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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, 7 March 2006
Reading the Tea Leaves
Topic: Reality-Based Woes

Reading the Tea Leaves

Reading tea leaves? The lateral outgrowths from a plant stem that are typically a flattened, expanded, variably-shaped greenish organ, constituting a unit of the foliage, and functioning primarily in food manufacture by photosynthesis? No, no. Political tea leaves (or the alternative, leafs) - as of late in the day, Tuesday, the seventh day of March of this odd year.

So how's the struggle going, the one between the president and his administration on one side of the issues, and, on the other side, the congress, the courts, the American people (according to all the polling on most all national issues)? Who is likely to come out on top?

Late in the day the USA Patriot Act was renewed, finally. A win for this president. The Associated Press has the story here, but say the whole business was a cliffhanger (odd term). But it passed, "extending a centerpiece of the war on terrorism at President Bush's urging after months of political combat over the balance between privacy rights and the pursuit of potential terrorists."

It breezed through the House and that's that - but earlier there was a Senate filibuster that forced the guys in the White House to accept some "curbs."


Now, if you get a court-approved subpoena for information in some sort of terrorist investigation you have the right to challenge the earlier requirement that you must not tell anyone anything about any of what's going on. So you can tell your wife you're worried.

And now there's no longer a requirement that "an individual provide the FBI with the name of a lawyer consulted about a National Security Letter, which is a demand for records issued by investigators." So if you seek legal advice you don't have to explain it to the feds and identify your lawyer, so the feds can go after him or her. Hey, anyone, even a public defender, who represents someone suspected of terrorism is probably a terrorist too, right? That assumption was removed.

And the library thing was straightened out - librarians don't have to provide the feds with records of who reads what and tell no one they have given the feds a record of what you like to read. They can just be librarians, not secret agents.

The White House is unhappy with the changes, but they'll take this as a win, just four days before the whole USA Patriot Act was to have expired in a puff of smoke and the smell of cordite.

And the changes are minor. The rest stands - "federal officials can still obtain 'tangible items' like business records, including those from libraries and bookstores, for foreign intelligence and international terrorism investigations."

They just have to do it the old fashioned way, without enlisting librarians as informers and without harassing attorneys asked to look into things.

And they still have their "national security letters" directing employers, banks, credit card companies, and other such entities to turn over their records when asked, and the USA Patriot still prohibits those who must turn over these records from revealing they have done so to the "subject" of the probe. You'll never know. That's still in there. There's word that a whole bunch of these "national security letters" have been ordered for reporters who have written about the NSA thing or the secret prisons we run for people we have made non-people. But that can't be confirmed. No one is allowed to say anything about it.

It's a win for the White House side.

Of course it's not a "clean bill" - it has these new restrictions on selling over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines. You see, if you buy enough of that stuff you can actually use it to manufacture methamphetamines. Don't want that. It may have nothing to do with terrorism, but it's in there. And there's a maritime thing in there too, to impose "strict punishment on crew members who impede or mislead law enforcement officers trying to board their ships." Whatever. But then too there's nothing in there about opening up the Alaska wildlife refuges to oiling drilling, and no funds for the new NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte or for pocket parks in downtown Indianapolis. Close enough.

So late in the day the White House got a win, and they got a loss - White House Effort to Block Challenge to Ports Deal Collapses (Washington Post, dated March 8) -
Efforts by the White House to hold off legislation challenging a Dubai-owned company's acquisition of operations at six major U.S. ports collapsed yesterday when House Republican leaders agreed to allow a vote next week that could kill the deal.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) will attach legislation to block the port deal today to a must-pass emergency spending bill funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A House vote on the measure next week will set up a direct confrontation with President Bush, who sternly vowed to veto any bill delaying or stopping Dubai Ports World's purchase of London-based Peninsular & Oriental Steamship Co.
No, not that Jerry Lewis, the puffy old comedian the French used to like for some reason. This guy's a Republican from out this way. And he and the rest of the Republicans in the House of Representatives just told the president what he could do with this Dubai World Ports deal. He can stuff it. They'll stop it.

House Majority Leader John Boehner, the fellow who got Tom DeLay's job - "Listen, this is a very big political problem." Yep, he just wants the whole thing to go away. Speaker of the House, the former high school wrestling coach Dennis Hastert, is standing also standing behind this other Jerry Lewis. No deal. Former Bush-is-God types Duncan Hunter and Peter King are quoted as being outraged by the whole idea of a company owned but the United Arab Emirates operating out key ports.

This not a win. The White House will need to spin this quite a bit to say it is. And they sort of do
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said last night that the administration is "committed to keeping open and sincere lines of communication with Congress." She added, though, that "the president's position is unchanged."
Translation? "Gee, what interesting thoughts, and we appreciate them, but these interesting thoughts, and the people who think such interesting thoughts, don't mean a thing - the deal will go down - but we appreciate the heartfelt sincerity, as pointless as it is."

Not a win.

But the same day there was another win (details here) - Pat Roberts' Senate Intelligence Committee voted not to investigate any of that NSA spying on Americans without warrants stuff. The senator from Kansas met with the White House and decided that wasn't necessary. They could just form a subcommittee for "oversight" of this apparently illegal eavesdropping program. That'd do.

It looked like there might be an investigation. Senator Jay Rockefeller proposed one. He got key folks from the other side to agree - like Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine. Pat went to the White House and came back saying it was a bad idea. And Snowe, after publicly saying hold the investigation, changed her mind. The committee voted to bag it, and her vote tipped it. Rockefeller is quoted as saying the committee is basically under the control of the White House - "It's an unprecedented bout of political pressure form the White House."

Really. That's what winning is about. They don't want anyone looking into this. Roberts is their man. Snowe knows Rove is dangerous. And a win is a win.

Of course there's another committee that will hold investigations. That's Arlen Spector's Senate Judiciary Committee. Spector, a Republican from Pennsylvania, isn't as pliant as Roberts. He thinks something smells here. We'll see if he visits the White House and sees the light.

Does the president have to obey the clear-as-day and quite specific law? He's says no, he has an exemption, Article II of the Constitution no one can question any battlefield decision he makes as commander-in-chief in wartime, or something like wartime. And this was a battlefield decision. That's just the way it is. And your telephone calls and emails are out there on the battlefield.

And the news is part of the battlefield too, as in this -
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld today presented an upbeat report of the conflict in Iraq and said he agrees with the commander of the U.S.-led coalition, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., that the news media has exaggerated the number of civilian casualties in the conflict...

"We do know, of course, that al-Qaeda has media committees. We do know that they teach people exactly how to try to manipulate the media. They do this regularly. We see the intelligence that reports on their meetings. Now I can't take a string and tie it to a news report and then trace it back to an al-Qaeda media committee meeting. I'm not able to do that at all.

"We do know that their goal is to try to break the will; that they consider the center of gravity of this - not to be in Iraq, because they know they can't win a battle out there; they consider it to be in Washington, D.C., and in London and in the capitals of the Western world."
Their media is better than our media. If only our news folks were more like Fox News, cheering us on and keeping our "will" up, then we'd win. That's the real war. How people feel. We need to manipulate the media better than we have been doing. We need to catch up. We will have won when we convince people we have won, and everyone believes it, deeply.

Of course it's nonsense. If we all clap Tinkerbell won't die. That whole theory was discussed in these pages here in May of 2004 - this whole concept that the problem is that the media just isn't believing hard enough that we're winning. The mosques blow up. The murder squads go after folks. They cannot form a government even after the elections. But, according to Rumsfeld, it's a media problem. He's a pip.

