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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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Tuesday, 21 February 2006
Disconnected Thinking: Any Port in a Storm
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Disconnected Thinking: Any Port in a Storm

Actually, this is getting pathological in some odd way. The business with the Vice President and how he handled the hunting accident was odd enough. Newsweek picked up on that weirdness with a long and new cover story here (the magazine cover shows him in hunting gear with his shotgun with big yellow letters - "Cheney's Secret World") -
Dick Cheney has never been your normal politician. He has never seemed as eager to please, as needy for votes and approval and headlines as, say, Bill Clinton. Cheney can seem taciturn, self-contained, a little gloomy; in recent years, his manner has been not just unwelcoming but stand-offish. This is not to say, however, that he is entirely modest and self-effacing, or that he does not crave power as much as or more than any office-seeker. This, after all, is a man who, in conducting a search for George W. Bush's vice president, picked himself. Indeed, since 9/11, Cheney has struck a pose more familiar to readers of Greek tragedies than the daily Hotline. At times, he appears to be the lonely leader, brooding in his tent, knowing that doom may be inevitable, but that the battle must be fought, and that glory can be eternal.

... What happened to the genial, gently amusing Dick Cheney of the 2000 vice presidential debate? After he and Al Gore's running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman, exchanged good-humored quips, more than a few voters wondered why the tickets couldn't be flipped - allowing a couple of affable, common-sensical Washington hands to run for president instead of Bush and Gore, who at times seemed like the wounded sons of great political dynasties, groaning under the burden of expectation. Cheney, the conservative that moderates once seemed to like, has strangely iced over in recent years. Even his old friends sometimes wonder if he has not grown angrier, more suspicious, even paranoid. Last fall, Brent Scowcroft, national-security adviser in the George H. W. Bush administration, caused a stir by telling The New Yorker magazine, "I consider Cheney a good friend - I've known him for thirty years. But Dick Cheney I don't know anymore."
The misunderstood hero of a Greek tragedy brooding in his tent? Washington as the dusty plains of Troy? Oh my. But think about Achilles' inner torment as he sits inside his tent brooding, refusing to join the fight raging outside over a grudge with his king, Agamemnon. It's something like that - think of Cheney staying away for almost a week last fall as people died in the flooded streets of New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast. He was fishing in Wyoming or Montana or some such place. Let the king deal with the mess - let him drown in the anger of the masses stirred up by the likes of Anderson Cooper. Then he finally flies down to New Orleans to make a speech or two for the king, grudgingly - and some wag in the audience shouts at him to go fuck himself, just as Cheney had hissed at the senator from Maine on the Senate floor. It's not exactly Homer, but it will do.

This was very odd. But now the king himself on this fine Tuesday was doing that Greek hubris thing, big time, as Cheney is wont to say. Tuesday, February 21st, as folks got back to work after the long President's Day weekend, the president dug in his heels and had not just the usual critics berating him, but his own party wondering just what he was thinking when he approved a company controlled by the United Arab Emirates, specifically Dubai, to run the major commercial operations at ports in Baltimore, Miami, New Jersey, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia. And then, as the protests were swelling and seemed unanimous, the president said if the Republican-controlled congress tried to stop this with any sort of legislation he'd use his veto for the very first time, even if it seemed (as it does) there are enough hypothetical votes to override this hypothetical veto. What's up with that? And it seemed as Tuesday drew to a close, the only one outside the administration's inner circle who had no problem with this was ex-president Jimmy "Killer Rabbit" Carter. And that just drove the wingnuts - the Rush Limbaugh "dittoheads" and Bill O'Reilly fans and the rest - up the wall. Jimmy Carter? The ironies were compounding exponentially.

Just what is going on? Like we need mad Homeric characters running things now?

To be fair, this is a business matter. Commercial operations at those six ports had been run just fine by a British company, Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation - and they were just purchased by Dubai Ports World, a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates. Such things happen. And renewing the contract was reviewed by Treasury Department's Committee on Foreign Investment in the US - eleven folks from various agencies meeting in closed session. They decided there was no problem, even though the CEO of Dubai Ports World reports directly to the Crown Prince of Dubai (and seems to be some sort of prince himself). This is not a private company.

