Cornyn of Texas as reported here.

The president at his first press conference on the Times revelations with this -
"There is a process that goes on inside the Justice Department about leaks, and I presume that process is moving forward. My personal opinion is it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war. The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy."

Here we go again. Yes, "aiding and abetting the enemy" are the core words that define treason in the statutes. That's a threat.

Greenwald - "With a Congress that is controlled by Republicans and hopelessly passive, and with a judiciary increasingly packed with highly deferential Bush appointees, the two remaining sources which can serve as meaningful checks on Executive power are governmental whistle-blowers and journalists, which is exactly why the most vicious and intimidating attacks are now being directed towards them."

Yes, that may be true. But this too is a matter of not wanting to talk about the real issues.

Should the president have to follow the law? All laws? Are there some we can let him break? Under what circumstances? Are there others he just can't break? Who decides?

And we have new technology that can do amazing analyses of an ocean of rapidly changing data, so should there be some sort of oversight on how it's used? Or should we just trust that these folks wouldn't misuse the technology? Have they earned our trust? Have they ever misled us? Do we even have an alternative to trusting them?

Don't like those questions? Change the subject. Attack.

This stuff really raises some issues. "Yeah, well, you're brother-in-law is gay!"

Where does that get us?

Posted by Alan at 20:32 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 6 January 2006 20:38 PST home

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