But then, the same day, the media is filled with an example that Rumsfeld is onto something, and it's an ongoing big win for the administration. The media has a story that people are comfortable with, so they run it again. One more time, as in this in the Washington Post - "Democrats Struggle To Seize Opportunity - News about GOP political corruption, inept hurricane response and chaos in Iraq has lifted Democrats' hopes of winning control of Congress this fall. But seizing the opportunity has not been easy, as they found when they tried to unveil an agenda of their own."

It's called conventional wisdom.

The New York Times runs a variation here about how the Democrats are "trotting out" the fact that the Republicans have been lax on port security. How sad.

Yes, the Times notes this -
• In 2003, House Republicans, on a procedural vote, agreed to kill a Democratic amendment that would have added $250 million for port security grants to a war spending package.

• Two years later, nearly all House Republicans voted against an alternative Homeland Security authorization bill offered by Democrats that called for an additional $400 million for port security.

• Senate Republicans stood together in 2003 to set aside a Democratic amendment that would have provided $120 million more for port cargo screening equipment.

• One year later, all but six Senate Republicans voted to reject a Democratic attempt to add $150 million for port security in a Homeland Security appropriations bill.
But the Times sees the Democrats "trotting out" these facts as kind of pathetic. That's what real losers do when they have no agenda. Or something.

What's up with that?

NYU journalism professor Eric Alterman explains here -
The power of the consensus narrative in journalism is all but impermeable to reason or evidence. The right understands this and the left does not. That's why the right worries little about nuance or getting the details straight; it's the story that matters. Once you've defined the story, journalists struggle to make the facts fit the narrative rather than vice-versa.
E. J. Dionne at the Post agrees -
It is now an ingrained journalistic habit: After a period of bad news for President Bush, media outlets invariably devote time and space to "balancing" stories that all say more or less: "Yes, the Republicans are in trouble, but the Democrats have no alternatives, no plans," etc.

The pattern began to fall in place this weekend in the wake of two truly miserable weeks for Bush. The stories about the Democrats are by no means flatly false - Democrats don't yet have a fully worked-out alternative program - but they are based on a false premise, and they underestimate what I'll call the positive power of negative thinking. The false premise is that oppositions win midterm elections by offering a clear program, such as the Republicans' 1994 Contract With America.
That Contract With America came late in the 1994 campaign, and gas little to do with anything. It's not why the Republicans won. It was window-dressing. Dionne is talking about the power of the narrative, the story everyone accepts, as it's comfortable, like those old shoes that after a time just feel good.

So ignore this -
PRINCETON, NJ - The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted Feb. 28 to March 1, finds the Democrats holding a substantial lead over the Republicans as the party more registered voters currently support in this fall's elections for Congress. More than half of registered voters (53%) favor the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House in their district; only 39% favor the Republican.

Gallup's recent trends on this "generic ballot" question - from October 2005 through early February 2006 - found a smaller six- to seven-point lead for the Democrats. However, the current 14-point Democratic lead is similar to a 12-point Democratic lead recorded last August. It is also among the highest seen since the Republicans came into power more than a decade ago.
Doesn't fit the "story" - disregard. Everyone likes a good story. Why ruin it? (And for a discussion of narrative theory and how it shapes the news, see this in these pages from May of 2003.)

Of course there are some narratives that are as persistent as the "hapless, ineffective Democrats" myth (using the term myth in its proper sense, a shared fiction that explains the world). How did Will Rodgers put it? "I don't be belong to any organized political party - I'm a Democrat." The myth has been around forever.

The counter-myth is that of the fat-cat Babbitt Republican, as in the Congressional Quarterly reporting this -
On many a workday lunchtime, the nominal boss of U.S. intelligence, John D. Negroponte, can be found at a private club in downtown Washington, getting a massage, taking a swim, and having lunch, followed by a good cigar and a perusal of the daily papers in the club's library.

"He spends three hours there [every] Monday through Friday," gripes a senior counterterrorism official, noting that the former ambassador has a security detail sitting outside all that time in chase cars. Others say they've seen the Director of National Intelligence at the University Club, a 100-year-old mansion-like redoubt of dark oak panels and high ceilings a few blocks from the White House, only "several" times a week.
That makes sense to people. It's what they think happens, down to the cigar and the dark oak panels and high ceilings. That's the way things are supposed to be.

And the "little people" are supposed to suffer, nobly. That's how the world works, as you in this exchange between President Bush and a Nebraska supporter during on of those staged Social Security tours in Nebraska back when he wanted to "fix" that program -
Woman: "That's good, because I work three jobs and I feel like I contribute."

Bush: "You work three jobs?"

Woman: "Three jobs, yes."

Bush: "Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)"

Woman: "Not much. Not much."
Everything fits. The rich and powerful do what they do. The working stiffs do what they do. All is right with the world. Everyone wins. (Credit: SusanG at "Daily Kos" seems to be the first to line up these two items here.)

But sometimes the narratives, the myths bump up against each other. It happened out here in Los Angeles on Ash Wednesday, as you can see here when Los Angeles' Cardinal Roget Mahoney ran the old Christian myth up the flagpole, and no one saluted - if Congress passes legislation to criminalize the act of offering support to an illegal immigrant, he will instruct his priests and Catholic parishioners to ignore the law.

Oops. Lots of angry letters to the Los Angeles Times as the "broken borders" narrative - we need to build a wall, we're being overrun, our schools and hospitals are swamped with criminals who snuck in - championed by Lou Dobbs on CNN and half the Republican Party - runs the other way. The Republican sponsors of the bill say that they're just targeting those who smuggle immigrants, but they've written such a broad definition of "alien smuggling" that it could potentially include babysitting for a neighbor or working at a soup kitchen. The legislation has already passed the House and is being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Mahoney says he'll close no soup kitchens. He'll take care of these people in need. It's the Christian thing to do. There are irate letters in the Times every day asking how the CHURCH could advocate breaking the law - that's just not right, and seems immoral. Various priest are, each day, saying they're with Mahoney - it's a matter of conscience.

Sometimes the narratives collide. Don't you hate when that happens? The shared fiction that explains the world splits in two. Yipes.

There's another example of that here from Digby at Hullabaloo, regarding the big news out of the heartland - South Dakota Bans Abortion, Setting Up a Battle.

They banned abortion almost completely. No exception for rape or incest, and very few for the health of the woman. Five years in jail for any doctor involved - Class 5 felony. They want to see if they can get this past the newly configured US Supreme Court.

But Digby covers the logic here. They say abortion is the murder of actual children, but only make it a Class 5 felony, not murder. And should the woman be held legally liable for having an illegal abortion? What about charging her with at least a Class 5 felony, if not murder? There's something wrong with the narrative. They don't have their story straight.

He links to a video in which anti-abortion protesters are asked why not punish the woman. And they seem not to have thought of that -
That is as I suspected. It's time we make them think about it. Most anti-abortion legislation makes no sense morally and these people need to be led through the various steps that will show them this. The cognitive dissonance was apparent on these people's faces. It's a question that everyone from the family pro-choice supporter to professional interviewers should always ask.

Picture if you will a poll in which Americans are asked if women should be jailed for murdering their unborn child with an illegal abortion. What do you think they would say? Considering the fact that even the anti-abortion picketers in that video don't know what to say, I think it's fair to assume that it would be rejected by more than 90 percent of the population.

That's because it's clear that there is almost nobody who believes that abortion is murder in the legal sense of the word. How can there be a law against "murder" where the main perpetrator is not punished? How can it be murder if these people don't believe that the person who planned it, hired someone to do and paid for it is not legally culpable?

