Notes on how things seem to me from out here in Hollywood... As seen from Just Above Sunset
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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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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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Saturday, 18 February 2006
No Posting: Technical Issues
Topic: Photos

No Posting: Technical Issues

I am attempting to publish the weekly edition of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format parent to this daily web log. The seventeen new pages and all the photographs are ready to upload and index, but the hosting service, Earthlink, is having some major difficulties. Politics? Social commentary? Not today. Today is hours on the phone with the Earthlink help desk, but mostly on hold as they've been flooded with calls. Soon or later I'll reach a technical wizard and work this out. For now? Every computer trick I can think of.

In the meanwhile, stare at this. It says a lot about Los Angeles, a pretty cool place.

Posted by Alan at 19:59 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 17 February 2006
Wrapping Up: The Week Ends With Irony
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Wrapping Up: The Week Ends With Irony

Late Friday afternoon in Hollywood - 16 February - and a light rain falls, the first rain in more than six weeks. In the other room the television is glowering with the cable news shows, without sound. There's no point in turning off the mute. The news is all the same. The graphic on MSNBC Countdown is "The Week of the Gun." Well, it was more than that, but that's what all the talk is about, six days after the vice president shot a friend in the face in a hunting accident. Wednesday he explained himself on Fox News - he had only one beer and it was really his own fault and he feels bad. The president says he's satisfied with that and we call should be. There are niggling details - the twelve to fourteen hours that elapsed before the police spoke to him, the distances and wounds, the local police clearing anyone of anything without doing much of anything at all. But what does it matter? He may have been loopy drunk and done something stupid, but the victim recovered, even after a mild heart attack from a bit of birdshot lodged against his heart wall. Somehow a loopy, irresponsible drunk seems better than a self-righteous twit and second-rate bully who says he gave up Jack Daniels for Jesus and, cold sober, and because he says he's doing God's business, starts a war of choice for reasons that don't pan out and produce worldwide chaos - and then gives us childish platitudes that don't make sense and smirks. You want the simple-minded puritan who doesn't understand a whole lot of things and can't explain himself, but is dead sure of himself and expects our trust, or do you want the snarling, hyper-clever mean guy with the bad heart who says nothing, explains nothing, and pulls the strings of government from his "undisclosed location" with anger? That's the dynamic duo in charge. They "won" the first election and won the second. That's it. Deal with it.

But Friday, the shooting victim, Austin attorney Harry Whittington, released from the hospital in Corpus Christi (see CNN here) with one of the great ironic moments in recent American history - "My family and I are deeply sorry for all that Vice President Cheney and his family have had to go through this week." Josh Marshall here has a screen-capture of the CNN news page, with the big headline - "Shooting Victim Apologies to Vice President." One doubts CNN meant to be ironic, but Marshall says, "Let's put this headline in amber and pack it into the time capsule. Let folks know what it was like." Duncan Black here says this "will be the Rosetta stone for future historians to make sense of it all."

The dynamic duo and do no wrong. Perhaps the people of Iraq will apologize for our invasion and occupation. One never knows.

But Harry Whittington was gracious and gentlemanly. He even said some nice things about the press and joshed about the coverage a little. You have to like the guy. It was more a touch of classiness than a political thing, although the unintentional irony was thick in the air. It was one of the great "Say WHAT?" moments.

What happens with Cheney now? Friday he flew home to Wyoming where he started out in politics, as a congressman, a few years after he dropped out of Yale when his drinking got him in trouble (noted here). He addressed the state legislature on budget matters and mention it had been a long week.

It has been. Reagan speechwriter - and Republican Party "nurturing mother" - Peggy Noonan, in the Wall Street Journal had this - "Why Bush may be thinking about replacing Cheney." Seems she thinks he's become a "hate magnet" and hurts things more than helps. George doesn't need the training wheels any more? Maybe. Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean had, of course, already said Cheney should resign. Even Fox News ran some speculation on the idea.

Who'd get the job? Condoleezza Rice? Rick Santorum?

It's not going to happen. Some editorials here and there have called for it. No way. Spiro Agnew resigned because he was indicted for a few low-level felonies and pled no contest. We got clam, clumsy, well-intentioned Gerald Ford. There are no criminal charges here. It's not a parallel. The president's father was pressured to dump his vice president, Dan Quayle, but wouldn't, even after Quayle at a fundraiser for the United Negro College Fund commented on their motto "A mind is a terrible thing to waste..." with "What a waste it is to lose one's mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is."

He stays. And Matthew Yglesias here notes another reason - YOU COULD FIRE ME, BUT THEN I'D HAVE TO KILL YOU. "Bush would need to think this over, and then he'd need to realize that Cheney knows too much. Post-administration books by Paul O'Neal and Richard Clarke were bad enough; Bush couldn't possibly survive antagonizing Cheney or Don Rumsfeld and witnessing the publication of their 'insider' accounts."

Maybe, but in any event the story has run its course.

Other stories haven't - the Cartoon Wars rage on, heading into the fourth week.

Okay - you've got your right wing Dutch paper deciding to play agent-provocateur and stir the pot, to get the Muslim world to show how awful they are so the Orangemen Rush Limbaugh clones can say, "See, these folks are really awful and we're really not." True to some extent, perhaps, but the whole set-up leads to worldwide chaos, and to all sorts of free-speech types up in arms even as they too are being jerked around. Fun and games.

You've got more of the Abu Ghraib torture photographs and videos trickling out - full details here with a follow-up here - because the Cheney administration (not a typo) doesn't like releasing information unless forced to, and there are things - done in your name that you paid for with your tax dollars - you just shouldn't know. Hell, they could have released it all three years ago, taken the hit and moved on. But no, that would look bad. Keep it close to the vest. Remember it was Cheney, who, in 1974, when he was chief-of-staff to President Ford (not Agnew), persuaded Ford to veto the Freedom of Information Act. Congress overrode the veto and Crazy Dick has been pissed ever since. It doesn't take an Einstein to see how that played out this week in a micro version - like the Abu Ghraib "hold the really bad stuff back" stance, hold the details of shooting your hunting buddy back for four or five days until you have to say something. How does this seem to everyone?

These guys are nutty - they couldn't make things worse if they tried. This is a strategy that results in keeping the world outside the borders of America perpetually pissed off as details dribble out over the years, and the "true believers" inside our borders perpetually self-righteous and angry. That seems to be the idea.

You want the next piss-off-the-world thing, after the cartoons and the new release of old photos?

Try this from Thursday morning's Los Angeles Times (registration required, but free).

The short version -

In downtown Jerusalem the new Museum of Tolerance is going up on the edge of Independence Park - as the Times puts it, the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center's expansive new monument to "human dignity." They just discovered they're building this on a significant Muslim cemetery - not just the bones of the grandparents of the locals, but "associates of the prophet Muhammad" - the graves go back to the seventh century.

Issue - "Lawyers for two Muslim and human rights organizations Wednesday asked Israel's Supreme Court to block the project, which they said displays a disrespect at odds with the planned museum's mission to promote coexistence of ethnicities and religions."

The LA folks and the Israeli government are just boxing up the old bones and shoving the boxes in sheds. No big deal. No response.

A minor things of course, but it could blow up, in all sorts of ways.

Local connection - this "Center for Human Dignity, Museum of Tolerance" was designed by our own Frank Gehry (Disney Hall and the Guggenheim in Bilbao) - two museums, a library and education center, an international conference center and a performing arts theater - blue and silver titanium, steel, glass and "golden Jerusalem stone." Gehry is "the" LA architect these days, world-famous. And our governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, gave a ton of money to get this built, and was at the groundbreaking two years ago, saying the place would begin "a time when people can live together in peace and coexistence."