In addition? Just some notes -
- The UAE was one of three countries in the world to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

- The UAE has been a key transfer point for illegal shipments of nuclear components to Iran, North Korea and Lybia.

- According to the FBI, money was transferred to the 9/11 hijackers through the UAE banking system.

- After 9/11, the Treasury Department reported that the UAE was not cooperating in efforts to track down Osama Bin Laden's bank accounts.
But they're our allies now of course, where we offload troops and supplies and stage operations. Things change.

Snow's committee said there were no security issues now. The Homeland Security head, Chertoff, was all over the talk shows saying that too, and you can believe him - he may have screwed up things with the response to Hurricane Katrina, but he said he'd do better next time, and he did finally force out Michael Brown from his post as head of FEMA.

One can be sure these wouldn't endanger us.

But then there were these notes in a New York paper -
The Dubai firm that won Bush administration backing to run six U.S. ports has at least two ties to the White House.

One is Treasury Secretary John Snow, whose department heads the federal panel that signed off on the $6.8 billion sale of an English company to government-owned Dubai Ports World - giving it control of Manhattan's cruise ship terminal and Newark's container port.

Snow was chairman of the CSX rail firm that sold its own international port operations to DP World for $1.15 billion in 2004, the year after Snow left for President Bush's cabinet.

The other connection is David Sanborn, who runs DP World's European and Latin American operations and who was tapped by Bush last month to head the U.S. Maritime Administration.
They've worked with and for Dubai Ports World, so they must know something. Yes, it looks mighty suspicious, but you have to trust you government., it seems.

And since forty percent of or military supplies bound for Iraq and Afghanistan move through these ports the guys at the Pentagon must be okay with this. Not exactly, as noted here - "In a press briefing today, Secretary Rumsfeld revealed that he was not consulted about the decision to transfer operations of six key U.S. ports to the United Arab Emirates, a country with troubling ties to international terrorism." It goes on to note the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military leader, General Pace, was a tad puzzled. No one asked him. So the civilian leader of the military and his unformed counterpart were somewhat surprised.

The congress was more surprised - Frist to Offer Bill Halting U.S. Port Deal. Yes, the Republican leader of the Senate, the good Doctor Bill "Diagnose at a Distance" Frist (MD), wants a bill to stop this, maybe not entirely, but long enough for a bit more consideration.

There are too those pesky Republican governors -
The Republican governors of New York and Maryland on Monday joined the growing chorus of criticism of an Arab company's takeover of operations at six major American ports. Both raised the threat of legal action to void contracts at ports in New York City and Baltimore.

"I have directed the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to explore all legal options that may be available to them in regards to this transaction," Gov. George E. Pataki of New York said in a statement.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Maryland told reporters that he had "a lot of discretion" and was considering his options, including voiding the contract.
But then who will run the ports? The British company exited the business.

And here you'll find some transcription from what was said on the air, as with Suzanne Malveaux, the CNN White House reporter, reporting on the President's public statements -
He would veto any legislation to hold up this deal and warned that the United States was sending mixed signals by going after a company from the Middle East when they said nothing when a British company was in charge. He goes on to say that it is the lawmakers - members of Congress - that have to step up and explain why a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard. He also took issue with a reporter's question aboard the plane saying what is the - kind of the politics of all of this - and he says that this is not a political issue.

Clearly, Tony, we've all been waiting to see what the President was going to do, what he would say, and how he was going to come out on this issue. He has spoken very strongly aboard Air Force One essentially saying he would veto any legislation that would put that deal on hold.
And there's Ed Henry reporting house leader Dennis Hastert had issued a "strongly worded" letter encouraging the President to back away from the port deal.
Even as the President is now declaring that he wants this port deal to go through and that he would veto any legislation the Congress passes to try to block the deal, CNN has also just learned that the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, a key Republican ally of the President, of course, has just fired off a letter to the President saying he should halt the port deal. He's saying he should also "conduct a more thorough review of the matter before it goes forward." Hastert is also warning that he might introduce legislation if the President does not follow through on that.