The looks on these women's faces in that video were amazing: confusion, frustration, pain. Their position is untenable and they know it.

... I think we need to have this discussion. Let's debate it out in the open and "air both sides" because from where I sit it's the "pro-lifers" who haven't thought this thing through. Nobody says they can't agitate against abortion and stand out there with their sickening pictures and try to dissuade women from doing it. I will defend their right to argue against abortion forever. But when they use the law to enforce their moral worldview they need to recognize that they can't have it both ways. If fetuses are human and have the same rights as the women in whom they live, then a woman who has an abortion must logically be subject to the full force of the law. It would be a premeditated act of murder no different than if she hired a hit man to kill her five-year-old. The law will eventually be able to make no logical moral distinction. Is everybody ready for that?
No. Apparently not. You don't mess with myths, although the "abortion is murder" narrative has its internal contradictions.

Well, you win arguments on other grounds. The president wins most by just doing what he wants. What argument? He trusts enough folks buy into the myth of the presidency where he's some sort of fisher-king, if you know the narrative there, down to the detail of the hero killing his own father to renew that land and all that sort of thing. Rumsfeld is saying winning a matter of taking hold of the narrative and redirecting the myth - winning is defining winning and facts and reality are minor matters of little importance. Cardinal Mahoney is on this old narrative no one's buying - good works and doing that right thing trump the laws of man. The anti-abortion folks need to get their story straight.

If you're going to win, you need to get your story straight.

Posted by Alan at 23:03 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 7 March 2006 23:19 PST home

Monday, 6 March 2006
When the facts aren't enough...
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

When the facts aren't enough...


In early January in these pages, in We Ourselves Are Only Temporarily Modern, you would find a discussion of a short column by Eric Jager that appeared in the Los Angeles Times as the month began. Jager, who teaches medieval literature at UCLA, there argues we are not in the Information Age at all, or the Digital Age or the Connectivity Age, or whatever you choose. This is the New Middle Ages. And he thinks we ought to be honest about it - "With the resurgence of legalized torture, rampant religious fanaticism, widespread poverty and illiteracy, the threat of mysterious plagues, fascination with magic and the occult and suspicion of science, what else would you call it?"

Maybe so. There's this - a 1741 play by Voltaire, the French champion of that eighteenth-century Enlightenment thing, cannot be performed - too dangerous. You cannot even perform it in one of the more obscure corners of the world. From the Wall Street Journal via the Santa Barbara News-Press
SAINT-GENIS-POUILLY, France - Late last year, as an international crisis was brewing over Danish cartoons of Muhammad, Muslims raised a furor in this little alpine town over a much older provocateur: Voltaire, the French champion of the 18th-century Enlightenment.

A municipal cultural center here on France's border with Switzerland organized a reading of a 265-year-old play by Voltaire, whose writings helped lay the foundations of modern Europe's commitment to secularism. The play, ''Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet,'' uses the founder of Islam to lampoon all forms of religious frenzy and intolerance.

The production quickly stirred up passions that echoed the cartoon uproar. ''This play ... constitutes an insult to the entire Muslim community,'' said a letter to the mayor of Saint-Genis-Pouilly, signed by Said Akhrouf, a French-born cafe owner of Moroccan descent and three other Islamic activists representing Muslim associations. They demanded the performance be cancelled...
But the performance was not canceled. The socialist mayor of the town, Hubert Bertrand, arranged for extra police for a reading last December. And there was a small riot - a car torched and a few garbage cans too. Bertrand says this was ''the most excitement we've ever had down here." No doubt. (The news item gives background on the play itself, by the way - the theme is the use of religion to promote and mask political ambition, and it may have been a thinly-veiled attack on Christianity, using Islam for ironic effect, as the Paris Roman Catholic clergy denounced the thing when it was for performed 1741. Go figure - or go read this, a hyper-scholarly discussion of the play by David Hammerback also of UCLA, if you can keep your eyes open.)

Background? There's this
...Supporters of Europe's secular values have rushed to embrace Voltaire as their standard-bearer. France's national library last week opened an exhibition dedicated to the writer and other Enlightenment thinkers. It features a police file started in 1748 on Voltaire, highlighting efforts by authorities to muzzle him. ''Spirit of the Enlightenment, are you there?'' asked a headline Saturday in Le Figaro, a French daily newspaper.

A debate on Swiss television last month degenerated into a shouting match when the director of the Saint-Genis-Pouilly performance accused a prominent Muslim of campaigning to censor Voltaire in the past. The two men also have traded insults in the French media...
Well, everyone writing about the international furor, riots and deaths following the publication of those cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in an obscure right-wing Danish newspaper, sooner or later gets around to mentioning Voltaire and Enlightenment, one way or the other. The news item mentions a headline in France Soir as the demonstrations around the world escalated into riots with embassies being set ablaze here and there and all the rest - ''Help us Voltaire. They've gone mad.'' But he's dead, real dead. Gone. He may have said ''I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it," but that's so eighteenth-century. We've moved on.

That sort of tolerance is now seen as insulting, and irresponsible - now the "good people" stand, hands over their ears, eyes closed shut, for their specific values, and their "deeply held beliefs." That's how you tell just who are the good people - the "values coalition" that always votes Republican (even against their own economic interests) over here, and the "insult The Prophet and you DIE" follow-our-rules coalition over there.

Of course, generally, we have moved on from valuing that other Enlightenment stuff that actually underpins the tolerance - relying less on God and working more with reason and "human" understanding, and working with facts and reality, using the methods of science to figure out what's up (look at the evidence, and if you have a theory of how something works, test it, and, if it works, show that anyone can do the same thing). Good enough for Jefferson and the Founding Fathers - and modern science and all the resulting technology followed, and modern medicine and safe food and all the rest.

So basically you work with the facts, the observable facts. Everything else follows. That did some good over the long years.

But then, of course, you have to agree on the facts.


So what are the facts in what is the oddest thing this country has ever done - start an elective war on evidence that turned out to be wrong, invading and occupying a country where we are now pretty much resented, inflaming anti-Western anger and resentment around the world, making us less safe than ever before, exhausting the military an transforming to economy to keep it afloat on bonds we sell to foreign governments, a few of which, or maybe most of which, don't have our best interests in mind all the time?

Will Iraq be able to avoid what seems like a slide into civil war, with the Shiite and Sunni Muslims fighting in the streets endlessly as each jockeys for power, while up north the Kurds just get rich and become a de facto nation on their own? Since now two thousand three hundred of our troops have died in this business, and more than ten thousand have been maimed for life, it would be nice to know if things will, say, work out? It's not like none of our business. If Iraq is a shambles and the world hates us - or in the case of our allies, resents us and doesn't believe what we say and thinks we're going through a period of stunning block-headed foolishness - then it would be nice to know if this will all work out and we'll be vindicated. This is the government we elected. It represents what we seem to have wanted.

Just how are we doing? These guys in Washington work for us. Time for a report to the stockholders, or whatever.

Are things getting better?

Before the Oscar stuff on march 5th you could have watched the Sunday talk shows, where such "reports to the people" are generally made, but the second and third tier folks as the man the top explains things only infrequently, and then in no detail and without much "fact" (he sees his job as to motivate us, not to explain much of anything).

So that Sunday you could listen to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Peter Pace say things are "going very, very well" in Iraq, as in "I wouldn't put a great big smiley face on it, but I would say they're going very, very well from everything you look at."


He cited political progress - holding elections and writing a constitution - and military progress - training Iraqi security forces. What about the mosques blowing up and all the dead people? Well, that Shiite mosque thing two weeks ago did cause some "problems," but that had forced Iraqis to look into "that abyss" and realize "that's not where they want to go." He said, "I believe the Iraqi people have shown in the last week to ten days that they do not want civil war."