Anyway, some response would be nice. "We're looking into this and let's work something out." Nope. Move on. Box the bones and build the thing on schedule - we're talking tolerance here, and you're messing that up. Don't ask questions.

Get in, sit down, shut up - enjoy the ride.

On the other hand, there was some funny irony this week, as Matthew Yglesias notes here -
FREEDOM DANISH. I've seen plenty of links to this story about Iranian bakeries ditching the "danish" in favor of "Roses of the Prophet Mohammed" complete with the obligatory reference to America's own "freedom fries" incident. What I'm not sure people realize is that, in the House of Representatives at least, those fried potato thingies are still being called freedom fries. France, meanwhile, is pissed about Iran's nuclear program, so perhaps it's time to cut them a break.
Yep, France said let's cut the bullshit - Iran is working on nuclear weapons, no matter what they say, and everyone knows it. What's up with that? Well, things with Iran just get more and more tense. And the French want to deal with reality. That can be seen as role reversal, with them sounding like Bush more than three years ago. Actually, it isn't. Then and now they prefer working with reality. Very odd.

Now what?

But the Vice President did shoot that guy.

In the meantime the world as we know it is ending. Sort of. At the end of the week there was this in the Washington Post, and all over - the glaciers in Greenland are "melting into the sea twice as fast as previously believed." Big deal? Well, lots of flooding, severe storms, low-lying countries underwater, a new ice age in Europe and all the rest. We thought we had many decades before anything really bad happened. Probably not. And it may be too late to do much of anything. See this, and this study - "the kind of study that should make people stay awake at night."

Remember James Hansen, the guy from NASA that the college dropout the administration appointed tried to silence - discussed last week in these pages, "Dateline NASA" here and "Keeping Us Safe" here?
On CNN here he tells Lou Dobbs all the scientists know things are really bad, the climate changing much faster than anyone imagined, but the administration is keeping them quiet at NASA, and it's even worse at NOAA and still worse at the EPA. Get in, sit down, shut up - enjoy the ride. And remember this - Karl Rove set up a secret science advisory session for the president with the novelist who wrote the potboiler about how global warming was a hoax cooked up by the liberals. You get your science where your get your science. The president prefers the guy who wrote Jurassic Park. The scientists who don't write bestselling fiction are so boring.

But the Vice President did shoot that guy.

And now we have big-gun neoconservatives turning on the administrations, as in this preview of a Sunday blockbuster -
New York Times Magazine, February 19 -

Francis Fukuyama renounces neoconservatism in an essay on post-Iraq U.S. foreign policy and labels the contemporary core of the movement - William Kristol and Robert Kagan, et al. - as Leninist: "They believed" he writes, "that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will." Fukuyama worries that our failures in Iraq will lead to a new American isolationism and argues that in rethinking our relationship to the world, we need "ideas that retain the neoconservative belief in the universality of human rights, but without its illusions about the efficacy of American power and hegemony to bring these ends about." ...
Our failures in Iraq? Well, it has been difficult. But the idea was Leninist?

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, adds this -
You could see that Francis Fukuyama thing coming from way back - even before he came out as an opponent of the Iraqi war, but as far back as his "End of History" thing. You cannot, even ironically, find yourself singing the praises of "liberal democracy" over and over, as he did in that original article, and stay a conservative forever.
Yep, "liberal democracy" has its problems, as explained Friday, February 17th in this, what many call the "must read" item of the day. Shibley Telhami of the Brookings Institute tells us in the Washington Post that in a democratic Middle East, extreme Islamist parties are going to win power whether we like it or not, and nobody in the Middle East actually believes we're serious about democracy anyway, so Hamas wins in Palestine. We need to get used to that sort of thing happening and work with the bad guys winning -
Given this, skepticism about the real aims of these groups should be balanced by openness to the possibility that their aims once they are in power could differ from their aims as opposition groups. This requires partial engagement, patience, and a willingness to allow such new governments space and time to put their goals to the test of reality. Hamas, in fact, could provide a place for testing whether careful engagement leads to moderation.

If we are not willing to engage, there is only one alternative: to rethink the policy of accelerated electoral democracy and focus on a more incremental approach of institutional and economic reform of existing governments. There is no realistic third party that's likely to emerge anytime soon.
The idea is careful engagement. But we don't do that. We talk of cutting off all aid to the new government there - to piss them off more? That will make them recognize Israel and stop all the bombings? A long shot. And there was this - all our talking about how we were planning to work with Israel to undermine the new Hamas government and force new elections, until they elected folks we like and who like us. Then we had to deny were really planning that. Yep, "liberal democracy" has its problems.

At the Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum adds this -
Saudi Arabia's theocracy is treated with kid gloves because they have lots of oil, and Pakistan's military dictatorship is left alone because they (sort of) help us out against al-Qaeda. Egypt holds a pretend election and gets nothing more than a mild verbal rebuke. The Kurds in Iraq would like nothing more than a chance at self-determination, but that's a little too much democracy for our taste.

All of this is excusable. The Middle East is not a place that lends itself to simplistic solutions. But "democracy is on the march" is not the only way to promote democracy, especially in a region where US support is almost a sure fire way to lose an election. Telhami's "careful engagement" may not be a very punchy slogan, but in the long run, it's more likely to work.
This is not a careful administration. The Vice President did shoot that guy. And the neoconservative crusade to being Jeffersonian democracy to the region, and unregulated free-market capitalism and Wal-Mart and whatnot, in one fell swoop, and by force if necessary, seems more and more like madness. Francis Fukuyama is not alone. Just what are we doing? Drum also points to this in these Palestinian Authority elections we openly supported Fatah not Hamas. That was the kiss of death. That endorsement lost them the election.

Bring democracy in one fell swoop? Fell: FIERCE, CRUEL, TERRIBLE or SINISTER, MALEVOLENT (a fell purpose) or very destructive, DEADLY (a fell disease).

Cheney and his shotgun...

And simmering in the background, the NSA spying thing - can the president ignore the law the require warrants, based on a very loose definition probable cause, the FISA law passed by congress? Or can he ignore laws as he has this new interpretation his in-house attorneys have provided him of what the constitution really means? The House Intelligence Committee just agreed they'd better hold hearings (story here), and some of them say it's a "serious probe" and the chairman says, no, "the inquiry would be much more limited in scope, focusing on whether federal surveillance laws needed to be changed and not on the eavesdropping program itself." Which is it?

The Senate Intelligence Committee was going to hold hearings too, but that got stopped (story here) - the chairman there, Bush ally Pat Roberts of Kansas, bypassed the committee and reached a private agreement with the White House - they'd provide more information when they could. No committee vote, as in this -
After a two-hour closed-door session, Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said the committee adjourned without voting on whether to open an investigation. Instead, he and the White House confirmed that they had an agreement to give lawmakers more information on the nature of the program. The White House also has committed to make changes to the current law, according to Roberts and White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino.
Ah, a gentlemen's agreement, or as the New York Times put it - "Is there any aspect of President Bush's miserable record on intelligence that Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is not willing to excuse and help to cover up?" (Late Friday, Roberts seemed to change is mind a bit - the committee may ask some questions about all this. Maybe.)

The Senate Judiciary Committee is already holding hearings, but the White House is working to slow them down. (Story here.) When Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified before the committee on the program, covered last week in The Attorney General Smiles, he said that he was willing to have former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former Deputy Attorney General James Comey testify before the committee as well. Now he's not so sure. They have raised questions. This may not be allowed.