This letter almost directly mirrors... what Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist sent to the President earlier today. A prepared statement - not a letter - a prepared statement telling the President - complaining - that there had been very little Congressional consultation in this whole process. Also complaining about the potential security ramifications of having this Dubai company actually take over the operations of US ports. Senator Frist had also basically said it's time to halt this deal otherwise he will introduce legislation. This is coming after rank and file Republicans all up and down the East Coast of the United States, in port cities from New York to Florida, today and in recent days calling for the deal to be halted.

And finally, Republican senator Susan Collins today, Chair of the Homeland Security Committee, she's saying she'll introduce a resolution of disapproval of this whole port deal. That's another problem and headache for this White House.

And finally, Senator Chuck Grassley, key Republican - Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee - just within the last hour put out a statement blasting this entire deal. You see the President digging in, but Republicans on Capitol Hill really pushing back hard. This is a tremendous political headache for the White House.
So it would seem. So why do it?

Well, there may be reason to do it. And Dubai Ports World may be the only good alternative. The question is, then, why handle it this way? Why no heads-up to key people and no consultation? After all the business staring with "oops no WMD" through the "we'll do better next time and we really did our best" Hurricane Katrina business, though "yeah, the vice president shot someone in the face but it's no big deal" silliness, this is not the time to say "trust us" one more time.

There's also a transcription from the CNN Crossfire show, where the curmudgeon Jack Cafferty plays off the host stultifying but earnest host Wolf Blitzer with the question of the day (where viewers send email) -
Wolf, this may be the straw that finally breaks the camel's back, this deal to sell control of six US ports to a company controlled by the United Arab Emirates. There are now actually Senators and Congressmen and Governors and Mayors telling the White House "you're not gonna do this." And it's about time. No one has said "no" to this administration on anything that matters in a very long time. Well this matters. It matters a lot. If this deal is allowed to go through, we deserve whatever we get. A country with ties to terrorists will have a presence at six critical doorways to our country. And if anyone thinks that the terrorists, in time, won't figure out how to exploit that, then we're all done. Nothing's happened yet, mind you, but if our elected representatives don't do everything in their power to stop this thing, each of us should vow to work tirelessly to see that they are removed from public office. We're at a crossroads - which way will we choose?

Here's the question: What should be done to stop a deal that would allow an Arab company to run US Ports?
Later in the show, the second question -
It doesn't matter if I'm convinced. There's 300 million people in this country that have a vote in this and it matters whether they're convinced. Based on the emails I'm reading this afternoon, they're a long way from being convinced.

When President Bush threatened to veto he said "I want those who are questioning this to step up explain why all of a sudden a middle eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company."

How about these:

- The United Arab Emirates, which owns the company that would be operating these ports, served as both an operational and financial base for several of the 9/11 hijackers who murdered 3,000 innocent people in this country on 9/11.
- Want some more? The United Arab Emirates served as a transfer point for shipments of smuggled nuclear components that were sent to Iran, North Korea and Libya by a Pakistani scientist.
- Great Britain, on the other hand, has been an ally of the United States against people like terrorists and dictators for more than 200 years.

Here's the question: Should a company from the United Arab Emirates be held to a different standard than a company from Britain when it comes to controlling US ports?
You can watch the streaming video of this here, and imagine the responses.

Is it possible the president, or more precisely, his advisors, thought this would be just fine with folks? The Republican House, the Republican Senate, the Republican Governors up in arms? And only Jimmy Carter siding with the administration?

What could be the reason this was handled this way, setting aside psychopathology (narcissism of the "I can do anything" sort)?