Is that a fact? There's more detail in the Associated Press account here, but the truth of this, or its truthiness (close enough for the rubes), is not exactly clear. Work with the facts, the observable facts. Of course, he's been there. All we have is what we see in the news. The news must be wrong. His facts are better than the reporters' facts?

No - he's offering a theory (look at the evidence, and if you have a theory of how something works, test it, and, if it works, show that anyone can see just the same thing). That was on NBC's Meet the Press.

Over on CBS' Face the Nation you could see that congressman from the Deer Hunter part of Western Pennsylvania, John Murtha, suggesting the theory wasn't supportable by observation - Iraq has sixty percent unemployment, oil production well below prewar levels, water service to only thirty percent of the population. And that's not good. And as for civil war, he said we're doing everything we can militarily but our forces "are caught in a civil war" - it's that ethnic-religious thing. "There's two participants fighting for survival and fighting for supremacy inside that country, and that's my definition of a civil war."

Oh. He was a Marine for thirty years and a congressman just about as long, and he's got lots of friends in the highest levels of the military. Are all these then facts? There does seem to be aa bit more detail, detail about the electricity and all that can be confirmed.

Who to believe?

Murtha was asked if he believed General Pace. He said, "No, why would I believe him?" Dead silence.

So to help out he listed the things that didn't turn out to be so - the WMD not there, no ties to al Qaeda and all the rest. And this. "The rhetoric is so frustrating - when they keep making statements which are very optimistic, and then it turns out to be the opposite."

But we believe Pace. The administration wouldn't lie. It's all in how you look at it.

Well, no. Over at Crooks and Liars (here) there are links to video files where you can see Murtha say this -
The public is way ahead of what's going on in Washington. They no longer believe it. The troops themselves, seventy percent of the troops said we want to come home within a year. The only solution to this is to redeploy. Let me tell you, the only people who want us in Iraq is Iran and al-Qaeda. I've talked to a top-level commander the other day, it was about two weeks ago, and he said China wants us there also. Why? Because we're depleting our resources, our troop resources and our fiscal resources.
Do people see that? Maybe so. It sounds true, not truthy - and rubes who believe "truthiness" sometime recover from their rubidity (a term used in medicine with another meaning, and in brewing, but used in a different sense here).

On the other hand, military families hate Murtha (personal experience in this case). One is reminded of the Roman Catholic clergy in Paris in 1741. "He's full of it - he doesn't know anything." Or, "He's dangerous, undermining our troops, and our faith in what we're doing." Or, "La, la, la, la - I can't hear you." (Yeah, that last one is a line in an Eddie Murphy movie.)

But then there are some odd events. You remember the AC-130 gunship things from the Vietnam War - fly low and slow and lay down a wall of 50 mm metal, circling an area for hours if necessary. Nothing lives down there. Very effective. Note here we just moved two to a base in Iraq. Things are getting better? (Note here that they're named Spectre and Spooky.)

And the day after Pace and Murtha had their say, this -
One of the highest-ranking generals in Iraq's new, U.S.-trained army was shot dead in Baghdad on Monday, the U.S. military and Iraqi police said.

Major General Mubdar Hatim al-Dulaimi, commander of all Iraqi army forces in the capital, was killed by a sniper, police sources said. he was shot as he drove through western Baghdad.
One comment here - "Reports that Bush shut his eyes, put his fingers in his ears, and began shouting "Purple Finger! Purple Finger! Purple Finger! Purple Finger!" at the top of his lungs when told of Gen. al-Dulaimi's death have not been confirmed."

Fallout? There's this -
Iraq's president failed in a bid Monday to order parliament into session by March 12, further delaying formation of a government and raising questions whether the political process can withstand the unrelenting violence or disintegrate into civil war.

The deadlock came as snipers assassinated Maj. Gen. Mibder Hatim al-Dulaimi, the Sunni Arab in charge of Iraqi forces protecting the capital. A torrent of bombings and shootings killed 25 more Iraqis on Monday, ending a relative lull in violence. Officials also found four bodies...
Looks like we won't have a government there soon. Our commander in Iraq, General George W. Casey, sent condolences to "his family, tribe, and the Iraqi Army during this tragic loss." His statement included, "This tragic incident will neither impede the 6th Iraqi Army Division from continuing its mission of securing Baghdad nor derail the formation of the government of Iraq."

But there'll be no parliament for the foreseeable future. The facts be damned - nothing is derailed.

''Help us Voltaire. They've gone mad.''

Getting the Facts

So where do you get the facts? The government supplies some. People you know supply some. Some you dig up yourself. You try to sift through what seem like facts until you're satisfied a few of the, actually are like facts. And you also consult the press - they hire people to find out the facts and write them down. You pay them, one way or another, to do that - and if you get what seem like facts, well, you keep paying them. It's hard enough to figure out what the heck is going on. You tap all your sources.

But you may lose one. As Pace and Murtha gave their different "facts" that Sunday morning, on the front page of the Washington Post you could read this -
The Bush administration, seeking to limit leaks of classified information, has launched initiatives targeting journalists and their possible government sources. The efforts include several FBI probes, a polygraph investigation inside the CIA and a warning from the Justice Department that reporters could be prosecuted under espionage laws.

In recent weeks, dozens of employees at the CIA, the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies have been interviewed by agents from the FBI's Washington field office, who are investigating possible leaks that led to reports about secret CIA prisons and the NSA's warrantless domestic surveillance program, according to law enforcement and intelligence officials familiar with the two cases...
And if your read on you'll see they're talking about going after journalists - James Risen at the New York Times for writing about the NSA warrantless spying on our own citizens, and Dana Priest at the Post for revealing our collection of secret foreign prison where there are no rules, and so much more. It's not just making them choose between revealing their sources or going to jail. Yes, that would make it possible to prosecute the whistle-blowers in the government. (They're also hinting at criminal action against the Times and the Post for violating the Espionage Act - revealing state secrets in wartime. Ten years in jail, minimum. Ah, but that's only a hint. Some leaks are useful. Some are treason.)

Up at Harvard, the man who has been a top-level advisor to four presidents, three Democrats and one Republican, David Gergen, had a few things to say that same Sunday morning on CNN, on Howard Kurtz's Reliable Sources (video and partial transcript here, emphases added) -
KURTZ: ... and that is the story on the front page of this morning's "Washington Post" about White House effort to stem leaks. And it talks about the administration, the Bush administration, having launched initiatives targeting journalists and their possible government sources. These involve federal employees being questioned on "The New York Times" story about the national security wiretaps, on the "Washington Post" story about secret CIA prisons, Valerie Plame, all of that.

Do you - you have been on both sides of this fence. Do you see this as an administration that really is going after journalists, or just legitimately trying to stem the flow of classified information leaking out to the press?

GERGEN: I am glad you brought that up. This administration has engaged in secrecy at a level we have not seen in over thirty years. Unfortunately, I have to bring up the name of Richard Nixon, because we haven't seen it since the days of Nixon. And now what they're doing - and they're using the war on terror to justify - is they're starting to target journalists who try to pierce the veil of secrecy and find things and put them in the newspapers.