Get in, sit down, shut up - enjoy the ride.

Really? There's the back story of a federal personnel action last week -
CIA Chief Sacked For Opposing Torture

The CIA's top counter-terrorism official was fired last week because he opposed detaining Al-Qaeda suspects in secret prisons abroad, sending them to other countries for interrogation and using forms of torture such as "water boarding", intelligence sources have claimed. ...
You kind fins a whole lot of "minor" stories about the old hand at the CIA retiring early and quitting. Sometimes the angle is the new head, Peter Goss, wants only Bush loyalists. Some of them quit, we're told, because they know torture doesn't work and secret prisons make the spy work harder - no one wants to cooperate. But you don't stay on and actually say the whole new way of doing business is wrong and counterproductive. You don't tell your boss that he and his superiors are going down the wrong path. Get in, sit down, shut up - enjoy the ride. Or get out.

Then, at the end of the week, there was the UN call to shut down Guantánamo. (Story here - "United Nations human rights investigators called on the United States today to shut down the Guantanamo Bay camp and give detainees quick trials or release them..."

Fat chance. Friday you could see Donald Rumsfeld ripping the UN in a press briefing - they hadn't been there, they knew nothing, these are really bad people we've got there, and it's not anybody else's business. Even the CNN commentator pointed out the UN didn't visit because we said they absolutely could not talk to any prisoners at all. You're allowed to say the Secretary of Defense is being a tad "disingenuous" on air? Odd. Well, it's CNN not Fox.

The full report is here (PDF format) and has a bit to say about the force-feeding of these folk on hunger strikes, calling it a violation of human rights and of medical ethics, and "the use of interrogation techniques that go beyond what international law permits" as in The confusion with regard to authorized and unauthorized interrogation techniques is particularly alarming." Picky, picky...

At least the Brits and the Blair government will stand against us against this UN slander. Nope. Check out this - "America's idea of what is torture is not the same as ours and does not appear to coincide with that of most civilized nations." Oops. That's British High Court Judge, Justice Collins. The British High Court is highest legal authority in America's closest ally.

We're becoming a rogue nation?

So what's the problem? As the UN sees it -
- the inability of suspects to challenge their captivity before a judicial body that meets international standards, which "amounts to arbitrary detention."

- a hearing system in which the executive branch of the United States government acts as judge, prosecutor and defense counsel for detainees, which constitutes "serious violations of the right to a fair trial."

- Attempts by the United States administration to redefine torture to allow interrogation techniques "that would not be permitted under the internationally accepted definition of torture."

- Authorized interrogation techniques, particularly if used together, that "amount to degrading treatment" in violation of an international treaty banning torture.

- "The general conditions of detention, in particular the uncertainty about the length of detention and prolonged solitary confinement, amount to inhuman treatment."

- "The excessive violence used in many cases during transportation," and "force-feeding of detainees on hunger strike must be assessed as amounting to torture."
Otherwise we're quite civilized and great defenders of human rights.

You might recall Donald Rumsfeld sent Major General Geoffrey Miller to Abu Ghraib to run that place like her ran Guantánamo - to make Abu Ghraib more efficient and effective. As Miller said - "You have to treat the prisoners like dogs. If you treat them, or if they believe that they're any different than dogs, you have effectively lost control of your interrogation from the very start. So they have to earn everything they get. And it works."

There are laws that protect dogs. Do this stuff to dogs and you get arrested.

As mentioned elsewhere in these pages too, most of these folks at Guantánamo seem to not be the bad guys we're told. There's more here at the Washington Monthy - the Seton Hall study and others, with pie chart - only eleven percent of those held were capture on the battlefield, and two-thirds of them were rounded up in Pakistan and turned over to the United States, possibly in response to flyers like this distributed by the United States -
Get wealth and power beyond your dreams....You can receive millions of dollars helping the anti-Taliban forces catch al-Qaida and Taliban murders. This is enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life. Pay for livestock and doctors and school books and housing for all your people.
Great. But we can't back down now. That would look like we're fools. We're trapped.

Actually, if we said we were wrong and fixed this we might look pretty good. Admit we made mistakes and fix them. (Stop laughing.)

And Dahlia Lithwick, the legal writer, here runs down the issues of the legal status of these folks we're holding. They're not citizens (well, maybe a few) and we say they are not prisoners of war but "enemy combatants" (there's a difference?) and the place is not in America, or in a foreign country either -
Guantánamo is a not-place. It's neither America nor Cuba. It is peopled by people without names who face no charges. Non-people facing non-trials to defend non-charges are not a story. They are a headache. No wonder the prisoners went on hunger strikes. Not-eating, ironically enough, is the only way they could try to become real to us.
Now what?

Andrew Sullivan reprints this letter from a veteran -
When I saw the pictures from Abu Ghraib (and Gitmo?) my eyes filled up and I began to weep slowly. For my country. Americans don't do things like this! (Yes, I remember My Lai but when it was revealed, the country was shocked and outraged.) I was born in the presidency of FDR and my uncles and cousins fought in the European and Pacific theaters. Enemy soldiers, when they surrendered, wanted to surrender to the Americans because Americans didn't mistreat prisoners. The Japanese were particularly hated because of their well-known ill-treatment of prisoners.

I grew to manhood during the height of the Cold War and the doctrine of MAD. I never saw combat (too young for Korea, too old for Vietnam) but I did serve for 3 years as an Intelligence officer in a strategic airborne unit. America was widely respected, with all our faults and stumbling steps, as "a shining city on a hill". When we betray our national ideals for the stated purpose of defending them, we lose the moral high ground.

I remember when Bill Buckley started National Review and when Barry Goldwater, an intelligent, thoughtful man, ran for the Presidency. Ronald Reagan, (whom, I confess, I consider a so-so President) was a decent, honorable man who understood that bullets and bombs are not enough to "win" a war.

Question for you, Andrew: when did intellectual conservatism morph into an apologia for trickery, torture, and theocracy?
That would be January 2000.

Try this -
So here's how the world works. The US media keeps the country in the dark about things everybody else in the world knows, then Americans, in their ignorance, vote for people who promise to do things that make no sense whatever, except in the context of their own (understandably) confused notions about what might make sense. Take for instance, this invasion of Iraq, which to be fair, was never really that popular, but was always far more popular than it should have been. Because people were deliberately misinformed on its relative level of popularity by the Bush administration and by Fox News (See the survey by the Program on Policy Attitudes if you doubt this.), they have a hard time understanding why in the world everybody hates us, and think it's because of "our freedoms" rather than because, say, we pretend to liberate people but we actually torture them.
Ah, another bitter liberal. Bush won the election, at least the second one.

What about deeply conservative George F. Will in the Washington Post, not on the UN issue but herecalling out the administration for saying the FISA law doesn't apply to them, nor any law they think cramps their style when fighting the war on terror. He pretty much says this is nonsense. He likes the constitution. And the Friday commentary on the right says he's not really a conservative. So much for his thirty-year career. It's beyond irony.

As they say, get in, sit down, shut up - enjoy the ride. Or get out.

The opposition party, the Democrats, will do next to nothing. The economics are against a third party, and things have been redistricted anyway, and there are those "no paper trail" voting machines made by just two companies run by Bush fundraisers.

Now what? Just words.

Posted by Alan at 23:06 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 17 February 2006 23:18 PST home

Thursday, 16 February 2006
A Taste of Hollywood at Oscar Time
Topic: Photos

At Taste of Hollywood at Oscar Time

Not politics today.