The president, or more precisely, his advisors, could have assumed that, given the polling by issue, in the basement on everything from the economy to Iraq, still rates the president fairly highly on his commitment to fighting terrorism. A big chunk of the public is just fine with secret warrantless wiretaps on all citizens, as the world is full of evil people out to kill us all and they've done nothing wrong. Like the Congresswoman from Cincinnati, Jean Schmidt, they feel it would be just fine to suspend the constitution - these are far more dangerous times than when the Soviets had thousands of nukes aimed at us, ready to launch. These guys have box-cutters! And the oceans don't protect us any more. (Yes, the Soviet ICBM warheads would be stopped by the vastness of the oceans, of course, and in the War of 1812 the British could not cross the Atlantic and burn the White House to the ground, even if the history books say that happened. Whatever.) The idea seemed to be that "national security" was the one remaining area where the president got a free ride - he didn't have to explain anything to anyone. He could do what he wanted. People trusted him, not those "weak on terror" Democrats.

Guess not. You learn some lessons the hard way. He just threw away his trump card.

And there's this - Mr. President, Stop Port Sale Now Or Lose Congress. Is he trying to do that?

Of course the president has his rejoinder -
I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British [sic] company. I'm trying to conduct foreign policy now by saying to people of the world, we'll treat you fairly. And after careful scrutiny, we believe this deal is a legitimate deal that will not jeopardize the security of the country, and at the same time, send that signal that we're willing to treat people fairly.
"Great British?" The man has a way with words.

But everyone knows this Middle Eastern company is not the same as the departed British company. Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation (P&O) was a private firm, and the new owners are a foreign government, only recently friendly to us, and some have doubts about that. But he does have a point. Opposing this could be seen in the Middle East as an indication Americans don't trust Arabs of any sort, or Muslims in general, be they Arab, Persian or Kurds or Turkman or whatever.

But this wasn't initially presented as a diplomatic effort to say "we trust you" to the Arab world. This argument is presented as an afterthought. He's saying if you oppose this you're racist and undiplomatic. And that's a bit rich. We launched an elective war that has that whole region in chaos, and Iran itching for nukes, and budding anti-American government forming in the nation we invaded and occupy.

Oppose this port thing and they'll suddenly think we're the bad guys? It's a little late for that. People here, and there, aren't stupid.

Is this just arrogance, or the miscalculation of an administration so isolated from what people now think that they're in some alternative universe? Stir up mindless fear for four years and then say that, by the way, the good folks from the government of Dubai will handle operations at our key ports - and they think folks won't run into the streets tearing their hair and rending their garments? That's not exactly what's happening, but the mid-term elections are soon and its hard for any congressman or senator up for reelection to ask voters to turn on a dime, and after having been carefully conditioned for four years to fear "the other" and be willing to give up privacy and that constitutional stuff, say, well, if George Bush says this is a good thing it must be. The conditioning worked too well. Oops.

Maybe it's just a power thing - no need to tell the Pentagon or consult with congress. They don't matter anymore. We have a "unified executive" in time of war, or something like war but not declared.

You can see what could happen. Congress passes a law firmly saying "no" to this, then the president vetoes it, then the congress overrides the veto, then the president signs it into law, saying he wanted the "no" all along, then he attaches a signing statement saying he will follow the law but reserves the right to ignore it if it has anything to do with the war on terror, as he has his "plenary powers" as commander-in-chief and no one can interfere with his war-waging decisions. No congress, no court. Kind of like the McCain amendment banning torture. Fine idea. Talk to the hand.

But even his stanch supporters are having trouble with this one. The nomination of the frumpy and dim-witted Harriet Myers to the Supreme Court has them up in arms. That was a joke - nominating an unqualified friend. The pro-life big-business evangelic right waited all those long years for her? After maybe twelve hours of if-GWB-says-she's-wonderful-maybe-she-might-be tolerance, they turned. She was excoriated and the nomination withdrawn.

This is worse. Now John Podhoretz at the National Review is saying this about the port deal - "It's possible that this event is George Bush's Bitburg."

Bitburg? You remember Bitburg. President Ronald Reagan laying a wreath on the tomb of the Nazi SS death squad soldiers, letting the Germans know that we were morally amnesic even if they weren't, or something. The SS weren't that bad? Who knows what he was thinking? He got a little fuzzy there toward the end. But what were his advisors thinking? Someone planned that. Bad idea.