Now, in the past what the government has always done is go after the people who leak, the inside people. That's the way they try to stop leaks. This is the first administration that I can remember, including Nixon's, that said - and Porter Goss said this to Congress - that we need to think about a law that would put journalists who print national security things to... bring them up in front of grand juries and put them in jail if they don't - in effect, if they don't reveal their sources.
Well, times change. But many on the web are point to this (emphases added) -
In early 1944, the New York Times asked Vice President Henry Wallace to, as Wallace noted, "write a piece answering the following questions: What is a fascist? How many fascists have we? How dangerous are they?" Wallace's answer to those questions was published in the Times on April 9, 1944, at the height of the war against the Axis powers of Germany and Japan. See how much you think his statements apply to our society today: "The really dangerous American fascist," Wallace wrote, ". . . is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way. The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power."

In his strongest indictment of the tide of fascism he saw rising in America, Wallace added, "They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection."
Well, Vice President Henry Wallace is not Vice President Richard "Dick" Cheney. And now, in 2006, we face a real threat, not as, in 1944, just a minor problem, that war against the Axis powers of Germany and Japan. Right.

Well, this could put a certain damper on the press. No one wants to go to jail.

And there's more.

As the widely read Glenn Reynolds says here, believe General Casey, specifically, and the administration generally. And these pesky facts the press keeps digging up about which laws we break and which treaties we violate and about all the torture stuff? A warning - "The press had better hope we win this war, because if we don't, a lot of people will blame the media."

Got it? The press reveals how we get things done. That aids the enemy. If they win, you can only blame the press.

The First Amendment attorney, Glenn Greenwald here -
Those who insisted on this war, who started it, who prosecuted it, who controlled every single facet of its operation - they have no blame at all for the failure of this war. Nope. They were right all along about everything. It all would have worked had war critics just kept their mouths shut. The ones who are to blame are the ones who never believed in this war, who control no aspect of the government, who were unable to influence even a single aspect of the war, who were shunned, mocked and ridiculed, and who have been out of power since the war began. They are the ones to blame. They caused this war to fail.
Greenwald seems a bit bitter. But the talking point has been established. It's out there. Greenwald may mock it. It's gathering strength.

Who lost Iraq (if it's lost)? The press?

Funny, the chief neoconservative theorist and "preemptive war around the world for the good of the natives out there" cheerleader at both the Weekly Standard and from his perch as commentator at Fox News, William "Bill" Kristol, the same day as all the rest here, suggests, well, if Iraq is lost, maybe it's because Bush, Cheney and the rest, are, oddly, incompetent -
I think it's become in people's minds an emblem of the administration that just isn't as serious about the competent execution of the functions of government as it should be. And even - I'm struck talking to conservatives and Republicans - they agree with the president on basic political philosophy, the they agree with his basic policy agenda, but they are worried that they just don't seem to be able to execute as well as they should be.
He's allowed to say that on Fox News - Bush and his gang can't do what they say? Glenn Reynolds will get him.

But the poll Murtha refers to, showing seventy percent of our troops say it's time to pack it in, can't be right either. That can't be "a fact." Why? Well, here Josh Marshall points to an item in the Fort Collins Coloradoan - military officers in uniform has started standing on stage at political rallies for Republican congressmen. The poll must be wrong. The military backs the Republicans. A fact?

Well, there is a ban on that -
... The existence of this ban and the enforcement of it are hugely important both to good order and discipline within the military and to preserving our democratic republic. The military can't be made into an arm of one or the other political party. Nor can the executive be allowed to enlist members of the armed forces, either individually or en masse, willingly or not, as soldiers in his domestic political battles.
Times change. The military takes sides.

And they side with the man who doesn't keep up on things. Out here Ron Brownstein opens his Sunday column with this -
President Bush barreled straight ahead with old answers when ABC's Elizabeth Vargas asked him a new question about Iraq last week. And like any driver who missed a turn in the road, the president quickly found himself in a ditch.

Vargas sensibly asked Bush how the growing civil strife in Iraq between the majority Shiites and the Sunnis who dominated the country under Saddam Hussein might change the U.S. mission there. Bush, to his credit, acknowledged the importance of encouraging Iraqis to form a "unity government" in the dangerously prolonged political haggling that has followed December's election.

But the president gave no hint he'd considered how the widening gulf between Sunni and Shiite might alter America's strategy. Instead, he summoned old sound bites, as if cueing them on tape. "The troops are chasing down terrorists," he told Vargas. And: "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down."

Those arguments reflect the model that Bush, his aides and most Americans have used to understand the war in Iraq. In that framework, Iraq - like Vietnam - is a contest between a central government and an insurgency determined to overthrow it.

But many experts are asking whether that construct really explains the challenge in Iraq anymore - especially after the horrific sectarian violence that swept the country following the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra.
Never mind. Say the magic words. Things will be fine. Barrel straight ahead.

Facts? ''Help us Voltaire. They've gone mad.''

And there are the facts about the odd death of Pat Tillman, NFL hero turned war hero, except our guys shot him. The Inspector General of the Pentagon has asked the army to open a criminal investigation into Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan (story here). Go here for an analysis of the whole context of why it was important to cover up the "friendly fire" thing and lie to the family for so long. The news cycle didn't allow it. Some facts need to be timed. The fact, from family and friends and from his own letters and notes, that Tillman thought the Iraq war was stupid (Afghanistan made sense to him), and that Tillman liked reading Noam Chomsky (gasp!), is dealt with here - a clip of Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity, agreeing on Fox News that they just didn't believe it. "La, la, la, la - I can't hear you."

Yeah, but people pay attention (sometimes) to the evidence. And sometimes they apply logic, not faith, and come yup with things like this - If Saddam is found guilty of genocide, can Rumsfeld be innocent? Think about it - "The question to ponder is this: If Saddam Hussein is guilty of genocide for gassing Kurds in 1982 and the Reagan Administration via Rumsfeld's efforts concluded an agreement with him one year later that supplied weapons and important weapons technology, including the wherewithal to manufacture poison gas, then can Rumsfeld and other involved parties be anything other than complicit in genocide?"

Logic can be a bitch. No wonder these guys want to move well beyond Voltaire and the Enlightenment.


Time for a little William Blake (1757-1827) - faith always wins

Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau:
Mock on, mock on: 'tis all in vain!
You throw the sand against the wind,
And the wind blows it back again.

And every sand becomes a Gem,
Reflected in the beam divine;
Blown back they blind the mocking Eye,
But still in Israel's paths they shine.

The Atoms of Democritus
And the Newton's Particles of Light
Are sands upon the Red Sea shore,
Where Israel's tents do shine so bright.

Posted by Alan at 23:09 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 6 March 2006 23:10 PST home

Sunday, 5 March 2006
Thoughts and Images for Oscar Day in Hollywood
Topic: Announcements

Thoughts and Images for Oscar Day in Hollywood

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format parent of this web log, is now online. This is Volume 4, Number 10 for the week of March 5, 2006 - the view from Hollywood.

This week in Current Events, seven items - analysis of and commentary on the new stories of the past seven days, from the business with Dubai Ports World (sounds like a cheesy theme park) and our ports, to what looks like civil war brewing in Iraq and all the neoconservative thinkers changing their minds (and all the negative polls, even from our troops), to that trip to India and the odd deal about nuclear support, to the new Hurricane Katrina business with the revealing videotapes, to any number of juicy scandals, to minor details (the key password that lets you hack most electronic voting machines), to the conceptual issues for policy wonks, ending with a dialog where readers from all over discuss what can and cannot change.

Correspondents? A first-hand report, with photos, of that mountain lion in a suburban Los Angeles backyard, and from Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, March coming in like a lion in Paris.

Bob Patterson is back, with the World's Laziest Journalist's take on what he hears on talk radio about the Dubai deal, and with the Book Wrangler's take on a fine publishing house.