The seventy-eighth Academy Awards will be presented on Sunday, March 5, 2006 - at the Kodak Theatre at the Hollywood and Highland Center. That's just a mile or two east, so for those of you who follow such things, here's the scene there Thursday, February 16th, sixteen days before the event, as preparations begin, and the tourists mill about. You'll also find photos from a side trip a few miles west to a fine old movie palace in Westwood Village, just south of the UCLA campus.

The album of fifty shots is here - A Taste of Hollywood at Oscar Time


Big Fake Oscar in the Courtyard next to the Kodak Theater, Hollywood and Highland

A few steps away, history - the Hollywood Museum in the old Max Factor Building -

The best old movie theater - Fox, Westwood Village

Posted by Alan at 23:53 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 19 February 2006 08:13 PST home

Wednesday, 15 February 2006
What's Important: You Don't Know Dick
Topic: The Media

What's Important: You Don't Know Dick

The intention of these "current events" reviews, trying to sift the real news from the sham news - stuff that doesn't matter much to anyone (news for the nosy and easily amused) - with commentary. It's an attempt to find out what's going on that may make a difference in this sorry world. Of course, secondarily it's always amazing to see what matters to people - last year the Michael Jackson trial and the missing girl in Aruba, this year the gay cowboys and, at present, the fellow who seems to have murdered his wife and child and fled to England (he's on his way back to face charges). Thus it's a sort of anti-journalism, as mainstream American corporate journalism has settled into a joust for market share and a guessing game - what will keep the "news consumer reading, listening or watching long enough for them to tolerate the advertising that pays for it all? There is a niche market for "serious news" - those big stories about who we are and where the country is heading. But it really is a niche market. For the most part those who market the news know what big swaths of the public what to know, and the sensational is not "sham" to that massive demographic. One big story Wednesday, February 15, was this - Willie Nelson Releases A Song About Gay Cowboys. It's what people want to know. That's the service they provide. This is a service to the elitist niche market.

Of sometimes the "serious" melds with the mainstream news. Constitution law and international law, the issues underlying the NSA spying business and most everything to do with the war and how we conduct it - torture or enhanced interrogation for example - may be arcane and dreary to "big target" demographic, and New Orleans wiped out and the Muslim furor over the Dutch cartoons maybe be just old news now. But when perhaps the prime architect of the Iraq war, and the driving force behind all administration policy, the Vice President, shoots a man with a shotgun, the two join in an odd way.

Mid-week, Wednesday, February 15th, that was the news, most all of it, in the domestic media. That was the day, four full days after the hunting accident, the Vice President broke his silence and decided to explain himself, to one reporter, Brit Hume, on one network, Fox. Otherwise he's saying nothing.

That's juicy - the man is strange in so many ways - but not exactly "serious" policy stuff that will get us in or out of this war or those to come in Iran and Syria and wherever else, and it doesn't have a whit to do with the current claim the administration has the inherent right to ignore quite explicit laws and disregard court decisions, and can conduct warrantless wire taps on citizens, ignore treaties and recent statutes regarding torture and that sort of thing, and disregard court decisions about arresting citizen without charges and holding them incommunicado for years on end without any right to challenge the arrest in any way. But for the nosy and easily amused the man had a beer (just one he says) and shot an old guy, then said nothing for four days. Good stuff. Great story.

Important? The Just Above Sunset email group wrestled with that.

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, from Paris, said this -
If you ask me I would say the United States has gotten hysterical.

Guy out hunting shoots another hunter. It's a really stupid thing to do, either shoot or get shot, but it happens all the time. Ask the NRA.

So the shooter is the Vice President of the United States, Nothing sinister in it.

If there was they could have said the other guy got shot cleaning his gun. If Cheney wanted the guy offed he could have made a phone call.

This is another Michael Jackson story. It is part of the 'stuff' of the United States; the 'stuff' that doesn't mean much, except to the 'news' industry and all of its satellites. It's this week's missing bride story.

Isn't there some other more serious, urgent business? Lies, robbery, bribes, corruption, deception, torture, kidnapping, war, death.

What's a cure for hysteria?
Well, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, disagrees, and he was one of the folks who started CNN twenty-five years ago - back when CNN did news and didn't dump "news guys" for "warm personalities: like Anderson Cooper. Rick sees this as "serious" news -
Okay, yeah, it's hysteria, just like all the other "stuff" in this country - American "stuff" like leftist hysteria about the Iraqi war, and right-wing hysteria about 9/11, loud complaints about huge budget deficits fueled by huge tax cuts that benefit rich Republicans and the cutting of Democratic programs most Americans think we need, public hysteria about the government acting like a hurricane that wipes out New Orleans is just a local problem, state and local school boards chipping away at the wall between church and state, conservatives railroading justices onto the highest court in hopes they will eventually do what most Americans want them not to do, and worries from both sides of the aisle that our president truly believes he can ignore the Constitution he swore an oath to uphold and defend.

So other than the obligatory jokes, why does anyone have reason to care about this veep shooting thing?

First of all, it does say something about the way these people mishandle our public business. Rather than feeling a responsibility to keep the American public informed, they had meetings and decided to leave getting the word out up to the property owner (a lobbyist, by the way - isn't it always the case that these people turn over their responsibilities to lobbyists?) - so if this Armstrong woman had decided to keep this whole thing to herself, would any of us ever even have heard about it? And doesn't that matter?

Maybe in Europe, this is played as Americans thinking Cheney might really have been trying to off the guy, but that's not what people here think. In this country, a large number of citizens think they have a right to know what the political leadership is up to, and right now, they're wondering why the leadership seems to think it's none of our business.

Second of all, imagine if Al Gore had done this ten years ago, and the White House trying to keep it quiet. With the Republicans holding Congress? No question about it, he would have been impeached! Not that that matters so much, but it does help put this all in perspective.

This whole thing is about feeling helpless within a democracy. The group in power is so arrogant that it doesn't care what the opposition thinks, knowing full well that the people who voted them into power are too stupid to care about anything other than Michael Jackson and runaway brides.

Although folks living in Europe never can be convinced of this, their perspective about what goes on over here is always a bit out of kilter. I remember vacationing in the UK during the early days of Watergate and reading in the tabloids that it was just a matter of days before mobs would be invading White House grounds to eject Nixon from office, something that dismayed them because they couldn't understand what all that anti-Nixon hysteria was about, especially since it appeared to be a totally sexless scandal, unlike their scandals usually involving photos of some Chancellor of the Exchequer patronizing the same call girl that once had relations with a Soviet Ambassador, prompting the whole cabinet to resign and the queen to ask someone or other to form a new government. Now THAT'S a proper scandal, to be sure!

So you think this whole thing is just a concern of the "news business and its satellites"? Then so be it. Somebody's got to give a shit about what goes on in the halls of power, even if American voters don't.
Then Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, sent a second email to the group -
Having just re-read this after having sent it, it certainly sounds much harsher than I meant it to sound. I'm not really that angry at all.

I was just expressing a difference of opinion with you, Ric, so please, don't come gunning for me. Thanks.
The reply from Paris? This -
But wait! You do sound angry with these louts. Let it out.

Everybody except the crazies is too polite. Besides, I haven't any BB's.

Compared to the United States' other problems a couple of Repubs shooting each other is pretty small spuds. But you are right - they can't even get this straight. So Cheney was bombed with a loaded gun - let a lobbyist take care of it! It's how all business in the United States is handled these days. It's not something new, like a runaway bride.

Here, in Froglando, the incident got its 30 seconds' worth on TV Tuesday. That's it, no more, all done. There was the New York snow pile to report. And fires - isn't LA burning again? [Editor's Note: No, not today.]