People aren't stupid. That. Harriet Myers. This.

Achilles pouts in his tent. King Agamemnon is mad. The dust blows across the plains of Troy and the war continues. Homer is a giggle - the Iliad is first rate.

We do this all again.

Notes on things people notice -

Back on February 8th in They're Laughing at Us there's a section marked "It's Your Fault If You Took Us Seriously" -
As you recall, in the most recent State of the Union address, among other things, the president said we were "addicted to oil" and that had to end. Reduce the importation of oil from the Middle East by seventy percent in the coming decades! Switch to ethanol made from cellulose - from woodchips and magic switchgrass! Pull out all the stops! To the research labs!

The Saudis weren't happy and within twelve hours the Secretary of Energy was saying, well, the president was speaking metaphorically, and the switch away from oil was only offered as "an example" - as the president only meant to say reusable sources of energy were generally a pretty thing.

So how metaphorically was he speaking?

Everyone seems to be noting this - the National Renewable Energy Laboratory - the Department of Energy's "primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research" - is downsizing. Budget problems. They're laying off thirty-two people, eight of them research staff. The budget has been cut again.

He was speaking metaphorically.

And no one was supposed to notice this detail. But with hungry reporters and pesky bloggers on the net, things get noticed.

And Tuesday, February 21st, there's this, a small Associated Press item noted in the Washington Post. Bush visited the lab - the National Renewable Energy Laboratory - and before he arrived those thirty-two people had been rehired. Someone found the funding late last week. Bush said, well, sometimes dreadful things happen in the appropriating process. But it was unintentional. The administration really meant to fully fund the lab. Stuff happens.

In the same post there was a section marked "Employment Opportunity" - the feds had a job posting for an "Assistant Civil Liberties Protection Officer." - for "the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in ensuring that the protection of civil liberties and privacy is appropriately incorporated in the policies and procedures developed for and implemented by the ODNI and the elements of the intelligence community (IC) within the National Intelligence Program, and in performing other statutory and assigned duties." You see, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 created the position of civil liberties protection officer within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The president signed the act into law in December 2004, but he didn't name anyone to fill that post until December 2005. The job application closes on the 28th, so hurry, or don't/

Why note? Tuesday, February 21st the Los Angeles Times reports this - the group was formed but no one ever met.

Who lead this phantom board? Ah -
The board chairwoman is Carol E. Dinkins, a Houston lawyer who was a Justice Department official in the Reagan administration. A longtime friend of the Bush family, she was the treasurer of George W. Bush's first campaign for governor of Texas, in 1994, and co-chair of Lawyers for Bush-Cheney, which recruited Republican lawyers to handle legal battles after the November 2004 election.

Dinkins, a longtime partner in the Houston law firm of Vinson & Elkins, where Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales once was a partner, has specialized in defending oil and gas companies in environmental lawsuits.
Yep, they're laughing at us.

Then there's this - a sergeant major just home from Iraq is denied entrance to a George Bush rally and threatened with arrest because he's brought a couple of his students with him - and one of the students has a John Kerry sticker on his wallet. They scare his wife, then ask him over and over if he supports the president. He won't answer. They want to cuff him, and he asks them if they really want to do that to a guy who led troop in battle in Iraq. They back off, but toss the students out. Now he's running for congress as a Democrat. Why would that be?

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, in an email noted this from the New York Times -
Mr. Bush expanded on his defense of the program in Tampa, Fla., on Friday, saying he believed that he had to take extraordinary steps in a time of war.

"Unfortunately, we're having this discussion," he said of the debate over wiretapping. "It's too bad, because guess who listens to the discussion: the enemy."

He added: "The enemy is adjusting..."
Ric comments -
The enemy is the only one listening? Adjusting? He means who? Them? Us? Both? 'We' equal 'enemy?'

It's not cute, this attempt to blame us - for his mistakes.