Photos this week? Hollywoodland. There actually is such a place. And some shots of "insider stuff" - below the line organizations headquartered here on Sunset Boulevard. And in the "art photo" mode, some odd walls with Hollywood history. And a very odd old movie poster. And a Hollywood dog named Sherlock. And the usual botanicals - six this week, including strawberries.

Quotes this week? We publish on the day the Oscars are handed out, so we gather all the quotes about Hollywood over the last three and half years.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ______________________

The Next Election Let's All Join In For The Results We Want
Close Enough: Close Enough For Some, Not For Others
Differentiations: There's News And Then There's News
Midweek Madness: Specific Chickens - Briefly Forgotten - Coming Home To Roost
Defining Success: Ups And Downs, But Mostly Down
Closing the Week: Getting the Details Wrong, and the Concept
Dialog: Changing Things

Elsewhere ______________________

Nature: A Mountain Lion in Los Angeles
Our Man in Paris: The News There

Bob Patterson ______________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of World's Laziest Journalist - Dubya and Dubai - Rx for Republican Disaster?
Book Wrangler: A German Publisher Finds An American Market

Local Photography ______________________

A Tour: Adventures in Hollywoodland
The Industry: Very Local Organizations
Odd Walls
Values: Hollywood has always been out of touch with Middle America...

Quotes for the week of March 5, 2006 - Hollywood and the Movies

Commentary here will resume this evening. And something new will be posted later on the sister blog, Just Above Sunset Photography.

Posted by Alan at 12:02 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 4 March 2006
Dialog: Changing Things
Topic: NOW WHAT?

Dialog: Changing Things

The Just Above Sunset email "salon" (a virtual discussion group, not a gathering of folks in powdered wigs in an early eighteenth-century Paris drawing room), has some things to say.

This bit of satire started them off -
In other news, the United States has formally announced that it has absolutely no idea what to do when the leader of the country is both condescending and incurious.

John Rathskellar, spokesperson for "The Country Formerly Known As the Good Guys", said in a semi-official announcement (while standing in line for a Venti at Starbucks): "No legal remedy exists to remove from power a person (or persons) who is a failure on as many levels as the current President appears to be. Had he received oral pleasure from one of his interns we would run his ass through the ringer, but as it is he's free to destroy the nation as he sees fit to do so. We explained this to him on several occasions but he seemed to be baffled by our carefully chosen words, and we let him go back to his magazine reading."

Mr. Rathskellar further added, "He may indeed destroy everything we cherish in a pluralistic society, but he could do it without really understanding how he was doing it. Stumbling in the dark, really. Just fucking our lives up on the fly. An ad hoc Armageddonist if ever there was one."
Our man in Montreal, Quebec, Canada -
It's not the act that will get a leader removed, but the organization of the opposition.

Republicans were ready for any provocation, and Monica Lewinski was enough. They wanted Clinton out, and they succeeded. Who can say anything against that?

Democrats, and/or anyone not Republican are incapable and ineffectual, in the face of gross transgressions on the American way of life by the Dubya administration.

Ahead of any more 'evidence' against republicans, the real question in America is what is wrong with the non-republicans and their ability to balance power?
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
"... the real question in America is what is wrong with the non-republicans and their ability to balance power?"

And the answer is, a system of government in which any one party that holds the White House and both houses of congress is essentially untouchable.

This is especially true of Republicans, for whom the phrase "it matters not whether you win or lose but only how you play the game" is not so much a guiding principle as is "winning is not the most important thing, it's the only thing!"
Our Man in Rochester, New York -
That the Republicans hold all the cards did not just happen. They didn't just decide it on their own. The ineffectiveness of Democrats (and whomever else) gave them a blank check. They are untouchable because we have let them be untouchable.
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
"... they are untouchable because we have let them be untouchable."

Yeah, that, too.

But my point was that our system should not be such that the minority party gets totally frozen out of the process. I must admit, I'm not crazy about a parliamentary system, but at least there you have the possibility of building coalitions and having votes of confidence, both things our pretty-strictly-two-party, winner-take-all system lack.

There ought to be a provision for at least looking into impeachment, to be voted up or down, possibly with some sort of super-majority needed to shoot it down. This would allow American voters a chance to hold the ruling party's metaphorical feet to the flames, but without allowing frivolous minority attacks to gain solid footing.

But yeah, not even the Democrats -- even as they watch all this from total loser status -- would take to this idea, afraid of blow-back when or if they themselves ever get back in power. It's just possible that if Democratic leaders were to adopt a policy of first considering doing "the right thing" before "the politic thing," they might win the confidence of Americans again, and maybe regain power.

But we've let the Republicans be untouchable by, what, not voting hard enough for Democrats? Are you going to vote for Democrats this year? Me, too. Just like last time. Well, lotta good it did us! But still, you can't blame you and me, so it must be those damn Republicans, especially the ones who keep voting Republican!

That's not it? So maybe it's because the Democrats haven't yet learned to (a) "speak openly about their faith" in public, (b) stop pandering to the gay agenda of wanting gays to be treated like "normal" Americans, or maybe (c) stop talking about abortion all the time? Yeah, our troubles all started when the Democrats told all those Southerners they shouldn't run around lynching black people. And that's when the South walked out on us and never looked back.

Do you suppose if only we could turn back the clock, maybe we could make ourselves winners again? I don't think either one of us wants to do that, even if we could.
Our columnist, Bob Patterson (alias, The World's Laziest Journalist) -
Maybe the Democrats have found the Republicans' "Achilles Heel?" My friends who have been very pro-Bush, seem quite upset with the Dubai thing. Karl Rove has decreed that the 2006 election will be decided on "security."

Well, then, there, Karl, be careful what you wish for.

If the entire roll of the dice will be on security and if Bush insists on the Dubai deal. The Democrats could get a majority in both the House and Senate faster than you can say "Poof! Be gone!"

The Democrats will have to play by "bare knuckles" rules. Let the Republicans drag out all the dirty secrets and let the Democrats respond in kind and then insist that the election be based upon security and point out Bush's secret squirrel aspect to the Dubai deal.

If it takes a bar-room brawl style election, then the Democrats had best prepare to lose a few teeth and get a bloody nose, but win the fight.

Otherwise... Bush Wins Again! (and again, and again and again...)
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
I think I don't agree.

Harking back to what I said earlier, "It's just possible that if Democratic leaders were to adopt a policy of first considering doing 'the right thing' before 'the politic thing,' they might win the confidence of Americans again, and maybe regain power," I'd feel more comfortable finding out what the right thing is in this case before chasing the blood in the water.

I personally don't have enough information yet to form an opinion on this Dubai Ports thing, but so far, I find myself mostly agreeing with Bush!
The Hollywood host -
I was bitter about this in yesterday's blog post in the India section -

"Well, there is not a thing that can be done about this in this country, as his party controls the congress and his judges sit on the bench at all levels. And too, the club members can do nothing about this deal with India. What are the going to do, hold the breath until they turn blue, or issue "statements" or a reprimand? So what?

"It's a Texas thing. We elected him because he's a cowboy who slaps around wimps and does what he wants. The electorate seems to have felt that's what we need in this awful world full off swarthy people with odd religions who want to kill us all..."

As you know, I do a lot of reading of opinion and theory and all that wonk stuff. Rick is right about the turmoil with the Democrats now - what do we do to get back in power - get religion, preach war, drop the pro-life stuff, say the poor are poor because they choose to be, sponsor a team in NASCAR with a cool paint job and fancy logos? Friday, in particular, a number of the big-time middle-left blogs are in the middle of a discussion of standing for only one thing in 2008, universal healthcare - good for business, good for the country, and eminently decent. A good way to spend tax dollars. But Hillary Clinton tried that and people remember how she was excoriated for that - no government folks gonna ration my healthcare and limit me, and all the rest.

