Topic: Couldn't be so...
Stormy Monday: Too Much News
Monday, April 10, 2006 - following the news and all the dialog about the news, thinking about what to say about it all, trying to sense some patterns, but doing other things. Why? Because what isn't confusing is disheartening. That probably explains the postings on the daily photography site, three nature shots, and, when you really need to be elsewhere, previously unpublished shots of Paris, Rouen and Arles. The day was a good day to avoid the turmoil of the political.
But there were significant events left and right.
As in this - "Hundreds of thousands of people demanding U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants took to the streets in dozens of cities from New York to San Diego on Monday in some of the most widespread demonstrations since the mass protests began around the country last month."
The issues surrounding the proposed legislation to change the immigration law have been discussed in these pages (as here) but with the congress in a two-week recess there will be no resolution. The House bill - making anyone here without papers a felon, and those who help them in any way felons too, sending them all home, building a giant wall at the Mexican border - is quite incompatible with the Senate thinking - a staged way to let those here, under specific conditions, become citizens if they jump though this hoop or that - and quite different from the president's thinking (set up a guest worker program and ship them home when they complete their work). The labor of these people is vital to the economy, but they use services paid for by others, and all this cheap labor may drive down wages. Yeah, and it drives down prices - and no one want to pay three hundred dollars for a head of lettuce. There's principle - "They broke the law and they have to go!" And we need them. "Don't give lawbreakers Amnesty!" But let's have cheap labor to do the grunt work in the cities and the mindless labor on the farms, so the price of everything doesn't skyrocket. And the border should be secure, as who knows who comes in, maybe even terrorists, although none seem to have come in, just people who want to make some money for their families back home.
No marches will resolve the obvious conflicts here. We should be humane, but not foolish, and not reward lawbreakers, and not screw the economy. Here an idea - grant them all full amnesty and give them full citizenship now, and at the same time, close the border tight. The eleven million here can then get social security numbers, pay taxes, get drivers licenses and be gouged by the insurance companies with high premiums, and be as financially assaulted as most full citizens now are. And with the border suddenly locked tight, keep all others out for a time, or as long as you'd like. We get the labor, at a slightly higher cost as minimum wage law now apply to jobs not regulated before, but nothing terribly disruptive. Do it once. Or come up with your own idea - one radio host suggests everyone get a rifle and go to the border and just shoot anyone you see coming across the border (he later said he was just kidding).
But marching? Impressive. But is doesn't untangle the knot of conflicting demand and needs. And the government won't even get back to it for two weeks.
Other significant events? Maybe Chirac Will Rescind Labor Law That Caused Wide French Riots - the "pressure from students, unions, business executives and even some of his own party leaders" was too much.
On the right there was much glee - lots of items on the French "surrendering" from those who have been using the French as a whipping boy ever since de Villepin outclassed Colin Powell at the UN a few years ago, when the French, told we had to go to war NOW, gave the Gallic shrug and decided panic was not cool, and reason and thoughtfulness were more appropriate. Cowards, not buying into our fervor.
And too, there was a flurry of items on how out of touch the French were, giving up on the "fire anyone at anytime" Anglo-Saxon employment model when the world has really changed - no worker is guaranteed anything in this world, as corporations and those who own them are having a tough time. What's wrong with these people? Those who employ others to make money owe their shareholders, not the workers. And so on.
For Americans all this in France has little significance, except to remind them there are economies where the idea is that everyone is in this together and we owe each other consideration. That doesn't work so well in France, although it seems to be working just fine in the Scandinavian countries. Here? Everyone is fine with our form of "economic Darwinism" - no one owes anyone anything, and if wages for most Americans are flat or declining, just as your boss can fire you "at will" you can walk out for a better job this afternoon. It's dog-eat-dog and your real job, for your lifetime, is, daily, selling yourself - we're all slick salesmen. We love it. Spin and hype, the essence of salesmanship. We swim in it.
Of course it's not very "French." They seem to think it's unseemly. So the news is just, once again, we're different.
In Italy? The government is a mess (but so is their economy and they drive crazy in cars that break down far too often). Bush's friend, Silvio Berlusconi, seems to either have lost the election there, or won only part of the battle, as his center-left opponent late Monday was claiming victory - but this may takes a week or two to settle out.
Why would we over here follow this story? Silvio Berlusconi is a lovable buffoon with ties to the Fascists from the old days up Turin way, always saying very odd things (sometimes that he's Christ and sometime Napoleon), in and out of various legal problems that could get him thrown in jail - but he owns most of the press, radio and television in Italy. Think of him as a sort of Rupert Murdoch with an even funnier accent, and running a whole country, not just Fox News. His fall from power, if it works out that way, is a cautionary fable - once in a while all the spin you can get out there in the media, so carefully managed an crafted, just doesn't work. Sometime people actually do see through the spin, even Italians, or maybe particularly Italians.
Could that happen here? Probably not. We trust our press, and Fox News is "Fair and Balanced." And the network that started with Murrow, then Cronkite, will now have as its "anchor," and editor of what stories get covered and in what order, the perky and impish Katie Couric. She wears killer shoes and will lighten things up, and convince America we take things far too seriously.
Event in Italy then, as a parable about the media or whatever, may not apply here. But you never know.
Of course there was the scandal of the day, the new one - Phone-Jamming Records Point to White House - "WASHINGTON - Key figures in a phone-jamming scheme designed to keep New Hampshire Democrats from voting in 2002 had regular contact with the White House and Republican Party as the plan was unfolding, phone records introduced in criminal court show."