Unfortunately we are having this discussion, because of one man - GW Bush. He should have thought about the 'enemy' before he set out on this course of warrantless searches.

Does the 'enemy' get satisfaction from the discussion? Probably. GW Bush can thank himself for it. He can take all the credit.
Yep, people aren't stupid. Ric's right.

And they might notice this - a mad dash by the government to classify tens of thousands of documents, moist of them previously published and available to all. Need a secret government and to make the past disappear. This kind of bugs the historians. But then, history is what one says it is. It's a bit Soviet, isn't it? Well, everything changed after 9/11 of course. And too there's this - career diplomats bailing from the State Department as political appointees are brought in to keep them in line and make them think right. File the wrong set of facts from a foreign capital and your career is gone. You may have the facts right, but they aren't welcome. A Soviet view of facts, but it keeps people focused on... something.

And so it goes.

Posted by Alan at 23:18 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 21 February 2006 23:40 PST home

Monday, 20 February 2006
No Posting Today
Topic: Announcements

No Posting Today

Technical difficulties preclude posting today, but posting will resume tomorrow here.

This is related to the weekly magazine-format parent to this daily web log, Just Above Sunset. There will be no issue this week - the site is being completely redesigned. The site has grown to the limit that the "build software" will allow. It's impossible to add another page or image. Over the next several weeks the site will be converted to a new format using new software, a complex task that will take some time. Whatever happened in the world today happened without comment here, as technical issues consumed all the hours of the day.

For those of you who visit Just Above Sunset for the photography, there is a new web log just for that, with links to all the photo albums and the Just Above Sunset photography pages, with a photograph or two from Hollywood each day - Just Above Sunset Photography. That should be fully operational in an hour or two.

Bt the way, if you wish to browse last week's issue of Just Above Sunset and browse the archives or use the search function, it works just fine. It just cannot be expanded any further at this point.

Posted by Alan at 20:29 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Sunday, 19 February 2006
Quotes for The Week of the Gun
Topic: In these times...

Quotes for The Week of the Gun

For your amusement, useful and pithy observations -
Sometimes accidents happen in life from which we have need of a little madness to extricate ourselves successfully. - François de la Rochefoucauld

There are no accidents without intentions. - Alex Miller

The Act of God designation on all insurance policies; which means, roughly, that you cannot be insured for the accidents that are most likely to happen to you. - Alan Coren

EEYORE: I'm not saying there won't be an Accident now, mind you. They're funny things, Accidents. You never have them till you're having them. - Alan Alexander Milne, Winnie the Pooh

Accidents will occur in the best-regulated families. - Charles Dickens

I don't believe in accidents. There are only encounters in history. There are no accidents. - Pablo Picasso

It is very strange, and very melancholy, that the paucity of human pleasures should persuade us ever to call hunting one of them. - Samuel Johnson

When you have shot one bird flying you have shot all birds flying. They are all different and they fly in different ways but the sensation is the same and the last one is as good as the first. - Ernest Hemingway

One knows so well the popular idea of health. The English country gentleman galloping after a fox - the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable. - Oscar Wilde

Whenever I see a photograph of some sportsman grinning over his kill, I am always impressed by the striking moral and esthetic superiority of the dead animal to the live one. - Edward Abbey, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

One of my favorite clothing patterns is camouflage. Because when you're in the woods it makes you blend in. But when you're not it does just the opposite. It's like "Hey, there's an asshole." - Beefullo Demetri Martin

Until he extends the circle of compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace. - Albert Schweitzer, The Philosophy of Civilization

As long as people will shed the blood of innocent creatures there can be no peace, no liberty, no harmony between people. Slaughter and justice cannot dwell together. - Isaac Bashevis Singer

The fate of animals is of greater importance to me than the fear of appearing ridiculous; it is indissolubly connected with the fate of man. - Emile Zola

America... just a nation of two hundred million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable. - Hunter S. Thompson

The world may be divided into people that read, people that write, people that think, and fox-hunters. - William Shenstone
Enough said.

Posted by Alan at 08:24 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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

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