Of course there's a structural problem, and what Rick suggests makes sense. And yes, it'll never happen. This is the structure we've got.

The problem, aside from the structural issue, is that Rick and the rest of us hold positions and have values that are in the minority. Face the truth. Although the days of lynching black folks are gone, the majority wants gays to just go away, women to stay in their place and be modest, Bush to sneer at the world for us, and the rich to get the goodies, because that's just how it is.

We're out of step. We propose things that "make sense" for the country. The other side appeals to what people "feel" deep down - resentment and fear, and anger that others want something that's "wrong." We may get the majority to agree we're right on so many things, as it's a logical and common sense position we offer on this and that. But the other side always wins because they target what's underneath all the logical stuff - the thousand-times-more-powerful feelings of alienation and anger.

The logical mind versus the emotional id.

We're playing chess while they're playing football.

We don't even know what the game is.
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
Hollywood -
Do I get a prize?
Ah well, feel free to join in by dropping a line to - or you could ask to join the group.

Posted by Alan at 13:09 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 4 March 2006 13:15 PST home

Friday, 3 March 2006
Getting the Details Wrong, and the Concept
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Getting the Details Wrong, and the Concept

The week of the turmoil of the Dubai ports deal, the president in India cutting a deal to give them the means to produce fifty more nuclear weapons and keep a third of their reactors free from any inspection by anyone, the new Hurricane Katrina tapes showing the administration was told what would happen and pretty much shrugged (the said no one told them), finally closed with a flourish of secondary stories that didn't get that much coverage.

Friday, March 3rd -

Ah, the stories of religion and morality. Missouri is considering a bill making Christianity the state's official religion (discussed here) - but they really way to make it the official "majority religion," so it's not that bad. Following South Dakota's lead, Mississippi is about to ban all abortions (CBS item here) - no exceptions for rape, incest or the health of the woman. It's a trend. Over in the UK The Independent reports on what Prime Minister Blair is now saying (here) that God led him to invade Iraq, as it was the Christian thing to do and those are his values. And back here, in Kentucky, state legislators are asked to go on record as to whether they have, personally, "accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior." That story is here - a political action group wants each of them on record.

On the other hand, there this - Pat Robertson loses his bid for re-election to the National Religious Broadcasters' board of directors. Yep, the founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network said our government should assassinate Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and said Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon had that stroke because God was punishing him for the Gaza pullout. National Religious Broadcasters' board of directors bowed to pressure form the members. Too far is too far.

Ah, the stories of government corruption - San Diego Republican congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham pled guilty to accepting a bit under two and a half million for directly steering contracts to those with cash or antiques or a Rolls or cool yacht for him, and he asked the judge for leniency in his sentencing, as he was really sorry, and eventually confessed to it all, and he's an old guy, and he's ruined anyway, and they took all the goodies away anyway. Friday afternoon he got a record sentence, eight and a half years. On the other hand, the maximum sentence was ten years, so contrition and puppy dog eyes bought him eighteen months off for being really, really sorry.

But the story has a bit of filigree. The CIA Inspector General (here) was forced to reveal that the number three dude at the CIA, one Kyle "Dusty" Foggo (great name), is now under investigation in the matter. One of Cunningham's co-conspirators is tied to the guy. The inquiry is serious enough that Congress was notified of it in writing. So it's a big deal. Foggo (not Frodo) was appointed to his new gig by CIA Director Porter Goss - at present Foggo serves as the Executive Director of the CIA. Before that he was just a lower-level procurement dude in Germany, directing contracting.

What? Well, Porter Goss was a minor congressman from Florida when he was named to fix the CIA - a loyal Republican fundraiser but a bit of a dork. He jumped "Dusty" up to the top of the organization and everyone was quite puzzled. Not subtle.

This smells a bit. Newsweek has more detail here. Something is up.

George "Slam Dunk" Tenet may have been burnt-out and making foolish decisions in his last years running the CIA, but he wasn't involved in taking big bucks to approve fifth-rate work by contractors no one ever heard of. Well, maybe he did that too, but he didn't get caught using the CIA to make his friends rich and his retirement comfortable.

As crooks go, these guys have no class. You're supposed to be sly and sneaky. Amateurs.

And Amateur Hour, or one of the old shows, continued playing out Friday afternoon. As the Washington Post here runs down how the Hurricane Katrina video matter won't die. AP digs up a videotape of Bush, Chertoff and Brown being briefed before the hurricane hit, being told New Orleans was probably going under. Bush and Chertoff look bored, and Brown looks worried. Bush asks no questions, passive and fidgeting. Everyone knows Bush later said he never was told this could happen - "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." Oops. The White issues a point by point defense to all the outrage expressed in the press. More footage shows the former FEMA head, Michael Brown, who had to go, actually raising the alarm. It seems he knew this was a big deal, and he had few resources in the new Homeland Security organization, and he's raising holy hell.

Oops. New storyline. Brown tells CNN he made mistakes and rates his performance as a five on a ten point scale, but he rates the performance of his boss, Chertoff, as a two. (Chertoff was previously a federal prosecutor and had no experience at all running a large organization, so you have to forgive him of course, and he was after all, better than Bush's first choice to run Homeland Security, the high school dropout with mafia ties.) Those of us who also watched Michael Brown on MSNBC's Hardball on Friday saw a vary curious thing - the man was clear, and so was the video and email evidence, and he may have been overwhelmed, but he did his job. He repeated his ratings of his performance and how his boss did. The show's host, Chris Matthews, flat-out apologized to him for how Matthews and the rest of the press mocked him.

Brown was the scapegoat here. And note here, apologies from the most widely-read legal website where they had been on his case, with links to the other sites logs apologizing for what they said about the man, and offering to go back and change all their previous commentary.

And the usual Friday afternoon after-the-presses-have-closed bombshell? That would be this - "In the aftermath of the public revelation of the presidential 'teleconference' and mounting criticism of the performance of Michael Chertoff, Administration sources told HUMAN EVENTS today that the secretary of Homeland Security has 'only a few days left' in the Bush Cabinet."

Human Events may be being jerked around by someone doing selective leaks, of course. But this story is hurting the administration as much as the Dubai ports thing and incipient civil war in Iraq. Mission accomplished, indeed.

But if you're going to release news late Friday afternoon, so no one discusses it in the press, as the networks and cable news shift to sports and, this weekend, the Oscars, then late Friday is when you announce the latest from Guantánamo Bay, which would be this, faced with a court order the United States, after years of refusing, finally released the names of hundreds of detainees held down at Guantánamo -
Human rights activists say this new information should make it easier to piece together the personal histories of the detainees - and for the first time to build a big picture of who is held at the camps, and why they are there.

What the documents do not do is shed light on speculation that there are other prisoners, known as "ghost" detainees, at the camp. If a prisoner at the camp has not had a CSRT [combatant status review tribunal] they will not feature in the transcripts.
Well, if we don't list them, they're not there.

Well, too late in the afternoon, and too late in the week, for the press to cover this, but not too late for the conservative Professor Bainbridge over at UCLA Law. For someone who teaches law at one of the top programs in the nation, he's on the case.

First he links to the Seton Hall analysis of just who we're holding down Guantánamo way (previously discussed in these pages here -
1.) Fifty-five percent (55%) of the detainees are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies.

2.) Only 8% of the detainees were characterized as al Qaeda fighters. Of the remaining detainees, 40% have no definitive connection with al Qaeda at all and 18% are have no definitive affiliation with either al Qaeda or the Taliban.