The French were sending an old aircraft carrier to India to get rid of it. Before, they were supposed to take all the asbestos out of it. But there's lots left in, says Greenpeace, and now the Indian Supreme Court says, hmmmm? Today France decides to give up and recall the wretched thing, but it's got to go by way of Good Hope because the Egyptians don't want it going through Suez again. Anybody could see this coming, but it'll take the navy three months to drag the thing back - and then? And then there'll be a big fight about it being too dangerous to take apart in France, in Europe, in the whole world. You know what TV-news showed us? The Americans took their aircraft carrier, USS America, out to some nice deep place lost in the middle of the ocean owned by the whole world, and pulled its plug. Glug, glug, no more 80,000-ton carrier full of asbestos. Can do!

European perspective about what is going on in America is slightly out-of-kilter because the United States is slightly out-of-kilter. French hunters shoot each other all the time. An unwritten rule here is, don't go in the woods from September until February unless you are crazy. It's too dangerous. Worse - 'they' won't even tell us how many hunters get bumped off every year. Statistics, if any, about innocent dead civilians are just thrown away.

So, you see, getting shot while hunting is as easy as breathing.

That the Vice President does it too just proves that it's a popular pastime on both sides of the Atlantic.
Well, you can read about that old French aircraft carrier full of asbestos here - Chirac Orders Return of Ship Over Asbestos Concerns (New York Times) but the conflict is clear. It the "Vice President Cheney Shoots Man and Says Nothing for Four Days" an important story? And, if it is, why is it important?

Out here in Hollywood late in the afternoon you could watch Tony Blankley, the pleasant fellow in charge of the Op-Ed page of Reverend Moon's hyper-Republican Washington Times and a Fox News mainstay. He had the new line - this is a non-story, it's no big deal. He was on a panel on Chris Matthews' Hardball on MSNBC with Byron York of the conservative National Review, who was actually amazed at that idea. Blankley trotted out the concept that the whole thing was in the news because the Washington reporters, the White House press contingent, got scooped by a tiny Texas paper, felt the White House was mocking them, and they were angry and jealous, so they were making a big deal about what was really nothing. That concept (would-be meme) has been bouncing around on the right side of the web for a few days. Right now it's just a talking point, and hasn't snowballed into a meme. In any event, York and Matthews looked dumfounded. They may not agree with all that
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, said above, but they seemed to agree with a large part of it.

How about a counter-meme, one from the land of tin-foil hats? There's this - something about the big confession (or whatever it was) about the shooting, this hunting accident, is too convenient. The administration knew this bad week was coming - the nasty hearings on this and that that would make them look very bad, the cartoon wars raging, Iraq still and mess and the Iran bomb thing getting even more tense - and the Abu Ghraib torture photos. Good day for Cheney to drop by Fox News and chat with Brit. Keep the rubes for attending to the other stuff. (Not advanced - was the shooting itself planned as a distraction for all the hits the administration was taking and those that might come? That's too far out.)

But what got short shrift was this - Senate Republicans Criticize Rice on Iraq. Yes, while the nation wanted to know if Vice President Cheney would say, yes, he shot the guy while buzzed on Jack Daniels and his heart medications (he did have two drunken driving arrests many years ago, here), Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was facing a bunch of Republican Senators asking here what was going on, as Iraq was is chaos and thing were getting worse and not better. Photos show her looking angry and defensive.

This would have been big news on another day. Not this day. Cheney looked a tad sad and thoughtful on Fox News, mellow and contemplative.

The very same day Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff faced another group of senators, who wanted to go over the just-released nearly six hundred page report on how the response to Hurricane Katrina was so messed up. The report explicitly said he and the president were "disengaged" (putting it kindly), and pretty much asleep at the switch and ignoring the incoming facts on the ground, and people dies because of their incompetence. They weren't prepared, and then reacted stupidly. Reuters covered the report itself here. ABC covered the basics of the hearing here - it was nasty. Chertoff said they did do some good things but yes, they messed up badly, and said he takes responsibility, and he will fix things.

This would have been big news on another day. Not this day. Cheney looked a tad sad and thoughtful on Fox News, mellow and contemplative. (And Fox News covered the hearing with this - Everybody and Kitchen Sink Faulted for Katrina Response - as they thought everyone misinterpreted what was in the report and said in the hearing - both really showed everyone messed up and the feds did fine, considering.)

Would this be news on another day? UN Urges Haiti Poll 'Fraud' Probe - we arranged that the previously elected ruler there was removed, and urged elections to bring "democracy" (better outcome), and that's falling apart. Not news this day.

Go southeast a few hundred miles. Iran Open To Helping Venezuela Nuclear Program. What? The game Iran is playing these days just got local. This is a major in-your-face challenge. How will we react? Would this be news on another day?

ABC chose the day for this - airing tapes of Saddam Hussein himself back in the mid-nineties saying some terrorists were sure to attack America but they'd obviously not be associated with any state. It was inevitable. Interesting. Would this be news on another day?

Would this - Vice President Cheney won't say a word about the CIA leak scandal because now it seems he will actually be called as a witness in the trial of Scooter Libby? The VP will take the stand? My, my. At least the trial has been postponed until after the fall elections. This will be hot, but not cost seats in the senate or house.

What about this? Congress back in 1978 passed the FISA law to specify the precise conditions under which the executive branch could secretly wiretap and generally spy on American citizen in America, and amended it in 1995 or so, and again with the first version of the Patriot Act. You can do that. Just get a warrant. We'll make it easy. The president ignores the law and says no law congress applies to him if he thinks what's he's doing is in any way related to terrorism. They can pass anything they'd like. He can decide to ignore it. And even the Republicans in the senate call him out - the Senate Intelligence Committee calls for hearings on the whole NSA business. Explain yourself, sir! While Dick is chatting with Brit in the shadows on Fox News, the American Bar Association, across party lines, announces that, damn it, you have to get warrants - that's the law. (See this.) And the Washington Post reports this - the White House, led by Rove and Cheney, will soon get the Senate to cancel the hearings and effectively admit the president has the authority to ignore whatever laws they pass he judges tiresome and inappropriate. That changes the nature of our government. After two hundred and thirty years things change suddenly. But the story is a sidebar.

Is this news? No one was shot. 325,000 Names on Terrorism List - "The National Counterterrorism Center maintains a central repository of 325,000 names of international terrorism suspects or people who allegedly aid them, a number that has more than quadrupled since the fall of 2003, according to counterterrorism officials." That's a lot of names, and a four-fold increase means what? The war has created four times the number of terrorists in the last three years? Things are worse? Or are they better - our intelligence efforts are finally paying off and we know more? Or did they just add Americans who don't care much for what the president has down in the last three years? Hard to tell.

Oh well, while the Vice President was reliving his personal agony on Fox News the world was attending to this -
New images showing Iraqis abused by U.S. guards at Abu Ghraib prison three years ago threatened Wednesday to enflame public anger already running high over footage of British soldiers beating youths in southern Iraq.

Images of naked prisoners, some bloodied and lying on the floor, were taken about the same time as earlier photos that triggered a worldwide scandal and led to military trials and prison sentences for several lower-ranking American soldiers.

Many of the pictures broadcast Wednesday by Australia's Special Broadcasting Service, including some that appear to show corpses, were more graphic than those previously published. One of the video clips depicted a group of naked men with bags over their heads standing together and masturbating. The network said they were forced to participate.
This is trouble, and our reaction is to say someone should do something about all these leaks, as reported here - these could "further inflame and cause unnecessary violence" and we already took care of the low-level people who did this stuff, so everything is fine now. Excpet the rest of the would snickers when we say such things. This would be a big story another day.