Key players in the White House, one of the president key men, involved in something like voter fraud? Yeah, like anyone is surprised. You play to win.
But then, you don't get caught, and you don't implicate the White House. Sloppy work here.
And they don't need the heat, as earlier in the day the New York Times reported this regarding the whole business about who was leaking what to the press back when there was an effort to "get" the pesky critic of the administration and his CIA wife - the president really did order certain parts of the classified National Intelligence Estimate be released.
The Times got the word from a real insider - "But the official said that Mr. Bush did not designate Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr., or anyone else, to release the information to reporters."
What? Throw Cheney under the bus?
The new line is don't blame the president - Cheney was clearly out of control here, doing this thing where his guy takes one key reporter out to lunch, shows her the formerly secret stuff, urges her to use it, maybe says a few other things, but makes sure she doesn't say where she got the good stuff, the real scoop. But the president just never imaged Cheney and his would do such a thing.
Well, it is a defense of the president, of a sort. He should just say no if Cheney invites him for a little quail hunting.
This is a mess, and Eric Alterman, the NYU journalism professor and author, puts it bluntly -
Well, yes. That's politics. But after linking to the news items regarding the new filings of Special Counsel Fitzgerald, saying "Mr. Libby, on behalf of Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, provided an exaggerated account of the intelligence conclusions," and there was a "concerted action" by "multiple people in the White House" - using classified information - to "discredit, punish or seek revenge against" a critic of President Bush's war in Iraq, Alterman points to former Federal Prosecutor Elizabeth De la Vega suggesting the typical media questions of the moment - "Is what the President did legal?" or "Does the President have authority to declassify information at will?" aren't the right ones to ask.
Elizabeth De la Vega says the real question is this -
That's an interesting bit of framing. And the hard to answer in the affirmative.
And here the matter is covered in far more detail. The prosecutor's files clearly show Libby says he was under specific instructions to say some minor items were key findings when they we're, not to mention the parts that said half the government decided the claims about Saddam Hussein seeking uranium and the "aluminum tubes of death" were bogus, but just say that Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure" uranium.
So his defense is he was told to distort and lie by the man above him. The president's defense is he just declassified some stuff and trusted his subordinate, Vice President Cheney, to do the right thing and handle the details. Think of it as musical chairs, with two chairs left. Libby and Bush just sat down. Cheney is screwed. Not nice.
This happens when things go bad, like the polls on the 10th, as this, the lowest approval rating for the presidency ever.
Yep, they are low, but much like the others in the last weeks. But Andrew Sullivan notes a difference with this with this set of disapproval numbers, and with the implications -
Sullivan is one disenchanted conservative Republican. He's of the old school.
What about the "new conservatives" - the neoconservatives at the National Review? Well, there's George Conway there at their website on the 10th saying this -
That's Bush supporter? Geez, he sounds like Eric Alterman riffing on the leak business -
Oh, other than that they're fine. But planning another war?
Yeah, it's the item that hit the newsstands Monday, Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker reporting our plans to nuke the underground facilities in Iran so they won't be able to build nukes of their own. That was discussed here in Necessity: Sometimes You Have To Do What You Have To Do.
In reaction to that, on reader, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, has this to say -
We do, and as for the lessons of the first war, well, it wasn't the first one.
Eric Alterman quotes Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in the New York Review, Volume 53, Number 7 April 27, 2006: "Sometimes, when I am particularly depressed, I ascribe our behavior to stupidity - the stupidity of our leadership, the stupidity of our culture. Thirty years ago we suffered military defeat - fighting an unwinnable war against a country about which we knew nothing and in which we had no vital interests at stake. Vietnam was bad enough, but to repeat the same experiment thirty years later in Iraq is a strong argument for a case of national stupidity."
The hits just keep on coming.
But should we worry? The military has contingency plans for everything, probably even for invading Portugal and taking over the sardine industry. This all may be a planned leak, a bluff.
But there's a problem with that, as James Fallows writing in The Atlantic notes here - "By giving public warnings, the United States and Israel create 'excess demand' for military action,' as our war-game leader Sam Gardiner recently put it, and constrain their own negotiating choices."
Kevin Drum explains that here -
But the president Monday the 10th did come out and say these reports of White House plans to attack Iran "wild speculation."
Two comments from Josh Marshall.
And this to a reader (AB) who says this wouldn't really be a new "war" - just a bit of selective bombing -
They'd fool us? No.
But it happened again, as in this: "The U.S. military is conducting a propaganda campaign to magnify the role of the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to internal military documents and officers familiar with the program. The effort has raised his profile in a way that some military intelligence officials believe may have overstated his importance and helped the Bush administration tie the war to the organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks."
In short, the baddest of the bad guys, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is relatively unimportant, but according to internal military documents and "officers familiar with the program" it was really useful to hype him. He was al Qaeda, and he was there. It makes the case, or some case, that the Iraq war had to do with the 9/11 attacks, until the PR program (or is that psy-ops?) unravels. They fooled us. The joke is on us. In war you fool the enemy, even if it's the American public, or the guys fighting for us all. It worked.
Or did it? A minor story in the New York Times 0n the 10th was this - "Young Army officers, including growing numbers of captains who leave as soon as their initial commitment is fulfilled, are bailing out of active-duty service at rates that have alarmed senior officers. Last year, more than a third of the West Point class of 2000 left active duty at the earliest possible moment, after completing their five-year obligation."
Enough is enough. And this was only the Monday news items.
This is enough to make one a bit jumpy. The pattern to it all?
Things falling apart. When that happens those who thought they had thing under control can do dangerous things.