3.) The Government has detained numerous persons based on mere affiliations with a large number of groups that in fact, are not on the Department of Homeland Security terrorist watchlist. Moreover, the nexus between such a detainee and such organizations varies considerably. Eight percent are detained because they are deemed "fighters for;" 30% considered "members of;" a large majority - 60% - are detained merely because they are "associated with" a group or groups the Government asserts are terrorist organizations. For 2% of the prisoners, a nexus to any terrorist group is not identified by the Government.

4.) Only 5% of the detainees were captured by United States forces. 86% of the detainees were arrested by either Pakistan or the Northern Alliance and turned over to United States custody. This 86% of the detainees captured by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance were handed over to the United States at a time in which the United States offered large bounties for capture of suspected enemies.

5.) Finally, the population of persons deemed not to be enemy combatants - mostly Uighers - are in fact accused of more serious allegations than a great many persons still deemed to be enemy combatants.
That's the claim.

Professor Bainbridge has questions -
Indefinite internment with limited legal rights is sufficiently foreign to the US' ideals that this report should deservedly add pressure on the Bush administration to justify the Guantánamo detentions. I'm prepared to accept that the GWOT requires indefinite detention of people who pose a real existential threat to the United States, but I'm yet to be convinced that the executive branch should have unreviewable fiat in deciding who is to be indefinitely incarcerated.
Yeah, but he's a lawyer. Most people "feel" these are the worst of the worst. It's a Nancy Grace thing - they wouldn't be locked up forever with no charges and no right to a trial if they weren't guilty.

And as for time the news right so folks don't get prime time to talk about it, the nuclear deal with India at the end of the week, was getting closer attention -
In addition to all the predictable reactions (pro and con) to the landmark nuclear agreement reached in India yesterday, a powerful and unexpected new concern has emerged based on a last-minute concession by President Bush.

It appears that, to close the deal during his visit, Bush directed his negotiators to give in to India's demands that it be allowed to produce unlimited quantities of fissile material and amass as many nuclear weapons as it wants.

The agreement, which requires congressional approval, would be an important step toward Bush's long-held goal of closer relations with India. It would reflect India's status as a global power. And, not least of all, it would more firmly establish India as a military ally and bulwark against China.

Critics have long denounced such an agreement, saying it would reward India for its rogue nuclear-weapons program and could encourage other nations to do likewise.

But now the criticisms may focus on this question: By enabling India to build an unlimited stockpile of nuclear weapons, would this agreement set off a new Asian arms race?

And here's another question: Were Bush and his aides so eager for some good headlines - for a change - that they gave away the store?
That's Dan Froomkin in the Washington Post, and he surveys who is saying what, in detail. This will go sour over the weekend. People will have time to think about what just happened.

And then there are the pesky "big thinkers" - as the week ended, Michael Kinsley at SLATE.COM with The Pursuit Of Democracy, What Bush Gets Wrong About Nation-Building, with nuggets like these -
The case for democracy is "self-evident," as someone once put it. The case for the world's most powerful democracy to take as its mission the spreading of democracy around the world is pretty self-evident, too: What's good for us is good for others. Those others will be grateful. A world full of democracies created or protected with our help ought to be more peaceful and prosperous and favorably disposed toward us. That world will be a better neighborhood for us than a world of snarling dictatorships.

... But the case against spreading democracy - especially through military force - as a mission of the U.S. government is also pretty self-evident, and lately it's been getting more so. Government, even democratic government, exists for the benefit of its own citizens, not that of foreigners. American blood and treasure should not be spent on democracy for other people. Or, short of that absolute, there are limits to the blood and treasure that the United States should be expected to spend on democracy elsewhere, and the very nature of war makes that cost hard to predict and hard to limit.

Furthermore, the encouraging discovery that free elections are possible in unexpected places has a discouraging corollary: If tolerance and pluralism and suchlike Western values are not essential preconditions for democratic elections, they are not the necessary result of elections either. By definition, democracy produces a government that the people - or some plurality of the people - want, at least at that moment. But it may not produce the kind of government that we wish they would want, or - more to the point - that we want.
Yep, Hamas wins in Palestine, the Muslim Brotherhood get big votes in Egypt, our new Shiite theocracy in Iraq with its Kurdish appendage and so on. Kinsley quotes the more realist Henry Kissinger on why we had to get rid of Allende in Chile - "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people."

And he gives us this -
Democracy now stands as the only remaining official rationale for the Gulf War (which the administration insists is a battlefield in the larger war against terrorism). This is grimly amusing, given that George W. Bush's Gulf War is really a continuation of his father's, which was in defense of two feudal monarchies and had nothing to do with democracy.
Grimly amusing, indeed.

The same day, in the Paris-based International Herald Tribune, Stephen Biddle offers No, it's not Vietnam. This one's a civil war.


Well, this article is based on an essay in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs, as the International Herald Tribune isn't much like USA Today. They print wonk stuff you can discuss down the street at the Flore.

His key points?
U.S. military strategy for Iraq now centers on "Iraqization," the program to equip and train Iraqi security forces to replace American troops. For a Maoist people's war, this would make sense: it would undermine the nationalist component of insurgent resistance, improve intelligence and provide the troops needed for real security.

But in a civil war, Iraqization only throws gasoline on the fire. Sunnis perceive the national security forces as a Shiite-Kurd militia on steroids. They have a point: In an intercommunal conflict, the most effective units are the ones that are communally homogeneous. And if we want an effective Iraqi force anytime soon, it's going to be mostly Shiite and Kurdish.

The bigger and stronger we make national security forces, the more threatened the Sunnis feel, and the harder they are likely to fight back in a struggle that is ultimately about communal self-preservation.

The solution to inter-communal conflicts like this is a constitutional deal wherein each party agrees to ironclad guarantees of shared power that deny any the ability to oppress the others. But a large, powerful, U.S.-armed, U.S.-trained, Shiite-Kurd security force makes any such constitutional deal a fiction.
What to do?
First, we must slow, not accelerate, the growth of Iraqi security forces. Even an Iraqi force with Sunni enlistees is a problem if it precedes, not follows, a constitutional deal. Combat motivation is bound to suffer if mixed Shiite-Sunni units are asked to fight Sunni enemies. And the force we can get in the near term may have few Sunnis despite efforts to recruit them. Either possibility aggravates the real conflict.

Second, we must treat the military future of Iraq as a tool for brokering constitutional compromise, not as a quick ticket home for American troops. That is, we must threaten to throw American military power behind either side in today's civil war as needed to compel the other to compromise.

If the Sunnis refuse to compromise, they must be threatened with full U.S. support for a homogeneous Shiite-Kurd army. If the Sunnis do agree to a compromise, they must be promised U.S. protection from communal rivals until a stable power-sharing deal can ensure their security without us.

Conversely, if the Shiite-Kurd alliance refuses to compromise, they must be threatened with abandonment or even U.S. assistance to their Sunni rivals. If they do compromise, they, too, must be promised sustained American protection until a power-sharing constitution is fully implemented.
But we're doing the opposite. We're still trying to fight the Vietnam War the right way. Our guys are good at what they do, but someone didn't get the difference between Vietnam and Iraq. It's not just that there's a whole lot of sand this time.

So that's how the week ended. Things are fine, except we don't get the details right - church and state, what hurricanes do, what you can't do when someone offers you money to cheat the government, who we lock up forever and "disappear," and all the rest - and in regard to the oddest war we ever fought, and the first elective one, we don't get the concept right.

Posted by Alan at 22:27 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 3 March 2006 22:41 PST home

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