There's complete review of the situation here with links to all the photos. They aren't new. They're part of the original batch but withheld as they were too rough. The ACLU has been fighting to get them released, with the idea we should know what really happened. That's still in litigation. The world gets more dangerous.

And the Cartoon Wars rage on, the third week - Three Killed in Massive Cartoon Protests.

The odd thing is that whole matter has been discussed in these pages, but Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, where nothing has been said, has received these two messages -
It is a very sorrowful and painful incident that cartoon has been published in the western newspapers without caring the dignity of holy prophet of God. This is a serious matter. Such bad and criminal act cannot be tolerated. Such a criminal and vulgar act can destroy the harmony and peace of world. Those who dared to draw and publish such cartoons must be punished. Doing such will not only satisfy the Muslims but the criminals will also be taught a lesson. No law of the world allows doing such. The holy prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) was a man who led his life very cleanly. He is a true prophet of God who preached to worship only one God. His attitudes are exemplary for the mankind in every field of life. He gave the mankind the lessons of justice, respect, tolerance, peace and human dignity. During his life he conveyed the message of God and never harmed any one. Then why European newspapers tried to publish such cartoons. If the criminals were not punished it will only show that Europeans does not have any rule of human dignity and going to put an end the harmony and peace of world.

Islamabad, PAKISTAN February 15, 2006
Note: Convey my aspirations to your public and government

Mr. Editor,

Important Matter Of Respect For Holy Prophets

Yes making cartoon is not a crime but making such like insulting cartoons about holy prophet is a crime and vulgar action. The editors of Jyllans Posten have committed a crime. So the must be punished. They have hurt millions of Muslims of the world. Will they like to make such like insulting cartoon about their beloved leader? I want to ask you what will be your feelings and expressions if some one may dare to draw and publish such like cartoon about Holy Jesus or Holy Christ. Will not you denounce it? We being Muslims strongly condemn such like vulgar and criminal action. Being Muslim we believe that all the prophets of God are most respectable and sacred personalities. It is the part of our faith.

There must be a respect for these holy and sacred personalities such as prophets.

Islamabad, PAKISTAN February 15, 2006

Note: Convey my and Muslims' aspirations to your public and government by publishing my mail. Thanks
Done, for what it's worth.

On the other hand, considering the real news today - "Look! Something bright and sparkly! - if you want to deal with the hunting accident,
this is good, Bruce Reed at SLATE.COM

He gets off some good lines -
Even in his darkest hour, Vice President Cheney must have taken some perverse pleasure in watching the press corps whine for two days that the White House withheld information. The more reporters complain about secrecy, the more Cheney must be thinking, "Stop Me Before I Shoot Again."

But after Republican leaders put a gun to his head, the vice president couldn't hide out any longer, and agreed to be interviewed by Brit Hume for this evening. Tonight on Fox: "I Shot the Lawyer, But I Did Not Shoot the Deputy."
The main idea is Cheney is just following the crisis management guidelines the president established during Katrina: Blame everyone else for three days, and if that doesn't work, agree to take the fall. "Bush and Cheney have kept that campaign promise about ushering in 'the responsibility era'; they just forgot to mention the tape delay."

Sigh. Well, it is the news story of the day, and somehow emblematic.



The rivalry between the networks for what is the news story of the day produces some neat stuff, like this exchange on the CNN Crossfire show - Wolf Blitzer host, Jack Cafferty commentator and resident curmudgeon. From Media Matters, what was said -
BLITZER: First of all, Jack, what did you make of Dick Cheney's interview today?

CAFFERTY: Well, I obviously didn't see it 'cause it hasn't been released in its entirety yet, but I - I would guess it didn't exactly represent a profile in courage for the vice president to wander over there to the F-word network for a sit down with Brit Hume. I mean, that's a little like Bonnie interviewing Clyde, ain't it? I mean, where was the news conference? Where was the - where was the access to all of the members of the media? I don't know. You know? Whatever.

BLITZER: You still think he needs to do a full-scale news conference in front of all of the cameras, all of the reporters, and ask whatever they want?

CAFFERTY: That's never going to happen. But, I mean, running over there to the Fox network to - I mean that's - talk about seeking a safe haven. He's not going to get any high, hard ones from anybody at the F-word network. I think we know that.
Jack Cafferty is onto something here. It was carefully managed.

And this has been cited in the pages before -
Vice President Cheney endorsed the Fox News Channel during a conference call last night with tens of thousands of Republicans who were gathered across the country to celebrate a National Party for the President Day organized by the Bush-Cheney campaign.

Fox News styles its coverage as "fair and balanced," but it has a heavy stable of conservative commentators that makes it a favorite around the White House. It is unusual for a president or vice president to single out a commercial enterprise for public praise.

The comment came as Cheney took questions from supporters at 5,245 parties that were held in 50 states to energize grass-roots volunteers building a precinct-by-precinct army for President Bush's campaign.

"It's easy to complain about the press - I've been doing it for a good part of my career," Cheney said. "It's part of what goes with a free society. What I do is try to focus upon those elements of the press that I think do an effective job and try to be accurate in their portrayal of events. For example, I end up spending a lot of time watching Fox News, because they're more accurate in my experience, in those events that I'm personally involved in, than many of the other outlets."
Where do you go for news?

Posted by Alan at 22:34 PST | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 15 February 2006 22:36 PST home

Tuesday, 14 February 2006
Who Says What: Silence from the Shooter, Big Noise from the Amateurs
Topic: Dissent

Who Says What: Silence from the Shooter, Big Noise from the Amateurs

As time passed, by Tuesday, February 14th - Valentines Day - it was clear the major story filling the press and spawning a thousand commentaries was still what happened three days earlier, the hunting accident where the Vice President shot a seventy-eight-year-old Austin attorney. This was the day it got more serious, when the Austin attorney was rushed back into intensive care after a "silent heart attack" - not caused by stress or age, but by irritation from a bird shot pellet lodged near his heart. Watching the news you could see, at their press conference, the attending doctors downplaying this is as manageable and not that big a deal, or see various medical folks on the talks shows saying, no, this was serious. On Chris Matthew's MSNBC political show, Hardball, he found someone to say this was a big story (David Shrum, for the Democrats) and someone had some explaining to do (the Vice President), and someone from the right saying this is a bad business, but essentially a private matter and the nation should move on. The Vice President doesn't much care to answer to anyone - never apologize, never explain - as was clear from the start of his first term, where he and the leaders of the oil and energy companies met behind closed doors and developed the nation's energy policy. Who was there and what was said is still secret. He's kind of like that. What he does is nobody's business but his own.

But if this man with the irritated heart dies, he may not be able to maintain that "I don't have to tell anyone anything" position.

A quick look here (the media clips site "Crooks and Liars") gives the state of play at the end of the day - "It's been three days now and Dick Cheney has not publicly apologized for shooting a seventy-eight-year-old man in the face. With the President's approval ratings at thirty-nine when the incident happened, even Chris Matthews noted that at this rate Bush will be in the twenties by next week." And yes, at the White House daily press briefing, Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan was cracking jokes about the shooting (here, even though he himself knew about the heart attack). It just hadn't made it into the press yet. Bizarre. And who knows what to make of this - "The sheriff's office has acknowledged that they weren't allowed to talk to Cheney for fifteen hours after the accident, but now ranch owner Katharine Armstrong has told MSNBC that people in the party were drinking (though the comment was later scrubbed from the website)."

Is something up with that? It's hard to tell, but there's a pointer to this - "ABC News just reported that White House spokesman Scott McClellan laughed today during his noon press briefing, and told the media it was 'time to move on' to other matters than the shooting, we now know that McClellan already knew that Whittington had suffered a heart attack and was now back in intensive care. Yet McClellan refused to answer reporters' questions and tried to trivialize the issue."

This just gets stranger. Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, in an email to Hollywood quotes an account of Cheney's brief and enigmatic statement regarding the heart attack - "The vice president said that his thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Whittington and his family."

Ric's comment - "He should say he's sorry instead."

Not likely. As Byron York notes over at the conservative National Review (here) -
So far, the vice president seems determined not to make any public statement about the hunting accident. Spokeswoman McBride points out that Cheney has a previously-scheduled speaking engagement this Friday, at the Wyoming state legislature. It seems likely that he would at least mention it then. But as far as today, tomorrow, or Thursday goes, there seems, at the moment at least, to be no plan to have Cheney say anything.
As Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly notes of all this in a post titled Darth Cheney -
This is just flat out insane. What on earth is he thinking?

... This is now way beyond bizarre. Does the White House think that reinforcing the VP's "Darth Cheney" image is helpful in some way? That it's better if the world thinks he's callous and insensitive? Or what?
More than a few have speculated that, yes, this may be the thinking. It's a good-cop bad-cop hustle. Cheney is decisive, strong, and owes no one anything. And he's a tad mean. That leaves George Bush to seem compassionate by comparison. Cute. All bases are covered.

And that makes this from administration critic Andrew Sullivan seem whiney, childish, and stupid -
Just a word, if I may. You are employed by the American people. You are not a monarch; and you are not a Pope. You have seriously wounded another human being. The news was kept from the public for a day. The man is in intensive care. There are many serious questions about the incident: How did it happen? What happened immediately thereafter? Why the decision to keep it secret for so long? The least the American people deserve is your own account in public in front of the press corps. Who are you hiding from? And who on earth do you think you are?
Well, who is Andrew Sullivan? Cheney chose himself for the job and gets things done. He sets policy and pulls the strings. Of course it's his presidency, not that of the figurehead-cipher who knows little and can't be bothered with detail and mangles the language because he has no idea what he's saying. This is the face of real power, and when you have real power you don't have to explain anything.

There is a certain logic at play here. Those who buy into the fear of the bad guys they're selling, who want a strong daddy figure, will eat this up, or putting it sarcastically, there's this at "Wonkette" -
Dick Cheney is a badass, and we love him. He's like America's abusive father - we're terrified of him, we hide under our beds when we smell whiskey on his breath, but we crave his attention. We need him to tell us we've been good. We have a sick admiration for him that we'll be describing to our therapists for years.

Do Vice Presidents have term limits? Can he please be our Vice President-for-life?

We shudder just thinking that we were almost stuck with that pretty-boy Edwards.
And so it goes.

How do we break out of this madness?

The media may be useless here. They have become either cheerleaders for the odd couple in the White House (Fox and talk radio) or have been stunned and frightened into just reporting he-said she-said accusations and counteraccusations, and calling it balance. The facts don't matter any longer. Someone reports the president walks on water and turn water into wine, and you report that and hunt down someone with the opposite point of view (didn't and can't happen), and sit them down for a chat, but you don't take sides. That wouldn't be objective. Kerry was a coward and the medals from the Vietnam War awarded in some vast plot. Hillary Clinton is "angry," and thus unwomanly and this unfit to be president. Report it. Dig up someone who disagrees. Stand back. But don't ever, ever say "but that cannot be true." You'd be biased.

Where do you go for some sense? You could spend your day reading the press on the net, seeing how the same story is reported sixteen different ways, and do some tables and diagrams, and plot out what's really what. Who has the time for that?

Funny thing - some people will do it for you. Peter Daou here suggests that there's a whole bunch of citizen-journalist researchers on the web doing just that - several dozen major political or news web logs, tens of thousands of minor ones, and more than twenty-seven million web logs all told. His comments are on the major progressive "netroots" sites, the kind that were the driving force behind the Howard Dean presidential campaign.

First he cites Digby over at Hullabaloo saying this in Dispatches From The Fever Swamp -
I know that without us there would have been virtually no critical voices during the long period between 2001 and the presidential primary campaign during 2003. We were it. The media were overt, enthusiastic Bush boosters for well over two years and created an environment in which Democratic dissent (never welcome) was non-existent to the average American viewer. In fact, it took Bush's approval rating falling to below 40% before they would admit that he was in trouble.

I believe that if it had not been for the constant underground drumbeat from the fever swamps over the past five years, when the incompetence, malfeasance and corruption finally hit critical mass last summer with the bad news from Iraq, oil prices and Katrina, Bush would not have sunk as precipitously as he did and stayed there. It literally took two catastrophes of epic proportions to break the media from its narrative of Bush's powerful leadership. And this after two extremely close elections - and the lack of any WMD in Iraq.
Well, someone had to say something when the press was under pressure to be "patriotic" and all that. And Daou himself has said this -
I have written before about this and made it clear that I do not wish to destroy the mainstream media. I do not believe that this country can do without a credible press. But after waiting in vain for more than a decade for the press to shake off its torpor and exert its prerogatives as the fourth estate, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that our (and their) only hope was to join the fray and pull as hard as we can on the opposite end of the rope.

I see that the press does not know what to make of this. And I see that many Joementum Democrats don't get it either. They remain convinced that the country will wake up one day and see that our arguments are superior. They are wrong. This political era will be remembered for its brutal partisanship and sophisticated media manipulation in a 50/50 political environment. Democrats have been at a huge disadvantage because of the Republican message infrastructure and the strange servility of the mainstream press. So, we are pushing back with the one tough, aggressive partisan communication tool we have: the blogosphere.

The mainstream press is going to have to get used to us because we aren't going anywhere... It's a new day. We angry denizens of the fever swamps have emerged from the slime to fight back. We couldn't wait any longer for the professionals to get the job done. At the rate they're going we'd be extinct within the decade.
So it's the age of the amateurs, doing what the professionals won't do? Something like that.

But he does note the other side of what is called "the blogosphere" - the conservative amateurs.

What are they up to? He quotes Glenn Greenwald here on the "Cult of Bush" - the "legions of Bush apologists masquerading as conservative bloggers" -
The blind faith placed in the Federal Government, and particularly in our Commander-in-Chief, by the contemporary "conservative" is the very opposite of all that which conservatism has stood for for the last four decades. The anti-government ethos espoused by Barry Goldwater and even Ronald Reagan is wholly unrecognizable in Bush followers, who - at least thus far - have discovered no limits on the powers that ought to be vested in George Bush to enable him to do good on behalf of all of us.

And in that regard, people like Michelle Malkin, John Hinderaker, Jonah Goldberg and Hugh Hewitt are not conservatives. They are authoritarian cultists. Their allegiance is not to any principles of government but to strong authority through a single leader...

And as excessive as the Bush Administration's measures have been thus far - they overtly advocate the right to use war powers against American citizens on American soil even if Congress bans such measures by law - I am quite certain that people like John Hinderaker, Jonah Goldberg and Jeff Goldstein, to name just a few, are prepared to support far, far more extreme measures than the ones which have been revealed thus far. And while I would not say this for Jeff or perhaps of Jonah, I believe quite firmly that there are no limits - none - that Hinderaker (or Malkin or Hewitt) would have in enthusiastically supporting George Bush no matter how extreme were the measures which he pursued...

If it now places one "on the Left" to oppose unrestrained power and invasiveness asserted by the Federal Government along with lawlessness on the part of our highest government officials, so be it. The rage-based reverence for The President as Commander-in-Chief - and the creepy, blind faith vested in his goodness - is not a movement I recognize as being political, conservative or even American.

The attempt to marginalize progressive bloggers as part of an angry, unwashed, irrational mob is in full swing, but truth-telling has a self-sustaining power. Bloggers will continue to cut through the fabricated storylines, providing clarity, sanity, honesty, and an abiding loyalty to the Constitution and to the principles our country is founded upon.

History will look kindly on them.
Truth-telling has a self-sustaining power? Perhaps that is wishful thinking, but those amateurs who cover events, the press, who said what and what seems to be the underlying facts, are up to something.

But the deck is stacked. As Media Matters reports here -If It's Sunday, It's Conservative: An analysis of the Sunday talk show guests on ABC, CBS, and NBC, 1997-2005 - dry stuff, with tables. But then, as we went to war, and as we were at war, something curious was going on, and Kevin Drum notes here -
One of the things they note is that although 23% of senators voted against the Iraq war resolution, only 11% of the senators who appeared on the Sunday shows before the invasion were anti-war. Why did the anti-war side get shunned so badly by the talk shows?

I suspect the chart [at the link] contains the answer. Aside from documenting the insane love affair that Sunday hosts have with John McCain, it shows that eight of the ten most popular Sunday talkers were senators and every single one of them voted for the war resolution. The reason that anti-war senators didn't get much air time was just simple laziness: the talk show bookers kept booking their favorites regardless of what was happening in the outside world and regardless of whether that meant they were shortchanging their viewers. They were on autopilot.
Yeah, well, something thinks that's crap, one of the citizen-journalist researchers on the web, Tristero, here (emphases added) -
Laziness doesn't explain why George Stephanopoulos failed to mention on the proceeding Sunday show in February that millions of people in the United States marched the day before to oppose Bush's insane plans for war. Oh, he mentioned Europe but not a word about the US marches. That's right, Kevin: Stephanopoulos failed to mention what was almost certainly the largest US demonstration in history the day after it happened. That wasn't laziness. And it's not laziness that the February and March '03 marches been all but eliminated from the official memories of 2002/2003. (Except to bring up ANSWER's involvement in organizing them and dismiss all those millions of mothers, fathers, and kids as green-haired goofballs.)

Kevin, I read somewhere that at least one of the networks began planning a year before the invasion to cover it (I'll try to look it up if you don't believe me). Meanwhile the voices opposed to war - and there were millions - were systematically excluded. Think about it. "Fuck, Saddam. We're taking him out," Bush joked (ha ha) a year before. It was in no one's interest in the media to include serious dissent to rush to war. Not only on Sunday bloviations, but throughout the week, the token representatives of opposition to Bush that were permitted on the major shows were ridiculed and smeared. Hey remember Scott Ritter, that shrill, hysterical, obnoxious guy who seemed slightly crazed? Laziness doesn't explain why Ritter's personal problems suddenly followed him whenever he confidently asserted that Saddam couldn't possibly have WMD - problems that, while no doubt truly ugly, didn't in any way disqualify his expertise. Remember when a liberal meant Michael Moore and only Michael Moore, a comic filmmaker who voted for Nader? The genuine major voices opposed to war weren't permitted anywhere near an effective microphone, but they were known. When Jessica Mathews of Carnegie Endowment - as sober an American as one could ask for and certainly known within the media - started to make a convincing case on NPR that democracy by invasion was a crazy pipe dream, even that relatively unimportant network was too big. William Kristol personally called up and horned in on her time with ludicrous assertions designed to prevent the conversation from touching upon the substantive issues at stake.

Hey, do you remember the Turkey angle, Kevin? Boy, I do. By that time, I was trying full time to understand why my country had gone insane. In the months before invasion, the press in the US was reporting a "coalition" attack - i.e. US - from Turkey was a done deal. But I smelled a rat. I asked friends for translations of articles overseas, including from Turkey. My, my what a different picture one got of that done deal! We were lied to and laziness doesn't explain that. It couldn't possibly happen given some 95% of the country was opposed to the US invading from Turkey. We were lied to. The press lied to the American people.

That is the truth. Oh yes, the press was, and is lazy. In booking guests on Sunday or reporting the news from Turkey. But that was hardly what uniquely characterized 2002/2003. What happened was that the press became an active collaborator in the single worst decision ever made by a United States president. Ever. A decision my nine-year-old daughter will have to endure the consequences of, in ways large and small, every day for the rest of her life.

Laziness excluded anti-war voices on Sunday shows? After what we've all seen of the Bush/Cheney obsession with information control? Laziness? Please, Kevin. You're smarter than that. And you know you're smarter than that, as your half-hearted attempt to make nice all-but-concedes.

Before Bush/Iraq, it may have seemed cleverly political - cute - to take your tack, to not blame the press but ever so gently suggest they are getting bored with the same tired faces. It lets them save face after all and accomplishes the same thing. But after Bush/Iraq, it's gonna take a lot more than kind gentle suggestion to make sure that the US press never, ever deliberately abandons its gadfly role out of fear of retaliation from any presidency whose lust for power and control is well-nigh psychotic. As the current presidency is. And was particularly successful at enforcing in the prelude to disaster... sorry, I meant the war.

It's going to take an angry, assertive polis fully prepared to take on the establishment press and hold both its lazy foot AND its sycophantic foot to the fire. And do whatever it takes - even if it leads to resignations and reorganizations - to ensure the American people get the information it must have to govern itself.

Laziness. Yeah, right.
But, but... the press is supposed to play gadfly? The days of Mencken reporting on the Scopes trial are long gone. The press - the news media - are owned by a handful of major corporations - George Stephanopoulos' Sunday morning show, "This Week," airs on ABC, a division of Disney, for example. Russert and Mathews are on NBC, ultimately owned by General Electric. CNN is AOL Time-Warner. CBS is Viacom. This is not gadfly territory. The bottom line doesn't permit that.

The gadflies are elsewhere. They're just not in the press anymore. One example is this - Al Gore goes to Saudi Arabia and says we haven't been very nice to Arab-Americans recently (here), and there's a lively discussion of treason. Gladly versus gadfly. This is where the actions is. The press is elsewhere.

Cheney's silence? The mainstream press will be polite, and puzzled. The amateurs will figure it out.


Supplemental Reading:

The Nation - posted February 8, 2006 (February 27, 2006 issue) - A Letter to the American Left - Bernard-Henri Lévy, translated from the original French by Charlotte Mandell -
Nothing made a more lasting impression during my journey through America than the semi-comatose state in which I found the American left.

I know, of course, that the term "left" does not have the same meaning and ramifications here that it does in France.

And I cannot count how many times I was told there has never been an authentic "left" in the United States, in the European sense.

But at the end of the day, my progressive friends, you may coin ideas in whichever way you like. The fact is: You do have a right. This right, in large part thanks to its neoconservative battalion, has brought about an ideological transformation that is both substantial and striking.

And the fact is that nothing remotely like it has taken shape on the other side - to the contrary, through the looking glass of the American "left" lies a desert of sorts, a deafening silence, a cosmic ideological void that, for a reader of Whitman or Thoreau, is thoroughly enigmatic...
He wasn't surfing the net.


Image: Corporate News, as seen from the Hollywood Hills, looking North -

Posted by Alan at 22:32 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 15 February 2006 06:10 PST home

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